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Archive of September 30, 2013

John Paul II, John XXIII to be canonized Divine Mercy Sunday

Rome, Italy, Sep 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican has announced that former Popes John Paul II and John XXIII are slated to be canonized this coming spring.

The announcement was made following the Sept. 30 consistory, in which the Holy Father proclaimed that the pontiffs would be canonized together April 27, 2014 on the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday.

A consistory is a meeting where the Pope and the College of Cardinals come together to discuss and determine dates for current causes of beatification or canonization.

In recent months, the final steps paving the way towards Bl. John Paul II’s canonization, including the approval of the second needed miracle, have been completed.

However, in the case of John XXIII, only one miracle has been formally approved by the Vatican, instead of the usual two. Although the decision to waive the second miracle is unusual, it is within the authority of the Pope to do so.

When the decision was announced earlier this summer, Vatican press office director Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. explained that since there was already one approved miracle allowing Pope John XXIII to be beatified, the canonization will still be valid, even without a second miracle.

Bl. John XXII is most known for his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” and for his calling of the Second Vatican Council, the 50th anniversary of which is currently being celebrated during the Year of Faith.

Bl. John Paul II is perhaps one of the most well-known pontiffs in recent history, and is most remembered for his charismatic nature, his love of youth and his world travels, along with his role in the fall of communism in Europe during his 27-year papacy.

The cherished Polish Pope died in 2005, marking his 2011 beatification as one of the quickest in recent Church history, and is the first Pope to be beatified by his immediate successor.

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Pope Francis, cardinals begin first set of reform meetings

Vatican City, Sep 30, 2013 (CNA) - The council of eight cardinals chosen by Pope Francis to advise him on church governance and curia reform will begin their first official meeting tomorrow, Oct.1.

“The institution of the council of cardinal,” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. in a Sept. 30 press briefing “is a further enrichment provided by the Pope to the governance of the Church.”

Fr. Lombardi recalled that the formation of such a council was given as an advisement to the future Pope during the general congregation meetings before the conclave.

He emphasized that so far in his pontificate, Pope Francis has made frequent use of consultation, citing the meeting with the heads of the dicasteries and his interest in reviving the working method of the Synod as examples of such.

The Vatican spokesman explained that in the upcoming days, the council will meet in the private library of the papal apartment, with the working sessions taking place in the morning and in the evening, clarifying that all meetings will be held in private, with no communication as to the contents discussed outside of the council itself.

Fr. Lombardi noted that since the council’s April institution, members have received numerous documents and suggestions, stressing that one of the important tasks of the council has been to determine which of the topics will be discussed during the meetings.

Although much of the themes under consideration are unknown, Fr. Lombardi said that the Holy Father has spoken of the pastoral ministry of the family, the theme of the next synod, as well as how the synod will look in the future.

Fr. Lombardi specifically emphasized that since this is only the first set of meetings, no major decisions will be made.

“Let's not expect in the course of these three days, results, decrees, major document of any sort!”

He called on those present to be realistic, saying that the only significant news coming from these sessions will be the announcement of the next meeting.

There is no final date for the conclusion of the council’s meetings, however Fr. Lombardi will give a final briefing for this session on Wednesday.

The council is composed of Cardinals Giuseppe Bertello, Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, Oswald Gracias, Reinhard Marx, Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Sean Patrick O'Malley O.F.M. Cap., George Pell, Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, and Bishop Marcello Semeraro in the role of secretary.

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Peace requires tenacious, intelligent dialogue, Pope says

Vatican City, Sep 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his morning homily, Pope Francis spoke to religious leaders of various faith traditions, saying that fostering peace is a responsibility which can only be attained through dialogue.

Present at the Pope’s Sept. 30 Mass in the Santa Marta guesthouse of the Vatican were the participants of the International Meeting for Peace in the spirit of Assisi, organized by the Rome-based Community of Saint Egidio.

The Sept. 29 - Oct. 1 conference meets this year under the theme “The Courage to Hope,” and is composed of religious leaders of all denominations, as well as men and women who are committed to building peace in the world.

Pope Francis lauded the community for following in the steps of Bl. John Paul II, who convened the historic meeting in Assisi in 1986, where he invited the religious leaders of different Churches to pray together for peace.

The Holy Father reflected that in recent months, the “spirit” which sparked the 1986 meeting is desperately needed, saying that “we must never resign ourselves to the pain of entire peoples who are hostages of war, poverty, exploitation.”

The pontiff went on to emphasize how no act of violence can be justified by religion, regardless of its manifestation – urging that “all forms of religiously motivated violence must be stamped out,” and warning that this violence is the product of a society “based on a ‘no’ to God.”

Reminding those present how much they are able to accomplish as leaders of different religions, he stressed that “Peace is everyone's responsibility. Praying for peace, working for peace!"

“A religious leader is always a man of peace.”

Turning then to the conference’s theme this year, Pope Francis suggested that the “Courage to Hope” is a “courage of dialogue which gives hope.”

“In the world, in society,” he said, “there is little peace also because there is no dialogue; it is hard to look beyond the narrow horizon of one’s own interests and be open to a true and sincere exchange.”

Peace, the Pope said according to Vatican Radio, needs a dialogue that is tenacious, patient, strong and intelligent, and that if these elements are involved, dialogue becomes the way of peace because it encourages understanding and harmony.

The pontiff concluded his reflections by urging the meeting’s attendees to be “partners in dialogue,” instead of intermediaries.

“Intermediaries,” he said, “seek to grant discounts to all parties in order to obtain gains for themselves. Mediators are the ones who keep nothing for themselves, but expend themselves generously, in the knowledge that the only true gain is that of peace.”

In his final remarks, Pope Francis lauded the St. Egidio community for their work, insisting that legacy of the first Assisi meeting is still being nurtured through their efforts, showing that dialogue and prayer are intimately linked.

“Dialogue and prayer grow or perish together.”

He encouraged all in attendance to continue praying for peace in the world, especially in Syria and the Middle East, praying “May this courage of peace give the courage of hope to the world, to all those who suffer in war, to young people who look with concern to their future.”

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Bishops push for conscience protections in government funding

Washington D.C., Sep 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Leaders of the U.S. bishops have written to lawmakers insisting on the importance of including religious liberty protections and the conscience rights of health care workers as part of government funding negotiations.

“Protection for conscience rights in health care is of especially great importance to the Catholic Church, which daily contributes to the welfare of U.S. society through schools, social services, hospitals and assisted living facilities,” wrote Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore in a Sept. 26 letter.

The bishops wrote regarding the federal contraception mandate – issued by the Department of Health and Human Services – which requires employers to provide employee health coverage for sterilization and contraception, as well as drugs which can cause early abortions.

While the mandate has a narrow exemption for religious employers, many Catholic institutions do not meet the government's criteria. More than 200 plaintiffs across the country have filed lawsuits challenging the mandate, and some legal analysts believe the Supreme Court will take up the case in the coming months.

Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Lori – who head the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee and religious liberty committee, respectively – reminded the nation’s lawmakers that the bishops “strongly support universal access to health care.” However, they said, “such access is threatened by Congress' continued failure to protect the right of conscience.”

They applauded the provisions of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.).

Key elements of this bill should be incorporated into “must-pass” legislation as Congress considers a continuing resolution to prevent a government shut-down, the bishops said.

Their letter comes amid pressing discussions over the funding of the federal government, which will run out at the end of Sept. 30. If an agreement is not reached between Democrats and Republicans, non-essential government services will cease at the end of the day Monday.

On Sept. 29, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a government spending bill which would delay much of the 2010 health care law – including the contraception mandate – for another year. The bill also includes accommodations allowing employers to decline to provide insurance coverage for products and procedures to which they morally or religiously objected.

Harry Reid, a Democrat and the Senate majority leader, maintained that the upper chamber would reject the House bill.

In addition to the issue of funding the federal government, it is likely that health care and religious liberty will play into debates over the debt ceiling, which Treasury secretary Jack Lew expects to be met by Oct. 17.

Several Catholic conferences in states across the nation have encouraged Catholics to contact their representatives and senators to ask that they support the inclusion of conscience protections in legislation on government funding and raising the debt ceiling.

Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Lori urged that Catholic institutions serving the common good “should not be told by government to abandon or compromise those convictions in order to continue serving their own employees or the neediest Americans.”

“Nor should individual Catholics or others be told they cannot legally purchase or provide health coverage unless they violate their conscience.”

They noted that non-profit religious groups ineligible for the mandate’s narrow religious exemption are only beginning to have their cases heard in court, but will be subject to the mandate’s requirements on Jan. 1, 2014.

“Those who help provide health care, and those who need such care for themselves and their families, should not be forced to choose between preserving their religious and moral integrity and participating in our health care system,” said the bishops.

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Prayer vigils recognize American pastor imprisoned in Iran

Washington D.C., Sep 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Human rights advocates gathered in front of the White House last week to pray and raise awareness for Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen who has been held in an Iranian prison for the past year.

Jordan Sekulow, director of policy and international operations for the American Center for Law and Justice, told CNA that the vigil’s first goal is to “keep Saeed alive.”

“The second,” he continued, “is to bring him home. The third goal and focus of this week is to make sure that no more Iranian officials can ever say 'I've never heard of Saeed Abedini' and make sure that the president of the United States knows that he has to speak out.”

Sekulow’s organization represents Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, in working for the pastor’s release.

The Sept. 26 protest marked the one-year anniversary of Abedini’s imprisonment in Iran’s Evin Prison on charges of threatening national security. Human rights groups, however, maintain that the pastor’s Christian faith is the real reason for his eight-year sentence.

Raised Muslim in Iran, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010 after marrying a U.S. citizen.

After his conversion, he worked with house churches throughout Iran until 2009, when the government raised objections, despite the fact that the churches are technically legal in the country. Since then, human rights groups say that the pastor has worked solely with non-religious orphanages in the country. He was arrested in the fall of 2012 during a visit to one of these orphanages.

According to his family, Abedini has suffered beatings and numerous injuries – which have gone untreated – during his time in prison. Although he sought an appeal of his conviction, his request was denied, leaving his eight-year sentence in place.

Since his imprisonment, numerous countries and officials have called for Abedini's release, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Roughly 100 people attended the Washington, D.C., vigil on Sept. 26, which coincided with other vigils throughout the country and around the world, in countries including Kenya, Russia and Pakistan.

Local pastors attended the vigil, along with Congressional Representatives Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Abedini has received bipartisan support from some 100 congressman and senators during his imprisonment, in the form of letters and statements asking for his release.

An official at the Sept. 26 event read a letter to Abedini’s wife, written by Princeton University law professor Robert P. George, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“I am saddened and outraged that an Iranian appeals court last month upheld your husband's eight-year prison term,” George's letter said. “I am further outraged that your husband never was afforded any semblance of due process, and his trail was both a sham and a miscarriage of justice.”

Jane B. Zimmerman, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, also attended the vigil, assuring that the freedom “to practice one's own religion is a fundamental right enshrined in international law.”

“The United States government defends the universal rights of pastor Abedini and others who face ill-treatment and discrimination simply for exercising those rights,” she affirmed.

The Washington, D.C., vigil took place amid meetings between U.S. and Iranian diplomats, considered the highest-level meeting between the two countries in decades.

According to Fox News, U.S. President Barack Obama voiced concern about Abedini in a historic Sept. 27 phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Abedini’s wife called this report “the most encouraging news” she had heard since her husband’s imprisonment a year ago.

Sekulow urged religious freedom supporters to continue calling for the pastor’s release through letters and an online petition. Such efforts are crucial for Abedini, he said, because “every day in that prison is like a potential death sentence.”

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US bishops join call to end American embargo of Cuba

Washington D.C., Sep 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In solidarity with a recent pastoral letter by the Cuban bishops, Des Moines Bishop Richard E. Pates has voiced support for an end to America's embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1959.

“We urge efforts to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba so that greater support and assistance can flow to ordinary Cubans,” Bishop Pates wrote in a Sept. 26 letter to Susan Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor.

“Engagement will do more than isolation to advance human rights and alleviate human suffering. It will also recognize Cuba’s constructive role in mediating Colombian peace negotiations and cooperating with the U.S. Coast Guard in drug interdiction activities.”

The U.S. established a crippling economic embargo on Cuba in 1959, when communists lead by Fidel Castro seized control of the island's government. Castro was succeeded as Cuban president in 2008 by his brother Raul, who has introduced economic reforms.

These include the allowance of small private businesses, a decentralization of state businesses, and greater freedom for foreign travel and the sale of homes and cars. Despite these economic reforms, political reforms have not been forthcoming, and the Communist Party remains the only one permitted.

Writing in his capacity as chair of the U.S. bishops' committee on international peace and justice, Bishop Pates referred to the Cuban bishops' Sept. 15 letter “Hope Does Not Disappoint,” which called for political reform in their country as well as “an inclusive policy” on the part of the U.S. towards Cuba.

The Cuban bishops quoted Blessed John Paul II, who said during a 1998 visit to the country that “the isolation led to indiscriminate impacts on the population, increasing the difficulties of the weakest in basic aspects such as food, health, and education,” and calling for the end to “the unjust and ethically unacceptable measures imposed from abroad.”
 
They also noted the large number of Cuban Americans in the U.S., pointing out that “geographical proximity and family ties between the two nations are unavoidable realities that should be taken into account to favor an inclusive policy…which can alleviate the tensions and the suffering experienced by numerous persons and families, as well as a just commercial exchange oriented to the benefit of all.”

Adding his voice to this call, Bishop Pates added that the designation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terrorism is “an obsolete classification” that needs to be removed because it “prevents engagement between our countries and peoples.”

“It is long past due that the United States establishes full diplomatic relations with Cuba, withdraws all restrictions on travel to Cuba, rescinds terrorist designations aimed at Cuba, encourages trade that will benefit both nations, and facilitates cooperation in the areas of environmental protection, drug interdiction and scientific exchanges,” Bishop Pates exhorted.

“More engagement will help the people of Cuba achieve greater freedom, human rights and religious liberty.”

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