Archive of October 1, 2013

Cardinal calls faithful to share pro-life message of mercy

Washington D.C., Oct 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Citing the words of Pope Francis, the leader of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee called the faithful to open their hearts to Christ, sharing the Gospel message of mercy and the sanctity of human life.

“Only a tender, compassionate love that seeks to serve those most in need, whatever the personal cost, is strong enough to overcome a culture of death and to build a civilization of love,” said Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston.

“Let us open our hearts and reflect on how God might be calling each of us to witness the sacredness of human life and assist in pro-life efforts.”

The cardinal offered encouragement to those defending life in a message for Respect Life Month 2013.

Respect Life Month, which will begin this year on Oct. 6, is a month set aside by the U.S. bishops for prayer and education on issues concerning the sanctity of life in all stages. This year's theme is “Share the truth about human life,” which “echoes Pope Francis' call for all people to 'Open your hearts to life!'” Cardinal O'Malley said.

In his message, the cardinal emphasized that the weakest members of society “are often unwanted and endangered by acts of violence or neglect.”

He pointed to the grave threats facing the sanctity of life, including abortion and euthanasia.

It has now been 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court rulings Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, he observed, explaining that these rulings “made it legal to end the life of an unborn child in the United States for any reason and at almost any stage of development.”

During this time, Cardinal O’Malley said, more than 55 million “unborn children's lives have been taken,” and millions in society have been wounded.

He added that physician-assisted suicide is posing a new threat to the sanctity of life and paving “the way for euthanasia by undermining true respect and care for people with serious illness.”

But although we are capable of grave sins against human life, “we are not beyond Christ's mercy,” the cardinal continued, encouraging people to search for and “acknowledge our deepest longing for Christ's love.”

He pointed to Pope Francis, who “reminds us that we always have hope in Christ.”

The Pope teaches us that coming to Christ “has the power to transform us,” which in turn encourages “loving, merciful action toward others,” he said.

This call to share Christ’s love and mercy is urgent, Cardinal O'Malley stressed, explaining that followers of Jesus “must give witness to the Gospel of Life and evangelize through our lives.”

“We must personally engage others and share the truth about human life,” he stated. “We must continue to show love and mercy, especially with those who have been involved in abortion.”

“All members of the Church can bring healing to the world by upholding the beauty of human life and God's unfailing mercy."

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Poverty challenge asks Americans to live on four liters of water a day

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A project encouraging Americans to live for a few days on the bare minimum of water will help them understand poverty and treat those without clean water as brothers, a water access advocate has said.

“If you really want to live in solidarity with the poor, if you want to build some awareness in yourself about this issue and about the importance of the water that you are so blessed to have access to, take the 4Liter Challenge,” said George McGraw, executive director of DigDeep Water.

“It’s not hard, but it’s incredibly life-changing.”

The 4Liter Challenge, a program of the Los Angeles-based DigDeep Water, is set to run from Oct. 14-21. It asks people to live for several days on four liters of water per day – only slightly more than one gallon; this is the minimum amount of clean water a person needs to survive.

The challenge aims to raise awareness about “water poverty,” the lack of clean water that many poor people face, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“There is, in my experience, no simpler or more profound challenge that can really change the way you look at something so quickly and so effectively,” McGraw told CNA Sept. 30.

“You’ll finish the 4Liter Challenge and you’ll wake up every day, and as soon as you turn on the tap you’ll be reminded of that experience.”

Participants in the challenge can sign up on an interactive site to share their experiences with friends and family and to collect donations to help others access water.

“The 4Liter  Challenge simulates that experience of people every day: the experience of having to only collect a little bit of water and figure out what you are going to use it for,” McGraw added.

“It really is a true experience of poverty.”

The program, he explained, aims “to make Americans more conscious of their own water consumption and help them to see their own access to water as an important human right that they need to safeguard.”

According to McGraw, Americans consume more water than anyone else globally, up to 550 liters (145 gallons) per person per day in drinking, cooking, watering the lawn, and other tasks.  Experts estimate that 50 liters (13 gallons) per day is needed for a person to live “a normal, healthy life.”

Economic poverty or natural disaster can hinder access to water, as can social or political pressures and infrastructure breakdown.

Almost 800 million people lack access to clean water. About 80 percent of diseases are caused by unclean water, and about 4,500 children die from water-borne illnesses every day.

Water poverty is a significant problem on Native American reservations in the U.S. About 13 percent of reservation residents lack running water or flush toilets, a figure worse than some African or Latin American countries.

DigDeep Water has water access projects in the U.S., South Sudan, Sudan, Cameroon, and Kenya.

McGraw, a Catholic, served as a human rights lawyer in an international development organization before founding the organization.

He said DigDeep Water aims to unite both water conservation efforts and water access efforts. At present, advocacy is spread across separate networks and separate organizations that rarely work together.

“It makes sense to bridge that gap between the two schools of thought. Water is a basic human right that we all need access to. For that reason, we all have a responsibility to safeguard it.”

“From a Catholic standpoint, this is what we talk about when we talk about common goods or basic human dignity being tied to basic human needs. There are certain gifts that God has given us in nature that we use to fulfill our needs and recognize their dignity, which we have first and foremost from him.”

DigDeep Water is a secular organization, but McGraw said his personal philosophy of human rights and human dignity is “centered really firmly in Catholic social teaching.”

He cited Catholic thought’s emphasis on “the structural importance of understanding, first and foremost, that all of our social, economic and environmental issues come from our relationships, not just with each other, but with God.”

“We need to really care, on a personal level, about why water poverty matters. We will not be successful until we understand why it is a problem, why water matters.”

McGraw said he found inspiration in Pope Francis’ words in his recent interview with America Magazine. McGraw said that a “responsive, effective Church” that aims to meet the “wounded” and the “hopeless” needs to “experience poverty, find people in their poverty, and assist them as our brothers and sisters, not as aid recipients far away.”

Water access projects tend to have a high failure rate, but McGraw said this mindset is showing results: all of DigDeep Water’s field projects are still active.

“We have a great relationship with the communities we help, and I think that, as simple as it might be, is why we are successful.”

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New Jersey to appeal ruling on 'gay marriage' recognition

Trenton, N.J., Oct 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Political leaders in New Jersey have vowed to appeal a judge’s ruling that “gay marriage” must be recognized in the state because of a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s essential that a single lower court judge not be allowed to impose her own views of marriage on the entire state,” Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said Sept. 27.

He characterized the judge’s ruling as “a gross abuse of power that cannot be allowed to stand.”

The office of New Jersey governor Chris Christie has said it will appeal the decision. Spokesman Michael Drewniak said the governor believes the decision should be up to the voters.

“Gov. Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day,” Drewniak said, according to the Associated Press

Judge Mary Jacobson of the New Jersey Superior Court agreed with several same-sex couples that the state’s lack of recognition for “gay marriage” unconstitutionally denies them federal benefits such as federally required medical leave and the ability to file joint federal tax returns. She said the state must recognize same-sex “marriages” beginning Oct. 21.

In her ruling, Jacobson cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling in United States v. Windsor, which struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Critics, however, noted that the Windsor decision did not impose a “right” to same-sex “marriage” on the nation, but instead upheld the right of states to define marriage for themselves, saying only that the federal government must recognize such unions if they are allowed by individual states.

New Jersey’s Catholic bishops had criticized efforts to redefine marriage in a January 2012 statement.

“Same sex unions may represent a new and a different type of institution – but it is not marriage and should not be treated as marriage,” they said.

Marriage, they explained, “unites mothers and fathers in the work of childrearing,” serving as the “foundation of the family,” which is the “basic unit of society.”

A government that insists that same-sex unions are equal to unions between a man and a woman teaches “not only that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary for children, but also that uniting the sexes is no longer an important ideal,” the bishops said.

Previous efforts to redefine marriage through the legislature have been vetoed by Governor Christie, who opposes “gay marriage” but supports the state’s same-sex civil union law. That law was mandated by a 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court decision that same-sex couples should have all the legal rights and privileges of marriage, without requiring that these unions be called marriages.

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Pope experienced a 'great light' before accepting the papacy

Vatican City, Oct 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a recent interview, Pope Francis shared a mystical experience he had shortly before accepting the role as Bishop of Rome and also touched on several issues surrounding Church reform.

The Pope recounted his experience during a Sept. 24 interview with Eugenio Scalfari of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica which was published on Oct.1.

When asked if he considered himself a mystic, the Pope replied “What do you think?”

Scalfari replied that no, he did not believe Pope Francis was the type. When he asked the Holy Father if he had ever had a mystical experience, the pontiff replied that he “rarely” has, but that one such experience did take place during the conclave shortly before he accepted his election as Pope.

“Before the acceptance, I asked to be able to retire for some minutes in the room next to that with the balcony on the square. My head was completely empty and a great anxiety invaded me,” he said.

“To make it pass and to relax, I close my eyes and every thought disappeared, also that of refusing to accept the charge, as after all the liturgical procedure consents.”

Pope Francis shared that once he closed his eyes, he did not feel anymore “anxiety or emotion,” but that at “a certain point a great light invaded me, it lasted for a second but it seemed really long.”

“Then the light dissipated and I stood straight up and headed to the room where the cardinals were waiting for me and the table on which rested the act of acceptance. I signed it...and then on the balcony came the 'Habemus Papam.'”

Also brought up in the interview was the topic of Church leaders, who, according to the Holy Father, “have often been narcissistic.” Although the curia's main job is to manage “the services that serve the Holy See,” said the Pope, “its has a defect: it is Vatican-centric.”

“This Vatican-centric vision neglects the world that surrounds it. I do not share this vision and I will do everything (I can) to change it,” he said, emphasizing the need for a more communal dynamic in which the leaders of the Church “are at the service of the people of God.”

Referencing St. Francis of Assisi’s vision of the Church, Pope Francis urged that “the ideal of a missionary and poor Church remains more than valid...this is still the Church that Jesus and his disciples preached.”

When pressed by comments stating that a love for power strongly exists in the Vatican, and that the institution predominates the poor, missionary Church he envisions, the Pontiff stated that “Things are in fact like this.”

“On this subject no miracles are made,” he said, recalling how during his life, St. Francis also had to “negotiate at length with the Roman hierarchy” for the recognition of the rules of his order, which he eventually obtained, “but with profound changes and compromises.”

When asked if he would follow the same path as his patron, the Pope said that although he does not have the “strength and holiness” of the saint, he has appointed the council of eight Cardinals to assist him in building a Church that is “not only vertical, but horizontal.”

Although the road will be “long and difficult,” he said, such a Church is possible with “prudence, but firmness and tenacity.”

Being asked about the fact that Christians are a minority in the world, the Successor of Peter stated that “we always have been,” but that he personally thinks that “being a minority is actually a strength.”

Elaborating this point, the Pope explained that “we have to be a yeast of life and love and the yeast is a quantity infinitely less than the mass of fruits.”

He also spoke of the need to return to the Second Vatican Council’s call to open to modern culture through dialogue with non-believers, saying that although little has been done in this direction, “I have the humility and ambition to want to do it.”

In speaking to the Church’s role in politics, Pope Francis said that “the Church won’t occupy herself with politics,” explaining that when he urges Catholics to commit themselves politically, he is referring not just to them, but to “all men of good will.”

“Politics is the first of the civil activities and it has its own field of action that is not that of religion,” he said, emphasizing that political institutions are lay institutions by definition, and that they operate independently.

“I believe that Catholics working in politics have within them the values of religion,” he said, “but a mature conscience and competency to act on them.”

“The Church will never go beyond the task of expressing and spreading her values, at least as long as I’m here.”

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Charity without meekness and humility is sterile, Pope reflects

Vatican City, Oct 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, Pope Francis praised the saint for her exemplary humility and meekness, praying that the council of cardinals would emulate her virtue in their upcoming meetings.

The Pope concelebrated his Oct. 1 daily Mass with the group of eight cardinals who will meet from Tuesday to Thursday this week to discuss reform of the curia.

In his homily, Pope Francis voiced hope that council’s meetings will help everyone to become more humble and to trust in God, so that the Church is able to give a beautiful witness to the world.

Reflecting on the gospel of the day in which the apostles sought to call down fire upon those who did not accept them, the Holy Father urged that the path of Christians is not a “path of vengeance,” saying that instead, it is the way of humility and meekness.

In light of the feast of St. Therese – a French cloistered nun who lived in the late 1800s – the Pope encouraged those present to meditate on “this spirit of humility, of tenderness, of bounty,” which is, he said, a spirit that God “wants from all of us.”

This spirit, he said, can only be found “in love, in charity, in the awareness that we are in the hands of the Father.”

Once we understand this, said the Pope, we will no longer desire to “call down fire from Heaven.”

“Another spirit comes, that of that charity that suffers all, pardons all, that does not boast, that is humble, that doesn’t seek itself.”

Noting that there are some who might say this understanding of charity is a lowering of the “majesty” and “greatness” of man, Pope Francis stressed that this approach “is sterile!”

“The Gospel reaches its highest point in the humiliation of Jesus: humility that becomes humiliation,” he urged, saying that the force of the gospel “is properly in humility, in the humility of the child that is guided by the love and the tenderness of the father.”

The pontiff lauded the Church for naming St. Therese a Doctor of the Church and Patron of Missions –  adding the words of Benedict XVI that the “Church does not grow through proselytism,” but rather “through attraction, through witness.”

“When the people see this witness of humility, of meekness, of mildness, they feel the need that the Prophet Zachariah spoke of: ‘We want to come with you.’”

“Charity is simple,” stated the Pope, “worship God and serve others!”

Concluding his homily with a special mention of the meetings being held with the council of cardinals, Pope Francis asked the Lord that through their work, they will become more humble, meek, patient and trusting in God.

He asked that this occur “so that the Church can give a beautiful witness to the people, and seeing the People of God, seeing the Church, they might feel the desire to come with us.”

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Benedict could attend canonizations, Vatican spokesman says

Rome, Italy, Oct 1, 2013 (CNA) - The director of the Holy See’s Press Office announced that Benedict XVI could participate in the canonization ceremony next April for Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII.

During a Sept. 30 press conference at the Vatican, Father Federico Lombardi did not rule out that the former Pontiff could be present at the canonizations. 

“There is not legal or doctrinal reason to keep Benedict XVI from taking part in a public ceremony,” he said.

It would be an unprecedented canonization ceremony: Pope Francis, accompanied by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, would canonize the initiator of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed John XXIII, as well as Blessed John Paul II, known as the pilgrim Pope.

Fr. Lombardi also commented on the choice of April 27 – Divine Mercy Sunday, which is held the second Sunday of Easter – for the canonizations.

He explained that the Holy Father chose this date because of John Paul II’s devotion to Divine Mercy and because his beatification also took place on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2011, which fell on May 1. Pope John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.

He also said that because a large number of pilgrims are expected to attend the canonizations, the second Sunday of Easter will be ideal, allowing many travelers to come from around the world.

Fr. Lombardi also noted that during his interview on the flight home from Rio de Janeiro this summer, “the Pope made some spontaneous and sympathetic remarks about both Popes.”

Pope Francis “said that John Paul II was a great missionary like Saint Paul and that celebrating both canonizations at the same time should be a sign for the Church to appreciate the holiness of these papal witnesses of our times linked in different ways to the Second Vatican Council,” he observed.

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Pope to atheist: all people can receive grace, seek the Good

Vatican City, Oct 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Emphasizing that grace is available to all people, Pope Francis stressed dialogue and encounter rather than proselytism and underscored the need for each person to seek the Good while following his conscience.

“Even you, without knowing it, could be touched by grace,” Pope Francis told Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist with whom he recently corresponded.

Scalfari conducted a Sept. 24 interview with the Pope at his Vatican residence, which was published Oct 1. in Italian daily La Repubblica.

Pope Francis shared St. Augustine’s view of “the grace given by the Lord as a fundamental element of faith. Of life. Of life's meaning.”

He explained that the saint's “insight” was that being touched by grace fundamentally changes, affects a person: “Who is not touched by grace may be a person without blemish and without fear, as they say, but he will never be like a person whom grace has touched.”

From there, Scalfari asked Pope Francis if he himself feels touched by grace. The Roman Pontiff replied, “No one can know that. Grace is not part of consciousness, it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason.”

Pope Francis added that grace can be given to those without faith, those who do not believe, because “grace has to do with the soul.” Although Scalfari said he does not believe in the soul, the Pope said, “You do not believe in it but you have one.”

Scalfari responded by revisiting their mutual admission that neither of them were trying to convert the other, which allowed a discussion of the nature of dialogue and inter-personal relationship.

“Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense,” said Pope Francis. “We need to get to know each other, to listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.”

Following an encounter with another person, the Pope said, he at times wants another encounter, because it has led to both new ideas and new needs in himself. “This is important: to get to know people, to listen, to expand the circle of ideas.”

Pope Francis said that “the important thing” is that the world's many paths should “lead towards the Good.”

When Scalfari questioned whether there is a single vision of the Good, the Roman Pontiff responded, “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”

He affirmed that each person must follow his conscience, saying, “Everyone has an idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight the evil as he or she understands it. That would be enough to improve the world.”

The two were able to agree that love for other people must come to surpass the love of self in men's hearts.

Pope Francis pointedly asked Scalfari about what he believes, regarding “the essence of the world” and questions of man's nature: “who we are, where we come from, where we are going.”

“I believe,” Scalfari answered, “in Being, that is, in the fabric from which forms, bodies arise. He went on to say that he considers Being to be “a fabric of energy” which is indestructible and eternally chaotic, and that in human beings there is a resonance of this chaos.

Pope Francis responded by saying that Being is God the Father, who is “the light and the Creator.”

“God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us.”

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Catholics continue to have lowest divorce rates, report finds

Washington D.C., Oct 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Recent studies on marriage show that while their rates of divorce are significant, U.S. Catholics are less likely to divorce than people of other religious affiliations.

“Although the Catholic ‘divorce rate’ is lower than the U.S. average it is still a daunting figure,” said the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

In a Sept. 26 blog post, the research group explained that divorce among Catholics “represents more than 11 million individuals,” many of whom “are likely in need of more outreach and ongoing ministry from the Church.”

In its article, the organization explained that different ways of tallying divorce and marriage rates create a range of different divorce figures, including the oft-quoted statistic that “half of all marriages fail.”

Looking at national surveys, “Catholics stand out with only 28 percent of the ever-married having divorced at some point,” the blog post stated, compared to more than 40 percent of those with no religious affiliation, 39 percent of Protestants and 35 percent of those of another religious faith.

Furthermore, Catholics who marry other Catholics are also less likely to divorce than Catholics married to people of other faiths.

A 2007 survey from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates that only 27 percent of Catholics married to other Catholics have ever experienced divorce, compared to nearly half of Catholics married to Protestants or to spouses with no religious belief.

The organization also pointed to data showing that the number of annulments requested has continued to decline in the past two decades. In 1990, there was one annulment introduced for every 4.5 marriages, while in 2011, there was one annulment for every 6.5 marriages.

However, the decline in annulments has been accompanied by an even sharper decline in marriages celebrated in the Catholic Church. In 2011, the report found, less than eight percent of weddings took place in the Church.

Additionally, the report noted that 49 percent of Church annulment cases introduced globally in 2011 took place in the United States.

Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, explained to CNA that many annulment  cases in the United States come about as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, “in order to validate marriages for those being baptized or received into full communion” in the Church.

He explained that compared to other countries where a majority of the population is already Catholic, conversions to Catholicism in the U.S. are more frequent, and therefore annulments in these cases are also more common.

Msgr. Hilgartner added that for those Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside of the Church, “many dioceses provide outreach and catechesis regarding annulments as a way to invite people to pursue the process so that they can be welcomed back to the Sacraments.”

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