Archive of October 6, 2013

Francis continues papal tradition of dialogue with media

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - While it has drawn much attention, the interview Pope Francis gave to the prominent Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari is not the first of its kind in the history of the Church, but part of a tradition stretching back to “Good Pope John.”

The first interview ever given by a Pope to a “secular” newspaper was that John XXIII gave to the prominent Italian journalist Indro Montanelli in 1959, published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on March 29 of that year.

It was Pope John XXIII himself who made the first move, asking his personal secretary Loris Capovilla to inform Corriere della Sera chief editor Mario Missiroli that he wanted to give an interview to a journalist “outside of the Catholic circle.”

Missiroli asked Montanelli, his paper's most important columnist, to conduct the interview, preferring him to the official Vatican analyst Silvio Negro. Montanelli, an agnostic, was unfamiliar with the world of the Church, but nonetheless had a lively conversation with the Pope.

John XXIII spoke candidly at that time about some of his private opinions, including his low esteem for Pope Pius X, who had been canonized some years before. He also announced to Montanelli that he intended to call an ecumenical council, but the journalist did not grasp the importance of that detail, giving it little attention in his article.

John XXIII's successor, Pope Paul VI, gave an interview to the Italian Vaticanista Alberto Cavallari in 1965, which was published Oct. 4 of that year, again in Corriere della Sera.

Paul VI was very outspoken, addressing the problem of the lack of faith, explaining that “the need of the Church to open up” comes from the fact that “millions of people do belong to any religious faith anymore.”

He also addressed the birth control issue, a “delicate issue for the Church men, and also humanly embarrassing,” he reflected. He maintained that “it is not possible for the Church to stay silent, but it is also problematic speaking about it. We really need God to enlighten us and help us in addressing the birth control issue.”

Pope John Paul I's brief, 33-day pontificate did not afford him a chance to give interviews, but Pope John Paul II gave several.

In 1993, he spoke with the Polish-Italian journalist Jas Gawronski, and the interview was published in La Stampa that year on Nov. 2.

Gawronski asked the Pope about international policy, the Holy See's position on the conflict in Yugoslavia, about Poland, and about communism. The Pope was also called to explain in more depth his comment while visiting the Baltic nations that “Marxism also has a heart of truth.”

John Paul II explained to Gawronski that his saying “was not a piece of news,” since “the social teaching of the Church had always explained it.” He also stressed that “there is a strong effort for the social issues in communism, while capitalism is very individualistic.”

John Paul II also was the first Pope to be featured on a television show, calling live to a 1998 episode of the Italian talk show Porta a Porta. The show was celebrating the 20th anniversary of his pontificate, and he thanked them for their work.

In addition, John Paul II co-authored an interview book with Italian journalist Vittorio Messori, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” which came about after a failed attempt at a television interview.

In 1993, he had agreed to be interviewed for the 15th anniversary of his pontificate, and Messori's interview was to have been broadcast by Italian state television RAI, as well as foreign stations.

However, Messori was skeptical about interviewing the Pope on television, and when he met John Paul II in Castel Gandolfo to agree on the questions for the interview, he told the Holy Father that “we need a Pope, a master who guides us, not a TV pundit. We are not dealing with the crisis of the Church. We are dealing with the crisis of faith.”

The Pope did not agree with Messori, but the TV interview was canceled nonetheless. However, John Paul II was so interested in the questions that he later sent Messori his written answers in an envelope through the then-director of the Vatican press office, Joaquin Navarro Valls.

The manuscript was entitled, “Crossing the threshold of hope,” which was subsequently chosen as the title of the book that came from it.

More recently, Benedict XVI agreed to answer the questions put to him by seven people on the Italian bishops’ conference TV show, “A Sua Immagine.”

The show was broadcast April 22, 2011, and the first question was that of a Japanese 7-year-old who had experienced the dramatic earthquake that struck Japan. She asked the Pope why children must be so scared and saddened by such events.

Benedict XVI spontaneously replied that he asked himself the same questions, and that he did not have the answers. The Pope then stressed that “we know that Jesus suffered like you, innocently, and that the true God is on your side.”

Benedict then concluded that “even if we have not the proper answers and if sadness endures, it is important to know that God is on your side, and this will certainly help you.”

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Vatican analyst warns of global 'war' against Christians

Denver, Colo., Oct 6, 2013 (CNA) - In his new book “The Global War on Christians,” Vatican analyst John Allen, Jr. details anti-Christian abuse worldwide, drawing light to the tremendous scale of violence against the world’s most persecuted religion.

“I don't think it takes any religious convictions or confessional interests at all to see that defense of persecuted Christians deserves to be the world’s number one human rights priority,” Allen, a noted Vatican journalist and author, told CNA in an Oct. 2 interview.

“You didn't have to be Jewish in the '70s to be worried about dissident Jews in the Soviet Union; you didn't have to be black in the '80s to be concerned about apartheid in South Africa; and you equally don't have to be Christian today to recognize that Christians are the most persecuted religious body on the planet.”

Allen's work, published Tuesday by Image Books, arises directly from a conversation he had with Cardinal Dolan in 2009, in which the prelate made the point that Christians “need to do a better job of telling these stories” of Christian persecution, like the body of “Holocaust literature” showed the suffering of Jews under Hitler.

However, Allen became interested in the subject of anti-Christian persecution while traveling to Ukraine for Pope John Paul II's 2001 trip there.

At that time, Allen met the granddaughter of an Eastern Catholic priest who had been killed in a gulag during the Soviet era.

“That conversation brought home that martyrdom is very much a feature of the contemporary Christian landscape.”

Prior to that, he said, “like a lot of Catholics … when I thought of martyrdom, I considered it an artifact of the early centuries of the Church, the early Christian martyrs under Nero and Diocletian.”

“The more I would travel the world and meet victims of anti-Christian persecution in various places, the more the scale and scope of this thing came home to me.”

Allen notes that throughout the first decade of the 21st century, 100,000 Christians were killed per year – 11 new martyrs every hour – and secular human rights groups estimate that 80 percent of religious freedom violations are current directed against Christians.

Despite these massive figures, the worldwide persecution of Christians is little known in the U.S., and Allen said the first purpose of his book is “to end the silence about anti-Christian persecution … to put it on the map.”

Highlighting that “this is a literal war against Christians on a global scale,” involving direct physical violence, harassment, and imprisonment, Allen works in the book to chronicle persecution against Christians in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and eastern Europe.

Having done that, Allen then clarified several myths about Christian persecution, such as the claims that no one saw the persecution coming; the issue is solely a political one; and “it's all about Islam.”

While acknowledging that “we can't be naïve” about the fact that quite “a fair share of Christian suffering around the world” is related to radical forms of Islam, Allen said that “it does an injustice to Christian victims of persecution … as a result of other forces, to leave them out of the picture simply because their oppressors aren't Muslims.”

He noted that recently, “the most violent anti-Christian pogrom anywhere was in India,” and at the hands of radical Hindus. “I don't think it's fair to those Indian victims to forget them simply because they don't have the politically appropriate enemy.”

Allen chose to distinguish between the physically violent persecution of Christians around the world –including churches being blown up in Pakistan or tens of thousands of Christians languishing in concentration camps in North Korea – and the “separate, but related” issue of a secularist movement in the Western world which discourages the expression of all religions.

He hopes that his book will help broaden the view of many people in the United States, to see that “there are real lethal threats to religious freedom out there that need our attention, too.”

The second major purpose of the book, Allen explained, is “to galvanize people, Christians particularly, to take action. I don't want people just to be aware of (Christian persecution), I want them to do something about it.”

While many Americans learning of Christian persecution in far-off places might feel powerless to stop it, or even to assist its victims, Allen uses the final part of his book to explain the consequences and responses appropriate to the issue.

Some of the response can be “broad policy” of the government, “big picture level” decisions: giving preference to victims of anti-Christian violence in refugee resettlement policy, and paying attention to the voices of Syrians saying that to seek regime change in their country would be quite harmful to them, he said.

“But there are things that people can do on a smaller scale, without waiting to live in a different world,” he added.

In particular, Allen suggested donating to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which provides “basic food and medical care to Christian refugees from Syria.”

A “feasible financial contribution” for a middle-class American can do much to help Christians who have fled Syria, he said, “and it's a direct way of saving the lives of Christians who are today the world's most persecuted religious body.”

“There are ways in which individuals can effect change,” he concluded.

“So don’t feel powerless, don't feel that this is a tragedy we can do nothing about, because there are steps we can take.”

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Prayer gives power to faith, says Pope

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis delivered his Angelus message to the crowds filling an overcast St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, encouraging them to seek God in prayer to increase their faith.

“How do we obtain this power (of faith)?” he asked Oct. 6.

“We obtain it from God in prayer. Prayer is the breath of faith: in a relationship of faith, of love, one can’t omit dialogue, and prayer is the dialogue of the soul with God.”

Sunday’s Gospel recounted the story of the disciples who asked God to increase their faith.

“I think that all of us can make this our plea,” reflected Pope Francis.

He went on to have the crowds repeat the prayer together with him: “Lord, increase our faith.”

Our faith does not need to be large, “because Jesus says that it is enough to have a faith like this,” said Pope Francis, indicating a tiny space between his thumb and forefinger, “small, but true, sincere, to do humanly impossible, unthinkable things.”

“And it’s true,” he continued. “We all know simple, humble people, but who have a very strong faith, that can really move mountains!”

Even if our faith is very tiny, like a mustard seed, it has the power to “give witness.”

“Each one of us, in our own lives, every day, can give witness to Christ, with the power of God, the power of faith.”

“Be a Christian with your life,” exhorted the Roman Pontiff.

After the Angelus prayer the Pope noted that on Saturday, Rolando Rivi, a martyred Italian seminarian, was beatified. Blessed Rivi was killed at age 14 for wearing a cassock in the particularly anti-clerical period of 1945.

“How many young people 14 years old today have before their eyes this example, a courageous young man who knew where he must go, who knew in his heart the love of Jesus, and gave his life for him?”

Rivi, he said, is “a beautiful example for young people.”

The Pope then asked for a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the Oct. 3 Lampedusa boat tragedy in which over 100 African migrants died and more than 200 remain unaccounted for.  

“Let us all pray in silence for these brothers and sisters: men, women, and children.  Let us cry in our hearts. Let us pray in silence.”

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