London, England, Dec 4, 2013 (CNA) -
Two Catholic bishops in England – Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth – have written to their flocks announcing plans to continue deepening the experience of the recently concluded Year of Faith.
“The celebration of this Year of Faith has surely invited us all to raise our own voices calmly and clearly in a renewed profession of our faith,” Bishop Davies wrote in a pastoral letter marking the year's end on the feast of Christ the King.
Announced by Pope Benedict XVI, the Year of Faith ran from Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013. The year sought to encourage a renewal and rediscovery of the faith among Catholics. It coincided with both the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Davies began his letter by quoting Scripture to describe the mocking of Christ on his Cross, and said that scene “is a drama which continues today wherever the claims of Christ are now rejected and derided. It is the hour for our faith to be proved amid the continuing uproar around the Cross of the Lord.”
He observed that around the world, Christians suffer persecution and martyrdom, giving “our celebration of the Year of Faith a new perspective.” The violence facing worldwide Christians, he continued, “also gives perspective to the antagonism we can experience to the claims of Christ and to the witness of Christians in the life of our own society.”
“This situation may at times tempt us to avoid speaking the name of Christ if it makes our contemporaries uneasy, to remove His Cross from view or to understate His claim of Kingship.”
The bishop noted the example of the good thief, St. Dismas, who “cut through all the fear and intimidation around him” to make a profession of faith in Jesus, which should inspire in us a calm and clear renewal of faith.
He quoted Pope Francis on the importance of confessing Jesus Christ, and letting good works flow always from that confession, for “without me, you can do nothing.”
“I have no doubt that the future of our Diocese will be decided by the courage and constancy of such faith,” Bishop Davies reflected.
He concluded by exhorting his people to pray, “Lord, increase our faith!”
“Increase our faith so that we may go from Mass every Sunday to give our own courageous and constant witness to Christ the King.”
In his own message on “Following up the Year of Faith,” Bishop Egan noted his consecration of the Portsmouth diocese to the Sacred Heart, and quoted the Letter of St. James, saying, “just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”
“In the light of what St. James says, I wish to announce a ‘Year of Faith in Action,'” he wrote. Portsmouth's “Year of Faith in Action” will last through the 2014 liturgical year, and Bishop Egan announced he will write a pastoral letter explaining it further on Jan. 12, 2014.
“I envisage the Year of Faith in Action to be determined by individuals, by parishes and pastoral areas, and by the teams that make up our new diocesan Framework for Collaboration. It will be a year of action, a year of good works, a year of putting faith into practice through deeds of justice and charity in the local community … I wish to encourage everyone to develop all sorts of new initiatives.”
The year is to be an invitation for everyone to “put their faith into practice” through works of practical charity, and is meant to coincide with the diocese's follow up to Confirmation and its new youth programs.
“Pope Francis has frequently called the Church to be a Church for the poor; he has said that we need to transcend our comfort zones in order to serve those on the margins,” Bishop Egan stated.
In response to the suggestion from the Pope, he recommended such initiatives as food banks, credit unions, campaigning for justice, befriending immigrants, upholding human dignity from conception to natural death, and caring for the homeless, addicts, the sick, relatives in need, the elderly, unborn children, the dying, and young parents.
He urged that responses be tailored to local needs, and noting the impact of the global financial crisis on residents of the U.K., he said “the Year of Faith in Action could make us more aware of the issues of poverty at home” without diminishing concern for the poor in other nations.
Bishop Egan encouraged everyone to read Benedict XVI's encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” that they might “base everything” they do in authentic charity.
“A sign of a parish’s vitality is its charitable activities, although this should never degenerate into mere philanthropy, ‘do-goodery’, mindless activism or constant fundraising. Authentic charity stems from the heart, indeed, from our love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. It is because of our personal-passionate love for Jesus Christ that we care for those in need, seeking to offer in a practical way the comfort of the Gospel.”
“For the Jesus we love in the Eucharist is the Jesus we serve in the poor, and the Jesus we love in the poor is the Jesus we serve in the Eucharist. Deeds of justice and charity, in other words, are a concrete expression of the new evangelization.”
In response to Benedict XVI's apostolic letter “Intima Ecclesiae Natura,” issued during the Year of Faith and asking bishops to improve their supervision of Catholic charities, Bishop Egan announced the establishment of “Caritas Portsmouth,” a new diocesan agency supporting the local Church's charitable activities.
He concluded by quoting from Christ's words describing the Last Judgment, “I was hungry and you gave me food … just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
“I pray that the Lord Jesus, Whose Heart is the abode of justice and charity, will have mercy on us all during this Year of Faith in Action. Indeed, may He fill you, your families and your friends, with the gift of his friendship and eternal happiness.”
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dec 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A bishop in Bosnia-Herzegovina says that Catholic refugees from the Yugoslav wars conducted in the 1990s continue to suffer and face barriers to their return home.
“Croatian Catholics must finally be put on an equal footing with the other two ethnic groups,” Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka told the charity Aid to the Church in Need Nov. 29.
“They must be allowed to return from abroad and possibilities must be created for them to build up a life in their home towns.”
In the early 1990s, the breakup of Yugoslavia worsened tensions over territory and the future of minority ethnic groups, and erupted into wars primarily involving Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks.
The war killed over 100,000, and displaced hundreds of thousands. After NATO bombings, the Bosnian war ended in 1995 with the Dayton Accords, signed by the presidents of the countries of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia.
Catholic Church sources say only a little more than half of the 835,000 Catholics who had lived in Bosnia-Herzegovina before the civil war live there today. In the Bosnian Serb Republic, one of the two constitutive divisions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Catholic population has fallen from 220,000 to 11,500.
Bishop Komarica, who is head of the bishops’ conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina, lamented that Catholic Croats “have not received a cent” of international funding intended to help repatriate refugees.
Catholics who return to their homes have “no guarantee for a sustainable return, no houses, no work, no electricity, no roads, no medical provision and no schools.” He stressed that Croats “must finally be put on an equal footing with the other two ethnic groups.”
Catholics with Croat names often have more difficulty finding work, he added.
The refugees are “citizens with no established rights.” The bishop said “hardly any of the local politicians take up their cause,” especially in the Bosnian Serb Republic, though some have promised action.
Bishop Komarica warned that Bosnia-Herzegovina suffers from instability that discourages the foreign investment needed to help the economy.
“This country, which was divided unnaturally and unjustly into two by the Dayton Accords in 1995, is sinking into social and political chaos,” he said.
The Dayton Accords split the country into two autonomous entities: the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Banja Luka, Bishop Komarica's see, is the de facto capital of the Bosnian Serb Republic.
The bishop charged that there has been a “betrayal of European values and principles” and “a failure to comply with international agreements” in the country. He called this a “disgrace” both for the country’s politicians and “the international politicians who are responsible for the Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Bishop Komarica said that the Catholic Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been working for years to advance social and political harmony through its social and educational projects.
New Albany, Ind., Dec 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Religious freedom is an important component in aiding those in need, and imposing upon religious liberty harms groups that work for social justice, said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.
“As we seek to meet the immediate needs of the poor and vulnerable and as we engage in efforts to promote authentic human development, we do no one a favor by compromising religious freedom,” Archbishop Lori said during a Nov. 29 talk.
It is the poor who will ultimately suffer, he said, if the faithful accept “the creation of a society where more and more the government can privatize religious faith or otherwise discourage it by promoting an overarching and aggressive secularism.”
Archbishop Lori spoke on “The Defense of Religious Liberty and Service to the Poor” at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, in New Albany, Ind., which was his childhood parish.
In his address, the archbishop observed a connection between religious liberty and the Christian call to serve those in need.
Pope Francis has reminded Catholics “that serving the poor goes to the heart of evangelization, the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel,” he said.
However, free exercise of religion is critical for faith-based groups and individuals to be able to carry out their work to aid the poor and vulnerable, he explained. When religious liberty is attacked, the ability of religion to serve the poor is also threatened.
Today in the United States, the archbishop said, the federal HHS mandate threatens both religious freedom and the Church's ability to serve the poor. The mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
“No one concerned about the Church’s mission – a mission to proclaim and act upon the Gospel ‘in its entirety’, as Pope Francis has said – thinks this mandate is a good thing,” Archbishop Lori reflected.
He explained that the mandate threatens the continued existence of Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies, and said that the bishops are currently “striving to develop creative steps to avoid the extremes of compliance and shutting down” services that help those in need.
“In other words, we are looking for every legal avenue to provide good health insurance to our employees that is also in accord with the Church’s teaching while robustly carrying forward our ministries of service,” he clarified.
“We would rather have spent that time and energy working with both political parties toward providing accessible health care to all, especially the poor, a goal that the bishops have advocated since 1919.”
However, the “bishops did not say that the time and energy spent on defending against the HHS mandate was ill-spent,” Archbishop Lori continued. “Religious liberty is worth defending, even if it is threatened by something as arcane as a federal rule.”
“Religious liberty is something we value as believers who see it as essential to human dignity and as citizens of a nation committed to the constitutional protection of this and other fundamental liberties.”
The archbishop stressed that the Church is driven to care for the poor and vulnerable by the same religious principles driving its opposition to contraception mandate: a recognition of all persons as being “made in the image and likeness of God and endowed by the Creator with inviolable dignity.”
“In a word, our hospitals, charities, and schools are extraordinary precisely because they recognize the transcendent dignity of the human person, and conduct their affairs, internally and externally, in a way that demonstrates the depth and sincerity of that conviction, that basis for mission,” he explained.
“In addition, the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel by working toward integral human development demands that her mission be kept whole – such that no social force, including government, would force a false separation between the Church’s faith and worship and her service to the poor and the needy,” he continued.
Therefore, the “struggle against the HHS mandate is not about the small print. It is about protecting the Church’s ability to serve the poor in dignity and truth, in proclaiming and acting upon the Gospel, as Pope Francis has said, ‘in its entirety.’”
The mandate poses a threat to human dignity and to the Church's ability to serve the needy as whole persons, Archbishop Lori explained.
Such a separation of faith and service turns the poor into “objects, not subjects, of our supposed largesse,” he said.
“Robbing those we serve of the transcendent basis of their dignity and rights is simply not the path to true charity and authentic human development.”
Vatican City, Dec 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his general audience, Pope Francis reflected on the resurrection of the body, explaining that we are “imprinted” with eternal life, which we are able to experience even now through the sacraments.
“Through Baptism, we are inserted into his death and resurrection and begin to experience new life,” the Pope stated in his Dec. 4 general audience, highlighting how “the seed of eternity is planted within us.”
Pope Francis directed his weekly address to the thousands of pilgrims present in Saint Peter’s Square, returning to the conclusion of the Creed when believers proclaim their belief in “the resurrection of the body.”
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he began, “today we look again at the affirmation: “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” highlighting three different aspects of the relationship between Christ’s resurrection and our own.
First of all, noted the pontiff, “the Gospel reveals to us that our faith in the resurrection is bound to the person of Jesus Christ, who himself said ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’”
This proclamation, the Pope stated, “is not easy to understand” because we are “immersed in this world,” however “the Gospel clarifies it to us: the fact that Jesus resurrected is the proof that the resurrection of the dead exists.”
In the Gospel, observed the pontiff, “the Risen Christ gives his disciples the Holy Spirit as a pledge of communion with God which has its fullness in eternity.”
“The anticipation of eternal life is the source and reason for our hope. If this hope is cultivated,” he explained, “It illuminates our lives as persons and communities.”
“Like us in all things but sin, Christ gathers us to himself so that we may accompany him in his journey back to the Father,” the Pope continued, stating that Jesus has “taken us with him on his return to the Father in the glorious kingdom.”
“The omnipotence and faithfulness of God do not end at the door of death… Christ is always with us, he comes every day and he will come at the end.”
Turning to the physical aspect of our resurrection from the dead, the Pope explained that “Christ rose in his glorified body,” and that “through Christ, our bodies will also be glorified and reunited with our souls at the resurrection.”
“Living off of this faith,” he emphasized, “we will be less prisoners of the ephemeral, less prisoners of the transient,” going on to say that “this transfiguration of our body is already being prepared.”
It is prepared for us in this life, he observed, “with the encounter of the Risen Christ, especially in the Eucharist, in which we nourish ourselves with his Body and Blood.”
Pope Francis concluded by explaining that through our Baptism, we have been “inserted” into the death and resurrection of Jesus “and begin to experience new life,” adding that “the image of eternity is imprinted on us and calls us to respect the lives of all people, especially those who suffer.”
“In this way,” explained the Pope, “we can experience the closeness of the Reign of God, towards which we all journey together.”
“We have a seed of the resurrection, a glimpse of eternity, which always makes all human life worthy of respect and love.”
After his address, Pope Francis urged the 30,000 pilgrims in attendance to offer special prayers for a group of nuns who were taken by force from the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Tecla in the ancient Christian town of Ma’lula in Syria earlier this week.
“I would like to invite everyone to pray for the religious sisters,” he petitioned, “who, two days ago, were taken away by force by armed men.”
According to Vatican Radio, the twelve nuns, as well as three other women, were forced to “evacuate” their convent in Ma’lula on Monday, and were taken to the neighboring town of Yabroud, which has a large Christian population, and is also controlled by the rebels.
“Let us pray for these sisters, and for all those who have been kidnapped on account of the on-going conflict,” the Pope encouraged, “let us continue to pray and to work for peace.”
The Holy Father brought the audience to a close by leading the faithful in praying a “Hail Mary,” and invoking the intercession of Mary “Queen of Peace.”
Vatican City, Dec 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican's financial watchdog, the Financial Information Authority, has signed a memorandum of understanding with its German counterpart, the Federal Criminal Police Office.
René Bruelhart, director of the Financial Information Authority, stressed in a Dec. 4 press release that “this memorandum strengthens the FIA's international reach and further integrates the Holy See and the Vatican City State with a coordinated global effort to fight money laundering and the financing of terrorism.”
Bruelhart added that the “signing underlines our fruitful relationship, and will further facilitate our joint efforts.”
The Financial Information Authority was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee the Vatican's monetary and commercial agencies, including the Institutes for the Works of Religion, the “Vatican Bank.”
The agreement with Germany follows a series of similar bilateral agreements signed by the Financial Information Authority with the financial intelligence units of the U.S., Belgium, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, and the Netherlands.
The German memorandum of understanding is significant because of the increasing investments in Germany operated by the Vatican Bank. Since 2010, the Vatican Bank had moved investments from Italy to foreign countries, highlighting its international activities.
An Oct. 7, 2012 police report leaked to the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano complained that “the IOR transferred its Italian accounts to the German Deutsche Bank AG,” and lamented that the transfer started when the Bank of Italy “modified the position of the Vatican institute to fulfill anti-money laundering recommendations.”
According to a source familiar with Vatican finances who spoke to CNA Dec. 4, “the memorandum signed with Germany clearly dispels the idea that the Vatican transferred its investments to Germany to avoid the Italian anti-money laundering law.”
The source maintained that “the Holy See is an international subject, and moves investments according to convenience, not in consideration of any privileged bilateral relationship.”
In 2010, Italy ruled the Vatican was a “non-equivalent extracommunitarian country,” thus applying stricter anti-money laundering procedures and increasing the cost of international money transfers.
That year, Benedict XVI began financial reform in the Vatican, issuing an anti-money laundering law that came into effect in March, 2011.
Following an on-site visit of the evaluators of Moneyval – the Council of Europe committee that evaluates member states' adherence to the anti-money laundering standards – the Holy See improved and perfected its anti-money laundering law with a 2012 decree.
The decree was met favorably by the Moneyval committee, which issued a generally positive report on Vatican City in July 2012.
The Moneyval report underlined that the Holy See has “come a long way in a very short period of time.” It gave a positive evaluation on nine out of 16 “key and core” anti-money laundering recommendations.
Moneyval will issue a progress report on Vatican City at its plenary assembly, to be held Dec. 9-13. The progress report will focus on the improvements of Vatican legislation regarding the committee's “key and core” recommendations.
It comes as part of a long-term strategy to meet international standards, and several improvements to the anti-money laundering law witness to Vatican City's strong commitment to financial transparency.
Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A lawsuit against the U.S. bishops for teaching Catholic hospitals not to perform direct abortions ignores religious freedom protections and laws, a legal expert has said.
“The ACLU’s idea that the courts should hold religious institutions liable for their religious teachings on abortion makes no sense,” Professor Mark Rienzi of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law said Dec. 4.
He emphasized that the U.S. Constitution “unequivocally protects the right of religious leaders to teach that abortion is wrong.”
“The Catholic Church holds the view that a doctor treating a pregnant woman has two patients to care for, and most pregnant women probably agree with that view,” Rienzi told CNA Dec. 4. “The ACLU is allowed to disagree, but it should not be allowed to force that view on all healthcare providers.”
Rienzi’s comments follow the American Civil Liberties Union’s Nov. 29 filing of a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of a Michigan woman named Tamesha Means.
Means was treated at Mercy Health Muskegon, a Catholic hospital in Michigan, in 2010 when she was 18 weeks pregnant and her water broke.
The ACLU claims that hospital was negligent because it did not tell Means that an abortion was “an option” and allegedly “the safest course for her condition.”
The legal group said the woman was in “excruciating pain” and the pregnancy posed “significant risks to her health.” She also suffered “extreme distress” and an infection that can cause infertility, the organization said.
The ACLU lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan, claims that because the U.S. bishops’ conference approved the ethical directives governing Catholic hospitals, the conference is “ultimately responsible” for the “unnecessary trauma and harm” that Means and other pregnant women allegedly experienced at these hospitals.
Rienzi, who teaches constitutional law and religious liberty law, was critical of the lawsuit.
“It is no surprise that the ACLU thinks abortion is good medicine,” he said. “But federal and state law protect the right of religious providers to think otherwise, and to refrain from providing or referring for abortions.”
Rienzi characterized the ACLU lawsuit as “an effort to drive people with different views out of the health care field.”
The lawsuit’s success would mean “a lot fewer health care providers,” the law professor continued, saying “millions” of Americans rely on religious health care providers.
CNA contacted the ACLU for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
The ACLU’s contention that an abortion was medically necessary to help Means has also been questioned.
“Abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother,” said Dr. Brian C. Calhoun, a professor and vice-chair in the obstetrics and gynecology department at West Virginia University-Charleston.
“Abortion is not medicine. It is something else entirely,” Calhoun, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, told CNA Dec. 2.
He noted that in a later-term abortion, a doctor usually kills the unborn baby “by surgical dismemberment.” An unborn baby at 18 weeks is “essentially fully formed,” he added.
At this age, the unborn baby is about 5.5 inches long and seven ounces in weight, with a small human profile. The baby can make sucking motions with his or her mouth and can begin to hear, the Mayo Clinic website says. The mother can sometimes feel the baby’s movement.
The U.S. bishops’ ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care services, most recently updated in 2009, seek to affirm the life of all parties involved in a medical situation. They allow operations, treatments and medications for a pregnant woman to treat a “proportionately serious pathological condition” if these procedures and treatments cannot be postponed, “even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”
However, Catholic ethics bar the direct and intentional killing of an unborn baby through abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union has long backed legal sanctions against Catholic institutions that refuse to recognize what it considers “reproductive rights.” It has called for federal investigations of Catholic hospitals that refuse to perform abortions. It has also advocated restrictions on the ability of Catholic hospitals and other institutions to refuse to perform procedures they find objectionable, including sterilizations or abortions.
The ACLU is also a vocal defender of the federal HHS mandate that requires many employers to provide health insurance plans covering sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause early abortions, in their employee health plans.
Vatican City, Dec 4, 2013 (CNA) -
During a recent visit to a parish on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis revealed that if he had the power to conduct one miracle, it would be to heal suffering children.
The Pope was visiting St. Cyril parish to celebrate the sacrament of confirmation, and afterwards spent several hours visiting with the people there. One of the teenagers who was being confirmed asked him what miracle he would perform if he could.
According to Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the Holy Father's answer was: “To heal children, because it pains me to see children suffer.”
The Holy Father greeted the sick people at the parish one by one, embracing them with a smile and sharing words of comfort. Some wept for joy at seeing him.
He also spoke with the people present. He asked the children receiving First Communion, “Are you good? Do you know how to pray? Thank you for being here to spend this time together and get to know each other better.”
To the parents of children baptized during the year, the Pope said, “When they are baptized, we bring home not only our child but also a seed of divinity that we must help to grow.”
Patience towards children is important, he continued, “and talking with them and teaching them is wonderful.” Even more wonderful, however, is the awareness that with baptism, “A divine sign comes into the home.”
He also told them that he had never imagined becoming Pope, and he was “a little bit” anxious celebrating his first Mass after being elected, because “to face so many people is a little scary.”
“But the people were nice,” he said, adding that “the Lord has helped me to be a priest, and then a bishop and now Pope.”
Questioned about his daily schedule, the Holy Father said, “I pray, then I celebrate Mass and then I begin to work,” reading letters, documents and having meetings with cardinals, bishops, priests and lay people. Lunch is at noon, followed by half an hour of rest. Then he begins working again until night, LOR reported.
The Pope also revealed that he worked as a bouncer at a night club when he was younger. He also taught literature and psychology, and learned from his experience how to help fallen-away Catholics return to the Church.
“We don't have to go door to door proselytizing,” he said, quoting Benedict XVI, “because the Church spreads through attraction.”
The Pope's final gesture was to bless an unborn child and to bid farewell to the people, encouraging them to use the period of Advent to prepare well for Christmas in order to “encounter Jesus once again.”