Archive of December 7, 2013

Reforms aim to show 'true face of the Church,' says Vatican official

Rome, Italy, Dec 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis’ style and ongoing reforms are intended to encourage Catholics to be more missionary, in order to bring the Gospel to all people, said Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State.

“It’s very easy to work with Pope Bergoglio. There is a lot of agreement, and this is great hope for the future,” Archbishop Parolin said.

He emphasized the Holy Father's desire for reforms that “show the true face of the Church,” Vatican Radio reported.

Archbishop Parolin made his statements during the presentation of the book, “My Door is Always Open,” by Father Antonio Spadaro, which includes a more complete version of the conversation the Holy Father had with the director of the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica.

It is true that Church “structures must be renewed in order that they reflect the Gospel more and more and become even more effective in the concrete exercise of the service they should provide,” the archbishop reflected.

However, he continued, it is even more important, “as the Pope is asking us, that we all work towards personal renewal – to use a Christian term, towards continual conversion.”

Likewise, Archbishop Parolin reiterated the missionary dimension and style of the Pope.

“I think the hope is that the Gospel can reach all people: this missionary dimension that has also been underscored today, which is fundamental in the words and in the style of Pope Francis,” he explained.

“The conference of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops at Aparecida in 2007 underscored precisely this missionary dimension of the Church, the need to go to the peripheries, to reach everyone, to bring the treasure of the joy of the Gospel to all,” he said.

“This is also very beautiful and is the dominant tone of Evangelii Gaudium. Thus the Gospel is joy and we are called to bring joy to the word by bringing this Good News.”

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DC health plans accused of illegally funding abortion

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Obama administration is being accused of violating federal law by directing members of Congress and congressional staff to over 100 health insurance plans that pay for elective abortions.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the abortion-providing health care plans show that President Obama’s 2010 health care legislation is an “abortion mandate” that “violates federal law and makes taxpayers complicit in the culture of death.”

“This is not reform,” he said Dec.4.

Smith is the author of a 1983 amendment that bars abortion funding from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The amendment also bars the Office of Personnel Management from funding or engaging in administrative activities in connection with any health plan that includes abortion, Smith’s office said.

However, the congressman charged that that elective abortion coverage is included in 103 of the 112 insurance plans in the Washington, D.C. insurance exchanges that members of Congress and congressional staff are being advised to use under the Affordable Care Act.

“Only nine plans offered exclude elective abortion,” he said, adding that this information became available only in response to public pressure.

The deadline for eligible federal employees to sign up for the employer-sponsored plans is Dec. 9.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said the abortion-providing health plans are “clearly breaking longstanding federal law” and show how the legislation “expands taxpayer funding of abortion.”

She said the health plans call into question the agreement then-Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, and other pro-life Democrats made with President Obama. The elected officials agreed to vote for the Affordable Care Act in exchange for an executive order intended to apply federal abortion funding restrictions to the health insurance exchanges.

“Obamacare was forced through only after pro-life Democrats naively accepted a promise and an executive order from the White House that taxpayer dollars would not be used to fund elective abortion,” she said Dec. 4. “Promises as well as laws have now been broken.”

Rep. Smith pointed to the executive order as well as President Obama’s statement that “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortion.” He said the new revelations mean the president’s promises “ring hollow.”

“Abortion isn’t health care – it kills babies and harms women,” he stressed. “We live in an age of ultrasound imaging – the ultimate window to the womb and the child who resides there. We are in the midst of a fetal health care revolution, an explosion of benign interventions designed to diagnose, treat and cure the youngest patients.”

Smith also charged that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has failed to provide “any” information about abortion coverage in the federal health plans sold in dozens of U.S. states. He is currently sponsoring legislation to require disclosure of abortion coverage in a health care plan on the federal insurance exchanges and to require that any abortion surcharge be “prominently displayed.”

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, an education and research affiliate of the Susan B. Anthony List, has released a study that says federal premium tax credits and Medicaid expansion in the health care legislation could heavily subsidize as many as 111,500 additional abortions each year.

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Catholic leaders recall Mandela's complicated legacy

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Church leaders in the United States offered prayers for the late Nelson Mandela, remembering both his courageous anti-apartheid leadership and his promotion of one of the world’s most liberal abortion laws.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, called Mandela “a hero to the world.”

“His bravery in defending human rights against the great evil of apartheid made him a symbol of courage and dignity, as well as an inspiration to people everywhere.”

He noted that Bl. John Paul II, in his visit to South Africa, called Mandela “a silent and suffering ‘witness’” of his people’s “yearning for true liberation.” The Pope had said Mandela had to “shoulder the burden of inspiring and challenging everyone to succeed in the task of national reconciliation and reconstruction.”

Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services, said the U.S.-based international relief agency mourns Mandela’s passing, calling him “a champion in the struggle for justice and equality for all.”

“His life inspires all of us to re-dedicate ourselves to helping the oppressed find their voice and their way to lives of meaning and dignity. His personal example of forgiveness and non-violence will challenge us to work for peace and reconciliation even in the midst of deep conflict.”

Mandela, who served as South Africa’s president from 1994 to 1999, died Dec. 5 at the age of 95 of a lung infection. The former prisoner won world recognition for opposing the oppressive racial segregation of the South African government’s apartheid policy.

Mandela had been a campaigner against apartheid since 1952, when he organized protests across South Africa against the policy. He was arrested on treason charges in 1956, and acquitted after a five-year trial. He then secretly sought help from other African nations and in England.

After the South African government banned the party in 1960, the movement against apartheid became an armed struggle led by Mandela. In 1962 he was sentenced to five years in jail for inciting a strike and for leaving the country without a passport. Additional charges of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government in 1964 led to a sentence of 27 years behind bars.

Mandela’s then-wife Winnie and other campaigners worked to end apartheid and secure his freedom, helping transform him into an icon of human rights. He was released in 1990. In 1993, he won the Nobel Peace Prize with white South African president F. W. De Klerk, who also worked to end apartheid.

Political violence killed over 4,000 people ahead of the country’s first post-apartheid elections in 1994, when South Africa’s black population voted overwhelmingly for Mandela. Upon his election as president, Mandela worked to help reconcile white and black South Africans.

However, pro-life advocates also noted a dark side to Mandela’s legacy, observing the key role he played in pushing for abortion in the country.     

“In 1996, Mandela signed into law the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which permits abortion on demand,” John Smeaton, director of Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, noted in a Dec. 6 post.

He warned against the temptation to become “swept away by personality cults,” saying that Catholics must “stand up to public figures with anti-life and anti-family records,” to defend these fundamental and foundational rights.  

Mandela signed the 1996 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which the New York Times said at the time “replace(d) one of the world's toughest abortion laws with one of the most liberal.” The law granted state-financed abortion on demand up to the 12th week; abortion on demand to the 20th week; and abortion for “serious medical reasons” until birth.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion group, wrote in 2000 that in South Africa, “the liberalization of abortion became possible only after the 1994 elections” which made Mandela president and ended apartheid.


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Pope says early Christians a model for 'digital age' Church

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Today Pope Francis met with members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity who had gathered to discuss the theme, “Announcing Christ in the digital age.”

“The internet is a widespread reality, complex and in continual evolution, and its development re-proposes the ever-present question of the relationship between faith and culture,” the Pope said Dec. 7 to the participants of the council’s 26th plenary assembly.

“Already during the first centuries of Christianity, the Church wanted to face the extraordinary heritage of the Greek culture. Facing a very profound philosophy and an educational method of exceptional value, but soaked in pagan elements, the (early Christian) Fathers were not closed to debate, but on the other hand neither did they surrender to compromise with certain ideas contrary to faith,” the Pope explained.

“They knew, rather, to identify and assimilate the more elevated concepts, transforming them from the inside by the light of the Word of God.”

The pontiff linked this approach to that of St. Paul, who wrote, “examine everything and keep what is good.”

“Between the opportunities and the dangers of the network, it is necessary to ‘examine everything,’ conscious that we will find counterfeits, dangerous illusions, and snares to be avoided,” he cautioned.

“But, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will also discover precious opportunities to lead mankind to the luminous face of the Lord.”

Pope Francis then explained the challenges in digital communications faced by the Church.

“Amongst the possibilities,” he noted, “the most important regards the announcement of the gospel.” Moreover, “it’s not sufficient to acquire technological competence, although that is important.”

Rather, at the crux “it is a matter, first of all, of meeting real women and men, often injured or lost, in order to offer them real reasons for hope.”

This announcement of the gospel cannot happen apart from “authentic and direct human relationships” which then lead to “a personal meeting with the Lord.” Therefore,  concluded the Pope, “the internet is not enough, technology is not sufficient.”

“This is not to say that the presence of the Church on the internet is useless; on the contrary, it is indispensable to be present, always with evangelical style,” he noted. 
It is necessary because the internet “has become for everyone, especially for youth, a kind of environment of life.” The Church’s presence there can serve “to awaken the irrepressible questions of the heart, about the meaning of life, and to indicate the way that leads to Him who is rest, the divine mercy made flesh, the Lord Jesus.”

The Pope closed his audience by thanking the members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity for their work.

“Dear friends, the Church is always in a journey, to search again for new ways to announce the gospel. The contribution and witness of the lay faithful reveals itself more every day to be indispensable.”

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Pope: Neglect of human dignity causes 'practical atheism'

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Saturday afternoon Pope Francis met with members of an international organization that promotes human dignity, warning them against a “false model” of humanity.

“Unfortunately, in our time, so full of so many hopes and achievements, there are powers and forces that end up producing a ‘throw-away culture’; and this tends to become a common mentality,”  said the pontiff on Dec. 7. “The victims of this culture are its most weak and fragile humans – the unborn, the poor, the elderly sick, severely disabled…those who risk being ‘thrown away,’ expelled by a mechanism that must be efficient at all costs.”

“This false model of man and of society effects a practical atheism (by) denying, de facto, the Word of God that says, ‘let us make man in our image, according to our likeness,’” Pope Francis explained to the members of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute.

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the insitute’s honorary president, said the group was founded in 2008 in the European Parliament “with the goal to protect and promote human dignity based on the anthropological truth that man is born in the image and likeness of God.”

The cardinal spoke briefly at today’s meeting with the Pope, saying, “to evangelize the very culture itself is the activity and ambition of this institute.”

“We work with all people of goodwill. We are firmly ecumenical in our approach, respectful and tolerant of those with another (or) different faith; but we celebrate with joy our uncompromising inspiration by the holy Word of God, and Catholic social teaching.”

Pope Francis’ remarks focused on similar themes. He reflected on the need “to let ourselves be questioned by this Word” of God.

“If we allow it to approach our personal and social awareness, if we let it be part of discussions and our ways of thinking and acting, criteria, priorities, and choices, then things can change,” the Pope encouraged.

“The power of this Word puts limits on anyone who wants to become dominant, abusing the rights and dignity of others,” he continued. “At the same time, it gives hope and comfort to those who are not able to defend themselves, (and) to those who do not have intellectual and practical means to affirm the value of their suffering, of their own rights, of their lives.”

The pontiff encouraged the group’s initiatives, emphasizing the importance of a Christian presence in the political sphere.

“It is necessary to raise awareness and training, so that the lay faithful, in all conditions, and especially those who engage in the political field, are able to think according to the gospel and the social doctrine of the Church and act consistently, dialoging and collaborating with those who, with sincerity and intellectual honesty, share, if not the faith, at least a similar vision of man and of society and its ethical consequences,” he said.

Ben Harnwell, the Dignitatis Humanae Institute’s founder, was part of today’s audience with Pope Francis.

Harnwell told CNA that he started the organization five years ago because he saw the need to “create a way, in the political sphere, of dialoguing with Christian politicians.” He hoped to “create an environment in which politicians could be Christian” without being dismissed simply because of their religious beliefs.

Not expecting to meet Pope Francis personally, Harnwell was both surprised and thrilled to find himself shaking the pontiff’s hand.

“It’s incredible to talk to someone who is known by everyone, the acknowledged successor of Peter, and yet find a man of such humility, and a visible embodiment of the gospel. It’s really a once in a life time experience,” he said.

What struck Harnwell most of all, however, was the “transmission of joy embodied in Pope Francis.”

The Pope took time to meet with many more people than originally planned at today’s event. “The generosity of time, the freshness that he brought to each introduction – he’s the Pope, but that generosity of spirit is the visible embodiment of what we’re trying to do,” reflected Harnwell.

“The work of the institute has been an uphill push, but today has been unbelievable.  Everyone has said, ‘this is far more than what we were expecting.’”

Harnwell also discussed institute members who fight to uphold human dignity in politics.

“We can hold the line,” he said, “but people come here and get filled up with the joy and hope of being Catholic.”

Harnwell said today’s meeting with the Pope has “reinvigorated” the institute’s members to continue their fight.

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Pope says caring for sick brings 'the smile of God'

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis released his message for the World Day of the Sick Dec. 7, emphasizing the important role of hope both for those who suffer and for their caregivers.

“When we come together, with tenderness, with those who have need of care, we carry the hope and the smile of God in contradiction to the world,” said the Pope’s message.

Because of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, Pope Francis explained, “we are placed in this world before the mystery of God’s love for us, which fills us with hope and courage: hope, because in the design of God’s love even the night of suffering opens to the Easter light; and courage, to confront every adversity in his company, united to Him.”

In becoming man and taking on human suffering, Jesus transformed and reshaped our experience of pain.

Suffering and death “no longer have the last word,” but now united with Christ, “the negative can become positive.”

“Jesus is the way, and with his Spirit we can follow him. As the Father has given his Son for love, and the Son has given himself for the same love, we too can love others as God has loved us, giving our lives for our brothers,” encouraged the Pope.

It is through “the strength of Baptism and of Confirmation (that) we are called to conform ourselves to Christ,” he added.

With the grace of these sacraments, we can submit to the “test of authentic faith in Christ” which is “the gift of self to spread love of neighbor, especially to those who don’t merit it, to those who suffer, to those who are marginalized.”

The pontiff then went on to point to two examples of extraordinary Christian love: Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and St. John the Apostle, who stood at the foot of the cross with Mary.

St. John “makes us go back to the sources of faith and love, to the heart of God who ‘is love,’ and reminds us that we cannot love God if we don’t love our brother.”

Mary suffered greatly hearing the prophetic words of Simeon, who told her that “a sword would pierce her heart,” yet “with strength (she) remained at the foot of Jesus’ cross. She knows how to take this path and this is why she is the mother of all the sick and the suffering,” explained Pope Francis.

Moreover, continued the Pope, Mary is “the mother of the crucified and risen one: she remains near to our crosses and accompanies us in our journey towards the resurrection and the fullness of life.”

The twenty-second Day of the Sick will be observed on February 11, 2014.

Pope Francis said he entrusts the day “to the intercession of Mary, in order to help the sick to live their suffering in communion with Jesus Christ, and to support those who care for them.”

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