Denver, Colo., Jan 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A baby name website has predicted that more parents will be choosing traditional Biblical names for their children this year, a trend that one expert says is a sign of people's renewed hope in their faith.
“Biblical names surging back into our culture is a great turn for the better. After many years, it shows that people are feeling stronger about their faith, and that they have hope once again,” Lucie Wisco, editor of social baby naming website Belly Ballot, told CNA.
The site is set up so that anyone with internet access can share the choices for their soon-to-be-born baby with friends and family via social media. Friends and family then vote on their favorites and when the voting is done the parents have a “winner,” which can help them make a final decision.
Based on the data gathered from some 3,500 parents, along with 25,000 votes of their families and friends who use the website, Belly Ballot is predicting that Biblical names will be more popular in 2014 than they have been in recent years.
Wisco said the reason this is happening “is actually quite simple.”
Over the past few years, she said, parents have been “experimenting” with baby names by “inventing names” and using “bizarre spellings.”
The return to Biblical names shows a desire to “go back to original values and traditions to find the comfort and peace once again.”
While names such as Noah, Ethan, Michael and Abigail continue to appear on the Social Security Administration's top 10 most popular names, parents are now being drawn to less frequently used names from the Bible such as Naomi, Caleb, Judith or Levi.
Wisco even attributed this new trend to Pope Francis' election last March, saying that naming children after Biblical characters is a way for parents to “honor” the new Holy Father.
“Pope Francis is focusing more on the need for humility, mercy and compassion, and thus bringing ordinary people much closer to the Church again,” she said.
Data from the site also shows that names ending in –den, such as Brayden or Jayden, are fading in popularity, as are names featuring the letter “x,” such as Axl or Xander.
Vatican City, Jan 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis' pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to be held in May, will center on his encounter with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople, and their discussions on ecumenism.
Announcing the trip Jan. 5, Pope Francis said its “principal goal” is “to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras I, that occurred … 50 years ago today.”
That encounter was the beginning of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and led to a joint declaration issued in 1965 which declared the two leaders' desire “to overcome their differences in order to be again ‘one’ as the Lord Jesus asked of his Father for them”, and which lifted the mutual excommunications of their predecessors issued in 1054, which profoundly contributed to the schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
Pope Francis is visiting with Patriarch Bartholomew at the Patriarch's request, which was made at the Roman Pontiff's inaugural Mass on March 19. That was the first time the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople had attended such an event since 1054.
Following the Mass, Patriarch Bartholomew suggested that they visit the Holy Land together, commemorating and hopefully replicating the embrace between their predecessors; Pope Francis responded by embracing the Patriarch.
Pope Francis' visit will take place May 24-26, where he and the Patriarch will celebrate an ecumenical meeting at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ's burial in Jerusalem, which is shared among Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholics.
In addition to visiting Jerusalem, Pope Francis will travel to Bethlehem, in Palestine, and to Amman, in Jordan.
Pope Francis' good relations build with Patriarch Bartholomew build on those of his predecessors since Paul VI.
Benedict XVI visited Istanbul in 2006, praying with Patriarch Bartholomew, and the patriarch came to the Vatican to meet with Benedict two years later. He also attend the opening of the Year of Faith with Benedict in St. Peter's Square in 2012.
In 2006, under Benedict, the papal title “Patriarch of the West” was abandoned as “obsolete and practically unusable,” with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity saying it “could prove useful to ecumenical dialogue.”
Pope Francis has shown an ecumenical sensitivity as Roman Pontiff; on his election March 13, he presented himself as the Bishop of Rome, the Church “which presides in charity over all the Churches.”
His words reprized a joint document issued by the Catholic-Orthodox theological commission in 2007, which discussed ecclesiology, conciliarity, and authority.
“Both sides agree,” according to the document, “that Rome, as the Church that ‘presides in love,’ according to the phrase of St. Ignatius of Antioch, occupied the first place in the (Churches’ order) and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the (first) among the patriarchs.”
The document also noted that the sides “disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence … regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as (first), a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.”
In addition to his preferential option for the use of “Bishop of Rome” over “Pope”, Francis has also laid emphasis on synodality, a model of Church governance more characteristic of the Eastern Orthodox.
In an interview with La Civilta Cattolica Sept. 30, he said, “synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality.”
He also sent greetings to Patriarch Bartholomew on Nov. 30, the feast of the Patriarch's initial predecessor, St. Andrew, assuring him of “my intention to pursue fraternal relations between the Church of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
Among the Eastern Orthodox, Patriarch Bartholomew is strongly committed to encouraging the Churches to further ecumenical dialogue.
Patriarch Bartholomew has held his position since 1991. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is “first among equals” in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which has over 300 million followers worldwide.
He has convoked a meeting of Orthodox bishops in Istanbul to be held in March, the first such since 2008. The meeting will be conceived as an exchange of views on the guidelines and time frame for the Preparatory Commission of the Pan-Orthodox Synod, scheduled for 2015.
As Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew can do much to foster dialogue and can give an impetus for ecumenism to the Orthodox Churches.
While at one time ecumenical dialogue was considered a sort of utopia, “now we are brothers in faith dialoguing,” Nikos Tzoitis, an official of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, told CNA Jan. 7.
Trenton, N.J., Jan 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A new survey shows an increase in likely U.S. voters who see marriage as a religious institution, with a majority now holding this view.
Rasmussen Reports’ Dec. 22 national survey of 1,000 U.S. likely voters found that a majority – 53 percent of respondents – said marriage is a religious institution. This is an increase from 48 percent in October. Another 40 percent saw marriage as a civil institution, down from 45 percent in October.
About 77 percent of respondents said they are married or have been at some point in their lives. This correlated to their views of the institution.
About 57 percent of ever-married respondents said marriage is a religious institution, while the never-married tended to see it as a civil institution.
A large majority of Republicans and a small majority of unaffiliated voters said marriage is a religious institution, while a small majority of Democrats said it is civil in nature. Men and respondents over 40 were more likely to say marriage is religious.
Respondents also gave their views on the relationship between marriage and having children.
About 73 percent of respondents said it is important or very important to be married before having children. Another 25 percent said that marriage is not a precondition for parenthood, an increase from 20 percent in a previous survey.
Ever-married respondents were far more likely to stress the importance of marriage before children than the unmarried, Rasmussen Reports said.
The survey suggests marriage is highly valued in the U.S.
Seventy-nine percent of respondents said marriage is somewhat or very important to society, with 55 percent ranking it very important.
The survey found that 45 percent of respondents opposed “gay marriage,” while 42 percent favored it.
In October, the pollster’s survey found voters evenly split on the question at 44 percent each. However, the apparent changes are still within the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
Views about the nature of marriage appear to correlate to views on “gay marriage.” About 71 percent of those who said marriage is a religious institution oppose “gay marriage,” while 75 percent of those who said it is a civil institution favor marriage redefinition.
Vatican City, Jan 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his weekly general audience, Pope Francis reflected on the importance of the sacrament of Baptism, highlighting how it is a gift which incorporates us into the body of Christ and impels us to evangelize.
“Let us not forget the great gift we have received,” Pope Francis stated during his Jan. 8 general audience, “our baptism has changed us, given us a new and glorious hope, and empowered us to bring God’s redeeming love to all.”
The Pontiff greeted the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, announcing the beginning of a new catechesis on the Sacraments, during which he will reflect on each of the seven, beginning with Baptism.
“The Second Vatican Council tells us that the Church herself is a ‘sacrament,’” he explained, “a grace-filled sign which makes Christ’s saving work present in history, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
As “the first of the Church’s seven sacraments, baptism gives us new birth in Christ,” said the Pope, and it “makes us sharers in the mystery of his death and resurrection, grants the forgiveness of sin and brings us new freedom as God’s children and members of his Church.”
“Baptism is the sacrament on which our faith is founded and we are living members of Christ and of his Church,” the Pontiff emphasized, highlighting how it is not just “a simple rite or a formal act.”
“For Him, we dive into the inexhaustible source of life; we come from the death of Jesus. So we can live a new life of communion with God, and with our brothers.”
Pope Francis noted that although there are many who “don't have the slightest memory of this sacrament,” we are all “called to live each day aspiring to the vocation that we receive in Him.”
“If we follow Jesus and remain in the Church,” observed the Pope, “with our limits and our fragilities, and sins…we become new creatures and we are clothed in Christ” through the Sacraments.
Drawing attention to the Church’s missionary dynamic, the Pontiff explained how “our baptism has changed us, given us a new and glorious hope, and empowered us to bring God’s redeeming love to all, particularly the poor, in whom we see the face of Christ.”
“Our baptism,” he continued, “has also given us a share in the Church’s mission of evangelization; as disciples, we are also missionaries.”
“As we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord this Sunday, let us ask him to renew in us the grace of our baptism and to make us, with all our brothers and sisters, true children of God and living members of his body, the Church.”
Pope Francis concluded his weekly address by inviting all to experience “in everyday life the grace that we receive in Baptism,” and greeted pilgrims present from numerous countries around the world.
Turning to those in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, the Pontiff asked that they remember the day of their Baptism and celebrate it, because thanks to this Sacrament “we have all become new creatures in Christ, temples of the Spirit, adoptive children of the Father.”
We are “members of the Church, brothers in faith and announcers of the Gospel,” he affirmed, who are “capable of forgiving and loving all, even our enemies.”
Rome, Italy, Jan 8, 2014 (CNA) -
The Church throughout the world has expereince increased violence in the past year, according to a recent global report on the murders of priests, religious and lay faithful.
Data published by the Fides news agency recorded 22 assassinations in 2013, up from 13 in 2012.
Most of the victims were killed during robbery attempts, and in some cases the attacks were ferocious.
Among the victims were 19 priests, one religious sister and two laymen who died violently. For the fifth consecutive year, Latin America was the area where most assassinations of this type took place.
Seven priests died in Colombia; four in Mexico; one in Brazil; one in Venezuela; one in Panama; and one in Haiti.
In Africa, one priest was killed in Tanzania, one religious sister in Madagascar and one laywoman in Nigeria. In Asia, one priest was killed in India, one in Syria and one layman in the Philippines. In Europe, one priest was killed in Italy.
Fides noted that the list does not only include missionaries ad gentes in the strict sense, but all pastoral care workers who died violent deaths.
During the past year, several canonization causes were opened for candidates who died violently. In addition, the diocesan phase of the beatification process for Luisa Mistrali Guidotti was completed during this time. Guidotti, a member of the Women's Medical Missionary Association, was killed in 1979 in then Rhodesia – between Zambia and Zimbabwe – while taking a pregnant woman to a hospital.
The year 2013 also saw the opening of the cause for canonization of Father Mario Vergara, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for the Foreign Missions, as well as that of lay catechist Isidoro Ngei Ko Lat, killed out of hatred for the faith in Myanmar in 1950.
However, the fate of many other pastoral agents who have been kidnapped or have disappeared continues to be a cause of concern. Among those whose whereabouts remain unknown are three priests from the Augustinians of the Assumption, kidnapped in the Congo in October of 2012.
Lagos, Nigeria, Jan 8, 2014 (CNA) -
Christians in Nigeria face violence and persecution in their homeland as militant group Boko Haram uses inequality and instability in the country to advance its ideology, a bishop has warned.
"Don’t sit by while Nigeria disintegrates," Bishop Hyacinth Egbebo, Vicar Apostolic of Bomadi, said in a Jan. 1 interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
If Boko Haram succeeds, the bishop continued, “the rest of Africa might easily fall prey to them. That would be an unimaginable humanitarian disaster.”
Bomadi is located in Nigeria's oil-rich yet impoverished Niger Delta, located in the south of the country.
The country – Africa's most populous, with over 160 million people, of which a little more than 80 million are Christian – is roughly divided into two regions: the more prosperous and largely Muslim north, and the resource-rich and mostly Christian south. Some 30 million Nigerians are Catholic.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sinful”, is a militant organization recognized as a terrorist group by the United States government in Sept. 2013. The organization, Bishop Egbebo said, "wants an Islamic state in the North, imposing shariah law on everyone." It views "everything that is an obstacle to implementing that goal" as an opportunity for violence, targeting Christian schools, churches, and people, especially due to Christianity's association with the West.
Even moderate Muslims have been assassinated by the Islamists for speaking out against them and for protecting churches from violence.
The bishop warned that if the organization succeeds in removing Christianity from the north "they would set their sights on the south" and the rest of Africa.
While "prominent Muslim leaders have spoken out against Boko Haram," he continued, there is also support for Boko Haram from political leaders, weapons suppliers, and sources of funding both inside and outside the country.
While Boko Haram is responsible for the deaths of close to 1,000 Christians in 2012 and at least 700 in 2013, the bishops "strongly condemned the murder of Muslims at the hand of Christians" in retaliation for violence against Christians, Bishop Egbebo stated.
The bishops' work has "prevailed however, in the face of Boko Haram’s effort to provoke Christians into acts of retaliation and create chaos in the country," he assured. Despite this, “some Christians fight back if they are attacked.”
Bishop Egbebo urged that one of the greatest challenges facing the country – and one of its greatest hopes at long-term stability – is to control corruption and promote stable economic systems.
"Boko Haram would fade out if people had the prospects of a decent life," he said, pointing out that the "Nigerian bishops regularly call on the government and urge reform,” in a country plagued by corruption.
Priests often "preach against corruption”, and because this corruption creates harsh economic conditions, there is “no hope to make a decent living, so many are easily drawn into a life of violence,” leading to the widespread instability that threatens the country's present and futures.
These factors have lead to a "palpable fear in Nigeria" about political and economic power shifting to the south, as the oil industry expands in the region.
In addition, Bishop Egbebo said, some fundamentalist Protestants "preach a Gospel of wealth," living lives of luxury and materialism that appeals to those who “long for material possessions.” Even still, the south remains poor, with "no electricity," poor roads, "no reliable schools or hospitals", and no water available to the people within the Apostolic Vicariate of Bomadi, he continued.
“We are dying of lack of food, for lack of very basic things.”
Nigerian Christians can contribute to the common good “by speaking truth and emphasizing the need for peace,” Bishop Egbebo said, adding that the Church “seeks to provide quality healthcare and education, as best we can.”
He added, however, that change "will come very slowly” to Nigeria. “Real reform will require very courageous and charismatic leadership.”
Denver, Colo., Jan 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A Christian baker in Colorado is appealing a judge's ruling that he must violate his religious beliefs and bake a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony.
“Jack simply exercised the long-cherished freedom to not speak by declining to promote a false view of marriage through his creative work,” explained lead counsel Nicolle Martin, who is allied with Alliance Defending Freedom.
“It’s outrageous that the government would turn its guns on Jack and threaten him with a potential jail sentence unless he says and does what the government demands.”
Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., declined in July 2012 to make a wedding cake for two men who had recently obtained a civil marriage license in Massachusetts.
Phillips explained that his evangelical Christian faith prevented him from making a cake for a “gay wedding.” In response, the two men filed a discrimination suit.
In December 2013, Colorado Judge Robert Spencer ruled that Phillips' actions constituted discrimination and do not fall under protected freedom of speech because the requested cake did not explicitly include text supporting “gay marriage.”
Judge Spencer also rejected Phillips claim that he has a right to live out his religious beliefs in his business decisions. The judge said that baking a wedding cake “does not involve an effort by the government to regulate what Respondents believe. Rather, it involves that state's regulation of conduct.”
Phillips was issued a “cease and desist” order that required him to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples.
He is now appealing that decision, aided by Alliance Defending Freedom, which argued in its summary judgment brief that the baker “did not discriminate 'because of' sexual orientation.”
“It is undisputed that Jack has served homosexual customers in the past, creating all manner of baked goods for a variety of occasions,” the brief explained, adding that Phillips had specifically told the couple that he would bake other products for them.
While Phillips is happy to serve homosexual customers, his faith prohibits him from affirming “gay marriage” ceremonies through his actions, the brief said.
In making this decision, he is exercising his right to live out his religious beliefs, the law group stated. Furthermore, by choosing not to bake a cake, he is refraining from participating and promoting speech and beliefs that he does not hold, a practice that is “both statutory and constitutional” under Colorado law.
In addition to avoiding participation in same-sex wedding ceremonies, Phillips closes his store on Sundays and “does not create baked goods for Halloween because of his deeply held religious beliefs.”
By requiring Phillips to “conform his conscience to their definition of marriage,” the legal brief stated, “Government is unconstitutionally attempting to force (him) to violate his sincerely held religious beliefs and to compel him to speak a message that is contrary to his actual beliefs.”
“Every artist must be free to create work that expresses what he or she believes and not be forced to express contrary views,” explained Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner.
“Forcing Americans to promote ideas against their will undermines our constitutionally protected freedom of expression and our right to live free. If the government can take away our First Amendment freedoms, there is nothing it can’t take away.”