Jerusalem, Israel, Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Christians of varying Churches and ecclesial communities in Palestine and Israel will gather for ecumenical prayer services at the churches of various communities.
The Holy Land observes a novena for Christian unity from Jan. 25-Feb. 2, following the traditional octave held Jan. 18-25.
The theme of this year's week of prayer for Christian unity is “has Christ been divided”, St. Paul's affirmation of unity in the face of divisions in the early Christian community at Corinth.
The novena held in Jerusalem will include services at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is shared among Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox; the city's Anglican cathedral; the city's Armenian Apostolic cathedral; a Lutheran church; a Syrian Orthodox church; the Cenacle; a church of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem; an Ethiopian Orthodox church; and a Greek Catholic church.
In addition, a prayer service will be held at the Chapel for Unity in Nazareth on Jan. 25.
The Octave of Christian Unity was originated by Fr. Lewis Wattson in 1899, who at the time was an Anglican priest. The previous year, he had co-founded an Anglican Franciscan religious community, the Society of the Atonement.
The Octave is traditionally observed between Jan. 18, the feast of Chair of St. Peter at Rome, and Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
The Society of the Atonement sought to join the Catholic Church, and in 1909 its members were corporately received into the Church.
Fr. Wattson's church unity octave was indulgenced by both Benedict XV and Pius XII.
Under Bl. John XXIII, the Church became more concerned with ecumenical issues; in 1960, the Pope established the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Anticipating this year's octave, Pope Francis met with a delegation of Finnish Lutherans on Jan. 17, who make an annual pilgrimage to Rome for the feast of St. Henry, Finland's patron.
“In the face of those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal, we are invited not to give up our ecumenical efforts, faithful to that which the Lord Jesus asked of the Father, ‘that they may be one,’” the Pope told them.
“Ecumenism is in fact a spiritual process, that is realized in faithful obedience to the Father, in fulfillment of the will of Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
“It is necessary that our testimony focuses on the center of our faith, on the announcement of the love of God that is manifested in Christ his Son,” said Pope Francis.
New York City, N.Y., Jan 21, 2014 (CNA) -
Catholics have joined with members of other faiths to support the Holy See's permanent observer status at the United Nations, defending against a group of abortion proponents seeking to oust the body from the international organization.
“The Holy See’s special status enables it to encourage genuine dialogue, promote peaceful resolution of conflicts, and appeal beyond the mere territorial interests of states to the consciences of their leaders,” said a declaration and petition supporting the Holy See's unique presence in world diplomacy.
The statement explained that the Holy See's “disinterested, non-partisan service has always been appreciated by the member states at the United Nations.”
“We join with the Member States in gratitude for the spiritual and moral witness of the Holy See at the United Nations,” it continued. “The world would be far poorer if the voice of the Holy See within the United Nations were ever silenced. May that day never come.”
The declaration and petition was launched by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute Jan. 17. Three days later, it had accumulated more than 3,000 signatures.
Austin Ruse, the institute’s president, said the petition campaign is a response to efforts to remove the Holy See from the U.N. General Assembly.
“The Holy See is the conscience of the UN. It is the only delegation that does not have political considerations in how they negotiate. They negotiate purely from first principles,” he said.
Drafted by Princeton Law School professor Robert P. George and William Saunders of Americans United for Life, the declaration noted that the Holy See has been working in diplomacy since the fourth century A.D. It now has diplomatic relations with 177 nations.
The declaration charged that opponents of the Vatican's presence at the U.N. dislike the Holy See’s “steadfast defense of the sanctity of human life and the inviolable dignity of the family.”
“Certain organizations, in the name of a false ‘liberation,’ seek to undermine central truths regarding the nature of the human person and of the family. In the name of a false doctrine of human rights, they deny what makes men truly human and violate true human rights,” the statement said.
The abortion advocacy group “Catholics for Choice” has been a longtime opponent of the Holy See’s permanent observer status. The U.S. bishops have warned that this group is “not a Catholic organization” but promotes teachings “contrary to the teaching of the Church.”
The group’s president, John O’Brien, used the Holy See representatives’ recent appearance at a hearing of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child to criticize the permanent observer mission.
He that the Holy See “inexplicably … continues to enjoy the privileges of a state at the U.N.”
“The Holy See has no right to a seat at the U.N. and should not be signing these treaties and conventions,” he argued Jan. 16.
The Holy See’s representatives at the Jan. 16 hearing condemned violence against children and child exploitations, saying that the Vatican in recent years has made child protection a “priority.”
Signatories of the petition deplored efforts to end the Holy See’s permanent observer status, charging that these groups see the Vatican as “an obstacle to their goals of re-engineering humanity and revising basic moral understandings.”
“While many of us do not share or endorse the claims of the Catholic Church, we are united in supporting the Holy See’s continued role as permanent observer at the United Nations,” the document said.
A similar declaration was launched in the year 2000, gaining support from Protestant and Muslim groups as well as Catholics.
Ruse urged supporters of the Holy See’s U.N. presence to sign the petition and ask others to do so.
The signatories will be presented to representatives of the Holy See in New York, Geneva and Rome sometime before the end of 2014.
The petition can be viewed in full at www.defendtheholysee.org.
Vatican City, Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In an effort to relieve inequalities among the causes of potential saints, steps are being taken to reduce the costs associated with the canonization process, according to a Vatican official.
According to the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has said the cost-reduction is in response to a Holy See request to standardize and provide more public information on the costs associated with the canonization process.
The cost-cutting measures will also help provide assistance to dioceses and religious orders that are unable to raise the funding for their causes.
L'Osservatore Romano said Pope Francis wants the reforms at the congregation to include the creation of a preferential pathway for blessed and saints who are not well known, or who come from the poorest regions of the world. It would also benefit those who were victims of the Nazi and communist persecutions of the 20th century.
Cardinal Amato said the Holy Father has great interest in "valuing the holiness of priests and laypeople" and that he is "always willing" to meet with him to evaluate and sign decrees of beatification and canonization.
The prelate lamented that some causes in their final phases are delayed because their promoters, whether bishops, religious or laity, "seem to be absent,” and he therefore encouraged them to have a more robust dialogue with his dicastery.
Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Commenting on a proposed trade agreement, the U.S. bishops have said such agreements should defend human dignity, protect the environment and public heath, and promote “justice and peace.”
“We encourage you to join us in promoting these values and to evaluate any trade deal in light of them,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines said in a Jan. 16 letter to the leading members of the House and Senate committees on finance, which are considering whether to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Archbishop Wenski heads the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, while Bishop Pates heads the committee on international justice and peace.
The trade agreement is an effort to promote economic integration among nations on the Pacific Rim.
The two bishops cited Pope Francis’ June 2013 message to the G-8 summit, in which the Pope said that economic and political actions must help provide people with “the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one’s own human potential.”
“This is the main thing,” Pope Francis said. “In the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless.”
The Office of the United States Trade Representative, part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, has said participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership will advance its interests in the region through expanding exports and creating jobs in the U.S. The agreement will also promote “regulatory coherence and cooperation” among its members.
Current participants in the partnership are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
The U.S. bishops’ conference does not take positions on specific trade agreements, but the two bishops offered several principles to consider.
Labor protections are needed for those workers dislocated by free trade, as well as to ensuring safe working conditions, “reasonable” work hours, time off, and “living family wages.”
Commercial agreements should also “honor the patrimony” of indigenous people and their communities, sharing the benefits of commerce “equitably.” The agreements should also be designed to ensure a reduction in the need for people to emigrate.
Trade agreements should promote agriculture in developing countries and should protect residents of rural areas, the bishops said. The agreements should support “sustainable development” and “care for creation.”
The two bishops also stressed the need for popular participation in “decisions that touch their lives.”
“Human dignity demands transparency and the right of people to participate in decisions that impact them.”
Vatican City, Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In wake of increasing violence due to ongoing political protests, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk is petitioning his countrymen to pray for peace and unity as political unrest continues.
“With great dismay and sadness we witness the events taking place at the moment in Kyiv,” the archbishop lamented in a Jan. 21 statement released on Vatican Radio.
“In view of these exceptional circumstances,” he continued, “I would like to appeal to all the faithful of the church, the Ukrainian people, and to all people of good will. In the name of God, stop the bloodshed!”
“Violence was never the way to build a free and independent state! Bloodshed will never reconcile hearts or bring a positive outcome.”
Major Archbishop Shevchuk is the head of the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church, and his plea for peace has come as a response to rising violence that is marring the ongoing anti-government protests taking place in Kyiv, the country’s capital.
For the past two nights, both police and protestors have clashed as government forces sought to stop the current protests and dismantle barricades which lead to the government offices.
According to BBC News, young men threw fireworks and petrol bombs at the police guarding the road which leads to the Ukrainian parliament, and some protestors were violently beaten by police.
The protests originally began after the government's Nov. 21 announcement that it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union. Since then protesters have occupied government buildings, at times filling the square with more than 100,000 people.
Anti-protest laws which would increase fines and impose jail terms for unauthorized protests are set to be put into effect on Wednesday of this week, the BBC reports.
However, according to Vatican Radio some observers have expressed concern that this anti-opposition legislation would resemble that which has been in neighboring Russia, and critics are claiming that Yanukovych is following in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s footsteps and building a police state.
In his appeal for peace, Archbishop Shevchuk urged government officials to “listen to your people, hear them, do not use violence against them or repressive mechanisms.”
To the Ukrainian citizens, “especially the protestors who are standing on the Maidan,” the archbishop stated that “I beg of you, go back to the peaceful nature of the protests. Do not let emotions get the better of you.”
“Neither fear nor aggression nor anger was ever helpful in determining our future.”
Sending a reminder to the bishops and priests who have continued ministering and offering the sacraments to protestors despite the government’s threats to rescind the legal status of the Ukrainian Catholic Church due to their involvement in the demonstrations, Archbishop Shevchuk encouraged them to “speak words of peace to hearts and minds,” and to continue preaching the Gospel of peace.
“I call everyone,” he continued, “to prayer for peace in our country. May the Lord of peace, the Lord who has given us his peace be with you all.”
Vatican City, Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has confirmed that in March of this year President Barack Obama during a European trip will stop in Rome where he is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis.
As the final part of President Obama's visit to Europe – during which he will travel to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy – the Pope and the president will meet on March 27, Fr. Lombardi told CNA Jan. 21.
In a statement Tuesday by press secretary Jay Carney, the White House announced that the President “looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality.”
While in Rome, President Obama will also meet with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Before coming to Italy, the president will go to the Netherlands from March 24-25, where he “will participate in the Nuclear Security Summit,” Carney revealed, which is to be hosted by the Dutch government.
In addition to the summit, “where world leaders will highlight progress made to secure nuclear materials and commit to future steps to prevent nuclear terrorism,” President Obama is slated to participate in other “bilateral events” with Dutch officials.
After the Netherlands the president will continue on to Brussels for a March 26 U.S. and EU Summit with the Presidents of both the European Council and the European Commission, which, Carney stated, “will be President Obama’s first visit to the EU institutions.”
While in Belgium, the president will also hold bilateral events with Belgian Government officials and with the NATO Secretary General.
President Obama previously visited the Vatican on July 10, 2009 in order to meet with retired pontiff Benedict XVI, as part of a July 8-10 for a meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in the town of L'Aquila, east of Rome, that had been ravaged by an earthquake shortly before.
The White House has stated that there is no further information regarding President Obama’s meetings at the moment, but that more “details will be provided at a later time.”
Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The annual March for Life plays a foundational role in the Church's work to promote human dignity at all stages of development, said a member of the U.S. bishops' pro-life office.
Deirdre McQuade, assistant director of policy and communication for the U.S. Bishops' Pro-Life Secretariat, told CNA that while numerous contemporary issues deal with human life and dignity, abortion is a “fundamental chop at the root of life.”
Coming together “for mutual encouragement” at the annual March for Life and other pro-life demonstrations is essential in building solidarity and showing that “the pro-life movement is strong, youthful,” she stated.
“Many, many good people have pro-life convictions, but feel isolated,” she said, explaining that “if we don't come together, we don't know” how many other people hold these views.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of pro-life demonstrators flood the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life, held on or near Jan. 22, the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion to be legalized throughout the U.S.
McQuade said that her own participation in the March For Life as a high school student helped her to realize how large the pro-life movement is.
“I was always pro-life,” she said, but attending the national demonstration helped her realize as a teenager “that this was the foundational civil rights movement of our age.”
The march is also a statement to the nation about the reality of abortion and its impact on human rights, she continued.
“Human dignity is not something that we can add to or subtract from,” she stressed, and when society bases human rights on age or state of development, “we're practicing mass discrimination.”
“If anyone has a right to life, all have a right to life.”
Furthermore, the March for Life has a distinctive “witness value” for women who have suffered from past abortions, McQuade said.
“We're standing in solidarity with those women,” she explained, “saying we hope one day no one has to go through what you had to go through.”
The pro-life movement is “working towards the day in which no one feels like they have to have an abortion,” she said.
While protesting Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, is an important part of creating a “culture of life,” McQuade acknowledged, there is more work that needs to be done.
The U.S. Catholic bishops having been working “across a variety of offices” in “issues throughout the life span,” she said, but their work is threatened by “oppressive” laws promoting abortion and stifling religious freedom throughout the country.
“In this administration and in this time, sadly we're more in a mode of defense rather than actively moving to protect more lives,” she commented.
The bishops' conference is currently focusing on two proposed laws to protect vulnerable unborn lives.
The Healthcare Conscience Rights Act “protects two populations in a very necessary way,” McQuade said. It secures the conscience rights of health care workers who are threatened with losing their jobs if they do not perform or participate in abortions.
It also offers protection to “Catholic and other business owners” who face penalties for following their conscience by offering “good insurance” plans that exclude contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs.
In addition, the bishops are supporting the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act, McQuade said, explaining that the legislation would solidify “into law a longstanding federal policy” that prevents taxpayer funding of abortions for domestic programs.
The Affordable Care Act effectively bypasses longstanding restrictions on federal funding of abortion, and “a fix is necessary,” she stated, urging that this is an “absolutely essential piece of legislation.”
“There is a direct relationship between the state funding of abortion and the number of abortions,” she noted. “If someone considered themselves pro-choice but didn't want more (abortions), they should support the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act.”
“It can have a systemic effect on protecting human lives.”
Vatican City, Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his daily Mass, Pope Francis noted how God seeks to have a personal relationship with each of us, emphasizing that he favors those who are humble and small because he is able to dialogue with them.
“There is a relationship between God and us little ones: God, when he must choose people, even his own people, he always chooses the little ones,” the Pope said during his Jan. 21 homily.
Addressing those who were present in the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse, Pope Francis centered his homily on the day’s first reading, taken from the First Book of Samuel in which the prophet anoints David as king upon the Lord’s rejection of his older brothers.
Turning his thoughts to our own personal relationship with God, the Pope highlighted how we are God’s people, and that “in a people, everyone has his post.”
However, the pontiff said that although we belong to the People of God, “the Lord never speaks to the people like this, to the mass, never.”
“He always speaks personally, with names. And he personally chooses,” the Pope explained, adding that the story of creation shows us this because “it is the same Lord that with his hands made man and gave him a name: 'You are called Adam.'”
“And so begins that story between God and the person. And another thing, there is a relationship between God and us little ones: God, when he must choose people, even his own people, he always chooses the little ones.”
Emphasizing how there is always a “dialogue between God and human littleness,” the Pope recalled the words of Mary in her Gospel canticle when she said that “the Lord has looked upon my humility.”
Returning to the first reading, the pontiff observed that we can see this attitude of the Lord “clearly” when Samuel first thinks that Jesse's eldest son is to be the anointed one because he is “tall” and “big,” but instead the Lord tells him “at his appearance or his height,” because “I have rejected him because it does not matter what man sees.”
Instead, the Lord chooses David, the youngest, who “did not count for his father,” the Pope continued, highlighting how the Lord chooses according to his own criteria, and not that of the world.
He chooses “the weak and the meek, to confound the mighty of the earth,” the Pope said, recalling that although Jesse said that he was not home, David “was elected.”
“All of us with Baptism have been elected by the Lord. We all are elected. He has chosen us one by one,” he observed, adding that God “has given us a name and he watches over us” and that “there is a dialogue, because the Lord loves in this way.”
“Even David became king, and then he made a mistake...he has made many perhaps, but the Bible tells us of two big ones, two heavy mistakes.”
However, after committing these sins, “What did David do?” the pontiff asked, recalling that “He humbled himself. And returned to his littleness and said: 'I am a sinner.' And asked pardon and did penance.”
David “kept his smallness, with repentance, with prayer, with tears,” the Pope explained, adding that in thinking about this dialogue between “the Lord and our smallness,” we can wonder where lays “Christian faithfulness?”
“Christian fidelity, our fidelity, is simply to preserve our littleness, so that it can dialogue with the Lord,” he reflected, “preserve our littleness.”
“For this reason, humility, gentleness, meekness, are so important in the life of the Christian because it is a custody of smallness that the Lord likes to look at. And it will always be a dialogue between our littleness and the greatness of the Lord.”
Bringing his homily to a close, Pope Francis prayed through the intercession of Saint David, and “also through the intercession of the Virgin Mary who sang joyfully to God, because she had guarded her humility,” that “the Lord gives us the grace to guard our littleness in front of Him.”
Geneva, Switzerland, Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis' continual focus on the Syrian civil war will contribute to the Holy See playing a key role at the “Geneva II” international peace conference, due to start tomorrow, Jan. 22.
The Geneva II meeting aims at a political settlement to the Syrian conflict, providing for a transitional government in the country which has been mired in conflict since March, 2011. The conference will include representatives of both the Bashar al-Assad government and opposition groups, as well as foreign diplomats.
The Holy See's role in the Syrian peace process was acknowledged in the decision of Assad to send a high-level delegation to the Vatican Dec. 28 to deliver a personal message to Pope Francis. The delegation was composed of Joseph Sweid, minister of state, and Hussam Eddin Aala, ambassador to the Holy See.
The two met with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States.
According to Sana, the news agency of the Assad regime, the president appreciates Pope Francis' efforts for peace, and reiterated that the crisis can be solved through a dialogue among Syrians, without external intervention.
Geneva II will gather representatives of the Assad regime; leaders of the Syrian National Coalition, an exiled opposition group; and foreign diplomatic leaders from the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
Iran, a close ally of the Assad regime, had been invited to participate. However, that invitation was rescinded after strong protests from the U.S. and the Syrian National Coalition following Iran's rejection of the call for a transitional government.
The Syrian National Coalition and the Assad regime seem to be at an impasse over Assad's role in any possible transitional government. A third of the coalition boycotted a vote last week over its involvement in the Geneva talks, and several other opposition groups have refused to participate.
At Geneva II, the Holy See will maintain its position, seeking dialogue and reconciliation among conflicting parties; preservation of the integrity and unity of Syria; and respect for minorities in the region.
The Holy See will also urge the world leaders to stop the flow of arms into Syria, and press for an immediate and complete cease-fire without political pre-conditions.
In the run-up to Geneva II, the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences held a closed-door workshop on Syria Jan. 13.
The event was led by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a skilled diplomat, having served as Vatican Secretary for Relations with States from 1990 until 2003.
The workshop's participants delivered a written statement underscoring that “political transformation is needed” but “it is not a precondition for ending violence; rather it will accompany the cessation of violence and the rebuilding of trust.”
It was then stated that “once greater trust and cooperation are built … new political forms in Syria are needed to ensure representation, participation, reform, and the voice and security of all social groups.”
The workshop followed a series of diplomatic initiatives of the Holy See. Archbishop Mamberti met with the ambassadors to the Holy See Sept. 5 to express the Vatican's concerns regarding Syria, underscoring that it has “always been sensitive to the help request coming from the Syrian population”, and reminding them of Benedict XVI's heartfelt appeals to them and in his Urbi et Orbi addresses.
Benedict XVI had also wished to send a delegation to Syria during the most recent bishops' synod, but was prevented by the violence, though Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, was able to visit the war-torn nation.
Pope Francis has followed Benedict XVI’s path, mentioning the Syrian civil war in his Easter Urbi et Orbi message, and at several occasions following.
He called for a day of fasting and prayer on Sept. 5, leading a prayer vigil at St. Peter's Square, and wrote to the G20 nations, reminding them they “cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people which has lasted far too long.”
And in his Jan. 13 message to the ambassadors to the Holy See, Pope Francis focused on fraternity as the foundation and path to peace, saying that “what is presently needed is a renewed political will to end the conflict.”
“I also encourage all parties to promote and ensure in every way possible the provision of urgently-needed aid to much of the population, without overlooking the praiseworthy effort of those countries – especially Lebanon and Jordan – which have generously welcomed to their territory numerous refugees from Syria.”
Syria has also been among the priorities of Archbishop Parolin: he has already prepared a dossier on the situation, and it was “first of all” among the topics he discussed with his American counterpart, John Kerry, at their Jan. 14 meeting.
The Syrian conflict has now dragged on for 32 months, since demonstrations sprang up nationwide on March 15, 2011 protesting the rule of President Assad. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of at least 100,000 persons, and as many as 130,000. The war is being fought among the Assad regime and numerous rebel groups, including moderates, Islamists, and Kurds.
Some 40 percent of Syria's population have fled their homes because of the civil war. There are 2.3 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, and an additional 6.5 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.
Vatican City, Jan 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis marked the Feast of St. Agnes Jan. 21 by receiving and blessing the lambs whose wool is used to weave pallia for new archbishops.
The lambs had been raised by the nuns of the Roman convent of San Lorenzo in Panisperna, and the Canons Regular of the Basilica of St. John Lateran presented the lambs to the Pope at his residence Casa Santa Martha.
The pallium is a liturgical vestment the Pope and metropolitan archbishops wear in their churches. It is a white stole adorned with six black crosses.
The Pope traditionally bestows the stole to the new archbishops on June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The rite is a sign of communion with the See of Peter.
St. Agnes, a holy virgin martyred under the Diocletian persecution in the year 304, is often depicted with a lamb.