Archive of January 30, 2014

Irish Vatican embassy reopening may mean new diplomacy

Vatican City, Jan 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Ireland's decision to re-open its embassy at the Vatican may be part of a changing climate of diplomacy at the Holy See observed by a professor of international relations.

“Going back to Pope Francis’ election and the variety of statements in December and January … all point to a set of new emphases for the future – human trafficking, small arms, (and) Syria,” Scott Thomas, senior lecturer of international relations at the University of Bath told CNA Jan. 27.

Thomas cited the Holy See's position during the Geneva II peace talks on Syria; Pope Francis' address to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See; and the recent meeting between the Vatican and U.S. secretaries of state.

A. Alexander Stummvoll, a postdoctoral fellow for the Millennium Nucleus for the Study of States and Democracy in Latin America, explained in a paper for the Canadian International Council that with Pope Francis “we are seeing a new role shift in which ‘comforter of the afflicted’ becomes the dominant role and conceptions such as mercy, social justice, and solidarity are the emerging priorities.”

This last shift may have been decisive in leading the Irish government to re-open its embassy to the Vatican.

The Irish government chose to re-open the embassy Jan. 21; it had been closed in November 2011, ostensibly for economic motives.

"This will enable Ireland to engage directly with the leadership of Pope Francis on the issues of poverty eradication, hunger, and human rights," stated the Irish foreign affairs department.

Irish minister for foreign affairs, Eamon Gilmore, said, “Our aim is to complement the work and global presence of our state agencies as we continue to win new business for Ireland.”

According to Thomas, “this comment sounds very commercial – emerging and established markets – but clearly the moral and ethical context and dimension of those markets is important after the financial crisis, and Ireland would not want to be seen as wrong-footed, on the wrong side of these arguments.”

Thomas also added that “the Irish decision is also part of a domestic policy. The country is rooted in the Labour Party’s constituency, but it also has the larger dimension of Irish political culture as a Catholic country.”

A bond has been found, he said, in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, “which makes clear exactly the moral context for capitalism to operate effectively, that is, the efficiency of markets is dependent on open and free information, and trust is the basis for the alleged efficiency of markets. And this is part of a common argument and critique of capitalism which Francis shares with some socialists.”

Stummvoll described the evolution of the Holy See's diplomatic role during the last century, saying that  “Pius XII cast the Vatican as a cold warrior in the early cold war period; under Pope John XXIII, Paul VI and in the first half of the pontificate of John Paul II, the Vatican assumed the posture of an independent prophet that was increasingly critical of both east and west. In the second half of the pontificate of John Paul II and under Benedict XVI, the cold war having ended, the Vatican began to assume the role of a cultural warrior.”

Stummvoll maintains that under Pope Francis, the focus will be on the Church as “comforter of the afflicted.”

The 2011 closing of the Irish embassy was justified for economic reasons; Ireland retained an ambassador to the Vatican, though he was non-resident.

In a period of financial turmoil, economy might be a perfect reason to take such a step.

This had happened to the Vatican in 1867, when the U.S., retaliating for Pius IX's perceived support for the Confederate States of America, cut off funding to the Vatican legation.

The closure of the Irish embassy to the Holy See has been seen in the context of a deterioration in relations between Rome and Dublin since the publication of the Murphy Report in November 2009, but Pope Francis' efforts seem to have brought again to the forefront the Vatican's diplomatic efforts.

This may be a reason why Ireland wants to be among the states with a “privileged” relation with the Holy See.

“If the U.S. and other great powers see the advantage of relations with the Holy See, certainly Ireland can benefit,” Thomas said.

“I would imagine in the beginning this could be anti-clerical, given the situation facing the Irish Church, but the longer view … does relate to the prestige of Vatican diplomacy and the history of the Church 's influence in the Middle East.”

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Catholic leaders lament food aid cuts in US farm bill

Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders in social services gave a mixed reaction to the advance of a farm bill in Congress, noting several areas of concern including funding cuts for food stamp programs.

“While we are disappointed that the final compromise continues to call disproportionately for sacrifices from hungry and poor people in this country and around the world, especially when large industrial agricultural operations continue to receive unnecessary subsidies, we are glad to see support will continue for domestic and international nutrition and development aid, rural development and conservation,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said Jan. 29.

The archbishop chairs the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference.

On Jan. 29 the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act by a vote of 251-166. The bill had been delayed for more than two years. Spending cuts for the five-year, $500 billion farm bill were a special area of contention.

The U.S. bishops vocally opposed cuts and changes to some programs funded by the bill, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), informally known as the food stamp program. The congressional proposal calls for $8.6 billion in cuts to the program over 10 years by increasing the threshold of eligibility for participants in the federal government’s low-income home energy assistance programs.

Cuts to the legislation mean that about 850,000 households will lose about $90 in monthly benefits, the New York Times reports.

Despite this, the bill provides some increases for The Emergency Food Assistance Program.

The bishops have said the farm bill should prioritize the poor and hungry, serve small and medium-sized family farms, support sustainable farming, and help vulnerable farmers and communities around the world, the U.S. bishops’ conference said.

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, welcomed Congress' “renewed commitment” to programs that “tackle root causes of chronic hunger.” He voiced appreciation for the bill’s “foresight” in making programs more cost effective to help serve more people with limited resources.

Bishop Pates and Catholic Relief Services president Carolyn Woo voiced support for the international food assistance funding in the bill. They also supported changes intended to increase programs’ efficiency.

Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA,voiced continued concern that the “most vulnerable” will “bear the greatest burden” of budget cuts for anti-poverty programs.

“However, we realize that tough choices may have to be made,” he continued. He encouraged U.S. leaders to “commit to ensuring that millions of our brothers and sisters are not being left out or left behind.”

Sheila K. Gilbert, president of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, joined Fr. Snyder in noting the challenges that her organization and Catholic Charities agencies face in helping to serve those in need.

James Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, commented on the need for agricultural reform. He expressed disappointment that “necessary reforms” in farm commodity programs and payment levels were eliminated from the bill.

He advocating closing “loopholes” and setting “real payment limits.”

“By doing so, the farm bill will help save hundreds of millions of dollars and take a step towards leveling the playing field for all family farmers,” Ennis said.

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Denver archbishop to say Mass for Broncos’ Super Bowl team

Denver, Colo., Jan 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver will say Mass for the Denver Broncos in New Jersey the night before the Feb. 2 championship game of the National Football League.

“I have been edified by the example of many NFL athletes and coaches and their families who make the effort throughout the football season to attend Sunday Mass,”  Archbishop Aquila said.

“I am sure many people are wondering what I will say to the Broncos in my homily, but all I can say is that the Holy Spirit will guide me as He wishes. What I do know, is that during the game I will be cheering for a Broncos victory!”

Archbishop Aquila said that Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and his wife Linda invited him to attend the game with their family, and say Mass for the team. The Mass will be said Saturday night for players and coaches at the Jersey City, N.J. hotel where the team is staying.

The archbishop said he is “a long-time Broncos fan,” dating back to his time as a student at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the early 1970s.

“Even when I was Bishop of Fargo, I followed and rooted for the Broncos.”

The archbishop told the Denver Post that the opportunity to be with the Broncos was “a great gift.”

“We pray for protection, good sportsmanship, for their gifts to exceed. We place it all in the hands of the Lord.”

Jack Del Rio said at a Jan. 28 media conference he was “very appreciative” of Archbishop Aquila and “glad that he’s going to be out here with us,” the Denver Post reports.

Del Rio said that at difficult times in his career “I’ve leaned harder – more fervently – on my faith.”

The Del Rios have long been active in charitable work in Colorado, and in October 2012, they helped organize a Coats for Kids giveaway with the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Athletes for Christ.

Linda Del Rio met Pope Francis in an October visit to the Vatican, and presented him with a signed Broncos football.

The Broncos’ spiritual needs are usually served by Fr. Philip Steele, president of Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo. He normally says a private Mass for the football team on weekends when they have home games, the Denver Catholic Register reports. The Jesuit community at Regis has served the Broncos for over 20 years.

Meanwhile in Washington, Fr. Tom Belleque of St. Louise Parish in Bellevue normally says Mass for Catholic members of the Seattle Seahawks.

Greg Magnoni, communications director for the Archdiocese of Seattle, told CNA Jan. 29 that Fr. Belleque “is not planning on attending the Super Bowl, but I’m sure he’d be open to the airfare and a ticket to the game if you're offering.”

Magnoni voiced hope that Archbishop Aquila would also celebrate Mass for Catholic members of the Seahawks, and said Seattle is enthusiastic about a Seahawks appearance in the Super Bowl.

“I’ve never seen our community so excited and so united around a single event. This team has galvanized a sense of community spirit throughout western Washington and the Northwest that is unique in my experience.”

“I expect the team to be welcomed home in one of the biggest celebrations this city has ever witnessed regardless of the game’s outcome,” he added, noting that over 30,000 Seahawks fans lined the route to the Seattle airport to cheer team members as they departed for New Jersey.

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A Christian without the Church is an 'absurd dichotomy,' says Pope

Vatican City, Jan 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily Mass, Pope Francis reflected on the intrinsic relationship between the Church and the People of God, emphasizing that we need to be humble and obedient to her teachings in order to be faithful.

“It is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church; to listen to Christ but not the Church; to be with Christ at the margins of the Church. One cannot do this. It is an absurd dichotomy,” the Pope explained in his Jan. 30 homily.

Pope Francis began his reflections, offered to those present in the chapel of the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, by turning again to the figure of King David in the day’s first reading take from the Second Book of Samuel.

By the way in which David prays, as a son who speaks with his father and receives even the answer of “no” to his demands with joy, it is apparent that he had “a strong feeling of belonging to the people of God,” the Pope observed.

This example makes us wonder about our own sense of belonging to the Church, continued the pontiff, stating that “the Christian is not baptized to receive baptism and then go on his way.”

“The first fruit of Baptism is that you belong to the church, to the People of God. One cannot understand a Christian without the Church,” he explained, recalling the words of Pope Paul VI when he stated that “it is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church.”

“We receive in the Church the message of the Gospel and we become holy in the church, our path in the Church. The other is a fantasy or, like he would say, an absurd dichotomy.”

Pope Francis then went on to describe how there are “three pillars” within this “belonging,” and this “feeling” with the Church, the first of which is humility with the awareness that being placed in a community is “a great grace.”

“A person that is not humble, cannot hear along with the Church, he hears only what she likes, what he likes,” noted the Pope, adding that this humility can be seen in David’s prayer, when he says “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house?”

“With this consciousness,” we are aware “that our story of salvation has begun and will not end when I die. No, it is a whole story of salvation,” observed the pontiff, “I come, the Lord takes you, makes you go ahead and then calls you and the story continues.”

The Pope then emphasized that “the Church first began before us and will continue after us,” and this realization helps us to recognize with humility that “we are a small part of a great people, that walks on the path of the Lord.”

Referring to the second pillar of our “belonging” to the Church, the pontiff revealed that it is a fidelity which “is connected to obedience.”

“Faithfulness to the Church; faithfulness to her teaching: fidelity to the Creed; fidelity to the doctrine, guarding this doctrine,” he explained, repeating “Humility and fidelity.”

Paul VI also reminds us “that we receive the message of the Gospel as a gift and we should transmit it as a gift” explained the Pope, “but not like our thing: it is a gift received that we give, and in this transmission we should be faithful.”

He went on to say that “because we have received” this gift, “we should give a Gospel that is not ours, but that is from Jesus, and we should not become owners of the Gospel, owners of the doctrine received, to use it as we please.”

Concluding his reflections, the Pope explained that the third pillar of our belonging to and with the Church is the special service “to pray” for her.

“How is our prayer for the Church? Do we pray for the Church?” he asked, stating that we do “In the Mass every day,” but what about “at our house, no? When we make our prayers?”

Urging those present to pray for the whole Church is every part of the world, the Pope asked that the Lord “help us to go down this path of deepening our belonging to the Church and our feeling with the Church.”

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Vatican: Rolling Stone article a display of 'superficial journalism'

Vatican City, Jan 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has strongly criticized the tone of “crudeness” directed to Benedict XVI in a recent article published in the “Rolling Stone” magazine on Pope Francis.

Although Pope Francis’ face appearing on the cover of the magazine’s latest edition is “a sign of the attention that the news of Pope Francis draws in different environments,” Fr. Lombardi emphasized that the rest of the article falls short of serious journalism.

“Unfortunately the same article disqualifies itself, falling into the usual mistake of superficial journalism, which in order to highlight the positive aspects of Pope Francis, thinks it should describe in a negative way the pontificate of Pope Benedict,” the spokesman explained in his Jan. 29 statement.

In the Jan. 28 article “Pope Francis: The Times They Are A-Changin,’” author Mark Binelli refers to the pontificate of retired pontiff Benedict XVI as “disastrous,” and even insults his appearance, stating that his looks resemble “a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares.”

Referring to the harsh criticism of Benedict’s appearance, character and even insults to his writings that are left without explanation in the 7,000 word piece, Fr. Lombardi noted that Binelli’s critique is done with “a surprising crudeness.”

“What a pity,” the spokesman lamented, “this is not the way to do a good service even to Pope Francis, who knows very well what the Church owes to his predecessor.”

Rolling Stone magazine was founded in 1967, and is a bi-weekly publication that gives particular attention to politics and popular culture. The magazine’s editors were also heavily criticized last year when the cover depicted the prime suspect in the Boston marathon bombings.

Despite Fr. Lombardi’s strong rebukes of the article’s journalistic quality, there has been no response from the magazine’s editors.

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Law professor appointed as advisor to Vatican City State

Vatican City, Jan 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Saturday, Jan. 25, Pope Francis appointed Vincenzo Buonomo, who has worked with the Holy See for over 30 years and is a dean at the Pontifical Lateran University, as an advisor to Vatican City.

The appointment demonstrates the Roman Pontiff's balance between seeking the counsel of outside experts as well as those who have been long associated with Vatican structures.

Buonomo has served as dean of the civil law department at the Lateran University since 2006, a department at which he began teaching in 1984. He has authored books and articles on international law and organizations, which have contributed to the protection of human rights and religious freedom around the world.

He is office chief of the Vatican's delegation to the U.N. Organisations and Entities for Food and Agriculture, where he has served since 1993. And on Jan. 16, he assisted in presenting a Holy See report on children's rights to the U.N.'s child rights committee.

Buonomo is also a member of the advisory panel on religious freedom at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and consults for the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers.

According to a source familiar with the Vatican Secretariate of State, Pope Francis is “keeping a balance in consulting the external experts and men of the internal institutions when it is needed.”

In past months, the Vatican has hired four large international consulting firms to improve financial accounting procedures and to streamline media operations.

The four companies are Ernst & Young and McKinsey for what concerns communications, and Kpbmg and Promontory Financial Group for what concerns financial auditing and the screening of both the Institute for Religious Works and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.

Pope Francis also established two pontifical commissions to study the Institute for Religious Works and to consider a streamlining of the 37 Vatican administrations.

The pontifical commission for the Institute for Religious Works has almost sketched out its conclusions out which will be presented to Pope Francis Feb. 13 by Cardinal Raffaele Farina, the commission's chairman.

Now that studies are ongoing and reports begin to arrive at the papal offices, Pope Francis has appointed one of the Vatican's own as an advisor to the city-state, thus balancing the need for specialists with the need to strengthen Vatican institutions.

Buonomo's appointment also represents a continuity with the pontificate of Benedict XVI, as he was informally a consultant to Benedict's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, with whom he is close. The two are so close that Cardinal Bertone has chosen Buonomo to edit a book collecting his addresses as secretary of state.

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Dozens killed in attacks on Nigeria's Christian villages

Abuja, Nigeria, Jan 30, 2014 (CNA) - At least 99 people were reportedly left dead after attacks on two Christian villages in northeast Nigeria this week, suspected to have been carried out by Islamic extremist militants.

Attackers flooded a Catholic church during a Jan. 26 Mass in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state. They set off explosives, took hostages and fired guns into the congregation in a five-hour attack, the Associated Press reports.

A separate attack later took place in the village of  Kawuri, in northeastern Borno state. More than 50 extremists reportedly took part, killing dozens and burning homes to the ground.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. However, the Islamic sect Boko Haram is currently resisting a military crackdown in the region and is suspected to be behind the violence.

The group – whose name means “Western education is forbidden” –  launched an uprising in 2009 and hopes to impose its vision of sharia law on the country, Reuters reports. It has targeted security forces, politicians and Christian minorities in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.

On Jan. 28 U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the U.S. “condemns Boko Haram’s vicious attacks.”

“We support Nigerian authorities as they begin to investigate these attacks, and urge citizens to support their efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Psaki said the U.S. is committed to support northern Nigerians’ “struggle against violent extremism” and to support the government as it counters “the threat posed by Boko Haram and associated groups.”

The U.S. recognized Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization in November 2013 after a lengthy period of advocacy from human rights groups and Christian groups.

The group has been accused of killing at least 3,000 people. It is suspected in nearly 200 deaths in January 2014 alone.

Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja voiced his disagreement with those who claim “that Boko Haram has nothing to do with religion.”

“They carry out their activities shouting ‘Allah Akbar’,” he observed, according to a report by the Nigerian Bishops' Conference.

“There is a religious dimension that if we do not address and acknowledge, we may be wasting a lot of time,” he said in a Jan. 29 press call.

The Nigerian cardinal urged Boko Haram members, their sympathizers, and those who are giving them religious instruction to engage others in dialogue.

“Unfortunately, that has not started,” he said. “Unfortunately, the activities of the Boko Haram have indeed widened the gap between the Christians and Muslims.”

Cardinal Onaiyekan warned that the Nigerian government’s emphasis on purchasing “all kinds of gadgets” to combat Boko Haram cannot solve the security problems on their own.

He called on the government to sponsor intra-religious and inter-religious discourse, warning that if religious leaders cannot come together to talk, then religious extremism cannot be addressed.

When an educated young men is living in the bush and committing serious acts of violence, he said, there is “something that has happened to his head and mind.”

“For someone to change his mind, he must be engaged, not with a gun.”

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Holy See press office launches new Twitter account

Vatican City, Jan 30, 2014 (CNA) - The Holy See press office has launched a new Twitter account, aiming to make the world more aware of the activities of the Church and of Pope Francis.

“I hope that people have this help to go and to check what we are saying, what we are saying about the Pope, about the Church,” Father Ciro Benedettini told CNA in a Jan. 30 interview, “so there’s a better way of knowing what the Pope and what the Church are doing.”

Fr. Ciro is the vice-director of the Holy See Press Office which will publish all notifications from the Vatican's “Bulletin” service.

The Bulletin is a special document that is released daily in various languages offering the details and texts of important events, audiences and speeches that occur within the Vatican.

It is available in paper copy for journalists in the press office and can also be seen on the website but they hope the new initiative will give the words and activities of the Pope greater visibility.

Originally developed in a meeting between the press office and the Vatican internet office, Fr. Ciro explained that they wanted the new account to “start by Christmas,” however because the messages were first “considered as spam” by Twitter, the launching has been delayed.

They've since achieved the coveted “verified” status for the new Twitter account, which can be found at: @HolySeePress.

When asked what exactly will be available in the tweets, the priest noted that “the content of the bulletin” will not be available, but the news that a new bulletin has been published and a link to the content.

Drawing attention to how the new account will change the way that the Holy See communicates, Fr. Ciro observed that “this is a service to those who are following us,” saying that followers don’t necessarily go to the press office in order to find out what the news is.

“We announce when we have something new to tell,” he stated, describing that the tweets will be sent “automatically” because “when we upload,” the Bulletin, “it also gives the announcement.”

Although the Bulletin is mostly used by journalists, Fr. Ciro explained that the twitter account is “for everybody; for everybody whose interested,” adding that “there are more people who are not journalists than (who are)” out of the current 269 followers.

He hoped it would add something to the way the Holy See Press Office communicates, noting that it wasn't created to address a problem but rather because “this is something more.”

Alan Holdren contributed to this report.

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Disney Channel same-sex couple episode yields protest

Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2014 (CNA) - The Disney Channel's recent decision to air its first TV show episode with a same-sex couple has drawn complaints from a group of parents concerned that it introduced “controversial topics that children are far too young to comprehend.”

“This is the last place a parent would expect their children to be confronted with topics that are too difficult for them to understand. Mature issues of this nature are being introduced too early and too soon, and it is extremely unnecessary,” said One Million Moms, a group that works to support values in entertainment media.

“Disney should stick to entertaining, not pushing an agenda,” the group stated Jan. 23.

The controversial episode of “Good Luck Charlie,” which is in its final season, aired Jan. 27. It included a scene in which two parents prepare for their daughter's friend to come over to play, while debating the name of the friend's mother. The child arrives at their house with two women, who proclaim that they are both the child's mothers.

The characters in the episode do not react, leading critics to say that the show is normalizing same-sex parents.

Former Disney star Miley Cyrus, whose raunchy performance with Robin Thicke at the Video Music Awards provoked controversy last year, had praised Disney for planning the episode.

“They control so much of what kids think!” she said on Twitter when the episode was first announced in June.

One Million Moms voiced disappointment that Disney aired the program, but noted on their Facebook page that the episode had no sponsors after dropped its sponsorship.

Political commentator Sally Kohn is now calling for Disney to feature a “gay princess.”

In a Jan. 28 opinion column on, she noted the cultural influence of children's movies, saying that they are “exactly where our society's norms and ideals are most embedded.”

Urging that entertainment media be used from a young age to shape “how the next generation learns right and wrong and good and evil,” she argued that “it's high time that we have a Disney movie in which a princess marries a princess.”

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Bishops urge end to confiscation of land in Palestine

Bethlehem, West Bank, Jan 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops' international justice and peace representative has called on the state department to pressure the Israeli government to cease its efforts to confiscate Palestinian land in the West Bank.

“I ask you once again to urge the Government of Israel to cease and desist in its efforts to unnecessarily confiscate Palestinian lands in the Occupied West Bank,” Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines wrote Jan. 28 to John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State.

Earlier in the month, Bishop Pates, along with 13 other bishops, had visited the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a mission of solidarity with the Palestinian people. They visited Bethlehem in the West Bank, and the Cremisan Valley, where a proposed Israeli security barrier would cut off the access of 58 Christian families from the land by which they earn their livelihood.

“As I stood amidst the beauty of this agricultural valley and heard the testimony of the Christian families whose lands, livelihoods, and centuries-old family traditions are threatened, I was simply astounded by the injustice of it all."

He called the situation in the Cremisan Valley “a microcosm of a protracted pattern that has serious implications for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” adding that it threatens Kerry's “commendable efforts to achieve a peace agreement.”

Bishop Pates' letter came a day before the Israeli supreme court heard a case about the route of the proposed Israeli security wall. The wall would either cut through the Cremisan Valley or through Battir, a Palestinian village located on the armistice line which functions as the Israeli border.

The case was brought by the Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human rights group under the patronage of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, on behalf of a Salesian convent and school located in the Cremisan Valley.

If the barrier is constructed in the Cremisan Valley, it will affect agricultural workers as well as children who will be cut off from their school.

The construction of the barrier is believed to be linked to the protection of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank; some 500,000 Jews currently live in more than 100 West Bank settlements, according to the BBC. Under international law, the settlements are considered illegal, though Israel disputes this.

Bishop Pates attached a statement from the bishops with whom he visited Israel and Palestine, the Co-ordination of Bishops' Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land. The Holy Land Co-ordination was founded in 1998 at the request of the Holy See, and includes bishops from North America, Europe, and South Africa.

In the West Bank, the bishops visited three neighboring Christian towns, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour.

While the bishops recognized Israel's right “to security and secure borders,” they said the plan “to build a security wall on the land of 58 Christian families should be abandoned.”

“We heard of their pain and anguish. They are faced with the threatened loss of their land and livelihood as the planned security wall will destroy vineyards, groves and orchards and separate them from their land.”

They noted the planned route of the security barrier “deviates sharply” from the internationally-recognized “Green Line” demarcating Israel from the West Bank: over 75 percent of the proposed route falls outside this line, and inside Palestinian land.

According to the bishops, this route is illegal under an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and breaches the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“We urge our governments to encourage Israel to follow international law,” the bishops of the Holy Land Co-ordination wrote.

“Our deep concern, as we have repeatedly stated is that this planned security wall is more about consolidating the settlement areas and permanently choking off Bethlehem from Jerusalem. This particular plan is a microcosm of the tragic situation in the Holy Land which incites resentment and mistrust, making the possibility of a much-needed solution less likely.”

The bishops also encouraged Israel to “respect the livelihoods” of the Christian families in the towns surrounding Bethlehem, that the people of Beit Jala would “be protected from further expropriation of their land and homes by Israel.”

“Our prayers are with the people of Beit Jala as they seek justice. We offer them also for all who seek a just peace in the Holy Land.”

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Pope calls Notre Dame to 'unambiguous' Catholic witness

Rome, Italy, Jan 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis encouraged Notre Dame University to continue honoring its Catholic identity in the future, through a strong commitment to education and witness to Church moral teaching.

“It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness,” Pope Francis said in a Jan. 30 address.

His words were directed to a delegation of 140 trustees and administrators from the University of Notre Dame – including University President Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C. – who had traveled from Indiana to Italy in order to inaugurate the school's new Rome Center.

The pope welcomed the new center with hope that it would expose students “to the unique historical, cultural and spiritual riches” of Rome and that it would open “their minds and hearts to the impressive continuity between the faith of Saints Peter and Paul, and the confessors and martyrs of every age” of the Catholic Church, including in the world today.

The Holy Father asked the trustees to “defend,” “preserve” and “advance” the Catholic identity of the school “as it was intended from the beginning.”

He said that from its founding by Father Edward Sorin, “Notre Dame University has made an outstanding contribution to the Church” in the United States through its commitment to religious education as well as its “serious scholarship inspired by confidence in the harmony of faith and reason in the pursuit of truth and virtue.”

Pope Francis voiced appreciation for Notre Dame's role in improving Catholic education at all levels, particularly in light of the “critical importance” of education in the New Evangelization.

He emphasized that this vision of Catholic education remains central to Notre Dame's “distinctive identity and its service to the Church and American society,” even “in the changed circumstances of the twenty-first century.”

Essential to the testimony of Catholic universities, the pontiff continued, “is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching” as well as the “defense of her freedom.”

This defense, both “in and through her institutions,” he added, must “uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors.”

Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which monitors and supports faithful identity in Catholic education, told CNA that Pope Francis seems to be calling Notre Dame to a path of fidelity, which begins with an institutional commitment to the faith and the Church’s vision for Catholic universities.  

While Reilly said that the school has experienced problems with Catholic identity in the past, he added that “there is a faithful cohort of students and faculty present on campus.”

In 2009, the university came under pressure for inviting U.S. President Barack Obama to speak at the school's commencement and awarding him an honorary degree, despite his vocal support for legal abortion.

The university has also drawn criticism for its announcement earlier this month that it will comply with provisions of the federal contraception mandate that will result in free contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs being given to those under university health insurance policies.

Notre Dame has filed a lawsuit over the mandate and had unsuccessfully sought a court order to block the mandate's enforcement while its case worked its way through the court system. The lawsuit will continue, but the university is cooperating with the mandate pending a ruling. Failure to comply could have resulted in massive fines.

In a Jan. 30 statement, Reilly described the university as being “at a crossroads,” where it must choose between compromise and fidelity.

“The Holy Father has clearly called Notre Dame to the better path,” he said, “as have hundreds of thousands of American Catholics who treasure faithful Catholic education.”

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