Archive of February 3, 2014

Consecrated life today in a positive position, bishops affirm

Vatican City, Feb 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During an interview, two Vatican officials expressed the great holiness that exists within religious vocations, as well as their hope that the upcoming year will yield the witness of joy in following God.

“I think I can affirm that consecrated life is really enjoying good health at this moment. There is a lot more holiness than what there often appears to be,” Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo told CNA in a Jan. 31 interview.

Archbishop Carballo, Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, shared his thoughts after the Jan. 31 press conference officially announcing that the year 2015 would be dedicated to consecrated life.

Originally revealed by Pope Francis in a Nov. 29 meeting with the Union of Superiors General, the Year of Consecrated Life will begin in October, and will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of “Lumen Gentium,” the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church.

Highlighting how the year also falls in light of the anniversary of “Perfectae Caritatis,” a decree on the adaptation and renewal of religious life issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, Archbishop Carballo stated that their desire for the year is to see the religious vocation “with gratitude - because there are many lights in this path of 50 years - and especially look at the future with hope.”

“Naturally,” he said, “this includes to be aware of the crosses and of the shadows,” explaining that “my ministry as previously being minister general, I have travelled the world,” and “I think I can affirm that consecrated life is really enjoying good health at this moment.”

Describing how there is often more holiness in religious life than what is seen today, the archbishop noted that “like in all realities of the Church and of society - a fallen tree makes more noise than a forest that is kept alive.”

“Whoever doubts of the holiness of consecrated life, let him go to monasteries. There is poverty, there is fragility, there is sin, but there is a lot of holiness in our monasteries.”

“Let him go to convents, to places where there are brothers and sisters who are dedicating their lives for God and for others without saving anything,” the archbishop continued, and “let him go to the peripheries - of poverty and of way of thinking. For sure he will find consecrated over there.”

During a Jan. 31 interview with CNA, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, also expressed his hope for the great fruits of the upcoming year.

What is needed today, he said, are “men and women who are capable of telling us of an experience, that is profound and true, which tells us that it’s possible for men and women who follow God to be happy always, not just for a moment.”

Recognizing that doing this is “a great challenge,” the cardinal highlighted that “we will also have to learn ourselves, for example to listen more. To be more like real brothers, not with differences of dignity.”

“We will also have to learn the values that the world today despises, and that’s important for us. So we have challenges that the Pope also sees,” Cardinal Braz de Aviz observed, “but he has a huge trust in this way of living, which is the consecrated life.”

When asked what effect the pontificate of Pope Francis is having on consecrated vocations, the cardinal reflected that “there is a change perhaps in simplifying everything.”

“Less structures, more life, less double standards, more precise witnesses of something, more smiles, less frowns and so on,” he explained, emphasizing that there are no changes “in principal doctrine, no,” but “being faithful to Jesus will remain always.”

On the topic of those in religious life who are corrupt, specifically founders of congregations, Archbishop Carballo stated that “the founder, through his life, transmits the charism” of the order, “so there is total coherence between the charism of the Holy Spirit and the life of the founder, through his coherence and his testimony.”

However, “sometimes this isn’t the case,” he explained, “so we have to distinguish what the charism is from what the life of the founder is like. And sometimes we will have to condemn for the duplicity or the scandals that a person may have done.”

The archbishop went on to say that this does not mean that the charism should be “condemned” or “suppressed,” but that it is important “to save the charism because if it is good then it always comes from the (Holy) Spirit.”

Speaking of the love which is rooted at the base of all religious vocations, Cardinal Braz de Aviz stated his belief that “all of us are in search of experiencing love.”

“Love attracts us, love makes us do crazy things, love makes us overcome huge difficulties that we never thought we were capable of,” he said, noting that “you can find love in so many ways.”

“When it is only human it often disappoints us and leaves us bitter. But we know that the fountain of that love is in God. God is love.”

“So we need to get close to this love to be happy and be completed in this love,” the cardinal explained, adding that “I think that in this sense, all vocations and in a particular way the consecrated people have a place and that is seeking true love.”

Marta Jimenez contributed to this piece.

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Do not justify sin by using other people, Pope warns

Vatican City, Feb 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily, Pope Francis spoke of the proper attitudes to have when we face difficult moments, stating that it is important not to defend our sin, but to repent and trust in the Lord.

“In the difficult moments of life that occur maybe in despair one tries to defend himself as he can and also to use God and to use his people,” the Pope explained in his Feb. 3 daily Mass.

Centering his homily on the first reading, taken from the Second Book of Samuel, the pontiff addressed those present in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, highlighting David’s attitude in light of the “great betrayal” of his son.

Recalling how David chooses to flee when he hears that his people have given up their loyalty to him and transferred in to his son, Absalom, the Pope drew attention to the king’s sadness at feeling “as if this child” of his “was dead."

However, in the midst of his sadness, the Pope asked, how does David react “in front of this betrayal of his son?” noting that he had three different attitudes in the situation.

As “a man of government” the king understood that if he waged war on his son many would die, so he “makes the choice not to kill his people,” the pontiff observed.

“David, this is the first attitude, to defend himself uses neither God nor his people, and this signifies love of a king for his God and his people.”

“A king sinner - we know the story,” stated the Pope, but we also see in this passage that David is “a king with this love so great: he was so attached to his God and so attached to his people that he did not use either God or his people to defend himself.”

Often times we are tempted to use either God or others to defend ourselves in difficulty, continued the pontiff, but “not him,” adding that “the first attitude is this: not using God and his people.”

Calling to mind how David climbed the mountain with his officials, Pope Francis noted that he was both “crying” and walking “with his head covered and walking barefoot,” which is a sign of “repentance.”

“This ascent to the mountain makes us think of that other ascent of Jesus,” who “was also grieved, walked barefoot,” and “with his cross he went up the mountain,” reflected the pontiff.

Highlighting that with this “penitential attitude…David agreed to be in mourning and weeps,” the Pope emphasized that “we, when something like that happens in our lives always try…to justify ourselves.”

“It is an instinct we have,” he said, observing that “David does not justify himself, he is realistic, tries to save the Arc of God, his people, and do penance for that path.”

“He is great: a great sinner and a great Saint. How are those two things together...God knows!”

Recalling how on their way up the mountain, a man called Simei began to curse and throw stones at David and his officials, calling David a murderer, the pontiff drew attention to how the king refuses to let his servant kill the man.

Instead of “choosing revenge against so many insults,” David chooses “to entrust himself to God,” saying that “the Lord has told him” to curse, and that “maybe the Lord will look on my affliction and make me good in exchange for his cursing today.”

Therefore, the third attitude of David in the face of his betrayal is to trust in the Lord, the Pope revealed, explaining that these attitudes can also help us in moments of difficulty and trial.

“It's beautiful to feel this and see these three attitudes,” the pontiff expressed, “a man that loves God, loves his people and does not negotiate; a man that knows he is a sinner and does penance; a man that is sure of his God and trusts in him.”

“David is holy and we venerate him as a Saint,” concluded the pontiff, so “we ask him to teach us these attitudes in the difficult moments of our lives.”

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Caritas Australia disappointed by government budget cuts

Sydney, Australia, Feb 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Even as the Australian government has reduced funding for foreign aid, the nation's branch of Caritas intends to continue its mission of aiding the world's poor.

On Jan. 18, the Australian government announced cuts of $650 million (US $572 million) to its aid program for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which affects funding for Caritas Australia and other non-governmental organizations.

“Despite this unforeseen, mid-year change to our Partnership Agreement with the Government, we remain committed to promote peace, justice and dignity for the poorest of the poor,” Paul O'Callaghan, CEO of Caritas Australia, said in a Jan. 22 release.

“For half a century, Caritas Australia has walked in solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable women, men and children, and we are resolute in our mission to honour the dignity of the people we serve.”

He added that “we urge the Government to re-establish a sound basis for effective long-term partnership through its budget planning for the next four years.”

Several non-profit aid agencies have criticized the government's policy, noting that it will have significant impacts on vulnerable groups who are served by projects funded through the Australian government.

Caritas said the budget cuts “reduce funding for programs in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and South and West Asia which help to lift communities out of poverty.”

O'Callaghan noted that the cuts have strained some of the agency’s existing commitments but that the agency will work to ensure that the cuts will be felt least by the most vulnerable populations its serves.

He said the 40 year partnership between Caritas and the Australian government has has positively affected millions of impoverished persons – including more than 1.1 million in the last year.

“In Bangladesh, the percentage of families that can afford three meals a day has risen from 36 percent in 2005 to 100 percent in 2012. And closer to home in Oecusse, Timor Leste, Caritas Australia’s food and security program has reduced these communities ‘hunger months’ from four months per year to just one month.”

O'Callaghan added, however, that “success of this kind hinges on our ability to develop relationships of mutual respect with local communities. But to do this effectively, we need funding predictability from Government.”

Caritas Australia is the Australian bishops' aid agency, providing assistance in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and for indigenous Australians. It aims to make the poor self-sufficient so that they will no longer need aid.

Programs supported by Caritas Australia include health care, providing clean water; literacy; community leadership; microfinance; and housing support for refugees and the displaced.

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Scottish Catholic agency free to follow beliefs against same-sex adoption

Glasgow, Scotland, Feb 3, 2014 (CNA) - A Catholic adoption agency in Scotland has avoided a threat to its charitable status that could have closed the agency, following an appeals board’s ruling that it may follow Church teaching against same-sex adoption.

“We are delighted and relieved that the threat hanging over us has been lifted,” a spokesman for St. Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society said, according to BBC News.

“Our only wish is to continue to do the good work for which we have been recognized by the authorities, of placing children in need of families with loving parents.”

The adoption agency specializes in helping children in difficult circumstances find a home. It has been honored with national awards for its work.

The agency places a priority on adoptive parents who are Catholic and married for at least two years, BBC News reports.

Seeking to follow Catholic principles, it does not place children with same-sex couples.

After receiving a complaint from the National Secular Society, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator had reviewed the adoption society and ruled that its policies had a negative impact on same-sex and cohabiting couples and violated the Equality Act of 2010.

However, the Scottish Charity Appeals Panel has now overturned that decision, noting that the adoption agency provides a public benefit and ruling that it may continue adhering to Catholic teaching as it carries out its work.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, the president of the children’s society, voiced gratitude for the appeals panel’s “wise decision.”

“It means that families who are ready to adopt can look forward to the future with a little more serenity, and children in great need can be placed into loving homes.”

The adoption agency is partially funded by the Catholic Church, and several bishops are on its board of trustees.

Archbishop Tartaglia said the agency is “small” and “does great work for the wider community.” The agency “helps transform the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in society.”

“It would have been have been a great pity if it had been forced to close,” he said.

The society has placed hundreds of babies and children with families since it was founded in 1955.

Almost all Catholic adoption agencies in the U.K. have already been forced to shut down or disaffiliate from their church sponsors due to the strict interpretation of anti-discrimination laws.

Last summer, hundreds of adoptive families and members of the community gathered at Glasgow’s cathedral to support the adoption agency and commemorate its years of service.

Brian McGuigan, a member of the society’s board, explained in a statement last June that “Saint Margaret’s origins and identity are inseparable from the Catholic Church and her values and moral teaching in respect to marriage and the family.”

“The ultimate irony is that apparently in the name of tolerance, societies such as Saint Margaret’s are no longer to be tolerated,” he said. “The reality is that the issue is not one about equality or diversity, but about freedom of religion and belief.”

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The Church is not ours but Christ's, Austrian bishop stresses

Rome, Italy, Feb 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - As part of an “ad limina” visit to Rome last week, Austrian Bishop Andreas Laun said that although many seek to take it into their own hands, the Church belongs to Christ as does all of its teachings.

“In Austria we have a lot of 'lay-initiatives'” that support same-sex marriage, “birth control, priestly ordination of women” and Communion for remarried divorced Catholics, Bishop Laun told CNA Jan. 30 interview.

“All of those groups think, that they are 'the' Church but have obviously not been to Holy Mass in a while, since then they would have noticed that it is 'his' Church,” he said.

Bishop Laun is the auxiliary bishop of Salzburg, a well-known city in Austria, and was present in Rome last week for the Austrian Bishops' “ad limina,” in which residential diocesan bishops and certain prelates with territorial jurisdiction meet with the Pope and report on the state of their dioceses or prelature.

During their meeting with Pope Francis, the pontiff told the bishops that despite the challenge of a declining number of Catholics in the country, the trend “should not find us inactive, but should encourage our efforts for the new evangelization that is always needed.”

On the importance of the Church's mission of evangelization, especially to those who are far from God, the Pope emphasized that “An important area of our work as shepherds is the family.”

“The Church's concern for the family begins with good preparation and proper accompaniment of the bride and groom, as well as a faithful and clear presentation of Church doctrine on marriage and the family,” he said.

Referring to those who seek to change the Church's doctrine on issues such as marriage and the reception of Communion by divorced and re-married Catholics, Bishop Laun noted that the Church is “not mine, not yours,” but “his Church – that is: the Lord, Jesus Christ – he is the Lord of the Church.”

“He is the head,” the bishop repeated, rather than those who believe that they need “to restructure the Church.”

Drawing attention to the heavy media coverage this issue has received, Bishop Laun emphasized that “the media brings this topic up way too much,” and that “even Church-men and Bishops sometimes bring these topics back up, as if they are up for discussion; they behave as stirred by the media.”

Recalling a recent article he wrote, the bishop recounted the story of a woman he met in this situation as a remarried divorced Catholic who first “sought for excuses to justify her position over and over again to silence her conscience.”

But today, the bishop explained, “she says: the Churches' position is absolutely correct. It hurts, but the Church does the right thing.”

“It would be totally false to argue with mercy, since it does not fit,” he continued, adding that “she had learned to go to Communion with crossed arms over her chest and receive the blessing, which was an immense help, she said.”

Bishop Laun recalled that the woman told him that to do this “was good for her,” and that “that the Church remained firm.”

“The Church is not called to change reality; she does not have the power,” observed the bishop, explaining that “we are faced with a situation in which someone did something which is clearly against the commandments of God, but still wants to be in communion with Jesus Christ.”

“How is that supposed to work?” he asked, noting that this “is a contradiction in terms” and that “we need to be prudent in this question and not tie it to the topic of mercy – as unfortunately Cardinals have in the past.”

Mercy is “a totally different topic,” he stressed, adding that “doctors can also not be merciful, by denying sickness. They need to address and heal it, not deny it.”

Among the other topics discussed with the Pope, Bishop Laun revealed that he has made two suggestions to the pontiff, for a World Youth Day and World Family Day, as well as a Eucharistic Congress.

Jan Bentz contributed to this report.

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Republican immigration plan draws hope, criticism

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - An immigration plan by House Republican leaders, aimed at both national security and pathways to legal status for undocumented migrants, has prompted calls for further dialogue and improvement.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said in a Jan. 31 statement that while some aspects of the document are “troubling,” it “represents an important step” in the right direction.

“Achieving just immigration reform will not be an easy task and will require bipartisan cooperation and leadership, not politics,” the bishop stressed, adding that the Church “stands ready to assist in this effort.”

His comments came in response to an immigration plan outline released by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The short outline does not give details on specific policy plans, but offers principles to guide the GOP’s approach to immigration reform in the House.

The House standards reject a previous comprehensive immigration reform bill put forth by a bipartisan group in the Senate, instead suggesting a “step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures.”

The document emphasizes border security, visa tracking and employment verification, as well as a “zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future” after immigration reform is enacted.

However, it also acknowledges that America’s “national and economic security depend on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law.”

While it would not allow a “special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation's immigration laws,” the plan would pave the way for these individuals to “live legally and without fear in the U.S.” if they are “willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families.”

It also called for “legal residence and citizenship” for children who were brought into the country illegally “through no fault of their own” if certain eligibility standards are met, including military service or a college degree.

These reforms would not be initiated, however, “before specific enforcement triggers,” or security goals, “have been implemented.”

Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the U.S. bishops’ conference, told CNA Feb. 3 that while the change in policy is “an important step,” some concerns still remain.

“It’s a floor not a ceiling: there’s room for improvement,” Appleby said.

While the new principles may “ease the path of many,” he said, the bishops’ conference is still “certainly concerned about the undocumented,” and the possibility of deportation, particularly since there was no indication of how long the process for gaining legal status might take.

Furthermore, the principles suggested work visas but did not discuss any plans for immigrants with family in the United States, Appleby said.

He also questioned “the idea of triggers,” or “undefined border security goals,” noting that the language echoed that of other problematic policies.

While the latest Republican outline did not elaborate on what “enforcement triggers” would entail, he cautioned that they should not include measures penalizing “acts of kindness” toward undocumented migrants or laws allowing state and local police to act as deportation and detainment personnel.

Bishop Elizondo echoed these concerns in his commentary on the House Republican leadership’s statement.

“While we are pleased that there is a willingness to extend legal protection to those without status, we are concerned that most would be unable to achieve citizenship, leaving them as a permanent underclass - a minority without the same rights and protections of the majority,” the bishop said.

“The process of meeting border security goals could take years continuing to leave millions vulnerable to deportation,” he noted.

“This would establish a troubling precedent that is inconsistent with our nation’s founding principles.”

Despite these concerns, Bishop Elizondo welcomed the principles as the beginning of a Congressional conversation on immigration reform, “which hopefully will spark action in the House of Representatives to finally address our nation’s broken immigration system.”

“Congress must seize the moment and end the suffering of immigrants and their families,” he said.

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