Archive of February 7, 2014

Obama highlights religious freedom at National Prayer Breakfast

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Speaking at an annual prayer breakfast in the nation’s capital, U.S. President Barack Obama stressed the need for religious freedom in order to respect human dignity and foster global stability.

“We believe that each of us is ‘wonderfully made’ in the image of God,” he said at the Feb. 6 event, and we “therefore, believe in the inherent dignity of every human being – dignity that no earthly power can take away.”  

“And central to that dignity is freedom of religion – the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear.”

An annual event since 1953, the National Prayer Breakfast is held in early February each year in Washington, D.C. It attracts thousands of guests and generally includes both a keynote address and comments from the U.S. president.

In his speech, President Obama noted that he is “looking forward” to his March meeting with Pope Francis, “whose message about caring for the ‘least of these’ is one that I hope all of us heed.”

He said that the Pope, like the Apostle Matthew, “has answered the call of Jesus, who said 'follow me,' and he inspires us with his words and deeds, his humility, his mercy and his missionary impulse to serve the cause of social justice.”

After thanking God for the blessings and opportunities of his life, including guidance in his decision “to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” Obama turned his focus to the importance of religious liberty, both at home and abroad.

Religious freedom in the U.S. has become a heated subject in recent months, particularly regarding the federal contraction mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering birth control and related products, or to authorize an outside provider to give the coverage.

More than 300 plaintiffs – ranging from the owners of Hobby Lobby to the Little Sisters of the Poor – have filed lawsuits against the mandate, arguing that it is a violation of religious freedom.

In the United States, Obama said in his address, “we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion.”

This freedom both “safeguards religion” and “strengthens America” by allowing for faith-based work such as teaching, alleviating poverty, helping immigrants and fighting human trafficking.

However, the president continued, “even as our faith sustains us, it’s also clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat.”

He lamented instances around the world where we “see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful” or where religion is “twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love.”

He also addressed violent extremism enacted in the name of religion, saying that it is an effect of “ignorant nihilism” that ignores the tenants of faith, “for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.”

Instead, faith “teaches us that in the face of suffering, we can’t stand idly by and that we must be that Good Samaritan,” Obama said, emphasizing that “freedom of religion matters to our national security” and must be protected.

“I’ve made the case that no society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities,” he said, calling on countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Syria to work toward being “a place for all people.”

The United States sometimes works on matters of core importance with other governments “that don’t always meet our highest standards,” Obama acknowledged, but the U.S. also works to promote religious freedom as a key foreign policy objective in places such as China, Burma, Nigeria, Sudan, and South Sudan.

He also discussed the continuing talks between Israel and Palestine, saying that while the United States supports them “as they engage in direct talks, we’ve made clear that lasting peace will require freedom of worship and access to holy sites for all faiths.”

In addition, the president offered prayers for the release of prisoners of conscience, particularly U.S. citizens Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who has been held in North Korea for 15 months, and Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than 18 months.

“We may not know their names, but all around the world there are people who are waking up in cold cells, facing another day of confinement, another day of unspeakable treatment, simply because they are affirming God,” Obama said.

“Despite all they’ve endured, despite all the awful punishments if caught, they will wait for that moment when the guards aren’t looking, and when they can close their eyes and bring their hands together and pray,” he added, praising their dedication and faith.

Reaffirming his commitment to religious liberty against threats including blasphemy legislation and other oppressive laws, Obama promised that the United States “will keep standing for religious freedom around the world.”

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Archbishop Chaput among those appointed to Vatican laity council

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis appointed members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity Feb. 6, including one American – Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Archbishop Chaput is also the only bishop appointed to the council who is not a cardinal, although one other appointee, Archbishop Orani Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro, is a cardinal-designate who will be given the red hat at the Feb. 22 consistory.

The Pontifical Council for the Laity deals with the promotion and coordination of the apostolate of the laity, including the contributions of lay ecclesial movements and individuals.

Archbishop Chaput’s archdiocese will host the next World Meeting of Families, which Pope Francis may attend. The meeting, to be held in 2015, will gather hundreds of thousands of laity to pray, study and celebrate marriage and family life.

A native of Kansas, Archbishop Chaput was ordained a priest in the Capuchin Franciscans, and served as bishop of Rapid City and of Denver before being appointed to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2011.

Pope Francis’ appointments to the Pontifical Council for the Laity also included the confirmation of Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko as president and Bishop Joseph Clemens as secretary – posts they have held since 2003, when they were appointed by Bl. John Paul II.

The other prelates appointed members Feb. 6 were cardinals Christoph Schonborn of Vienna; Angelo Scola of Milan; John Njue of Nairobi; Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising; Willem Eijk of Utrecht; Luis Tagle of Manila; and Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.

The lay members of the council are Yago De La Cierva of Spain; Irene Laumenskaite of Lithuania; Fabrice Hadjadj of Switzerland; Jocelyn Khoueiry of Lebanon; Franco Miano of Italy; and Genevieve Sanze of Central African Republic.

Consultors to the Pontifical Council for the Laity were also appointed, including: Archbishop Alberto Taveira Correa of Belem do Para, in Brazil; Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, in Italy; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm; Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, in France; Bishop Christoph Hegge, auxiliary of Munster, in Germany; Fr. Arturo Cattaneo of Italy; Fr. Fra Hans Stapel of Brazil; Alejandra Keen von Wuthenau of Peru; Laurent Landete of France; Mimmo Muolo of Italy; Marguerite Peeters of Belgium; Silvia Recchi of Cameroon; and Maite Uribe Bilbao of El Salvador.

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Stunning adult stem cell developments evoke hope, caution

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Remarkable advancements in stem cell biology are enabling scientists to reprogram mature cells into a variety of different tissues – but experts say these methods should be used carefully to avoid ethical questions and inadvertent cloning.

While the new technology is an “exciting and surprising development,” said Brendan Foht, assistant editor of “The New Atlantis” bioethics journal, “some important scientific and ethical questions need to be addressed” before the technique is applied to human cell therapy.

“The scientists found that the cells made through this technique seemed to have even more developmental potential than embryonic stem cells,” and are able to turn into a variety of embryonic and placental tissue in addition to a range of adult tissues.

“This means that this technique may not just be a way of creating stem cells, but a way of creating embryos,” opening the door to human cloning, Foht told CNA on Jan. 5.

The new mechanism produces “stimulus triggered acquisition of pluripotency” or STAP cells, which uses stressful situations, such as acid baths, to trigger adult animal cells into a re-programed state where they can develop into a wide range of tissues.

Findings were detailed in two papers published in the scientific journal “Nature” on Jan. 29, involving research from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan as well as the Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the United States.

The reprogrammed cells showed “totipotency,” or the ability to turn into embryonic and placental tissue, but did not on their own have the ability to be grown for extended periods of time.  

However, when scientists altered certain aspects of the cell culture, the some STAP cells were able to replicate and grow – some displaying qualities like existing pluripotent stem cells that can morph into a variety of tissue, and others maintaining totipotent ability to grow into embryonic and placental tissue.

“It’s exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings open up, not only in areas like regenerative medicine, but perhaps in the study of cellular senescence and cancer as well,” said Haruko Obokata, who lead the project at RIKEN.

“But the greatest challenge for me going forward will be to dig deeper into the underlying mechanisms,” Obokata said, “so that we can gain a deeper understanding of how differentiated cells can convert to such an extraordinarily pluripotent state.”

Foht said that while the development is exciting and may “really provide an easy source of pluripotent stem cells for regenerative medicine and research,” further research and ethical inquiry is needed to determine “under what conditions these cells are totipotent and have the character of embryos.”

He pointed out that Charles Vacanti, co-leader of the Harvard STAP cell project, told the “New Scientist” news source that “you can very easily, from a drop of blood and simple techniques, create a perfect identical twin.”

Vacanti also mentioned that he asked an unnamed collaborator to look further into the cloning applications of this technology, and that this partner was able to reprogram a mouse's white blood cell to form into an embryo and then into a mouse fetus.

He added that the purpose of the experiment is not to investigate cloning further but rather to understand the mechanisms behind the new technology.

Foht weighed in that while many are worried about the ability of people to willfully misuse the technique for human cloning, “we should be perhaps more worried that the reckless use of this technique will inadvertently create cloned human embryos in the process of making stem cells.”

He argued for continued research into how to manipulate STAP cells, saying that it “might provide knowledge that will be useful for those who would misuse this technique” for human cloning, and that “such misuses can be prevented by strong legal prohibitions.”

If the mechanism behind STAP cells is further investigated and understood, Foht reflected, “when we start using this technique on human cells, we can be sure that we are using it in a way that does not create human embryos.”

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Pope in WYD message: poverty leads us to true happiness

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his message for the 29th World Youth Day, Pope Francis draws his theme from the beatitude on poverty, emphasizing that it teaches us joy, as well as the proper attitude to have towards those who are poor.

“To be blessed means to be happy. Tell me: Do you really want to be happy?” the Pope asked in his Feb. 6 message for the 29th World Youth Day, which takes place this Palm Sunday, on April 13.

“In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and ‘thinking small’ when it come to the meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts!”

World Youth Day (WYD) is a gathering of youths from all over the world to meet with the Pope in order to build and strengthen the bonds of faith, friendship and hope, symbolizing the union between people of different cultures and countries.

This year’s theme, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3),” is the first in a series of three that will focus on the Beatitudes, culminating in the international event to be held in Krakow, Poland in 2016.

In his message to the youth, Pope Francis reflected on the revolutionary power of the Beatitudes, noting that in proclaiming them “Jesus asks us to follow him and to travel with him along the path of love, the path that alone leads to eternal life.”

Highlighting how the Beatitudes are “new and revolutionary,” the Pope observed that “they present a model of happiness contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by the prevailing wisdom” of our culture.

Warning the youth against the many forms “low cost” happiness that the world presents, the pontiff cautioned them not to “stuff themselves” with the wrong things, but to “swim against the tide” and to “say no to an ephemeral, superficial and throwaway culture.”

Turning to the beatitude itself, the Pope explained that we can understand the meaning of being “poor in spirit” when Jesus “became man” and “chose the path of poverty and self-emptying.”

Looking to the Greek roots of the expression, Pope Francis revealed that the Greek word for poor, “ptochós,” does not “have a purely material meaning,” but “suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty.”

Recalling the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the Pope noted that he “understood perfectly the secret of the Beatitude of the poor in spirit.”

“When Jesus spoke to him through the leper and from the crucifix, Francis recognized both God’s grandeur and his own lowliness,” the pontiff observed, highlighting how he imitated “Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor,” adding that “for him the two were inextricably linked – like two sides of one coin.”

In order to make poverty real in our own lives, the Pope explained that we need to “try to be free with regard to material things,” to “experience conversion in the way we see the poor,” and to understand that “the poor are not just people to whom we can give something.”

“The Lord calls us to a Gospel lifestyle marked by sobriety, by a refusal to yield to the culture of consumerism,” he said, urging the youth to “put Jesus first” and to “be detached from possessiveness and from the idolatry of money and lavish spending.”

Pope Francis also encouraged the youth to care for the poor and to “be sensitive to their spiritual and material needs,” entrusting to them “the task of restoring solidarity to the heart of human culture.”

Using the example of Saint Benedict Joseph Labré, who begged on the streets of Rome and gave spiritual advice to many, including “nobles and prelates,” the pontiff emphasized that the poor “have much to offer us and to teach us.”

“They show us that people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have in the bank. A poor person, a person lacking material possessions, always maintains his or her dignity.”

Moving to the second part of the beatitude, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the Pope noted that “Jesus is the kingdom of God in person,” and although we have already seen the Kingdom of God through him, “it has yet to be realized in its fullness.”

He also highlighted that there is “a close connection between poverty and evangelization,” drawing attention to the passage in scripture where Jesus sends his out disciples, telling them to “take no gold, no silver,” and “not staff.”

“Evangelical poverty is a basic condition for spreading the kingdom of God,” the pontiff explained, adding that “the most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold onto.”

“Evangelization in our time will only take place as the result of contagious joy.”

Drawing attention to the Canticle of Mary, who was “poor in spirit,” the pontiff noted that “The joy of the Gospel arises from a heart which, in its poverty, rejoices and marvels at the works of God, like the heart of Our Lady, whom all generations call ‘blessed.’”

The theme for next year’s WYD will focus on the beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8), and the international event in 2016 will conclude the reflection on the beatitudes by examining the meaning of “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).

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Vatican: UN oversteps its boundaries in report conclusions

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a statement released by the Vatican, Fr. Federico Lombardi criticized the U.N. child protection committee for its tone and “lack of desire” to recognize the Holy See’s efforts in protecting children.

“(T)he Committee’s comments in several directions seem to go beyond its powers and to interfere in the very moral and doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church,” the Vatican spokesman observed in his Feb. 7 statement.

Released on Vatican Radio, the statement comes in wake of a Feb. 6 U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child report criticizing Vatican policies and calling for the Church to change its doctrine.

In its report, the U.N. committee claimed that the Vatican had “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children. The report charged the Church to open its files on previous cases of abuse and criticized Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

The report is based on the consideration of various documents regarding the implementation of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which the Vatican is a signatory.

Fr. Lombardi acknowledged that the publication of the committee’s findings “has aroused extensive reaction and response.”

He observed that “the Holy See’s adherence to the Convention was motivated by a historical commitment of the universal Church and the Holy See for the sake of the children.”

“Anyone who does not realize what this (commitment) represents for the sake of the children in the world today, is simply unfamiliar with this dimension of reality,” he explained.

Despite the fact that the Holy See seeks to “implement the Convention” and maintain an “open, constructive and engaged dialogue,” Fr. Lombardi  noted, “one cannot fail to see that the latest recommendations issued by the Committee appear to present – in the opinion of those who have followed well the process that preceded them – grave limitations.”

Charging that the committee has failed to take an “adequate” account of the Holy See’s response to their requests in the past, the spokesman stated that the “lack of understanding of the specific nature of the Holy See seem serious.”

Although “it is true that the Holy See is a reality different from other countries, and that this makes it less easy to understand the Holy See’s role and responsibilities,” Fr. Lombardi recalled that these differences have been explained “in detail many times” in the past 20 years of adherence to the convention.

“(Are we dealing with) an inability to understand, or an unwillingness to understand? In either case, one is entitled to amazement,” he expressed.

From the way in which the objections in the committee’s concluding observations were presented, Fr. Lombardi said, it seems “to suggest that a much greater attention was given to certain NGOs, the prejudices of which against the Catholic Church and the Holy See are well-known, rather than to the positions of the Holy See itself.”

“A lack of desire to recognize all the Holy See and the Church have done in recent years,” particularly in voicing her errors and developing preventative measures, “is in fact typical of such organizations,” the spokesman continued.

“Few, other organizations or institutions, if any, have done as much. This, however, is definitely not what one understands by reading the document in question.”

He then highlighted that the U.N. group goes “beyond its power” in asking the Church to change its doctrine on contraception, abortion, education in families, and the vision of human sexuality, “in light of (the Committee’s) own ideological vision of sexuality itself.”

It is for this reason, the spokesman explained, that the Vatican’s Wednesday communique on the report spoke of “an attempt to interfere in the teaching of the Catholic Church on the dignity of the human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.”

In his final point, Fr. Lombardi verbalized that “one cannot but observe that the tone, development, and the publicity given by the Committee in its document are absolutely anomalous when compared to its normal progress in relations with other States that are party to the Convention.”

Concluding, the spokesman affirmed that if the Holy See was the subject of “an initiative and media attention (that were) in our view unfairly harmful, one needs to recognize” that the committee “has itself attracted much serious and well-founded criticism.”

“Without desiring to place (responsibility for) what has transpired” onto the United Nations, Fr. Lombardi said, “the U.N. carries the brunt of the negative consequences in public opinion, for the actions of a Committee that calls itself (by the U.N. name).”

“Let us try to find the correct plan of commitment for the good of the children,” he said, “even through the instrument of the Convention.”

While the document has created tension, Fr. Lombardi also emphasized that “it is not appropriate” to imply that there is a confrontation “between the U.N. and the Vatican,” as some have reported.

“The United Nations is a reality that is very important to humanity today,” he said, recalling how both Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited the organization and spoke to its General Assembly. Although there are naturally points of “collision” due to the vast expanse of the U.N.’s diversity, he said, the Vatican hopes to maintain fruitful dialogue.

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Pope encourages faithful to be humble disciples of Christ

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily Mass, Pope Francis spoke about the witness of John the Baptist from the Gospel, highlighting how the saint lived and died with humility and urging all to follow in his example.

“Do we go on the path of Jesus Christ? The path of humiliation, of humility, of lowering for the sake of service?” the Pope asked in his Feb. 7 homily.

Centering his reflections on the Gospel passage from John, which recounts the death of John the Baptist, the pontiff noted how Herod decided to kill the prophet simply to satisfy the whims of his mistress and her daughter.

Emphasizing how John's life ends as a prisoner in the court of Herod “who was in a banquet,” the Pope explained that “when there is a court, it is possible to do all sorts of things: corruption, vices, crimes.”

Courts encourage this kind of behavior, he said, but “What did John do? First he announced the Lord,” the pontiff noted, “He announced that the Savior was close, the Lord, that the Kingdom of God was close.”

“And he did it with strength. He baptized. He exhorted all to convert. He was a strong man. He announced Jesus Christ.”

In addition to announcing the Lord, the Pope observed that John never “took possession of his moral authority,” despite the fact that he once had the opportunity to say that “I am the Messiah” because of this authority, and because “all the people came to him.”

Pope Francis then recalled how when the Pharisees saw his strength and that he was “a righteous man,” they asked John if he was the Messiah.

John, he explained, in that “moment of temptation and vanity,” could have responded with “false humility” saying that he didn’t know, however his answer was clear: “No! I'm not! After me comes he who is mightier than I, that I am not worthy to bend over and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

This act of not “stealing the title” or “taking possession of the trade,” is second part of what makes John a “man of truth,” the Pope observed.

Another thing the prophet did, noted the pontiff, was to “imitate Christ,” especially “in the way of lowering himself,” recalling that John was also “humiliated,” and “humbled himself even to the end, until death.”

Explaining that even John “had his Garden of Olives,” the Pope drew attention to “his agony in prison, when he believed he was wrong, and he would send his disciples to ask Jesus: 'But tell me, are you or am I wrong and there is another one?'”

This, he explained, is “the darkness of the soul, that darkness that purifies like Jesus in the Garden of Olives.”

Calling to mind Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Pope noted that she also “had this darkness of the soul, no? Ah, the woman that all the world praised! A Nobel Prize winner!”

“But she knew that in a moment of her long life, there was only darkness inside,” the pontiff continued, adding that “Jesus responded to John like the Father responds to Jesus, comforting.”

Concluding his reflections, the Pope stated that “it would do us well today to ask ourselves about our discipleship: do we announce Jesus Christ?  Do we take or not take advantage of our Christian condition as if it were a privilege?”

Recalling again that John “never took possession of prophecy,” the pontiff also asked those present “do we go on the path of Jesus Christ? The path of humiliation, of humility, of lowering for the sake of service?”

If we discover that we are not “firm” in this path of humility and service, we ought to ask ourselves “when was my encounter, that encounter that filled me with joy, with Jesus Christ?” and return to it, “to the first encounter of Gallilee.”

“All of us have” an encounter like this, the Pope affirmed, “Return to it! Let us meet with the Lord again and advance down this beautiful path, in which He must increase and we must decrease.”

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Removal of abortion drug-promoting blog is pro-life 'victory'

Lima, Peru, Feb 7, 2014 (CNA) - An international pro-life group has led a successful advocacy effort to remove a blog that had been promoting an illegal abortion drug in Peru.

“This is a significant victory because this website was the primary means of advertising and promoting the so-called ‘safe abortion hotline’,” said Carlos Polo, director of the Latin American office for the Population Research Institute, in a Jan. 31 briefing.

“And the hotline in turn was the chief means by which the abortion movement was attempting to promote, perform, and legalize abortions in pro-life Peru.”

The site had been encouraging women to perform “a dangerous and illegal chemical abortion” on themselves by obtaining and ingesting the drug misoprostol from a local pharmacy, Polo said, adding that the website “relentlessly promoted abortion.”

Misoprostol can be used to help reduce the risk of some ulcers, and it is available in the pro-life country. However, when taken by pregnant women, it can cause abortions.

As part of a campaign organized by the Population Research Institute, hundreds of Peruvians filed complaints with the blog host Blogspot to remove the site, on the grounds that it violated its policy against promoting drugs. The blog has now been removed.

“The site will no longer encourage women to abort their unborn children,” Polo said.

Peru’s constitution, like that of many Latin American countries, recognizes life as beginning at conception. Abortion is illegal, and attempts to advertise abortion on television, radio or in newspapers are “quickly shut down by the authorities,” according to Polo.

He said that international abortion groups such as Free Information for Women and Women on Waves are operating anonymous “hotlines” and websites to circumvent these laws.

They are focusing on misoprostol, a drug that can begin an early-term abortion in secret, he asserted, saying that women are then encouraged to enter government-run clinics and hospitals for the completion of the procedure on the grounds that they are suffering a “natural miscarriage.”

These activist groups are supported by “nearly all major pro-abortion and radical feminist organizations” in the Latin American Consortium Against Unsafe Abortion, he said.

Abortion activists hope to make the misoprostol-based abortion “so common” that legalization of all abortion will result, Polo charged, adding that the Population Research Institute is “working hard to help women in crisis pregnancies in Peru.”

“And hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children will live.”

The Population Research Institute, based in Front Royal, Va., was founded in 1989 to fight coercive population control programs. It has a global network of pro-life groups in more than 30 countries. The institute opened its Latin American office in Lima, Peru, in 2004.

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Materialism, 'rejection' of Christianity factors in World War I

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Scholar and author George Weigel proposed that World War I was caused and prolonged not only by political struggles and complex intra-continental alliances, but by materialism, Social Darwinism, and a rejection of Christianity.

The cultural conditions underlying the Great War, he maintains, still hold lessons for us today.

World War I began and continued “in no small part, because 'Men had forgotten God',” Weigel said, quoting Russian author Aleksandr Solzenitsyn.

The European world during the war, he continued, was one “in which it was widely believed that Europeans, masters of the world’s lead civilization, could create the world and the future without the God of the Bible.”

But what they actually proved, he said, “was that they could only build a world against each other, which was a world with no future.”

Weigel delivered the annual William E. Simon Lecture – hosted by the Ethics and Public Policy Center – Feb. 6 in Washington, D.C.

He address focused on the pivotal place that World War I holds in studying the 20th century.

Known for decades as the “Great War,” he said, World War I is significant not only for its unprecedented global scope and loss of life, but also because it set “in motion virtually all the dynamics that were responsible for shaping world history and culture between August 1914 and August 1991.”

The war, which saw the fighting of more than 65 million soldiers, evoked both “great acts of valor” and brutality such as poison gas use that “raised profound ethical questions about war, about nationalism, and about moral judgment in political and military affairs,” Weigel said.

Interpretations of the war have ranged from a “virtually incomprehensible act of civilizational suicide” to “a necessary piece of nasty work that had to be fought to prevent a militaristic Germany from dominating Europe politically and economically,” he observed.

While the question of why the war began has been debated in thousands of books, the scholar said, “it is time to consider a different question, rarely explored but no less urgent: 'Why did the Great War continue?'”

At the beginning of the war, “there is more than enough blame to be shared,” he explained, pointing to the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian radical Gavrilo Princip as the event that triggered the war, through a series of alliances and miscalculations throughout the continent.

Intense Serbian nationalism, Austrian diplomatic failures, an already volatile relationship between Germany and Russia, alliances between France and Russia and political instability in Great Britain contributed to Europe's absorption into global war, he added.

However, the war's continuation, Weigel said, was a product not as much of a military stalemate but of an ideological standoff: while it was quickly visible that “quick victory was impossible” and a war of attrition was inevitable, ideologies guiding Europe also led the countries to continue the conflict and the bloodshed.

One of the most influential forces was Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which “it seems, affected politics as well as science and religion,” he suggested, explaining that “xenophobia and national-racial theories” borne out of Social Darwinism, imbued the conflict with the weight of a greater war for racial triumph.

Misconceptions of the scientific theory melded with Friedrich Nietzsche's “irrationalism, his proclamation of the death of God, his notion of regeneration through destruction, and, perhaps above all, his celebration of the will-to-power,” the scholar continued.

The resulting combination was a “lethal” perspective that interpreted casualties from the advanced military technologies of World War I as “evidence of a willingness to endure greater suffering and loss,” and therefore a greater will to survive and triumph, he said.

Xenophobia and historical fatalism were added into the mix, “eating away at the notions of honor that had had long tempered European politics and warmaking,” and reinventing the idea of honor to excuse greater cruelty.

This erosion of restraint was influenced greatly by the rejection of “traditional religious authority” that respected not only the “structures of authority in the various churches” but mores built on the “Christian concept of the human condition and the moral life,” Weigel explained.

Ideas of positivism based in what science can empirically teach, subjectivity of human experience, and materialism that rejects spirituality then mixed with Nietzsche’s 'will-to-power', he said, chipping away at “any biblically or theologically informed understanding of public life and political responsibility.”

At the same time, a growing emphasis on national pride, even within Churches, replaced a centuries-old cultural understanding of the human person, and a common human origin and destiny, which had bound political authority to higher authority.

“Thus,” he continued, “the disenchanted world led to inhumanity on an unprecedented scale in the Great War – and then gave birth to even worse horrors in communism and German national socialism.”

The modern world has much to learn from World War I, Weigel cautioned. By studying the Great War, we can see the consequences resulting from the erosion of cultural Christianity.

When a God-centered world view is replaced by nationalism, Social Darwinism and the 'will to power', a distorted sense of honor evolves, “in which the national other (is) thoroughly dehumanized.”

The ideas underlying World War I played a “major role in creating the moral and cultural conditions for the possibility of the Great War,” Weigel emphasized, and the study of those ideas offers “lessons to be pondered in this centenary year, and beyond.”

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Pope Francis prays for victims of fire in Buenos Aires

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2014 (CNA) - Pope Francis sent a message of condolence, offering his prayers for the victims of a Feb. 5 fire at a warehouse in Buenos Aires that left seven firefighters and two National Guard soldiers dead.

“I ask God to grant his consolation and strength to those affected by such a tragic misfortune and to inspire feelings of fraternal solidarity in all in order to help confront this adversity in the best way possible,” Pope Francis said.

He said he was “deeply saddened” by the news of the intense fire in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Barracas. He prayed for “the eternal repose of the public servants who died carrying out their duties,” saying they fought “tenaciously” to extinguish the fire.

“I would like to convey my closeness and tell you that I feel very united to those who are suffering and brokenhearted because of such an unfortunate event.”

The Roman Pontiff also offered "a word of hope" to the families mourning the loss of their loved ones and to the families of the injured for their full recovery.

Pope Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires prior to his March 2013 election as Bishop of Rome.

The Holy Father concluded his message invoking the protection of Our Lady of Lujan, the patroness of Argentina, before imparting the Apostolic Blessing.

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