Archive of March 7, 2014

Church in Oceania concerned over Australian asylum policy

Canberra, Australia, Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Church leaders in both Australia and Papua New Guinea are voicing discontent with Australia’s policy of processing asylum seekers at offshore camps with conditions condemned by human rights groups.

Asylum seekers, many of them from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran, travel by boat from Indonesia and are intercepted by the Australian navy before reaching land. They are then sent to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, a small Micronesian nation.

Reza Berati, an Iranian asylum seeker, was murdered Feb. 17 at Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island detention center, and more than 77 others were injured in a spark of violence.

The bishops conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Island stated their condolences and solidarity with the victims of violence Feb. 28, and asked: “how it could be right, in the light of the Papua New Guinea constitution's protection of freedom, to bring into our country and imprison people who have not broken our laws?”

The bishops expressed their concern that the “rhetoric of a righteous campaign against people smugglers actually seems to be more a question of political convenience.”

Australia and Papua New Guinea signed an agreement in 2013 establishing the policy, citing the need to fight human trafficking. It was agreed that refugees will be settled in Papua New Guinea, and that all other asylum seekers will be deported to their home countries.

“We don’t know if the two governments are serious about it, or it’s just a strategy to discourage anyone else from trying to illegally reach Australia,” Fr. Giogio Licini, secretary of social communications for the Papuan bishops, stated.

He added that Papua New Guinea “is in an awkward position. Riddled by corruption and frequently depending on Australian aid, our government could not deny ‘help’ to Australia when requested by the Rudd cabinet to scare off the boat people by hosting them on Manus Island.”

The Papuan bishops added their indignation that “settlement in Papua New Guinea was presented in such a negative light so as to act as a deterrent to asylum seekers.”

Human rights groups have noted inadequate conditions at the detention center -- including the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which has “consistently raised issues around the transfer arrangements and on the absence of adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum seekers and refugees in PNG … including lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions.”

“Manus is the wrong answer to a real problem,” said Fr. Licini. “Australia should make an effort at rethinking the whole issue.”

He mourned that in the meantime, “Manus will continue to be a dangerous place.”

Archbishop Francesco Panfilo of Rabaul visited Manus Island last month, meeting with asylum seekers and local administrators, reporting that he sensed humanitarian issues as a major concern at the detention center.

He observed that representatives of local churches were not allowed to enter the center, except for volunteers from the Salvation Army, and stressed the need to provide for the asylum seekers’ “right to worship according to their belief, and the right of the mainline churches to reach out to their members.”

Most Australians support the current policy toward asylum seekers, or wish it to be more harsh, according to a December poll by UMR Research. But a website, “Sorry Asylum Seekers,” has been set up for Australians to express solidarity with the detained who are seeking a better life than what they can find in such places as Iran and Afghanistan.

Catholic Religious Australia, a collection of more than 180 religious orders, has initiated a “National Lament” campaign in response to the asylum seekers to last through the Easter cycle, including both the seasons of Lent and Easter.

The campaign is Christian and “human response” to those seeking asylum in Australia, rather than viewing them as a problem to be solved.

“Many people throughout Australia are disturbed by the punitive and harsh policies and conditions to which people seeking asylum in Australia are being subjected,” Catholic Religious Australia said in a March 3 statement.

“We are taking our inspiration from the words of Pope Francis visiting asylum seekers refugee camp on the Italian island of Lampedusa,” the group said, citing the Roman Pontiff’s statement that “we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”

The program will focus on prayer and penance made on behalf of the asylum seekers, as well as writing to government officials for a change in the policy of offshore detention.

It will conclude with a novena from Ascension to Pentecost, being focused on prayer and prophetic presence for those seeking a better life in Australia.

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Burning of JPII's letters would be senseless, cardinal says

Rome, Italy, Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz addressed his controversial publishing of letters which John Paul II asked to be burned, affirming that the decision is prudent as the letters are “a good for humanity.”

“These writings were consigned for the process of beatification. They were delivered, examined by the commission,” Cardinal Dziwisz told CNA in an interview last month, adding that any “polemic” surrounding the situation “is senseless.”

The cardinal serves as archbishop of Krakow and was the secretary to and close friend of Blessed John Paul II for 40 years – both in Poland before the pontiff was elected to the See of Peter, and afterward for the entirety of his pontificate.

On the publication of personal notes which the former Pope – who will be declared a saint on April 27 – explicitly asked to be burned in his will, Cardinal Dziwisz explained his decision, saying that “it would take a stupid man to burn everything just like that.”

“This is not just any old thing…one just doesn’t burn these documents,” he said.

The collection of John Paul II's personal notes have been complied by the cardinal into a book entitled “I Am Very Much in God's Hands,” which was released Feb. 12 in Poland and contain religious meditations written from July 1962 until March 2003.

In response to the division of public opinion regarding the letters' publication, Cardinal Dziwisz explained that although the Pope's will asked for the notes to be burned, “one needs to divide these things, important documents, and other little things that aren’t at all important.”

“This correspondence wasn't like this,” he observed, “it was something very profound that could help other people to discover how to pray, how to love.”

“He had a very deep life and he didn’t open it up very easily,” the cardinal reflected, referring to Bl. John Paul II, adding that “here, through these meditations, these writings, one can discover a little his heart, his faith, his devotion, that which (he) carried inside himself.

Speaking of his relationship with the Pope, the cardinal emphasized that “he knew me. He knew to whom he left these things, who would take this responsibility.”

John Paul II also knew “how I sought to serve him with all my life close to him, serving with obedience on the one hand but also prudence and responsibility,” he continued, affirming that he is being faithful to the pontiff’s wishes because “this is why he left them to me.”

“I did his will, not mine…Imagine burning things of this type.”

Making the decision to keep the notes despite the request in the Pope's will was “difficult,” the cardinal expressed, noting that “I can't say everything because that would make it seem like I was exaggerating.”

However, the cardinal repeated that between him and John Paul II, “there was great trust. He didn’t check up on me. He knew that I did what I had to do. Because in this work there had to be great responsibility, trust, and collaboration.  If not, the service of a secretary is useless.”

Recalling other interviews in which he said that he “did not have the courage” to burn then letters, Cardinal Dziwisz revealed that this is true, because keeping them “is a good for humanity.”

“A Pope who served for 27 years, who carried within himself many spiritual riches. These meditations are documents of his spiritual life, holy, given to the Church as an example that the life he led can be an example for everyone else.”

The decision to publish the letters does not go against papal infallibility which applies only to matters of church doctrine.

The Associated Press reported that there are also plans to publish the book in English and other languages, although there are no details as of yet. All proceeds from the book are to be given to assist in the building of a memorial museum in Krakow honoring the Polish Pope, which the cardinal oversees.

Alan Holdren contributed to this piece.

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Disney ends Boy Scout donations due to gay leader ban

Orlando, Fla., Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Less than a year after the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on openly homosexual members, the Walt Disney Company has cut the scouting organization from an employee donation program because it does not allow openly gay scout leaders.

On Feb. 28, the company said employees may no longer donate to the scouts through the company’s VoluntEARS program. A Disney spokesperson noted the company’s anti-discrimination policy, which bars contributions to groups that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Disney program allows employees to convert at least ten hours of annual volunteer work at nonprofit and community organizations into cash donations for their selected charities, CNN reports. In 2010, employees raised $4.8 million for various charities across the U.S.

Tico Perez, an Orlando, Fla. Attorney who serves as the scouts’ national commissioner, said that the organization is “disappointed” that some funding has been cut.

“However we are not surprised,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. “Disney was very forthright that this was coming down the pike, and they're otherwise great community partners. We hope to work with them on other things in the future where our interests align.”

Other major companies have cut ties with the scouts over its past and present policies.

The scouting organization had maintained a ban on “open or avowed homosexuals” among both youth members and adult leaders until May 2013, though it did not proactively inquire about sexual orientation.

Through 2012, Boy Scouts of America leaders had reassured supporters of the policy that it would be maintained, citing respect for parents’ needs to address issues of sexual orientation within their family and with spiritual advisors.

However, the organization changed its policy last year under mounting pressure from corporate donors and major media outlets.

The scouts’ new policy, which took effect Jan. 1, now says that youth membership will not be denied “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

The consequences of policy change are still unclear for the organization and for its individual troops, many of which partner with churches.

In response to the policy change, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting affirmed respect for those with same-sex attraction but also warned that “individuals who are open and avowed homosexuals promoting and engaging in homosexual conduct are not living lives consistent with Catholic teaching.”

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US bishops to tour Mexico border, say Mass for fallen migrants

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - American bishops will gather in Arizona at the end of March to tour the U.S.-Mexico border and offer a Mass in memory of migrant persons who have died trying to gain entry into the United States.

“We exhibit our own indifference when we minimize or ignore this suffering and death, as if these people are not worth our attention. It degrades us as a nation,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the bishops' Committee on Migration in a March 6 statement.

“Hopefully by highlighting the harsh impact the system has on our fellow human beings, our elected officials will be moved to reform it.”

The March 30-April 1 trip will place an emphasis on the suffering of those trying to cross the border from Mexico to the United States, and pray for those who have died while trying to navigate a immigration system critics from both political parties have called confusing, inefficient and “broken.”

Bishop Elizondo will be joined by other bishops on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, including Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston, and bishops from border states, including the host, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson.

The delegation will meet in Nogales, Ariz. and will celebrate Mass for nearly 6,000 people who have died while crossing the border since 1998 on April 1, 2014.

“What we fail to remember in this debate is the human aspect of immigration – that immigration is primarily about human beings, not economic or social issues,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo.

“Those who have died – and those deported each day – have the same value and innate God-given dignity as all persons, yet we ignore their suffering and their deaths,” he added.

The bishops likened the trip to a visit of the Pope to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which commemorated African immigrants who have died trying to reach Europe.

“The U.S.-Mexico border is our Lampedusa,” he explained. “Migrants in this hemisphere try to reach it, but often die in the attempt.”

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Archbishop Chaput confident of papal visit to Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has said he has “great confidence” that Pope Francis will attend the World Meeting of Families, to be held in the city in September 2015.

The archbishop said March 7 a Pennsylvania delegation will visit the Vatican and meet with Pope Francis to share the “great excitement and momentum” surrounding the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to be held Sept. 22-27 of next year.

He said that if Pope Francis decides to attend, the Pope will not announce his decision “before he is ready.”

The archbishop told a news conference that the inclusion of governor Tom Corbett and Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter in the leadership delegation is an effort to show Pope Francis the local enthusiasm for the event.

Both Corbett and Nutter addressed the news conference. Corbett said he plans to extend to the Pope “a warm, vigorous, and hopefully very persuasive invitation to visit our state next year.” He added that “a lot of praying” will be involved to convince the Pope to come to Philadelphia.

Mayor Nutter said the delegation aims to use “every possible mode of persuasion” to encourage Pope Francis to visit. The two suggested they may try to work with president Barack Obama to h coax Pope Francis to attend the meeting; Obama will meet with the Pope March 27.

The delegation will have a private meeting with the Pope during its visit to Rome March 22-27, and will attend planning meetings and preparatory events.

The Eighth World Meeting of Families, hosted by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, aims to support and strengthen families around the world. It was begun in 1994 by Bl. John Paul II, and takes place every three years. The previous event, held in 2012 in Milan, drew more than 1 million persons from 153 nations for Mass with Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Chaput said he believes that the event has the power to “transform in deeply positive ways” both the Catholic Church and the “entire community.”

“I think that people from all backgrounds will be happy, and they certainly will be welcome.”

The March delegation’s activities in Rome will include a reception at Villa Richardson, home of U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett. The delegation will meet with representatives of the Pontifical Council for the Family to discuss logistics and timelines. There will be a news conference with Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the pontifical council’s president, to announce the theme of the World Meeting of Families.

Archbishop Chaput voiced gratitude to the civic and business leaders and philanthropists who are helping with the event.

Robert J. Ciaruffoli, CEO of ParenteBeard, is president of the World Meeting of Families 2015. The event has established an executive leadership cabinet to reach out to the corporate and philanthropic communities. This cabinet includes Comcast chairman Brian Roberts, Aramark chairman of the board Joseph Neubauer, Comcast executive vice president David Cohen, Independence Blue Cross president Daniel Hilferty, and philanthropist James Maguire, Sr. of the Maguire Foundation.

Ciaruffoli, Hifferty, Neubauer and Maguire will join Corbett and Nutter as part of the Philadelphia delegation to the Vatican.

Some 10,000-15,000 people will attend the World Meeting of Families itself, though other activities are planned to coincide with the event. The event has raised about $5 million, but needs “considerably more” to succeed, especially if Pope Francis visits.

Archbishop Chaput said he hopes that if any excess funds are raised, they will be given to the poor.

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Priest clarifies misconceptions on Pope's civil union remarks

Vatican City, Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A priest connected with the Vatican press office addressed Pope Francis' recent words on civil unions in an interview, noting that his comments were general and did not imply a change in Church doctrine.

“There have been numerous questions, calls and messages throughout the day today regarding Pope Francis' recent interview in the Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, particularly referring to the section on marriage and civil unions,” Father Thomas Rosica said in his March 5 email.

Fr. Rosica, C.S.B., who serves as the English language assistant to Holy See Press Office, observed that “Some journalists have interpreted the Pope's reflect an openness on the part of the Church to civil unions. Others have interpreted his words to be addressing the question of same-sex marriage.”

Giving the original Italian version of the pontiff's words on civil unions, Fr. Rosica provided his own personal translation, highlighting the importance of understanding that “'civil unions'” in Italy refer to people who are married by the state, outside of a religious context.”

Addressing questions from some journalists who have asked whether or not the comments were made in reference to gay civil unions, the priest emphasized that “The Pope did not choose to enter into debates about the delicate matter of gay civil unions.”

“In his response to the interviewer, he emphasized the natural characteristic of marriage between one man and one woman, and on the other hand, he also spoke about the obligation of the state to fulfill its responsibilities towards its citizens.”

By giving this response “Pope Francis spoke in very general terms, and did not specifically refer to same-sex marriage as a civil union,” he explained.

“Pope Francis simply stated the issues and did not interfere with positions held by Episcopal Conferences in various countries dealing with the question of civil unions and same sex marriage,” the priest continued.

“We should not try to read more into the Pope’s words that what has been stated in very general terms.”

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Chicago cardinal says cancer appears to be active again

Chicago, Ill., Mar 7, 2014 (CNA) - Cardinal Francis George of Chicago told his archdiocese that Lent finds him in “poor health” as cancer in his right kidney that was dormant for over a year is “showing signs of new activity.”

“While I am not experiencing symptoms of cancer at this time, this is a difficult form of the disease, and it will most probably eventually be the cause of my death,” he wrote in his most recent column for the Catholic New World archdiocesan paper.

Cardinal George said that after “many tests, scans, biopsies and other inconveniences,” he was advised to enter into an aggressive round of chemotherapy which will take place over the next two months.

The 77-year-old cardinal underwent a medical procedure August of 2012 that discovered cancerous cells in his kidney and in a nodule that was removed from his liver.

In July 2006, at the age of 69, the cardinal underwent a five-hour operation to remove his bladder, prostate gland and sections of his ureters, the tubes which connect the kidneys to the bladder.

On his chemotherapy treatment in 2012, he recalled that he was able to maintain his administrative schedule “well” although “my public schedule was sometimes curtailed because of lowered immunity.”

“As I prepare for this next round of chemo, I ask for your prayers, which have always sustained me, and for your understanding if I cannot always fulfill the schedule already set for the next several months.”

In his column, Cardinal George also said “I imagine this news will increase speculation about my retirement.” However, the “only certainty is that no one knows when that will be, except perhaps the Holy Father, and he hasn't told me.”

“As required by the Code of Canon Law, I submitted my resignation two years ago and was told to wait until I heard from the pope,” he explained. “The consultation the pope makes through the Apostolic Nuncio takes a good number of months, and it hasn’t formally started yet.”

“In the meantime, Lent gives me a chance to evaluate not only my life of union with the Lord but also my life and actions here as Archbishop of Chicago.”

Cardinal George was born in Chicago on Jan. 16, 1937 and is the first native of Chicago to become archbishop of the city. Pope John Paul II named him Bishop of Yakima in Washington State in 1990. After serving for five years, he was appointed archbishop of Portland, Oregon, on April 30, 1996.

Less than a year later, on April 8, 1997, Pope John Paul II named him the eighth Archbishop of Chicago after the See had fallen vacant with the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin on Nov. 14, 1996.

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Pope: we will be judged by our behavior towards others

Vatican City, Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis dedicated his daily homily to the virtue of charity, stressing that we shouldn't be “ashamed” to touch those who suffer, and cautioned against turning our faith into a mere ritual.

“Don’t be ashamed of the flesh of our brother, it’s our flesh! We will be judged by the way we behave towards this brother, this sister,” the Pope emphasized in his March 7 daily Mass.

Speaking to those present in the chapel of the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse, the pontiff began his reflections by recalling the Gospel reading, taken from Matthew, in which the Pharisees criticize Jesus and his disciples for not fasting.

This attitude of viewing the commandments as a formality and the religious life as a mere ethic contrasts with the attitude of Jesus, the Pope observed, who is not embarrassed to bend down and embrace those who suffer.

“Receiving from our Lord the love of a Father, receiving from our Lord the identity of a people and then transforming it into an ethic means we are refusing that gift of love,” he explained.

“These hypocritical people are good persons. They do all they should do. They seem good. But they are ethicists without goodness because they have lost the sense of belonging to a people!”

Calling to mind the words of Isaiah in the first reading, the Pope reminded those present that true charity or fasting is expressed by freeing the oppressed, sharing our food with the hungry, opening our houses to the homeless and clothing those who are naked, thus breaking the chains of evil.

Emphasizing that “This is the charity or fasting that our Lord wants!” Pope Francis affirmed that true charity “is concerned about the life of our brother,” and “is not ashamed – Isaiah said it himself – of the flesh of our brother.”

“Our perfection, our holiness is linked with our people where we are chosen and become part,” he noted, adding that “our greatest act of holiness relates to the flesh of our brother and the flesh of Jesus Christ.”

Continuing, the pontiff highlighted that “Our act of holiness today, here at the altar is not a hypocritical fasting: instead it means not being ashamed of the flesh of Christ which comes here today!”

The “mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ” stated the Pope, means “sharing our bread with the hungry, taking care of the sick, the elderly, those who can’t give us anything in return: this is not being ashamed of the flesh!”

Drawing attention to the figure of the Good Samaritan, the pontiff explained that the most difficult act of charity or fasting is practiced by him, who bent down to the wounded man, unlike the priest who hurried by, perhaps out of the fear of being infected.

Stating that this is the question we should ask ourselves today, the Pope challenged those in attendance, saying “Am I ashamed of the flesh of my brother and sister?”

“When I give alms, do I drop the coin without touching the hand (of the poor person, beggar)? And if by chance I do touch it, do I immediately withdraw it? When I give alms, do I look into the eyes of my brother, my sister? When I know a person is ill, do I go and visit that person? Do I greet him or her with affection?”

A sign that might help us, the Pope expressed, is another question: “Am I capable of giving a caress or a hug to the sick, the elderly, the children, or have I lost sight of the meaning of a caress?”

Concluding his homily, the pontiff noted that “these hypocrites were unable to give a caress. They had forgotten how to do it,” and warning that “we will be judged” by the way we treat our brothers and sisters.

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In rare interview, Benedict XVI recalls life of John Paul II

Vatican City, Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In lengthy excerpts of an interview published in an Italian newspaper, Benedict XVI speaks of his time collaborating with John Paul II, highlighting the deceased Pope's sanctity and commitment to the truth.

“In the years of collaboration with him it became ever more clear to me that John Paul II was a saint,” the retired pontiff told Polish journalist Wlodzimierz Redzioch in a written interview, selections of which appeared in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on March 7.

Published as part of the book “Beside JPII: Friends and Collaborators Speak,” released by Italian press agency “Italian Edizioni Ares,” Benedict's written interview was originally requested by Redzioch in Nov. of 2013, which he agreed to and completed in January of this year.

During the interview, retired pontiff Benedict XVI recalled that he originally met John Paul II in the conclave where John Paul I was elected Pope, explaining how they had both read each others' work previously and had been wanting to meet each other.

Observing how the then-Cardinal Wojtyla had quoted his piece “Introduction to Christianity” during the spiritual exercises he preached for Pope Paul VI in 1976, Benedict noted that “it is as if, interiorly, we both were expecting to meet each other.”

“Above all, I immediately and greatly perceived the human fascination that he exuded, and from the way he prayed I noted how deeply united to God he was.”

Speaking of his appointment by John Paul II as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict recalled how the blessed allowed him to continue publishing theological works for his home diocese, and that he was “always very gracious and accommodating with me.”

Referring to certain doctrinal challenges which the two faced during their years of working together, Benedict XVI  noted that the first major topic that came up was liberation theology.

“Both in Europe and in North America, it was common opinion that it was a support to the poor and, therefore, that it was a cause that surely needed to be approved,” he explained.

However, “it was an error,” stated the retired pontiff, adding that “Poverty and the poor were, without a doubt, set at the center of the Liberation Theology, yet in a very specific perspective...It was said that it was not a question of help or of reforms, but rather of the great upheaval from which a new world would spring.”

Observing how “the Christian faith was being used as a motor for this revolutionary movement, transforming it into a political force,” Benedict explained that “A falsification of the Christian faith needed to be opposed precisely for the sake of the poor and in favor of the service rendered to them.”

Drawing attention to John Paul II's experience with Marxism in Poland, which Benedict referred to as “the godmother of liberation theology,” the retired pontiff emphasized that it was “on the basis of his painful experience,” that made it “clear to him that it was necessary to fight that kind of ‘liberation.’”

Turning to his decision to open John Paul II's cause for beatification, which advanced the times established by canon law, Benedict noted that he had been convinced of the Blessed's sanctity for many years due to his “his intense relationship with God,” and his immersion “with the Lord.”

“From here came his happiness, in the midst of the great fatigues that he had to sustain, and the courage with which he carried out his task in a truly difficult time,” Benedict recalled.

“John Paul II did not ask for applause, nor did he ever look around concerned about how his decisions would be received. He acted beginning with his faith and from his convictions and he was also ready to receive blows.”

“The courage of the truth is, in my eyes, a criterion of the first order of sainthood,” the retired Pope emphasized, adding that “only departing from his relationship with God is it possible to also understand his tireless pastoral commitment.”

Noting that John Paul II's commitment was “inexhaustible,” Benedict stated that “He committed himself with a radicality that cannot be otherwise explained,” and that was not limited to “the great trips” he took, but also “day after day beginning with the morning Mass until late into the night.”

Speaking in reference to the fact that the Church has officially recognized the holiness of “his” Pope John Paul II, as he was one of the blessed's closest collaborators, Benedict XVI affirmed that “My memory of John Paul II is filled with gratitude.”

“I could not and I should not try to imitate him, but I tried to carry on his legacy and his job as best I could. And so I am sure that even today his kindness accompanies me and his blessing protects me.”

Already on store shelves, the book is a memoir compiled for the occasion of Bl. John Paul II's canonization, which is slated to take place April 27, Divine Mercy Sunday, of this year, and is available only in Italian.

The book includes recollections from over a dozen of the blessed's other closest friends and collaborators, including Bl. John Paul II's secretaries, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop Emery Kabongo and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki.

Also featured are interviews with the former director of the press office of the Holy See Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the blessed Pope's life-long friend Wanda Poltawska, and the postulator of his cause for sainthood, Fr. Slawomir Oder, as well as many others.

Corriere della Sera is the same Italian daily which recently published an interview with Pope Francis, in which the pontiff spoke of key topics in the Church, including the upcoming Synod of Bishops.

This interview has been translated from the original Italian by CNA's Alan Holdren and Estefania Augirre.

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Prayer at center of Ukrainian Catholic response to crisis

Kyiv, Ukraine, Mar 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Prayer and respect for the dignity of all persons are at the core of the Ukrainian Catholic response to the upheavals in Ukraine, a prelate of the tradition in the U.S. has said.

“What a beautiful example for all of us in the free world -- the centrality of faith in people’s struggle for human dignity,” Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia told CNA March 5.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in particular, he said, is encouraging a peaceful approach to the situation and continuing “to be Christ's presence among the people,” adding that the Church is not encouraging violence, but trying to calm the protesters and to lead them in prayer.

The country has undergone a series of nationwide protests about the country’s direction since November 2013, with divisions between citizens who favor closer ties to the European Union and those who favor closer ties to Russia. The protests led Ukraine’s pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country Feb. 21; two days later, parliament appointed Oleksander Turchynov as acting president.

The political stakes further escalated Feb. 28, as unmarked troops began to take control of airports, communications centers, government buildings and military bases in the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea. Russian flags were raised on the region’s parliamentary building and a new parliament was sworn in in an emergency session.

The troops, wearing Russian uniform without insignia, are believed to be Russian, though the nation’s president Vladimir Putin has denied this.

The Crimean parliament has called a referendum on whether the region will join Russia. Ukraine’s interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and the new government in Kyiv have said the vote would be unconstitutional and illegitimate.

Archbishop Soroka said Ukrainian Catholics have been “very concerned” by the conflict because of the Church’s experience in the past. “People are afraid to go back to those Communist times,” he said, pointing to the persecution of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was outlawed under Soviet Rule from 1946 to 1989. “People don't know what will happen to them.”

The archbishop said there continues to be persecution against the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church in some parts of Russia.
This treatment of the Ukrainian Catholic Church preceded the Ukraine crisis, but now there is “incitement of hatred, distrust,” he said.

Still, he said that Catholics should be understanding and patient in the midst of “hurt and damage that will take a long time to heal.”

The archbishop said that those who are pressuring Catholics and Ukrainians are “products of a regime” and decades of Soviet policies that they grew up learning to emulate.

“It is a call for us, especially in the time of Lent now, to be the Christ, bringing the love of God to all these people. Show the love of God, his redeeming love for all of us.”

Archbishop Soroka called to mind Pope Francis’ recent words reminding Catholics that “human dignity is the same for all human beings.”

“How do we as good Christians, raise the dignity of one another?” He said there is a particular challenge “to work against the incitement of this hatred and distrust that is being sown in society.”

The protests in Ukraine, for the most part, have been an example of this prayerful search for dignity, the archbishop said.

The Church, he said is helping the people to pray and support the demonstrations, and is also providing pastoral care, shelter, and medical aid.

The Ukrainian Catholic community in the United States has hosted rallies in different cities and is working to persuade politicians to “exert economic and social pressure on Putin to dialogue,” the archbishop said.

On March 4 Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville asked Catholics in the U.S. to pray for “a peaceful resolution of this crisis” that secures “the just and fundamental human rights of a long-suffering, oppressed people.”

He voiced solidarity and prayer for an end to the tensions and “troubling events,” in the Ukraine. Noting the history of persecution of Ukrainian Catholics, he said that U.S. Catholics “raise our voice in defense of religious liberty in Ukraine, a liberty further threatened by the invasive actions occurring in the country.”

Bishop Jacek Pyl, auxiliary bishop of the Odessa-Simferopol diocese, urged the Christian faithful to keep praying for peace.

"With our prayer we reach out to all the people without concern for their religion, political views or ethnic background. We pray that the people, who for tens of years live in peace – do not start fighting today."

Bishop Pyl called on all people “to stay away from extremisms” and to not allow “the brotherhood among Crimean people to be broken,” he said in a statement provided to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Archbishop Soroka hoped that Christians across the world could find inspiration in the “tranquil, prayerful” approach of the Ukrainian Catholics to the conflict in Ukraine.

“We can learn so much from their example. I know I’m continually inspired by that example.”

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Senate urged to create envoy for Christians in Middle East

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2014 (CNA) - A Catholic bishop and a Baptist pastor urged members of the U.S. Senate to address the “dire situation” facing Christians in the Middle East, proposing a special religious freedom envoy to the region.

Increased “religious hostilities” around the world, “but particularly in the Middle East” leads Bishop Richard E. Pates and Dr. Russell D. Moore to “believe that a Special Envoy is needed to focus on the dire situation affecting religious minorities.”

Among the minority groups, Christians are “most targeted for harassment and attacks in the largest number of countries,” the authors said in a March 4 letter to Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah.

Bishop Pates, of Des Moines, Iowa, is the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Moore serves as the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The religious figures encouraged Sens. Coburn and Lee to hold a vote on a senate bill to create a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.

The senators have placed a hold on the bill, citing concerns over creating a new office when a religious freedom diplomatic position already exists that has remained vacant. The position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom has remained unfilled since Suzan Cook resigned from the position in Oct. 2013.

Citing a Jan. 2014 Prew Research Center study, Bishop Pates and Moore said that the growing number of religious hostilities around the globe merited the consideration of a new post.

In addition, Christians have faced “ongoing violence” as a religious minority, pointing to bombings, assassinations, and violence against Christians in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and India.

“In many instances, religious minorities have lived for centuries side by side with those of other faiths, but now find themselves coming under increased attack and harassment,” they said.

“A Special Envoy, working in collaboration with the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, can help insure that basic human rights of these minority communities, who face such enormous threats, are protected,” they asserted.

They explained that they imagined the new post, if created, to work alongside the Department of State’s  Office of International Religious Freedom as well as the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, but with an emphasis “on the growing challenges of protecting historic Christian communities and promoting the rights of all religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.”

“Our faith traditions are united in our commitment to protecting the poor and vulnerable and promoting religious freedom for all.”

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