Archive of March 24, 2014

Pope decries escalating violence in South Sudan

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2014 (CNA) - In a letter sent to the archbishop of the South Sudanese capital Juba, Pope Francis urged the nation's citizens to find a peaceful solution to conflicts and to seek the common good over personal interests.

Read aloud by Cardinal Peter Turkson during Sunday Mass, the March 23 letter addressed to Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro entreated all parties to “tirelessly seek peaceful solutions, enabling the common good to prevail over particular interests.”

Cardinal Turkson is the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and is currently on a mission of prayer with the South Sudanese people.

Bearing the signature of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the letter denounced “the fighting that has cost the lives of many innocent people and caused deep wounds and divisions which will take many years to heal.”

South Sudan was formed in 2011 when the region gained independence from the Republic of Sudan following a 20-year-long civil war. However, country has again erupted in violence as forces loyal to South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and those allied behind former Vice President Riek Machar have recently come into conflict.

In the letter, Pope Francis highlighted that every day we see “how armed conflicts are generating poverty, hunger, sickness and death,” and emphasized that “we cannot remain indifferent to these realities.”

He grieved the numerous men, women and children who have been forced to flee their homeland and are living “as refugees” or “exiles in conditions unworthy of their human dignity and in which they are no longer seen as persons but as nameless statistics.”

Quoting his Sept. 2013 letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the G20 St. Petersburg Summit last year, the pontiff stated that “without peace there can be no development.”

“For this reason” the Pope issued “a pressing appeal…so that, with the support of the international community,” citizens “may put an end to hostilities and acts of violence, ensure access to humanitarian aid for the needy, and tirelessly seek peaceful solutions, enabling the common good to prevail over particular interests.”

Continuing, the pontiff also encouraged citizens to foster a “culture of encounter,” which above all means “rejecting self-centeredness and insistence on one’s own rights without concern for the rights of others.”

This, he observed, “means seeing in others, not competitors or, worse still, enemies, but rather brothers and sisters to be accepted and with whom to work.”

Emphasizing that “the commitment to create a climate of constructive social creativity must prevail over selfishness and the thirst for power,” the Pope explained that human beings, “are always” put “prior to the State and the various powers which might in some way seek to subject them.”

Referring to what he said in his 2014 Lenten Message, Pope Francis noted that “these weeks of Lent help us to follow Jesus Christ, present in his Church, the ultimate and definitive foundation of our lives and the certainty of our hope.”

“Only when we recognize the presence of Christ are we able to face the future with confidence, without fear and illusion.”

Explaining how this liturgical season is an opportunity to undertake “a path of purification and conversion of mind and heart,” the Pope stated that “Only in this way will we be able to uproot all the false and seductive promises of happiness which enslave us.”

“It is imperative for our consciences to be converted to justice, fraternity and sharing!” he stressed, adding that “In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters, and to assume our responsibility to work concretely towards alleviating them.”

Concluding his letter, the pontiff underlined that the Catholic Church “will remain present and work generously in providing every possible form of assistance.”

“Especially,” he noted, “for the sake of reestablishing a climate of dialogue, reconciliation and peace among all the members of society.”

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Vatican launches astronomy class for parish educators

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s Observatory has announced that for the first time it will be hosting a workshop analyzing the relationship of faith and astronomy for parish educators, which is slated to take place next spring.

“We had done something similar to this only for bishops, held in Rome back in 1990. After nearly 25 years it was certainly time to try it again!” Br. Guy Consolmagno stated in comments made to CNA on March 24.

Br. Guy Consolmagno SJ is an American research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory, which is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See.

Having received a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in planetary science, the religious brother entered the Society of Jesus in 1989 and currently serves as curator of the Vatican Meteorite collection.

Referring to the four-day workshop, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory Foundation, entitled “What can modern astronomy tell us about creation – and its Creator?” Br. Consolmagno explained that originally “the idea of a faith-astronomy workshop for parish educators didn't come from us.”

Instead, “it came, out of the blue,” he recalled, “from a diocesan priest in Wisconsin who wrote to us last fall with the idea.”

Having discussed the idea with the Vatican Observatory’s director, Fr. José Gabriel Funes, S.J., Br. Guy noted that he was “very enthusiastic,” adding that they have also received “great support from the Diocese of Tucson.”

Taking place the week of January 19 -23, 2015, at the Redemptorist Retreat Center in Tucson, Arizona, the course is designed to give those who work in Catholic parishes an updated vision of what is happening in the universe, and will touch on topics ranging from the Big Bang, to the search for life in the universe, to our exploration of the planets.

Designed for those who educate in Catholic parishes, the workshop is targeted towards priests and deacons, science teachers in parochial schools, and educators in CCD and RCIA programs, and will include lectures, lab exercises, and field trips to numerous astronomical sites in the Tucson area.

Expressing their desires for the outcome of the workshop, Br. Consolmagno stated that “Our hope is that this can become an annual event,” but that this depends on the response to this first offering.”

“We also hope that donors to the Vatican Observatory Foundation can come forward to help provide scholarships, allowing priests with limited resources to be able to come and take part,” he noted.

“Beyond that” added the religious brother, “we hope that the people who come here will then take what they've experienced and learned, and spread it around their own parishes. That's why we are specifically inviting people involved in education programs in the parishes.”

The fee to attend the workshop is $750 per person, and includes four nights at the Redemptorist Retreat Center, transportation and admission fees for the field trips, and assorted books and other materials that the participants can take back with them to their home parishes.

With enough space for 25 people, the workshop sessions will be given by the Jesuit priests and brothers who work at the Vatican’s astronomical observatory in Tucson, which is home to the Vatican Observatory Research Group and the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.

Speaking of the importance of such an event in the Church, Br. Consolmagno explained that “too many Catholics don't appreciate that science is part of our patrimony.”

“Science was invented at the universities, which were founded by the Church. And science is only possible because we believe in a God who is transcendent – not a nature god – and who deliberately created this universe out of love,” he observed.

“If the physical world is an expression of God's love, studying it with science is a way of coming closer and more intimate with its Creator.”

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Pope: only the humble, marginalized 'obtain salvation'

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily Pope Francis dedicated his reflections to the virtue of humility, explaining that only the “outcasts” who recognize their need of God know what it means to be saved.

“Jesus tells us: ‘if you do not put yourself on the margins, if you don’t feel what it is to be an outcast, you will not obtain salvation,’” the Pope observed in his March 24 daily Mass.

Addressing those present in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, the pontiff began by recalling how in the Gospel Jesus addressed his fellow citizens in Nazareth, saying that “No prophet is accepted in his hometown,” and that he could not work miracles there because the people “had no faith.”

Also drawing attention to how Jesus recalls two Biblical stories of healing, one of the leper Naaman in the first reading, and the other of the meeting of Elijah and the widow of Serapta who gave him her last bit of food and was saved from famine, the Pope explained that “Lepers and widows in those days were the outcasts of society.”

However, he observed that it was these two outcasts who welcomed the prophet’s words and were saved, while the citizens of Nazareth “felt so strong in their faith” and so sure of themselves that they “had no need for other salvation” the pontiff continued.

“It is the tragedy of observing the Commandments without faith” noted the pontiff, describing how some say “‘I save myself because I go to the Synagogue every Saturday, I try to obey the Commandments, I do not want to hear that the leper or the widow is better than me! They are outcasts!’”

“This is humility, the path of humility,” he observed, “to feel so marginalized that we need the Salvation of the Lord. He alone saves us, not our observance of the law.”

Recalling how those who heard Jesus speak were “angry and wanted to kill him,” the Pope explained that this is the same anger that Naaman initially felt in the first reading, when he was asked by Elijah to bathe in the Jordan river seven times in order to be healed, thinking it to be absurd and humiliating.

“The Lord asked him for a gesture of humility, He asked him to obey like a child, to be ridiculous,” the pontiff explained, adding that after Naaman walked away in anger, he returned and did as Elijah asked, and was healed by his act of humility.

“This is the message for today in this third week of Lent: if we want to be healed, we must choose the road of humility,” the Pope went on to say, adding that Mary, in her canticle, “does not say she is happy because God was looking to her virginity, to her kindness or to her sweetness.”

All of these are virtues which she possessed, he affirmed, but she is happy “because the Lord was looking to her humility, the humility of His servant, her smallness.”

Highlighting how “This is what the Lord looks for,” the pontiff emphasized that “we must take heed of this wisdom and put ourselves on the margins so that the Lord may find us.”

“He will not find us at the center of our certainties. That is not where the Lord looks. He will find us on the margins, in our sins, in our mistakes, in our need for spiritual healing, for salvation; that is where the Lord will find us.”

Concluding his homily, Pope Francis expressed that “Christian humility” is not composed of “the virtue of saying: ‘I am not important’ and hiding our pride,” but rather of “telling the truth” that we are sinners.

“‘I am a sinner,’” he stated, noting that “this is our truth,” however “there is another truth: God saves us. He saves us when we are on the margins; He does not save us in our certainties.”

“Let us ask for the grace of having the wisdom to put ourselves on the margins” and “for the grace of humility so that we may receive the Lord’s Salvation” he prayed.

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Knights of Columbus wins prize for ethical business practices

New Haven, Conn., Mar 24, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus has been recognized as one of the world’s most ethical companies by a research center on best practices in corporate ethics and governance.

“This really speaks to the fact that a company can be committed to Church teaching, committed to Catholic values, and still provide a top quality service and be very successful at what they do,” Andrew Walther, vice president for communications and media with the Knights, told CNA March 21.

Timothy Erblich, CEO of the Ethisphere Institute, announced the award March 20, saying, “the Knights of Columbus join an exclusive community committed to driving performance through leading business practices. We congratulate everyone at Knights of Columbus for this extraordinary achievement.”

The institute named the New Haven, Conn.-based Catholic fraternal organization and life insurance company to its 2014 World’s Most Ethical Company list. The Knights is only one of two companies in the life insurance category to be recognized.

The assessment is based on consideration of an organization’s ethics and compliance programs; its reputation, leadership and innovation; governance; corporate citizenship and responsibility; and culture of ethics.

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the fraternal organization, noted that it began more than 130 years ago to protect Catholic families who lose their breadwinner and to provide charity for those “on the margins of society.”

“Today, those same founding principles are at work in every aspect of our business, guiding our corporate governance, our professional agency force, our investments, and our day-to-day business operations,” Anderson said in a statement. “It is this continued commitment to our foundational, Catholic principles that is the key to our ethical, sustainable and successful business model.”

Walther added that the award is a testament to the fraternal benefit society’s commitment to “the same core Catholic founding values that have always guided our operations.”

He the Knights take the idea of fraternity “very, very seriously.”

“The idea of a strong brotherhood based on faith is something that is critical to forces for good in the world.”

The Knights’ insurance agent is himself a member of the organization. He provides insurance and long-term planning services to “his brother knights,” Walther explained. Agents aim at “really doing the best possible job” for insured members while working to follow the principle of protecting Catholic families established by the order’s founder, Father Michael McGivney.

“The entire idea is to have a company that really follows Catholic teaching.”

The Knights try to show their Catholic values “every step of the way” in its dealings with members, employees, and investments. The organization does not invest in companies whose actions “clash” with Catholic teaching, including companies involved in pornography, abortion, and “a host of other issues that would be antithetical to Catholic teaching.”

This means that insured members and families can have “the peace of mind that comes from dealing with people who share their values” and also work with a “top-rated insurer,” Walther said.

Rather than having to pay shareholders, the Knights direct insurance proceeds back to the community through charitable programs in the U.S. and around the world.

These programs help those in need and support local parishes, dioceses around the world, and the Vatican.

The Knights of Columbus offers insurance to members and their immediate families. The order has about 950 employees and almost 2 million insurance policies in force, totaling $93 billion in value.

There are more than 1.8 million Knights of Columbus in 15,000 councils around the world, and the organization donated more than $167.5 million and 70 million volunteer hours to charitable causes in 2013.

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Global symposium aims to educate media on religious liberty

Rome, Italy, Mar 24, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy association, is hosting a conference in Rome this week to inform members of the media about its work in defense of religious freedom.

“Alliance Defending Freedom is hosting an International Media Symposium to educate the media about the legal issues that are threatening human dignity, religious liberty, the sanctity of life, the future of the family,” Alan Sears, president of the organization, told CNA March 23.

“One of the things that’s very important to us is to build relationships with media in Europe and the United States,” added Benjamin Bull, executive director of ADF Global, added.

“We’ve invited ‘strategic influencers’ … to come and learn about these issues, learn about the rights of conscience, learn about the legal arguments that we’re asserting in court, so that they can understand them, and perhaps write about them as they choose to.”

The symposium, being held March 24-27, includes talks from experts in the legal, and related fields, on topics such as the “European Pyramid of Governance” and “From conception: the foundation of human rights.”

Alliance Defending Freedom’s “primary purpose is to keep the door open for the spread of the gospel,” said Sears. “We do that through an integration of strategy, training, funding and legal advocacy. Advocacy includes, of course, all-important litigation.”

The organization offers several different programs and training opportunities, including a “litigation academy” for practicing attorneys and the Blackstone Legal Fellowship program for law school students.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s website boasts an 80 percent success rate of all cases litigated. The group’s attorneys work on a wide variety of cases, such as those in defense of medical professionals who are pressured to violate their conscience or parents who seek to opt their children out of nationalized sexual education.

“I’m sad to say that most of the rights that have been lost, both across the European Union and across the United States have been lost because of the failure of the members of the body of Christ to stand and defend (them) - for about two generations we were AWOL,” acknowledged Sears.

“We stood on the sidelines while others brought actions and sought to create legal structures to change things. But the good news is, we’re not too late.”

Alliance Defending Freedom was launched in 1993 after “35 different ministries leaders from all across different faith lines in the Christian community came together and said, ‘we have a legal crisis. We are losing religious freedom. We are losing in the battle for life on many different fronts. We are losing on many issues related to family, and we do not have a broad enough, organized, wide enough reaction to this. We need to do some significant new things to enter the battle at a new level in a new way,’” recounted Sears.

Sears was the first lawyer on the team. In the intervening decades, Alliance Defending Freedom has grown to 187 full-time team members and more than 2,200 allied attorneys in 13 different countries, driven by a dedication to putting their faith in practice.

Roger Kishka, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said he joined the team “because I am a person of Christian faith.”

“I’m a Catholic - it is perhaps the ‘ideal fusion’ of my legal career and my faith - to be able to defend these rights, and hopefully to be able to leave a legacy for my children and my children’s children, and to make the world a place where religious liberty can be enjoyed by all.”

Attendees at this week’s media symposium will have many opportunities to talk with various members of the legal advocacy group.

Paul Coleman, legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom’s Vienna office, said he hopes the symposium “will be a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with members of the media.”

“We all know that relationships matter, and they certainly matter when it comes to media.”

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Contraception disrupts 'language of love,' Bishop Conley teaches

Lincoln, Neb., Mar 24, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop James Conley of Lincoln hopes his new pastoral letter on the sacrificial “language of love” and the disruptive immorality of contraception will be received “with open hearts and open minds.”

“My hope is that people, Catholic couples especially, and also Catholic physicians and pharmacists, will be willing to look at this issue again,” he told CNA March 20.

“The Language of Love” is Bishop Conley’s pastoral letter on the sacrificial nature of love and on contraception, officially promulgated March 25 -- the feast of the Annunciation, when the Church celebrates Mary’s assent to becoming the Mother of God. The letter can be read in full, and listened to, here.

Bishop Conley said Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which rejected contraception as contrary to Christian ethics, had a “prophetic message” that was “good news for all Catholics, since we know that the contraceptive mentality has been so pervasive and so devastating.”

He said he hopes that couples using contraception, and physicians prescribing it, will “think again” about their actions, and turn to “God’s tender mercy by making a good heartfelt confession.”

“Sacrifice is the language of love,” Bishop Conley wrote in his pastoral letter. “Love is spoken in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who poured out his life for us on the cross. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of the Christian life, sharing in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And love is spoken in the sacrifice of parents, and pastors, and friends.”

“We live in a world short on love,” he lamented.

The pastoral letter warns that “when it rejects the gift of new life, through the use of contraception,” American culture is rejecting love.

“Husbands and wives are made to freely offer themselves as gifts to one another in friendship, and to share in the life-giving love of God.”

He said God created marriage to be unifying and procreative, joining husband and wife “inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new.”

“Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities,” he continued, warning that the use of contraception “gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy and loving meaning of marriage itself.”

He said marriage is a call to “loving as God loves… freely, creatively and generously.”

The letter will be delivered to every registered family in the diocese, and will be made available as a podcast and as a broadcast on Nebraska Catholic radio.

Bishop Conley voiced gratitude for the example of the “hundreds of families” who have “opened themselves freely and generously to children.”

While this requires sacrifice, he said, “sacrifice is the harbinger of true joy.”

“The Language of Love” was inspired by  a 1991 pastoral letter, “In Obedience to Christ,” issued by Bishop Glennon Flavin, who shepherded the Lincoln diocese from 1967 to 1992.

Bishop Flavin’s letter had discussed contraception’s incompatibility with Catholic married life and medical ethics, and is regarded as a landmark in the history of the Diocese of Lincoln.

Bishop Conley said that his predecessor’s letter had “a profound effect” on him as a young priest in the Diocese of Wichita.

When he became Bishop of Lincoln in November 2012, he began to think how he could re-present Bishop Flavin’s “wonderful, beautiful teaching,” which led to his preparation of “The Language of Love” as an update to his predecessor’s teaching.

Bishop Conley told CNA that Catholics who reject or ignore the immorality of contraception should look to the Church and to the teachings of Christ as “a message of love and mercy,” a message proclaimed by Pope Francis.

The bishop’s letter specially addressed Catholic physicians, pharmacists, and other health care professionals. He praised their efforts to help their patients, but at the same time he said no Catholic health care providers should engage in medicine “by undermining the gift of fertility.”

Health care, he noted, is “the art of healing,” while and contraception and sterilization “denigrate and degrade the body’s very purpose.”

John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, told CNA March 20 that he welcomed the pastoral letter as “a clear, compelling call to fidelity on an issue that is central to human happiness and health,” saying the letter has an “inspiring and constructive explanation” of Catholic teaching on contraception and sterilization.

Brehany said the letter can benefit faithful Catholic health care professionals through its “high-quality reaffirmation of Church teaching.”

“Even the choir needs to hear good sermons from time to time.”

The letter can bring clarity to health care professionals who are confused or ignorant of their moral obligations related to contraception and sterilization; Brehany said he knows many Catholic physicians who did not know about the immorality of these practices for many years.

“People respond to the truth, especially when it is spoken with clarity and love,” Brehany continued, encouraging lay Catholics to read the letter and to “share it with confidence.”

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Jesuit school's dean finalists faulted for Planned Parenthood ties

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 24, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Professors and alumni of Loyola Marymount University have said the school should begin another search for candidates for the dean of its liberal arts college, after the two finalists were revealed to have links with Planned Parenthood.

“I’m very concerned that both finalists for dean have associations with Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the United States,” Loyola Marymount University philosophy professor Chris Kaczor told CNA March 24.

The two finalists for the position of dean are Dr. Ramón Gutiérrez, an American history professor at the University of Chicago, and Dr. Robbin Crabtree, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University, a Jesuit institution in Connecticut.

Crabtree served on the advisory board and media relations committee for Planned Parenthood of Putnam County in Indiana from 1991-1993, and Gutiérrez has served as a consultant for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America on the topic of Hispanic attitudes toward sexuality.

These associations are “very problematic,” Kaczor said, because the dean of the Jesuit university’s Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts oversees bioethics, theological studies, philosophy, and Catholic studies.

“It seems to me that the person who oversees these parts of the university needs to be someone very much committed to the Jesuit understanding of faith and justice, which includes defense of the unborn.”

Planned Parenthood is a frequent opponent of Catholic teaching on matters such as the sanctity of human life, chastity, and other areas of sexual morality.

In addition to his ties with the abortion advocacy group, Gutiérrez was a member of the Organization of American Historians’ Committee of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Historians and Histories. That committee issued a statement in support of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively voided California’s Proposition 8, an amendment defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman which California voters passed in 2008. The amendment was backed by the Catholic bishops and many lay Catholics.

Philip Zampiello, a leader with the alumni group RenewLMU, also criticized the finalists. He said the liberal arts deanship is “a key leadership position” at the university, stating that the hiring should “uphold the teaching of the Church as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors (and) as confirmed by Pope Francis.”

Zampiello cited Pope Francis’ Jan. 4 exhortation to a delegation from the University of Notre Dame, at which time he said it is “essential” that Catholic universities be “uncompromising witnesses” to the Church’s moral teaching.

RenewLMU has launched a petition to university president David Burcham in opposition to the candidates. The petition, available here, says the finalists’ resumes suggest they hold views “incongruous with the Catholic faith.”

The group says the views of the finalists indicate that the search committee was either “insufficiently diligent” in fact-checking or “lacked sensitivity to Catholic values in qualifying applicants for this most important position.”

The group called for the president to re-start the selection process and to ensure that the new dean has “a strong record of furthering Catholic mission and identity.”

Kaczor said he is very concerned about the university’s Catholic character “in part because there are so few Catholics in positions of leadership.”

“One of these candidates for dean is Catholic and the other is not. I’m very concerned not only that we hire a Catholic, but a Catholic who is someone who is very well versed and very strong in terms of their commitment to moving forward our mission and identity.”

“Most importantly, we need to make a real effort to hire Catholics who are going to make an historic contribution to mission and identity.”

Kaczor shared with CNA his March 24 email to President Burcham, in which he voiced disappointment with how both candidates responded to questions about advancing the university’s Catholic identity.

He said it would be “especially inappropriate” for either candidate to be offered the dean position and would contradict efforts to promote the Catholic image and identity of the university.

Kaczor told CNA that non-Catholic university faculty and administrators can make an “important contribution,” noting that many of his non-Catholic colleagues “do a wonderful job.”

However, when a Catholic university doesn’t take its religious identity into account, it is possible that the university “evolves, actually rather quickly, into a place that is just like every other place, a kind of secular university,” he added.

Celeste Durant, director of communications and media relations for the university, told CNA March 24 that the university will not comment further “until the process is finalized.”

“The selection of a new dean for the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts is an on-going personnel matter and something we do not want to debate in public. Of course, integration of our mission and identity is always part of our consideration in the search process, especially for senior positions such as a dean.”

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