Archive of April 2, 2014

Okla. Catholics speak up for voiceless with lawmakers

Oklahoma City, Okla., Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A recent “Catholic Advocacy Day” gave laity in Oklahoma the opportunity to participate in the legislative process and to be “a voice for the voiceless,” the Oklahoma City archdiocese says.

“The Gospel … does have implications for the here and now and we are called to live out our faith by advocating for the least of these, advocating for the most vulnerable,” said Tina Dzurisin, communications director for the archdiocese, in an April 1 interview with CNA.

Each year, Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City gives voters across the state get the chance to meet with lawmakers and to discuss proposed legislation dealing with the poor and vulnerable.

More than 60 laity, legislators, clergy, and religious took part in the Catholic Advocacy Day which was held March 25.

Dzurisin said this year was especially inspiring to participants because both of Oklahoma's bishops spoke at the event.

“Both Christian preaching and the Christian life are meant to have an impact on our society, to help us prepare here on earth for the coming of the reign of God by a more just ordering of society where charity may reign,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said March 25.

He explained that as Christians, our good works are “not a peripheral to the faith.”

“It flows from the very heart of our faith, our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who reveals the Father’s love to us, who reveals our own dignity to us and who opens up for us a new horizon – a transcendental horizon – of hope.”

Catholic Charities of Tulsa also lent support to the event, and Bishop Edward Slattery gave a presentation.

In his talk, Bishop Slattery explained that the Church is not “putting restrictions on our fellow human beings” when preaching against abortion, the death penalty, disregard for the poor, or euthanasia.

Rather, he said, the Church is seeking to promote the freedom and dignity of all persons, explaining that “the social teaching of the Church promotes human dignity, and freedom of the individual and of human societies.”

The director of advocacy for Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City, Dick Klinge, drew attention to several bills that would have an impact on the needy and vulnerable.

He encouraged Catholics to support proposed legislature such as House Bill 2685, which would require doctors to inform mothers about public and private agencies that offer perinatal and palliative care when their child has been diagnosed with a fetal anomaly that would not be compatible with life. Under this bill, abortion would be prohibited without the voluntary and informed consent of the mother.

Another bill which Klinge encouraged Catholics to support is House Bill 2338, which would give limited immunity from civil liability for any churches and schools that open their facilities to victims of natural disasters.

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Methol Ferré: the philosopher who inspired Pope Francis

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - “The Pope and the Philosopher,” a book-interview with Alberto Methol Ferré -- an Uruguayan philosopher who influenced Jorge Bergoglio -- has been recently reprinted in Spanish and Italian.

“At the origin of Bergoglio's view of the world today there stands above all a philosopher. His name is Alberto Methol Ferré,” Vaticanista Sandro Magister wrote March 31 in L'Espresso. “An Uruguayan from Montevideo, he often crossed the Rio de la Plata to visit his friend the archbishop in Buenos Aires.”

The book was first published in 2007, and explores Methol Ferré's thought in an interview with Alver Metalli. Magister wrote that the work is “of capital importance for understanding not only his vision of the world but also that of his friend who went on to become pope.”

Bergoglio presented the book when it was first published, calling it a text of “metaphysical profundity,” and he was gifted a new copy last year by Jose Mujica, president of Uruguay. Receiving the book and recalling the long friendship they both had with Methol Ferré, Pope Francis told Mujica that the philosopher “had taught us how to think.”

Methol Ferré was born in 1929, and was raised the son of an agnostic. At age 19, he converted to Christianity thanks to the influence of the writings of G.K. Chesterton. He then taught both history and philosophy. He died in 2009 at the age of 80.

After Pope Francis' election, Metalli decided to reprint their interview, now with a lengthy preface about the friendship between Methol Ferré and the Pope.

Pope Francis and Methol Ferré first met in 1979, during the a conference of Latin American bishops; at the time, Bergoglio was the Jesuit's Argentine provincial.

The philosopher's thought mixes liberalism and “theology of the people.” A founder of the magazine “Nexo,” in 1967 Methol Ferré was called to be co-editor of the magazine “Vispera,” commenting on the Latin American revolutions then ongoing.

In 1969, Methol Ferré was appointed member of the Latin American bishops' conference department for laymen, and in 1975 became a member of its theological ministry faculty.

In that capacity, he strongly criticized liberation theology, which he knew well from his time at Vispera – liberation theology's 'founder,' Gustavo Gutierrez, wrote for the journal. Methol Ferré criticized Marxism for its materialism, and thus also the strains of liberation theology founded upon it.

Metalli writes that Methol Ferré supported instead “a liberation theology rooted in the views of the Argentine pastor Lucio Gera,” with whom “Methol Ferré reciprocates the accentuation of the theme of the religion of the people, of the poor, of Latin American culture and history, developing a more comprehensive approach in understanding the Latin American realm.”

Preparing for the 1979 meeting of Latin American bishops, Methol Ferré advocated for popular religion, a culture centered on the Christian vision of the human person, a re-evaluation of the Church's social teaching, and the perception of “libertine atheism” as a new enemy.

Methol Ferré said in the newly-released book that atheism now “is not revolutionary in a social sense, but complicit with the status quo. It has no interest in justice, but in all that permits the cultivation of radical hedonism. It is not aristocratic, but has transformed itself into a mass phenomenon.”

He proposed that to counter such atheism, one has to find the “best of its intuitions,” and that “the deep kernel of libertine atheism is a buried need for beauty.”

While this atheism separates beauty “from truth and from goodness, and therefore from justice,” this can be countered only by practices which promote true beauty, and which make reference to truth, goodness, and justice.

“There is a stunning harmony between this vision of Methol Ferré and the program of his disciple Bergoglio's pontificate,” Magister wrote: “with his rejection of the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be imposed with insistence' and with his insistence on a Church capable of 'making the heart burn,' of healing every kind of illness and injury, of restoring happiness.”

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Australians mourn late bishop remembered for ecumenism

Townsville, Australia, Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christians, especially those in Australia, are mourning the death of Bishop Michael Putney, who was particularly committed to ecumenical dialogue.

Bishop Putney was Bishop of Townsville, in the state of Queensland, from 2001 until his March 28 death. He had been living with stomach cancer for 18 months.

“Bishop Michael had received many prayers during the past 15 months and believed that he had received a miracle which allowed him to continue his work last year and achieve many things that he had been working on,” said Fr. Michael Lowcock, vicar general of the Townsville diocese, stated March 28.

“Last week Bishop Michael in a statement to the Priests of the Diocese he said that his life was very much one day at a time, and as always, he left each day in God’s hands. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bishop Michael’s family at this time.”

Bishop Putney was admitted to hospital March 21, where he remained until his death, at age 67. According to Australia’s ABC “he continued to work until he went into hospital.”

Tributes and condolences have flooded the Facebook page of the Diocese of Townsville.

The bishop had been co-chair of the International Methodist-Roman Catholic Dialogue, a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and chairman of the National Council of Churches.

The pontifical council said he had been an “inspiring and dedicated member … for many years and has worked untiringly for the cause of Christian Unity at many levels. We have been blessed to have his wise counsel and constant encouragement in fulfilling the ecumenical commitment entrusted to our Church.”

“Bishop Michael brought to bear his theological expertise, his sensitivity and his great human warmth” to discussions with Methodists, the council said. “The friendships formed in that dialogue were deep and the messages from around the world demonstrate the great affection in which Bishop Michael was held by our ecumenical partners.”

David Chapman, the Methodist co-chair of the dialogue, said Bishop Putney was “not only a much-loved co-chair of the dialogue but also a father in God to all of us serving on the commission.”

Australia’s National Council of Churches posted on Facebook that the late bishop was “an ecumenical giant who contributed so much to his own church, the Australian churches and the wider ecumenical family.”

“He inspired us to imagine what a healthy reconciled Church could be. May he rest in God's peace.”

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said March 31 that Bishop Putney had been “a great and priestly shepherd, a gifted theologian and ecumenist, and a significant contributor to the work of the Australian bishops.”

The Townville diocese’s chancellor, Len Horner, recounted to ABC both the late bishop’s leadership and his friendship.

“I have many great memories of an evening at a restaurant chewing the fat, reminiscing and doing that sort of thing,” Horner told ABC’s Blythe Moore.

"I can remember one night watching the (rugby league) football with him over at his house when we were having some fish and chips … and the (North Queensland) Cowboys were going down badly. He was so cranky at the referees he wouldn't watch anymore, he went outside and washed up!”

Bishop Putney was a native of Queensland, having been born in Gladstone in 1946. He attended Pius XII Seminary in Banyo, and was ordained a priest of the Brisbane archdiocese in 1969.

He was consecrated as auxiliary bishop of Brisbane in 1995, and he served there until his transfer to Townsville. He is survived by his predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Raymond Benjamin of Townsville.

On March 31, Fr. Lowcock was chosen as administrator of the Townsville diocese whilst it is vacant. The diocese covers nearly 168,000 square miles, and serves an estimated 75,600 Catholics.

A vigil service for Bishop Putney will be held April 6 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, and his funeral Mass will be said the following morning at Ryan Catholic College in Kirwan.

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Pope Francis: married couples are an icon of God's love

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his weekly general audience Pope Francis closed his catechesis on the sacraments by reflecting on the vocation of marriage, noting that the marital couple is a unique example of divine love in the world.

“Married couples carry out this vocation in a full and definitive communion of life. As ‘one flesh,’ they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity,” the Pope expressed in his April 2 general audience address.

Speaking to the thousands gathered in St. Peter’s square to hear the weekly discourse, the pontiff announced that the day’s reflections would close his catechesis on the sacraments as he turns to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

It is a sacrament, he observed, “which brings us to the very heart of God’s loving plan for the human family” and “introduces us to the design of God, who created man in his image, capable of loving.”

“The Triune God created us – men and women – in his image and calls us to mirror the mystery of his love,” the Pope continued, adding that “married couples carry out this vocation in a full and definitive communion of life.”

Highlighting how the vocation builds the Church in “unity and fidelity,” the pontiff explained that “Christian marriage also reflects the mystery of Christ’s own faithful and sacrificial love for his body, the Church.”

“Christian spouses thus receive a special consecration and a special mission: to manifest in simple and daily things the love of Christ for his Church, giving themselves in fidelity and service.”

Noting that although marriage is “a noble vocation,” Pope Francis also emphasized that it “is not an easy one,” and that “it must constantly be strengthened by a living relationship with the Lord through prayer.”

These prayers include “mornings and evenings, at meals, in the recitation of the Rosary, and above all through the Sunday Eucharist.”

Concluding his address, the Roman Pontiff asked those present to pray with him “for all families, especially those experiencing difficulties, so that by God’s mercy they can always be joyful models of faith, love and generous service in our communities.”

After finishing his discourse, the Pope took a moment to acknowledge how April 2 marks the 9th anniversary of Bl. John Paul II’s death, stating that the occasion “directs our thoughts to the day of his canonization, which we will celebrate at the end of the month.”

“May the waiting of this event be for us an occasion to prepare spiritually and to revive the patrimony of the faith that he left,” he expressed.

By “(i)mitating Christ he was for the world a tireless preacher of the Word of God, of the truth and of the good,” the pontiff observed, noting that “He did good even with his suffering.”

“This was his life's teaching, to which the People of God responded with great love and esteem. His intercession strengthens in us faith, hope and love,” the Pope reflected, adding that “during this preparation my apostolic blessing will accompany you.”

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Spanish archbishop encourages faithful to attend canonizations

Madrid, Spain, Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Jose Ansejo Pelegrina of Seville, Spain, has issued a pastoral letter inviting Catholics to take part in pilgrimages to Rome to attend the April 27 canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.
In his letter, Archbishop Ansejo recalled how John XXIII shepherded the Church from 1958 to 1963.

“He convened the Second Vatican Council, worked persistently for the renewal of the Church and for the unity of Christians. A man of deep piety, he distinguished himself by his simplicity, cordial meekness and mercy.”
“The world saw in him a complete image of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, and a reflection of God's kindness, calling him ‘the Good Pope.’”
In the case of John Paul II, Archbishop Ansejo recalled that he was considered by many to be “a pioneer of Catholic ecumenism.”

“In an age marked by ideological relativism, he felt the need to restore the certitudes about the fundamental truths of dogma and morality, thus offering a splendid service to the faith,” the Spanish archbishop reflected.
He also noted that John Paul II's concern for all the Church led him to visit many of the countries of the world to confirm the ecclesial communities in the faith, thus giving a truly “worldwide dimension to the papacy.”
Archbishop Ansejo underscored the Polish Pope's outreach to youth as well, and “the communion he established with them.”  
“His teaching on the laity was very rich, as well as his doctrine on the identity and mission of the priesthood and consecrated life and on the supernatural roots that must sustain them,” the archbishop added.
“John Paul II, together with John XXIII and Paul VI, was the Pope of the Council, promoting its authentic interpretation and pointing out the main concepts upon which true renewal of the Church should be based,” he said.

“One of the fruits of his pontificate was the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an authentic compendium of Catholic doctrine and a true handbook for the Christian today who wants to know and live the truths of our faith.”
John Paul II's passionate love for Jesus Christ was the fruit of “intense prayer,” the archbishop observed, noting that those who had the fortune of seeing the Pope pray early in the morning in his chapel were witnesses of “his interior ability to withdraw and abandon himself only in God.”

His complete embrace of suffering during his final years “became the most convincing catechesis of how the limitless oblation of our very lives at the service of what we believe, love and hope should be.”
“John Paul II courageously defended the sacred dignity and rights of the person, in the image of God, the dignity of every life from conception to natural death, the cause of peace in the world, which is the work of justice and the fruit of dialogue, considering war as the supreme failure of humanity,” Archbishop Ansejo said. 

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Priest who survived labor camp recalls suffering as gift

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Monsignor Matthew Koo recounted being detained in a Chinese labor camp for thirty years due to his Marian devotion, noting that although the experience was painful there were also many blessings.

“Oh, I thought that sacrifice is God's gift. People say that 'you suffered a lot,' I said if not to suffer, how could I be here?” the priest said in a March 17 interview with CNA.

Msgr. Koo is originally from Shanghai in mainland China. After entering the seminary in 1953, he was arrested two years later for being an active member of the Legion of Mary – a lay Catholic organization whose voluntary members serve the global Church – and sentenced to serve five years in a labor camp.

Often referred to as “re-education camps,” the labor camps are a system of administrative detentions in the People's Republic of China which are generally used to detain persons for minor crimes, with punishments being administered through the police rather than the judicial system.

Used first by China's communist party in 1955 to punish counter-revolutionaries, the law allowed for police to sentence those deemed as “counter-revolutionaries” or as someone who fostered “anti-socialist” ideas, and was also used as a means of persecuting Christians in the country, who still face great difficulties there today.

When first initiated, prisoners were sentenced without a hearing or trial, and with no judicial review in place until after the punishment was already being enforced.

Recalling the night he was arrested, Msgr. Koo revealed that in 1955, “on the feast of Our Lady's Birthday,” officials came to the seminary “and arrested priests, teachers and seminarians.”

“My crime was the Legion of Mary. I joined the Legion of Mary when I was in high school. So this was my crime and they arrested me. First time, they sent me in for five years,” he explained, highlighting how he was sentenced “without a judge” and “without a lawyer.”

A few years later when a new Chinese president had been elected, the priest recounted that there was a change in the court policy, so he returned to court and was accused of crimes such as “Koo denies himself as a counter revolutionary,” and “Koo denies that the Legion of Mary as a counter revolutionary organization,” and was sentenced for another three years.

“So, I stayed in a labor camp in China” doing physical tasks such as making bricks and digging in the ground, he continued, noting that there was another seminarian “in the same team” as his.

Following the day’s labor, Msgr. Koo recalled how they “would pray the rosary together,” however after officials found a note the other seminarian had written to him telling him to pray for the Pope so that he would “be loyal to God and never compromising our faith,” he was sentenced for an additional 7 years in the camp.

Having a total sentence of 10 years at this point, the priest observed that eventually he was transferred to a camp in the Qinghai province, which is next to Tibet, where it was “very cold.”

“Unfortunately, during these years there was a great famine in China, for three years. So we had nothing to eat. And my health decreased and decreased until I was only 81 pounds and I could not walk” and could not to do labor, he went on to say.

Msgr. Koo explained that he was in that state for over a year and a half, and that after watching the sun rise and set for so long, he “found a way to recover” himself.

“I took care of the sick people and I had more food to eat. And after my health was better and I could labor again. I would grind wheat. From morning to evening…And I would do that for a year.”

“Ten years passed,” the priest stated, explaining that although his sentence was over, he was still forced to remain in the labor camps, where they had “the same labor, the same residence, the same food, but we got a little pay.”

“We could buy cigarettes. But in three days you would spend all your money,” he noted, adding that he stayed in that place for the next 19 years.

During his 30 years working in the camp, Msgr. Koo highlighted how he spent two of those years working alongside his bishop, Joseph Fan, who was also imprisoned, but later ordained him secretly in a small chapel when they had both been released.

Bishop Fan passed away last month at the age of 97 while still under house arrest by the Chinese government.

Looking back, Msgr. Koo expressed that although painful, his time in the camp “is God’s gift,” and that because of his experience he has been able to travel to Rome and has had an audience with two Popes.

“So a bad thing became a good thing. So we thank to God everything. And we are very happy in the heart…We have peace in the heart. Jesus promised us life after Earth, so we are very happy.”

Msgr. Koo also spoke of a special celebration which is slated to take place on Sept. 8 of next year commemorating the 60th anniversary of the opening of the first labor camps, adding that former detainees are expected to come from all over the world to participate.

When asked if the situation for Christians in China is improving, the priest expressed that the government is a “little more lenient” than before, and that last year when a priest celebrated Mass in a factory, because it is illegal to do so in a church, the police merely “came there to disperse…but did not arrest anyone.”

“If it happened thirty years ago of forty years ago, maybe somebody could be imprisoned. So we are happy. We can negotiate with the officials.”

Observing that at the moment “it’s not possible” and that “it’s very difficult, for many, many reasons” to develop diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican, Msgr. Koo expressed that “the Vatican has always reached out to China.”


Alan Holdren contributed to this piece.

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Planned Parenthood opposes lawmaker with Gosnell victim tie

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Planned Parenthood has decided not to endorse a Pennsylvania lawmaker who supported increasing health regulations for abortion clinics, a move that critics describe as indicative of the abortion giant’s true interests.

“It's disappointing, but not surprising, that Planned Parenthood is seeking to silence a powerful voice for Kermit Gosnell's victims,” Michael Greer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, said in a March 21 statement to CNA.

“The decision to attack Rep. Davidson shows where Planned Parenthood's interests truly lie: power and profits, not women's health.”

State representative Margo Davidson – a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – supports legal access to abortion. However, she also voted in favor of a bill to increase health regulations for abortion providers, in honor of her cousin who she says died after visiting a clinic run by Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

In May 2013, Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for killing infants after failed abortion procedures, as well as a number of other charges including involuntary manslaughter of a patient at his facility, performing abortions past the state's legal limit, and a range of other health and safety violations.

His case drew national attention for its gruesome charges of brutality, medical misconduct, and poor conditions at his medical facility, including claims that blood was not cleaned from operating room surfaces and that the hallways at the clinic were not wide enough to fit stretchers and emergency personnel.

Davidson’s cousin, Semika Shaw, reportedly died from an infection after an appointment at Gosnell's clinic in 2002. Davidson now represents the district in West Philadelphia where Gosnell operated Women’s Medical Society.

Following Gosnell's arrest and trial, Davidson voted in 2011 and 2013 for legislation that placed more strict regulations on abortion clinics' health standards, bringing them in line with other medical clinics' standards of care.

She also supported proposed laws to bar private insurers from selling plans that covered abortion on new state health care exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.

In December 2011, Davidson said that she voted to support the increases in abortion clinic health care standards to honor her cousin's memory.

In a speech on the state House floor, she said that she supported the legislation “so that never again will a woman walk into a licensed health care facility in the state of Pennsylvania and be butchered, as she was.”

Both Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania have announced their support of Billy Smith – Davidson's opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary. This marks the first Democratic primary in which the National Organization for Women has supported a man over a woman running for office. The group said it was confident that Smith would “fight for the women” of Pennsylvania.

Planned Parenthood in the state said that the safety regulations for which Davidson voted are “limiting access to safe, legal abortion in Pennsylvania.”

“It is clear that we need true advocates for women’s health in Harrisburg, and we are confident that Billy is exactly the kind of candidate we need,” said Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.

Davidson said in a statement for her campaign that despite the criticism from Planned Parenthood and from NOW, her voting record shows that she has worked “to end gender pay gaps, to promote job creation and economic justice for women while promoting women and diversity for leadership roles,” adding that “there is no endorsement that will change these facts.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said Planned Parenthood's endorsement of Davidson's opponent has “heaped pain upon grief” for Davidson, and reaffirms the candidate’s claim that “for the ‘pro-choice’ community, ‘the institution (of abortion is) more important than the individual lives.’”

“Despite evidence of abuse and neglect inside their own clinics, Planned Parenthood once again makes it crystal clear they care more about abortion than the lives of the women they claim to serve,” Dannenfelser added.

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Holy See currently refraining from mediation in Venezuelan violence

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy See press officer Fr. Federico Lombardi explained Tuesday that the Vatican is considering mediation in Venezuela's lethal protests, but will take time and care in doing so.

“There is a need to better explore the perspective and the basis through which the Holy See may be useful to reconciliation in Venezuela,” he said April 1.

Student protests began across the nation's cities early in February, but escalated when three people were killed. The Bolivarian National Guard has been criticized for an unnecessarily strong response to demonstrators, who are urging greater protection of freedom of speech, better security, and an end to goods shortages.

At least 39 have been killed during the protests.

Fr. Lombardi stressed March 29 that “the Holy See, and also personally the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin – who knows well and loves Venezuela, where he served as nuncio – willing and desirous to do whatever is possible for the good and serenity of the country.”

Three days later, the spokesman “slowed down” on the possibility of Vatican mediation in the South American nation.

According to Vatican Radio journalist Luis Badilla, Fr. Lombardi's April 1 statement stresses that “relevant progress has not been made, meaning that the facility of mediation is a ways off, since it cannot as yet be practiced.”

On March 31, the day prior to Fr. Lombardi's second statement, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas said the nation's government had not requested the Holy See's mediation.

“The president has said he is willing to receive a Vatican delegation, but there has been no official communication,” he told Globovision. “The government should be the one to take the initiative. Once it does so, the nunciature will be able to move forward in the process which I hope will occur.”

The Holy See has been called upon several times by outsiders as a possible mediator, but the Secretariat of State wishes to act with caution in the matter.

Cardinal Parolin served as apostolic nuncio to Venezuela from 2009 to 2013, and was succeeded by Archbishop Aldo Giordano a few weeks after his appointment as Secretary of State.

During his time as apostolic nuncio “then-Archbishop Parolin tried to stand in the middle and not to cause too many splits with the Venezuelan government,” a source in the Secretariat of State told CNA April 2.

Venezuela at the time was led by Hugo Chavez, a Marxist who died March 5, 2013, and was succeeded by his protege Nicolas Maduro, whose government is the subject of the current protests.

At a time when dialogue between the government and the opposition is seemingly unattainable, “the Secretary of State would act cautiously, not engaging the Holy See in a fruitless mediation,” the source added.

The Secretariat of State is thus demonstrating a strong pragmatism in its diplomacy diplomacy; a source in the Vatican told CNA April 2 that “such a degree of caution may mean the Secretariat of State is unsure of what importance its diplomatic role will be,” in light of curial reform.

Despite this, the source maintained that “at the moment, no reform of Vatican diplomacy seems to be on the table,  nor is it in the offing.”

Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, apostolic nuncio to Ukraine, told CNA April 2 there are “three essential components of secular diplomacy: respect for natural law; a firm commitment to uphold international law; and the capability of using deterrence through force (not necessarily military, but also economic).”

Archbishop Gullickson stressed that “despite the fact that 1 billion Catholics throughout the world would have recourse to the Holy Father as their leader, this does not mean that he could either raise an army or invite us to boycott, ostracize, or otherwise tangibly penalize a misbehaving country or its ruler.”

This, he said, is why “in recent years there have been calls for the Holy See to withdraw from the arena of secular diplomacy.”

This is “a pragmatic argument, which holds especially since the community of nations does not seem troubled by the presence of the Holy See in this arena, at least as far as bilateral relations go.”

Under Cardinal Parolin, the Secretariat of State is now seemingly following this pragmatic approach. Despite calls for its mediation, the Holy See will do so only if there exist the proper conditions to carry out the mediation positively.

If these do not exist, the Holy See will avoid the risk of being instrumentalized by the parties fighting in Venezuela.

Within Venezuela, the Church has stated its desire to participate in a dialogue and a peace process, encouraging the abandonment of violence, pride, and anger.

Members of the Bolivarian National Guard stormed a neighborhood in Tachira March 22, threatening a group of the faithful gathered together to pray the rosary for peace in the country, La Nacion reported.

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Obama urged to create religious envoy after papal meeting

Washington D.C., Apr 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has called on President Barack Obama to follow up on his meeting with Pope Francis by backing the creation of a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and south central Asia.

“I urge you to put your words into action, lest inaction be perceived as indifference,” Wolf wrote in a March 27 letter to Obama.

“The scope of religious persecution around the world, but especially in the Middle East is gravely concerning, and ought to alarm any person of conscience.”

While the congressman said he did not think a special envoy would on its own solve the “vast” problem of persecution, “it would provide much-needed hope and comfort to communities desperate to know that the United States stands with them.”

Wolf cited the president’s own words about his meeting with Pope Francis; Obama had said the meeting included the topic of “the potential persecution of Christians.”

“I reaffirmed that it is central to U.S. foreign policy that we protect the interests of religious minorities around the world,” Obama said in his public account of the meeting.

Wolf agreed that the protection of religious minorities should be central in U.S. policy, yet adding that “this has sadly not rung true in recent years.”

He said persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East is “not simply potential.”

Rather, they face “a very real threat” of discrimination, violence, and sometimes death every day.

The congressman, who authored a March 2013 report on religious persecution, cited the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Copts from Egypt and Christians from Iraq.

In Iraq, “churches have been targeted, believers kidnapped for ransom and families threatened with violence if they stay,” wrote Wolf.

Syrian Christians fear a similar fate, he added, noting the imposition of  dhimmi  status and the jizya imposed on Christians in Ar Raqqah. 

Wolf also noted the imprisonment of seven Baha’i adherents in Iran, and violence against  the minority Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, and warned that “Anti-Semitism throughout the region is rampant.”

Wolf noted that his bill to create a special envoy for religious minorities in the region “overwhelmingly passed” in the House of Representatives but failed to win enough support in the Senate.

The bill had the support of the U.S. bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention’s religious liberty commission, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.

However, the Obama administration's state department “has opposed Senate passage of this bill,” he wrote.

He said legislation is not necessary for the creation of a special envoy, noting Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that he intended to create a special representative to the Arctic region.

“Your administration could act today, consistent with the sentiments you expressed following your meeting with the Pope,” Wolf told Obama in his letter.

He said the president could consult with affected communities, including their members in the U.S., about an appropriate person for the “monumental task.”

Obama has been criticized on other global religious freedom issues, such as his handling of the position of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

That position has been vacant since the resignation of Suzan Johnson Cook in October 2013.

Before she was sworn into office in June 2011, the position had been vacant for more than two years.

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