NEWS BRIEFS Mar-17-2009
By Catholic News Service
Obama, president of US bishops hold private meeting
WASHINGTON (CNS) — President Barack Obama met for half an hour March 17 with Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the White House and the USCCB announced. Brief statements issued by the White House and the USCCB said little more than that the two presidents had met for a private, 30-minute afternoon session in the Oval Office. “The president and Cardinal George discussed a wide range of issues, including important opportunities for the government and the Catholic Church to continue their long-standing partnership to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing challenges,” said the White House statement. “The president thanked Cardinal George for his leadership and for the contributions of the Catholic Church in America and around the world.” The statement from the USCCB said: “The meeting was private. Cardinal George and President Obama discussed the Catholic Church in the United States and its relation to the new administration. The meeting lasted approximately 30 minutes. At the conclusion, Cardinal George expressed his gratitude for the meeting and his hopes that it will foster fruitful dialogue for the sake of the common good,” the USCCB statement added.
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Cardinal warns of despotism if conscience rights aren’t protected
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Warning that a failure to protect conscience rights would move the country “from democracy to despotism,” Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago urged U.S. Catholics to tell the Obama administration that they “want conscience protections to remain strongly in place.” “No government should come between an individual person and God — that’s what America is supposed to be about,” said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a videotaped message available on the USCCB Web site at www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NoCRwMqVzQ. “This is the true common ground for us as Americans,” he added. Cardinal George was urging public comment by April 9 on an effort to rescind a regulation of the Department of Health and Human Services. The rule codifies several existing federal statutes prohibiting discrimination against health professionals who decline to participate in abortions or other medical procedures because of their religious or other moral objections. HHS opened a 30-day comment period on the proposed rescission March 10. The regulation took effect two days before President Barack Obama took office.
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Former NFL star shares faith journey at Philadelphia men’s conference
SPRINGFIELD, Pa. (CNS) — Speaker Rich Gannon told participants at a Philadelphia archdiocesan Catholic men’s conference that he doesn’t claim “to be a preacher of any sort or even an expert in the faith.” He said, “I am really one of you, with faults, worries and handicaps but one who is constantly growing and learning about God’s extraordinary love for us.” Gannon, a hometown boy, is a former NFL star. He achieved college and professional football stardom, receiving both NFL and Pro Bowl MVP awards during his years with the Oakland Raiders. He retired in 2004. He was a speaker at a March 7 men’s spirituality conference held at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield under the theme “Strengthen One Another.” The gathering, which was Philadelphia’s first archdiocesanwide men’s conference, drew an estimated 1,200 participants. Gannon spoke of his own faith journey, which was grounded in his Catholic education in Philadelphia and which blossomed during his athletic career. Catholic men’s conferences have become increasingly popular throughout the country. Dioceses with upcoming conferences include Cincinnati, March 21; Dubuque, Iowa, March 23; Saginaw, Mich., March 28; and Boston, April 18.
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Youth leaders say famine experience expands teens’ awareness of need
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholic youths involved in a hunger awareness project said the effort has made them more aware of the needs of others, according to a youth leader at an Arizona Catholic parish. “This event brought awareness to these teens who really had no idea how many young children are ill and die from hunger and poverty,” Eileen Kuns, a youth leader from Christ the King Church in Mesa, Ariz., told Catholic News Service through an e-mail. Christ the King Church was one of several churches and faith communities of all denominations nationwide that took part in a Lenten 30-hour famine involving teen participants at churches across the country to help the hungry. It was initiated by World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. According to World Vision, 14,000 adults and children die from hunger and malnutrition every day. Participants pledge to go without food for 30 hours and collect donations to help World Vision fight hunger.
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In Africa, pope says Gospel is answer to continent’s problems
YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNS) — Arriving in Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said the church’s message of hope and reconciliation was sorely needed by a continent suffering disproportionately from poverty, conflict and disease. At a welcoming ceremony March 17 in Yaounde, the pope said he was making his first visit to Africa to respond to the many men and woman who “long to hear a word of hope and comfort.” In Africans’ fight against injustice, he said, the church is their natural ally. “In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent,” the pope said. The 81-year-old pontiff stood on a platform at Yaounde’s airport next to Cameroonian President Paul Biya, who welcomed the pope on a hot, humid afternoon. Groups of schoolchildren sang and cheered, waving paper flags with the Vatican’s colors. The pope said he came to Africa as a pastor, not a politician, to a continent where the saving message of the Gospel needs to be “proclaimed loud and clear.” The encounter with Christianity, he said, can transform situations of hardship or injustice.
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Pope’s condom comments latest chapter in sensitive church discussion
YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration that distribution of condoms only increases the problem of AIDS is the latest and one of the strongest statements in a simmering debate inside the church. The pope was speaking to journalists aboard his flight to Cameroon March 17, and he was asked whether the church’s approach to AIDS prevention — which focuses primarily on sexual responsibility and rejects condom campaigns — was unrealistic and ineffective. The pope framed his answer in terms of the church’s service to those with AIDS and its efforts to promote what he called a “humanization of sexuality” that includes the elements of fidelity and self-sacrifice. The pope did not get into the specific question of whether in certain circumstances condom use was morally licit or illicit in AIDS prevention, an issue that is still under study by Vatican theologians.
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Pope, on plane, says church can help Africa address its problems
ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO CAMEROON (CNS) — Making his first trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said the Catholic Church can help bring answers to the continent’s chronic problems, including poverty, AIDS and tribalism. Speaking to reporters aboard his Alitalia chartered jet March 17, the pope strongly defended the church’s efforts to fight AIDS and said condom distribution only made the problem worse. “One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem,” the pope said. Nor can the AIDS pandemic be confronted only with aid programs, he said. What the church teaches, he said, is “humanization of sexuality” and sexual responsibility on the one hand, and a willingness to be present with those who are suffering, on the other hand. He pointed to the many church programs currently helping AIDS victims and said the church’s contribution had led to real and visible progress.
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Freedom of religion helps prevent hate speech, says Vatican official
GENEVA (CNS) — Safeguarding and implementing freedom of religion offer the best protection against hate speech, said a Vatican official. “Though the question concerning limitations to the right to freedom of expression with a view to respecting the religious feelings of persons is a legitimate one — many states have those limitations in their laws, including Western states — the Holy See does not think that another international instrument is the right answer,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva. The archbishop made his remarks March 16 during the 10th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council. The Vatican supports better implementation of the universal principle of freedom of religion as the best protection against hate speech, he said. He added that “each state should look into its own national legislation and should consider how it can encourage a frank but respectful discussion between members of the same religion, between representatives of different religions and persons who have no religious belief.”
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Canadian bishops hope reproduction act passes Supreme Court test
OTTAWA (CNS) — Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act faces an important test before the Supreme Court — and Canada’s Catholic bishops want to make sure it passes. The act prohibits or limits such activities as human cloning, surrogacy, sex selection, the sale of human eggs or sperm, animal-human hybrids, and in vitro fertilization while promoting health, safety and human dignity. “The legislation that has been put in place attempts to draw our country together in one particular vision of who we are,” said Archbishop V. James Weisgerber of Winnipeg, Manitoba, president of the bishops’ conference. “If we are to be a country, a society, we need common values.” Archbishop Weisgerber said the act’s values “express what is good for the whole country.” He said, “It’s an area of our common life that touches on the value of life.” On April 24, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal of last June’s Quebec Court of Appeal ruling that put human reproduction under provincial jurisdiction. In that case the judge ruled that “only the individual safety of the participants in assisted reproduction and the children that result from it require protection.”
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Transfer of power confuses Madagascans, says church official
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — People in Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo are worried and confused about the sudden and violent transfer of power to the military, said a Catholic official. “The situation is not clear and we are waiting to see what happens,” Msgr. Joseph Arshad told Catholic News Service in a March 17 telephone interview from Antananarivo, shortly after President Marc Ravalomanana resigned and transferred power to the military. “We are praying for a good solution” to the political crisis, said Msgr. Arshad, secretary to Archbishop Augustine Kasujja, papal nuncio to Madagascar. He said the Catholic bishops’ conference of Madagascar twice has called on Catholics to pray for the country, where at least 100 people have died in the turmoil that began in January. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, 34, took control from Ravalomanana March 17 with the support of the army. The French news agency Agence France-Presse reported that Ravalomanana, who was president of the Indian Ocean island for seven years, signed away his power in a presidential decree hours after the army blasted its way into his offices.
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Nigerian bishops lament past, express concern for country’s future
LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) — The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria lamented Nigeria’s checkered political journey to nationhood and warned that the country still has a long way to go to reach stability. “We are yet to build a nation where people dwell in security, but we have a country where life and property are constantly exposed to danger,” the bishops said in a statement released in mid-March, after their weeklong plenary session. “The Niger Delta crisis in the South, the religious conflicts in the North and ethnic conflicts in different parts of the country” are part of the insecurity Nigerians face, the bishops said. They recalled that corruption and the theft of public funds, which largely have remained unabated despite their call for prayers, had brought Nigeria to its knees. The bishops said they regretted “the collapse of infrastructure, the lack of basic amenities … the increasing number of unemployed in the ever-rising crime wave in the land.”
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Vatican allows southern Africa to continue use of Mass translations
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — The Vatican has allowed parishes in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland that have started using Vatican-approved Mass translations to continue to do so, after the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said it mistakenly gave them the go-ahead. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments “has accepted the explanation” by Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, conference president, “regarding the early implementation of the new translation,” said a mid-March statement issued by Father Vincent Brennan, general secretary of the bishops’ conference and a member of the Society of African Missions. “The congregation has agreed that the implementation continue, along with continued catechesis explaining the changes,” the statement said, noting that “this catechesis should include preparation of music for singing the new texts.” The other approved texts of the Mass, such as the eucharistic prayers, “will be implemented when the rest of the English-speaking world implements the changes,” it said.
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Book focuses on Pope John Paul II as communicator
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope John Paul II’s ability to communicate was not primarily a result of his experience as an amateur actor, but was an expression of his theology, said the authors of a new book. In his speeches and writings, whether the audience was religious or not, the late pope continually emphasized the role of Jesus Christ as both the creator of words and as the embodiment of the Word, the authors said at a round-table discussion launching the book in February. Sister Christine Mugridge, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, and Salesian Sister Marie Gannon wrote “John Paul II: Development of a Theology of Communications,” which was published by the Vatican publishing house. In his almost 27-year pontificate, Pope John Paul “was known for his communicative gifts,” the authors wrote. After analyzing both the pope’s work and his communication style, the authors concluded that a principal theme of Pope John Paul’s pontificate was “the person of Christ, who not only reveals/communicates the salvific plan of the Father, but reveals/communicates man to himself in the light of this divine revelation.”
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Franciscan nun in Raleigh, N.C., is CCHD diocesan director of year
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Franciscan Sister Joan Jurski was named the Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s 2009 director of the year. Sister Joan has been the CCHD director in the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., since 1991. Also coordinator of the diocesan Office of Peace and Justice, she addresses the social concerns of a diocese that is more rural than urban, with 96 Catholic churches spread over 54 counties. The annual award honors the daily and “often unsung efforts of the men and women” who serve their dioceses as local campaign directors, an announcement said. Sister Joan received the award in February during the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington. In her acceptance remarks, she said CCHD, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program, is one of the most effective evangelization efforts in the Raleigh Diocese.
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Irish Columban priest devotes life to ‘greening’ the earth
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CNS) — In the 40 years he has worked for justice, Columban Father Sean McDonagh has never seen a challenge like the one facing the earth today. He believes environmental degradation, the excessive use of fossil fuels that results in ever higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the drive for short-term profits at the expense of long-term planning and preservation are leading to a global disaster that may prove impossible to reverse if the world fails to act soon. “We are not the last generation to live on this planet,” he told Catholic News Service during a break March 14 at the seventh annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference in Alexandria. “We’re living as if we are.” Often blunt and to the point, Father McDonagh travels the world as the justice and peace coordinator for the Columbans. Based in Ireland, but rarely staying anywhere for very long, the 64-year-old former missionary priest in the Philippines is a global citizen, spreading a green Gospel message.