Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Obama Nominee for assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel Dawn Johnsen legal director of NARAL

MEDIA ADVISORY - In a few weeks, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to be assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel. Catholic League president Bill Donohue says the Catholic community should be given a heads up:
"As past staff counsel for the ACLU and legal director of NARAL (the most extreme pro-abortion group in the nation), Dawn Johnsen has done more than consort with the enemies of Catholicism -- she has actively sought to undermine the Catholic Church.

"In the late 1980s, Johnsen worked on a lawsuit, United States Catholic Conference v. Abortion Rights Mobilization, that sought to strip the Catholic Church of its tax exempt status; she helped to prepare briefs securing standing for the plaintiffs. Thus, she is not simply a critic of the Catholic Church's pro-life position -- she wants to cripple the institution.

"Most Americans are repelled at the thought of a doctor jamming a scissors into the head of a baby who is 80 percent born. But not everyone. For example, Johnsen calls the term partial-birth abortion 'intentionally provocative,' but there is no evidence that she has ever described this hideous procedure that way.

"As soon as President Clinton took office in 1993, he took the occasion to sign five executive orders overturning abortion restrictions. Dawn Johnsen wrote every one of them. But it is more than abortion rights that motivates her -- she wants to punish the Catholic Church.

"U.S. bishops strongly oppose the Freedom of Choice Act, a law so draconian that if it were enacted (Obama has said he will sign it) it could force Catholic hospitals to start performing abortions or have their funding pulled. Who helped to write this bill? Dawn Johnsen.

"To say that Johnsen has a Catholic problem is a monumental understatement."

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Vatican has dismissed as a heretic a mystical medieval monk apparently cited by Barack Obama as a moral authority and visionary.

According to Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household, the US President referred in campaign speeches to Gioacchino da Fiore, or Joachim of Fiore, as a ''master of contemporary civilisation'' who had sought to create a better world. Drawing on the Book of Revelation, Gioacchino envisaged a "new age of the Holy Spirit" in which the Church hierarchy would cease to exist and Christians would unite with infidels in an "Order of the Just".

Dante refers to Gioacchino da Fiore, who lived from 1130 to 1202, as a ''gifted prophet'' in The Divine Comedy, and claimed that miracles occurred to those who prayed at his tomb. His followers have applied to the Vatican for him to be officially beatified, the step before sainthood.

However, Father Cantalamessa said: ''Few of those who expound on Gioacchino da Fiore on the internet know, or go to the trouble of finding out, what this character really said." ( see the whole sermon here: http://devotionsandprayers.blogspot.com/2009/03/there-is-very-close-relationship.html )

In the latest of a series of Lenten lectures for Pope Benedict XVI and the papal household, he said that, according to ''vogueish'' interpretations, the monk had proposed a "liberal and spiritual Church" able to move beyond dogmas and hierarchies. However, Gioacchino's views were ''false and heretical'', Father Cantalamessa said, since Christian believers were guided not only by the spirit but also by the laws of the Church. "It can be fatal to do without one or the other of these guides.''

He said that Mr Obama had quoted Gioacchino three times during his Presidential campaign, thus "reviving interest in his doctrines", not least on the internet. But Gioacchino's theory that a "third age" would follow that of God the Father in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ in the New Testament was heretical, because it "strikes at the heart" of Christian belief in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, St Matthew and St Paul, he said the accepted Christian doctrine was that the Holy Spirit existed at the same time as the period of the Old and New Testaments, inspiring both the ancient prophets and Jesus Christ.

Gioacchino da Fiore was the founder of the monastic order of San Giovanni in Fiore, whose followers are called Joachimites. Born near Cosenza in Calabria, he became a notary but underwent a spiritual crisis after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and lived as a hermit on his return to Italy.

He joined a Cistercian abbey as a lay brother and was later ordained, devoting himself to uncovering hidden meanings in the Scriptures, above all the Book of Revelation. He eventually founded his own abbey at Fiore in the Calabrian mountains as a branch of the Cistercian Order, with papal approval.

He was criticised, however, by St Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, and Pope Alexander IV (reigned 1254-61) condemned his writings, setting set up a commission which eventually declared his theories heretical.

Italian reports said officials in Calabria had invited Mr Obama to visit the abbey at San Giovanni in Fiore in the National Park where Joachim of Fiore is buried, and had offered to make the President an honorary citizen of the local town. "We are ready to welcome Obama," Antonio Nicoletti, the mayor of San Giovanni in Fiore, said.

Married Catholic priests gain acceptance

The Rev. Steve Anderson stands with his family: daughter in-law, Katie, 27, far left, son, Austin, 24, wife Cindy, 49, sons Steven, 14, back, and Christian, 11, at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Goodrich. In 2003, Anderson became the second priest in Michigan ordained under an exception to the celibacy rule.

There are few women who can say they are married to a Roman Catholic priest. And few people who can say their dad is the man whom Catholic churchgoers address formally as "Father Steve."

But Cindy Anderson and her three sons can, and they were among the rush of congregants who gathered for 10 a.m. mass on a recent Sunday at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Goodrich.

The parish priest is Cindy's husband and the father of Austin, 24, Steven Jr., 14, and Christian, 11. The Rev. Steve Anderson has been a Catholic priest since 2003, when he became the second priest in Michigan to be ordained under an exception to the Catholic Church's celibacy rule for married ministers serving some Protestant denominations.

About 100 married men, mostly ministers in Episcopal churches in the United States, have sought permission from the Vatican to be ordained as Catholic priests since Pope John Paul II allowed it in 1980.

"It does take some explanation, for sure," said Austin Anderson, an automotive engineer. "People think I don't know what I'm talking about, at first. 'Maybe you mean deacon,' they say. 'Maybe you mean another denomination.' "

Then there's the joke he hears whenever he explains what Dad does for a living: "Do you call him 'Father father'?"
Novelty welcomed

For Cindy Anderson, being a priest's wife has meant a rare and challenging role. "I've heard good response," the 49-year-old said. "I hear ... we'd like to see more of this. I've been well-received. Some say, 'We've been ready for this.' "

Laura Sullivan, a Kettering University mechanical engineering professor, is one of them. She followed Anderson from his previous parish, Holy Family in Grand Blanc, to his current posting.

"This is somebody my kids could talk to. Somebody married people can relate to. He brought such a fresh breath of air," Sullivan said after Sunday mass.

Kathie Trombley, another St. Mark parishioner, concurred."He inspires us all. I don't know of anybody who had a problem with" his being married, said Trombley. "As far as his preaching, having a wife has just enhanced it."

Michael Diebold, a spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing, which oversees Anderson, acknowledged that parishioners have welcomed the novelty of a married priest, a concept that flies counter to the Vatican's unwavering support for priestly celibacy.

"If there are people who find he's more approachable because of that reason, then that's a good thing," said Diebold. "Not to denigrate all the single priests who are out there, but if there's a segment of the population that finds that to be a positive in their lives, that's a good thing."

Not against celibacy

Both Anderson and the Rev. William Lipscomb, a Traverse City parish pastor who in 1997 was the first married Episcopalian minister in Michigan to be ordained a Catholic priest, say they are not campaigning for an end to Rome's celibacy requirement.

"I'm a priest. I'm not a policy-setter," said Anderson, 50. He carefully avoids taking sides, but he doesn't believe his marriage and family have impeded his ministry. "As a married man, you see the fruitfulness and legitimacy of a married priesthood," said Anderson. "The ancient way is for priests to have been married. ... That's not the way it's done now."

From St. Patrick Catholic Church in Traverse City, Lipscomb, who is about to become a grandfather for the first time on Holy Thursday, April 9, said he concurs with the celibacy requirement. "I agree with the rule. ... I'm not carrying a banner to change the rules. If something happens to my wife, I'm going to be what every other priest is," said Lipscomb, 70.

He and his wife, Shirley, live in a house they own a few miles from the church, instead of the parish rectory. Their four children are grown -- two of them are now Catholic. He officiated at one son's Catholic wedding last year.

Both Lipscomb and Anderson said their faith journeys to the Catholic Church weren't motivated by controversy over ordaining women and gay priests in the Episcopal Church.

Lipscomb said he was drawn to Catholicism, in part, because he was impressed with the Catholic priests and services he encountered while serving as an Episcopal chaplain for 28 years in the Air Force.

Anderson's journey has taken him through the Presbyterian Church of his youth, to earning degrees from the conservative fundamentalist Oral Roberts University. In 1995, he became an ordained minister in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, a movement founded in 1992 and described as a blend between traditional Episcopalian practices with a Pentecostal influence. Anderson founded a Charismatic Episcopal Parish in Brighton called Church of the Resurrection.

Anderson said it was his readings of early Christian scholarly works that fueled his desire to become a Catholic. "I didn't come in out of a reaction. I came because God was guiding me that way," Anderson said.

He and his family converted to Catholicism in 1999. He entered Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit in 2000, the same year now-retired Bishop Carl Mengeling asked the Vatican to allow Anderson to study for the Catholic priesthood.

Cindy Anderson reverently -- and good-naturedly -- has gone along.It was natural for her and her husband to explore together the impact of Christian teachings, she said. When he talked about where his studies were leading him, she agreed to share the journey. 'We're a good team'

Steve and Cindy Anderson met at summer Bible school at White Lake Presbyterian Church in White Lake Township. She was teaching music to the Bible school kids, and he was leading group activities.

"Thirty-four years later, I still do the music and teach all the songs. And he does all the other church activities, like the mass," she says. "We're a good team."

The Andersons also live in their own house, several miles away from St. Mark's, in Grand Blanc. The couple begin their day with a standard set of Catholic prayers, reciting them together from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. in his home office.

On this particular Sunday, Cindy Anderson's outfit includes an orange T-shirt emblazoned with "This is our Faith" on the front and, on the back, "And what a wonderful faith it is."

It's the line her husband delivers to finish every homily. Youth groups at churches where he has served and at Flint Powers High School, where he is a chaplain and teaches a theology class, print the shirts to raise money.

Steve Anderson has some news to deliver this day. He's being reassigned to Good Shepherd Catholic Parish, about 37 miles away in Montrose after only several months at St. Mark's. There are audible gasps and sighs from the parishioners.

"The bishop thought something I had was something they needed," he said. He is to begin his new assignment in July. The news drew a tear from churchgoer Marjorie McElroy, 43, of Grand Blanc. "He seems so like us, so normal," said McElroy, an information technology associate with three children. "It seems as if it's easier to relate to him very quickly, pretty much from the moment you get to know him." Having Anderson and his family be part of the parish, she said, "tied the whole concept of the parish family together for us."

Vatican Expresses 'Profound Concern' for Gaza Christians

Christian Today reports that the Vatican fears "the cradle of Christianity risks ending up without Christians," as Christians in the Gaza Strip are not well-loved by either side in the conflict. In a letter Wednesday, the Vatican wrote, "The wounds opened by violence make the problem of emigration more acute, inexorably depriving the Christian minority of its best resources for the future." The area also faces a humanitarian emergency. The most recent fighting left thousands without shelter, food or water, according to aid agencies and the United Nations. During the conflict in Gaza, which broke out last December and spilled into January, over 1,330 Palestinians were killed and 5,400 were injured, according to Israel’s reports.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Byzantine singing compared to ‘conversation with God’

By James DeCrane

.- For Byzantine Catholics, the chance to participate in liturgy is an opportunity to experience heaven on earth, according to John Michalski, the cantor at St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church in Anchorage.

Because of the sacredness of the Mass, almost the entire liturgy in the Byzantine rite is sung or chanted.

"This is to set the tone and speed and create an atmosphere of prayer," Michalski explained to the Catholic Anchor. "When the priest chants the Gospel, it is meant to do it slower to communicate clearly the message of God to everyone."

For Doctor Ron Kichura, who cantors north of Anchorage at Blessed Theodore Romzha Mission in Wasilla, Byzantine rite music "moves like a conversation with God."

Chanted prayer, rich in prayer

To walk into a Byzantine church is to walk into a rich tradition, steeped in a sense of the sacred.

In the way that St. Gregory the Great influenced the Gregorian chant in the Western churches, the liturgy in the Eastern rites — including the Byzantine Catholic rite — is based primarily on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chyrsostom throughout much of the year, and also on St. Basil’s.

"Right now as we move into the Great Fast (the Byzantine observance of Lent) our liturgy is based on St. Basil," Michalski explained. "That liturgy is a bit longer, more somber in tone and focused on prayer."

The more somber tone heard during the Great Fast of Lent is one of eight musical melodies that are used throughout the year, Michalski elaborated.

The melodies rise and fall in a chanting form, Kichura explained, and are sung either in monotone or with harmonization, depending on the church and the cantor. In keeping with the Byzantine tradition, the music is entirely vocal, with no musical instruments.

"We’ve had some requests (at Blessed Theodore) to do harminzations, but if we do, it’s more of an impromptu thing," Kichura said. "It’s all acappella, that’s just a tradition for Byzantine Catholics over the centuries."

Since the fourth century, the music has remained relatively unchanged, he added.

"Vatican II allowed the Byzantine rite to keep their liturgies and their traditions," he said. "The biggest change is that it switched over to the vernacular, instead of Old Slavonic."

In 2007, the Byzantine rite made some minor revisions to the translations again, releasing a new missal, Michalski said.

Apart from prayers for the Pope, the Byzantine metropolitan and the bishop of the local eparchy, the liturgy of the Byzantine rite is similar in form to what one might experience in other Eastern Christian traditions, such as the Russian or Greek Orthodox Church.

Everyone participates in music

Both Michalski and Kichura emphasize the importance of getting the entire congregation to participate in the liturgical music.

"There is less of an emphasis on a choir," Kichura said. "Rather, it is supposed to be music that everyone participates in, rather than having a choir where people don’t participate."

"When I teach (cantors) I tell them their role is not to be a soloist," Michalski said. "Rather, their goal is to set the tone to clearly communicate the message of God."

Both cantors said the music is organic; the congregation picks up the music by participating in the liturgy.

"We do it naturally, you hear it every Sunday and you just do it," Kichura said. "There is a reverence about it that people appreciate."

Music as a spiritual experience

Kichura has an undergraduate degree in music. For him, the goal of music — even secular — is something that should lead people to the ethereal.

"Music for me has always been a spiritual experience," he said. "It is something that should bring you closer to God."

Singing the liturgical prayers — especially in the slower chant form — helps people to meditate on what they are reading, Michalski said.

"It helps you really feel what you are singing," he said. "If you go slow and say the words distinctively and clearly, it helps you realize what you are here for."

Dr. Kichura would encourage people not familiar with the Byzantine rite to come and experience it for themselves.

"It is a resource that people can tap into, even if they go to a different church," he said. "They might find the style appealing, it may even (help) lead in their spiritual path."

here is an example of Byzantine chant, look gor more on video sharing sites:

Western Wall gets Passover spring cleaning

As masses of Jews begin intensive preparations for the upcoming Passover holiday, employees at Jerusalem's holy site, the Western Wall, have embarked on a spring cleaning of their own.

Western Wall workers have started to remove the thousands of notes left by visitors in the cracks of the wall - including U.S. President Barack Obama - filled with wishes and prayers.

The notes are removed using wooden sticks dipped in the mikveh, or ritual bath, supervised by the Western Wall's presiding clergyman, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. They will then be taken for burial, to make room for an upcoming year of written requests.

African Catholics March in Support of Vatican AIDS Policy

29 March 2009

Faithful from various African countries during Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus noon prayer in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, 29 Mar 2009
Faithful from various African countries during Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus noon prayer in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, 29 Mar 2009
A group of African Catholics gathered Sunday in Saint Peter's Square in support of Pope Benedict XVI's opposition to using condoms to combat AIDS.

A group of about 100 African Catholics were in Saint Peter's Square waving African flags and banners that read "Africa Loves the Pope". This is the first Sunday since the pope paid his first visit to the African continent, visiting Cameroon and Angola.

The pope prayed for Africa and urged the faithful to join him again for the customary general audience on Wednesday. He said he would have more to say then about his recent trip to Africa.

The Africans in the square turned out to listen to the pope's words and show their support for what Benedict said against the use of condoms to combat AIDS. Among the crowd was a Nigerian Catholic, Benedict Ahamiogie.

"The condom promotes promiscuity, and also gives a kind of illusive assurance to those who use condoms, in the sense that 'Oh, I am using condoms. So I am keeping myself safe from AIDS'. It is not absolutely true," said Benedict Ahamiogie.

Speaking on the plane traveling to Africa, Pope Benedict had said the distribution of condoms does not help combat AIDS, but increases the problem.

One African Catholic priest, Father Dennis Isizo, said the pope's message was well received.

"In Africa, we did not criticize the Holy father, we received the message," said Father Isizo. "Criticism, that is maybe for Europe or any other place, but for Africa we are happy for the visit, we thank him for his visit, we thank him for his message."

Pope Benedict has said the Catholic Church teaching of abstinence and fidelity is the only way to combat the AIDS problem. His comments have ignited a firestorm of criticism from health officials and activists who said his words were unrealistic and unscientific.

SUPPORT Pro-Life Nurses & Doctors of America - beheardproject.com


"Be Heard Project" Defends Conscience Clause The Conscience Clause was implemented by former President George W. Bush to give physicians and nurses the choice to act according to their conscience - to not participate in abortion procedures if it conflicts with their personal convictions. If President Obama makes this damaging move, if he reverses the Conscience Clause, pro-life doctors and nurses will be forced into performing abortion procedures, despite their individual beliefs.

Sign the online ''Petition to Protect Pro-Life Doctors.'' http://beheardproject.com/

Conscience Coercion; From Sacred to Curious

The Anti-Christian Roman Empire Strikes Back By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, (Zenit.org).- A long time ago, during the reign of Commodus, six Christian men and women in North Africa refused to acknowledge the law declaring the divinization of the Emperor. It was little matter, some incense on the fire, and a public vow. First they were shunned and insulted, then they lost their jobs and homes and ultimately they were brought to trial before the Roman Proconsul Saturnius. The acts of the trial, lovingly preserved over 1,800 years, tell us what transpired.

Saturnius demanded that they swear by the divine genius of the emperor, as did every inhabitant of the Roman Empire.

One of the six, Sperato, countered that he served "that God which no man has seen or can see with these eyes." But as a citizen, he pointed out that "I have committed no theft; on that which I purchase I pay taxes, because I recognize my sovereign."

Saturnio ordered them to "renounce their persuasion," but Sperato held firm: "It is wrong to persuade another to commit homicide and perjury." A woman, Donata, chimed in with "Honor Caesar as Caesar, fear God alone."

Saturnio offered them a 30-day waiting period to think things over, but for the Christians there was no decision to make. The proconsul commandeered their belongings which were "books and the epistles of Paul -- a just man," and ordered them decapitated on July 17, 180. They are honored today as the Scilitan martyrs.

Let's look forward to a few years from now, a not too distant future to another group of Christian men and women. These are health care workers, who again are denying the right of the State to coerce their conscience, and refuse to perform or assist abortions. They have already been derided by their colleagues, lost their jobs, and now they stand on trial for not killing an unborn child.

The modern proconsul exhorts them to abandon their beliefs and get with the program, while the crowds jeer at the troublemakers. Eventually, these men and women are also sentenced, convicted felons for obeying their conscience instead of the State.

Does this seem far-fetched? Anything but. One of the first priorities of the administration of President Barack Obama razed the path to unrestricted abortions. The greatest impediment to this plan is a formed human conscience that recoils at the idea of murdering an unborn baby while lies in its mother's womb.

Six weeks into President Obama's term of office, he has begun to uproot this obstacle by repealing a regulation granting broad protections to health workers who refuse to take part in abortions or provide other health care that goes against their consciences.

The promulgation of this conscience rule was one the last acts of President Bush, and it codified a previous law ensuring that no health care providers at institutions receiving federal funds should be discriminated against for refusing to participate in abortion or sterilization procedures.

President Bush attempted to protect medical and health care professionals from being coerced into actions they deemed wrong on moral and religious grounds

This protection could seem almost unnecessary. If one shrinks from killing an enemy soldier, the government allows for conscience objectors to serve their country in a way that doesn't conflict with their conscience, opponents to the death penalty are not forced to participate in executions. How could it be that a health care worker, one devoted to the assistance and care of human life could be forced to exterminate the most vulnerable life of all?

And yet Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is determined to expunge this protection of conscience as a dangerous thing, proudly claiming that "this president is not going to stand by and let women's health be placed in jeopardy."

So to preserve "women's health" from jeopardy, one must trample the consciences of millions of men and women. Consequently, the most powerful man in the world has decided to employ his might in silencing the moral conscience.

It's really not too far from Imperial Rome after all.

The Roman Empire, led by the Divine Emperor, imposed its rules on all levels of human life, recognizing no authority but itself. It governed not only political life but also the private sphere of individual existence. Rome told its subjects what to think, how to act, and no part of their lives was independent from the whims and caprices of temporal power.

Christians challenged the authority of the government by claiming that its influence controlled only one area of their lives. They paid taxes, fought and died in the military and supplemented the State's weak provisions for the poor and the ill with their own charity. But their duty to their God directed by their conscience would not let them recognize the Emperor as having control over actions that would affect their immortal souls. The State can give you a home and job during your time on earth, but it cannot do a thing about Eternal Life.

The Christians who claimed that the Empire could not dictate to their conscience were tortured, beaten and killed as the Empire tried to purge what Proconsul Saturnius called "dementia."

Saturinius' insistence that the Christians sacrifice for "the health of the Emperor" sounds chillingly like Cecile Richards demanding that consciences be sacrificed for the sake of "women's health."

Two thousand years later, the Empire strikes back, infiltrating the sphere of the human conscience as it did in the day when Romans had more slaves than citizens, sought amusement in blood sport in the arena, and executed men, women and children for not sprinkling a little incense before a metal statue.

As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger presciently wrote in his book "Church, Ecumenism and Politics": "The Roman state was false and anti-Christian precisely because it wanted to be the totality of human capacity and hope. In that way it claimed what it could not achieve; and it distorted and diminished men and women. Through the totalitarian lie it became demonic and tyrannical."

Every day I walk through the remains of the pagan, murderous, self-serving Empire that put its faith in man-made gods and their mortal skills and achievements. These are the crumbled ruins and scattered stones of a once great society.

Sprouting from the rubble and holding strong today are the churches, palaces, fountains and piazzas of Christian Rome, which breathed a new life into those sterile bones and allowed the city to be reborn into the splendor we know today. May modern Christians exhibit the same courage in the face of tyranny that we see in the glorious example of the early martyrs.

Altera Roma

Last weekend, I accompanied my students to Istanbul. I thought I was going far from home, but in reality many aspects of the city were hauntingly familiar to a Rome denizen.

Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, is poised at a unique geographical point. Partially in Europe and partially in Asia, the city straddles the two continents on either side of the Bosphorus strait. It also sits at the link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. As all roads lead to Rome, all roads pass through Constantinople.

Although founded in the seventh century by a Greek named Byzas, (hence its other name Byzantium), Istanbul was put on the map by Emperor Constantine who moved the capitol of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, inaugurating his new city on 330 as Nova Roma, or New Rome.

It was conceived as a completely Christian city. What Constantine had been unable to do in Rome because of the deeply rooted pagan infrastructure, he accomplished in his New Rome. St. Peter's and St. Paul's basilicas were built in the outskirts; the only church he built inside the city walls was St. John Lateran, constructed on his own land next to the city gate.

In his new city, there was no ancient state religion to eradicate. Constantine built church upon church. The Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Apostles, and others, were like stars arranged around his great palace. Constantine's city would symbolize the revelation and propagation of the Christian faith.

Those ambitious designs were soon felled by time. The palace crumbled and Hagia Sophia burnt down during the Nike riot of 532. Those destructive flames however, bore the phoenix of a new greater city. Emperor Justinian wrought the greatest artistic flowering of the city, rebuilding Hagia Sophia and constructing numerous other churches and monuments.

Justinian's New Rome glittered with the finest mosaics in Christendom and her soaring churches seemed suspended from the heavens instead of rooted in earth. His sacred spaces transported the faithful from crowded streets and busy lives into a majestic journey upwards from intricately carved stone to the golden skin of mosaic to the pure light of Heaven.

Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The spectacular churches were transformed into mosques and the stunning stories of our salvation were covered over in plaster.

Today, Hagia Sophia is a museum, neither an Islamic nor Christian space. The gentle Virgin embracing her son dominating the apse and the arrestingly beautiful Christ in the upper gallery have lost their sacred meaning and are now tour highlights.

Imagine a future where one would buy a ticket to enter the museum of St. Peter's and trudge through the treasures of the basilica as one would a museum. The confessionals would be mere curiosities, no one would enter a chapel for prayer, no bell would announce Mass. The Pietà would be another artwork to be catalogued and Bernini's lifelong efforts to render the supernatural intelligible to the pilgrims would be little more than a few anecdotes.

The visit made me treasure our good fortune to still have our artistic treasures at the service of the Church and remember not to take for granted the certainty of retaining our rich Christian cultural heritage.

Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus and the University of St. Thomas Catholic studies program

Ten of the World's Most Religious Cities

Religion plays a large important role in the lives of many people in the world. It can unite and bring peace and harmony to large groups, but it can also cause anger, strife, and long-lasting, deadly wars. Throughout history these ten cities have been significant spots for major religious events. They continue to be pilgrimage sites for millions. If you get the opportunity to visit any of them it’s sure to be an unbelievable experience.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia


Mecca is the holiest of cities in Islam. In 2008, the yearly Hajj pilgrimage attracted two to three million people to the city. This pilgrimage is part of the Five Pillars of Islam, and is required of any capable Muslim at least once in their life. Saudi law forbids non-Muslims to enter Mecca.

The history of Mecca is old, old, old, with the first story coming from a pre-Islamic legend. The tale tells of Adam and Eve being cast out of Paradise, with Adam landing in what is now Sri Lanka and Eve landing in Arabia. They wandered for 200 years before finally reuniting on Mt. Arafat near Mecca. God eventually allowed Adam to build a shrine, and the legend states that he was buried in what is now Mecca.

Perhaps a more accurate historical account begins in 2,000 BC when Abraham and his son Ishmael built the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building in Mecca and now the most sacred of all sites in Islam. The Kaaba is the place that all Muslims face during their prayers, no matter where they are in the world.

The prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570. In 630 he took control of the city, destroyed 360 pagan idols, declared the city a place of Muslim pilgrimage and dedicated it to the worship of only Allah, thus forming the Islam faith.

Lhasa, Tibet


Lhasa literally translates to “place of the gods.” The city was the home of the Dalai Lamas, political leaders of Tibet and religious leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, from the 1600’s until the Chinese invaded and the 14th Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959. Today you’ll find the Tibetans a minority of the population compared to the Chinese.

Lhasa has many sites that are of historical significance including Jokhang Temple, Norbulingka and the Potala Palace, which are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites; and Sera and Drepung Monasteries, and Zhefeng Temple.

Over one million people go to Tibet each year. You’ll often see the devout pilgrims in Lhasa kneeling or lying prone with their foreheads on the ground. These pilgrims will be trying to gain spiritual merit by following one of the three concentric pathways that go inside or around Johkhang Temple.



This small town of 30,000 people is located six miles outside of Jerusalem and is thought to be the birthplace of Jesus by most Christians. It is home to one of the largest Palestinian Christian communities, even though it is primarily a Muslim city.

History abounds in this almost 2,000-year-old city. It is the birthplace of David and the location where he was crowned king of Israel. Records show that over the centuries it has been attacked and conquered many times by many people - the Romans, Samaritans, Muslim armies, Crusaders, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Ottomans, and the British during WWI. Most recently it was occupied by Israeli troops. Currently, it is controlled by the Palestinian National Authority.

The city is most renowned for the biblical story surrounding Jesus. Two different accounts in the New Testament mention Bethlehem as the place of his birth, but modern day scholars question the accuracy of this. Regardless, Christian pilgrims flock to the city especially at Christmas and Easter, to see the Church of the Nativity, which is thought to mark the place of Christ’s birth, and to be one of the oldest churches in the world.

Varanasi, India


Located in northern India, Varanasi is a holy place for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. According to legend the city was started by the Hindu deity Lord Shiva and is the most sacred place of all of the seven sacred cities of Hindu. But, if you look at historical records Varanasi was probably founded about 3,000 years ago as an industrial center for muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes and ivory.

Over one million pilgrims visit the city each year. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges River forgives sin and that dying in this area ensures the release of a person’s soul. There are about 100 ghats (a series of steps leading down to the river) in the city. Many are privately owned and most are used for bathing, cremation or disposal of partially burned corpses. Friends from India report that the water is pretty dirty, so you might want to think twice before you attempt a bathing experience.

Varanasi is also one of four important Buddhist pilgrimage sites appointed by Guatama Buddha. He is said to have given his first sermon on the basic principles of Buddhism here.

The main attraction in the city is the ghats, but there are also many temples to see. Over the centuries the temples in the city have been destroyed numerous times by invading Muslims, who then used the materials to build mosques. There is still some racial tension in the city today.

Vatican City

Vatican City

Tucked in the center of Rome, Italy, this small country is only 110 acres and has a population of just 900 people, but as far as being a religious location, it is huge. It is home to the central authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the residence of all Popes since 1377.

Once upon a time (37-41 AD), the area was the site of the Circus of Nero, and the tall obelisk you see standing outside of St. Peter’s Basilica is a remnant from those days. Legend has it that it was in this circus that Saint Peter was crucified upside down. Many other Christians were also martyred here. Up until the 4th century, when the Basilica was constructed, the area was a prominent place for funeral monuments, mausoleums and altars of pagan gods.

At one time the church ruled a large portion of the Italian peninsula, but in the mid-19th century the Papal States were seized by the new kingdom of Italy. A bit of unrest ensued between Italy and the church, but finally in the 1900’s Mussolini signed a treaty between Italy and the Holy See allowing Vatican City to exist in the way you see today.

There is a lot to see in Vatican City, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Library, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum, which house incredible works of art by Michelangelo, Bernini, Botticelli and Raphael.

Haifa, Israel


Haifa is built on the slopes of Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, about 56 miles from Tel Aviv. It’s got wonderful beaches that tourists still seem unaware of and some important religious sites. Religiously it’s a very diverse city and a major pilgrimage site for people of the Bahá’í faith.

Your first question may be what is Bahá’í? It’s an independent world religion that was founded in the mid-1800’s in Iran by Bahá’u’lláh. The followers believe Bahá’u’lláh is the most recent prophet, following in the footsteps of Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus. The goal of Bahá’í is to unite all races and people in one cause and one common faith centered on unity, love and divine knowledge.

Bahá’í is more of a lifestyle than a religion, but when it all started in Iran the Muslim authorities were not very happy about it. Thousands and thousands of Bahá’ís have been killed because of their beliefs over the years. Regardless, Bahá’í continues to grow and flourish and this non-violent group that believes in honesty, trust, truth, service to humanity, and fellowship with all other religions has built an incredible site In Haifa. The Bahá’í World Center and its golden-domed shrine were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site last year.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City

This city was founded in 1847 by a group of Mormon pioneers led by their prophet Brigham Young. The group fled from the Midwest to escape hostility against their practice of polygamy. Disputes occurred between the Mormon settlers and the federal government over the practice, and finally in 1890 the church released a manifesto which suggested its members obey the law forbidding polygamy.

The city is very diverse, both religiously and culturally. It hosts portions of the Sundance Film Festival, attracts many Broadway and off-Broadway plays, has a large Greek Festival, holds the international Salt Lake City Marathon, has a very diverse music scene, and has a large gay population which holds a gay pride parade each June.

The city is the headquarters of The Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and the Salt Lake Temple is a main tourist attraction. This enormous six-spire granite building sits in the heart of the city and took 40 years to build. Only members of LDS are permitted to enter the building. You’ll also find the Family History Library, which is the largest genealogical library in the world and open to the public.

Jerusalem, Israel


Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to about 4000 BC. It has been the spiritual center and the holiest city for the Jewish people since the 10th century BC. It also contains many important old Christian sites and is the third-holiest city in Islam. Over the centuries it has been destroyed twice, attacked 52 times and besieged 23 times. Today the city is at the center of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Although Jerusalem is primarily known for religious reasons, it is also an incredible cultural city. The Israel Museum, which features many ancient collections, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, attracts about a million visitors a year. There is also the Palestinian National Theatre, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and Yad Vashem (a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.)

The Old City of Jerusalem became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It is a small section inside of the large modern city and holds several important religious sites like Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall and al-Aqsa Mosque. The walls to the Old City contain 11 ancient gates, but only seven are open. Until 1887 the gates were always closed at sunset and opened again at sunrise.

Pushkar, India


This is one of the oldest cities in India. Legend associates its creation with Lord Brahma (the Hindu god of creation.) Part of the myth says that the gods let loose a swan with a lotus in its beak. The lotus fell to earth and the place where it landed is Pushkar.

Pushkar is located in the center of India near Ajmer. It is considered one of the five sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus. Pushkar Lake is a divine spot and pilgrims come to the lake during the months of October and November to bath at one of the 52 ghats.

Other reasons to visit are to see the Brahma Temple, one of few existing temples dedicated to Lord Brahma, or for the Pushkar Fair which is one of the world’s largest camel fairs and attracts thousands of tourists.

Medina, Saudi Arabia


Medina is the city that the Prophet Muhammad fled to when he was driven out of Mecca. It is considered the second holiest city in Islam and is located about 120 miles from the Red Sea in a very fertile area of the Hejaz Territory. Like Mecca, only Muslims are allowed to enter Medina.

Al Masjid al-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque) was built on the site of Muhammad’s home and is where he is buried. Muhammad actually helped to build the original mosque in 622 AD. The mosque has burned down and been rebuilt twice, most recently by King Fahd. At that time 27 moving domes were added to the roofline, it was expanded so it could hold a larger number of people, and comforts like air conditioning were added.

Many Muslims on the Hajj pilgrimage visit Medina before or after visiting Mecca. Muslims believe that praying once in the Prophet’s Mosque is the equivalent to praying 1,000 times in any other mosque.

Patriarch Bartholomew I, Says Chiara Lubich Was Gift For Orthodox

ISTANBUL, Turkey, (Zenit.org).- Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement, was not only a gift for the Catholic Church, but also for Orthodox Christians, affirmed Bartholomew I.

The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople said this Sunday in an address on the first anniversary of the death of the founder, with whom he had a friendship for many years.

The patriarch delivered his address after presiding over vespers in the Church of the Panaghia in Belgrad Kapi, Istanbul, with the participation of a delegation from Rome representing Maria Voce, president of Focolare.

"Today we are not mourning but joyful," said Bartholomew I. He recalled Lubich by "the disarming and persuasive force of her smile."

Patriarch’s Call for Celebrating Nevsky Rather than Russian Independence Receives Some Unexpected -- and Probably Unwelcome -- Support

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 24 –Patriarch Kirill’s call for making June 12th a celebration of the birth of St. Aleksandr Nevsky rather than of Russian independence -- “if this was independence from Kyiv then I personally am against it,” the churchman said – has received support from a Muslim leader for reasons the Russian Orthodox leader may not be entirely happy about.

Speaking in Kaliningrad on Sunday, Kirill who before his elevation was the metropolitan for that non-contiguous portion of Russia, said that celebrating Nevsky’s birthday would be a better idea than celebrating Russian independence because “many do not understand from what and from whom this independence came”.

The new patriarch commented that the Russian Church casts its net far broader than the borders of the Russian Federation. At the Church assembly which elected him, Kirill noted, “fewer than 50 percent of the total number of delegates” came from within the borders of the country as it now exists. The rest came from abroad, most from parts of the former Soviet space.

“And the force of this community [which the Church as a whole represents] is in the commonality of its values,” the patriarch added. “We can and must today lay the foundations of a Russian world, a great multi-national world,” rather than retreat into an unacceptably narrow and limiting view of that community.

To that end, Kirill continued, he plans his first foreign trip to be to Kyiv, “the mother of Russian cities,” and his second to Minsk, the capital of Belarus which is “also a very important part of historical Rus’.” And he said that after that, he hoped to visit all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches as well.

Since the patriarch made these declarations, many Russians have spoken out in support of his idea about the June 12th holiday, but one voice of support has come from an unexpected and given the nature of its argument almost certainly unwanted source – Damir Mukhetdinov, head of the Council of the Ulema of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Nizhny Novgorod.

Although pointing out that there is some dispute as to the date on which Nevsky was born – some scholars date it to May 30, 1220 Old Style and others to May 13, 1221 – Mukhetdinov said that Kirill’s idea was something he and the Muslims of Nizhny Novgorod could enthusiastically support.

On the one hand, he said, Muslims have a positive view of Nevsky because he “established the strategic union of Rus’ with the [Mongol] horde,” as part of his efforts to fight off the forces of the German emperor and the Roman Catholic pope. Indeed, Mukhetdinov himself earlier had proposed creating an order of Aleksandr Nevsky for Russian state service.

And on the other, Kirill’s proposal allows Muslims to call for the celebration of the birthday of one of their own. Mukhetdinov said that this could be “for example, Khan Uzbek, who declared Islam the state religion of the Golden Horde.” Knowing about “such strong personalities,” the ulema leader continued, “is necessary in our times.

Consequently, as many have long known and as Kirill is being reminded, Aleksandr Nevsky is a far more complicated figure than the one Sergey Eisenstein presented in his classic Stalin-era film, a man who many historians now argue was more concerned with opposing the Catholic Church than defeating the German emperor.

And to that extent, Kirill’s proposal for celebrating in June not Russian independence but rather the country’s earlier opposition to the West represents an extension of the earlier decision to shift the November holiday from the 7th to the 4th, a change that also highlighted that, even if many welcomed the change of dates as break from the Bolshevik past.

Patriarch Kirill: Leader of Orthodox Church and Tobacco Imports

Many Westerners know little about the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Father Kirill. Many Russians know him as a great orator and a host of a weekly TV show “Pastor’s Word.” However, very few know that Kirill (Vladimir Gundyaev by passport), a billionaire and a former KGB operative, made his fortune in tobacco, alcohol, and oil sales. His activities were among the main reasons why not-for-profits in Russia lost tax-deductible status. The new Orthodox leader is fond of playing with stocks, car racing, downhill skiing, and breeding exclusive kinds of dogs. He owns villas in Switzerland and a penthouse with a view of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

After Patriarch Aleksiy II died, the Orthodox Synode, made up of spiritual, business, and social leaders, took up the evening news and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to elect a new leader. After Mitropolits Filaret and Kliment withdrew their candidacies, Kirill won the position. When it became too obvious that Aleksiy was at the end of his life, Mitropolit Mephody, who had been considered the strongest candidate for the Patriarch’s post, was sent to lead the Orthodox Church in Kazakhstan. Maybe just a coincidence, but rumors and articles in local newspapers suggested a different scenario. I heard all the stories from friends while witnessing the historic events in Moscow. Later, I took time to research whether or not they were true.

Kirill graduated with honors from Leningrad Spiritual Academy in 1969. In 1970, he earned his master’s degree, and after several minor positions was appointed a personal secretary to Mitropolit Nikodim, chief of the external church relations. Since that moment, Kirill became the face of the Orthodox Church in all foreign trips to Western Europe. According to vlasti.net website, Kirill’s colleagues and competitors linked all his travels to his work for the Soviet KGB where he was known by nickname “Mikhailov.” Starting in 1972, Kirill/Gundyaev/Mikhailov became more involved with the countries of the Middle East. In 1975, at a forum in Nairobi, he defended the Soviet Union and downplayed dissidents’ letters by making historic claims that people of faith were not persecuted and there were no human rights abuses based on religion in the Soviet Union.

Kirill is progressive, speaks foreign languages, worked on the issues of unarming the USSR and the US, and advocated usage of the modern Russian language (instead of old Slavic) during the services. In 1991, the year the Soviet Union fell apart, he earned the title of Mitropolit. The new era of capitalism brought new achievements to Mitropolit Kirill’s life. In 1996, Kirill became a board member of bank “Peresvet” that is responsible for servicing the financial interests of the Russian Orthodox Church. The 1996 September issue (#34) of the Moscow News reports that Kirill, now for two years, had been organizing imports of highly taxable products, mostly tobacco, under the tax-exempt non-profit banner of the Orthodox Church. The claims were supported by other respectable news sources, including the Moskovsky Komsomolets.

The soon-to-be Patriarch confirmed the import of the highly unchristian products. By 1997, Kirill admitted the import of alcohol and tobacco, but claimed that the Russian Orthodox Church could not refuse the “humanitarian help.” The Russian Orthodox Church and Kirill’s private foundation “Nika” were not-for-profit organizations, and in 1996 alone they imported eight billion cigarettes to Russia. Kirill’s “church” business took off like a snowball, as the legal competitors could not compete with his low prices for tobacco and alcohol. The importers were naturally pushed off the market as they could not match Kirill’s prices after paying the necessary government dues.

In 2001, Kirill purchased the penthouse in Moscow, and people familiar with the matter claimed that Kirill shifted his interest into real estate, oil, and stocks. According to the research of the Russia’s shadow economy conducted by the Russian State Humanitarian University in 2004, Kirill’s fortune eclipsed at four billion US dollars.

I hope that Father Kirill’s managerial gifts and smooth communication abilities will help strengthen the Orthodox Church and streamline the issues inside of this gigantic and complicated structure. However, shouldn’t the Christian leadership start with the faith and not with the semi-criminal wily money-making techniques?

Medvedev Takes Charge of Religious Affairs Giving New Patriarch a Victory

Paul Goble

Vienna – President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to chair the Council of Ties with Religious Organizations raises the status of that group which up to now had been led by an official in the presidential administration and thus gives a major victory to the Russian Orthodox Church and to its newly-installed head, Patriarch Kirill.

On the one hand, this is yet another indication that Medvedev and perhaps especially his wife Svetlana are far more interested than their predecessors in playing a substantive and not just symbolic role in religious affairs and having the Russian Orthodox Church of which they are both active members play a larger role in the affairs of the state.

And on the other, Medvedev’s elevation of this council almost certainly will prevent the formation of a Soviet-style Council of Religious Affairs or religious affairs ministry, a step non-Orthodox groups have long sought to gain better access to the state but one the Moscow Patriarchate has opposed because it would lessen the importance of its privileged access.

In both cases, the president’s move represent a personal victory for Kirill, whose supporters have long argued that once he became patriarch, the Church would be in a position to play a far larger role in politics and society than had been the case under the late Aleksii II, whose role in Moscow at least was more symbolic than practical.

Lest anyone miss the importance of Medvedev’s decision, Kremlin officials told “Kommersant” that it was “unprecedented” that that not only did his chairing of the group raise its status but that the president plans to transform it into a group that meets on a regular basis and makes decisions.

The tilt toward the Russian Orthodox Church was reflected in the composition of those attending: One person each from the three other “traditional” Russian religions, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, but seven other leading Orthodox churchmen, including Metropolitans Yuvenalii and Kliment.

Perhaps indicative of the way in which Medvedev plans to deal with religion, Islam was represented by Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), rather than by the self-styled Supreme Mufti of Russia, Talgat Tadjuddin, Chairman of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Ufa.

But certainly indicative of where things are in Moscow now were those not in attendance: There was no one from the Roman Catholic Church, no one from the Protestant Evangelicals, and no one from the Old Believers, groups that Kirill has long insisted are not “traditional” religions of Russia.

At the same time, Medvedev’s decision to chair the meeting is the latest indication of the Russian government’s tilt toward Kirill more generally. Since he was installed a month ago, Moscow has indicated it will return enormous amounts of property to the Church and announced subsidies for the restoration of the New Jerusalem Monastery.

As “Kommersant” pointed out in its article today, those who pushed for Kirill’s election as patriarch “predicted that the Church under [his leadership] would for the first time become a political subject and not ‘an object of manipulation by the state” and that he would become “a political figure on the federal level.”

One of Kirill’s most outspoken supporters, Deacon Andrey Kurayev said that the coming together of Church and state in this way could lead to a revival after several years of a typically Byzantine model in which the patriarch would serve as regent for a young president , I beg your pardon, emperor.”

Kurayev’s statements were echoed by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Kirill’s longtime deputy in the Patriarchate’s External Relations Department. He added that “the Church does not intend to become a subject of politics” but does want influence the country through its followers, “including the most influential.”

Whether either the Russian government or the Russian Church will find this relationship entirely comfortable is uncertain or whether the large number of Russians who believe in the separation of Church and state as required by the Constitution will be happy about this rapprochement between the two is far from clear.

But three things are already obvious, each of which are likely to cause problems in the future. First, Medvedev wants a far closer relationship with Kirill than his predecessors had with Aleksii II. Second, his approach effectively lowers the status of the three other “traditional” faiths of Russia. And third, it makes no provision for all the other religions.

Orthodox icon to protect British royal family

Queen Elizabeth II ordered a unique Russian Orthodox icon to be delivered to the Buckingham Palace, Russian web-site Life.ru reports. She hopes it will protect her family and help avoid conflicts and other misfortunes.

His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent expressed his wish to obtain a holy Orthodox icon as a gift for the British Queen a year ago during his informal visit to the town of Nevjansk in Sverdloskiy Region. His Royal Highness was particularly impressed by the icons he saw at the House of Nevjansk Icons, a local artisan work shop, world famous for its priceless icon painting.

“The Nevjansk artisans have preserved the ancient craft’s secrets, not only reviving old traditions, but also applying new modern technologies,” Natalya Savkina, deputy director of the House of Nevjansk claims.

Michael of Kent admired the holy icons and wondered if he could get one of the wonderwork to bring to the Queen. "I'd love her to see this miracle," the Prince explained. “There’s an amazing energy emanating from your icons!”

The Prince particularly liked one of the most highly cherished icons in Russia, Our Lady’s icon, “Tenderness.” St. Seraphim of Sarov, (see pic to right) a highly revered 19th-century Russian monk, kept it in his cell and treasured its magical power of healing the sick. He called this icon “Umilenie” (Tenderness), representing Mary's feelings of tenderness at the Annunciation the “Joy of All Joys”.

“Besides having a miraculous healing power, it also has a pacifying holy effect,” icon painters explained to the Prince. People turn to this icon in times of distress and family discord, asking for apology. The Prince agreed that it was exactly what the Queen needed – young Prince Harry who had recently parted with his girl friend, was making her constantly worried.

Painting the “Tenderness” icon took Nevjansk icon painters almost a year. In the process, they used the most modern technology while religiously observing all ancient traditions. “It is an extremely time consuming process. The icon is made of copper, covered with braid gold and painted with special dyes made by a special formula minerals found only in the Urals", they explained.

The Queen’s Private Secretary’s office sent to Nevjansk a formal reply confirming that the icon had found its place in one of the Buchingham Palace halls. “Her Majesty sincerely thanks you for the miraculous icon, “ it said.

Queen Elizabeth has already offered her prayers for her family and her subjects before the icon, Life.ru reports.

Hillary: hey, who painted Our Lady of Guadalupe?

During her recent visit to Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unexpected stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and left a bouquet of white flowers "on behalf of the American people," after asking who painted the famous image.

... Mrs. Clinton was received on Thursday at 8:15 a.m. by the rector of the Basilica, Msgr. Diego Monroy.(ed. note - he's the bowing scraper in the pic to the left)

Msgr. Monroy took Mrs. Clinton to the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had been previously lowered from its usual altar for the occasion.

After observing it for a while, Mrs. Clinton asked "who painted it?" to which Msgr. Monroy responded "God!"

Clinton then told Msgr. Monroy that she had previously visited the old Basilica in 1979, when the new one was still under construction.

After placing a bouquet of white flowers by the image, Mrs. Clinton went to the quemador -the open air area at the Basilica where the faithful light candles- and lit a green candle.

Leaving the basilica half an hour later, Mrs. Clinton told some of the Mexicans gathered outside to greet her, "you have a marvelous virgin!"

By Charles M. Bartholomew Post-Tribune correspondent

By Charles M. Bartholomew

Post-Tribune correspondent

VALPARAISO -- A former area man who helped to get the murderer of his grandmother taken off the state's death row will tell of the challenge to his faith Saturday at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church.

Bill Pelke, who lives in Alaska, is the president and co-founder of Journey of Hope, an organization with the mission of ending the death penalty in the United States, where surveys show a majority of people favors capital punishment.

According to the Indiana Historical Society online archives, Paula Cooper, who was 15 at the time of the murder, entered the Gary home of Ruth Pelke, 78, with three companions in May 1985, stabbed her 33 times, took her car and $10.

She pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to death in 1986 by Lake Superior Court Judge James Kimbrough, the youngest ever on death row in Indiana history.

On appeal in 1989, Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the conviction, but overturned her death sentence on the grounds that it violated the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the Eighth Amendment, as well as the Indiana Constitution, and she was resentenced to 60 years in prison that same year.

Because of good behavior, the Indiana Department of Corrections projects her release date as March 2014.

As a member of Journey of Hope, Pelke travels all over the country telling of how they were transformed from hatred and seeking revenge to forgiveness.

Deacon Mark Plaiss, communications officer for the Diocese of Gary, said the Catholic parish at Valparaiso University responded quickly to an announcement to area churches by Rev. James Dixon of the Heartland Center in Hammond that Pelke would be making appearances in Indiana during March and was available to speak to local congregations on the topic "From Violence to Healing."


Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing Blog

"Led by murder victim family members speaking out... Telling their stories of love, forgiveness and understanding. Hoping for an end to the cycle of violence."



( see info about her on my other blog: http://devotionsandprayers.blogspot.com/ )

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI receives President Demetris Christofias of the Republic Cyprus

.- Pope Benedict XVI received the President of Cyprus at the Vatican Apostolic Palace today, where the two leaders discussed their hopes for reunification of the island nation as well as other international situations.

President Demetris Christofias of the Republic Cyprus spoke with Pope Benedict about the future of the country, expressing his particular concern for the situation of Christians in the Turkish controlled portion of the island.

Cyprus was divided into two by a Turkish invasion in 1974. The Turks took the northern half of the Mediterranean island, while the Greeks maintained control of the southern half. In 2004, a U.N. effort to reunite the country was rebuffed by Greek Cypriots, leaving the country divided.

The “cordial” discussion between President Christofias and the Pope included the Cypriot leader illustrating the “condition of many churches and Christian buildings in the north of the island,” according to the Vatican.

A 2006 meeting between then-President Tassos Papadopoulos and Pope Benedict involved the president giving the Pontiff a large photo album featuring pictures of over 300 Orthodox churches destroyed by the Turks or used for secular and non-religious activities.

During today’s meeting, Benedict XVI and President Christofias expressed their mutual hope that the ongoing negotiations between the parties may reach a solution.

Ideas were also exchanged on the “international situation regarding, among other things, the continent of Africa.”

Finally, emphasis was given to “the importance of good relations between Catholics and Orthodox and between Catholics and Muslims, who are all called to work together for the good of society and for peaceful coexistence among peoples," the Vatican said.

According to 2001 census, 94.8 percent of the permanent population in the government-controlled area belongs to the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Additionally, 0.5 percent of the population is Maronite Catholic, 0.3 percent Armenian Orthodox, 1.5 percent Roman Catholic, 1 percent Protestant and 0.6 percent Muslim.


VATICAN CITY, 27 MAR 2009 (VIS) - The Holy See Press Office today released the following communique:

“In the Vatican Apostolic Palace this morning, the Holy Father Benedict XVI received in audience President Demetris Christofias of the Republic Cyprus. The president subsequently went on to meet with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

“The cordial discussions focused on certain questions concerning the situation in country, and its future. For his part, President Christofias illustrated the condition of many churches and Christian buildings in the north of the island. The two sides expressed their mutual hope that the ongoing negotiations between the parties may reach a solution to the longstanding question of Cyprus.

“Ideas were also exchanged on the international situation regarding, among other things, the continent of Africa.

“Finally, emphasis was given to the importance of good relations between Catholics and Orthodox and between Catholics and Muslims, who are all called to work together for the good of society and for peaceful coexistence among peoples”.


Cyprus President: Turkish occupation responsible for cultural heritage’s destruction

Turkish occupation is responsible for the destruction of Cyprus' cultural heritage, President of the Republic Demetris Christofias has said, noting that Turkey must contribute to the solution of the Cyprus problem.

Speaking at the Larnaca Airport before his departure for an official visit to the Holy See, where he will meet with Pope Benedict XVI, President Christofias said that he would discuss, inter alia, the issue of the destruction of the cultural heritage of Cyprus.

He said that, Maronites and Latins living in the isladn are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and they, noting that Maronites live here for 1.200 years, while the Maronite Church in Cyprus is under the jurisdiction of the Holy See and the Maronite Archbishop, is confirmed by His Holiness the Pope.

President Christofias stressed that both he personally and the leadership of the Church of Cyprus have great interest in developing relations and dialogue between the Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Holy See.

Furthermore, he pointed out that “under the initiative of the Community of Sant’ Egidio,*** we had recently an interreligious, intercultural meeting, which focused on the common struggle for peace in the world”.
“It is therefore an important issue and because our cultural heritage is in danger and being destroyed, we
must explain the reasons why this is happening”, he said.

He noted that “the reason for the destruction of our cultural heritage lies in Turkish occupation,” adding that “it is a necessity for Turkey to give its assent so as to solve the Cyprus problem”.

“In this way”, he continued, “there will be a real restoration of our cultural heritage, which belongs to all of the people of Cyprus, even though some react to this».

A large part of Cyprus’ cultural heritage, some of which has been listed by UNESCO, continues to be under Turkish occupation since 1974. Many archaeological sites in occupied Cyprus have been either abandoned, neglected or destroyed.

The church of Sant'Egidio,

seat of the community of Sant'Egidio

***The Community of Sant'Egidio is a Christian community that is officially recognized by the Catholic Church as a "Church public lay association". It claims 50,000 members in more than 70 countries. Its main activities are: * Prayer, centered around a reading of the Bible * Spreading the Gospel to help people who are looking for a sense to their life. * Service to the poor, which is free and unpaid * Commitment to ecumenism (the Community of Sant'Egidio is also ecumenical, though being rooted in the Catholic Church) * Dialogue with members of other religions and non-believers. The Community of Sant'Egidio was founded in Rome in 1968 by a group of Roman high school students led by Andrea Riccardi. It is named after the Roman Church of Sant'Egidio (Italian for Saint Giles) in Trastevere, its first permanent meeting place. Since 1968, the community has gathered each night to pray and read from the Bible, reflecting on the Gospel, eventually spreading throughout the world with a mission of helping those in need. Their activities include setting up refuges for the old, hospices for AIDS patients, and printing a handbook titled "Where to Eat, Sleep, and Wash in Rome" as gifts to the homeless. The charitable efforts of Sant'Egidio also led it to be a well-regarded mediator of peace negotiations. In the late 1980s, the Community came to the realization that their humanitarian efforts in Mozambique, then torn by the Mozambican Civil War, could not succeed without peace. In 1990, the Community was accepted by the ruling FRELIMO and rebel Mozambican National Resistance as a mediator, playing a key role in the Rome General Peace Accords signed in 1992. They continue peace initiatives in Algeria (notably the 1995 Sant'Egidio Platform), the Balkans, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other areas, in the belief that war is the "mother of every poverty”. The community of Sant'Egidio shows its commitment against the Death penalty by maintaining penpalships with many Death convicts, collecting signatures for a moratorium of executions and inviting cities around the world to take part in the Cities for Life Day.


There is reason, and then there is Truth "All the problems of this world could be solved by repenting this conceit that we can create utopia w/o Him"


By Alisa Craddock
web posted March 23, 2009

A few years ago I was taking a trip with a bunch of Christian students, some Catholic, some Protestant, to a monastery for an extended weekend retreat. I ended up riding with the Lutheran campus minister (a feminist), and the Protestant youth, in their van. During the drive, the conversation eventually got around to abortion, which this minister favored. She talked about compassion for young women who were faced with pregnancy and having their lives ruined, or the poverty they would be subject to, the dreadful situation for the children who would grow up unloved and unwanted—the usual tired arguments of the Left. I finally said, "Last time I looked, fornication was still a sin."

Silence….(end of conversation).

You see, everyone clucks their tongues and shakes their heads that 40% of this nation's children are now born out of wedlock, but when it comes to the solution to this problem, no one seems willing to discuss the real issue—irresponsible sexual behavior. Fornication. It is much easier to say, "Well, they need more sex education. They need to start teaching it earlier. We need to teach them about the use of condoms and birth control pills, and IUDs (or IUC's I think they're called now). They need to learn how to protect themselves from pregnancy, these 3rd graders, so they can explore their sexuality in the security of knowing they won't have to bear the consequences. They shouldn't be taught abstinence only because, well, they're just going to do it anyway, and if we don't arm them with the proper knowledge, it will just make the problem worse.

Would it ever occur to these characters that their sex education is what created the problem in the first place? Actually, it would, at least to some of them. There are those who genuinely, naively believe that sex education is the answer. But among their leadership, and among those who actually examine the evidence, a more truthful picture emerges—on the one side, promoting a disturbing agenda, on the other, exposing it for the evil that it is.

To an uncritical mind, the Left's position is sound, it is logical. Without instruction in contraception, more pregnancies would result, and more unwed births would occur, or more abortions would occur. We need the sex education and the encouragement in the use of contraceptives, or so the argument goes, to prevent a worse situation than what we already have.

But is that a realistic assessment of the problem? You see, when contraception is encouraged, fornication follows automatically because sexual opportunity is increased, and the number of "accidents" is increased. When there is no longer any stigma attached to irresponsible sexual behavior and its consequences, and the conscience has been sufficiently dulled, there is no reason not to do it, since you have "eliminated" the "negative" consequences, ie pregnancy. Hence, the silence when I mentioned that fornication is still a sin. People still want to have their cake (salvation) and eat it too (sex).

The problem with the proliferation of unwed pregnancies and the problem with the spread of AIDS are linked, and the arguments against encouraging condom use in the latter are illustrative of the arguments against encouraging contraceptive use in the other. Last week, Pope Benedict on his way to AIDS-ravaged Africa, was asked (not surprisingly) about the Catholic Church's position on fighting AIDS. He said, "One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem."

Of course, I suspect these people only ask so they can act out their feigned outrage over the backward, unprogressive, and inhumane attitude of the Catholic male hierarchy. As one editorial in the Washington Post says, "In a perfect world, people would abstain from having sex until they were married or would be monogamous in committed relationships. But the world isn't perfect -- and neither is Pope Benedict's pronouncement on the effectiveness of condoms in the battle against HIV/AIDS."

But, as Edward C. Green, who is the Director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies wrote, and the Catholic League reiterated last week:

"In every African country in which HIV infections declined, this decline has been associated with a decrease in the proportion of men and women reporting more than one sex partner over the course of a year—which is exactly what fidelity programs promote."

As for condom use, Green said:

"Many countries that have not seen declines in HIV have seen increases in condom use, but in every country worldwide in which HIV has declined there have been increases in levels of faithfulness and usually abstinence as well."

Mr. Green also pointed out that in New York City, where tens of millions of condoms have been given away at the behest of the Bloomberg administration, the HIV rate has climbed to three times the national average. In addition, the homosexual community make up 70% of the HIV cases in this country, despite the fact that millions of dollars have been spent by that community promoting "safe sex" and a free-flowing supply of condoms.

The obvious implication is that the false sense of security that condoms provide increases the behavior (sexual opportunity) that leads to the increase in AIDS infection. If that is true of AIDS, it is also true of pregnancy. The fallacy in the pro-contraceptive position is the assertion (implied or otherwise) that it is not possible to persuade (heterosexual) people to abstain from irresponsible sexual activity. The case of Uganda and other African nations, which saw a sharp decline in AIDS infection after instituting campaigns to promote marital fidelity and pre-marital abstinence, proves that the pro-condom argument is based on a false premise. The numbers don't lie. It is reasonable to apply that same argument against promoting contraception instead of abstinence to prevent pregnancy.

Now, that may seem like a backdoor argument to these people, but they have their own backdoor argument to defend, and their numbers don't lie, either. All efforts of the UN and its organs to promote condoms and contraception, and abortion are, of course, part of their population control agenda. It has been amply demonstrated that population reduction is the ultimate goal of these organizations. So, if they promote condom use to combat AIDS, and the numbers clearly show that promotion and availability of condoms does not stop the spread of AIDS, indeed, appears to indirectly or directly cause its increase, could it not be construed that the real agenda is death—death for millions of those "useless eaters" who contribute nothing to the world's infrastructure or economy, but consume vast amounts of resources? Let them fornicate themselves into an early grave! AIDS will solve the population problem for us. If this were not the agenda, would they not give food freely to those in need, rather than placing upon the starving, the condition that in order to receive food and medicine, they must accept "reproductive health services"? (That means abortion and contraception, if you're not familiar with the lingo.)

Until we again recognize the necessity of intact, healthy, loving families to the wellbeing of civilization, and the dignity and worth of each human being, created in the image and likeness of God, until we stop thumbing our noses at the God who made us, and His perfect law, nothing will change for us. We will continue sliding toward our own destruction. I no longer wish to make practical arguments to persuade those who do not believe Christ has a place in the governments of men. In the absence of God, anything grotesque can be made to seem reasonable. But the consequences of such "reason" are unfolding before us in the hardening and corruption of our collective soul. Can we not see the similarity in the case of the secular arguments for contraception, falling before the spiritual proofs of their failure, in the whole argument of secular culture versus a culture built upon spiritual truth? The consequences of "sin" will happen. It is inevitable, and there are no social engineering programs, no manmade social solutions that will fix the consequences of defying the law of God. Our civilization will not survive unless it is built upon the solid foundation of divine Truth, which is Faith, Life and Love, not death, despair and dominance. For, as the Psalm says, "The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul." (Psalm 19:7).
All the evil in the world comes from disobedience to God, to Christ. I have never been able to conceive of any evil (including those evils perpetrated by members of my own Church) that cannot be traced to violation of some command of God. All the problems of this world could be solved by repenting of this conceit that we can create a utopia apart from Him, and conforming ourselves to His law. For indeed, His law is perfect, refreshing the soul. May this world find its way Home before it is too late.

Alisa Craddock is a columnist and activist in the culture war, a convert to Catholicism, and describes herself as a Christian Libertarian