Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI dedicated today's catechesis to St. Germanus of Constantinople

VATICAN CITY, 29 APR 2009 (VIS) - During his general audience this morning Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to St. Germanus of Constantinople, who "played an important role in the complex history of the battle for images during the so-called iconoclastic crisis, and was able to resist the pressure of an iconoclastic emperor, ... Leo III.

"During Germanus' patriarchate (715-730)", the Pope added, "the capital of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople, was subject to a threatening siege by the Saracens. On that occasion (717-718) a solemn procession was organised and passed through the streets carrying the image of the Mother of God ... and the relic of the Holy Cross to call upon the Most High to defend the city. In fact, Constantinople was freed from the siege".

This event convinced the patriarch "that God's intervention was to be interpreted as evident approval of the reverence people showed towards holy icons. Leo III on the other hand, who came to the throne in that year of 717, ... began ever more openly to show his conviction that the consolidation of empire had to begin by reorganising expressions of faith, with particular reference to idolatry, a risk to which, in his view, the people were exposed by their excessive veneration for icons".

The Holy Father went on: "Patriarch Germanus' appeals to Church tradition and to the real effectiveness of certain images, unanimously recognised as 'miraculous', were all to no avail. The emperor became ever more intractable in implementing his policies of reform. ... Germanus had no desire to bow to the emperor's will in matters he considered vital to orthodox faith. ... As a consequence he felt obliged to resign as patriarch, condemning himself to exile in a monastery where he died in obscurity. Nonetheless his name re- emerged at the Second Nicean Council ... of 787 where his merits were recognised".

Of Germanus' works "certain homilies on Marian themes have survived, of which some have had a profound influence on the piety of entire generations of faithful, both in the East and the West", including one which Pope Pius XII "set like a pearl in the 1950 Apostolic Constitution 'Munificentissimus Deus'", dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Benedict XVI went on to recall the "great contribution" this saint made to the Byzantine tradition in which "the rhetorical forms used in preaching, and even more so in hymns and poetical compositions, ... are as important to the celebration of the liturgy as the beauty of the sacred building in which it takes place".

The Holy Father concluded by considering three aspects in which St. Germanus still has something to say to modern man. Firstly, in the need to recognise "the visibility of God in the world and in the Church", because "God created man in His image but that image was covered with dirt and sin" and the Creator "could almost no longer see it. Thus the Son of God became man and ... in Christ, the true image of God, we too can ... learn to see ourselves as His image". If, to prevent idolatry and the danger of pagan images, God prohibited the Israelites from creating His image, yet "when He became visible in Christ through the Incarnation it became legitimate to reproduce the face of Christ. ... Holy images teach us to see God in the face of Christ, ... of the saints and of all human beings".

Secondly, Germanus shows us "the beauty and dignity of the liturgy", which must be celebrated "with an awareness of the presence of God and with a beauty and dignity that enable us to glimpse His splendour".

The third aspect is that of "love for the Church", the Pope concluded. "It may be that in the Church, as in ourselves, we see sin and other negative things, yet with the help of faith ... we can always rediscover divine beauty in the Church. In the Church, God offers Himself to us in the Eucharist, He speaks to us, ... He forgives us and He teaches us to forgive. Let us pray that God may teach us to see His presence and His beauty in the Church, to see His presence in the world".

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Noah was born and buried in Nakhchivan, the republic’s head believesNoah was born and buried in Nakhchivan, the republic’s head believes

Nakhchivan, April 27, Interfax – Biblical prophet Noah was born and buried in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, chair of the republican Supreme Majlis Vasif Talybov claims.

“Nakhchyvan has an old history. This district is rich in monuments that are our national heritage. The most precious treasure the district has granted to the world is great historical personality - prophet Noah, this district is his Motherland,” he said at international symposium Prophet Noah, the Flood and Nakhchivan.

According to Talybov, researchers and travelers of ancient times and middle ages linked Noah to Nakhchivan (Noah is pronounced like Nukh in Turkic - IF) and left corresponding written proves of it, but this topic was banned in the Soviet period.

Talybov further said that ancient Greek scientist Claudius Ptolemaeus first mentioned Nakhchivan as Noah’s dwelling place in the 2nd century, renowned Arab scientist of the 16th century Al-Sharifi gave detailed information about Noah’s tomb in Nakhchivan and remains of his ark and Jewish scientist Josephus Flavius (the 1st century BC) considered Nakhchivan was the first stop of Noah’s ark.

Talybov believes not only Noah’s tomb is located in Nakhchivan, but also his relatives and followers were buried there and Russian researchers of the 20th century confirm it.

Lukashenko: Pope hopes to meet with Russian Patriarch soon

Rome, April 28, Interfax - Pope Benedict XVI is hoping his meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia may take place in the nearest future, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in Rome on Tuesday while summing up the results of his visit to the Vatican.

"The Pope said literally the following: 'Maybe God will open this door and we will meet soon,'" Lukashenko quoted the Pope as saying.

Lukashenko said he had informed the Pope of his recent meeting with Patriarch Kirill.

"I told him that now there is a unique chance to become closer. I wanted the heads of the Churches to meet and discuss issues. If such a meeting happens, it should happen in Belarus, which is not only the geographical center of Europe, but also a place where the main Christian religions meet," said Lukashenko.

Lukashenko said his meeting with the Pope addressed "many issues, including relationships between religions." "We discussed the relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches," he said.

Meeting between Patriarch, Pope should not be result of opportunistic motives - Moscow Patriarchate

Brussels, April 29, Interfax - The Russian Orthodox Church says a meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Benedict XVI should not be prompted by short-term opportunistic motives.

"It should not be a kind of show in front of TV cameras but should be a result of a very serious and thoughtful discussion on the existing problems, and this meeting should not serve as a trigger for their resolution but should be a result of serious consultations," Archpriest Antony Ilyin, an acting representative of the Moscow Patriarchate at European international organizations, said Interfax-Religion in commenting on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's remark that the Patriarch and the Pope could meet soon.

Fr. Antony suggested that now, unlike in the period at the end of Pope John Paul II's pontificate, "the understanding of importance of common testimony and strategic partnership in Europe in defending traditional values is growing from year to year."

Muslims are cool to pope's Holy Land pilgrimage


NAZARETH, Israel (AP) — A banner across the main square in Jesus' boyhood town condemns those who insult Islam's Prophet Muhammad — a message by Muslim hard-liners for Pope Benedict XVI during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land next month.

The pontiff may have to tread carefully with his visit to Nazareth. Many Muslims are still angry over a 2006 speech in which Benedict quoted a medieval text depicting the prophet as violent.

Even some Christians are nervous that Benedict could stir up trouble for them. They worry that if he says anything contentious about Islam again, Muslims might lash out.

"He must know that every word he will utter will have an impact on Christian Palestinians and religious relations," said Naim Ateek, an Anglican reverend and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical Palestinian Christian group that includes Catholics.

The banner was put up by followers of Nazem Abu Salim, a radical Muslim preacher, right next to the Church of the Annunciation, where tradition says the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus.

It is there for the pope, Abu Salim said. "He is not welcome here."

The banner — clearly visible from the church, which Benedict is to visit — trumpets a verse from the Quran declaring, "Those who harm God and His Messenger — God has cursed them in this world and in the hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment."

Municipal official Suheil Diab wouldn't say if the banner, along with a small sign in English with the verse, would be removed before the pope arrives May 14.

Benedict plans to meet with Muslim leaders, though not Abu Salim, throughout his May 8-15 tour of the Holy Land, which includes stops in Jordan, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Nazareth, one of Israel's largest Arab cities.

Islamic leaders in Israel are divided over the visit.

One of the leading Muslim groups in Israel, the Northern Islamic Movement, is calling for a boycott of meetings unless Benedict apologizes for his 2006 remarks, said a spokesman, Zahi Nujeidat. The movement, which has not been invited to meet with the pontiff, can marshal thousands of supporters, but has not yet decided whether to stage protests.

Other Muslim clerics said they would sit down with Benedict but ask for an apology. One of those is Sheik Taysir Tamimi, a leading cleric in the Palestinian Authority, which has welcomed the pope's trip.

Muslims are a growing and increasingly assertive majority in Nazareth, which is 70 percent Muslim but has a communist mayor from the city's Christian community.

A decade ago, brawls erupted over Muslim attempts to build a mosque beside the Church of the Annunciation. The project was eventually thwarted. What remains is a stone-paved square and a small mosque, headed by Abu Salim.

Nazareth is one of the main cities for Israel's Arab minority, who make up around 20 percent of the country's 7 million people. Christians number around 120,000 of the Arab community, roughly half Catholic, half Eastern Orthodox.

Benedict's 2006 speech citing obscure medieval text that characterized some of Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman" sparked protests in the West Bank and Gaza — though not in Israel. Attackers fired guns and threw firebombs at Palestinian churches.

Benedict later said the text did not reflect his views, but many Muslims believe he did not apologize properly.

In Nazareth, the pontiff is to visit the Church of the Annunciation, host an interfaith discussion and meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He'll also celebrate Mass on nearby Mount Precipice, where many Christians believe a mob pursued Jesus and tried to throw him from a cliff.

The pope will strive to improve interfaith relations throughout his tour, said Wadi Abunassar, a spokesman for the pontiff's visit.

Nazareth's local government has set aside $5 million to spruce up the crowded, shabby city overlooking the Galilee hills, hoping the papal visit will boost tourism, Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy said.

Few in Nazareth's bazaar show any excitement, however. Many remain bitter over Israel's offensive in Gaza against Hamas militants, which killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in December and January.

"People here are tired and exhausted from this situation," said Amin Ali, 72, an antique seller who described himself as a secular Muslim. "And nobody likes this pope, anyway."

Benedict should use his visit to censure Israel over Gaza and the lack of progress in reaching peace with the Palestinians, said Ateek, the Anglican reverend.

"If the pope is brave enough to do that, people will respect him more," Ateek said.

The Pope in Abruzzo

"I am well aware that, despite the solidarity forthcoming from all sides, there are many daily discomforts involved in living outside your homes, in cars or tents, especially because of the cold and rain. ... My poor presence among you is intended as a tangible sign of the fact that the crucified Lord is risen and does not abandon you. ... He is not deaf to the anguished cries of so many families who have lost everything: houses, savings, work and sometimes even human lives. Of course, His tangible response comes though our solidarity, which cannot be limited to the initial emergency but must become a stable project over time. I encourage everyone, institutions and companies, to ensure that this city and this land may arise again".

The Holy Father then pronounced "some words of comfort" concerning the people killed in the earthquake. "They are alive in God", he said, "and await from you a testimony of courage and hope. They hope to see the rebirth of their land, which must once more adorn itself with houses and churches, beautiful and solid. ... Love remains, even beyond the river-crossing of this our precarious earthly life, because true Love is God. Those who love overcome death in God, and know that their loved ones are not lost". The Holy Father then concluded his remarks by reading as special prayer for the victims of the earthquake.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks with the faithful in the tent camp of the destroyed village of Onna, near Aquila, April 28, 2009. Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday visited Onna and Aquila where some 40,000 people lost their homes in the 6.3 magnitude quake, which hit the Abruzzo region in the early hours of April 6, catching residents in their sleep.


Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the destroyed village of Onna, near Aquila, April 28, 2009. Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday visited Onna and Aquila where some 40,000 people lost their homes in the 6.3 magnitude quake, which hit the Abruzzo region in the early hours of April 6, catching residents in their sleep.


Also from VIS:

At midday today, the Pope arrived at the courtyard of the training school of the "Guardia di Finanza" in Coppito near the Italian city L'Aquila, where he met with people affected by the earthquake of 6 April, and with rescue and aid workers (volunteers, the Italian Civil Protection, firemen, soldiers, etc.).

"Here I am in this square", said the Holy Father in his address, "which almost from the first moment functioned as a headquarters for the rescue operations. This place, consecrated by the victims' prayers and tears, represents a symbol of your tenacious determination not to give way to discouragement." Quoting then the motto of the "Guardia di Finanza" - "Nec recisa recedit" - he pointed out that it "seems to well express what the mayor defined as your firm intention to rebuild the city, with that constancy which characterises you people of the Abruzzo region".

This same square, Benedict XVI went on, in which Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. officiated at the funeral of the many victims of the tremor, "is today occupied by the forces involved in helping L'Aquila and Abruzzo to rise from the rubble of the earthquake. ... My visit among you, which I wished to make from the first moment, is intended as a sign of my closeness to each one of you, and of the fraternal solidarity of the entire Church.

"The truth is that as a Christian community we are a single spiritual body", he added, "if one part suffers, all the others suffer too; if one part struggles to arise, all share in that effort. I must tell you that expressions of solidarity have reached me from all sides. Many high-ranking figures of the Orthodox Churches have written to assure me of their prayers and spiritual solidarity, also sending economic aid".

The Pope continued by underlining "the value and importance of solidarity which, though chiefly demonstrated at moments of crisis, is like a fire hidden under the embers. Solidarity is a highly civic and Christian sentiment, a measure of the maturity of a society. In practical terms it is expressed in aid work, but it not merely an efficient organisational machine; it has a soul and a passion which arise from the great civil and Christian history of our people, whether it takes an institutional form or is expressed through volunteer work.

"The tragic earthquake calls the civil community and the Church to profound reflection", said the Holy Father. At Easter, he went on, "we celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ, bringing your pain to our minds and hearts, and praying that those affected would not lose their trust in God and their hope. The civil community must also undertake a serious examination of conscience, and ensure it always shoulders its responsibilities. On this basis L'Aquila, though wounded, will arise once more".

Benedict XVI concluded his words by invoking the protection of Our Lady of Roio, much venerated in the local area, for "all localities affected by the earthquake" and, having sung the Regina Coeli, placed a golden rose at the foot of her statue.

Fire department rescue crews stand near the relic of Pope Celestino V as Pope Benedict XVI visits the St. Maria of Collemaggio church collapsed on April 6 after the earthquake in L'Aquila, April 28, 2009.


The Pope's prayer after the jump: It is quite beautiful.

r1745813036.jpgFrom CNS:

We entrust our loved ones to you, Lord,
Knowing that you never take the lives of your faithful, but transform them,
And that at the moment the dwelling places of this our earthly exile are destroyed,
You prepare an eternal and immortal one for us in paradise.
Holy Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
Hear the cry of pain and of hope
That rises from this community harshly tied by the earthquake.
It is the silent cry of the blood of mothers, fathers, young people
And also innocent little ones that rises up from this land.
They have been snatched from the affection of their loved ones,
Welcome them all into your peace, Lord, who is God-with-us,
Who is the Love able to give life without end.
We need you and your strength
Because we feel small and fragile in the face of death;
Help us, we pray, because only your support
Can help us get up and, with trust, take each other's hands,
And start out again on the journey of life.
We ask you this through Jesus Christ, our savior,
In whom shines the hope of the blessed resurrection. Amen.

Pope Benedict XVI to Abruzzo: Keep hope

Monday, April 27, 2009


It is the weblog of Holy Rosary Parish in Alaska....really interesting for you guys who have never been to "The Great Land".

I've learned...By Andy Rooney

They're written by Andy Rooney , a man who has the gift of saying so much with so few words. Enjoy....... I've learned...

Sunday, April 26, 2009


The Israel Ministry of Tourism has announced a new website dedicated to Pope Benedict XVI’s first Papal visit to the Holy Land due to be launched on April 15th this year.

The user-friendly mini-site will be available in seven languages and feature background information, photographs and video footage related to Christian holy sites in Israel as well as detailed information on the Pope’s itinerary and trip highlights.

“The new website will help satisfy the influx of telephone and email inquiries from across Canada requesting information on the Pope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” commented Oded Grofman, Consul for Tourism and Director, Israel Government Tourist Office - Canada. “Israel anticipates thousands of Canadian Catholics and other Christians across the world to follow in the Pope’s footsteps and travel to the Holy Land this spring.”

Benedict XVI's Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a mission of peace and reconciliation: “I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to ask the Lord, while visiting the places sanctified by His earthly life, for the precious gift of unity and peace, for the Middle East and for all humanity.”

His Holiness defined his pilgrimage to the Holy Land as a visit to the birthplace of the Christian faith: “I am preparing to visit Israel, a land which is holy for Christians as well as Jews, since the roots of our faith are to be found there. Indeed, the Church draws its sustenance from the root of that good olive tree, the people of Israel, onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles (cf. Rom 11: 17-24). From the earliest days of Christianity, our identity and every aspect of our life and worship have been intimately bound up with the ancient religion of our fathers in faith.”2

The Pontiff’s pilgrimage will take him to Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem.

Jerusalem is a sparkling jewel. At its outskirts are Bethlehem and the hallowed Church of the Nativity, Ein Karem, associated with Saint John the Baptist, and Bethany, home of Mary and Martha.

The holy places mentioned in the Gospels come to life in Jerusalem, and pilgrims can see and visit them all, for example, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Kidron Valley.

Jesus' final path - the Via Dolorosa – is commemorated in the enchanting Old City, as is the site of His Resurrection, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Inside the Old City walls stands the holy Western Wall of the Jewish Temple, yearning for the Heavens. The Old City also houses Muslim shrines, such as the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Nazareth, the Flower of the Galilee, is the site of The Basilica of Annunciation and its famous Grotto.

“And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Lk. 1: 30-31)*

Nazareth and the surrounding areas are overflowing with churches and archeological excavations related to the boyhood and ministry of Jesus Christ. Just outside Nazareth is Precipice Mountain, where a mob attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff:

“And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.” (Lk. 4:29) *

The Pontiff’s visit to Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority) in Jerusalem is another expression of his solidarity with the Jewish people and his acknowledgement of the horrors of the Holocaust.

“As I affectionately renew the expression of my full and unquestionable solidarity with our fellow receivers of the First Covenant, I hope that the memory of the Shoah will lead humanity to reflect upon the unfathomable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man.”

Hopes for the Pope

By Akiva Eldar

In a few weeks' time several dozen Catholics, perhaps 100, will travel the checkpoint route from the Gaza Strip to Bethlehem in the West Bank in order to greet Pope Benedict XVI. The pope will not go to them; they will come to him - assuming that Israel keeps its word and permits them to leave the besieged Strip for several hours. In a recent letter to the Vatican 40 prominent Christians from the territories begged the Holy See to add Gaza City to the Pope's itinerary. They want to show him and the dozens of cameras that will record his visit the destruction left by Israel in the city. They know that Israel will present the pictures from the President's Residence and from the Pope's meeting with the prime minister as a seal of approval from the head of the Catholic Church for Operation Cast Lead. Millions of Muslims the world over, including most of the Palestinians living in the territories, will examine every word the Pope says during the masses he holds here. His insult to the Prophet Mohammed at the start of his tenure is still fresh in their minds.

The visit's organizers insist that the Pope has no intention of mixing politics and religion, and that all he wants is to make a pilgrimage to the Christian holy places and to deliver words of peace and conciliation at them. The wounds of the embarrassing slipup surrounding Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson have not entirely healed, and the anti-Semite hunters in the Jewish world will be on the alert for every word that the Pope utters in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth. But silence would be interpreted as ignoring, or even accepting, the situation of the Christian community in the territories (which numbers about 40,000, including about 10,000 Catholics).

Like the Muslim majority, the Christian minority will soon be marking 42 years under the Israeli occupation. For more than eight years, since the outbreak of the intifada, they have been forced to wait at the checkpoints with everyone else, and the vast majority are not permitted to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the other holy sites in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The heads of the churches, monasteries and seminaries complain that the Israeli authorities are less than generous in approving requests from students for the priesthood in Jordan and other Arab countries to come to the territories.

Experience from the visit of Pope John Paul II in March 2000, prior to the Second Intifada, teaches that there will be people ensuring that the visit of his successor will not end with prayers to God on high for peace to prevail once again in the Holy Land.

In the previous visit, during an interfaith encounter, then-Palestinian ambassador to the Vatican, Afif Safieh, shouted at then-chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. Afterward, during a press conference at Orient House in East Jerusalem, Safieh told the masses of reporters covering the visit that he was one of tens of thousands of Palestinians who were studying abroad in 1967 [when Israel occupied the West Bank in the Six-Day War] and have not been permitted to return to their homes since then. He called on the Pope to help to open the gates to Palestinian Christians who have been sentenced to exile.

Hanan Ashrawi, at the time a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, added that the Latin Church, which organized the mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, bowed to Israeli pressure and barred the participation of Palestinian leaders, Ashrawi among them. Faisal Husseini did not miss the opportunity to point to Israel's restrictions on the movement of Palestinians during the papal visit as proof of Jerusalem's being an occupied city.

Jewish to his kishkes

Father David Neuhaus, one of 15 members of the planning committee appointed by the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, is trying to avoid political minefields. On the eve of his appointment as head of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community last month, he bid farewell to his friends from Women in Black who demonstrate every Friday near the Prime Minister's Residence. Neuhaus, 47, a South African Jew who became a Catholic priest, also resigned regretfully from the steering committee of the human rights organization B'Tselem (but he wants people to know that during the disengagement from Gaza friends came to his church wearing orange ribbons, the symbol of opposition to the withdrawal).

Neuhaus immigrated to Israel on his own when he was 15. He studied at a Jerusalem boarding school and in 1978 he won first prize in a quiz on the history of Jewish settlement in Israel. He had already begun the process that ended, in the early 1990s, in his joining the Catholic Church. His parents, traditional Jews from Germany, suffered but respected his decision. The term "convert" makes him angry. He respects Jewish tradition and he celebrated the Passover seder with friends, religious Jews. "I have a very strong sensitivity for the Jewish roots of the Church, for its ongoing connection with the Jewish people and with Jesus' Jewish identity," Father Neuhaus said. He feels a part of Jewish, not only Israeli, society and culture: "It's in my kishkes," he said.

The Hebrew Speaking Catholic Vicariate in Israel has four centers: in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa and Be'er Sheva. It was founded in the early days of the state, with the arrival of mixed families from Central and Eastern Europe. Usually these were Catholic women who had married Jews and baptized their children. There were also clergy (Neuhaus: "Don't say 'priests.' In Judaism that has a negative connotation") who came in the wake of the Holocaust in order to cultivate solidarity and understanding with the Jewish people. There were also Jews who had converted to Christianity and who decided, after the Nazis "revealed" their Judaism to them, to begin a new life in Israel.

Over the years the number of Hebrew-speaking Catholics has decreased from 2,000 to 300. Many assimilated into Jewish life, while and others returned to their country of origin, usually the Commonwealth of Independent States and France. One reasons for leaving is the difficulty in giving their children a Christian education outside the Arab communities. At this rate, Father Neuhaus may be the last appointed leader of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in the Holy Land.

A Jew, a Catholic and a Druze

The Israeli liaison with the Vatican ahead of the Pope's visit is a 53-year-old Druze from Isfiya. Bahij Mansour exchanged a military career (deputy brigade commander with the rank of lieutenant colonel) for a diplomatic one (the first Druze ambassador to Angola). As head of the Foreign Ministry's religious affairs section he spends a significant part of his time negotiating with Vatican representatives over the status of the Church's many assets in Israel. The negotiations began with the 2002 Arrangements Bill, supplementary to the state budget, which requires Church institutions to pay taxes.

Mansour represents the official Israeli viewpoint, according to which a Church-owned hospital and guest house must pay property taxes. The Church argues that the revenues that Israel can expect from these institutions are negligible compared to the revenues from the Christian tourists who will accompany the Pope during his visit. The Church says that canceling the tax exemption not only represents a change to the status quo but could also bring down the Church. Church officials ask why the diplomatic agreement signed with the Church in 1993, that they had hoped would also solve the tax issue, has not yet been voted into law by the Knesset.

The dispute occasionally reaches undiplomatic tones. The Foreign Ministry would be happy to end the dispute that casts a shadow on relations with the Holy See before the Pope's visit.

Next week Mansour and his colleagues from the finance and the justice ministries will meet, for the umpteenth time, with Church legal experts. The chances that an agreement will be signed are not great.

Israel Shin Bet: 'Pope mobile' not good enough to protect pontiff

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

The Shin Bet security service does not want Pope Benedict XVI to use his so-called pope mobile in Nazareth next month, saying it may not be enough against any attack by radical Islamic groups. Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov will discuss the issue at Sunday's cabinet meeting.

The Holy See told the Israeli government that the pope wants to get as close as possible to his followers, so the Vatican hopes the pope will use the vehicle.

But the Shin Bet opposes this, citing pamphlets in Arab towns in the north calling for demonstrations during the visit. Other pamphlets by radical Islamists allegedly call for physical attacks on the pope. The Vatican said it understood the security concerns and wanted to find a solution.

The pontiff is due to arrive in Israel on May 11 for a four-day stay, which will include visits to the Palestinian Authority and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

He will visit Christian sites in Jerusalem and Nazareth, as well as Yad Vashem. The pope is also set to hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, who will be his official host.

Another factor raising concerns is the timing. It falls on May 14 - Nakba Day, when Palestinians mourn the events of 1948. The Shin Bet expects riots in the West Bank and over the Green Line.

The visit is only two weeks away, but several issues appear unresolved, notably security and financial arrangements. The Finance Ministry has only released 20 percent of its budget of NIS 43 million to other ministries.

The renovation of two Christian sites is not yet complete, including the church in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. Goats are currently kept in that area, which would prevent thousands of pilgrims from taking part in a mass.

The Tourism Ministry hopes to use the visit to promote pilgrimages to Israel, something Misezhnikov will stress to the cabinet ministers.

The previous pope, John Paul II, visited Israel in 2000. He was the pontiff to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, in 1994.

The Polish-born pontiff was also the first pope to visit a synagogue, in Rome in 1986.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is Benedict XVI a disastrous pope?

By George Plathottam

The recent reports in the media under the headline ‘Pope a Disaster: Vatican Insiders’ has shocked the catholic community which hold the pope in great esteem. That the media chose to write such an unsubstantiated and prejudiced report on an important person like the pope who is considered as the spiritual head of more than one billion Catholics across the world, was shocking. Would any newspaper or television channel carry similar stories on the Dalai Lama or other spiritual leaders of Hinduism?

Though the story first originated in a section of the highly anti-clerical Western media, the Indian media lapped it up and gave it wide publicity. Some reports which appeared in the Indian media were based on a story put out by the Press Trust of India (PTI), a news agency considered to be respected and reputed in the country. But what was intriguing is the boldness with which a headline like ‘Pope a Disaster: Vatican Insiders’ could be flashed on the newspapers and television channels in the country and elsewhere. More so because the headline itself boldly announced a bias and the story itself is from a journalistic point of view, an unverified, unsubstantiated one at that. Any journalist or editor worth his or her salt knows that a news report should be based on a reliable source and that the identity and the credibility of the source are integral to the quality of the news that is reported. Thus the sourcing of the news as unidentified ‘Vatican insiders’ not only violates journalistic ethics but smacks of prejudice.

Journalists in the past strictly adhered to the principle that news should be differentiated from views. One of the often-repeated journalistic maxim is: ‘Facts are sacred, but comment is free.’ One of the greatest strengths of the Indian press, considered more objective in comparison to the press in many of our neighbouring South Asian countries or Middle East, was its ability to maintain that hallowed distinction between news and views. Today with television channels and internet providing news round the clock, newspapers tend to adhere less to this time-honoured tradition of separating news and opinion.

The experienced and critical readers will distinguish the difference, but the non-discerning and casual readers are likely to be misled into thinking that opinion is news and vice versa. That category of readers and viewers being numerous, it does not behove well for the media to throw to the winds the maxim of maintaining judiciously the distinction between news and views.

The shift from this distinction to today’s increasing mix of views and news has come partly due to the weakening of the figure of the editor, as well as due to increasing bias and to some extend vested interests of individual reporters and corporate bodies that own the media. No doubt, it is unhealthy for media to have journalists, media persons as well as media organisations casting their shadow on the coverage as is increasingly being seen today.

Recently I was rather disconcerted to see a widely read and much respected newspaper whose main story on the front page was about its success as the largest circulated vernacular daily. Readers who subscribe to newspapers have to not only wade through heaps of ads but also endure a lot of self-promotion materials before they can put their finger on the important events of the day. With such narcissist tendencies becoming rampant in the media today, one is reminded of what a wag said: ‘News is what is written at the back of the advertisement.’

Now coming back to the issue of the report on the pope, it became obvious to any careful reader or viewer of the news that the media chose to throw to the winds this valued maxim of keeping news and views at arms length from each other. By doing so the media has sullied the profession of journalism by letting some people’s views masquerade as news.

In any reputed media it is not easy for cub reporters to come up with a story with a vague attribution to someone who cannot be identified, or the public at large. ‘Reliable sources’ , ‘highly placed officials’, ‘party insiders’, ‘sources close to the authorities’ – thus goes the list of vague attributions which journalists frequently use. But they hold no water. They litter our daily news reports, and readers, even the unhappy ones, tend to take them on their stride. But to authenticate a story, to get substantial, convincing, identifiable sources for it are the burden of the reporter. T

he veracity of a news item filed by a reporter is normally put through rigorous tests by several persons who exercise the role of gate-keeping functions in the media system such as sub editors and editors. One wonders whether such a process was applied in the case of the report concerning the pope.

Even if that process has been adhered to, there is hardly anything on the ground to prove that Pope Benedict XVI is a ‘disaster.’ Media reports have indicated elsewhere about his successful visits to Africa, where he drew crowds to the tune of one million. He has given to the people of the African continent reeling under various natural and human-made disasters, a new lease of life and hope. Pope Benedict chose to travel across to parts of this continent to speak of peace, development and solidarity. That he was cordially received and that his message was accepted by large sections of the people of Africa, albeit falsifications regarding his reference to AIDS and condom use, were evident in much of the footage that people across the world watched. His journeys, though much less than his predecessor, John Paul II’s, have been pilgrimages to confirm the faith of the people whose spiritual head he is, and to offer them a sense of being in communion with the universal church.

Then what is behind a report that tends to tarnish the good name of the pope and challenge his moral and spiritual leadership? One cannot deny the fact that a section of people in the West have strong liberal views on issues like gay marriage, divorce, abortion, use of condom. A new wave of atheism and godlessness is now sweeping Europe and America. Anti-clericalism is gaining a new momentum in sections of the society and the media. The traditional teachings of the church rooted on respect for life, family, and sacredness of marital unions are non-negotiable and the pope cannot dilute these perennial teachings of the church to suit popular feelings and sentiments.

Pope Benedict has simply reiterated the cardinal teachings of the church. He has frequently spoken against ethical relativism, moral laxity and godlessness. He has challenged the conscience of the world to rise above a narrow view of life steeped in consumerism and economic self sufficiency, to reach out to the people who reel under poverty and suffering. He has frequently called for responding to the many global challenges the world today faces by expressing greater solidarity and concern for the less fortunate. He has called for ending arms race, wars and conflicts in different parts of the world. It is not an understatement to say that the pope’s voice has been listened to by hundreds and thousands of people wherever he has spoken. In the St. Peter’s Square in Vatican, huge crowds come to listen to his teachings. Events like the World Youth Day in Sydney last year have shown the kind of esteem and love he enjoys among the young people.

Benedict’s predecessor John Paul II was a great globetrotter and crowd puller. He enjoyed great popular support and wide media coverage. He became the Time magazine’s Man of the Year twice during his pontificate spanning a quarter of a century, during which he led the church. John Paul II went down in history as the most photographed person and one who had the single largest live audience in human history. Soon after such a successful pontificate of John Paul II there were widespread doubts that the next pope would not enjoy that kind of acceptance and popularity. But history has shown that within a short period of time Benedict XVI has been listened to by millions of people across the world, and that his writings, his teachings and speeches have received raving reviews. Some commentators who compared the papacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI say that thousands came to see John Paul II, but today thousands come to hear Pope Benedict.

Pope Benedict continues to be a voice that is listened to. And his is a voice that reassures to the one billion Catholics all over the world as well as to millions of others the need to live a life rooted in God. His voice is a call to adhere to the perennial values of respect for life, option for the poor, charity towards the less privileged. If the pope calls the world to give up ethical relativism and moral laxity in their personal and social life, he is simply being the voice of Christ’s gospel. After all, another name by which the pope is known is ‘the Vicar of Christ.’

No doubt such a message can be uncomfortable for people who seek to live their lives on their own terms in the name of freedom. It is a teaching that is hard to follow, and so, it maybe considered convenient to forsake it, throw it to the winds, and blame the one who continuously harps on the need to live a life rooted in ethical, moral values. Those who are disconcerted and disturbed by that message would find it easy to throw the baby with the bathe water, to paint the pope as a disaster because his teachings and writings disturb the conscience of the world, because it is too hard a teaching to follow.

Reactions against the report that tried to diminish the moral stature of the pope by calling him a disaster has been coming from different parts of the world. Catholics as well as many religious and political leaders have reaffirmed their faith and confidence in the leadership of Pope Benedict. Last May, I had the privilege of being in the Vatican and listening to him during an audience he gave to the representatives of Catholic media faculties from across the world. His warmth and cordiality, the timelines and relevance of his message, his conviction that came through his speech, were clear indications that Pope Benedict has a vision for the world in our times. The learned professors and scholars from more than 50 universities did not find anything that could suggest signs of disaster in him. They had no hesitation in discerning the voice of a man who knows well the church he leads and the needs of the world today.

When confronted by moral and ethical relativism, the teaching office of the pope, called the Magisterium, has been a sure source of anchor for many people. Often the pope, like other renowned world leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, have been considered the moral conscience keepers of the world, urging world leaders and the masses to look beyond what is immediate, to seek the things that can bring about lasting peace and harmony in the world. Their voices are being listened to even to liberate the world from issues like poverty and war and even the current financial crisis that is plaguing the world.

A Norwegian friend of mine, a great scholar with a doctorate in linguistics and a person with a well-grounded knowledge of the Bible, a Lutheran by faith, chose to embrace the Catholic faith. He has been reading and studying much on the Catholic church and it took two years of preparation before he finally embraced Catholic faith and was formally admitted into it. When asked what drew him to the Catholic faith, he told me that he was deeply impressed by the teaching authority of the church in the Magisterium of the Catholic church headed by the pope. He admitted that he was quite uncomfortable with the idea of interpreting the teachings of the Bible by oneself, but felt assured that there is a consistent, continuous and authoritative teaching authority in the Catholic church.

Today more and more people are tending to look for a sure voice that they can rely on, a firm, convincing moral and ethical guide that can show the way. For the one billion Catholics in almost every part of the world as well as a much wider populace, the voice of the pope is a sane, sure, reliable voice one can trust. Macaulay, the renowned historian, in a review on Ranke’s Ecclesiastical and political History of the Popes published in 1840 wrote these memorable words on the enduring nature of the Church and the papacy:

“There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic church. The history of that church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre.

The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour.

The Catholic church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustine, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching.

She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.”

George Plathottam is a writer based in India who writes on media matters. This article is adapted from Indian Currents.

Evaluating Benedict: four views:

Four years ago today Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope, leader of the world's 1.13 billion Roman Catholics

John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet (1982-2003)

"The initial phase of Benedict’s pontificate appeared to be guided by his intention of uniting the Church around the figure of Jesus Christ. The love of God – that was to be the theme. A very important move was his inviting the Swiss critical theologian Hans Küng to Castel Gandolfo.

But this has since looked like an isolated gesture towards a former colleague. Since then, Benedict’s concern has been weighted towards the traditionalists in the church and not at all towards the progressives.

He is very different from his predecessor. John Paul II was a man of the market place, Benedict is a man of the library. He has done some great things. Deus Caritas Est, his encyclical on the love of God was very daring theologically, though abstract. His journey to the United States was a great success and the journey to Africa generated huge enthusiasm there, though sadly the reporting of it was overshadowed by the gaffe about condoms.

But he appears to be speaking from a place of isolation. He’s a brilliant intellectual, head and shoulders above most people around him. He knows it and they know it. So they don’t say anything much to him, and he does not appear to communicate much with them. Senior colleagues such as Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Schönborn have complained publicly that they were not consulted over the recent initiative towards the Lefebvrist traditionalists, including the Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson.

Benedict’s troubles point to the unfinished work of Vatican II. One great advance of that reforming Council was the doctrine of collegiality, which puts the Pope and bishops at the centre of church government and not the Pope and the Roman Curia. This has not been implemented at all. On the contrary, John Paul II hugely increased the centralised control. The record under Benedict shows that this just isn’t working.

In his extraordinary letter to the world’s bishops in March after the Williamson debacle, Benedict said that he had learned lessons. Will we see him change his governing style?"

Sir Stephen Wall, Principal Advisor to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 2004 – 2005

"Pope Benedict was chosen out of caution. A Church that had been rocked by a scandal of devastating moral corruption opted for "a safe pair of hands". But Cardinal Ratzinger was an academic theologian and bureaucratic disciplinarian. He had little pastoral experience and he has proved accident-prone. His theological pronouncements have been inaccessible, his comments on other faiths provocative and his views on sexual morality a mixture of the extreme and bizarre. He has lost credibility and his papacy will not recover."

Luke Coppen, editor of The Catholic Herald

“It’s tempting to judge the first four years of Benedict XVI’s papacy entirely in terms of his tortured relationship with the Western media. But I suspect that in 100 years that will only be a historical footnote. He’s more likely to be remembered as the Pope who steered the Barque of Peter courageously out of the storms that followed the Second Vatican Council. His major decisions – the liberation of the traditional Mass, the lifting the SSPX excommunications – are fiercely misunderstood today but look ahead to an era in which Roman Catholics no longer spend their energies on internal battles but rather draw on the best of their tradition to present the Gospel convincingly to a sceptical world.”

William Oddie, author of John Paul the Great, the Maker of the Post Conciliar Church

"Everyone supposed that Pope Benedict would be very like the hardline Panzer Kardinal we were supposed to have at the CDF. He never was that but it was his job to say no so that John Paul II could say yes.

As soon as he became Pope his first encyclical was all about love, everyone was bowled over by it and supposed, because he was talking about the love of God, that he must have become liberal like them. But he was always the same Ratzinger, and was always going to emerge as the defender of Roman Catholic tradition that all Popes are supposed to be.

The secular press imagine on a story like condoms in Africa for example that that what the Pope says represents his personal views. But Popes don’t have personal views. So when the Pope said that condoms were not going to solve the AIDS crisis he was simply taking the Catholic view that the real root of the problem was promiscuity. (Some completely secular authorities have supported the Pope’s analysis)

The view of George Weigel (the official biographer of John Paul II) is that what Benedict needs is a Roman Revolution in the Curia. Incompetents who land him in it again and again surround Pope Benedict. It is really not the Pope’s job to scan the internet to google people like Bishop Williamson.

What he needs [in his press office] is a rapid reaction unit — like that Clinton had — to deal with misaphrehensions in the secular press. It should be ready to deal with inaccurate distorted reporting of off the cuff remarks made about by the Pope in the Church, and issue rebuttals on day one, not two or three weeks later.

However despite this, Pope Benedict XVI will go down as one of the great Popes in history. He’s safeguarded what he inherited from John Paul II, the recovery of a general understanding of the objective character of Roman Catholic truth. What is required now is for a whole generation of bishops to die and to be replaced by faithful and orthodox pastors.

He has established the principle of what he calls the hermeneutic of continuity and has shown that there is no serious conflict between the present and the tradition of the Church before Vatican II. That is his great achievement."

Bible can only be understood with the Church, Pope tells scholars

.- On Thursday morning, Pope Benedict addressed representatives of the Pontifical Biblical Commission following their plenary assembly and said that a correct understanding of Scripture does not come from "the individualistic illusion that biblical texts can be better understood outside the community of believers" but rather rises from the Tradition of the Church.

"Inspiration and truth in the Bible," the theme of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s plenary assembly, is one that touches on a topic that biblical scholars have vigorously debated during the last century. Much of biblical scholarship, Catholic and non-Catholic, has developed into an academic study separated from the living memory of the Church.

This morning the Pope received thirty representatives of the Pontifical Biblical Commission who just held their full assembly, under the leadership of Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Benedict XVI began by underlining the importance of the chosen theme, which "concerns not only believers, but the Church herself, because the Church's life and mission necessarily rest upon the Word of God … ."

Recalling that the Constitution 'Dei Verbum' (The Word of God) affirmed that God is the author of the Bible, and that in Sacred Scripture God speaks to mankind in a human manner, the Holy Father laid out the three criteria that the Second Vatican Council prescribed for correctly interpreting Scripture.

"For a correct interpretation of Scripture we must, then, carefully examine what the hagiographers really sought to say and what God was pleased to reveal with their words," he explained.

First, "Sacred Scripture is one by virtue of the unity of God's plan, of which Jesus Christ is the center and the heart."

Second, "Scripture must be read in the context of the living Tradition of the entire Church. ... In her Tradition the Church carries the living memory of the Word of God, and it is the Holy Spirit Who provides her with the interpretation thereof in accordance with its spiritual meaning.

"The third criterion concerns the need to pay attention to the analogy of the faith; that is, to the cohesion of the individual truths of faith, both with one another and with the overall plan of Revelation and the fullness of the divine economy enclosed in that plan."

The task of scholars, the Holy Father said, "is to contribute, following the above-mentioned principles, to a more profound interpretation and exposition of the meaning of Sacred Scripture."

Pope Benedict, himself an academic, also warned Catholic biblical scholars that the study of Sacred Scripture cannot be reduced to a purely academic exercise but must involve a perception of "the Word of God in these texts."

"The interpretation of Sacred Scriptures cannot be a merely an individual academic undertaking, but must always be compared with, inserted into, and authenticated by the living Tradition of the Church.

"This norm is essential in order to ensure a correct and reciprocal exchange between exegesis and Church Magisterium," the Pope stated.

But the Holy Father went further, offering a corrective reminder to biblical scholars, saying, "Catholic exegetes do not nourish the individualistic illusion that biblical texts can be better understood outside the community of believers. The opposite is true, because these texts were not given to individual scholars 'to satisfy their curiosity or to provide them with material for study and research'. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the community of believers, to the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and to guide the life of charity."

The Pontiff also summarized the Church's understanding of Scripture and Tradition.

"Sacred Scripture is the Word of God in that it is written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Tradition, on the other hand, integrally transmits the Word of God as entrusted by Christ the Lord and by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and their successors so that they, illuminated by the Spirit of truth, could faithfully conserve, explain and spread it through their preaching."

Benedict XVI closed his address to the commission by emphasizing the need to harmonize the Magisterium and academic scholarship. "Only within the ecclesial context can Sacred Scripture be understood as the authentic Word of God which is guide, norm and rule for the life of the Church and the spiritual development of believers. This means rejecting all interpretations that are subjective or limited to mere analysis [and hence] incapable of accepting the global meaning which, over the course of the centuries, has guided the Tradition of the entire people of God."

On life issue, Cardinal George says Obama on 'wrong side of history'

By Peter Finney Jr.

KENNER, La. (CNS) -- President Barack Obama is a "very gracious and obviously a very smart man" but he is on the "wrong side of history" when it comes to his fervent support of abortion rights, Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George told the 2009 Louisiana Priests Convention April 21.

Cardinal George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told 200 priests from the seven dioceses of Louisiana that, while he wants Obama to succeed in his efforts to right the economy, enhance world peace and help the poor, the president needs to understand that the Catholic Church will not allow the life issue to be abandoned.

In a question-and-answer session that followed his keynote speech to priests on offering compassionate ministry to people who are hurting, Cardinal George offered a candid assessment of his 30-minute meeting with the president at the White House March 18.

"I think on the life issue he's on the wrong side of history," the cardinal said. "I think he has his political debts to pay, and so he's paying them."

Cardinal George said his conversation with the president was polite but substantive.

"It's hard to disagree with him because he'll always tell you he agrees with you," he said. "Maybe that's political. I think he sincerely wants to agree with you. You have to say, again and again, 'No, Mr. President, we don't agree (on abortion).' But we can agree on a lot, and we do, and that's why there is so much hope. I think we have to pray for him every day."

Cardinal George said he told the president he was concerned about his decision to rescind the Mexico City policy, which resulted in providing taxpayer money to fund abortion overseas.

"He said we weren't exporting abortion," the cardinal said. "I said, 'Yes we are.' He would say, 'I know I have to do certain things here. ... But be patient and you'll see the pattern will change.' I said, 'Mr. President, you've given us nothing but the wrong signals on this issue.' So, we'll see, but I'm not as hopeful now as I was when he was first elected."

The church and the president find common ground on supporting social programs that lift up the poor, but Cardinal George said on the issue of abortion, "I think we're up against something a little bit like slavery."

"These are members of the human family, genetically individuated, (with) a human father and a human mother," he said. "What their legal status is, of course, you can debate, and we have. ... John Paul II says you cannot simply live comfortably with an immoral legal system, any more than you could live comfortably with slavery, and therefore you have to work to change the law.

"It's a society-dividing issue, and on this issue, we're with Abraham Lincoln and he's with Stephen Douglas, and he doesn't like to hear that, but that's where he is."

The cardinal was referring to the seven debates held in 1858 between Lincoln and his opponent for an Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate. Slavery was the main issue discussed in all of the debates.

If even the incremental restrictions on abortion -- such as the ban on partial-birth abortion or parental notification laws -- are rolled back, Cardinal George said pro-life advocates could feel desperate because they fear "abortion will be a human right, and of course, if it's a human right, it can't be qualified."

Cardinal George said Pope John Paul II, with the help of Muslim and Latin American countries, successfully fought the Clinton administration's efforts to declare abortion a fundamental "human right" at the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo, Egypt.

"Whether or not the present pope will be able to do this a generation later, I don't know, because we're going to be faced with it again," the cardinal said. "But you can't go on indefinitely. For 80 years we were a slave republic, and it took a terrible war to end that. And now for 40 years we're in an abortion regime, and I'm not sure how that's going to end."

UN conference was exploited for extremist remarks, says Vatican rep

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An international conference dedicated to combating racism unfortunately was used as a platform for taking "extreme and offensive political positions the Holy See deplores and rejects," said the chief Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

The Durban Review Conference was meant to be an "occasion to set aside mutual difference and mistrust; reject once more any theory of racial or ethnic superiority; and renew the international community's commitment to the elimination of all expressions of racism," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.

While the work of the April 20-24 conference took a step forward in combating racism, it "has unfortunately been used to utter extreme and offensive political positions," which do not contribute to dialogue, "provoke unacceptable conflicts, and in no way can be approved or shared," he told conference participants in Geneva April 22. The Vatican released a copy of the archbishop's remarks late that same day.

The archbishop was referring to remarks Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made about Israel at the U.N.-sponsored conference April 20.

Ahmadinejad said that Israel had "resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering" and had established a "totally racist government in the occupied
Palestine." His comments prompted a temporary walkout by dozens of diplomats in attendance.

The U.N. conference, which was a follow-up meeting to examine a statement adopted in 2001 at the U.N.'s first conference on racism held in Durban, South Africa, was being boycotted by the United States, Canada and several other Western countries. The boycott stemmed from fears the Geneva conference would provide a platform to critics of Israel.

Archbishop Tomasi underlined the Vatican's position, which also had been expressed by Pope Benedict XVI April 19, that participation in the conference was an important way to promote concrete measures to prevent and eliminate every form of racism and intolerance.

The reason most countries chose to participate in the conference and not walk out was a desire to make progress in eliminating old and new forms of racism, said the archbishop.

U.N. officials said that the text under consideration in Geneva was revised in recent months, and the latest draft does not include references to Israel or Zionism.

Archbishop Tomasi told Catholic News Service April 20 that much more significant than Ahmadinejad's speech were the real advances made in the draft conference document, which recognizes the Holocaust as something not to be forgotten and condemns anti-Semitism as well as intolerance against other religions.

In his speech April 22 to U.N. delegates, the archbishop said racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance "are evils that corrode the social fabric of society and produce innumerable victims."

"Combating racism is a necessary and indispensable prerequisite for the construction of governance, sustainable development, social justice, democracy and peace in the world," he said.

Coming together to share ideas and implement recommendations "is the duty and responsibility of everyone," he said.

Archbishop Tomasi said education, the media and faith-based communities play an instrumental role in helping shape mentalities and consciences that are free from fear and prejudice against others.

He also expressed the Vatican's alarm at "the still latent temptation of eugenics that can be fueled by techniques of artificial procreation and the use of 'superfluous embryos.'"

"The possibility of choosing the color of the eyes or other physical characteristic of a child could lead to the creation of a 'subcategory of human beings' or the elimination of human beings that do not fulfill the characteristics predetermined by a given society," he said.

He also warned against the introduction of "excessive measures and practices" in the legitimate fight against terrorism.

Efforts for greater security should never exacerbate people's irrational fear of foreigners or undermine the protection and promotion of human rights, he said.

Bishop: Notre Dame invitation to Obama has led to 'terrible breach'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Saying that the president of the University of Notre Dame has offered "a flawed justification" for the decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree at commencement, the local bishop urged action to "heal the terrible breach which has taken place between Notre Dame and the church."

Bishop John M. D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., said in an April 21 statement that his office has received "over 3,300 messages of shock, dismay and outrage" about the university's plans to honor Obama, "and they are still coming in."

The bishop -- in whose diocese Notre Dame is located -- said Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, university president, had erred in saying that the U.S. bishops' document on "Catholics in Political Life" did not apply in this case.

The 2004 document states: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

Critics of Obama said his support of legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research make him an inappropriate choice to be commencement speaker at a Catholic university.

Father Jenkins has said the invitation to Obama "should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life, including abortion and embryonic stem-cell research."

But Bishop D'Arcy, who has said he will boycott the May 17 commencement, said the public outcry shows that the invitation "has, in fact, scandalized many Catholics and other people of good will."

"It seems that the action in itself speaks so loudly that people have not been able to hear the words of Father Jenkins, and, indeed, the action has suggested approval to many," he added.

"It would be one thing to bring the president here for a discussion on health care or immigration, and no person of good will could rightly oppose this," Bishop D'Arcy said. "We have here, however, the granting of an honorary degree of law to someone whose activities, both as president and previously, have been altogether supportive of laws against the dignity of the human person yet to be born."

The bishop criticized Father Jenkins for consulting with other university presidents and other bishops about the interpretation of "Catholics in Political Life" while failing to consult "his own bishop who ... is the teacher and lawgiver in his own diocese."

"If there was any genuine questions or doubt about the meaning of the relevant sentence in the conference's document, any competent canonist with knowledge of the tradition and love for Christ's church had responsibility to inform Father Jenkins of the fundamental principle that the diocesan bishop alone bears the responsibility to provide an authoritative interpretation," he said.

Bishop D'Arcy pledged to "work with Father Jenkins and all at Notre Dame to heal the terrible breach which has taken place between Notre Dame and the church."

"It cannot be allowed to continue," he added. "I ask all to pray that this healing will take place in a way that is substantial and true, and not illusory. Notre Dame and Father Jenkins must do their part if this healing is to take place. I will do my part."

Asked to comment on the bishop's statement, Dennis Brown, university spokesman, said, "As always, we will continue to speak privately with Bishop D'Arcy on this and other matters."

Catholic coalition seeks to influence outcome of climate-change bill

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Led by a coalition of more than a dozen Catholic organizations, religious communities are ramping up efforts to ensure that the legislative debate on climate change beginning April 22 in Congress will not overlook the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

The effort of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change and the National Religious Partnership on the Environment came as the House Energy and Commerce Committee opened hearings on a clean energy bill.

The Catholic coalition unveiled the Catholic Climate Covenant, a wide-ranging climate-change campaign, during a nationwide teleconference April 21.

Aimed largely at Catholics in the country's 19,000 parishes and 6,250 elementary schools, the campaign integrates the traditional Catholic practice of prayer with specific actions meant to reduce an individual's carbon footprint on the world while influencing public policy.

Several coalition leaders said specific steps involve lobbying Congress and state legislatures about the need to pass prudent legislation that takes into account the needs of the common good, specifically the poor whom they say are affected most by climate change.

While noting that the effort revolves around prayer and reflection, John Carr, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and coalition chairman, acknowledged that working within the political arena will be a necessary part of the campaign's work.

"For us, the moral message on climate-change legislation is how it treats the least of these," he explained. "We're making that case on Capitol Hill and now we're making that case across the country.

"There is going to be a huge debate, in fact a struggle ... and our voice is going to be that voice that puts the poor first."

Carr said coalition representatives have met with Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat chairing the hearings in the House, and "found a very receptive audience" to the concerns they raised.

Kathy Brown, senior director for mission at Catholic Charities USA, said during the teleconference that the agency has convened its diocesan Catholic Charities agencies in California to begin discussions on the need for legislative action in the one of the nation's largest greenhouse gas states. The plan is to build a broad coalition to influence environmental policy, she said.

Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., honorary chairman of the campaign, said the campaign is "an urgent call with an urgent message."

"The effort is important because it brings Catholics together around who we are, what we already do, what we believe and how we can impact the consequences of climate change," he said.

The campaign is being introduced at a time when a majority of Catholics believe that climate change is a serious problem, according to pollster John Zogby.

Speaking from Prague, Czech Republic, during the teleconference, Zogby said 55 percent of the 1,001 Catholics polled between March 30 and April 14 believed global warming and climate change were serious problems. The poll found that 60 percent of respondents felt that climate change must be addressed immediately even if not everything is known about it.

The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus 3.2 percent.

The campaign was introduced as the nation prepared to observe Earth Day to motivate Catholics to make necessary changes in their lives to reduce their carbon footprint on the planet, said Daniel Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.

As part of the rollout, the campaign placed ads in the April 21 editions of 10 metropolitan daily newspapers, including The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the San Antonio Express-News.

Some of the ads were aimed at specific congressional districts whose representatives hold key votes in Congress, Misleh said.

The ads depict a footprint and the image of a poor mother and her child with the message "Who's under your carbon footprint?"

Ads also will appear in Catholic publications nationwide during the next several weeks, Misleh added.

The $100,000 ad effort was funded through the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, to which the USCCB belongs. Other members include the National Council of Churches of Christ, the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life, and the Evangelical Environment Network.

The covenant focuses on urging individuals to sign on to the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor. The pledge is billed as "a promise and a commitment" to honor God's creation and stand with poor people through prayers, education, the assessment of individual lives, action to change choices and behaviors, and advocacy for Catholic principles in climate-change discussions.

President Barack Obama has challenged Congress to pass clean-energy legislation by the end of the year to show the world that the United States is leading the way to combat climate change.

The draft bill before Waxman's committee would cut emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and boost reliance on renewable energy sources.

Jordanian prince sees pope's visit offering hope to Arab people

By Doreen Abi Raad
Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan -- Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the Middle East can serve as an opportunity to build hope among Arabs while broadening interreligious understanding, said Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal.

Speaking with Catholic News Service, the prince said the May 8-11 papal visit "should not be seen as a passing, calming serene visit that is transient or just another visit to the region, but should rather focus in our minds that we can revive the heritage of trust and good faith" that Catholics and Muslims share.

In an extensive interview in advance of Pope Benedict's visit, Prince Hassan said he has high hopes for the trip.

"There is a sort of combination of hope, expectation and nostalgia for a golden age -- for a Camelot, if you will -- which I think invites Arabs to hope for a better future when such a visit takes place, as with many other visits the pope has made to other parts of the world," the prince told CNS.

Pope Benedict's visit to Jordan will be part of an eight-day trek to the Middle East that includes several days in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The trip comes against the backdrop of wide separations along ethnic, sectarian and class lines among people in the region, as well as a rapidly mounting exodus of upper middle-class Palestinians because of violence and strict laws governing their movement. The outward migration is taking much-needed skills and talent from the region, Prince Hassan said.

The prince expressed a desire that people would begin to move from a position of "war against ... something" such as intolerance, racial hatred, anti-Semitism or fear of Islam to "a struggle for something."

"In that sense, I have the greatest hope that the visit of the pope, His Holiness, could be a major step in visualizing a struggle for a law of peace," Prince Hassan said.

He said he also would like to see the visit focus on the religious impact of culture. The prince said culture is not sustainable without recognizing its religious roots and how it influences the defense of peace, social justice, human rights and global concerns.

"My fear is that culture and religion remain an afterthought to security and the economy," he said. "Security is not worth the name if it's not built on human beings. Because it is human beings who are the prime movers of security or insecurity.

"Whatever label we carry -- Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist -- at the end of the day we are human beings."

Pope Benedict and Prince Hassan have met several times. The prince met then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at the time was the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 1993. The future pope gave the prince an edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at that encounter.

"In subsequent conversations," Prince Hassan recalled, "we spoke of values, ethics and morals."

Both were among the co-founders in 1999 of the Geneva-based Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue.

The prince -- who won the 2008 Niwano prize for religious contributions to peace -- has long been a leading proponent of interfaith dialogue. The 62-year-old brother of Jordan's late King Hussein is founder of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies based in Amman and president emeritus of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, an international organization that promotes peace through cooperation and dialogue. He also has authored nine books, including "Christianity in the Arab World" and "To Be a Muslim: Islam, Peace and Democracy."

Prince Hassan's experience in interfaith affairs has helped him see the value of dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths. He said he hopes people of the Middle East will seek stronger understanding through the numerous areas in which faiths converge rather than resort to violence over their differences.

The prince called for "a law of peace" to replace "a law of war" in the world. He suggested that a "courageous step" for peace could be taken by the world's religious leaders if they would meet in Jerusalem.

"I think there is a feeling among the majority of people in this part of the world that the hatred industry is winning, and this causes a lot of discomfort and a lot of anxiety," Prince Hassan said. "The visit, such as that of His Holiness the pope, is reassuring.

"We have to believe in a compassionate God, a wise God. This is what I would hope that the compassionate and wise symbol of our times -- His Holiness the pope -- can bring to the region," he said.

Cardinal attends anniversary of Greek Orthodox Bishop

ardinal Seán P. O’Malley attended April 8 the 25th Anniversary Celebration of His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios’ enthronement as Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston.

The event was attended by a number of people including the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America -- Archbishop Demetrios, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Rev. Jack Johnson, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.

At the event, Archbishop Demetrios underscored the Metropolitan’s efforts in building relationships with other Christians for the sake of unity, and particularly the importance of the relationship with the Catholic Church in Boston.

Cardinal O’Malley also spoke, emphasizing the need and the hope that these two Churches, Orthodox and Catholic, might again be one, as they were for the first thousand years of Christianity.

Appraisal of Benedict XVI’s first ‘term’ in office

It’s the equivalent of an American presidential term since Joseph Ratzinger became Pope. But if he had to run for re-election, would he get the popular vote? David Williamson runs the rule over the first four years of Pope Benedict XVI’s reign

FOUR years have passed since Pope Benedict XVI was inaugurated and he remains as enigmatic a figure as when he first appeared on the papal balcony and blessed an audience of thousands.

If Popes had to fight elections like US presidential candidates, he would have just come off the campaign trail with a fresh mandate and manifesto.

But pontiffs are elected in secret and the job is for life.

However, a sense of fragility surrounds the papacy. The 82-year-old is rarely out of the headlines, but often because of high-profile PR disasters.

Four years ago he announced he wanted his leadership to be a time of “reconciliation and harmony”.

However, many Muslims were outraged in 2006 when he quoted from a 1391 text which described Islam’s contribution to the world as “evil and inhuman”.

This year he moved to end the excommunication of a group of bishops, one of whom it transpired was a Holocaust denier.

Comparisons with his predecessor John Paul II can seem stark and tragic. The Polish Pope harnessed the power of the photo-op to inspire the imaginations of millions, especially those who lived under Communism.

In contrast, Pope Benedict is an acclaimed writer and a premier league theologian with grand ambitions who has struggled to adapt to the scrutiny of rolling news – as shown recently in the confusion surrounding comments on the role of condoms in fighting Aids in Africa.

To some, recent fiascos are symptomatic of a hopelessly unreformed Vatican.

His former theological colleague, Hans Küng, recently said: “The Pope doesn’t even have a cabinet or government to advise him. The Pope decides and does everything himself, on his own.

“That’s no way to govern in the 21st century...We’re stuck in an absolutist system comparable to the court of Louis IV.”

Nevertheless, Mark Greaves, deputy editor of the Catholic Herald, believes that if Pope Benedict had to stand for election the majority of the world’s Catholics would return him to the Vatican.

He said: “I think Catholics around the world would re-vote him in because even though there have been a few PR disasters, among Catholics he’s ge nerally hugely admired and loved... He’s a beautiful writer [and] he’s possibly the most intellectual and clever Pope there has been for a long time.”

Admitting that the Vatican’s communications were in urgent need of overhaul, he said: “Their press office is pretty terrible, really.”

But he said the perception of a church in Britain whose faithful are drifting away is not correct.

He said: “I think younger Catholics are generally seen as more committed... They are more orthodox and more likely to follow the church’s teaching than older Catholics.”

Catholic commentator Austen Ivereigh agrees that the Pope is a “brilliant” writer let down by a Vatican civil service which has resisted the appointment of a communication maestro on a par with John Paul II’s Joaquín Navarro- Valls.

However, Pope Benedict may be one of the few people in the world who can benefit from the credit crunch.

In the coming weeks he is expected to publish a major encyclical on global social challenges.

Mr Ivereigh said: “He has a great opportunity here in the midst of the greatest financial crisis and crisis of institutions since the 1930s. He has an opportunity to analyse that and give his diagnosis and prescription.

“If he messes that up I don’t think he’s got a second chance.”

An easy comparison can be drawn between Pope Benedict and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, another A-list theologian turned church leader who is regularly caught in media firestorms.

But while disputes over homosexuality have pushed the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism, the long-running Catholic controversies over priestly celibacy and the use of birth control within marriage rumble beneath the surface.

Monsignor Robert Reardon, of the Archdiocese of Cardiff, said: “None of us has a crystal ball and we are not into the foretelling of the future, but they aren’t issues that are going to go away.”

Monsignor Reardon believes the Pope is quietly striving to “embed faith within reason”. He sees this as a way of ensuring “religion and faith do have a place in the centre of human activity” and fostering church unity by bringing “extremes to the centre.”

As a Pope in the age of Google, Benedict XVI faces challenges his predecessors never imagined but opportunities of which they could not have dreamed. If his encyclical addresses the hopes and fears of millions in a unique moral voice, then the world may take notice of this labour of love.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan paid his first visit to the World Trade Center site

NEW YORK - The city's new archbishop knelt in prayer at ground zero Friday and said he felt "overwhelming sadness" at the site of the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan paid his first visit to the World Trade Center site and celebrated Mass at a church that once served as a staging area for emergency responders after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.

He spent about 15 minutes at a street-level platform overlooking the Sept. 11 memorial under construction, talking briefly with chairman Anthony Coscia and executive director Chris Ward of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Dolan then knelt and said a prayer, the same one Pope Benedict XVI gave during an April 2008 visit to the World Trade Center, where he also lighted a memorial candle and blessed the site with holy water.