Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Vatican hosts Iranian-Vatican study meeting

Rome, 29 April (AKI) - The sixth bilateral meeting between Vatican representatives and clerics from the Islamic Republic of Iran began on Tuesday.

"Faith and rationality" is the theme of this meeting.

The talks between prominent Iranian clerics and authoritative members of the Vatican hierarchy will conclude on Thursday.

The Iranian delegation is being led by Mehdi Mostafavi, the director of the Organisation for Islamic Culture and Communication, while Jean Louis Touran will be representing the Holy See.

The two sides also talked on Tuesday about "the necessity to resist the ever more frequent insults to monotheistic religions and prophets which are made by the press and irresponsible politicians."

Friday, 11 April 2008

Tour of Vatican splendours

Vatican Splendors from Saint Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Swiss Guard to open in Cleveland

Mosaic Fragment with Image of Saint Paul the Apostle ca. 799 (restored by G. B. Calandra in 1625) Mosaic. 59.7 x 39.7 x 9 cm. Vatican Museums, Vatican City State

CLEVELAND.-One of the largest collections of art, documents and historically significant objects from the Vatican ever to tour North America is coming to the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland beginning May 31, 2008, for a limited, exclusive regional engagement. Vatican Splendors from Saint Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Swiss Guard will present unique
objects illustrating the Vatican's impact on history and culture through 2,000 years. The timing of the exhibition commemorates the 500th anniversary of Saint Peter's Basilica, the founding of the Vatican Museums, Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the establishment of the Papal Swiss Guard.

"Vatican Splendors is visiting only three U.S. cities, so we feel very
fortunate to have it come here to Cleveland," said Dr. Gainor Davis,
president of the Western Reserve Historical Society. "Since such a large
percentage of Northeastern Ohio's population has Catholic roots, the
Society felt that this exhibition meshed perfectly with its ongoing mission
to educate our residents about the origins of their history, culture and
traditions. People will be able to see some of the world's greatest
treasures without having to travel to the Vatican."

Approximately 200 rare objects will be presented in contextual
environments, such as the recreated tomb of Saint Peter. Items in the
collection -- which includes tiaras; mosaics; paintings; works by
well-known sculptors; papal rings and jewels; intricately embroidered silk
vestments; precious objects from the Papal Mass; armor, swords and
vestments of the Papal Swiss Guard; and gifts to the popes from notables
such as Napoleon and the Dalai Lama -- are on loan from the Vatican
Museums, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Office of
the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, the Reverenda Fabbrica
of Saint Peter, the Apostolic Floreria, private collections and the Papal
Swiss Guard.

The exhibition also features actual objects relating to the election of
Pope Benedict XVI, such as election ballots, patens and urns used in
voting, a ceremonial vestment and an actual white smoke cartridge
announcing the election.

"Indeed, this exhibition is in itself significant, as it represents one
of the largest collections of art and objects from the Vatican ever to tour
North America," stated Monsignor Roberto Zagnoli, curator of the Vatican
Museums. "Many of these works have never before been outside Vatican City."

After the three-city tour of St. Petersburg, Fla., Cleveland and St.
Paul, Minn., the items featured in Vatican Splendors will return to Rome
where they cannot be absent for more than a year.

"It is a great privilege for Cleveland to host this wonderful
collection," said the Most Rev. Richard G. Lennon, bishop of the Catholic
Diocese of Cleveland. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all --
not just Catholics -- to see these awe-inspiring treasures and significant
pieces of art and beauty here in Northeast Ohio."

Highlights of the exhibition include a reliquary containing fragments
of bones of Saint Peter and a gold Votive Plaque found in the area of the
tomb, all displayed within a dramatic reproduction of the Tomb of Saint
Peter; the Mandylion of Edessa, a third to fifth century image on linen
considered one of the oldest known representations of Jesus present in
Rome; a mosaic Bust of an Angel by the 14th century master, Giotto;
personal items and tools of Michelangelo; an exquisite terra-cotta
sculpture by Bernini; the Papal Tiara of Pope Pius VII, the symbol of the
papacy, made of gold, precious stones, pearls, velvet and silk, and topped
with an exquisite emerald; a Buddhist Thanka of embroidered cloth and
pearls, given by the Dalai Lama to John Paul II; the Pastoral Staff of Pope
John Paul II; and a special presentation of uniforms, armor and weapons
from the legendary Papal Swiss Guard.

"This exhibition is about art, history, culture and the Church's legacy
over the last 2,000 years," said Mark Greenberg, president of Evergreen
Exhibitions, producers of the exhibition. "The Vatican has had a profound
impact on culture through the centuries by commissioning, collecting and
preserving historical objects and art. Vatican Splendors is a moving
tribute to an exquisite assemblage of art and objects associated with the
papacy and the historic institution of the Vatican."

Greenberg added that the exhibition is not solely about religion, but
rather a collection of fine and decorative arts that explores the Vatican's
influence on world history.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008


A long-established criterion for determining death is under growing scrutiny.

Thirty-six hours after Zack Dunlap had an accident last November with his souped-up ATV, doctors performed a PET scan on Zack and found there was no blood flowing to his brain. After informing his parents, the doctors declared Zack brain-dead. Then followed the call to the organ harvesting team to come and retrieve organs from Zack. As they were being flown in by helicopter to the Wichita Falls, Texas hospital where Zack lay presumably dead, nurses began disconnecting tubes from his inert body. It was only then that one of Zack's relatives who happens to be a nurse tested Zack for reflexes. Not only did Zack respond to pain, he was later able to tell a stunned television audience and Today Show host Natalie Morales that he heard the doctor declare him brain-dead, and how much that ticked him off.

Stories like Zach's seem to be more prevalent of late, and more disturbing. They occasion reasonable doubt about three related issues: the reliability of the brain-death (BD) criterion as a standard for determining death; the degree of rigor with which such determinations are made; and whether the medical establishment is not dangerously biased toward organ harvesting as opposed to long-term, potentially regenerative care for persons who meet the loosest standard for BD.

Until recently, the general consensus had been that BD -- the irreversible and complete cessation of all brain function -- constituted a sufficient criterion for establishing that a human individual has, in fact, died. However, the consensus surrounding BD has been challenged of late. Opponents, most notably Dr. Alan Shewmon, Chief of the Department of Neurology at Olive View Medical Center, UCLA, point to cases of individuals who have been declared brain-dead and have "survived" with the aid of artificial respiration/nutrition for weeks, months, and even years. Shewmon has published a controversial study of such survivors that has posed a diametric challenge to the neurological standard for determining death. In testimony before the President's Council on Bioethics, Shewmon observed:

Contrary to popular belief, brain death is not a settled issue. I've been doing informal Socratic probing of colleagues over the years, and it's very rare that I come across a colleague, including among neurologists, who can give me a coherent reason why brain destruction or total brain non-function is death.

There's always some loose logic hidden in there somewhere, and those who are coherent usually end up with the psychological rationale, that this is no longer a human person even if it may be a human organism.

The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) established a set of Guidelines for the determination of brain death in 1995 which currently remain a point of reference for many hospitals and physicians throughout the country. The AAN guidelines lay out diagnostic criteria for making a clinical diagnosis of BD. The guidelines note that the three "cardinal findings" of brain death are coma or unresponsiveness, absence of brainstem reflexes, and apnea (the cessation of breathing). It further outlines a series of clinical tests or observations for making these findings. The guidelines also note that certain conditions can interfere with clinical diagnosis, and recommends confirmatory tests if such conditions are present. Finally, the guidelines recommend repeated clinical evaluation after a six-hour interval (noting that such time period is arbitrary) using a series of confirmatory tests that are described in the document.

A recent study published in the journal Neurology, noting widespread variations in the application of the AAN Guidelines, drew these conclusions:

Major differences exist in brain death guidelines among the leading neurologic hospitals in the Unites States. Adherence to the American Academy of Neurology guidelines is variable. If the guidelines reflect actual practice at each institution, there are substantial differences in practice which may have consequences for the determination of death and initiation of transplant procedures.

Such variability in applying a uniform criterion of BD, in addition to the growing number of survivors of BD, must give us pause. And so must the growing societal pressure to donate organs -- notwithstanding the genuine hopes that organ transplants holds for millions of people.

That pressure arises from the fact that the numeric gap between available organ donors and patients who need organ transplants continues to grow every year. A recent survey indicated that in 2006 over 98,000 organs were needed for patients on US transplant waiting lists.

Complicating matters, the number of available organs through donation from brain dead patients has remained stable for a number of years. And while organ donor cards and growing use of advance medical directives have occasioned a slight increase in the numbers of cadavaric transplants, more organs are needed than are currently available.

Consequently, transplantation services are pressed to find new and ethically acceptable ways to increase the number of available organ donors. Some advocates of a less rigorous application of BD have gone so far as to openly consider the moral licitness of removing organs from anencephalic newborns, and from persons diagnosed as being permanently comatose or in a permanent vegetative state (PVS). And some members of the medical profession believe the solution lies in redefining BD so as to make it less restrictive.

One such approach would define BD (and consequently death itself) as cessation of all higher level (cortical) brain functioning -- even if there were activity in other areas of the brain. Such was the proposal suggested by Dr. Robert Veatch of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University in his testimony before the President's Council on Bioethics two years ago. "We could shift to a new definition of death that would classify some of these permanently comatose persons as dead," affirmed Veatch. "In fact, a large group of scholars now in rejecting a whole brain definition has [endorsed]... a higher brain definition where some of these patients would be legally classified as dead."

"But would the ordinary citizen accept such a definition?" he then asked. In response, he pointed to a study done at Case Western Reserve University looking at the opinions of ordinary citizens in the State of Ohio. The results were startling. Of a population of 1,351 citizens who participated, 57% considered the person in permanent coma to be dead, and 34% considered the person in a permanent vegetative state to be dead. Furthermore-again on Veatch's interpretation of the data -- with regard to the propriety of harvesting organs, in the case of a more rigorous application of the BD criterion, 93% percent thought it acceptable take organs. But in the case of permanent coma, 74% would procure organs, and even in the case of PVS, fully 55% percent would procure organs.

Veatch ended by exhorting those present: "I suggest that it's time to consider the enormous lifesaving potential of opening the question about going to a higher brain definition of death or, alternatively, making exceptions to the dead donor rule."

Food for thought-and potentially for nightmares.

Admittedly, proponents of BD would question, in cases of survival after a BD determination such as that of Zach Dunlap, whether the criterion was applied strictly enough when they were declared brain dead. That's a legitimate question.

But research like Dr. Shewmon's and the growing list of survivors of BD are not only generating uneasiness in the medical field but also among potential organ donors who fear succumbing to some physician's premature diagnosis of death. It seems to me that such uneasiness is warranted, and that the time has come for a much more rigorous moral and medical evaluation of the propriety of the BD criterion.
Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Vietnamese Catholic tortured to death

A Vietnamese Catholic from a Montagnard village has died in prison after being arrested and tortured by police, the Montagnard Foundation International has alleged.

Rahlan Hen from Ploi Beng village in Giala Province died last month while serving a six year jail term, "for refusing to join the church of (a local official) Siu Kim", the Foundation says.

"Many Degar Montagnard Christians disagree with the practices of this church and feel that Siu Kim is actually teaching people to worship the government and not God," MFI explained. "This is why Rahlan Hen refused to join. Because of this, the government decided to arrest him in June 2006.

"The Vietnamese government sent security police along with riot police to his house and arrested him. They handcuffed him and began to beat and kick him severely," said MFI. "They dragged him from his house, stomping on him with their heavy military boots until he lost consciousness and then they threw his body in their jeep and took him to the district of Ia Grai prison," the Foundation says.

"At this prison facility, the security police repeatedly beat and tortured him. They kicked, punched, stomped on and shocked him with electric rods." He was reportedly transferred to several other prison facilities.

Before he died, his wife visited him at the Phu Yen Province prison, and saw that "one of his legs was paralysed and that he could barely walk," MFI told BosNewsLife." She was overcome with sorrow, but could do nothing to help him. All she could offer him was her tears."

Elsewhere in the Central Highlands, Degar-Montagnard Christians have also been targeted by security forces in recent months, including in Ploi Kuk Tu, in Gialai Province, where 44 year old Dinh Plok lost his farm and belongings for "refusing to sign a document renouncing his Christian faith," MFI said.

Saturday, 5 April 2008


VATICAN CITY, 4 APR 2008 ( VIS ) - Here follows the communique provided by the Press Office of the Holy See on the publication of the new “Oremus et pro Iudaeis” for the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal.
"Following the publication of the new Prayer for the Jews for the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, some groups within the Jewish community have expressed disappointment that it is not in harmony with the official declarations and statements of the Holy See regarding the Jewish people and their faith which have marked the progress of friendly relations between the Jews and the Catholic Church over the last forty years”.
"The Holy See wishes to reassure that the new formulation of the Prayer, which modifies certain expressions of the 1962 Missal, in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church’s regard for the Jews which has evolved from the basis of the Second Vatican Council, particularly the Declaration Nostra Aetate. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI, in an audience with the Chief Rabbis of Israel on 15 September 2005, remarked that this document has proven to be a milestone on the road towards the reconciliation of Christians with the Jewish people. The continuation of the position found in Nostra Aetate is clearly shown by the fact that the prayer contained in the 1970 Missal continues to be in full use, and is the ordinary form of the prayer of Catholics".
"In the context of other affirmations of the Council - on Sacred Scripture (Dei Verbum, 14) and on the Church (Lumen Gentium, 16) - Nostra Aetate presents the fundamental principles which have sustained and today continue to sustain the bonds of esteem, dialogue, love, solidarity and collaboration between Catholics and Jews. It is precisely while examining the mystery of the Church that Nostra Aetate recalls the unique bond with which the people of the New Testament is spiritually linked with the stock of Abraham and rejects every attitude of contempt or discrimination against Jews, firmly repudiating any kind of anti-Semitism".
"The Holy See hopes that the explanations made in this statement will help to clarify any misunderstanding. It reiterates the unwavering desire that the concrete progress made in mutual understanding and the growth in esteem between Jews and Christians will continue to develop".

Six of St Augustine's sermons discovered

Six previously unknown sermons of St Augustine of Hippo have been discovered at Erfurt University in central Germany, a find that the head of the university's library department, Thomas Bouillon, has hailed as "most significant".
Three researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences discovered and identified the texts in a more than 800-year-old manuscript collection in the Bibliotheca Amploniana at Erfurt. Isabella Schiller, one of the three Viennese researchers, noticed that the small, 270-page, book of sermons by St Augustine (354-430), which she was working on, contained sermons that were not listed in her databank.
Three of the sermons concern almsgiving. St Augustine examines the relationship between giving alms to the bishop and the latter's duty to support his flock in return. In another sermon about St Cyprian, who was martyred in 258, Augustine criticises the practice of holding drunken orgies on martyrs' feast days. And one sermon is on the reality of the resurrection of the dead and on believing in the truth of biblical prophecies.
St Augustine's preaching in the cathedral at Hippo Regius - the Algerian port of Bone today - attracted people from many parts of northern Africa. Large crowds from the then flourishing city of Carthage came, some of whom brought their scribes with them. The scribes took the sermons down and St Augustine would correct their copies afterwards. Some collections of his sermons reached England via Italy by the year 1000, according to the Dutch St Augustine specialist Professor Hans van Oort. It is thought that the newly discovered sermons are part of one such collection and were copied in England. Structural and handwriting similarities to English manuscripts point to the likelihood that they reached the continent via England.
The Bibliotheca Amploniana at Erfurt University is the largest complete book collection of any one medieval scholar in the world. Its 600 volumes were left to the university by the Westphalian theologian and doctor of medicine Amplonius Rating de Berka (1363-1435).
The newly discovered sermons will be published in a Viennese journal on philology and patristics, Vienna Studies: Journal for Classical Philology and Patristics, and on 15 April the three researchers - Ms Schiller, along with Dorothea Weber and Clemens Weidmann, will give a lecture on their discovery at Erfurt University. The Austrian Academy of Sciences is the world's leading institute for research on St Augustine.