Wednesday, 18 June 2008


VATICAN CITY, 17 JUN 2008 (VIS) - The Holy See Press Office released the following communique today, concerning the visit of a delegation of the Holy See to Vietnam .

"The Holy See delegation - made up of Msgr. Pietro Parolin under-secretary for Relations with States; Msgr. Luis Mariano Montemayor, nunciature counsellor at the Secretariat of State, and Msgr. Barnabe Nguyen Van Phuong, bureau chief at the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples - visited Vietnam from 9 to 15 June, and returned to Rome yesterday. ... Their programme involved a series of meetings with the government authorities, both at central and local level, and with the Catholic community".

"The working sessions with the government's Office for Religious Affairs, presided by Nguyen The Doanh, enabled discussions to be held, in a frank and cordial atmosphere, on various aspects of the life and activity of the Church in the country, particularly as concerns episcopal appointments, the gradual restoration of formerly-nationalised property to Church use, the application of norms on religious freedom, the contribution of Catholics to human promotion, the spread of a culture of solidarity towards the weakest sectors of the population, and the moral education of future generations.

"The delegation was received by Pham Gia Khiem, deputy-prime minister and minister for foreign affairs, with whom views were exchanged on the current international situation with reference, above all, to the seat as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that Vietnam will occupy for the first time this July. ... Attention also turned to the hoped-for normalisation of bilateral relations, with a view to which it is expected that the Working Group - charged with defining times and means - will begin its work as soon as possible".

"The delegation then met with Nguyen The Thao, president of the Popular Committee of Hanoi, and with the vice-presidents of the Popular Committees of the provinces of Lam Dong, Thua Thien Hue and Quang Tri. With the former, mention was made, among other things, of the events that involved numerous faithful from the archdiocese at the end of last year and the beginning of 2008. In this context, consideration was given (as it has been on various other occasions) to the importance of continuing to pacify the situation, avoiding measures that may create contrary effects, and to maintain dialogue between interested parties in the search for adequate solutions that take into account the needs of justice, of charity and of the common good. ... The delegation expressed its gratitude to the local authorities of the province of Quang Tri for their decision to return the land around the Marian shrine of La Vang to Church use, and for their will to face, along with the archdiocese of Hue, the outstanding problems for the effective implementation of the decision".

"A particularly moving moment was the visit and Mass at the Marian shrine of La Vang. The delegation, ... along with participants from the archdiocese of Hue from other dioceses in Vietnam and from abroad, prayed that that place, so dear to Vietnamese Catholics and venerated even by non-Catholics, may become ever more a centre of unity and reconciliation for all the inhabitants of that beloved country, without ethnic, religious or political distinction".


VATICAN CITY, 17 JUN 2008 (VIS) - This morning in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present two initiatives to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Pope Pius XII: a congress on his Magisterium and a photographic exhibition.

Participating in the conference were bishop Salvatore Fisichella, rector of Rome 's Pontifical Lateran University ; Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda S.J., rector of Rome 's Pontifical Gregorian University ; Msgr. Walter Brandmuller, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; Giovanni Maria Vian, director of the "Osservatore Romano" newspaper, and Giovanni Morello, president of the Foundation for the Artistic Patrimony and Activity of the Church.

Referring to Pius XII and the years of his pontificate (1939-1958), Bishop Fisichella highlighted the Pontiff's "great stature, especially in spiritual terms, but also intellectually and diplomatically".
"Various different historical situations of great significance came together in the life of Pius XII", he said: "the genocide of the Jews, the communist occupation of various Christian nations, the Cold War, new advances of science, and the innovations of certain schools of theology".'

Bishop Fisichella pointed out that, although many aspects of the pontificate have already been studied, "what remains largely unknown is Pius XII's influence on Vatican Council II". In this context, he mentioned the 43 Encyclicals "which marked his pontificate, and the many discourses in which he examined the most controversial questions of his time.

"In this Magisterium", Bishop Fisichella added, "it is easy to identify certain particular traits which we may summarise in three points: firstly the promotion of doctrine, the definition of the dogma of the Assumption in 1950 being particularly memorable; ... secondly defending doctrine and indicating errors", such as in the Encyclical "Humani generis" of 1950 where Pope Pius examines "the serious problem of theological relativism. ... Finally", said Bishop Fischella, "Pius XII never failed to make his voice heard clearly and explicitly when circumstances required it".

Fr. Ghirlanda spoke of the congress to mark the anniversary of the Pontiff's death, which is due to take place at the Gregorian and Lateran Universities from 6 to 8 November. Pius XII himself, Fr. Ghirlanda noted, studied at the Gregorian University and at the Pontifical Athenaeum of the Roman Seminary of Sant'Apollinare which later became the Lateran University .

The congress, which will be attended by professors from both universities, is scheduled to be held over two days. "The first day", Fr. Ghirlanda explained, "will be dedicated to four introductory lectures on the general views of Pius XII and the cultural and historical context in which that great Pontiff developed his Magisterium". The themes will include: "the development of biblical studies, evangelisation, religious freedom and Church-State relations, and the social communications media".

The morning of the second day will focus on "Pius XII's teaching in the fields of ecclesiology, liturgy and the role of the laity. The afternoon will be dedicated to his vision of relations between the Church and the world, Mariology, medicine and morals and, finally, questions of canon law".

"Another commemorative event", said Msgr. Brandmuller, "will be the photographic exhibition entitled "Pius XII: the Man and the Pontificate", which will illustrate the life of this great and exceptional Pontiff who was already an object of admiration among his contemporaries. It has been sought", explained the president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, "to reconstruct Eugenio Pacelli's life from boyhood to death, using images (many of them unpublished), as well as documents, personal objects, gifts and clothes: his formation at the Pontifical Roman Athenaeums, his training for a diplomatic career at the Secretariat of State; his mission to Germany (first in Bavaria then in Berlin); his return to the Vatican as secretary of State and, finally, his election to the Pontifical throne".

For his part, Giovanni Morello recalled that the exhibition - which is due to be held in the Charlemagne Wing off St. Peter's Square from 21 October 2008 to 6 January 2009 - will follow the Pontiff's life "through contemporary photographs, many of them supplied by the photographic service of the 'Osservatore Romano', documents and personal effects, loaned both by the Pacelli family and by the 'Famiglia Spirituale Opera'".

"The exhibition begins with the birth of the future Pope (in Rome on 2 March 1876) and follows his youthful and scholastic activities up to the moment of his priestly ordination on 2 April 1899", Morello explained. The young priest soon entered the service of the Holy See; he was consecrated a bishop by Pope Benedict XV in the Sistine Chapel on 13 May 1917 then appointed as nuncio, first in Bavaria (1917-1924) and subsequently in Berlin (1925-1929), at a crucial moment in German history.

On 16 December 1929 Pius XI made him a cardinal and soon afterwards appointed him as secretary of State. The young cardinal thus became the Pope's main collaborator as evinced, said Morello, "by the corrections and notes Cardinal Pacelli made in preparing some of the most important documents, including the famous Encyclical 'Mit brennender Sorge'. During this period, Cardinal Pacelli made many journeys abroad; he was the first secretary of State, after many centuries, to travel as papal legate". Among the countries he visited were: Argentina , Brazil , Uruguay , United States and France .

The exhibition will also cover the events of Pius XII's pontificate, particularly the Second World War, and the Holy See's humanitarian efforts in support of individuals and peoples, including the people of Rome .

"The exhibition, apart from its historical and documentary aspects", said the president of the Foundation for the Artistic Patrimony and Activity of the Church, "is also of great artistic interest. Indeed, not everyone is aware that the first nucleus of the modern art collection in the Vatican Museums, later expanded during the pontificate of Paul VI, dates back to an initiative of Pius XII. ... Ten works from this original nucleus will be on display, including paintings by Carra, De Chirico, De Pisis, Morandi, Rouault, Sironi and Utrillo, as well as a number of sketches presented for the competition for the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica for the Holy Year 1950.

"The artistic side of the exhibition is enriched by the presence of various valuable 'gifts' given to Pius XII during his pontificate, such as the 'Peace' offered by Luigi Einaudi, president of the Italian Republic; the precious desk service by Giovanni Valadier, a gift from the city authorities in 1956, and a small table clock given to the Pope by the first personal representative of the U.S. president. All these items used to be kept the Vatican Apostolic Library and are now held in the Vatican Museums. ... They will be on display with the vestments and other objects used by Pius XII, which today are conserved in the Pontifical Liturgical Treasury".

Friday, 13 June 2008

Bush treated to warm greeting at Vatican

ROME - Pope Benedict XVI took President Bush on a rare stroll through the lush grounds of the Vatican Gardens on Friday, stopping at a grotto where the pontiff prays daily.

"Your Holiness, you're looking good," Bush told the pope shortly after arriving at the Vatican, launching the leaders' third visit together.

Normally, VIPS are received in the pope's library in the Apostolic Palace. That's where Bush had his first meeting with Benedict in June 2007.

But in a gesture of appreciation for the hearty welcome Bush gave him in Washington in April, Benedict welcomed the president and first lady Laura Bush near St. John's Tower in the lush Vatican Gardens.

The presidential motorcade had bounded through downtown Rome, with people leaning out balconies and popping out of their businesses to watch.

Bush's limousine pulled into St. Peter's Square and continued on to St. John's Tower, where he and Mrs. Bush were greeted by the pope.

On a brief tour, Benedict and Bush peered out from a tower balcony, and the president seemed awed by what he saw. The pope pointed out St. Peter's dome as he showed Bush the view. "This is fantastic up here," Bush said. "Thank you so much for showing me this."

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the two leaders have the kind of relationship that allows them to speak frankly. They discussed such issues as human rights, HIV and AIDS in Africa, and poverty around the world, she said.

After their private meeting ended, Bush and Benedict posed for official photographs and exchanged gifts. The president gave the pontiff a photograph of the two walking along the White House colonnade on their way to the Oval Office in April. The picture was presented in a sterling silver frame with an engraved presidential seal. Benedict gave Bush a framed photograph and four volumes on St. Peter's Basilica. "Perhaps you'll have some time to read it," he told Bush, whose presidency ends in January.

Members of the presidential entourage received rosaries and medals of the pontificate. Bush and the pope then strolled through the gardens to see the Lourdes Grotto, which was donated to Pope Leo XIII at the turn of the century by French Catholics. Bush and Benedict sat in wooden patio-style chairs admiring the grotto as Mrs. Bush rejoined them.

Sirens in the city and the whirring of a helicopter overheard broke the silence in the placid scene — as did noisy parrots that flew right over the heads of the Bushes and the pontiff. Those sounds were soon drowned out by the performance of a young boys' choir. Bush and the first lady personally thanked the beaming children when they finished singing.

Security was tight throughout Bush's two-day stay in Rome. The president spent about an hour at the Vatican. As he left, two helicopters tracked his motorcade as it sped along a freeway on its way to the airport.

A statement by the Vatican after Bush's visit said that the pope had "renewed his gratitude for the warm and special reception he received in the United States of America and at the White House in April, and for the commitment in defense of the fundamental moral values." The two leaders talked about relations between the U.S. and Europe, globalization, the world food crisis and international trade, among other topics, the Vatican said.

Bush and Benedict share much common ground, particularly in opposing abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research. But they disagree on other issues, including the war in Iraq, the death penalty and the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. In Washington and New York, Benedict sounded themes about truth trumping moral relativism, rich nations' responsibility to care for poor ones, and Catholics' call to live out their faith.

Bush, after his visit to the Vatican, flew to France where he was giving a speech in Paris to highlight a rebound in trans-Atlantic relations, which were fractured over the war in Iraq. He is also commemorating the 60th anniversary of the start of the Marshall Plan, the massive U.S. aid program to rebuild Europe after World War II.


Vatican Statement on Bush Meeting

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 13, 2008 - Here is a translation of the communiqué released today by the Vatican press office after U.S. President George Bush's visit to Benedict XVI.

* * *

This morning, the president of the United States, George W. Bush, was received in audience by Benedict XVI.

To respond to the cordiality of the welcome offered the Pontiff during his recent visit to the United States of America, the audience was carried out according to a unique protocol. The Holy Father welcomed the president, accompanied by his wife, Laura, and the ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, in the entrance of St. John's Tower in the Vatican Gardens.

Later, His Holiness and the president of the United States went up to the study on the upper level for a private meeting; meanwhile Laura and Ambassador Glendon waited with Archbishop James Michael Harvey, prefect of the pontifical household. Afterward, the cardinal secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, arrived.

During the cordial dialogue, the Holy Father above all renewed to the president his gratitude for the warm and special welcome received in the United States and the White House during his visit last April, and for the commitment in defense of fundamental values. Then they spoke of principal topics of international politics: relations between the United States and Europe, the Middle East and the commitment for peace in the Holy Land, globalization, the food crisis and international commerce, and the application of the Millennium Development Goals.

At the end of the meeting, after an interchange of gifts, Benedict XVI and President Bush took a brief walk through Vatican Gardens until reaching the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, where the president's wife and entourage joined them. The choir of the Sistine Chapel interpreted two motets.


Thursday, 12 June 2008

A Well-Rounded Pope

Interview on Benedict XVI's Qualities and Fundamental Ideas

By Gisèèle Plantec

ROME, JUNE 11, 2008 - Benedict XVI is impressive in his well-rounded character -- a man who goes easily from playing the piano to visiting world leaders to explaining to children the mystery of the Eucharist, affirmed a scholar from a Roman university.

Father Juan Pablo Ledesma talked about the German Pope -- his most striking qualities and the ideas that presumably govern his thought.

ZENIT approached Father Ledesma, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university, following a conference he helped to organize last month on "The Voice of the Christian Faith: 'Introduction to Christianity,' by Joseph Ratzinger -- Benedict XVI -- 40 Years Later."

Q: How do you think Benedict XVI's theology was born?

Father Ledesma: Suffice it to recall his formation. Following his priestly ordination, he began to work as vicar in a parish, where his intellectual gifts became evident. He earned a doctorate in theology in 1954, with a thesis on the concept of the Church as house and people of God in the thought of St. Augustine.

Later on, he completed his degree with another thesis, on St. Bonaventure, reflecting his extensive culture and profound theological understanding drawn from patristic and medieval sources. He taught in several universities, including Munich and Tubingen. In 1961 he was appointed to the chair of fundamental theology and, three years later, took part as a theological expert in the Second Vatican Council.

Q: What are Benedict XVI's qualities that you most admire?

Father Ledesma: There are so many -- perhaps what impresses me most is his simplicity and depth. I am ever more fascinated by his first words as Pope: "Laborer in the vineyard of the Lord ... ineffective instrument." These words evoke the Rule of St. Benedict, the sixth degree of humility, that in which the monk is happy with the poorest and most ordinary things, and considers himself a useless and unworthy laborer in regard to all that obedience imposes on him.
I am also impressed by the profound, simple and spontaneous expressions of his very personal love for Jesus Christ. It is a love that is manifested in his words and gestures and, above all, in his way of celebrating the Eucharist. Everything, in his person and ministry, is centered on Jesus Christ.

I am also attracted by the way the Pope greets each person. He pauses, without hurry, knows how to listen, encourage and smile. It is easy to see Christ's goodness in his look and in his way of accepting his neighbor. I am impressed to see the Pope playing the piano, greeting the greats of the world or explaining to children how Jesus is present in the Eucharist, using the example of electricity or a microphone, to show how invisible things are the most profound and important.

Q: In a few words, what are the most important ideas that govern Joseph Ratzinger's thought?

Father Ledesma: That is a difficult and risky question. I believe it might be the concept of faith. For him, faith needs a "you" to sustain it. It needs a you who knows us and loves us, so that we can trust and confide in him as a "child nursing in its mother's arms." Thus, faith, trust and love conform a unique whole, an identical, indestructible reality. For Pope Benedict, this faith is a lived faith.
I very much like his interpretation of the word Amen, which is not only the response of faith to the Creed of the Church. To pronounce Amen means faith, trust, abandonment, fidelity and love. Amen is not a particle that ends all prayers, but the total adherence of the person who prays, who believes, who loves revealed Love -- logos-veritas -- as love incarnate.

Amen, in sum, is the total and radical answer to the whole symbol-creed: all or nothing. There are no alternatives, pretexts or half measures. Just as the person is a totality, the response of faith and love must be total: Amen is synonymous with "all."

I believe that truth is also the crucial point in the mind and teaching of Joseph Ratzinger. For him, the greatest problem that exists and that the man of today faces is the lack of truth: relativism, the negation of truth.

Q: Do you see some relationship between "Introduction to Christianity" and the two last encyclicals?

Father Ledesma: Both in "Deus Caritas Est" as well as in "Spe Salvi," we find the same pastor, thinker and theologian who makes concepts accessible. Forty years ago, Professor Ratzinger himself said: "Love generates immortality, and immortality proceeds only from love. [...] If He has resurrected, we will also resurrect, because love is stronger than death. [...] Either love is stronger than death or it isn't."

Therefore, if love is true love, it must need infinitude, indestructibility. This reflection seems important to me because it is the basis of everything and the key to understand the eschatology that Pope Benedict XVI offers us in his "Spe Salvi."

Q: However, is there not a way in which love and judgment seem to be a contradiction?
Father Ledesma: On the contrary. Love, if it is true love, calls for judgment because it is also just. A love that judges is necessary, because the injustice of the world cannot have the last word. It would be unjust. A love that destroyed justice would be unjust, it would not be love.

Beyond the day of rendering accounts, fearful and menacing, the Christian knows that his judge will be Truth, Trinity, Love, a person who, being man, is also our brother: Jesus Christ. In face of judgment, these words written 40 years ago console us and give us hope: "Man cannot disappear totally, because he is known and loved by God. If all love longs for eternity, love of God not only yearns for it, but realizes and personifies it" ["Introduction to Christianity"].

Q: What more personal and less academic aspect of Benedict XVI's personality would you highlight?

Father Ledesma: I especially like the legend of St. Corbinian's bear, motive of Pope Benedict's motto. It is an ancient legend. The holy founder of the Diocese of Freising, the monk Corbinian, was on his way to Rome. He took with him a beast of burden. A bear attacked and killed the animal. The saint reprimanded it and ordered it to take the baggage in the animal's stead. In this way, they both arrived in Rome.

Cardinal Ratzinger applied this to himself, making use of the words of St. Augustine when commenting on Psalm 72:22: "I have become a beast of burden, and, precisely because of this, I am with you." God makes use of him, uses him, burdens him, but precisely because of this, God is close to him.

Q: What is Benedict XVI's message for this world, for today?

Father Ledesma: Every Wednesday we hear his word as universal pastor of the Church, and in so many homilies, addresses, messages. It is always the same message, with particular accents.

I very much like what he expressed during his visit to the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz: "God has not abandoned us in a desert of nothingness. [...] The eyes of Christ are the look of God who loves us."

In other words, his message is the same message, the same as that of Christ in the Gospel: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is always present for men, yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Jesus of the Gospels is the real Jesus, the "historical Jesus," the Christ. God is love. We have been saved in hope.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Vietnam seeks dialogue with Vatican

VietNamNet Bridge - Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem emphasised his wish yesterday to strengthen dialogue for mutual understanding between Viet Nam and the Vatican.

He made the statement while receiving a delegation from the Vatican, led by the Vatican Undersecretary of State for Relations with States Pietro Parolin, who is on a week-long working visit to Viet Nam.

The Deputy PM informed the delegation about Viet Nam’’s achievements in promoting the economy, culture and foreign affairs as well as in implementing the Vietnamese State’’s religious policies over the past year.

Khiem affirmed that the Party and Government of Viet Nam continue to respect democratic rights and the freedom of religion and belief, according to Vietnamese laws. Parolin in turn praised Viet Nam’’s progress after joining the WTO and becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Also on June 9, the delegation met with the Episcopal Council of the Viet Nam Catholic Church. On June 11, the delegation will leave Ha Noi to visit Da Lat City in the Tay Nguyen (the Central Highlands) province of Lam Dong, HCM City, and the central provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.

Apart from visiting parishes and working with local authorities during stops, the delegation will visit a pottery craft village in southern Binh Duong Province, home to the established Minh Long pottery trademark.

The delegation is scheduled to conclude their 15th visit to Viet Nam on June 15.

Early Church discovered in Jordan

Jordanian archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be the world's first church dating from 33 to 70 AD.
"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," the head of Jordan's Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, Abdul Qader al-Husan, told reporters according to The Age.
He said it was uncovered under Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.
"We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians.

These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine," are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan, Husan added.
He cited historical sources which suggest they both lived and practised religious rituals in the underground church and only left it after Christianity was embraced by Roman rulers.
The bishop deputy of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese, Archimandrite Nektarious, described the discovery as an "important milestone for Christians all around the world."
Researchers recovered pottery dating back to between the 3rd and 7th centuries, which they say suggests these first Christians and their followers lived in the area until late Roman rule.
Inside the cave there are several stone seats which are believed to have been for the clergy and a circular shaped area, thought to be the apse.
There is also a deep tunnel which is believed to have led to a water source, the archaeologist added.

Book Gives Peek at China's Pre-Olympic Abuse

Author Says There's Two Sides to the Event

By Antonio Gasperi

MILAN, Italy, JUNE 9, 2008- Perhaps the Olympics have never sparked as many hopes and disappointments as this year's games are causing, says the author of a book on China's preparations for this summer's event.

Father Bernardo Cervellera, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and director of the AsiaNews agency, highlights in his book "The Other Side of the Medals: China and the Olympics," the real price China is paying to host the games.

During a presentation of the book in Milan last month, the priest explained that many inhabitants of the city have seen their homes demolished to make way for sports venues, hotels, buildings and highways.

"The insignificant compensations received do not enable those affected to purchase a house, not even 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the center," Father Cervellera said.

According to the priest, who worked for many years as a missionary and journalist in China, the changes in the capital and other cities involved in the games "are beyond imagination."

He noted how historic neighborhoods have been destroyed and said that "very tall and long walls" have been built to conceal the neighborhoods where poverty and abandonment are evident.

"The government and Chinese Communist Party regard the Olympics as a unique occasion to demonstrate their successes and to make known to the world the new emerging China that has arisen, according to their view, from poverty [……] to become the fourth economic power of the world, glorified by the games," he said.


Father Cervellera suggested that the true heroes of the Olympics will be "the millions of poor peasant immigrants who flee from the countryside, in a situation of degradation, hunger and poverty, to seek their fortune in the large cities and industrial complexes of the coast."

With round-the-clock construction projects, they have built skyscrapers, sports venues and highways with unusual speed, he explained. But these peasants receive tiny salaries and often are not paid at all. They also are not generally given health care, and live in ruinous slums.

The social inequality is ever more evident: 200 million rich individuals grow ever richer, while 350 million poor people are ever poorer, Father Cervellera lamented.

"The new rich aren't at all interested in the weak social classes," the priest stated. "The culture, derived from Confucianism in the first place, and later from Marxism and capitalism, have produced a spiritual aridity in Chinese society, in which the individual doesn't count.
"One's value is established by one's role; the person has no relevance. What is important is membership in or protection by the clan or Party, and the state, with its vertical structure before to which one must always answer."

Church's role

Father Cervellera also spoke of the role of the Church in China and the relationship between Catholics and Protestants. All religions are subjected to rigid state control, he clarified.

During the Olympics, the missionary surmised, police prohibitions and control will be even stronger, despite the fact that "in Chinese society, particularly in the middle class made up of students, and the academic world, there is a growing search for the meaning of life and desire for God; a search that is increasingly distanced from the myths and traditions based on Confucianism."

"In Christianity," he explained, "they are able to seek an answer that unites faith and reason, that encounters the person of the historical Jesus, and a new idea of God that might contribute to ease the social tensions." Significant in this regard, Father Cervellera said, is the unity that has been achieved between the "official" Catholic Church and the so-called underground Catholic Church.

The author explained that "human liberties and rights are virtually not at all respected in China, adding that in view of the Olympics a list of topics that must not be addressed at all have been distributed to the local press. Moreover, the whole country will not be open to foreign journalists and tourists."

The AsiaNews director stressed that "whoever tries to [……] defend the peasants or less wealthy people, supporting the legal causes to obtain just compensations, or whoever is opposed to forced abortions or defends exploited workers, is arrested and punished with years of imprisonment," as "is the case of some Catholic bishops."


Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Pope to host Bush in unusual Vatican setting

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict will unusually host talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in a restored medieval tower on Friday, to repay him for a warm reception at the White House, the Vatican said.

The pope usually receives heads of state in his private study in the Apostolic Palace, overlooking St Peter's Square.

But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the change was to repay Bush for "the cordiality of the meeting at the White House" when the pope visited the United States in April.

St. John's Tower is a round structure on a hilltop inside the Vatican gardens that is sometimes used as a residence for important guests.

After their private talks, Bush and the pope will stroll in the gardens to see a statue of the Madonna.

The late Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963, restored the tower as a place where he could work in peace.

Bush will be in Rome from Wednesday to Friday as part of a trip to Slovenia, Germany, Italy, France and Britain.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Pope Benedict XVI emerges as best-selling author

London, June 7 : Pope Benedict XVI emerged as a best-selling author, after more than 2.5 million copies of his latest book were sold in just over a year.

The massive sales of the pontiff's last book, Jesus of Nazareth, his first major publication written as Pope, has convinced Helder, the largest Catholic publisher in Europe, to reprint a series of Benedict's earlier scholarship.

His entire literary output before he became Pope is to be issued in thirteen volumes, with the first volume to appear in bookshops at the end of this year.

Jesus of Nazareth came eighth on last year's bestseller chart in Italy, despite costing 15.50 pounds, and outsold the latest releases by Paolo Coelho and Wilbur Smith.

The popularity of the pope has also helped sales of his two encyclicals, God is Love and Saved by Hope

Moreover, there is growing demand for the works he produced as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, when he was the Vatican's chief expert on doctrine, and even for his writings as a German theology professor in Bavaria.

The British edition of the book is published by Bloomsbury, the publishers of Harry Potter.

Before becoming the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict had penned 132 books, monographs and commentaries.

The Pope's books as a cardinal include Introduction to Christianity; Salt of the Earth; The Ratzinger Report; Truth and Tolerance; God and the World; The Spirit of the Liturgy; Many Religions, One Covenant; Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today; The Nature and Mission of Theology; The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood; and Milestones, a memoir of his life from his birth until 1977.

"We are going to reprint 13 volumes to start with," BBC quoted Father Giuseppe Costa, an official at the Vatican's publishing house who is cooperating with Helder, as saying.

"There is a rich and extraordinary catalogue and today's readers are looking at it with growing interest. In the pope there is a strong point of reference, both for religion and culture," he added.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Michael Monsoor, martyr of charity

Navy SEAL, Michael Monsoor, “Martyr of charity”.

Prior to Father Maximilian Kolbe's canonization in 1982, there was considerable debate in higher Church circles about whether this Polish Franciscan, who had sacrificed his life in the starvation bunker at Auschwitz to save the condemned father of a family, should be canonized as a martyr.

Pope John Paul II, agreeing with the many Poles and Germans who wanted Kolbe honored this way, overrode the decision of two specially appointed judges and proclaimed, in his canonization Mass homily, that "Maximilian Mary Kolbe, who following his beatification was venerated as a confessor, will henceforth be venerated also as a martyr!"

During the pre-canonization debate, some theologians and canonists suggested that a new category --- "martyr of charity" --- be created to cover situations like Kolbe's. The Franciscan priest had not, after all, been killed "in hatred of the faith" [odium fidei], at least according to the traditional understanding of that ancient criterion for martyrdom. The Nazi officer who agreed to Kolbe's voluntary substitution of himself for the condemned prisoner had evinced no interest in the fact that Kolbe was a Catholic, a Christian or a priest; Kolbe was just another Pole to be starved to death. So why not split the difference and call Kolbe a "martyr of charity"?
In Witness to Hope, I suggested that John Paul II was making an important theological point in declaring St. Maximilian Kolbe a martyr, period: systematic hatred of the human person (as in Nazism and other totalitarian systems) was a contemporary version of odium fidei, for the faith taught the inalienable dignity of the human person and those who hated the person implicitly hated the faith.

In any event, the argument continues over what constitutes "martyrdom" (most recently, at a plenary session of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints), and will likely continue long into the future.

The idea of a "martyr of charity" continued to intrigue me, though, most recently in the case of Petty Officer Second Class (SEAL) Michael Anthony Monsoor, who died in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, on 29 September 2006. Michael Monsoor was a devout Catholic of Arab Christian descent, who had grown up in Garden Grove. Two years after his high school graduation, he enlisted in the Navy, where this superb athlete was soon attracted to the toughest of the tough, the Navy SEALS.
A year after completing SEAL training, Monsoor deployed to Iraq. A month into his deployment, he rescued a fellow SEAL under fire, winning the Silver Star.

His chaplain remembers Michael Monsoor requesting the sacrament of penance at their first meeting; he was also a regular Mass-goer. Sacramentally, he was prepared for 29 September 2006, when his SEAL team was ordered to work with an Iraqi Army unit to set up an anti-sniper overwatch position.

An insurgent threw a fragmentation grenade, which bounced off Monsoor's chest and fell to the ground. Crouching next to the only exit from the overwatch position, Monsoor could have escaped. Instead, he threw himself onto the grenade to shield his comrades from the impending explosion. Thirty minutes later, Michael Monsoor was dead, but his teammates and their Iraqi allies were alive.

On April 8, at the White House, and in the presence of the young SEAL's parents, President Bush posthumously awarded Michael Monsoor the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest award for military valor. A video of the ceremony is available at It's hard to watch without tearing up, as the President did in speaking of an extraordinary act of self-sacrificing heroism.

No one knows whether, in the split-second of his decision, Michael Monsoor thought himself called to the martyrdom of charity; like most Catholics, he'd probably never heard the term. But everything we know about this remarkable young SEAL suggests that his instantaneous decision to give his life for the sake of his teammates and allies was rooted in his Catholic faith and his understanding of its demands.

And that's why it's worth considering the possibility that Michael Anthony Monsoor died as a "martyr of charity."
George Weigel

Kurtz on Obama's Acorn - do some research

Inside Obama’s Acorn
By their fruits ye shall know them.

By Stanley Kurtz

What if Barack Obama’s most important radical connection has been hiding in plain sight all along? Obama has had an intimate and long-term association with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn), the largest radical group in America. If I told you Obama had close ties with or Code Pink, you’d know what I was talking about. Acorn is at least as radical as these better-known groups, arguably more so. Yet because Acorn works locally, in carefully selected urban areas, its national profile is lower. Acorn likes it that way. And so, I’d wager, does Barack Obama.

This is a story we’ve largely missed. While Obama’s Acorn connection has not gone entirely unreported, its depth, extent, and significance have been poorly understood. Typically, media background pieces note that, on behalf of Acorn, Obama and a team of Chicago attorneys won a 1995 suit forcing the state of Illinois to implement the federal “motor-voter” bill. In fact, Obama’s Acorn connection is far more extensive. In the few stories where Obama’s role as an Acorn “leadership trainer” is noted, or his seats on the boards of foundations that may have supported Acorn are discussed, there is little follow-up. Even these more extensive reports miss many aspects of Obama’s ties to Acorn.

An Anti-Capitalism Agenda

To understand the nature and extent of Acorn’s radicalism, an excellent place to begin is Sol Stern’s 2003 City Journal article, “ACORN’’s Nutty Regime for Cities.” (For a shorter but helpful piece, try Steven Malanga’s “Acorn Squash.”)

Sol Stern explains that Acorn is the key modern successor of the radical 1960’s “New Left,” with a “1960’s-bred agenda of anti-capitalism” to match. Acorn, says Stern, grew out of “one of the New Left’’s silliest and most destructive groups, the National Welfare Rights Organization.” In the 1960’s, NWRO launched a campaign of sit-ins and disruptions at welfare offices. The goal was to remove eligibility restrictions, and thus effectively flood welfare rolls with so many clients that the system would burst. The theory, explains Stern, was that an impossibly overburdened welfare system would force “a radical reconstruction of America’’s unjust capitalist economy.” Instead of a socialist utopia, however, we got the culture of dependency and family breakdown that ate away at America’’s inner cities —— until welfare reform began to turn the tide.

While Acorn holds to NWRO’s radical economic framework and its confrontational 1960’s-style tactics, the targets and strategy have changed. Acorn prefers to fly under the national radar, organizing locally in liberal urban areas —— where, Stern observes, local legislators and reporters are often “slow to grasp how radical Acorn’s positions really are.” Acorn’s new goals are municipal “living wage” laws targeting “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart, rolling back welfare reform, and regulating banks —— efforts styled as combating “predatory lending.” Unfortunately, instead of helping workers, Acorn’’s living-wage campaigns drive businesses out of the very neighbourhoods where jobs are needed most. Acorn’s opposition to welfare reform only threatens to worsen the self-reinforcing cycle of urban poverty and family breakdown. Perhaps most mischievously, says Stern, Acorn uses banking regulations to pressure financial institutions into massive “donations” that it uses to finance supposedly non-partisan voter turn-out drives.

According to Stern, Acorn’s radical agenda sometimes shifts toward “undisguised authoritarian socialism.” Fully aware of its living-wage campaign’’s tendency to drive businesses out of cities, Acorn hopes to force companies that want to move to obtain “exit visas.” “How much longer before Acorn calls for exit visas for wealthy or middle-class individuals before they can leave a city?” asks Stern, adding, “This is the road to serfdom indeed.”

In Your Face

Acorn’s tactics are famously “in your face.” Just think of Code Pink’s well-known operations (threatening to occupy congressional offices, interrupting the testimony of General David Petraeus) and you’ll get the idea. Acorn protesters have disrupted Federal Reserve hearings, but mostly deploy their aggressive tactics locally. Chicago is home to one of its strongest chapters, and Acorn has burst into a closed city council meeting there. Acorn protestors in Baltimore disrupted a bankers’’ dinner and sent four busloads of profanity-screaming protestors against the mayor’’s home, terrifying his wife and kids. Even a Baltimore city council member who generally supports Acorn said their intimidation tactics had crossed the line.

Acorn, however, defiantly touts its confrontational tactics. While Stern himself notes this, the point is driven home sharper still in an Acorn-friendly reply to Stern entitled “Enraging the Right.” Written by academic/activists John Atlas and Peter Dreier, the reply’’s avowed intent is to convince Acorn-friendly politicians, journalists, and funders not to desert the organization in the wake of Stern’’s powerful critique. The stunning thing about this supposed rebuttal is that it confirms nearly everything Stern says. Do Atlas and Dreier object to Stern’s characterizations of Acorn’’s radical plans —— even his slippery-slope warnings about Acorn’’s designs on basic freedom of movement? Nope. “Stern accurately outlines Acorn’s agenda,” they say.

Do Atlas and Dreier dismiss Stern’s catalogue of Acorn’s disruptive and intentionally intimidating tactics as a set of regrettable exceptions to Acorn’’s rule of civility? Not a chance. Atlas and Dreier are at pains to point out that intimidation works. They proudly reel off the increased memberships that follow in the wake of high-profile disruptions, and clearly imply that the same public officials who object most vociferously to intimidation are the ones most likely to cave as a result. What really upsets Atlas and Dreier is that Stern misses the subtle national hand directing Acorn’’s various local campaigns. This is radicalism unashamed.

Although it’s been noted in an important story by John Fund, and in a long Obama background piece in the New York Times, more attention needs to be paid to possible links between Obama and Acorn during the period of Obama’’s service on the boards of two charitable foundations, the Woods Fund and the Joyce Foundation.

According to the New York Times, Obama’’s memberships on those foundation boards, “allowed him to help direct tens of millions of dollars in grants” to various liberal organizations, including Chicago Acorn, “whose endorsement Obama sought and won in his State Senate race.” As best as I can tell (and this needs to be checked out more fully), Acorn maintains both political and “non-partisan” arms. Obama not only sought and received the endorsement of Acorn’s political arm in his local campaigns, he recently accepted Acorn’s endorsement for the presidency, in pursuit of which he reminded Acorn officials of his long-standing ties to the group.
Supposedly, Acorn’s political arm is segregated from its “non-partisan” registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, but after reading Foulkes’’ case study, this non-partisanship is exceedingly difficult to discern. As I understand, it would be illegal for Obama to sit on a foundation board and direct money to an organization that openly served as his key get-out-the-vote volunteers on Election Day. I’m not saying Obama crossed a legal line here: Based on Foulkes’ account, Acorn’s get-out-the-vote drive most likely observed the technicalities of “non-partisanship.”

Nevertheless, the possibilities suggested by a combined reading of the New York Times piece and the Foulkes article are disturbing. While keeping within the technicalities of the law, Obama may have been able to direct substantial foundation money to his organized political supporters. I offer no settled conclusion, but the matter certainly warrants further investigation and discussion. Obama is supposed to be the man who transcends partisanship. Has he instead used his post at an allegedly non-partisan foundation to direct money to a supposedly non-partisan group, in pursuit of what are in fact nakedly partisan and personal ends? I have no final answer, but the question needs to be pursued further.

In fact, the broader set of practices by which activist groups pursue intensely partisan ends under the guise of non-partisanship merits further scrutiny. Consider the 2006 report by Jonathan Bechtle, “Voter Turnout or Voter Fraud?” which includes a discussion of the nexus between Project Vote and Acorn, a nexus where Obama himself once resided. According to Bechtle, “It’s clear that groups that claimed to be nonpartisan wanted a partisan outcome,” and reading Foulkes’s case study of Acorn’s role in Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign, one can’t help but agree.

Radical Obama

Important as these questions of funding and partisanship are, the larger point is that Obama’s ties to Acorn — arguably the most politically radical large-scale activist group in the country — are wide, deep, and longstanding. If Acorn is adept at creating a non-partisan, inside-game veneer for what is in fact an intensely radical, leftist, and politically partisan reality, so is Obama himself. This is hardly a coincidence: Obama helped train Acorn’s leaders in how to play this game. For the most part, Obama seems to have favored the political-insider strategy, yet it’’s clear that he knew how to play the in-your-face “direct action” game as well. And surely during his many years of close association with Acorn, Obama had to know what the group was all about.

The shame of it is that when the L. A. Times returned to Obama’s stomping grounds, it found the park he’d helped renovate reclaimed by drug dealers and thugs. The community organizer strategy may generate feel-good moments and best-selling books, but I suspect a Wal-Mart as the seed-bed of a larger shopping complex would have done far more to save the neighborhood where Obama worked to organize in the “progressive” fashion. Unfortunately, Obama’s Acorn cronies have blocked that solution.

In any case, if you’re looking for the piece of the puzzle that confirms and explains Obama’s network of radical ties, gather your Acorns this spring. Or next winter, you may just be left watching the “President from Acorn” at his feast.

—— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and an NRO contributing editor.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Turin Shroud to be on Display in 2010 Pope Hopes to Visit Relic

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 2, 2008 - The Shroud of Turin, a cloth widely believed to be the burial linen of Jesus, will be put on exposition in the spring of 2010, announced Benedict XVI.

The Pope divulged the news today upon receiving in audience some 7,000 faithful from the Archdiocese of Turin. Prior to the audience, Cardinal Severino Poletto, archbishop of Turin, had celebrated Mass for the pilgrims in St. Peter's Basilica.

In his address to the pilgrims, the Holy Father noted that in the Archdiocese of Turin, the next pastoral year will be dedicated to the Word of God, while 2010 "will see you oriented toward a more attentive contemplation of the Passion of Christ."

In this context, he announced that he had accepted the wishes of the archbishop of Turin and that "in the spring of 2010 there will be another 'solemn exposition of the Shroud.'"

The last time the shroud was put on display was in 2000. In the 20th century, the linen was displayed only four times.

"If the Lord gives me life and health, I too hope to come," he added off-the-cuff, reported the Vatican Information Service.

The exposition, he continued, "will provide an appropriate moment to contemplate that mysterious face which silently speaks to the hearts of men, inviting them to recognize therein the face of God."

The shroud, measuring 4.39 meters in length and 1.15 meters in width (14.5 feet by 3.5 feet), is kept in a climate-controlled urn in the chapel of the Turin cathedral.