Thursday, 27 November 2008

Founder of Italian Communism died a good Catholic, Vatican prelate says

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR. Posted on Nov 25, 2008

Archbishop Luigi de Magistris, the Major Penitentiary of the Vatican, asserted this week during an interview on Vatican Radio that Antonio Gramsci , the legendary founder of the Italian Communist Party, who died in 1937 after a long imprisonment under the fascist government of Benito Mussolini, returned to the Catholic church on his deathbed, receiving the sacraments and even kissing a small image of the child Jesus.

Those claims, however, were swiftly denied by historians linked to the Communist Party and to Gramsci’s memory.

If confirmed, the revelations about Gramsci would arguably represent a significant public relations coup for the Catholic church. Gramsci’s major contribution to Communist thought in the 20th century was his theory of “cultural hegemony.” He held that it wasn’t enough to dismantle Capitalist economic and political structures, but one also had to attack the cultural system of meaning upon which “bourgeois values” were based.

For Gramsci, that meant above all replacing Christianity with a Marxist-inspired form of spirituality – combining, in his view, the enlightened critique of religion found in Renaissance humanism with some of the specifically anti-Catholic thought of the Protestant Reformation.

Archbishop De Magistris insisted that as death neared, Gramsci abandoned these intellectual theories in order to return to the church’s embrace.

“He had an image of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus in his room,” de Magistris said. “During his final illness, the sisters of the clinic where he stayed brought him an image of the Child Jesus, and Gramsci kissed it,” he said.

“Gramsci died with the sacraments. He returned to the faith of his infancy,” de Magistris said. "Some in the Communist world prefer not to talk about it, but it's true."

Several historians who specialize in Gramsci's legacy, however, cast doubt on de Magistris' account. They argue that there’s no mention of any such conversion either in private letters written by Gramsci’s family members chronicling his last days, which have only recently been published, or in regular police reports about Gramsci prepared for Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Beppe Vacco, a philosopher and a former member of parliament for the Communist Party, said that similar rumors about Gramsci have surfaced before. Almost 40 years ago, he said, an elderly nun who had cared for Gramsci in his final days reported a conversion, but so far, he said, there’s been no independent confirmation.

Angelo D’Orsi, a historian and a member of the Gramsci Foundation, said that “we don’t have any trace, or any indication, of a conversion by Gramsci.”

D’Orsi acknowledged that there were religious images in Gramsci’s room in the Roman clinic where he died, but argued that they “were a symbol of his attachment to his family, to its traditions, and to Sardinia,” where Gramsci was born.

D’Orsi said that Gramsci had a “comfort level” with religion which set him apart from many of his Communist peers.

“Gramsci was always very annoyed by anti-clericalism,” D’Orsi said. “He regarded it as a kind of infantile impulse. If you look at his writings in the period 1915-1920, meaning the First World War and the immediate post-war period, he dedicated constant attention to the role that priests, prelates and sisters played during the war. He completely rejected the typical socialist anti-clericalism, which he regarded as stupid and counter-productive.”

Still, D’Orsi insisted that “one does history with documents, not this sort of oral tradition,” and that so far no document points to a deathbed conversion.

On the other hand, Francesco Cossiga, former president of Italy, was prepared to take de Magistris at his word in light of his former role as head of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

“No one else, with the exception of the pope, knows as much when it comes to the Sacred Penitentiary, the office that presides over questions relative to the internal forum of the baptized members of the Catholic church,” Cossiga said.

“If there’s a person who would know about a conversion by Gramsci, about his death in the bosom of the Catholic church, it’s precisely Archbishop de Magistris,” Cossiga said.


Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Stem cell science becomes stem cell medicine

Nov 26, 2008

Claudia CastilloA Colombian woman has become the world's first recipient of an organ grown in the laboratory from stem cells. The windpipe (bronchus), of Claudia Castillo, 30, had collapsed because she had suffered from tuberculosis. Scientists at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona created a new windpipe from her own stem cells and transplanted it. The operation appears to be a success and Ms Castillo needs no immune suppressant drugs because the stem cells were her own.

Roger Highfield, editor of the New Scientist, expressed the jubilation of many scientists: "The science of healing is developing so quickly that it has become almost a cliché to describe a particular operation as a 'breakthrough'. Yet there is no doubt that the first successful transplant of a human windpipe, constructed partly from stem cells, is an astonishing milestone - one that could indeed mark the start of a new era in medicine."

With the noisy debate over the relative importance of embryonic versus adult stem cells hushed as hopes for the former fade, almost none of the news reports pointed out that only adult stem cells had been used in this stunning development.

Professor Martin Birchall, a member of the team from the University of Bristol, said: "What we're seeing today is just the beginning. This is the first time a tissue-engineered whole organ has been transplanted into a patient. I reckon in 20 years' time, it will be the commonest operation surgeons will be doing. I think it will completely transform the way we think about surgery, health and disease."

The technique, he said, could be applied to other hollow organs, such as the bowel, bladder and reproductive tract.

What the scientists did was to remove a windpipe from a deceased donor and scrub away all the soft tissue so that all that remained was a scaffolding of cartilage. Then they seeded this with stem cells from bone marrow and the nose. These grew around the scaffolding to form the new windpipe.

Professor Paolo Macchiarini, the surgeon, said: "We are terribly excited by these results. Just four days after transplantation, the graft was almost indistinguishable from adjacent, normal bronchi." ~ Scotsman, Nov 19


Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Scholars Urge More Research on Holy Grail

Congress Discusses Authenticity of Chalice

VALENCIA, Spain, NOV. 24, 2008 - Though no one knows if Valencia's grail is the true Last Supper chalice, a group of experts says it has tremendous cultural value due to its impact on history and literature.

This was affirmed by members of the international congress "Valencia, City of the Holy Grail," focusing on the chalice traditionally associated with the institution of the Eucharist.

The congress was held Nov. 7-9 at the Catholic University of Valencia and was organized by the Archdiocese of Valencia, the cathedral’s metropolitan chapter, the Catholic University of Valencia, the Spanish Center for Sindonology, the Royal Brotherhood, and the Holy Chalice Confraternity.

Experts from several countries attended the congress. They gave presentations on the ways in which this relic has marked history and literature since its move from Rome to Spain by Lawrence the Martyr in the year 258, as held by tradition.

The body of existing data points to the Valencia grail as the most probable authentic chalice of Christ.


Antonio Beltrán, professor of archaeology at the University of Zaragoza, noted that
the cup is formed by a deep red agate, called "Oriental carnelian," with streaks in the form of flames. By its material he asserts that it must come from a workshop in Palestine, Syria or Egypt between the fourth century B.C. and the first century A.D. The subsequent additions, such as the precious stones and the frame, date from the 13th or 14th century.

Jorge Manuel Rodríguez, president of the Spanish Center for Sindonology, explained that although films have always shown "a wooden Holy Grail, […] that material did not comply with the norms of purification of the Jews."

Another element discussed by the scholars was the journey of the chalice from Rome to Valencia.

The experts affirmed that if the chalice arrived in Rome from Jerusalem, it was most likely taken by the Apostle Peter himself.

Jaime Sancho, president of the liturgy commission of the Archdiocese of Valencia, presented a datum that supports the theory that the first popes celebrated the Eucharist with the same chalice that Jesus used.
Sancho explained that in the Roman Canon, which dates back to the second century, it says literally at the moment of consecration "and, taking this glorious chalice in his holy and venerable hands," instead of "the chalice."

This and other proofs contributed by Sancho demonstrate the existence in Rome of a unique chalice.

This was affirmed by José Vicente Martínez, professor of ancient history at the University of Valencia, and American researcher Janice Bennet, doctor in Spanish literature. They both spoke about Pope Sixtus II, martyred in Rome during Valerian’s persecution, entrusting the Holy Grail to Deacon Lawrence to protect it from the emperor.

A manuscript by St. Donatus told of this event, said Bennet, as well as the fact that Lawrence was a native of Valencia, not Huesca, as traditionally believed.

Several presenters gave historical proofs of the presence of the chalice in Spain over many centuries, from the study of various annals and paintings.

German anthropologist Michael Hesemann stated that "as opposed to what many think, the grail legends did not begin with the Anglo-Saxon accounts of King Arthur, but in the rooted tradition that says that the chalice of the Last Supper was already in Spain in the Middle Ages."

Faith and science

The researchers were practically unanimous in supporting research on the chalice with modern scientific techniques to determine its origin, though they emphasized that its religious value does not depend on the resulting discoveries.

Miguel Navarro, doctor in church history from Rome’s Gregorian University, stated that the chalice "is not a magical object, but consecrated by Jesus' use of it and by the faith that perceives it as such, which has great religious value, regardless of the fact that it cannot be proved with absolute scientific certainty that it is the Lord’s chalice."

Relics, he added, are not "simple keepsakes, but something more valuable: palpable evidence of the reality of the human or historical event on which our faith is based, as salvation takes place in history, in the flesh."

Moreover, Father Manuel Carreira, doctor of physical sciences, added that science and faith "are not opposed." However, he specified that "although science can give an explanation of all this, it cannot demonstrate anything literally about what happens in the Eucharist."

Navarro added that the chalice "insofar as relic, is beyond and above science, because its primordial significance belongs to the realm of faith, which does not mean that we approach it in an anti-scientific or fundamentalist way." Rather, "we have the obligation to study it scientifically in its materiality."

Benedict XVI used the chalice during the Mass with which he concluded the World Meeting of Families in Valencia in July, 2006. Pope John Paul II also used it in his visit to the city.