Friday, December 29, 2006

It is very hard to not have mixed feelings about the execution of Saddam Hussein. I do not believe in the death penalty and completely agree with Church teachings on the sanctity of life. But the human part of me, the part of me that knows the cruelties he was guilty of and is horrified by them can't help but feel quietly satisfied. However, it's not a happy feeling by any stretch of the imagination. I mourn the loss of all the lives that went before him; I mourn the loss of lives since his downfall. But most of all, I mourn the apparent loss of his immortal soul.

Top Vatican official condemns Saddam's death penalty

ROME (AP) — A top Vatican official condemned the death sentence against Saddam Hussein in a newspaper interview published Thursday, saying capital punishment goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI's top prelate for justice issues and a former Vatican envoy to the U.N., said executing the ousted Iraqi leader would punish "a crime with another crime," and he expressed hope that the sentence would not be carried out.

In the interview with Rome daily La Repubblica, Martino reiterated the Vatican's staunch opposition to the death penalty, saying that life must be safeguarded from its beginning to its natural end.

"The death penalty is not a natural death. And no one can give death, not even the State," he said.

On Tuesday, Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam's appeal against a conviction and death sentence for the killing of 148 people in Dujail, in northern Iraq, in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days.

Martino's comments follow remarks he made after Saddam's initial sentencing, when the prelate denounced the planned execution as "eye for eye" logic.

In Thursday's interview, Martino also recalled how the late Pope John Paul II had opposed the war in Iraq.

"John Paul II did his duty," the cardinal told La Repubblica. "He said the war in Iraq would have been an adventure without return — and we are seeing it."

Martino called for an international conference to take on all the conflicts in the region, including in Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land.

On Thursday, Italian Premier Romano Prodi also reiterated previous condemnations of Saddam's sentence, both on moral and practical grounds. Italy is a firm opponent of capital punishment.

"I don't believe that Saddam's execution would remotely help bring peace to the country," he said. Aside from the moral condemnation, he added, "even politically I think it would carry ... more negative consequences than positive ones."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Holy Father's Christmas Day message stressing the importance of spirituality in our modern era and reminding us that science has left much unsolved.

FROM: Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles TimesTuesday, December 26, 2006

(12-26) 04:00 PST Rome -- In a traditional and often-grim Christmas Day message, Pope Benedict XVI said a world that has achieved unimaginable technological progress still needs God in its unending confrontation with hunger, hatred and war.

Despite the Internet, globalized economies and the ability to send spacecraft to the moon and Mars, "how can we not hear, from the very depths of this humanity ... the heartrending cry for help?" the pope asked.

Humankind's technological advance has not solved its most vexing problems, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church added.

"In this postmodern age, perhaps he (man) needs a savior all the more," the pontiff said, "since the society in which he lives has become more complex, and the threats to his personal and moral integrity have become more insidious."

Draped in golden vestments, Benedict marked his second Christmas as pope, delivering the annual message "Urbi et Orbi" -- Latin for "to the city and the world" -- from the central balcony of the majestic St. Peter's Basilica. Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists, in chilly sunshine, filled the square below to hear the noontime address, which was broadcast to 40 nations.

St. Peter's Square is an especially popular attraction at Christmas. It is decorated this year by a 109-foot fir tree from southern Italy's Sila National Park, said to be the tallest Christmas tree ever to grace the Vatican, and a larger-than-life Nativity scene.

The papal Christmas Day message is often used to give a sobering account of the state of world affairs, the conflicts and disease plaguing humanity and the way that the faith born with Jesus can provide solace.

"Who can defend him (man), if not the one who loves him to the point of sacrificing on the cross his only-begotten son as the savior of the world?" Benedict said.

He cited "with deep apprehension" the Middle East, "marked by so many grave crises and conflicts," and urged the path be opened "to a just and lasting peace, with respect for the inalienable rights of the peoples living there."

"I place in the hands of the divine child of Bethlehem the indications of a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, which we have witnessed in recent days, and the hope of further encouraging developments," the pope added, alluding to Saturday's rare meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Benedict also called for the survival of a "democratic Lebanon, open to others and in dialogue with different cultures and religions," and appealed "to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq" that they work to find an end to "brutal violence."

He also prayed for the end to fratricidal fighting in Darfur and elsewhere in Africa and for the continent's "open wounds" to heal.

"Is a savior still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature's secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvelous codes of the human genome?" the pope said.

"This humanity of the 21st century appears as a sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs," he continued. "So it would seem, yet this is not the case. People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mankind Cannot Live Without God.
Dec. 25, 2006 - Yahoo, UK-Ireland

Pope Benedict has used his Christmas address to deliver the stern message that mankind cannot live without God.

He said that in an age of "unbridled consumerism" it was shameful many remained deaf to the "heart-rending cry" of those dying of hunger, thirst, disease, poverty, war and terrorism.

In his address broadcast live to an audience of millions in 40 countries he posed the question: "Does a 'Saviour' still have any value and meaning for the men and women of the third millennium?"

"Is a 'Saviour' still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe?"

He appealed for peace and justice in the Middle East, an end to the brutal violence in Iraq and to the fratricidal conflict in Darfur and other parts of Africa, and expressed his hope for "a democratic Lebanon".

In a separate, written message to the small Christian communities of the Middle East, the Pope said he hoped to visit the Holy Land as soon as the situation allowed.

He then wished the world a Happy Christmas in 62 languages - including Arabic, Hebrew, Mongolian and Latin - but his speech highlighted his preoccupation with humanity's fate.

At midnight, the 79-year-old Benedict had ushered in Christmas with midnight mass at the Vatican saying the image of the baby Jesus in a manger should remind everyone of the plight of poor, abused and neglected children the world over.

He said: "The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children, particularly those who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn."

"Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved.!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

December 23, 2006
World Briefing Europe (from New York Times)
Vatican City: Pope Speaks Against Civil Unions
Pope Benedict XVI waded into Italian politics, saying he “cannot remain silent” over the government’s pledge to legally recognize unmarried couples. In a long year-end speech to the Vatican bureaucracy, the pope said that such legal recognition not only diminished the institution of marriage, but also put relations between men and women on the same level as homosexual couples. He also dismissed recent criticism from some politicians that the church should not speak out on the issue, insisting, “If one says the church should not interfere in these matters, then we can only respond: should mankind not interest us?”

Pope warns against secularization of Christmas holiday
By Daniela PetroffAssociated Press (

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians this week to defend the spirit of Christmas against secular trends during his last general audience before the holiday.
He wished the several thousand pilgrims and tourists gathered in a Vatican auditorium decorated with Christmas trees a "Happy Christmas" in seven languages and told them that "false prophets continue to offer cheap salvation which ends up in deep delusions."
"It is the duty of Christians to spread through a witness of life the truth of Christmas, which Christ brings to every man and woman of good will."

Throughout the audience, choral groups sang Christmas carols, including "Silent Night," a favorite in the pope's native Germany. Shepherds from Italy's Abruzzi mountains, in their traditional fur-trimmed costumes, played Italian carols on their bagpipes.

During his speech, Benedict also posed the question of the relevance of religion in modern society, one of his leading themes.

"Today, many consider God irrelevant. Even believers sometimes seek tempting but illusory shortcuts to happiness. And yet perhaps even because of this confusion humanity seeks a savior, and awaits the coming of Christ," the pope said.

Although he warned against being distracted by what he called the "trappings of Christmas," Benedict offered thanks for the 110-foot Christmas tree set up in St. Peter's Square, and the one in his private apartment in the Vatican, both gifts from the mountains of Calabria in southern Italy.

He also encouraged the custom of setting up nativity scenes in the home.

"It is my hope that such an important element (of Christmas) not only part of our spirituality, but also of our culture and art continue to be a simple and eloquent way of remembering Christ."

The home nativity scene is the traditional focal point of the Italian Christmas, with families working for days on elaborate settings which, along with the main figures, often include village scenes, artistic lighting and even fountains with running water.

However, the tradition is waning, with some families preferring the Christmas tree, a custom inherited from northern Europe and North America.

Workers in St. Peter's Square are still busy setting up the life-sized nativity scene with 26 figures set under a caravan tent, to be unveiled tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, along with the lighting of the Christmas tree.

Friday, December 15, 2006

At last a media piece letting us hear from Muslims who are engaging in reason. I knew they were out there but media reports are so uniformly negative that it is easy to forget that there are brave writers and intellectuals who represent a huge group of thoughtful Muslim believers. Of course I had to find it in the BBC News.

Muslims debate Pope's speech reaction
By Magdi Abdelhadi Arab Affairs Analyst, BBC News

Despite the predominantly emotional and angry response to the Pope's controversial remarks about Islam, some Muslim writers and intellectuals have been extremely critical of the way Muslims have responded so far.

The angry reactions to the Pope's original remarks included the killing of an Italian nun in Somalia and attacks on Christian churches in Palestinian territories.

But several Muslim writers argued that such violent reactions appeared to confirm the very things that Muslims have been seeking to refute.

Some concluded that it would have been better to engage in a rational debate with the Pope.
The European Muslim scholar, Tarik Ramadan, blamed Muslim leaders and scholars for such violent responses.

'Let off steam'
Leaders who deny their people freedom of expression, he wrote, find it convenient to allow their people to let off some steam as long as it is about Danish cartoons or words uttered by the Pope.
Mr Ramadan asks rhetorically whether it was wise of Muslims to feel offended by the Pope's quotation from a 14th Century Christian emperor while they continue to ignore questions they have faced over the past five years about the meaning of the term "jihad" and the legitimate use of force.

Khaled Hroub, a Jordanian-born academic, wrote that the aggressive and intolerant reactions failed to live up to the ideals Muslims believe in.

The Muslim reaction to the Pope's apology has also come in for a lot of criticism.

Mr Hroub wondered whether Muslim clerics can ever be asked to apologise for believing that Islam is the one and only true religion.

One columnist, Abdelwahab Al Affendi, ridiculed those who demanded a retraction of the Pope's original remarks.

Mr Al Effendi wrote saying that nothing short of the Pope's converting to Islam will ever assuage the anger of those people!

Story from BBC NEWS: 2006/09/25 15:18:54 GMT© BBC MMVI

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Note - I fully support the public display of religious symbols. I also support an attitude of inclusion. Instead of society tearing down its symbols, so as not to offend the sensibilities of some one or some group, I say, INCLUDE all religious symbols. I'm sure we could all learn something from each other if we were not being so quick to deny representations of the expressions of our faiths.

Pope advocates religious symbols in public places
Sat Dec 9, 5:35 PM ET
From Yahoo News

Religious symbols should be allowed in public places, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of Italian Catholic legal experts.

"Hostility to all forms of recognition of the political and cultural importance of religion and in particular the presence of any religious symbols in public institutions ... is not a sign of healthy secularism, but the degeneration of secularism," the pope said.

"The state cannot consider religion to be simply an individual feeling that can be confined to the private sphere," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

Religion "should be recognized as a common public presence," and its symbols should be allowed in offices, schools, courtrooms, hospitals, prisons and so on, the 79-year-old pontiff added.
"An areligious vision of life, thought and ethics" has led to an erroneous conception of secularism, "a term that seems to have become the essential emblem ... of modern democracy," he lamented.

The question of crucifixes and the secular nature of the Italian state has inflamed passions in the country in recent years, with parents objecting to the display of religious symbols at state schools.

All religions are considered equal under the constitution, but two decrees from the 1920s, confirmed by legislation in 1984, allow Catholic symbols in state schools.

Benedict said Saturday: "It is out of the question for the Church to indicate what political or social order is preferable, but the people should freely choose the best and most appropriate ways to organize public life."

He added: "Any direct intervention by the Church in this area would be illegitimate interference."

But, he said, the Church may "affirm and defend great values that give meaning to a person's life and safeguard its dignity."

The conservative pope, elected in April 2005, made a similar call for the display of crucifixes in public buildings last year, saying it was important that "God be visible ... and present in public life."
Benedict XVI Offers an Answer to Church's Crisis
Posted on December 08, 2006
From Catholic University - an online weekend newspaper

The answer to the crisis the Church is facing, especially in the West, consists in proclaiming and rediscovering the grandeur of God's love, experienced in prayer, says Benedict XVI. The Pope expressed this when analyzing in several meetings with the bishops of Switzerland, from Nov. 7-9, today's challenges to evangelization. The bishops were concluding their five-yearly visit to Rome, which had been put on hold in 2005 because of Pope John Paul II's failing health.

Benedict XVI's two interventions, as well as his homily to the Swiss bishops, are revealing, as he delivered them in German, his mother tongue. They were subsequently translated by the Holy See and will appear later in ZENIT.

The Pontiff began his last talk by explaining that he had not had the time to prepare his addresses as he had wished. "I would like to ask you to excuse me for having come without a prepared text on the very first day," the Holy Father said. "I had of course given it some thought, but I did not have the time to write. And so, once again now, I am presenting myself with this impoverishment, but it might be right also for a Pope to be poor in all senses at this time in the Church's history. "In any case, I am unable to offer you a grand discourse now as would have been fitting after a meeting with these results."

Addressing the present crisis in the Church, Benedict XVI recalled how, "when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and '90s, … I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems. "If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears."

The Pope continued: "I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith -- a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us." Understood from this perspective are the important documents of this pontificate, particularly the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" and the forthcoming book on Jesus to be published this spring.

"God is Logos and God is Love - to the point that he completely humbled himself, assuming a human body and finally, giving himself into our hands as bread," the Holy Father explained. "We know that God is not a philosophical hypothesis, he is not something that perhaps exists, but we know him and he knows us. And we can know him better and better if we keep up a dialogue with him.

"This is why it is a fundamental task of pastoral care to teach people how to pray and how to learn to do so personally, better and better." "Many seek meditation elsewhere because they think that they will not be able to find a spiritual dimension in Christianity," Benedict XVI observed.

"We must show them once again not only that this spiritual dimension exists but that it is the source of all things. "To this end, we must increase the number of these schools of prayer, for praying together, where it is possible to learn personal prayer in all its dimensions: as silent listening to God, as a listening that penetrates his Word, penetrates his silence, sounds the depths of his action in history and in one's own person; and to understand his language in one's life and then to learn to respond in prayer with the great prayers of the Psalms of the Old Testament and prayers of the New.

"This intimate being with God, hence, the experience of God's presence, is what makes us, so to speak, experience ever anew the greatness of Christianity, and then also helps us to find our way through all the trivialities among which, of course, it must also be lived and -- day after day, in suffering and loving, in joy and sorrow -- put into practice."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A kinder, gentler Benedict XVI emerges in Turkey
Janis Mackey Frayer, CTV Middle East Bureau Chief Updated: Tue. Dec. 5 2006 9:57 AM ET

The sun had long faded and gave way to a chilling wind that left me questioning the logic of my situation: Standing with a gaggle of reporters and photographers on a stretch of boulevard choked by armed security. Shivering from a woeful misjudgment of Istanbul's cold. Toiling for hours for the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics -- a journalist's vigil that had so far yielded only a blurred glimpse of his satin-capped head.

And then, something historic happened.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks with Muslim clerics as security officers and other prelates look on during a visit in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey on Nov. 30, 2006. (AP / Patrick Hertzog)

Pope Benedict XVI's motorcade arrived in front of us at the entrance of the famed Blue Mosque where the pontiff was greeted by Mustafa Cagrici, Istanbul's Grand Mufti. The two men -- resplendent in robes -- chatted warmly and posed for pictures. They lingered, like nervous freshmen on the first day of school, before climbing the stairs.

Pope Benedict XVI, without shoes, is seen during a visit in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey on Nov. 30, 2006. (AP / Patrick Hertzog)

At the door, Pope Benedict took off his shoes and became only the second Pope in the history of the papacy to enter a mosque.
A short tour followed and then, in a move that was unexpected but done with such ease, the two men stood quietly in what appeared to be prayer. Both facing Mecca. Two men of different faiths sharing the sanctity of one poignant moment.

It would become the lasting and powerful symbol of the Pope's journey to Turkey.

People had been looking for something to heal the sting inflicted only three months earlier when Pope Benedict made comments that were construed as insulting.

In a speech in Germany, he had quoted a Byzantine scholar who characterized Islam as "irrational" and "violent." Understandably, Muslims around the world were outraged.
That anger explained the extraordinary security in Turkey -- measures that far exceeded what officials employed for the visit of George W. Bush in 2004. Protests were banned during the Pope's visit but the last legal one, two days before his arrival, drew more than 20,000 people to the streets telling Benedict to stay home.

In the weeks that followed the Pope's comments the Vatican tried gesture after gesture to smooth things over. Even Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted he was too busy to meet the Pope so as to distance himself from the inevitable criticism of his party's Islamic roots.

In the weeks that followed the Pope's comments the Vatican tried gesture after gesture to smooth things over. Even Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted he was too busy to meet the Pope so as to distance himself from the inevitable criticism of his party's Islamic roots.

Erdogan adjusted his schedule at the last minute to greet the pontiff on the tarmac and that handshake went a long way in establishing a tone of hospitality. The Pope reciprocated by apparently telling Erdogan that he tacitly supported Turkey's bid to join the European Union, something he opposed when he was a cardinal for fear of compromising Europe's "Christian roots."

Reconciliation with Muslims it seemed was underway, punctuated by the Pope's visit to the tomb of modern Turkey's founder, his courteous walk through the Hagia Sophia where it is forbidden to pray and that defining moment facing Mecca as his lips quietly uttered words only he will know. Afterwards, the Mufti said it was, "even more meaningful than an apology."
Yet the Turkey visit was planned as a pastoral one to forge Christian unity with the Orthodox Church. For some 1,000 years there has existed a "rift." The Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew held joint services and blessings to send a message of strength and brotherhood to their faithful. Here, too, it seems the Pope achieved diplomatic success. He also made some sensitive demands -- namely, greater rights for Christian minorities in Muslim countries.

Veteran Vatican-watchers believe the visit was significant in establishing the Pope as not only an esteemed scholar and theologian but a "feeling" church leader.

"This is a kinder, gentler Benedict XVI," said author John Allen.

Pope Benedict later described his Turkey trip as an "unforgettable" experience. Some Muslims say he should do more and called the adventure "futile." Still, it seems the Pope convinced the majority of his Muslim hosts that he wants warmer relations... suggesting I wasn't the only one trying to overcome the chill in the Turkish air.

© Copyright 2006 CTV Inc.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

European Press: Pope No Longer Hated Figure in Turkey
Zaman Daily News

Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to Turkey attracted worldwide attention and hundreds of international journalists.

According to the European press, the pope went to Turkey as a vilified figure but emerged a symbol of tolerance.

The Times of London recalled reactions to the pope’s remarks on Islam a few months ago in Germany but drew attention to the pope’s admirable statements in Istanbul before departing for Rome.

The Times added that the pope surprised many with his supportive remarks on Turkey’s EU membership and speaking in Turkish during prayers in Ephesus.

The article also quoted Vatican sources saying that Turkish reaction to the pope was not reflected in the Arab world and they were still waiting for a direct apology from the pontiff.
The Guardian wrote that the pope had convinced most Turkish people of his wishes to foster warmer relations with the Muslim world.

The German press called the pope’s visit a very successful one.

“The pope enchanted Turks,” wrote Die Welt.

I was very happy to see this and other articles like it. Of course, in our imperfect world, there was the expected voice of dissent. One came out of Jordan with the complaint that the Pope still had not apologized appropriately nor had he done enough. Done enough what? My thought to the speaker is "how about YOU doing something to bring about unity and peace instead of continuing the nonproductive critique. There is a lot of work to do and a good place to start would be to disavow terrorism and the suicide bombers that kill so many innocent people. Also, the same voice out of Jordan suggested that the trip would have been more effective had the Pope gone to Iran or Saudi Arabia. Well, since the trip had been planned since before the Sept. 12th speech, the where really wasn't a factor and even suggesting it proves the speaker's unwillingness to listen with an open mind and heart.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Turkey takes stock of visit from Pope Benedict XVI
By Matthew Schofield - McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

ISTANBUL, Turkey - As Pope Benedict XVI on Friday left the streets of Istanbul, a city that had been locked down since his arrival, some Turks said they had been won over by his four-day visit to this secular nation of Muslims.

Others, though, said they remained dubious about a man who had been roundly criticized for comments earlier this fall about Islam.

Many Muslims were furious when the pope in September quoted a former resident of this city, Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, saying, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Everyone agreed that there was no lack of effort, or symbolism, in his visit. He became only the second pope (after John Paul II) to enter a mosque, and he bowed his head as the imam at the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmet Mosque, offered a prayer. He also refrained from visibly praying in Hagia Sophia, something that was seen as showing respect for the secular Turkish state. Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine church, became a mosque after 1453 and is now a museum.

The mufti of Istanbul, Mustafa Cagrici, who'd been highly critical of Benedict XVI after the speech in September and who had signed a protest letter by Islamic academics, said that he was impressed by the visit.

"The joint prayer, in the mosque, was more important than his previous words," he said.
In fact, the Sabah newpaper covered its front page with a photo of the two of them together, and said, "Forgiven in Sultan Ahmet."

There were, however, complaints.

On the streets of Istanbul, Mehmet Tekindag, 46, a Turkish nationalist, said he was angry about the trip, which he said was no more than an excuse to visit Patriarch Bartholomew of the eastern Orthodox church. (MY NOTE: it would seem that Mr. Tekindag would find reason to be angry no matter what. He seems to also fail to understand the the original purpose of the trip WAS to visit the Patriarch. It also stands to reason that if he is in Turkey, he would meet with heads of state since the Pope, himself, is a head of state.)

A young woman, Zeynep Koru, noted that security was so tight for the visit that getting around was very difficult. Traffic snarls lasted for hours. "He is calling for peace, ethics," she said. "Then he should respect to people and visit the places by helicopter." (MY NOTE: What silly nonsense.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pope Benedict concludes historic visit to Turkey amid praise and challenges
Fri Dec 1, 5:12 PM

By Brian Murphy

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) - Pope Benedict was greeted in Turkey with a lecture on how the Christian West scorns Islam. He left Friday with Istanbul's chief Islamic cleric speaking lyrically of better days ahead between the faiths.

Few predicted how boldly, and with such apparent success, the pontiff would seek to remake his battered image in the Muslim world during four days of speeches, sermons and symbolic gestures that included an instantly famous moment of silent prayer in a mosque while facing Mecca.

"Istanbul is a bridge that unites sides," the Pope said before ending his first papal trip to the Muslim world. "I hope that this dialogue continues."

Turkey's influential Milliyet newspaper bid the Pope farewell with an optimistic headline: "The Istanbul Peace."

But it will require attention to sustain.

The Pope left without laying out clear ideas on how to follow through with his promises for greater understanding and dialogue with Muslims. He also put some sensitive demands on the table: wider protections and rights for Christian minorities in the Muslim world, including Turkey's tiny communities whose roots go back to the apostles.

Originally, the trip was envisioned as a pilgrimage to reinforce Christian bonds and reach out to Turkey's remaining Christians, including Catholics estimated to number between 20,000 and 30,000. But after the Pope gave a speech in September that angered many Muslims, it became a test of the Vatican's ability to mend ties with the Islamic world.

Muslims erupted in protest in response to the speech, in which Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The Pope later offered his regrets that his speech caused offence and stressed that the quotes did not reflect his personal opinion.

In Turkey, he carefully avoided anything that could be perceived as a slight against Islam. He said all religious leaders must "utterly refuse" to support violence. Even when a statement from "al-Qaida in Iraq" denounced the trip, the Vatican responded with a general rebuke of "violence in the name of God."

The Pope's dramatic moment of silent prayer in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque on Thursday capped a wide-ranging effort to win back Muslim sentiments, which included expressing support for Turkey's steps to become the first Muslim country in the European Union.

The gestures were well-received among Turkish religious leaders and in the media.

Mustafa Cagrici, the head mufti in Istanbul, waxed poetic about "a spring ahead for this world" after praying alongside Benedict at the Blue Mosque. He said the Pope "stood in prayer just like Muslims."

It marked only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship. John Paul II made a brief stop in a mosque in Syria in 2001.

Scenes from the Pope's minute of prayer - eyes closed, hands clasped - appeared on the front page of nearly every newspaper in Turkey. "History written in Istanbul," wrote the Vatan newspaper.

The Pope's visit also made the front pages of several Arab newspapers. The pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat ran a front-page picture of the pope praying in the Blue Mosque, with the headline, "The Pope turns toward Mecca in prayer."

"He came here with humility, and for the pontiff that takes an act of courage," said the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, a Greek Orthodox clergyman who set up meetings between the Pope and the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

A member of the papal entourage put the visit in even more epic terms. Roger Cardinal Etchagaray compared the mosque visit to John Paul II's dramatic stop in 2000 at Israel's Western Wall, where he left a copy of his declaration asking God's forgiveness for sins against the Jews.

"Benedict did for the Muslims what John Paul did for the Jews," the cardinal told reporters.

Some in the Arab world, however, remained skeptical about whether the Pope's visit would completely repair the damage caused by his speech in September.

"It relieves to some extent what he said before, but we're hoping to see more from him. For example, will he continue this tone when he returns to the Vatican?" said Fahmi Huweidi, an Egyptian commentator on Islamic affairs who has written columns in the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat sharply criticizing the Pope's speech.

There were tense moments early on in the trip. Ali Bardakoglu, the top Muslim cleric in Turkey, sat across from Benedict on Tuesday and complained that claims about Islam's violent nature were feeding "a growing Islamophobia" in the West.

Days later, however, Bardakoglu called the visit "a very positive step."

Turkish authorities had mobilized their biggest security force in decades in preparation for the visit. Istanbul's police chief, Celalettin Cerrah, said more than 9,500 officers were on duty during the week. Helicopters buzzed over rooftops and minarets, while sharpshooters watched over every stretch of the papal route.

However, only several limited demonstrations were held during Benedict's visit.

Before he left Friday, Benedict sought to reaffirm his message of reconciliation during a mass for members of Turkey's Roman Catholic community.

"You know well that the church wishes to impose nothing on anyone, and that she merely asks to live in freedom," he said. In the courtyard of the 160-year-old Holy Spirit Cathedral, the Pope then released several white doves into the sky.

Copyright © 2006 Canadian Press
Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Canada Co. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pope Benedict Becomes Second Catholic Leader to Visit Mosque
By Sabina Castelfranco
Istanbul - 30 November 2006
Voice of America

Pope Benedict XVI visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Thursday, becoming the second pope to enter a Muslim place of worship. He also visited Aya Sophia, which used to be Christianity's largest church. Earlier the pope held a solemn prayer service with the leader of the world's Orthodox Christians. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Istanbul.

Pope Benedict removed his shoes before entering the 17th century Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It was the second time a pope has entered a Muslim place of worship. Pope John Paul II visited a mosque in Syria in 2001.

Istanbul's Grand Mufti Mustafa Cagrici accompanied the pope and described different details of the mosque. The pope stood silently in meditation. His visit to the mosque was seen as another gesture of reconciliation by the pope toward Muslims.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the visit to the mosque in Istanbul was added to the pope's schedule as a sign of respect to Muslims. The pope and the grand mufti exchanged gifts inside the mosque.

Earlier the pope visited the domed Aya Sofia, or Church of Holy Wisdom. During the Byzantine period, it used to be Christianity's largest church. In 1453 it was turned into a mosque and now it is a museum.

Extra tight security was in place for the pope's evening visits in Istanbul.

In the morning Thursday, Pope Benedict and the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, held a solemn prayer service together in the Church of Saint George in Istanbul.

During the ceremony the leaders of the world's Catholics and Orthodox pledged to continue all efforts toward full Christian unity between their churches.

"'The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel," said Pope Benedict XVI.

In a joint statement after the ceremony, the pope and the patriarch also stressed the need to "preserve Christian roots" in European culture while remaining "open to other religions and their cultural contributions."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This is one of the best articles I've read regarding Pope Benedict's position on the growing secularism in Europe and society at large.

Benedict's post-secular vision

Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst
International Herald TribunePublished: November 29, 2006

LONDON: The pope in Turkey
Two months ago, Pope Benedict XVI sparked a furor in the Islamic world when, during a lecture at Regensburg, he quoted a Byzantine emperor who described some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman." After worldwide condemnation and violent protests, he expressed regret for the pain his comments had caused, but stopped short of a full apology.

During his visit to Turkey this week, Benedict is expected to avoid controversy and seek a diplomatic rapprochement with Islam. Indeed, his talk of "dialogue, brotherhood and understanding between religions," as well as the reversal of his objections to Turkey's EU membership has been widely interpreted as a gesture of goodwill toward the Muslim faithful. As such, his declarations appear to be a concession to his liberal and religious critics alike.

But the papal visit is not primarily an attempt to pacify relations between Christianity and Islam. Instead, Benedict is there to engage with Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy in the hope of persuading both to join his project of overcoming secularism.

The Pope, far from being sectarian, wants to inaugurate a new religious renaissance in Europe that opposes both secular and religious fundamentalism. This apostolic journey is of a piece with the logic of the Regensburg address, rather than a belated act of repentance for it.

Benedict opposes secularism because it is both absolute and arbitrary. In the name of being neutral with regard to values, secular ideology eliminates all rival world views from the public sphere. By denying the existence of objective moral truths, it elevates self- assertion as the measure of all things. Social life is reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interest — a process in which the most powerful always win.

Ultimately, this arbitrary absolutism produces a society ruled by an unholy alliance of utilitarian ethics and the proxy politics of the managerial class. This collusion destroys the very idea of common action and a binding collective discernment. Thus does the pope attribute the failure of Europe's common political project to the growing secularization of European culture.

Benedict's religious alternative is not some form of theocratic absolutism. On the contrary, the Pope is a staunch defender of secularity — the separation of church and state. Benedict wants to disentangle the church from the state, but without divorcing religion from politics, because only a religion freed from subservience to the state can save modern culture from itself.

Thus Benedict's true purpose in Turkey is that of uniting all the monotheistic faiths against a militant and self-consciously destructive secular culture. To that end he will seek a new political communion with Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople — the symbolic leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians. Even the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexei II, who rejected overtures by the late Pope John Paul II, has indicated that he would now welcome talks with Rome.

Nor are the pope's attempts to produce a concerted monotheistic alliance restricted to Christians. On the first day of his visit, Benedict quoted an 11th century pope, Gregory VII, who talked about the duties that Christians and Muslims owe each other "because we believe in one God."

Far from being anti-Muslim, the pope views Islam as a key cultural ally against the enlightenment liberalism that for him corrodes the moral core of Western society.
It is important to realize, however, that Benedict recognizes a mutual problem in this explicit project of religious realignment around shared critiques and common discernment. Secular conceptions of race, state and nation have corrupted all the faiths, too often turning them into a vehicle for nationalism or racism.

Accordingly, the denunciation at Regensburg of scripturally authorized violence by Islam is wholly in line with Benedict's call to the faiths to abandon their respective perversions. Hence the papal demand Tuesday that all religions "utterly refuse to sanction recourse to violence as a legitimate expression of faith."

It is a genuine cause for celebration that Benedict seeks to make common cause with other universal faiths to confront an aggressively supremacist Western culture of forced unbelief and relentless consumerism.

Phillip Blond is a senior lecturer in religion and philosophy at St. Martin's College, Lancaster. Adrian Pabst is a research fellow at the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies. had this interesting article this evening.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Pope to visit "Mary's House" in Turkey
By Philip Pullella on Yahoo.

Pope Benedict, pursuing a journey of fence-mending with Islam and Turkey, on Wednesday pays tribute to one of Christianity's most revered sites before heading to Istanbul, city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

During the first day of his delicate trip to the predominantly Muslim country on Tuesday, Benedict quickly set to work trying to soothe still simmering rows over his positions on Islam and Turkey's future role in Europe.

His comments so far appeared to go a long way toward making up for a speech in Germany in September when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was violent and irrational. The speech infuriated Muslims worldwide.

Fears of large protests by Islamists and nationalists were unfounded, with only two small and peaceful demonstrations reported in Ankara. About 3,000 police were out on patrol to keep order, with snipers on buildings near papal events.

Turkey's top Muslim leader, Ali Bardakoglu, spoke out against growing "Islamophobia, which expresses the mentality that the religion of Islam is containing and encouraging violence."
In his speech at the same event, Benedict said Christians and Muslims must continue an open dialogue because they believe in the same God and agree on the meaning and purpose of life.
Benedict also appeared to do an about-face from his previous opposition to Ankara's bid to join the European Union.

On Wednesday the Pope is due to fly west to the Aegean town of Ephesus, where legend says the mother of Jesus Christ lived out the last years of her life.

The stone "Mary's House" was found in the late 19th century by archaeologists who based their searches on writings of German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich. Her visions were the basis of some scenes in the 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ."

The Pope will say mass at the small sanctuary, visited every year by tens of thousands of both Christians and Muslims.

The Pope then goes to Istanbul, the modern name of the city once known as Constantinople, which was the capital of the Byzantine Empire for more than a 1,000 years until it was conquered by Muslim forces in 1453 and became the Ottoman seat.

There, he will spend the last two days of the trip as the guest of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday that in a private meeting at the airport, Benedict had told him he backed Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

"He said 'we are not political but we wish for Turkey to join the EU'," Erdogan told journalists.
Asked to explain the Vatican's precise position, spokesman Father Lombardi said it could not take any political stand but "encourages and views positively Turkey's path of dialogue, rapprochement and participation in Europe based on common values and principles."

Erdogan appeared to have no doubts that Benedict had changed his stand from 2004, when he told a French newspaper before he was elected Pope that Turkey would be "in permanent contrast to Europe" if it joined.

Erdogan, who began his career in Islamic politics, added: "The most important message the Pope gave was toward Islam, he reiterated his view of Islam as peaceful and affectionate."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

And So It Begins.

25,000 protest pope's visit to Turkey
From Yahoo News Service

More than 25,000 people joined demonstrations Sunday against Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit, police said.

The demonstration was the largest anti-pope protest so far ahead of Benedict's arrival Tuesday for a four-day visit, his first as pope to a predominantly Muslim country. Some 4,000 police backed by riot trucks, armored vehicles and helicopters monitored the protest as the crowds grew.

The protest was organized by a pro-Islamic political party called Felicity whose leaders have said they were offended by Benedict's comments in September linking violence and Islam.
Benedict has expressed regret for offending Muslims by his remarks and said they did not reflect his personal views.

The protesters shouted "God is great" in Arabic and carried posters asking the pope not to come to Turkey. They also draped signs on the way from the Istanbul airport.

Benedict has few fans in Turkey, which is hoping to become the first predominantly Muslim member of the European Union. The pope has previously spoken out against Turkey's EU bid, and has called for a return to fundamental Christian values in Europe.

His trip to Turkey will be his first official visit to a Muslim country.

Benedict is scheduled to stay for four days. He will meet the Istanbul-based leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Bartholomew I.

On Sunday, Benedict expressed his "feelings of esteem and of sincere friendship" for Turks and their leaders.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Holy Father leaves for Turkey tomorrow. Let us remember him in prayer and hope that many blessings will come from this visit.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

When the archbishop meets the pope
Keith F. Pecklers
Opinion piece - Published: International Herald Tribune - November 22, 2006

Observation from me - Though Fr. Pecklers has excellent credentials, I would be interested in knowing the gathering methodology of some of his statistics. There is a strong and conservative rise among Catholics in our country. Are we really such a small part of the greater Catholic community nationwide?

BOSTON: Forty years ago, in an extraordinary moment during the visit of the archbishop of Canterbury to Rome, the Catholic pope removed his ring, symbol of his office as bishop of Rome, and placed it on the finger of the Anglican prelate.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey began to cry and embraced Pope Paul VI. That gift inaugurated a new day for Anglican and Roman Catholic relations and set our churches on a path from which we cannot and will not turn back. Every one of Ramsey's successors has worn that ring when he meets the pope as a reminder of the call to Christian unity.

Today the world is a radically different place than it was back in 1966. All eyes will be on Pope Benedict XVI next week as he embarks on his visit to Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, in the wake of the pontiff's remarks on Islam several months ago.

Indeed, with Islam on the rise and Christianity in decline, Anglicans and Catholics have no choice but to devote their energies to greater ecumenical collaboration. Clearly, the exploration of paths toward reconciliation with Muslims is of utmost importance.

Anglicans and Catholics in the 21st century also face the same host of social problems and concerns, such as globalization, immigration, HIV/AIDS, world hunger and the genocide in Darfur.

But if we are to successfully negotiate these troubled waters, Anglicans and Catholics need first to find their common voice as Christians.

This Thursday, the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, is wearing Paul VI's ring once again as he dines in the papal apartments with Pope Benedict XVI.

The bearded Welshman and the elderly Bavarian hold more in common than meets the eye. Both are highly respected theologians in their respective churches. Both are gifted linguists: The archbishop is fluent in German and the pope speaks excellent English. Both are accomplished musicians.

As the two church leaders meet, they do so very much aware of the roadblocks to full unity between the Catholic and Anglican churches. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise.
Yet they also need to admit that both churches are facing internal problems.

Across the board, mainline Christian churches in the West are registering a significant decline in membership and church attendance.

Among Catholics, the gap continues to widen between church teaching on human sexuality and the lived reality: for example, only 4 precent of married Catholics in the United States observe church teaching on birth control. (Italics mine) The number of divorced and remarried Catholics is on the rise even in Catholic Italy. And the clerical sexual scandals that deeply damaged the American church have hurt the Catholic Church's credibility far beyond U.S. borders.

Anglicans have had to confront their own crises. The Episcopal Church in the United States has been sharply divided over the election and consecration of an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire - a move that now threatens to impede or even sever its ties between the American church and the wider Anglican communion. The choice of a woman as the newly-elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, along with the Church of England's decision to move forward with the ordination of women bishops, presents additional challenges.

Yet even in this winter of our discontent there is an underreported practical ecumenism that needs to be recognized. In 2003, with the onset of the war in Iraq, the archbishop of Canterbury and the Catholic archbishop of Westminster issued a joint statement opposing the war.

In Sudan, the Anglican archbishop and his Catholic counterpart share responsibility for the other's clergy when one of them is away. The Anglican and Catholic bishops of Cork, Ireland, only issue pastoral letters that they are able to affirm and co-sign.

Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams have their work cut out for them as they face a common enemy - secularism and the disappearance of the Christian faith in the West. By the year 2020, we're told that 80 percent of all Christians will be people of color who live in the southern hempisphere. (Italic mine) The average Christian in the world today is poor, often living as a minority in a non-Christian country.

Yes, our theological differences remain, but what we can do together we must do together. It is time to reawaken that ecumenical spring of 40 years ago.

Keith F. Pecklers, a Jesuit priest and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, currently holds the Gasson Chair in Theology at Boston College.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An article worth reading from the National Catholic Report
Vatican announces Pope Benedict XVI has written book on Jesus Christ
Tuesday November 21, 2006

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI has completed his first book as pontiff, a work about Jesus Christ that he says is purely personal and not at all infallible, an Italian publishing house said Tuesday.

Announcements by the Vatican and the Rizzoli publishing house said the book "Jesus of Nazareth'' will be released in the spring and that Rizzoli will negotiate worldwide sales.
Benedict, a theologian by training, has been a prolific author since his years as a professor in his native Germany.

The book, meant for general Catholic readers, will be the first of two volumes on Christ.
In a preface released by the Italian publisher, Benedict writes that the book is "absolutely not an act'' of church authority and teaching but "an expression of my personal research into the `face of the Lord.'''

"Therefore, everyone is free to contradict me,'' Benedict said.

Benedict's predecessor Pope John Paul II also was a prolific writer, whose works included the international best-seller "Crossing the Threshold of Hope.''-AP

Monday, November 20, 2006

Holy Father is on the threshold of entering into two worlds contained in one small country, Turkey. Here Islam and Orthodoxy intersect and overlap. I pray that the things that divide us from Orthodoxy can be healed. I pray for his safety.

Pope to make 1st visit to Muslim nation
By BRIAN MURPHY, AP Religion WriterMon Nov 20, 3:38 AM ET

When Pope Benedict XVI goes to Turkey this month for his first papal visit to a Muslim nation, he will in effect be making two distinct journeys.

The global spotlight will be on what efforts he makes to win back the respect of Muslims angered by his remarks on religious violence and the Prophet Muhammad. The other will be a pilgrimage to one of Christianity's last toeholds in Turkey.

Together they represent a test of Benedict's diplomatic finesse as he tries to calm Muslim ire while being pressed to make a forceful statement in defense of the rights of Christian minorities in Muslim lands.

The scheduled Nov. 29 meeting in Istanbul between the pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, will be the latest display of fellowship between the two ancient branches of Christianity and reinforce the dream of ending their nearly 1,000-year estrangement.

No breakthrough is expected at Bartholomew's walled compound in Istanbul, formerly the Christian Byzantine capital Constantinople before falling to Muslim armies in 1453.
Instead, the visit may highlight the weak links in efforts to heal the East-West divide in Christianity, which was sealed in 1054 after centuries of feuds over papal authority and differences in the liturgy.

Bartholomew is called the "first among equals" among the Orthodox leaders, but he wields little real power over the world's more than 250 million Orthodox. That power rests with the patriarchs of the various self-governing churches, the largest of which is the Russian Orthodox Church of Patriarch Alexy II, who rebuffed overtures by the late Pope John Paul II for a groundbreaking trip to Moscow.

Alexy is at the center of one of the main Orthodox complaints: the growth of Eastern Rite churches, which follow many Orthodox rites but are under the Vatican's jurisdiction. Orthodox fear the churches are expanding Vatican influence and luring away followers in Ukraine and other traditional Orthodox regions. The Vatican denies it is trying to poach Orthodox believers.
Benedict has had a better reception than John Paul among Orthodox leaders because of his affinity for the traditions of early Christianity and his respected theological scholarship. Alexy has suggested he might consider meeting Benedict, perhaps in a neutral third country, if there is progress on the Eastern Rite quarrels and other issues.

On Friday at the Vatican, Benedict said the four-day Turkey trip beginning Nov. 28 "will be a further sign of consideration for the Orthodox churches and will act as a stimulus to quicken the steps toward re-establishing full communion."

His remarks did not address the furor stoked by his Sept. 12 speech, in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor's description of Islam as a religion spread by the sword. But the Turkish officials he will meet include the head of religious affairs, Ali Bardakoglu, a top Islamic cleric who has said the pope's words threatened world peace.

On the Orthodox front, Benedict acknowledged, much still needs to be done.
The Orthodox leadership, too, is facing internal struggles over how to deal with a lopsided equation: Their fragmented structure versus the central authority that holds spiritual sway over 1.1 billion Roman Catholics.

"The issue of papal primacy remains a very difficult one for the Orthodox," said the Rev. Igor Yevgeniyevich Vyzhanov, a Russian church spokesman. "This meeting with the pope should be just seen in terms of bilateral relationship between the Vatican and the ecumenical patriarchate. It cannot be seen as talks between the pope and the entire Orthodox world."

But Bartholomew's struggles still resonate far beyond his tiny enclave in Istanbul.
His pleas for minority rights carry particular sensitivity in Turkey, whose bid for European Union membership hinges on expanding religious and cultural freedoms.

In early November, Turkey's parliament passed a law allowing properties confiscated in the 1970s by the state to be returned to Christian and Jewish minority foundations. The decision, however, did not specifically address Orthodox demands to reopen a theological school shuttered 21 years ago.

"This trip could reinforce what many Orthodox already feel — that Pope Benedict is interested in making a real effort at healing the differences," said Thomas FitzGerald, dean at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.

There have been some small but notable steps since May 2005, when Benedict declared a "fundamental commitment" to promote dialogue with the Orthodox.

In September, 60 top-level envoys gathered in Belgrade, Serbia, to restart Vatican-Orthodox talks that broke off six years ago over issues including papal authority and Eastern Rite churches. Separate meetings have continued between American Catholic and Orthodox representatives.

The influential head of the Greek Orthodox church, Archbishop Christodoulos, is scheduled to visit the Vatican on Dec. 14.

Even the timing of Benedict's trip is built around Orthodox sensibilities. His time with Bartholomew coincides with the feast day of the apostle-martyr St. Andrew, who traveled through Asia Minor and the Balkans and who, tradition says, ordained the first bishop of what would become Constantinople.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Pope `Re-Affirms' Celibacy, Ends Married Priests Bid (Update1)
By Flavia Krause-Jackson
Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Benedict XVI today ``re- affirmed'' the celibacy requirement for priests, putting an end to the possibility his papacy would open up to married clergymen in a bid to offset a shortage of recruits.

The pontiff and the heads of the nine congregations and 11 pontifical councils that make up the administration of the Holy See met today in response to mounting calls for the Catholic Church to drop the celibacy obligation and examine the cases of priests who have married and sought readmission.

The participants of the meeting ``re-affirmed the value of a priest choosing to be celibate in accordance to the Catholic tradition,'' the Holy See said in a statement sent by e-mail.
Pope Benedict is facing a shortage of priests as the Catholic faith wanes in popularity in Europe and the U.S. amid debate about the Vatican's stance on issues such as contraception, abortion, celibacy and the role of women in the church. The number of Catholic priests in Europe and North America dropped 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively, between 1999 and 2004, the church's statistical yearbook showed.

There are about 140,000 Catholic priests in Europe, and 46,000 in the U.S. Asia's priesthood grew by 13 percent and Africa's by 18 percent.

The world's Catholic population is 1.1 billion, according to the 2006 edition of ``Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae,'' the Vatican's official statistics book. Islam is the fastest-growing religion, with Muslims expected to number 2 billion by 2025, according to the United Nations Department of Statistics.

The celibacy debate was triggered by Emmanuel Milingo, a former archbishop of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, who was excommunicated by Pope Benedict two months ago for ordaining four married men as bishops.

`Married Priests Now'
Milingo provoked controversy in 2001 by marrying a South Korean woman in a mass wedding conducted by Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. Milingo later renounced his marriage and in July formed a lobby group called ``Married Priests Now'' to try and convince the Catholic Church to drop the celibacy obligation.

``It is very clear that the Roman Catholic Church has a great need of priests,'' said Milingo on his Web site. ``Currently on the sidelines, there are approximately 150,000 validly ordained priests. But these priests are married. The majority of these priests are ready and willing to return to the sacred ministry of the altar.''

Milingo, 76, says he continues to celebrate Mass each day. Born in Zambia into a poor family of farmers, he was ordained in 1958 and became one of Africa's youngest bishops before his activities as an exorcist convinced the Vatican to recall him to Rome in 1983, according to the biography on his Web Site.

There were married priests in early church, though they were supposed to refrain from sex with their wives, following the example of the twelve apostles who renounced their families to follow Jesus, according to Father Anthony Zimmerman, in a 2001 paper entitled ``The Logic of Priestly Celibacy.''

Converting Clergy
The practice wasn't outlawed until the fourth century. The council of Elvira, held between 295 and 302, imposed celibacy on the clergy, according to the New Advent, an online Catholic encyclopedia approved by the church. Still, apart from bishops, priests that were married at that time were allowed to keep their wives and moreover the practice of marriage remained widespread in the converted Byzantine Empire.

Some married priests do work inside the Catholic Church, primarily clergymen from other Christian faiths such as Anglicanism, who already had wives when they converted to Catholicism and were ordained by special dispensation, according to Father William P. Saunders, a former dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School at Christendom College, in Alexandria, Virginia, and author of the 1998 work ``Straight Answers, Answers to 100 Questions about the Catholic Faith.''

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

They can spin this anyway they want but many will regard this as opening the door to dialogue on the long and contentiously debated issue.

Pope, aides to discuss celibacy issues: Vatican
By Phil StewartMon Nov 13, 4:38 PM ET

Pope Benedict has called a meeting of Vatican advisers for a "reflection" on issues related to celibacy in the Church following a schism led by a renegade African archbishop who wants priests to be able to marry.

The meeting, to be held on Thursday, was announced by the Vatican's press office on Monday in a short statement that a spokesman said did not imply a review of current rules that priests remain celibate.

The statement said the Pope and leaders of Vatican departments would hold a "reflection on requests for dispensation from the obligation of celibacy and on requests for readmission to the priestly ministry by priests who had married."

Asked for clarification, chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the meeting was not being called to consider major changes in the celibacy rule but to discuss the issue generally and certain individual cases.

The main purpose of the meeting is to discuss the ramifications of the crisis sparked when Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo ordained four married men as priests at a ceremony in Washington D.C. in September.

That prompted his automatic excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.
Milingo rejects his excommunication, which forbids him to receive the sacraments or share in public acts of worship.

He is planning a convention for more than 1,000 married priests -- and their wives -- in New York for December 8-10.

"The Holy Father has called on Thursday, November 16 a meeting ... to examine the situation created following (Milingo's) disobedience," the statement said.

The Roman Catholic Church insists that its priests remain celibate and has ruled out letting them marry, which advocates say would make some men more willing to join the priesthood and ease the shortage of priests in many parts of the world.

Priests were permitted to wed during the first millennium, but marriage was condemned by the Church at the Second Lateran Council in 1139.

Milingo is not just a keen proponent of marriage, but tried it himself in 2001 at a mass ceremony held by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. The union was never recognized by the Vatican and Milingo later rejoined the Catholic Church.

A proposal discussed, and rejected at a synod of Catholic bishops last year, suggested that the Church ordain some "viri probati" -- a Latin term referring to older, married men with families who are known to lead exemplary personal lives. "Viri probati" also has a solid background in Catholic doctrine.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pope has unannounced talk with Muslim tolerance campaigner
Sat Nov 11, 6:28 PM ET

A leading Muslim academic and campaigner against religious hatred revealed that he had held a half-hour private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

The encounter, which had not been announced in advance by the Vatican, took place in the pope's private study at the request of Algerian scholar Mustapha Cherif.

"The pope listened to me with great attention, great goodness, and there was a proper exchange," said Cherif, who teaches at Algiers University and helped to found a French-based group for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

He had asked the head of the Roman Catholic Church for a meeting several months ago, before remarks made by Benedict in Regensburg in Germany in September seen as linking Islam and violence, which provoked uproar among many in the Muslim world.

Since then the pope has made several calls for dialogue between the faiths ahead of a four-day visit to Turkey, his first official trip to a Muslim country, starting on November 28.

The 50-year-old Muslim scholar said the two men had discussed the controversial speech, adding that he himself had raised the issue "to respond to questions posed by his speech," mainly about how freedom, reason and violence is viewed by the Koran.

"Dialogue between religions is the decisive factor" making it possible to "drive back misunderstanding, fanaticism, to recall our common base, to relaunch consideration of our differences and common challenges," he said. The Algerian academic told AFP he had proposed the holding of an international Islamo-Christian conference to boost the campaign against racial and religious hatred.

Other themes would be "making the international community aware of the reprehensible nature of offending ... sacred symbols of religions .. in the respect of the right to freedom of expression" and "increasing Islamo-Christian dialogue and friendship groups."

Benedict "told me that he fully shares our worries and backs these noble aims," Cherif said.
My approach is that of a theologian in a quest for dialogue, who refuses polemics," said the academic, author of several books including "Islam and Tolerance."

Benedict "told me that he considers Islam as a great religion, and that we must witness together the religious dimension of existence."

The pope rejected "the logic of a clash of civilisations," he said.

At this unprecedented meeting, two weeks before Benedict's journey to Turkey, Cherif raised his remarks in Regensburg, which have cast a shadow over the visit.

"I told him that just like the Gospel, the Koran asks believers to forgive, to have patience and to be merciful, and resorting to collective violence is only authorised in cases of aggression, in strict conditions, as Saint Agustine used to say," he said.

"He approved in his wisdom the fact that Christians and Muslims should not be competitors but friends and allies."

There was no statement from the Vatican either before or after the meeting, during which Cherif gave the pope the original of a letter sent in 1863 by the Algerian Emir Abdeldkader to archbishop Pavie of Algiers.

In it the emir explained to Pavie, who had thanked him in an earlier letter for saving the lives of Catholic priests, that such an act was part of the practice of Islam.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Pope's Latin mass plans spark concern
By Tom Heneghan, Religion EditorTue Oct 31

It isn't official. It may not even happen. But reports that Pope Benedict could soon revive the old Latin mass are stoking heated debates among European Catholics with some fearing this will turn the clock back.

The uproar is loudest in France, where clergy and laity are ringing alarm bells against bringing back the old liturgy.

Church leaders in Belgium and Germany have also grumbled, saying demand for the old Tridentine mass in Latin was minimal and warning the traditionalists could use it as a wedge to smuggle more divisive issues into the world's largest church.

"The (Tridentine Latin) rite is only the locomotive -- the issue is the carriages that are pulled behind it," Brussels Cardinal Godfried Danneels said last week. "Behind this locomotive are carriages that I don't want."

These rumblings hint that Benedict might alienate many mainstream Catholics if he opts for a deal to heal an 18-year schism with the Society of Saint Pius X, a Swiss-based group that rejects the landmark Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
"We risk creating a front of sadness, discouragement and disappointment with the Holy See," said Toulouse Archbishop Robert Le Gall, using the Vatican's official name. "The liturgy is just the tip of the iceberg."

The Tridentine mass is seen as a symbol of rejecting modernizing reforms such as more participation by the faithful, respect for Judaism and cooperation with Protestants.
Most of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics attend Sunday or daily mass in their own language rather than Latin which Vatican II sidelined. Many agree with the respect for other religions that Vatican II made official Church policy.

Priests can still say mass in Latin. All they need is permission from their bishop.

But in fact, few Latin masses are said and few faithful turn out for them, the German bishops conference noted last month after conducting an internal study. "We could not see any growth in interest in it, as some have asserted," they added.

The Society of Saint Pius X, which has about 1 million followers worldwide and is especially strong in France, does not just champion the solemn old Latin mass but flatly rejects what founder, late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, called "neo-modernist and neo-Protestant" reforms of Vatican II.

Benedict shares their love of Latin and the traditional liturgy and seems keen to bring them back into the fold so they don't set up a permanent parallel Catholic-like church.
Reports from the Vatican say he is also ready to meet their main demands -- which are the unconditional revival of the Tridentine mass as an alternative to the modern liturgy and the lifting of excommunications of the four SSPX bishops whom Lefebvre consecrated in defiance of the Vatican in 1988.

Paris Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois bluntly spelled out the problems the traditionalists would bring at a Paris conference attended by Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Vatican official in charge of liturgical issues such as how to say mass.

"Under the cover of a campaign to defend a certain type of liturgy, there is a radical critique of the Vatican Council, even outright rejection of some of its declarations," he said.

"The rejection of new liturgies was followed by public insults against the popes and crowned by violent acts such as the forcible seizure of a parish church in Paris and an aborted attempt by the same people to repeat this," he said.

The warning from Vingt-Trois came after a rising chorus of criticism from other clergy in France, where the schism also has strong political overtones because of the links some SSPX followers have with royalist or far-right movements.

In an open letter, 30 young priests said Benedict, 79, should encourage them "to work in the world as it is ... rather than plunge us back into the liturgical life of another age."

Besancon's Bishop Andre Lacrampe said he would like to welcome traditionalists back into the Church but not in a quick deal that avoided answering the Vatican II question.

Danneels, an outspoken moderate in the overwhelmingly conservative College of Cardinals, urged the Vatican to be tough in its negotiations with SSPX.

"I've never heard their leaders say even once that they accept Vatican II," he told the Brussels daily De Standaard.

"I think the Vatican should demand this."

Monday, October 23, 2006

French clerics criticize Pope's Latin mass plans
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor Mon Oct 23, 8:52 AM ET

Pope Benedict's expected revival of the old Latin mass has provoked protests from Roman Catholic clergy in France, a major center of the traditionalist schism the Pontiff hopes to overcome with the gesture.

Five bishops and 30 priests -- a considerable number in a church normally wary of open dissent -- have expressed grave concern about making this concession to ultra-conservatives who reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Unswerving loyalty to the old Latin, or Tridentine mass, often goes hand in hand with a rejection of the Vatican II reforms, which opened the church to respect for and cooperating with other faiths and switched to a modern mass conducted in local languages.

The protests printed in the Catholic press highlighted serious issues the Vatican faces if, as church sources have reported, it announces soon that priests are free to say the vintage mass as an alternative to the modern liturgy.

Demand for a return the Tridentine mass -- an austere ceremony in which the priest prays in Latin with his back to a silent congregation -- is minimal among the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
In the modern mass, the priest faces the faithful, who pray and sing in active participation with him.

"This could create grave difficulties, especially for those who have remained loyal to Vatican II," Toulouse Bishop Robert Le Gall told the Catholic daily La Croix. In an open letter, 30 young priests said Benedict, 79, should encourage them "to work in the world as it is ... rather than plunge us back into the liturgical life of another age."

Dating back to 1570, the Tridentine mass was dropped in the 1960s and can now be said only with a bishop's special permission.

But the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a Swiss-based group launched by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to oppose 1960s reforms, has demanded a blanket permission, or indult, for the Tridentine mass as a condition for its return to the church.

SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay and other leaders were excommunicated in 1988.

Fellay says the Vatican looks set to grant the indult soon to take the SSPX back into the church.
But he insists his million-strong movement, many in France, would continue to contest Vatican II reforms from inside the church, creating a loyal opposition keen to steer it back to earlier practices.

The Vatican has already provoked protest in Bordeaux by readmitting five SSPX priests who preformed a Tridentine mass in a church they occupied there.

Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Bordeaux archbishop and head of the French Bishops' Conference, has urged French Catholics to welcome rebel priests who return to the church.

"We can be charitable and welcoming but we also have to be honest," Besancon Bishop Andre Lacrampe told the daily L'Est Republicain. "I'm not ready to receive them because one cannot erase Vatican II with a stroke of a pen."

"There are very deep and painful theological reasons behind this schism," Angouleme Bishop Claude Dagens told the Catholic weekly La Vie. "You can't pretend that Archbishop Lefebvre's break with the church was only caused by the liturgy."

Lille Archbishop Gerard Defois said some SSPX faithful were linked to far-right political movements and noted in a statement that some had "resorted to violent means to occupy churches."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fascinating. Truly a touch of grace in life's final moments

Late Italian journalist/atheist saw Pope as ally against 'Islamic invasion'
Sat Oct 21, 1:28 PM
By Frances D'Emilio
ROME (AP) - An Italian journalist and self-described atheist who died last month has left most of her books and notes to a pontifical university in Rome because of her admiration for Pope Benedict, a school official said Saturday.

Oriana Fallaci had described the pontiff as an ally in her campaign to rally Christians in Europe against what she saw as a Muslim crusade against the West. As she battled breast cancer last year, she had a private audience with Benedict, who had been elected only a few months earlier, at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

In one of her final interviews, Fallaci told The Wall Street Journal: "I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a Pope think the same things, there must be something true."

Benedict was surprised by the gift of the books, some of which date to the 17th century and included volumes about the formation of modern-day Italy, American history, philosophy and theology, said Msgr. Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateranense University in Rome.
"The veneration that she had for you, Holy Father, persuaded her to make this donation, which will be known as the Oriana Fallaci Archives," Fisichella said during a ceremony at the university Saturday to announce the gift of the books.

Benedict greeted Fallaci's nephew and his family during the ceremony, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. He then spoke briefly about the search for truth in science and academia.
"God is the ultimate truth to which all reason naturally gravitates," the pontiff told an audience of students and faculty.

A few weeks before her death, Fallaci had some 20 boxes of books sent to the university, Fisichella later told The Associated Press. Books are still awaiting shipment from her homes in New York and Tuscany, he said, as well as her notes as a journalist.
Fisichella said "the Pope has said we must live in the world as if God existed and she (Fallaci) took up the challenge."

After decades of conducting major interviews and covering wars as a correspondent for two of Italy's largest daily newspapers, Fallaci concentrated her passion and energy in her last years on vehement attacks against a Muslim world she judged to be the enemy of western civilization.
Absent from the publishing scene for nearly a decade, Fallaci burst back into the spotlight after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. with a string of blistering essays in which she argued that Muslims were carrying out a crusade against the Christian West.

At the time of her death, she was on trial in northern Italy, accused of defaming Islam in her 2004 book, "The Strength of Reason." In it she argued that Europe had sold its soul to what she called an Islamic invasion.

Fallaci had also taken the Catholic Church to task for being what she considered too weak before the Muslim world, despite her praise of Benedict.

She died three days after the Pope delivered a speech at a German university in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

Benedict, who has been calling for more dialogue between Muslims and Christians while at the same time urging Europeans to defend their Christian traditions, will make his first pilgrimage as pontiff to a predominantly Muslim country when he visits Turkey in November.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The Times - October 11, 2006

Pope set to bring back Latin Mass that divided the ChurchBy Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

THE Pope is taking steps to revive the ancient tradition of the Latin Tridentine Mass in Catholic churches worldwide, according to sources in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI is understood to have signed a universal indult — or permission — for priests to celebrate again the Mass used throughout the Church for nearly 1,500 years. The indult could be published in the next few weeks, sources told The Times.

Use of the Tridentine Mass, parts of which date from the time of St Gregory in the 6th century and which takes its name from the 16th-century Council of Trent, was restricted by most bishops after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

This led to the introduction of the new Mass in the vernacular to make it more accessible to contemporary audiences. By bringing back Mass in Latin, Pope Benedict is signalling that his sympathies lie with conservatives in the Catholic Church.

One of the most celebrated rebels against its suppression was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who broke with Rome in 1988 over this and other reforms. He was excommunicated after he consecrated four bishops, one of them British, without permission from the Pope.

Some Lefebvrists, including those in Brazil, have already been readmitted. An indult permitting the celebration of the Tridentine Mass could help to bring remaining Lefebvrists and many other traditional Catholics back to the fold.

The priests of England and Wales are among those sometimes given permission to celebrate the Old Mass according to the 1962 Missal. Tridentine Masses are said regularly at the Oratory and St James’s Spanish Place in London, but are harder to find outside the capital.

The new indult would permit any priest to introduce the Tridentine Mass to his church, anywhere in the world, unless his bishop has explicitly forbidden it in writing.

Catholic bloggers have been anticipating the indult for months. The Cornell Society blog says that Father Martin Edwards, a London priest, was told by Cardinal Joseph Zen, of Hong Kong, that the indult had been signed. Cardinal Zen is alleged to have had this information from the Pope himself in a private meeting.

“There have been false alarms before, not least because within the Curia there are those genuinely well-disposed to the Latin Mass, those who are against and those who like to move groups within the Church like pieces on a chessboard,” a source told The Times. “But hopes have been raised with the new pope. It would fit with what he has said and done on the subject. He celebrated in the old rite, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.”

The 1962 Missal issued by Pope John XXIII was the last of several revisions of the 1570 Missal of Pius V. In a lecture in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger said that it would be “fatal” for the Missal to be “placed in a deep-freeze, left like a national park, a park protected for the sake of a certain kind of people, for whom one leaves available these relics of the past”.

Daphne McLeod, chairman of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a UK umbrella group that campaigns for the restoration of traditional orthodoxy, said: “A lot of young priests are teaching themselves the Tridentine Mass because it is so beautiful and has prayers that go back to the Early Church.”


The Tridentine Mass is celebrated entirely in Latin, except for a few words and phrases in Greek and Hebrew. There are long periods of silence and the priest has his back to the congregation.

In 1570, Pope St Pius V said that priests could use the Tridentine rite forever, “without scruple of conscience or fear of penalty”.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Tridentine Mass has been almost entirely superseded by the Mass of Pope Paul VI.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who took the lead in opposing the reforms, continued to celebrate the old Mass at his seminary in EcĂ´ne, Switzerland, and formed a dissident group. He was excommunicated in 1988.

The advantages of the Mass, according to the faithful, are in its uniformity and the fact that movements and gestures are prescribed, so that there is no room for “personalisation”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The last line of this article caught my attention because of the life and death I am dealing with with my mother.

The Universe: A Catholic Weekly Newspaper

The Catholic Church has a rich history of encouraging scientific research, according to pope Benedict XVI.Speaking at a recent symposium on Stem Cell research organised by the Pontifical Academy for Life, at Castel Gondolfo, the Pope said that while the Church remained opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells it was fully supportive of other research possibilities through adult stem cells. But he added that an "insurmountable limit" on how far scientists should go during research.

Somatic stem-cell research the Pope said, "deserves approval and encouragement when it felicitously combines scientific knowledge, the most advanced technology in the biological field and ethics that postulate respect for the human being at every stage of his or her existence."

"The prospects opened by this new chapter in research are fascinating in themselves, for they give a glimpse of the possible cure of degenerative tissue diseases that subsequently threaten those affected with disability and death," he added."

I would like in particular to urge scientific structures that draw their inspiration and organization from the Catholic Church to increase this type of research and to establish the closest possible contact with one another and with those who seek to relieve human suffering in the proper ways."

May I also point out, in the face of the frequently unjust accusations of insensitivity addressed to the Church, her constant support for research dedicated to the cure of diseases and to the good of humanity throughout her 2,000-year-old history."

If there has been resistance -- and if there still is -- it was and is to those forms of research that provide for the planned suppression of human beings who already exist, even if they have not yet been born. Research, in such cases, irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results is not truly at the service of humanity."No one can dispose of human life," he added."

An insurmountable limit to our possibilities of doing and of experimenting must be established. The human being is not a disposable object, but every single individual represents God's presence in the world."