Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It is my hope that I see, in my lifetime, peace in the Middle East and an honest and clear vindication of Pius XII and the role he played during W.W. II.

Pope trip to Holy Land to aid Jewish ties - Vatican
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A trip to the Holy Land by Pope Benedict could help overcome "prejudice and incomprehension" marking Catholic-Jewish relations, a senior Vatican official said.

The Vatican is exploring the possibility of Benedict making his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories since his election in 2005. The Vatican has said the visit is still possible, despite the latest violence in Gaza.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, in charge of relations with Jews, acknowledged that "problems haven't been lacking" in Catholic-Jewish ties, including outrage over a prayer that some saw as calling for the conversion of Jews.

He also pointed to recent tensions over the role of wartime Pope Pius XII, who some Jews have accused of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.

"I'm convinced then that the pope's hoped-for trip to the Holy Land would be decisive to overcome prejudice and incomprehension that mark our relations with Judaism," Kasper told Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

The Church says Pius worked quietly behind the scenes to help Jews during the Holocaust and that the re-introduction of the prayer in question did not indicate a change in the Church's high regard for Jews or its contempt for anti-Semitism.

"The Jewish world has understood and accepted that (Pius') beatification is an internal process of the Catholic Church," Kasper said.

Many Jewish groups have called on Benedict to freeze the process that could one day make Pius a saint until more Vatican archives on the wartime period are opened.

"We trust now that historic research will bring even more clarity about the Pius XII's work to help Jews during the years in question," Kasper said.

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Pope's Christmas Condemnation of Transsexuals
By JEFF ISRAELY / ROME Jeff Israely / Rome

"The celebration of the birth of the Lord is at our doorstep ..." Thus began Pope Benedict XVI in his annual pre-Christmas address to top Vatican officials. But rather than a pro forma holiday wish of good tidings, the pontiff delivered his latest heavy-hitting discourse on everything from ecology to ecumenism, with carefully chosen citations from past Popes and even Friedrich Nietzsche. The topic that most grabbed press attention came about halfway through the 30-minute long address: transsexuals.

Without actually using the word, Benedict took a subtle swipe at those who might undergo sex-change operations or otherwise attempt to alter their God-given gender. Defend "the nature of man against its manipulation," Benedict told the priests, bishops and cardinals gathered Monday in the ornate Clementine hall. "The Church speaks of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected." The Pope again denounced the contemporary idea that gender is a malleable definition. That path, he said, leads to a "self-emancipation of man from creation and the Creator." (See TIME's Top 10 religious stories of the year.)

Critics of the Church hierarchy see such pronouncements as proof of Catholicism's unhealthy "obsession" with sexual matters. In his book Sex and Heaven, Catholic writer John Portmann argues that the Vatican has made having "correct sex" the singular virtue for achieving salvation. In just the past month, the Vatican has announced its opposition to a United Nations proposal to protect gays from being criminalized and punished by governments for their orientation, and released a doctrinal office document reinforcing the Church's opposition to assisted fertility and stem cell research.

Even though these stands don't stray from his predecessor's, we tend to remember John Paul more for his globetrotting, crowd-pleasing ways. Benedict, more a thinking-man's Pope, tends to make news with his words rather than actions.

The question "What is man?" is fundamental both to Benedict's worldview and to his attempts to convince his flock to question the conventions of modern secularized society. Much has been made of the Pope's recent focus on environmental issues. On Monday he repeated his metaphor that the human body should be protected much as environmentalists want to protect the earth.

"The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the creator Spirit, also means that beyond the mathematical order, their rational structures in the experiment become almost palpable, which in itself brings an ethical orientation," he argued Monday, before declaring that one "must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation belonging to all. One must also protect man against the destruction of himself." Thus Benedict's concern with gender manipulation and environmental degradation are all of a precious piece: protecting God's creation. (See pictures of the Pope in Brazil.)

As incisive as his writing is, some Catholics still question the priorities coming from the bully pulpit. Why, for example, does he not use his Christmas address to boldly condemn Robert Mugabe, whose brutal dictatorship has left a largely Christian country crushed and struggling with a cholera outbreak that has already killed more than 1,000 people? Such thoughts naturally recall Benedict's predecessor, whose geopolitical skills were legendary. (See pictures of Robert Mugabe's reign.)

Though their view of internal doctrine and the world at large are virtually identical, the last two papacies have featured a contrast in personalities and skill sets. In his end-of-the-year address, Benedict seemed to confront the expectations that may have been created by the popularity of John Paul. Reflecting on his trip this summer to Australia for World Youth Day, Benedict said it was wrong to think of these kinds of mass Church events as a "type of rock festival modified in the ecclesiastic sense, with the Pope as the 'star'."

As he prepares to lead his fourth midnight Mass inside St. Peter's Basilica, the soft-spoken pontiff will aim yet again to reach the faithful through the force of his intellect and the grace of his prose. Many however will tune in because the man in white, even one with both academic and doctrinaire tendencies, will always carry serious star power.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI dedicated the last general audience for this year, celebrated in the Paul VI audience hall, to Christmas, "a universal festivity".

"Even non-believers", said the Holy Father, "perceive something extraordinary and transcendental, something intimate that touches our hearts in this yearly Christian event. It is the festivity that sings of the gift of life. The birth of a child should always be a joyful occurrence".

"Christmas is the encounter with a new-born baby, wailing in a wretched grotto", remarked the Holy Father.

"Contemplating Him in this crèche how can we not think of all the children who still today, in many regions of the world, are born amidst such poverty? How can we not think of those newborns who have been rejected, not welcomed, those who do not survive because of a lack of care and attention? How can we not think of the families who desire the joy of a child and do not have this hope fulfilled?" queried Pope Benedict.

"Unfortunately," he added, "under the drive of a hedonist consumerism, Christmas runs the risk of losing its spiritual meaning, reduced to a mere commercial occasion to buy and exchange gifts.
"Actually, however, the difficulties, uncertainty, and the economic crisis that many families are living in these months, and which affects all humanity, can truly serve as a stimulus for rediscovering the warmth of the simplicity, friendship, and solidarity that are the typical values of Christmas," the Holy Father said.

Stripped of its materialist and consumerist trappings, Christmas could become the opportunity to welcome, as a personal gift, the message of hope that emanates from the mystery of Christ's birth, he remarked.

"Nevertheless, all of this does not suffice to capture the value of this celebration we are preparing for in all its fullness. We know that it celebrates the central event of history: The Incarnation of the Divine Word for the redemption of humanity. ... 'Thus the recurring annual cycle of the mystery of our salvation is renewed that, promised at the beginning and given to the end of time, is destined to last without end'".

Pope Benedict said at Christmas, therefore, we do not limit ourselves to commemorating the birth of a great person. We do not celebrate, simply and in the abstract, the mystery of the birth of humanity or, in general, the mystery of life.... "At Christmas we recall something that is quite concrete and important for human beings, something essential to the Christian faith, a truth that St John summarises in these few words: 'The Word became flesh': This is a historical fact that St Luke the evangelist is careful to place in a particular historical context: During the days of the decree of the first census of Caesar Augustus".

Pope Benedict pointed out that in the darkness of the night in Bethlehem a great light was lit: the Creator of the universe became flesh, indissolubly and eternally joining himself to human nature, to the point of being 'God from God, light from light' and at the same time truly human. "By 'the Word' ... John also intends the 'Meaning'" and "the 'Meaning' that became flesh is not just a general idea inherent in the world; it is a Word addressed to us".

"The Meaning has power: It is God. A good God who cannot be confused with some being on high and far away who cannot be reached, but God who made Himself our neighbour and who is very near to us", God reveals Himself to us as a poor 'infant' in order to conquer our pride. ... He made Himself small in order to free us from the human delusion of grandeur that arises from pride; He freely became flesh so that we might be truly free, free to love Him".

"Christmas", the Pope said, "is the privileged opportunity to contemplate the meaning and value of our existence.

Source: Vatican Information Service

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pope: Church-State Separation a Sign of Progress
Says Division Between Caesar and God Is Fundamental

ROME, DEC. 15, 2008 (Zenit.org).-

Church-state separation is one of the signs of the progress of humanity, says Benedict XVI.The Pope affirmed this Saturday when he visited the Italian embassy to the Holy See.

The Church "not only recognizes and respects the distinction and autonomy" of the state vis-à-vis the Church, but also "takes joy in this as one of the great advances of humanity," he said.

This separation is "a fundamental condition for [the Church's] very liberty and the fulfillment of its universal mission of salvation among all peoples," the Holy Father added. "This brief visit is conducive to reaffirming that the Church is very aware that the distinction between what is of Caesar and what is of God belongs to the fundamental structure of Christianity."

At the same time, he added, the Church "feels that it is her duty, following the dictates of social doctrine, developed from what is in conformity with the nature of every human being, to awaken moral and spiritual forces in society, contributing to open up wills to the authentic demands of the good."

The Pontiff continued: "Reclaiming the value that ethical principles have, not only in private life but rather fundamentally for public life, the Church contributes to guaranteeing and promoting the dignity of the person and the common good of society."

In this sense, the desired cooperation between Church and state is truly fulfilled."


Benedict XVI is the fourth Pope to visit the Italian embassy. Pope Pius XII started the tradition in 1951.

Saturday's visit marked the upcoming 80th anniversary of the Lateran Treaty, to be celebrated in February, which established the separation of the Italian republic and Vatican City State.

The Holy Father expressed his gratitude for the "contribution of the Italian authorities so that the Holy See can freely develop its universal mission and therefore maintain diplomatic relations with so many countries of the world."

The "fruitful relationship" between Italy and the Holy See, the Pontiff continued, implies "a very important and significant understanding in the current world situation, in which the perpetuation of conflicts and tensions between peoples makes collaboration between those who share the same ideals of justice, solidarity and peace ever more necessary."

Benedict XVI also noted the significance of the Italian embassy using the palace of St. Charles Borromeo, who has a young cardinal and collaborator of his uncle, Pope Pius IV, worked in the diplomacy of the Holy See.

After a deep conversion, the saint was eventually made the archbishop of Milan, a task to which he dedicated himself tirelessly, especially during the plague.

The life of this saint, to which the chapel of the reformed palace of the embassy is dedicated, "shows how divine grace can transform the heart of man and make it capable of love for one's brother to the point of sacrificing oneself," the Pope said. "

Those who work here can find in this saint a constant protector, and at the same time, a model in whom to find inspiration.

"Finally, the Holy Father took the opportunity to wish a merry Christmas to the authorities of Italy and the whole world, "whether or not they have diplomatic relations with the Holy See."

"This is a desire," he said, "of light and authentic human progress, of prosperity and concord, all realities to which we can aspire with trusting hope, because they are gifts that Jesus has brought to the world by being born in Bethlehem."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Church Is a Body, Not a Corporation, Affirms Pope
Says Christ and Neighbor Are Inseparable in Eucharist
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 10, 2008 (Zenit.org).-

The Church is not an organization or a corporation, but an entity of an entirely different class, says Benedict XVI: It is the body of Christ, present in the Eucharist. This was the Pope's conclusion today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall, during which he left aside his prepared speech and gave the intervention extemporaneously.

Due to his total departure from his notes, ZENIT will not be offering the customary transcription and translation of his talk today. The Holy Father continued with his series of catecheses on the thought and person of St. Paul. He reflected particularly today on the Eucharist, especially on its "personal and social character."

"Christ unites himself personally to each one of us, but at the same time he unites himself to the man and woman who are next to me," explained the Pontiff, according to L'Osservatore Romano's commentary.

"And the Bread is for me and for the others. Thus, he unites all of us with himself and all of us mutually. In communion we receive Christ, but Christ unites himself in the same way with my neighbor. "

Christ and neighbor are inseparable in the Eucharist. All of us are one bread, one body. Eucharist without solidarity with the rest is an abuse of the Eucharist."

Benedict XVI said that this understanding is the root and the center of the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ."

Christ gives us his body in the Eucharist, he gives himself in his body and in this way makes us his body, he unites us to his risen body," he explained. "If man eats normal bread, this bread becomes part of his body, transformed into substance of human life. But in Communion, an inverse process takes place.

Christ, the Lord, assimilates us, introduces us into his glorious body and in this way, all together, we become his body." The Holy Father noted: "In Roman political science, this parable of the body with different members that form part of a unity was used by the state itself, to show how the state was an organism in which each one had his function: The multiplicity and diversity of functions form one body and each one has his place."

However, in St. Paul's letters, one can see that the Church is something very different from the "state-organism," he contended. "Because Christ really gives his body and makes us his body. We are really united with the risen body of Christ and in this way remain united with one another."

Because of this, he concluded, "the Church is not only a corporation as the state is; it is a body. It is not an organization, but an organism."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Pope: Mary's Conception Points to Basic Truths
Says She Is Reflection of Beauty That Saves the World

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 9, 2008 (Zenit.org).-

Benedict XVI says the feast of the Immaculate Conception points to two fundamental Christian beliefs: original sin, and Christ's triumph over it.

The Pope said this Monday, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, when he prayed the Angelus with crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square.Christ's victory over sin "shines sublimely in Mary Most Holy," the Holy Father affirmed."

The existence of what the Church calls 'original sin' is, sadly, a crushing truth, suffice it to look around us and above all in our interior," he noted. "

The experience of evil is, in fact, so consistent, that it imposes itself and makes us ask the question: From whence does it come? […] If God, who is absolute goodness, has created everything, where does evil come from?"

The Pontiff explained that Genesis offers the answer to these questions: "God created everything so that it would exist, in particular he created man in his own image; he did not create death, rather, the latter entered the world because of the envy of the devil, who, rebelling against God, also attracted men with deceit, inducing them to rebellion."

This, Benedict XVI continued, is the "drama of freedom, which God accepts totally out of love." However, from the beginning, God promised that the head of the ancient servant would be crushed.

The Holy Father said that in God's eyes, the "Woman predestined to be mother of the Redeemer […] always had a face and name: 'full of grace,' as the Angel called her when visiting her in Nazareth."

Thus, the Pope added, "in Mary Immaculate we contemplate the reflection of the Beauty that saves the world: the beauty of God that shines on the face of Christ. In Mary, this beauty is totally pure, humble, free of all pride and presumption."

A Need Very Close To My Heart

Pope Benedict XVI starts Rome holiday season, prays for jobless
Mon Dec 8, 1:46 PM

ROME - Pope Benedict XVI prayed for those who have lost jobs or are struggling to pay bills as Rome's holiday season began today with a traditional appearance by the pontiff near the Spanish Steps.

Thousands of Romans and tourists crowded into the square near Rome's posh shopping streets to hear Benedict pray near a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Rome's holiday season begins every Dec. 8, when the pontiff arrives in his popemobile in the square at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

Benedict said he was asking the Virgin Mary to help families struggling to make ends meet and those who can't find work or who have just lost their jobs.

He said he hoped those suffering would feel the "warmth of God's love."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ex-Muslim Forms Party to Defend Europe's Christian Values
An Egyptian-born writer who renounced Islam and was baptized a Roman Catholic by Pope Benedict XVI said he has formed a political party that would enter candidates in next year's European Union elections.
Sun, Dec. 07, 2008

ROME (AP) — An Egyptian-born writer who renounced Islam and was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that he has formed a political party that would enter candidates in next year's EU elections.

Magdi Cristiano Allam said his "Protagonists for Christian Europe" party would work to defend Europe's Christian values, which he sees threatened by secularism and moral relativism. He said his new party would be open to people of all faiths and would be close to the conservative European People's Party.

Allam built his career in Italy as commentator and book author attacking Islamic extremism and supporting Israel.

In March, Allam angered some in the Muslim world with a high-profile conversion during an Easter vigil service led by the pope in St. Peter's Basilica.

Allam, who took the name Cristiano upon converting, has credited Benedict with being instrumental in his decision to become a Catholic and has said the pope had baptized him to support freedom of religion.

The 56-year-old Allam has lived most of his adult life in Italy, becoming a citizen in 1986. In recent years he was given a police escort after receiving death threats from radical Islamic groups.

While working to encourage tolerance between cultures he has also grown increasingly critical of his former faith.

He said in leading daily Corriere della Sera, where he has worked as deputy editor, that the "root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Liberalism Needs to Rediscover God, Says Pope
Writes Forward to Marcello Pera's Latest Book
By Jesús Colina , DEC. 2, 2008 (Zenit.org).-

At the heart of liberalism is the Christian image of God, and rediscovering that is the key to overcoming the current crisis of ethics in Europe and the world, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope wrote this in a letter sent in September to Italian philosopher and senator Marcello Pera, in response to the latter's latest book titled "Perche dobbiamo dirci cristiani. Il liberalismo, l'Europa, l'etica" (Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians: Liberalism, Europe, and Ethics").

Published by Mondadori, the Italian-language book will be presented Thursday in Rome. The letter appears as a forward in the text. Marcello Pera, 65, president of the Italian Senate during the last legislature, dedicated his academic research to his friend Karl Popper, Austrian philosopher of the "open society."

In his letter, Benedict XVI acknowledged the text to be "a fascinating read," and he applauded Pera's analysis of liberalism. "With an exceptional knowledge of the foundations, and with convincing logic, you analyze the essence of liberalism from its principles, showing that rooted in the heart of liberalism is the Christian image of God."

"With irreproachable logic, you show how liberalism loses its base and destroys itself if it abandons this foundation," he added.

The Pope also expressed his admiration for Pera's analysis of liberty, and the concept of multiculturalism, in which he "shows the internal contradiction of this concept and, therefore, its political and cultural impossibility."

"Of fundamental importance is your analysis of what Europe and a European Constitution can be in which Europe is not transformed into a cosmopolitan reality, but finds -- from its Christian-liberal foundation -- its own identity," he notes.

The Holy Father also reflects on the senator's analysis of the concepts of interreligious and intercultural dialogue: "You explain with great clarity that interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible, while intercultural dialogue is particularly urgent, which analyzes the cultural consequences of the underlying religious decision."

"Although it is true that as regard the latter, no true dialogue is possible without putting aside one's own faith, in the public debate it is necessary to address the cultural consequences of the underlying religious decisions," he indicates.

The Holy Father said he believed Pera's proposals are necessary to overcome "the contemporary crisis of ethics."

"You show that liberalism, without failing to be liberalism -- rather, to be faithful to itself -- can refer to a doctrine of the good, in particular the Christian, which is familiar to it, thus truly offering a contribution to overcome the crisis," he continued.

In an interview Saturday on Vatican Radio, Pera explained the reasons why on occasions liberalism has become anti-Christian.

"In so far as Europe is concerned, in particular, a historic explanation is given. Many have often found themselves in conflict with the Catholic Church, and it is a bitter fact of the history of Europe, which is not the case in the history of the United States," he explained.

"Some national States -- Italy, France, etc. -- have constituted themselves as nation-states with a struggle, with a dispute against the Catholic Church," he noted.

"This has generated what is known as the phenomenon of anti-clericalism, and anti-clericalism has generated another: what in the book I call 'secular equation,' namely, 'liberal equals non-Christian.'"

"This is an error," he said, "as one can argue historically on the merits and demerits of the Catholic Church in Europe at the time of the foundation of the national states, but the importance of the Christian message cannot be disputed."

If one opts for anti-Christianity, what the Pope calls "the apostasy of Christianity," added Pera, "we lose the very virtues, the very foundations of those liberties and rights on which are liberal States are founded."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Egyptian-born commentator baptized by pope in high-profile conversion enters Italian politics

ROME (AP) _ An Egyptian-born writer who renounced Islam and was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that he has formed a political party that would enter candidates in next year's EU elections.

Magdi Cristiano Allam said his "Protagonists for Christian Europe" party would work to defend Europe's Christian values, which he sees threatened by secularism and moral relativism. He said his new party would be open to people of all faiths and would be close to the conservative European People's Party.

Allam built his career in Italy as commentator and book author attacking Islamic extremism and supporting Israel.

In March, Allam angered some in the Muslim world with a high-profile conversion during an Easter vigil service led by the pope in St. Peter's Basilica.

Allam, who took the name Cristiano upon converting, has credited Benedict with being instrumental in his decision to become a Catholic and has said the pope had baptized him to support freedom of religion.

The 56-year-old Allam has lived most of his adult life in Italy, becoming a citizen in 1986. In recent years he was given a police escort after receiving death threats from radical Islamic groups.

While working to encourage tolerance between cultures he has also grown increasingly critical of his former faith.

He said in leading daily Corriere della Sera, where he has worked as deputy editor, that the "root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual."

By Associated Press
Nov. 30, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue
By RACHEL DONADIO (from New York Times)
Published: November 23, 2008

ROME — In comments on Sunday that could have broad implications in a period of intense religious conflict, Pope Benedict XVI cast doubt on the possibility of interfaith dialogue but called for more discussion of the practical consequences of religious differences.

The pope’s comments came in a letter he wrote to Marcello Pera, an Italian center-right politician and scholar whose forthcoming book, “Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian,” argues that Europe should stay true to its Christian roots. A central theme of Benedict’s papacy has been to focus attention on the Christian roots of an increasingly secular Europe.

In quotations from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily newspaper, the pope said the book “explained with great clarity” that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

But Benedict added that “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” was important. He called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope’s comments seemed intended to draw interest to Mr. Pera’s book, not to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing interreligious dialogues.

“He has a papacy known for religious dialogue; he went to a mosque, he’s been to synagogues,” Father Lombardi said. “This means that he thinks we can meet and talk to the others and have a positive relationship.”

To some scholars, the pope’s remarks seemed aimed at pushing more theoretical interreligious conversations into the practical realm.

“He’s trying to get the Catholic-Islamic dialogue out of the clouds of theory and down to brass tacks: how can we know the truth about how we ought to live together justly, despite basic creedal differences?” said George Weigel, a Catholic scholar and biographer of Pope John Paul II.
This month, the Vatican held a conference with Muslim religious leaders and scholars aimed at improving ties. The conference participants agreed to condemn terrorism and protect religious freedom, but they did not address issues of conversion and of the rights of Christians in majority Muslim countries to worship.

The church is also engaged in dialogue with Muslims organized by the king of Saudi Arabia, a country where non-Muslims are forbidden from worshiping in public.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pope Says Catholics In Politics Must Follow Faith
By The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging Catholics who get involved in politics to stay true to their church's teaching.

Benedict says it is necessary that a new generation of Catholics in politics be "coherent" with the faith they profess.

He also recommends that they act with moral rigor and work passionately for the common good.
The pope urged Vatican officials in a speech Saturday to be vigilant about the evangelical education of Catholics who get so involved in society.

Benedict recently said religion and politics should be "open to each other."

The Vatican is particularly attentive to political action about abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pope says Catholics in politics must follow faith
Sat Nov 15, 1:01 pm ET

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging Catholics who get involved in politics to stay true to their church's teaching.

Benedict says it is necessary that a new generation of Catholics in politics be "coherent" with the faith they profess.

He also recommends that they act with moral rigor and work passionately for the common good.
The pope urged Vatican officials in a speech Saturday to be vigilant about the evangelical education of Catholics who get so involved in society.

Benedict recently said religion and politics should be "open to each other."
The Vatican is particularly attentive to political action about abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I Went to Meet the Pope

LONDON -- Now that the shock waves touched off by Pope Benedict XVI's remarks at Regensburg on Sept., 12, 2006 have subsided, the overall consequences have proven more positive than negative. Above and beyond polemics, the pope's lecture has heightened general awareness of their respective responsibilities among Christians and Muslims in the West.

It matters little whether the pope had simply misspoken or, as the highest-ranking authority of the Catholic Church, was enunciating church policy. Now the issue is one of identifying those areas in which a full-fledged debate between Catholicism and Islam must take place. Papal references to "jihad" and "Islamic violence" came as a shock to Muslims, even though they were drawn from a quotation attributed to Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos.

It is clear that the time has come to open debate on the common theological underpinnings and the shared foundations of the two religions. The appeal by Muslim religious leaders, "A Common Word," had precisely this intention: our traditions have the same source, the same single God who calls upon us to respect human dignity and liberty.

These same traditions raise identical questions concerning the ultimate purpose of human activity, and respect for ethical principles.

In a world that is experiencing an unprecedented global crisis, a world in which politics, finance and relations between humans and the environment suffer from a cruel lack of conscience and ethical integrity, it is a matter of greatest urgency that Christian-Muslim dialogue turn its attention to both theological issues and to those of values and ultimate aims.

Our task is not to create a new religious alliance against the "secularized" and "immoral" world order, but to make a constructive contribution to the debate, to prevent the logic of economics and war from destroying what remains of our common humanity.

Our constructive dialogue on shared values and ultimate goals is far more vital and imperative than our rivalries over the number of believers, our contradictory claims about proselytism and sterile competition over exclusive possession of the truth.

Those dogma-ridden individuals who, in both religions, claim truth for themselves are, in fact, working against their respective beliefs.

Whoever claims that he/she alone possesses the truth, that "falsehood belongs to everybody else…" has already fallen into error. Our dialogue must resist the temptation of dogmatism by drawing upon a comprehensive, critical and constantly respectful confrontation of ideas.
Ours must be a dialogue whose seriousness requires of us, above all else, humility.

We must delve deep into history the better to engage a true dialogue of civilizations. Fear of the present can impose upon the past its own biased vision. Surprisingly, the pope asserted that Europe's roots were Greek and Christian, as if responding to the perceived threat of the Muslim presence in Europe.

His reading, as I noted after the lecture at Regensburg, is a reductive one.

We must return to the factual reality of the past, to the history of ideas. When we do so, it quickly becomes clear that the so-called opposition between the West and the Muslim world is pure projection, an ideological instrument if you will, designed to construct entities that can be opposed or invited to dialogue, depending on circumstances.

But the West has been shaped by Muslims, just as the Muslim world has been shaped by the West; it is imperative that a critical internal process of reflection begin: that the West and Europe initiate an internal debate, exactly as must Islam and the Muslims, with a view to reconciling themselves with the diversity and the plurality of their respective pasts.

The debate between faith and reason, and over the virtues of rationalism, is a constant in both civilizations, and is, as such, far from exclusive to the Greek or Christian heritage. Neither is it the sole prerogative of the Enlightenment.

The pope's remarks at Regensburg have opened up new areas of inquiry that must be explored and exploited in a positive way, with a view to building bridges and, working hand-in-hand, to seek a common response to the social, cultural and economic challenges of our day.

It is in this spirit that I participated on Nov. 4-6 in Rome, and in a meeting with the pope on Nov. 6. Our task was to assume our respective and shared responsibilities, and to commit ourselves to working for a more just world, in full respect of beliefs and liberties.

It is essential, then, to speak of freedom of conscience, of places of worship, of the "argument of reciprocity"; all questions are possible in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and respect.

Still, it is essential that each of us sit down at the table with the humility that consists of not assuming that we alone possess the truth; with the respect that requires that we listen to our neighbors and recognize their differences; and, finally, the coherence that summons each of us to maintain a critical outlook in accepting the contradictions that may exist between the message and the practice of believers.

These are the essential elements to be respected if we are to succeed.
Tariq Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies and senior research fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford University and at Lokahi Foundation in London. He is also president of the European think tank, the European Muslim Network (EMN), in Brussels.

For more information about "A Common Word" please visit www.acommonword.com.
Source: TariqRamadan.com, 4 November 2008, www.tariqramadan.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Christianity Not for Couch Potatoes, Says Pope
Offers Both Cross and Resurrection to Believers

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 5, 2008 (Zenit.org).-

Christianity is not a comfortable faith, but it has the hope of the Resurrection, Benedict XVI says.

The Pope affirmed this today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square, which he dedicated to a continuing reflection on St. Paul. Today, the Holy Father spoke of the Resurrection as the central point in Pauline theology.

He began his address citing a passage from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: "And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. … You are still in your sins." "With these heavy words […] St. Paul makes clear how decisive is the importance that he attributes to the resurrection of Jesus," the Pontiff said.

"In this event, in fact, is the solution to the problem that the drama of the cross implies. On its own, the cross could not explain Christian faith; on the contrary, it would be a tragedy, a sign of the absurdity of being. […]

"Here is the central key to Pauline Christology: Everything revolves around this gravitational center point. The whole teaching of the Apostle Paul departs from and always arrives at the mystery of the One whom the Father has risen from the dead."

Linked in

Benedict XVI said that Paul's preaching of the Resurrection was always linked to the tradition of the first Christian communities."

Here one can truly see the importance of the tradition that preceded the Apostle and that he, with great respect and attention, wanted in turn to convey," he said.

"The text on the Resurrection, contained in Chapter 15:1-11 of the First Letter to the Corinthians, emphasizes well the nexus between 'receive' and 'transmit.' "

St. Paul attributes great importance to the literal formulation of tradition; the end of the fragment we are examining highlights: 'Whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed,' thus spotlighting the unity of the kerygma, of the proclamation for all believers and for all those who would announce the resurrection of Christ."

Thus, the originality of Paul's Christology "is never in detriment to fidelity to tradition," the Pope affirmed.

"And in this way, Paul offers a model for all times of how to do theology and how to preach. The theologian and the preacher do not create new visions of the world and of life, but rather are at the service of the truth transmitted, at the service of the real fact of Christ, of the cross, of the resurrection. Their duty is to help to understand today, behind the ancient words, the reality of 'God with us,' and therefore, the reality of true life."

Modern consequences

The Holy Father said that Paul's emphasis on the Resurrection and his proclamation of that fundamental Christian truth has "important consequences for our life of faith."

He explained: "We are called to participate from the depths of our being in the whole of the event of the death and resurrection of Christ. The Apostle says: We 'have died with Christ' and we believe 'that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.'

"This translates into sharing the sufferings of Christ, as a prelude to this full configuration with him through the resurrection, which we gaze upon with hope."

Paul also shared in sufferings with the hope of the resurrection, the Pontiff noted. "The theology of the cross is not a theory -- it is a reality of Christian life. To live in faith in Jesus Christ, to live truth and love implies renunciations every day; it implies sufferings. Christianity is not a path of comfort; it is rather a demanding ascent, but enlightened with the light of Christ and with the great hope that is born from him."

In fact, he continued, citing St. Augustine "Christians are not spared suffering; on the contrary, they get a little extra."

But, the Bishop of Rome affirmed, it is "only in this way, experiencing suffering, [that] we experience life in its depth, in its beauty, in the great hope elicited by Christ, crucified and risen."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Muslims seek crisis management plan with Vatican
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Muslim scholars due to meet Pope Benedict and Roman Catholic officials this week hope the Vatican will agree to joint crisis management plan to defuse tensions that flare up between Christianity and Islam.

Violent protests in the Islamic world after a Danish newspaper printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad might have been averted if Christians and Muslims had spoken out jointly against such unrest and the provocation behind it, they say.

This proposal is one of several ideas for better interfaith cooperation that the Common Word group, a broad coalition of Muslim leaders and scholars pursuing dialogue between the world's two largest religions, will present at the November- 4-6 talks.

"We should develop a crisis reaction mechanism so if there is another cartoon crisis, we could get together and make a joint statement," said Ibrahim Kalin, an Islam scholar from Turkey who is spokesman for the group.

They would also speak out against religious persecution such as the oppression of Iraq's Christian minority, said delegation member Sohail Nakhooda, editor of the Amman-based magazine Islamica. "We have to look out for each other," he said.

The Common Word manifesto, which invited Christian churches to a new interfaith dialogue based on shared principles of love of God and neighbor, was issued in October 2007 partly in response to Pope Benedict's Regensburg speech a year earlier.

Bloody protests broke out in Muslim countries after Benedict hinted there that he considered Islam a violent and irrational faith. The Common Word group said the incident revealed such mutual ignorance that a new cooperation drive was needed.

In meetings this year with mostly Protestant leaders, Common Word delegates have proposed regular dialogue sessions, student exchanges, suggested reading lists and other ideas to help Christians and Muslims learn more about each other.


Kalin, an Islamic studies professor at Georgetown University in Washington, said cooperation between churches and mosques in the Netherlands defused tensions before far-right politician Geert Wilders released his anti-Islam film Fitna early this year.

"That was the first fruit of the kind of cooperation we want to have," he said.

The Common Word manifesto, which now has 271 signatories, brings together leading Muslim officials and scholars from around the world. Its 24-member delegation to the Vatican talks will be led by Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Ceric.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will head the Catholic delegation made up of 24 Vatican officials and Catholic experts on Islam.

Christianity has about two billion followers worldwide, just over half of them Catholic, while Muslims number 1.3 billion.

The delegations will hold closed-door talks on theology on Tuesday and issues of mutual respect on Wednesday, including the question of religious freedom in Muslim countries that the Vatican is especially keen to discuss.

They will have an audience with Pope Benedict on Thursday before holding a public discussion session that afternoon.

Tauran told the French Catholic daily La Croix in an interview the delegations should discuss religious freedom but it was not a Vatican precondition for a dialogue.

He said if Muslims could build mosques in Europe, Christians should have the same right in majority Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia, which has launched its own interfaith dialogue this year, bar other religions from operating openly there.

"These dialogue initiatives seem quite out of step with the anti-Christian violence that is reported daily from several countries," he said. "How can we communicate the real openings we are making among elites down to the masses?"
Scientists, Theologians Gather for Vatican Conference on Evolution
By Lawrence Jones
Christian Post Reporter

Pope Benedict XVI opened a five-day Vatican meeting on evolution Friday morning by affirming that the world did not emerge out of chaos but was intentionally created by "the First Being."

"In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being,” the pontiff told an audience of 80 scientists, philosophers and theologians who have gathered for the conference, themed "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

“It must be created, in other words, by the First Being who is such by essence," he added, according to Zenit News.

Benedict also went further to assert that the Creator was not only involved in the origins of the universe but continually sustains the development of life and the world.

The Creator, he said, “is the cause of every being and all becoming.”

The five-day conference, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the latest initiative in an effort by the Vatican to promote dialogue between scientists and theologians. It also comes as debates over creation and evolution continue to rage on.

Like many Christians today, most members of the Catholic Church accept a brand of evolution known as "theistic evolution," which teaches that evolution was a tool used by God in the creation process.

During a press gathering in September, the Vatican said the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible and that it was even planning to hold a new interdisciplinary conference to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species next March in Rome.

The Catholic Church rejects a fundamentalist interpretation of the Creation story in Genesis, regarding the six-day account as an allegory. Though this view aligns with that of many Protestant Christians, many conservatives maintain the belief in a literal six-day Creation.
On Friday, Benedict said he saw no contradiction between believing in God and empirical science.

"There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," he said, quoting from Popes Pius XII and John Paul II.

He also cited Galileo, whom, he said "saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author."

"It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose ‘writing’ and meaning, we ‘read’ according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the Author who has wished to reveal Himself therein," said the pontiff, according to Catholic News Service.

Following Benedict’s opening remarks, world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, was scheduled to give a lecture Friday afternoon entitled "The Origin and Destiny of the Universe."

The physicist’s appearance was to mark his second at a Vatican scientific conference since 1981, when Hawking had attended at Vatican conference on cosmology.

Though he has never professed a belief in God, Hawking has never denied the existence of God either. Furthermore, in his 1988 publication, A Brief History of Time, Hawking discussed the possibility of a creator.

"So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator,” wrote Hawking, who later said that his theories show the possibility for the laws of science to dictate how the universe began.

The world renown physicist has also admitted to being religious, though not “in the normal sense," in an interview with Reuters last year.

"I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he told Reuters. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws," he added.

Aside from Hawking, other notable scientists scheduled to speak at the five-day Vatican conference, which concludes Nov. 4, include Swiss chemist Albert Eschenmoser, who will discuss the search for the chemistry of life’s origin; U.S. biologist David Baltimore, who will examine evolution at the genetic level; and Greek biologist Fotis Kafatos, who will speak on evolution and the insect world.

Those addressing the theological and philosophical aspects of evolution will include Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini and Father Stanley L. Jaki, a professor of physics and the philosophy of science at Seton Hall University.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

THIS is what I like to see

Pope sees physicist Hawking at evolution gathering

Reuters – Pope Benedict XVI (R) greets British professor Stephen Hawking during a meeting of science academics …
Slideshow: Physicist Stephen Hawking

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict told a gathering of scientists including the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking on Friday that there was no contradiction between believing in God and empirical science.

Benedict, who briefly met the wheelchair-bound physicist at an event hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, described science as the pursuit of knowledge about God's creation.
"There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," the pontiff said.

"Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God."

The Catholic Church found the 17th-century astronomer Galileo guilty of heresy for insisting the earth revolved around the sun. It did not rehabilitate him until 1992.

Hawking is a guest at the week-long event, which will explore the theme: "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

In an interview with Reuters last year, Hawking said he was "not religious in the normal sense."
"I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he said. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."

The Catholic Church teaches "theistic evolution," which accepts evolution as scientific theory. Proponents see no reason why God could not have used an evolutionary process in forming the human species.

The Pontiff admired the technology that allows Hawking to speak through a voice synthesizer. Hawking is crippled by a muscle disease and has lost the use of his natural voice.

Hawking, author of the best-selling "A Brief History of Time," will speak about the origin of the universe at the closed-door event.

(Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Catherine Bosley)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Good Pope

Pope Says John XXIII's Faith Was His Secret
Remembers Predecessor on Election Anniversary

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Faith in Christ and the Church was the secret that made Pope John XXIII a worldwide promoter of peace, Benedict XVI proposed in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the election of the "Good Pope.

"The German Pontiff affirmed this in an address Tuesday to pilgrims who gathered in St. Peter's Square to mark the anniversary with a Mass celebrated by the Pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The hour of the Mass recalled the exact hour when, 50 years earlier, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli (1881-1963) was elected to the See of Peter.

Recalling the "gaudium magnum" (great joy) that the Church experienced at seeing the new Pope on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, his successor recognized that "it was a prelude and a prophecy of the experience of paternity, which God would offer us abundantly through the words, gestures and ecclesial service of the Good Pope."

"The grace of God prepared a vulnerable and promising season for the Church and for society, and found in docility to the Holy Spirit, which characterized all of John XXIII's life, the good soil to bring to germination concord, hope, unity and peace, for the good of all humanity," he added."

Pope John presented faith in Christ and belonging to the Church, mother and teacher, as the guarantee of fruitful Christian testimony in the world," Benedict XVI continued. "In the difficult conflicts of his time, the Pope was a man and a pastor of peace, who knew how to open in the East and in the West, unexpected horizons of fraternity among Christians, and dialogue with all."

The German Pope recalled one of John XXIII's famous audiences -- his first Christmas as Pope in 1958 -- when he asked those who had gathered what was the meaning of their meeting. John XXIII himself responded: "The Pope has set his eyes on yours and his heart next to yours."

"I ask Pope John," Benedict XVI concluded, "to allow us to experience the closeness of his gaze and his heart so as to feel that we are truly the family of God."

Holy pastor
During the homily of the anniversary Mass, Cardinal Bertone also meditated on the faith of John XXIII, as revealed by his writings.

He cited a passage where John XXIII wrote, "My confusion provokes in me sentiments of humility and abandonment in the hands of the Lord. He has truly done everything, and he has done it without me, who would have never been able to imagine or aspire to so much. I do not desire, I do not think of anything else than to live and die for the souls that have been entrusted to me."

Cardinal Bertone also mentioned the Pontiff's dedication to prayer, again citing one of his own writings: "In the few years left to me, I want to be a holy pastor in every sense of the word. My day should always unwind in prayer. Prayer is my breath."

Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-24106?l=english

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Few Things

Benedict to Make First Papal Visit to Africa in March
By Associated Press Writer
Frances D'Emilio

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI announced Sunday he will make his first papal pilgrimage to Africa — a continent where the Catholic Church is growing — with visits next year to Cameroon and Angola.

The 81-year-old Benedict gave the surprise news at the end of his homily in St. Peter's Basilica, during a ceremony closing three weeks of discussions by bishops from around the world about the Bible.

Benedict did not give specific dates for the trip, which traditionally are first announced by local Church officials in the host countries. The Vatican usually gives details of papal pilgrimages closer to departure.

"Next March, I intend to go to Cameroon" as part of preparations for an October 2009 bishops' meeting at the Vatican dealing with Africa, Benedict said at the end of his homily.

"From there, God willing, I will go on to Angola, to celebrate solemnly the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of that country," Benedict said.

The Catholic Church has been growing in parts of Africa and Asia, with those continents sometimes supplying priests for parishes in parts of Europe and North America where vocations have steadily declined in the last few decades.

While the Vatican has been concerned about the flagging faith of some Catholics in the affluent West, Church officials are heartened by the vibrancy of local churches in parts of Africa and Asia.
When the pope visits Cameroon, representatives of Africa's bishops conferences will be meeting there to prepare for next year's Vatican synod on Africa.

Cameroon, formed in 1961 from western African territories governed by the French and British, has an 18 million population that is about 40 percent Christian.

Angola's history as a former Portuguese colony has given the country Christian roots. The southern African country was lacerated by a civil war that started with its 1975 independence and ended in 2002.

Since being elected pontiff in 2005, Benedict has visited several European countries, including France in September, his latest foreign trip. He has also traveled to Brazil, the United States and Australia earlier this year.

His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited Africa several times in his 26 1/2 years as pontiff.
On Sunday, Benedict paid tribute to the Church in another distant part of the world — China — where Catholics loyal to him worship in clandestine churches and have sometimes suffered harassment, or in the case of clergy, even imprisonment.

The pontiff noted that bishops from China had been unable to attend this month's gathering at the Vatican. The Vatican and Beijing do not have formal ties, largely due to China's insistence that it make appointments of bishops, a right claimed by the Holy See.

Benedict said he was thankful for the Chinese bishops' "faithfulness" to the pope, and he prayed that they receive the "strength and zeal to guide, with wisdom and far-sightedness, the Catholic community of China that we love so dearly."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press
Beirut- Lebanese President Michel Suleiman is due to travel to Vatican City later this week for talks with Pope Benedict XVI, a presidential palace source said Tuesday. Suleiman, 59, a Maronite Christian and former commander-in-chief of the army, will meet the pontiff on Friday, the source said.

Suleiman was elected on May 25, 2008, after months of political crisis in the country, during which Benedict had urged Lebanese leaders to reach an agreement.
From Earth Times
Local rabbi traveling to Rome to meet pope
By Mike Randall
October 28, 2008
CITY OF NEWBURGH — Rabbi Daniel Polish, an adjunct professor of religious studies at Mount Saint Mary College, will be among a group of rabbis traveling to Rome Tuesday to discuss Jewish-Catholic relations with Pope Benedict XVI.
Polish said this is a sensitive time for Jewish-Catholic relations because the Catholic church is considering beatification for Pope Pius XII, a man some Jews believe didn’t do enough to oppose Adolph Hitler’s treatment of Jews.
Pope Says We Owe a Debt to Vatican II
Calls It Ever More Timely in Globalized World
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 28, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Second Vatican Council is not losing its relevance with the passing of decades, but rather is "particularly pertinent" for the Church in today's globalized world, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope affirmed this in a message today to participants in an international conference being held in Rome on "Vatican II in the Pontificate of John Paul II."
The event is sponsored by the St. Bonaventure Theological Faculty and the Institute for Documentation and Study of the Pontificate of John Paul II.
Benedict XVI wrote that "all of us are truly debtors of this extraordinary ecclesial event," and that for him it was "an honor to participate as an expert."
"Making divine salvation accessible to the man of today was for Pope John the fundamental motive for convoking the council, and it was with this perspective that the fathers worked."
From God's heartIn this context, the German Pontiff praised his Polish predecessor, saying that "in the council [John Paul II] made a significant personal contribution as a council father," and that later he became its "primary executor during the years of his pontificate, by divine will."
John Paul II "took up practically in all of his writings, and even more in his decisions and actions as Pontiff, the fundamental urgings of the ecumenical council Vatican II, of which he became a qualified interpreter and coherent witness," he added.The council, Benedict XVI continued, "came from the heart of John XXIII, but it is more accurate to say that in the end, as with all the great events in the history of the Church, that it came from the heart of God, from his salvific will."
"The multifaceted doctrinal heritage that we find in its dogmatic constitutions, in the declarations and decrees, moves us even now to go deeper in the Word of God to apply it today to the Church, keeping in mind the needs of the men and women of the contemporary world, who have an extreme need to know and experience the light of Christian hope."
The Holy Father expressed his hope that the conference participants approach "the conciliar documents to seek in them satisfactory answers to many of the questions of our time."
"The ultimate goal of all our activities should be communion with the living God," he concluded. "In this way as well, for the fathers of Vatican II, the ultimate goal of all of the elements of renewal of the Church was to guide toward the living God, revealed in Jesus Christ."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Alexy II notes progress in relationship between Orthodox, Catholic churches

Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexy II affirmed the positive dynamics in the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church in his reply to the message by Pope of Rome Benedict XYI. The Moscow Patriarchate website posted the letter on Thursday.

Alexy II said he welcomed the growing prospects for good relationship and interaction between the two churches and explained by common roots and shared attitudes to many modern concerns.

On October 1 Alexy II received Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe in Moscow. Sepe delivered the pontifical message, which presented cordial greetings and said that Orthodox and Catholic believers were bound to present an example of peaceful life and mutual respect. Alexy II expressed his sincere regards and profound respect to the Pontiff.

Christian fraternal love must be the main driving force of Orthodox-Catholic relations, he said.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pope's Reflection at Synod on Word of God
"The Foundation of Everything, It Is the True Reality"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is an unofficial Vatican translation of the reflection Benedict XVI gave Monday at the first general congregation of the world Synod of Bishops on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church," under way in the Vatican through Oct. 26. The Pope addressed the assembly in Latin.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopacy,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the beginning of our Synod the Liturgy of the Hours proposes a passage from Psalm 18 on the Word of God: praise for His Word, expression of the joy of Israel in learning it and, in it, to learn about His will and His face. I would like to meditate on a few verses of this Psalm with you.

It begins like this: “In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo... firmasti terram, et permanet”. This refers to the solidity of the Word. It is solid, it is the true reality on which we must base our life. Let us remember the words of Jesus who continues the words of this Psalm: “Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, but a breath. As soon as it is pronounced, it disappears. It seems like nothing. But already the human word has incredible force. It is words that create history, it is words that form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.

Even more, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our notion that matter, solid things, things we can touch, is the most solid, the most certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. He who builds on sand only builds on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will vanish. We can see this now with the fall of two large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. Who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is he who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is he who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.

The following verse says: “Omnia serviunt tibi”. All things come from the Word, they are products of the Word. “In the beginning was the Word”. In the beginning the heavens spoke. And thus reality was born of the Word, it is “creatura Verbi”. All is created from the Word and all is called to serve the Word. This means that all of creation, in the end, is thought to create the meeting place between God and His creature, a place where the history of love between God and His creature can develop. “Omnia serviunt tibi”. The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing, which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motivation for everything, the motivation for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and His creature. In this sense, the history of salvation, Covenant, precedes creation. During the Hellenistic period, Judaism developed the idea that the Torah would have preceded the creation of the material world. This material world seems to have been created solely to make place for the Torah, for this Word of God that creates the answer and becomes the history of love. The mystery of Christ already is mysteriously revealed here. This is what we are told in the Letter to the Ephesians and to the Colossians: Christ is the prototypos, the first-born of creation, the idea the universe was conceived for. He welcomes all. We enter in the movement of the universe by uniting with Christ. One can say that, while material creation is the condition for the history of salvation, the history of the Covenant is the true cause of the cosmos. We reach the roots of being by reaching the mystery of Christ, His living word that is the aim of all creation. “Omnia serviunt tibi”. In serving the Lord we achieve the goal of the being, the goal of our own existence.

Let us take a leap forward: “Mandata tua exquisivi”. We are always searching for the Word of God. It is not merely present in us. Just reading it does not mean necessarily that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we only see the human words and do not find the true actor within, the Holy Spirit. We cannot find the Word in the words. Saint Augustine, in this context, recalls the scribes and Pharisees consulted by Herod when the Magi arrived. Herod wants to know where the Savior of the world would be born. They know this, they give the correct answer: in Bethlehem. They are great specialists, who know everything. However they do not see reality, they do not know the Savior. Saint Augustine says: they are signs on the road for the others, but they themselves do not move. This is a great danger as well in our reading of the Scriptures: we stop at the human words, words form the past, history of the past, and we do not discover the present in the past, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us today with the words from the past. This is not how we may enter the internal movement of the Word, which in human words hides and opens the divine words. Therefore, there is always a need for “exquisivi”. We must always look for the Word within words.

Therefore, exegesis, the true reading of the Holy Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, not only reading a text. It is the movement of my existence. It is moving towards the Word of God in the human words. Only by conforming to the Mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words. Let us pray to the Lord that He may help us to look for the word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence.

At the end: “Omni consummationi vidi finem, latum praeceptum tuum nimis”. All human things, all the things we can invent, create, are finite. Even all human religious experiences are finite, showing one aspect of reality, because our being is finite and can only understand one part, a few elements: “latum praeceptum tuum nimis”. Only God is infinite. And therefore His Word too is universal and knows no boundaries. Coming into communion with the Word of God, we enter a communion of the Church that lives the Word of God. We do not enter into a small group, with the rules of a small group, but we go beyond our limitations. We go towards the depths, in the true grandeur of the only truth, the great truth of God. We are truly a part of what is universal. And thus we go out into the communion of all the brothers and sisters, of all humanity, because the desire for the Word of God, which is one, is hidden in our heart.

Therefore even evangelization, the proclamation of the Gospel, the mission are not a type of ecclesial colonialism, where we wish to insert others into our group. It means going beyond the individual culture into the universality that connects all, unites all, makes us all brothers. Let us pray once again that the Lord may help us to truly enter the “vastness” of His Word and thus open the universal horizon to humanity, what unites us despite all the differences.

At the end, we return to a preceding verse: “Tuus sum ego:salvum me fac”. This translates as: “I am yours”. The Word of God is like a stairway that we can go up and, with Christ, even descend into the depths of His love. It is a stairway to reach the Word in the words. “I am yours”. The word has a face, it is a person, Christ. Before we can say “I am yours”, He has already told us “I am yours”. The Letter to the Hebrews, quoting Psalm 39, says: “You gave me a body... Then I said, ‘Here I am, I am coming’”. The Lord prepared a body to come. With His incarnation He said: I am yours. And in baptism He said to me: I am yours. In the Holy Eucharist, He always repeats this: I am yours, so that we may answer: Lord, I am yours. In the path of the Word, entering the mystery of his incarnation, of His being among us, we wish to appropriate His being, expropriate our existence, giving ourselves to Him, He who gave Himself to us.“I am yours”.

Let us pray the Lord that we may learn to say this word with our whole being. That way we will be in the heart of the Word. That way we will be saved.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Vatican City -
Pope Benedict XVI's bestselling book, Jesus of Nazareth, can help thwart the "confusion" caused by books such as US author Dan Brown's The Da Vinci code, a top Roman Catholic cleric suggested Monday. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the General Reporter of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, referred to the pontiff's book during the first session of the synod - a series of discussions involving top Catholic clerics from around the world.

While the pontiff's book, published in 2007, and which recounts Jesus'life, is not meant as an official text of Church teaching, it "remains a lighthouse which protects from the rocks and shipwrecks," Ouellet said.

"It is a work that helps dissipate the confusion propagated by certain media phenomena, and serves to relaunch the Church's dialogue with contemporary culture," he added.

Ouellet did not name The Da Vinci Code, but a note on the text of his remarks issued by the Vatican, specifically referred to Brown's 2003 book as an example of the "media phenomena" the cardinal mentioned.

The Da Vinci Code, which speculates on the possibility that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children has, together with its 2006 Hollywood blockbuster film version, drawn criticism from the Vatican and other Christian representatives.

The theme of the Synod which lasts until October 26 is The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church and centres on how the clergy can help the faithful become better acquainted with the Bible - carrying forward one of the reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

For centuries, the Catholic Church had taught that the holy scriptures should be left for the clergy to interpret on behalf of the faithful.

During the Synod participants are called to express their opinions on matters on an individual basis. The Pope may also approve and promulgate decrees or resolutions stemming from the discussions.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Pope: Millions are losing their religion and declaring God is dead
06 October 2008

MODERN culture is so devoid of faith that some people are declaring God "dead" and entire nations are losing their identity, Pope Benedict XVI warned yesterday.

The 81-year-old pontiff said that God was being pushed out of people's lives under the "harmful and destructive influence" of today's society.

His comments, made during a Mass at the start of a month-long synod of Roman Catholic bishops from around the world, come amid growing concern about the decline in church attendance and interest in religion in many Western nations.

Pope Benedict is particularly worried about a growing indifference to religion in Europe.Speaking at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, the Pope said: "Today, nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing their own identity under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture.

"There are those who, after deciding that 'God is dead', declare themselves to be 'god' and the artisan of their own destiny, the absolute master of the world."

Pope Benedict said attempts to "brush God aside" lead to arrogance, selfishness, injustice, exploitation and violence."

When men proclaim themselves to be absolute masters of themselves and sole masters of creation, can they truly build a society where freedom, justice and peace reign?" he asked.

In recent decades, the Catholic Church's influence has seen a decline in developed countries, although it is growing in the Third World.

Both the Church of Scotland and Scottish Catholic Church have seen a drop in worshippers in recent years – the Church of Scotland has seen numbers fall nearly 60 per cent since 1960, and between 1994 and 2003, Mass attendances fell from 250,000 to 194,728. Earlier this year the Vatican also reported a dramatic fall in the number of Roman Catholic monks and nuns. Ronnie Convery, spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church, said Pope Benedict's comments reflected the concerns religious leaders had been aware of for some time.

"What we are seeing is that our culture has changed, subtly but significantly," Mr Convery said. "Many people today, even though they wouldn't declare themselves atheist, behave as though God doesn't exist. One of the main challenges of the Catholic Church is to remind people of their Christian roots and the important role that the Church has played in the shaping of our culture."

Seven days of non-stop Bible reading

THE Pope was the first of more than 1,200 people to take part in a marathon non-stop reading of the Bible, expected to last a week. It will be broadcast on Italian state television, RAI.

The Pope read from Genesis yesterday. All 73 books of the Catholic edition of the Bible will be read. Each speaker will read for about five to eight minutes. Giulio Andreotti, a former Italian prime minister, former presidents Francesco Cossiga, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and several ministers in the centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi will also be among the readers.

The Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni will be joined by film-maker Michele Placido and tenor Andrea Bocelli; the Brazil and AC Milan football star Kaká will also read.

A number of Muslims and Jews will also take part, but Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, pulled out of the event last month, saying it had become "too Catholic" for him. The reading ends on Saturday night.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Pope says Church has right to speak out
Oct 5, 2008 1:37 PM

Pope Benedict paid a state visit to Italy on Sunday and assured its leaders that the Church had no intention of imposing its will in political affairs but defended the right to express itself on social issues.

"There is no reason to fear that the Church and its members will impose themselves and limit freedom," the 81 year-old Pontiff said in a speech in the Quirinale Palace of President Giorgio Napolitano.

"(Church members) also expect to be allowed the freedom to not betray their conscience enlightened by the Gospel," he said, adding that Catholics must be allowed "to play their part in the construction of the social order."

The Vatican has had a sometimes tense relationship with left-leaning Italian governments in recent years over ethical issues such as homosexual unions, stem cell research and the role of Catholic schools in the country.

It sees much more eye-to-eye with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's current centre-right administration, though the Vatican has expressed concern over some of the aspects of a government crackdown on immigration.

The pope greeted onlookers from an open topped car during the roughly two-mile journey from the Vatican to the Quirinale, where he was greeted as a head of state by Napolitano and met with Berlusconi and his top ministers.

Napolitano said the relationship betwen Church and State in Italy was one of "mutual respect and collaboration," as the country prepares to celebrate 150 years since its unification.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I found this article to be of particular interest because a few years ago my son was in Vladivastok, Russia. He was there participating in a two week mission with the tiny, re-emerging Roman Catholic community in the region. The group was free to visit and go wherever they liked but they were prohibited from volunteering why they were there. Interestingly, whether in a college classroom or on the street, the purpose of their visit always presented itself. Quanah's experience was that the young people were very poor in faith and were much influenced by TV shows they watched dating back to the 80's. In a 2003 world, this was a very strange experience to encounter.

Pope warns about aggressive conversion efforts

By Frances D'emilio
ASSOCIATED PRESS - October 2, 2008
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI cautioned Roman Catholic bishops in former Soviet republics on Thursday against aggressive means of gaining converts, an issue that has complicated attempts to reconcile his church with Orthodox Christians.

A Vatican envoy to Moscow, meanwhile, reported progress in improving relations between the two communions that could one day pave the way for a papal visit to Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church has accused the Vatican of poaching for converts. The Roman Catholic Church contends it is simply looking after its tiny flock in former Soviet nations, where Orthodoxy is the predominant Christian denomination.

In general, such countries do not forbid Orthodox worshippers to convert to Catholicism, but Orthodox authorities have complained about other faiths.

For instance, the U.S. State Department recently reported that respect for religious freedom in Tajikistan has declined over the last year.

That was evident on Thursday when Nozirdzhon Buriyev, a spokesman for the former Soviet republic, said a court has ordered the banning of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the Central Asian country. He said the group was found by a military court to have breached religious legislation and illegally imported faith literature.

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI thanked an audience of visiting bishops from former Soviet republics in Central Asia for having worked to keep “the flame of faith lit, despite the tough pressures exercised during the years of the atheist and communist regime.”

But while the pope urged the bishops to keep the Christian faith alive, he said he wanted to remind them that “the Church never imposes, but freely proposes the Catholic faith.”

“That is precisely why any form of proselytizing, which forces, or induces and attracts someone with inopportune subterfuge to embrace the faith, is prohibited,” Benedict said in his speech.
Tensions with Orthodox leaders after the demise of Soviet Union prevented Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, from realizing his dream of a pilgrimage to Moscow.

Meanwhile, Naples Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, just back from a trip to Moscow, told Vatican Radio that there has been “a notably important step” made toward creating a climate of mutual respect between Catholics and Orthodox.

He said his talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II centered on how both sides can work together to revive Europe's Christian roots, a theme dear to Benedict who sent Sepe on the mission to Moscow.

As for any papal visit to the Russian capital, Sepe would only say, “Let Providence do its work. ... When, how and where, let's leave that up to providence.

The 15 independent nations that split from the Soviet Union during its breakup include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Iran: Jailed ayatollah asks Pope to help free him
Tehran, 26 Sept. (AKI) - Iran's jailed Ayatollah Sayyid Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi has written a letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other religious leaders asking them to help secure his release.

The ayatollah asked the pontiff to "...defend the divine credibility and spiritual sacredness" by asking the Iranian authorities to respect human rights. The letter was reportedly smuggled out of jail and distributed by the ayatollah's representative in Europe.

It was also addressed to Israel's chief rabbi, the grand mufti of al-Azhar and the Saudi ulema of Dar al-Fatwa.Addressing the Muslim leaders, Kazemeini says that "Political Islam is erasing the word of God and his prophet, Mohammed", while he asks rabbis to "make the world hear the cry of the Muslims in Iran, in the name of the same God that (we) jointly worship.

"Kazemeini has been jailed since October 2006 with a group of his supporters. They have been accused of anti-constitutional activities and heresy.

Rights group Amnesty International claims that Kazemeini has been tortured for the past two years. He is known to oppose political Islam and the presence of the mullahs and ayatollahs in government and institutions.

Kazemeini has broad support in Iran and before his arrest, thousands of people filled stadiums to hear his sermons.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Clearly d'Arcais would prefer that all opponents of his point of view just keep their mouths shut.

Critics say pope aims to change laws

NEW YORK, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Critics of the Roman Catholic Church say Pope Benedict XVI wants to retake Europe, if not in the number of its faithful, then at the political table.

Benedict presents the church as an underdog fighting for a voice in secular Europe when it actually remains a mighty power influencing law through friendly center-right governments, said Paolo Flores d'Arcais, editor of the left-wing Italian journal MicroMega.

"How can you say that you're an oppressed minority?" Flores d'Arcais asked. "That's madness."

* * * * My thoughts - "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” - attribution unknown. * * * *

This month in France, Benedict called for Roman Catholics throughout Europe to strongly support church opposition to same-sex couples, euthanasia, abortion and artificial insemination, The New York Times reported Sunday.

With Mass attendance and the number of priests at a record low, Benedict is wielding his influence to try to change laws in countries with church-friendly coalitions such as Germany, Italy and France, said John Allen Jr., who writes for National Catholic Reporter, a U.S. newspaper.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Benedict Defends Holocaust Pope Accused Of Silence


Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday that his predecessor Pius XII spared no effort to save Jews from the Nazis, one of the strongest Vatican defenses of a pontiff accused of silence during the Holocaust.

Benedict said during a meeting with a U.S.-based interfaith group that he wanted any prejudice against Pius to be overcome, praising what he called Pius's "courageous and paternal dedication" in trying to save Jews.

"Wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favor either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church," Benedict said.

Pius XII reigned from 1939 to 1958 and was a Vatican diplomat in Germany, and its secretary of state before that. Some historians say that he did not do everything in his power to prevent Jews from being deported to concentration camps. His supporters say he made every effort to help Jews and other victims through quiet diplomacy.

Benedict said that Pius' many interventions were "made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews.

"The Vatican has rejected the accusations against Pius, and has started the process for his beatification. But the process has gone on for some years and there's been no indication that it is moving forward.

Pius' wartime conduct is an unresolved issue in the Vatican's delicate relations with Israel and with Jews, many of whom share in the criticism of Pius.

Jews and others have accused him of not speaking out loudly enough against the Holocaust. Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis.Last year, the caption of a photo of Pius at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem was the subject of a public spat between the Holy See and Israel. The caption said Pius did not protest the Nazi genocide of Jews and maintained a largely "neutral position."

In Italy, under Pius' papacy, convents opened up their doors to hide Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Benedict said the interfaith Pave the Way Foundation had gathered material that showed the extent of Pius' efforts. The group, based in New York, is active in improving Catholic-Jewish relations and organized a symposium in Rome on Pius.

"So much has been written and said of him during these last five decades and not all of the genuine facets of his diverse pastoral activity have been examined in a just light," the pope said during the meeting with members of the group in Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat.

"One can also come to appreciate the human wisdom and pastoral intensity which guided him in his long years of ministry, especially in providing organized assistance to the Jewish people," Benedict said.

The pope said Pius' efforts were recognized by Jewish communities and individuals during and after World War II. He said that on Nov. 29, 1945, shortly after the end of the conflict, 80 delegates of German concentration camps came to the Vatican and thanked Pius "for his generosity to them."

The German-born Benedict has made a point of reaching out to Jews, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, John Paul II. He has publicly condemned the Nazi regime and mentioned the Holocaust on several occasions. During a trip to Poland in 2006, he prayed at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Pius' death, and Benedict said he hoped that commemorations would provide the opportunity for further study "in order to come to know the historical truth, overcoming every remaining prejudice."

(© 2008 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.