Friday, August 22, 2008

What's Come of the Pope's Letter to China?

Theologians Assess Document After a Year


Two high-ranking theologians said Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics, more than a year after its release, has outlined key points for reconciliation in China.

With the world's focus on Beijing for the Olympic games, L'Osservatore Romano talked about the May 27, 2007, papal letter with Dominican Father Wojciech Giertych, Pontifical Household theologian, and Salesian Father Savio Hon Tai-Fai, a member of the International Theological Commission.

Both priests highlighted the importance of the letter in pointing out possible and specific ways to encourage the reconciliation of the national and underground Church in China, though they agree that the process will take time.

In China, the government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the Patriotic Association.

This explains the difference affirmed between the "national" or "official" Church, and the faithful who oppose such control and who wish to obey the Pope directly. The latter constitute the non-official, or underground, Church.


For Polish Father Giertych, one of the essential points of the letter is the consideration on the morality of human acts when freedom is lacking.

"In his message to the Church in China, the Holy Father attempted to address both those who have heroically resisted the persecutions and continued their clandestine existence, absolutely excluding any contact with the Chinese civil authorities, as well as those who, despite having made too many compromises, have tried to take advantage of the meager space, measured out carefully, which the political authorities offered," Father Giertych said.

"It is difficult to assess from the outside the thin line that exists between a cowardly retreat from a prophetic stand and prudence to keep what can be saved in face of oppression," he added. "The Holy Father has invited both groups, without condemning anyone, to overcome their lack of mutual trust and build the unity of the Body of Christ on the basis of forgiveness, and reconciliation and unity with the universal Church."

In making this appeal, the theologian noted, the Pope "has carefully avoided launching quick accusations, and has abstained from passing a moral judgment of condemnation, emphasizing the fact that in moral assessments, it is necessary to take into account the true intentions of a person who makes difficult prudential decisions."

The Pontifical Household theologian insisted that this "personalist" focus is essential when it comes to judging decisions made under a totalitarian regime.

He explained: "The fundamental principle -- according to which in all moral acts, in addition to the objective light that comes from the moral law, both the personal consideration made by the agent's reason as well as the agent's interior intention are of decisive significance -- will be useful, we hope, when it comes to reading recent history and to overcoming the climate of suspicion and mistrust that life often engenders under totalitarian regimes.

"The assessment of thorny issues, considered in the context of external oppression, calls above all for respect, sympathy and a feeling of compassion toward those who were forced to act in the face of impossible dilemmas. Only in a climate of respect and understanding will the wounds caused by persecution, fear and suspicion come to be cured."

In this connection, the priest added, Benedict XVI's letter expresses "words of caution so that grave injustices will not be committed on the part of those who, living in a different social context, apply simplistic criteria in their easy condemnations."

Therefore, Father Giertych concluded, "it is necessary, as John Paul II said in his May 2006 address to priests in Warsaw cathedral, to sincerely practice penance for past infidelities, avoiding arrogant judgment of past generations who lived in another time and in other circumstances."

Unity in Peter

For his part, Salesian Father Savio Hon Tai-Fai said the Pope "is aware that reconciliation cannot be effected from one day to the next. Prayer and patience are needed."

"The Holy Father inspires hope and wishes to touch the hearts of people so that change can take place," he said. "No matter how serious the limitations to freedom are, people must choose. In fact, the fidelity of Catholics in China 'at the cost of great sufferings' is much praised in the letter.

"The Salesian said that conversations he's had with Chinese Catholics affirm the letter was written with clarity and charity: "a charity with which the Pope requests reconciliation and forgiveness, and a clarity with which he states that the Church in China must be built on the rock of Peter through the bishops' communion with the Pope."

The letter "touches the crucial point of the problem -- the original cause of the rupture of unity," Father Tai-Fai added. "In recent years, the Church has enjoyed greater religious freedom than in the past, but there still are great limitations, which are harmful for the Church and of no advantage for the state."

"Catholics in China have been told to ignore the letter, which has been removed from Web sites. Priests and assistants have been asked not to speak about it," he lamented. However, the Salesian affirmed, all the efforts to silence the Pope's voice were "precisely what was needed to stimulate people's appetite to look for it."

On the Net:Pope's letter to Chinese:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Holy Father's namesake and its meaning in today's world

The great Monk is Still a True Teacher
Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave
at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
Translation by Giustina Montaque

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to talk about St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, and also the patron saint of my papacy. I will begin with a few words from Pope St. Gregory the Great who wrote the following about St. Benedict: “The man of God who shone on this earth with so many miracles does not shine any less for the eloquence with which he knew how to present his teaching” (Dial. II, 36).

The Great Pope wrote these words in the year 592: The holy monk had died barely 50 years earlier and was still alive in the memories of the people and above all in the blossoming religious order he founded. St. Benedict, through his life and work, had a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture.

The most important source of information on his life is the second book of the Dialogues by Pope St. Gregory the Great. It is not a biography as such. According to the ideas of the time, he wanted to demonstrate by using a real person -- St. Benedict -- how someone who abandons himself to God can reach the heights of contemplation. He offers us a model of human life characterized as an ascent toward the peak of perfection.

Pope St. Gregory the Great tells us in the book of the Dialogues about the many miracles performed by the saint. Here too he did not want to simply recount a strange event, but rather demonstrate how God, by warning, helping and even punishing, intervenes in real situations in the life of man. He wanted to show that God is not a distant hypothesis situated at the beginning of the world, but rather that he is present in the life of man, of all men.

This perspective of the "biography" is also explained in the light of the general context of the times: Between the fifth and sixth centuries the world suffered a terrible crisis in values and institutions, caused by the collapse of the Roman Empire, the invasion of new people and the decline of customs. By presenting St. Benedict as a "shining light," Gregory wanted to show the way out of "this dark night of history" (cfr. John Paul II, Teachings, II/1, 1979, p. 1158), the terrible situation here in the city of Rome.

In fact, the work of St. Benedict and his Rule in particular are bearers of a genuine spiritual turmoil, which changed the face of Europe over the centuries and whose effects were felt way beyond his time and the borders of his own country. Following the collapse of the political unity created by the Roman Empire, it revived a new spiritual and cultural unity -- that of Christian faith, shared among the people of the Continent. This is how the Europe we know today was born.

The birth of St. Benedict is dated around the year 480. He was born, according to Pope St. Gregory, “ex provincia Nursiae” -- in the region of Norcia. His parents were well off and sent him to be educated in Rome. He did not stay long in the eternal city however. Pope St. Gregory offers a very likely explanation for this. He points out that the young Benedict was disgusted by the way of life of many of his fellow students who led unprincipled lives and he did not want to fall into the same trap. He wanted only to please God “soli Deo placere desiderans” (II Dial., Prol 1).

Therefore, even before he completed his studies, Benedict left Rome and withdrew to the solitude of the mountains east of Rome. Initially he stayed in the village of Effide (now: Affile), where for some time he affiliated himself with a "religious community" of monks, and then became a hermit living in Subiaco, which was close by. For three years he lived completely alone in a cave there. In the High Middle Ages, this cave became the "heart" of a Benedictine monastery called "Sacro Speco." His time in Subiaco was a period of solitude spent with God and was for Benedict a time in which he matured.

Here he endured and overcame the three fundamental human temptations: the temptation of self-assertion and the desire to place oneself at the center of things; the temptation of the senses; and finally, the temptation of anger and revenge.

Benedict firmly believed that only after conquering these temptations would he be able to say anything useful to others in need. And so, having pacified his soul, he was fully able to control the drive to put oneself first, and so became a creator of peace. Only then did he decide to found his first monasteries in the valley of Anio, near Subiaco.

In the year 529 he left Subiaco to establish himself in Montecassino. Some have explained this move as a flight from the interference of a jealous local clergyman, but this is not likely, as the priest's sudden death did not lead Benedict to move back again (II Dial. 8). In truth, he took this decision because he had entered into a new phase of monastic experience and personal maturity.

According to Saint gregory the Great his exodus from the remote valley of Anio to Mount Cassio -- which dominates the vast planes around it -- is symbolic of his character. A monastic life of isolation has it's place, but a monastery also has a public aim in the life of the Church and society as a whole. It must serve to make faith visible as a force of life. In fact, when Benedict died on March 21, 547, through his Rule and the Benedictine order that he founded, he left us a legacy that bore fruit all over the world in the subsequent centuries, and continues to do so today.

In the whole of the second book of the Dialogues, Gregory shows us how the life of St. Benedict was immersed in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer you cannot experience God. Benedict's spirituality was not cut off from reality. In the turmoil and confusion of the times, Benedict lived under the gaze of God. He never lost sight of the duties of everyday life and of man and his necessities. In seeing God he understood the reality of man and his mission. In his Rule he explains monastic life as “a school at the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45), and he asks his monks "not to place anything ahead of the work of God" (that is, the Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Hours)(43,3). He underlines, however, that the act of prayer is in the first instance the act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which is then translated into concrete action.

“Every day the Lord expects us to respond to his holy teaching with action” (Prol. 35).
The life of a monk therefore becomes a fruitful symbiosis of action and contemplation, “so that God is glorified in everything” (57,9). In contrast to an egocentric and easy self-fulfillment, often extolled today, the first and irrefutable duty of a disciple of St. Benedict is a sincere search for God (58,7) on the road traced by a humble and obedient Christ (5,13), the love of whom nothing should be allowed to stand in the way (4,21; 72,11).

It is in this way, in serving others, that Benedict becomes a man of service and peace. By showing obedience through his actions with a faith driven by love (5,2), the monk acquires humility (5,1), to which the Rule dedicates a whole chapter (7). In this way man becomes more like Christ and attains true self-fulfillment as a creature in God's own image.

The obedience of the Disciple must be matched by the wisdom of the Abbot, who "takes the place of Christ" (2,2; 63,13) in a monastery. His role, outlined mainly in the second chapter of the Rule, with a description of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a el-portrait of Benedict, since, as gregory the great writes, "the Saint could not teach what he himself had not lived" (Dial. II, 36). The Abbot must be both a loving father and a strict teacher (2,24), a true educator.

Inflexible when it comes to vices, he is called upon to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27,8) to “assist rather than dominate” (64,8), to “point out more with actions than words all that is good and holy,” and to “ illustrate the divine commandments by setting an example” (2,12).

In order to be capable of making responsible decisions, the Abbot must also be someone who listens to “the advice of his brothers” (3,2), because “God often reveals the most apt solution to the youngest person” (3,3). This attitude makes the Rule, written almost 15 centuries ago very current! A man with public responsibility, even in small circles, must always be a man who knows how to listen and to learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule as “minimal, just an initial outline” (73,8); in reality, however, it offers useful advice not only to monks, but to anyone looking for guidance on the path to God. Through his capacity, his humanity, and his sober ability to discern between what is essential and what is secondary in the spiritual life, he is still a guiding light today.

Paul VI, by proclaiming St. Benedict the patron saint of Europe on October 24, 1964, recognized the wonderful work accomplished by the saint through the Rule toward creating the civilization and culture of Europe.

Today, Europe -- deeply wounded during the last century by two world wars and the collapse of great ideologies now revealed as tragic utopias -- is searching for it's own identity. A strong political, economic and legal framework is undoubtedly important in creating a new, unified and lasting state, but we also need to renew ethical and spiritual values that draw on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise we cannot construct a new Europe.

Without this vital lifeblood, man remains exposed to the ancient temptation of self-redemption -- a utopia, which caused in various ways in 20th-century Europe, as pointed out by Pope John Paul II, “an unprecedented regression in the tormented history of humanity” (Teachings, XIII/1, 1990, p. 58).

In the search for true progress, let us listen to the Rule of St. Benedict and as a guiding light for our journey. The great monk is still a true teacher in whose school we can learn the art of living a true humanism.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pope Considers Lesson of John Paul II's Passion Points to Equal Importance of 2 Parts of Pontificate
BRESSANONE, Italy, AUG. 19, 2008

Benedict XVI says that the pontificate of Pope John Paul II can be divided into two equally important parts: the years when he took the Gospel to the world and the years of his "passion."

The Pope affirmed this Aug. 6 when he met with priests, deacons and seminarians of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone and answered in German six questions they asked him. The Holy Father was on vacation in the Dolomites, where he stayed at the major seminary of Bressanone.

A question was offered by a 42-year-old priest who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the same year he was ordained, Father Willi Fusaro. Father Fusaro asked Benedict XVI to draw from the example of John Paul II and offer advice to elderly or sick priests on how to make their presbyterate fruitful and to live it well.

The German Pope responded by saying that, for him, "both parts of Pope John Paul II's pontificate were equally important. In the first part, in which we saw him as a giant of faith, with incredible courage, extraordinary force, a true joy of faith and great lucidity, he took the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. […]

"However, I must say that because of the humble testimony of his 'passion,' to my mind these last years of his pontificate were no less important; just as he carried the Lord's cross before us and put into practice the words of the Lord.

"With his growing weakness, John Paul II, "who had been a master of words, thus showed us visibly -- it seems to me -- the profound truth that the Lord redeemed us with his cross, with the passion, as an extreme act of his love," Benedict XVI said. "He showed us that suffering is not only a 'no,' something negative, the lack of something, but a positive reality. "He showed us that suffering accepted for love of Christ, for love of God and of others is a redeeming force, a force of love and no less powerful than the great deeds he accomplished in the first part of his pontificate."

Like the Lord
The Pope said that Jesus' life also had these two aspects.

"In the first part [Christ] teaches the joy of the Kingdom of God, brings his gifts to men and then, in the second part, he is immersed in the Passion until his last cry from the cross," the Holy Father explained. "In this very way he taught us who God is, that God is love and that, in identifying with our suffering as human beings, he takes us in his arms and immerses us in his love and this love alone bathes us in redemption, purification and rebirth.

"The Pontiff said that in a world "that thrives on activism, on youth, on being young, strong and beautiful, on succeeding in doing great things," people must "learn the truth of love which becomes a 'passion' and thereby redeems man and unites him with God who is love."

Still, Benedict XVI acknowledged, accepting suffering is no easy task, and those who suffer need prayers and signs of gratitude."

Let us therefore pray for all who are suffering and do our utmost to help them, to show our gratitude for their suffering and be present to them as much as we can, to the very end," he encouraged. "This is a fundamental message of Christianity that stems from the theology of the cross: The fact that suffering and passion are present in Christ's love is the challenge for us to unite ourselves with his passion.

"We must love those who suffer not only with words but with all our actions and our commitment. I think that only in this way are we truly Christian."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Catholic pilgrims apply for asylum
Wednesday, 13 August, 2008, 08:36 AM Doha Time

CANBERRA: About 20 Catholic pilgrims who attended World Day Youth services in Australia with Pope Benedict XVI last month have claimed asylum, with more applications expected, refugee advocates said yesterday.

The majority of applicants were from Africa, including Zimbabwe, where political and economic upheaval have driven millions to flee, as well as Cameroon, Burundi and Kenya, the Sydney-based Asylum Seeker Centre said.

“We are seeing utter destitution, we see malnutrition, we are seeing depression, we see homelessness. People are coming to us from a place of crisis,” centre spokeswoman Tamara Domicelj said.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International said more of the 100,000 overseas pilgrims who attended World Youth Day would seek asylum once special three-month visitor visas expired. An estimated 3,000 were still in the country.

“There are still a number of people in the community who came out during World Youth Day. There is certainly an expectation that some will decide to seek asylum rather that return,” Amnesty International refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom said. Australia’s new centre-left government last month dumped mandatory detention in special immigration jails for asylum hopefuls, saying it would now be used only for people who posed a risk to the community.

The policy overturned a controversial practice enforced by the previous government of sending asylum seekers to small Pacific nations for processing. Many spent years behind razor wire awaiting refugee visas.

Immigration officials refused to comment on the latest applications, which also included some from Pakistan.

Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, said while the church was sympathetic to the claims of pilgrims for refuge in Australia, they had to follow Australian laws.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Restoration of Knights Templar?

VATICAN CITY — A Spanish group claiming to be the heirs of the Knights Templar have filed a law suit against Pope Benedict XVI, seeking the "rehabilitation" of the once-powerful Catholic religious order that was disbanded 700 years ago.

The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ also demands recognition — though not restitution — of $156 billon in assets that it claims the original Templars lost upon their dissolution.

The Knights Templar, officially known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, were founded in the early 12th century to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. But their growing military and economic power inspired envy, suspicion and accusations of heresy. Pope Clement V, under pressure from King Philip IV of France, disbanded the order in 1312.

The Templars' glorious and tragic history has figured prominently in legend and popular culture, including Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

Last year, the Vatican published a document only recently discovered in its archives showing that Clement had actually absolved the order of heresy before dissolving it for political reasons.
According to statements appearing on the plaintiffs' website, the current law suit was originally submitted to a Madrid court last December, and dismissed two months later. The group says it has appealed the dismissal, and expects a decision in October.

A report by the EFE news agency said the first judge dismissed the case on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction, since events so far in the past are "properly the subject of historians."

By Francis X. Rocca, Religion News Service

Friday, August 01, 2008

Syria's grand mufti invites pope to Syria

VATICAN CITY - Syria's grand mufti, the country's top Sunni Muslim religious authority, says he would like to meet Pope Benedict XVI and persuade him to visit Syria.

The mufti, Sheik Ahmad Badereddine Hassoun, made the comments in Damascus, according to the Italian news agency Apcom and other reports Friday.

"I would like to invite the Holy Father to visit our country, following in the footsteps of St. Paul," Hassoun was quoted by Apcom as saying. "I am available for a meeting at the Vatican. I would like to see him one on one to plan the visit together."

Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, made a groundbreaking visit to the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus in May 2001.

Benedict has been vacationing in the Italian Alps.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the invitation attests to the current "serene climate" in Syria and "good relations" with the country.

Benedict has been trying to improve ties with Islam since giving a speech in Germany in 2006 that angered many in the Muslim world.

In the Regensburg University speech, Benedict cited a medieval text that 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 said he was "deeply sorry" about the reactions his remarks sparked and stressed that they did not reflect his own opinion.

Hassoun, a moderate cleric, said the case was closed.

"There is a dialogue, and between religions and intellectuals there are always discussions," he said, according to Apcom. "One can fight with one's wife, but then the love grows."

Hassoun is among a group of 138 Muslim scholars that has called for greater dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Benedict XVI met with Syria's vice president in September to discuss the situation of Christians in Syria and the role Damascus should play in bringing peace to the Middle East.

The pope has urged Syria to use its influence in the region to help resolve conflicts and counter terrorism.