Saturday, May 28, 2011

UNAIDS to Vatican: Pope's HIV-condom view helpful
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY – The head of the U.N. AIDS agency told a Vatican conference Saturday that the pope had opened the door to greater dialogue with his groundbreaking comments on condoms and HIV prevention — even as Vatican officials stressed abstinence and marital fidelity as the best prevention.

Dr. Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, was invited to speak to the conference on preventing HIV and caring for HIV-positive people, a significant event in and of itself, given that the Vatican usually only invites like-minded outsiders to its conferences and UNAIDS has not been like-minded on this issue at all.

UNAIDS holds that condoms are an "integral and essential" part of HIV prevention programs, which it says should also include education about delaying the start of sexual activity, limiting sexual partners and marital fidelity. The Catholic Church opposes condom use as part of its overall opposition to artificial contraception.

The Church does, however, play a crucial role in caring for HIV-positive people, particularly in Africa where some two-thirds of the world's 22 million infected people live. It runs hospitals and hospices, orphanages and clinics and has played a critical role in helping to de-stigmatize those with the virus and stress the need for changes in sexual behavior to stop its spread.

But the Church has long been accused of contributing to the AIDS crisis because of its opposition to condoms.

That was why Pope Benedict XVI made headlines last year when he said in the book "Light of the World" that a male prostitute who intends to use a condom might be taking a first step toward greater responsibility because he is looking out for the welfare of his partner.

"This is very important," Sidibe told the conference. "This has helped me to understand his position better and has opened up a new space for dialogue."

At the same time, however, the Vatican officials speaking at the conference either glossed over or made no reference whatsoever to Benedict's condom remarks — evidence of a certain "one step forward, two steps back" mentality that often characterizes developments in the Catholic Church.

Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's envoy to the Geneva-based U.N. agencies, cited several other Benedict quotes from the book, but not the condom comments. Monsignor Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, which hosted the meeting, didn't mention Benedict at all, citing instead Pope John Paul II about the "crisis of values" behind the AIDS crisis. Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau of the Vatican's bioethics advisory board briefly showed a slide with the remarks but didn't mention them.

The discrepancy reflects to some degree the way in which the pope's remarks were received. Progressives saw his comments as a justification of condom use in a break with church teaching; conservatives insisted he wasn't altering doctrine and that the opposition to condoms remained. After three attempts at clarification, the Vatican eventually issued a definitive ruling saying the pope hadn't changed church teaching.

Nevertheless, the impression left at least within the AIDS community was that he had made an opening — and Sidibe latched onto that Saturday.

Sidibe said previously the AIDS community and Catholic Church were "talking over" one another and often worked in opposition to one another in dealing with the AIDS crisis. But he said Benedict's words had opened a new possibility for working together, particularly in agitating for greater access to anti-retroviral treatments for the world's poorest patients.

"Yes, there are areas where we disagree and we must continue to listen, to reflect and to talk together about them. But there are many more areas where we share common cause," Sidibe said.

Increasing access to treatment has become an even greater rallying cry following the recently published results of a nine-nation study showing that HIV-positive patients who received early treatment were 96 percent less likely to spread the virus to their uninfected partners.

Sidibe called the research a "game-changer" in the fight against AIDS, particularly for couples where one person is HIV-positive.

Zimowski concurred, saying it even gives hope to such couples who want to have children — in other words, sex for procreation in keeping with church teaching.

That said, all 1,763 couples in the National Institutes of Health study, where one partner had HIV and the other didn't, were urged to use condoms and the study's authors stressed that condoms remain crucial for protection.

The Vatican's emphasis on the need for changes in sexual activity has been boosted by studies showing that at least in Africa, prevention programs focusing on condom promotion aren't working and that what works is male circumcision and reducing the number of sexual partners.

Yet Dr. Edward Green, former director of the AIDS research project at Harvard University, said there is little financial support for programs that advocate partner reduction, particularly among Western donors who uniformly insist on condom distribution as part of prevention efforts.

Green says he belongs to no particular church and bases his findings on empirical evidence, not morality.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Absence of God Leads Nowhere

This story was originally posted on a political blog I keep that follows the activities of the Tea Party Patriots in my area. I felt it was appropriate to place here as it is very clear that where there is an absence of the presence of God, there is no future.

Arkady Faktorovich immigrated here from the Ukraine over 30 years ago. A former Lt. in the Russian Army, an engineer by training and vocation, and a Jew, he has a very particular point of view that we should not dismiss. In short, Mr. Faktorovich sees our country now going in the same direction from what he, himself, fled from decades ago.

Arkady Faktorovich of Los Banos, CA via a circuitous route that started from the Ukraine 30 plus years ago, visited us again for the May 12th general meeting. This time he spoke to us of Russian history. It was the first presentation ever he did on this particular topic and included information that up until 3 years ago, had not be declassified by the Russian government.

Arkady's presentation was sequential, starting from Alexander II and continued to the current time of Vladimir Putin. His purpose tonight was to illustrate how the Russian people, through their history, had never had a hunger for freedom fostered by their leadership. Alexander II was assassinated two days before he would have signed a democratic constitution so, in light of their history from 1881 onward, it would be an interesting "what-if" question to speculate upon of what the history of Russia might have evolved into had he NOT been assassinated. But, he was so it's only speculation.

Arkady has the basis for a good and very readable book on Russian history. I see it as shaping into four parts - 1.) the time of Alexander II through Nicholas II and the destruction of the Romanov family; 2.) the Middle Era of the early days of the revolution; 3.) the Modern Era from the Cold War to the early days of perestroika, and; 4.) the present day. Broken into distinct parts, it is clear where the commonalities lie in the thoughts and actions of the major players involved in each era. The differences, though also distinctive, were over-ridden in the quest for power and dominance. As each period broken down, it was the quest for power at the expense of the country itself, that moved each period to a fall and the building of the next. At no time were the Russian people filled with the hunger for freedom. Why? Because they didn't know what it felt like. It was not in their national psyche nor in their gut. Interestingly, because of the over 200 ethnic groups in the old USSR, the changes were more one of a move towards nationalism and the retreat from the centralized rulership of Russia.

Arkady Faktorovch sees many similarities between 20th century Russian history and the the political direction our country is taking in the 21st century. He will return on May 26th to speak about the Federal Reserve and money in this country. And, as anyone will understand, where you have the quest for control of money, you have the quest for power.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Reflection, Not Rejoicing

BINLADEN-VATICAN May-2-2011 (400 words) xxxi

Vatican says bin Laden's death cause for reflection, not rejoicing

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican said the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, a man who sowed division and hatred and who caused "innumerable" deaths, should prompt serious reflection about one's responsibility before God, not rejoicing.

The Vatican statement May 2 came the day after President Barack Obama announced that U.S. forces had killed bin Laden in an attack on his hideout in northwest Pakistan. In several U.S. cities, the news prompted street demonstrations and expressions of jubilation.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, released a brief written statement reacting to the news.

"Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end," Father Lombardi said.

"In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred," the spokesman said.

The Vatican missionary news agency, Fides, reported that Christian schools and other institutes were closed and churches put on guard in Pakistan's main cities out of fear of possible repercussions on the Christian minorities there. Pakistani Christians are often identified in extremist literature with the West and the United States.

Paul Bhatti, a government adviser for religious minorities in Pakistan, told Fides that "the situation is tense."

"In fact, there are strong fears of reactions -- senseless reactions -- against the Christian minorities. The government is giving the maximum attention to prevention measures," he said.

Father Mario Rodrigues, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Pakistan, said after a meeting with government officials May 2: "They put us on alert, requesting the closure of our institutes and making available additional police personnel around the churches. The Christians of Pakistan are innocent victims in this and other situations. Any pretext is used to threaten them or launch an attack."

Rodrigues said some experts predicted that bin Laden's killing would weaken the Taliban and their ideologies, which could help diminish anti-Christian persecution in the long term. But he said radical Islamic groups were flourishing in Pakistan, and other extremist leaders could arise.

What is needed, he said, is a serious policy of interreligious tolerance at every level -- cultural, social, political and legislative.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Pope beatifies John Paul II before 1.5M faithful

VATICAN CITY — Some 1.5 million pilgrims flooded Rome Sunday to watch Pope John Paul II move a step closer to sainthood in one of the largest Vatican Masses in history, an outpouring of adoration for a beloved and historic figure after years marred by church scandal.

The turnout for the beatification far exceeded even the most optimistic expectation of 1 million people, the number Rome city officials predicted. For Catholics filling St. Peter's Square and its surrounding streets, and for those watching around the world, the beatification was a welcome hearkening back to the days when the pope was almost universally beloved.

"He was like a king to us, like a father," Marynka Ulaszewska, a 28-year-old from Ciechocinek, Poland, said, weeping. "I hope these emotions will remain with us for a long time," she said.

Pope Benedict XVI, who has set off controversies with remarks on Islam, contraception, and other issues, praised John Paul for turning back the seemingly "irreversible" tide of communism with faith, courage and "the strength of a titan, a strength which came to him from God."

John Paul is universally credited with helping bring down communism in his native Poland with support for the Solidarity labor movement, accelerating the fall of the Iron Curtain.

"He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress," Benedict said. "He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope."

John Paul's beatification, the fastest in modern times, has triggered a new wave of anger from sex-abuse victims because much of the criminality occurred during his 27-year watch. Critics also say John Paul left behind empty churches in Europe, too few priests in North and South America, priests who violate their celibacy requirement in places like Africa and a general dwindling of the faith in former Christian strongholds.

John Paul's defenders argue that an entire generation of new priests owe their vocations to John Paul, and that millions of lay Catholics found their faith during the World Youth Days, which were a hallmark of his papacy.

Vatican officials have insisted that the saint-making process isn't a judgment of how John Paul administered the church but rather whether he lived a life of Christian virtue.

Benedict put John Paul on the fast-track for possible sainthood when he dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005, death. Benedict was responding to chants of "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood Immediately" which erupted during John Paul's funeral.

With a sea of red and white Polish flags fluttering in the square, the beatification evoked the days after the pope's death in 2005, when some 3 million faithful held vigil under his studio window and filed past his remains for days on end.

Pilgrims from Mexico to Mali repeated the procession after the Mass Sunday, for hours filing past the simple wooden coffin that had been raised from the grottoes underneath St. Peter's Basilica to the church's center aisle, where it was surrounded by four Swiss Guards standing at attention.

Beatification is the last major milestone before a candidate is declared a saint. John Paul needs another miracle attributed to his intercession before he can be canonized.

Already, Vatican officials have said reports of inexplicable cures were pouring in, suggesting it is only a matter of time before John Paul is declared a saint, or even a doctor of the church — an even greater honor.

Police placed wide swaths of Rome miles (kilometers) from the Vatican off limits to private cars to ensure security for the estimated 16 heads of state, eight prime ministers and five members of European royal houses attending.

Helicopters flew overhead, police boats patrolled the nearby Tiber River and some 5,000 uniformed troops manned police barricades to ensure priests, official delegations and those with coveted VIP passes could get to their places amid the throngs of pilgrims.

Spain's Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, wearing a black lace mantilla, mingled with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Poland's historic Solidarity leader and former President Lech Walesa and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who sidestepped a European Union travel ban to attend.

"He went all over the world," said Bishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, who came to Rome for the ceremony. "Today, we're coming to him."

Many in Rome and in capitals around the world erupted in cheers, tears and applause as Benedict pronounced John Paul "Blessed" and an enormous color photo of a young, smiling John Paul was unveiled over the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica.

"John Paul is an angel, he has such charisma," said Esperanza Concilion, a 69-year-old hairdresser who traveled from Guadalajara, Mexico for the beatification.

Catholics jammed churches from Mexico to Australia to pray and watch broadcasts of the Rome Mass on television.

"He was a model and an inspiration who united the world with his extraordinary charisma," said John Paul Bustillo, a 16-year-old medical student named after the pontiff who turned out Sunday along with more than 3,000 others for a six-mile (10-kilometer) race followed by a Mass near Manila Bay in the Philippines.

In Brazil, which has more Roman Catholics than any other nation, the beatification resonated among the faithful and sparked hope that it might renew faith in the church in the South American nation.

"The beatification is going to renovate the faith of those who may have lost their way and left the church," said Adimir Godoy, as he left a Sunday mass at the Santa Cecilia church in central Sao Paulo. "We were all blessed by the life of Pope John Paul and he deserves to be a saint."

In John Paul's native Poland, tens of thousands of people gathered in rain in a major sanctuary in Krakow and in Wadowice, where the pontiff was born in 1920 as Karol Wojtyla. Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his wife Malgorzata watched the ceremony together with Wadowice residents.

After the nearly 3-hour Mass, Benedict prayed before John Paul's coffin, which had a copy of the Lorsch Gospels on it, an illuminated medieval book of the Gospels that is one of the most precious in the Vatican's collection.

The basilica was expected to stay open for as long as it takes to accommodate the throngs of faithful who paid their respects and took photos as loudspeakers piped in hymns and clips of some of John Paul's most memorable homilies and speeches.

The sealed coffin will ultimately be moved to a side chapel inside the basilica just next to Michelangelo's famous marble "Pieta" statue.

Police put the figure of those attending the Mass at 1.5 million; only a few hundred thousand could fit into St. Peter's Square and the surrounding streets but others watched it on some of the 14 huge TV screens set up around town or listened to it on radios in Polish or Italian.

During the Mass, Benedict received a silver reliquary holding a vial of blood taken from John Paul during his final hospitalization. The relic, a key feature of beatification ceremonies, will be available for the faithful to venerate.

It was presented to him by Sister Tobiana, the Polish nun who tended to John Paul throughout his pontificate, and Sister Marie Simone-Pierre of France, whose inexplicable recovery from Parkinson's disease was decreed to be the miracle necessary for John Paul to be beatified.


Associated Press writers Daniela Petroff in Vatican City, Bradley Brooks in Sao Paulo, Jim Gomez in Manila and Monika Scislowska in Krakow contributed to this story.