A 32 year-old priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Father Edwin Vigil, died on Sunday while swimming near his village home in El Salvador. Father Vigil was vacationing with his father for the past few weeks when the unexpected tragedy struck.
Upon hearing the news of Father Vigil’s death, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller reflected on this young priest’s brief service as a priest in the Archdiocese of San Antonio; “While Father Edwin’s life’s journey was more a sprint than a marathon, his nearly 4 years of priestly ministry were filled with love for his God, his family and his church. He witnessed to the parishioners he served a humility and selflessness that helped them to see in his priesthood the presence of Christ.”
Father Vigil was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop José Gomez on June 2, 2007 at San Fernando Cathedral. He celebrated his first Mass in Notre Dame Parish on June 3, 2007. He served at St. Mary’s Parish in Fredericksburg and Holy Spirit Parish in San Antonio from 2007 to 2010. On June 1, 2010, Father Vigil began his latest assignment as parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Church in San Antonio.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Just as Jesus was able to effectively communicate God’s word with parables involving pastures and sheep, the church needs to discover modern day metaphors that will capture the attention and hearts of today’s tech-savvy men and women, Pope Benedict XVI said.
However, proclaiming the Gospel can’t be based on punchy slogans or “linguistic seduction,” he said, the communicator must be a true witness who displays Christian values and respect for dialogue.
The pope spoke to participants of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ plenary assembly being held Feb. 28-March 3 on the theme “Language and Communication.”
“The digital culture poses new challenges to our ability to speak and listen to a symbolic language that speaks of transcendence,” the pope said Feb. 28 in a Catholic News Service report.
Jesus knew to use symbols and ideas that were an essential part of the culture at the time, such as sheep, fields, seeds, the banquet or feast and so on, he said.
“Today we are called to discover, in the digital culture, too, symbols and metaphors that are meaningful to people, that can be helpful in talking to modern men and women about the kingdom of God,” he said.
However, communicators must never base their effectiveness on “linguistic seduction, as is the case with the serpent (in the Garden of Eden) or on incommunicability and violence as with Cain,” he said.
Communicating the Bible “according to God’s will is always tied to dialogue and responsibility as, for example, the figures of Abraham, Moses, Job and the prophets bear witness,” he said.
Communication needs to be “truly human” and based on spiritual values and meaning.
Catholics can help the digital realm by “opening up new horizons of meaning and values that the digital culture is not able to indicate or represent by itself,” he said.
That would mitigate some of the risks present in today’s digital communication such as the loss of inner reflection, superficial relationships, wallowing in emotionalism, and the prevalence of persuasive opinions over the truth, he said.
Pope Benedict held up as an effective communicator Father Matteo Ricci, the 16th-century Jesuit missionary to China who not only learned the Chinese language, but adopted the lifestyle and customs of cultured Chinese people and gained the people’s respect.
The pope said Father Ricci spread Christ’s message by always considering the people he was speaking to “in their cultural and philosophical context, their values and their language, gathering all that was positive from their tradition, and offering to enliven it and elevate it with the wisdom and truth of Christ.”
Faith, in fact, always “penetrates, enriches, exalts and invigorates culture,” while culture in turn offers faith a vehicle for expression — namely its language, he said.
That is why church leaders must be aided in becoming able to “interpret and speak the new language of the mass media” for their pastoral work, he said.
Some of the questions Catholic communicators need to ask are: What challenges does the digital mindset pose to the faith and theology, and what are the effects of people’s almost constant contact with computers and mobile devices, the pope asked.
Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told Vatican Radio Feb. 27 that a communication style that is authentic and respectful is very important.
Reasonable access to clean water is a fundamental human right and its distribution should not be left solely to private companies seeking profit, a top Vatican official said.
Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told participants at a meeting regarding the future of water supplies around the world that water is not a commercial product but rather a common good that belongs to everyone.
People have a “universal and inalienable right” to access, a right that is so fundamental that “governments cannot leave its management solely in private hands,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
Bishop Toso made his remarks at an international meeting near the Vatican called “Dammi da bere” (give me something to drink), promoted by the Catholic-inspired Italian environmental association Greenaccord.
Bishop Toso cited Colombia, Philippines and Ghana as examples of countries where water management “inspired exclusively by private and economic criteria” has failed to produce adequate distribution for the population and where water costs three to six times that of large cities such as New York or London.
“The great paradox is that poor people pay more than the rich for something that should be a universal right: the access to drinkable water,” the bishop said. People in poor countries, he said, often suffer not for the lack of water but because “access is economically impossible.”
Conflicts between peoples over their water supplies, especially in arid areas, are inevitable without fair and democratic policies regarding the sharing of water, the bishop said.
He added that many analysts warn that “in the future, following the oil wars that have characterized the past few decades, we will see new wars over water.” That situation is sure to be aggravated by climate change, he said.
It is the responsibility of political authorities to mediate between private interests and public needs, keeping in mind that “the right to water is the basis for the respect of many other fundamental human rights.”
A commission representing the European Union’s Catholic bishops welcomed an EU commitment to support religious freedom worldwide and predicted “concrete measures” will be taken to implement the pledge.
“It isn’t up to churches to suggest practical action,” said Johanna Touzel, spokeswoman for the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. “What we’re calling for is a clear warning about the consequences of continued persecution.
“The Western world should be offering a framework for respecting fundamental rights, which local communities can implement democratically. Now that revolutionary changes are occurring in the Arab world, the West has a responsibility to set the rules of the game,” she said.
Touzel’s response followed the release Feb. 21 of a statement by the EU foreign ministers that reaffirmed a “strong commitment” to promote religious freedom and condemn violence against Christians and Muslims.
In a Feb. 24 interview with Catholic News Service, Touzel said the voices of church leaders and Christian politicians helped “change the orientation” of the foreign ministers.
“There’s been a reluctance to mention Christians by officials in Britain and other countries who feared this risked a clash of civilizations by identifying Europe with Christianity,” Touzel said. “But respect for fundamental rights is already a condition for EU aid, so I think we can be hopeful concrete steps will now be taken to uphold this in practice.”
Calls for action to combat anti-Christian violence have mounted in the wake of recent events, including a Jan. 1 bombing that killed 23 Orthodox Christians in Alexandria, Egypt.
Foreign Ministers from Italy, France, Hungary and Poland demanded a “strong and clear political answer” in a January letter to the Catherine Ashton, the EU representative for foreign affairs and security policy. She told the European Parliament Jan. 19 the EU would seek “strong cross-regional support” on the issue at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March.
At a Jan. 31 summit, the EU foreign ministers declined proposals for protecting Christian minorities and referred only briefly to discrimination in a 21-page document.
However, in their Feb. 21 statement, they “firmly condemned” violence and terrorism “against Christians and their places of worship, Muslim pilgrims and other religious communities.” They said religious people should “practice their religion and worship freely, individually or in community with others, without fear of intolerance and attacks.”
Although the statement was welcomed as a “good step in the right direction” by the bishops, they also urged the EU to take “significant political action” and “help eradicate the stark sectarian divide, the war of cultures and religions, and the wave of religious cleansing.”
Meanwhile, a senior official from the 54-country Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe outlined plans to combat “Christianophobia” in a Feb. 17 speech to European church leaders, and welcomed the “five risks to religious freedom” outlined by Pope Benedict XVI in a Jan. 10 address to Rome diplomats.
“That the OSCE has established the office of representative for combating discrimination against Christians represents an achievement for the diplomacy of the Holy See and those governments which cleverly supported it”, Massimo Introvigne, the security organization’s representative for combating discrimination and intolerance, told the Council of Catholic Episcopates of Europe and the non-Catholic Conference of European Churches in Belgrade.
“The time of words not followed up by actions has gone,” he said. “There is a need, as the pope states, to adopt effective measures.”
Arizona’s Legislature will debate bills that question birthright citizenship, make hospitals check legal status of patients and require schools to keep tabs on students who are in the United States illegally.
The Senate Appropriations Committee Feb. 22 passed two Senate bills — S.B. 1308 and S.B.1309 — that sponsors hope will force the Supreme Court to rule on a challenge to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee that all children born in the United States are citizens, sometimes called “birthright citizenship.”
The Arizona lawmakers are questioning the clause of the amendment that reads: “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”
The committee also passed S.B. 1405, which would require hospitals to verify a patient’s legal status before admitting them for non-emergency care. If the patient does not meet requirements of legal status, the hospital must report the person to the local federal immigration office.
Working into the wee hours Feb. 23, the committee also passed S.B. 1611 — the so-called “immigration omnibus” — which would require anyone applying for a federal public benefit to show proof of legal status. State Senate President Russell Pearce, author of S.B. 1070, introduced the 29-page bill a day before the session.
It also would make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to drive in the state. Parents would have to show proof of legal residency to enroll children in public or private schooling.
S.B. 1611 also would make consular identification cards issued by foreign governments an invalid form of identification.
The Arizona Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Arizona bishops, expressed concern about this legislation before it was passed.
“We strongly believe that these bills, if enacted, would only create more problems for innocent and vulnerable populations in Arizona while creating a distraction from meaningful immigration reform,” the conference said in a written statement.
“After all, it is only through substantive immigration reform at the federal level that these problems can be adequately addressed,” according to the bishops’ statement.
After the committee passed the bills, Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, said it was “far from certain” that the measures would make it out of the Senate.
“But even if they do, they have to start over again in the House,” he said.
“They do nothing to heal the problem of immigration,” Johnson added. “But they do create problems for vulnerable immigrants in our community — particularly the children, many of whom had no choice in coming to this country and have no connection to their country of origin.”
Johnson took issue specifically with S.B. 1405, the measure that would require a hospital to verify a person’s legal status before admitting them for non-emergency care, as well as S.B. 1611, which, among other things, requires schools to report the legal status of students.
“It’s bad precedent when we start asking people in the private sector to check immigration status of a client,” he said in a Catholic News Service report. “Let’s let law enforcement be law enforcement.”
Jose Robles, director of Hispanic ministry for the Phoenix Diocese, joined several hundred spectators at the Feb. 23 committee meeting.
“They relate this to open borders,” he said of the legislators backing the immigration measures. “It’s inaccurate and misleading,” Robles said, noting that half of undocumented immigrants overstay visas.
“The language of these bills, the intent, it all conflicts with Catholic social teaching,” he said. “There’s no respect for the dignity of the vulnerable and the working people in our community.”
Carmen Cornejo, a local Catholic who runs a bicultural communications business, said this kind of legislation will hurt Arizona residents — legal or not.
“It’s bad for the business environment in Arizona,” she said. “We all just want to get over this bad economy. We should be focusing on jobs and education.”
The U.S. bishops’ Office of General Counsel said the Obama administration’s decision to no longer support the Defense of Marriage Act in legal challenges ahead “represents an abdication” of its “constitutional obligation to ensure that laws of the United States are faithfully executed.”
“Marriage has been understood for millennia and across cultures as the union of one man and one woman,” the office said in a statement issued Feb. 23 after President Barack Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the federal law passed by Congress and signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
The Defense of Marriage Act says the federal government defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and that no state must recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.
“The principal basis for today’s decision is that the president considers the law a form of impermissible sexual orientation discrimination,” the Office of General Counsel said.
In a Feb. 23 statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said that although the administration has defended the 1996 law in some federal courts, it will not continue to do so in cases pending in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Unlike in the previous cases, said Holder, the 2nd Circuit “has no established or binding standard for how laws concerning sexual orientation should be treated.”
In response to the announcement, the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, called on Congress to “get lawyers in the courtroom who actually want to defend the law, and not please their powerful political special interests.”
“We have only begun to fight,” said Brian Brown, president of the organization, in a Catholic News Service report. He also said that with Holder’s announcement, Obama “unilaterally” declared homosexuals “a protected class” under the Constitution and would effectively make a federal court decision on the law, “unreviewable by higher courts.”
While Obama favors repealing the law, Holder said he has supported defending it as constitutional if a state or local law meets the legal standard of having “a rational basis” for singling out people for different treatment based on sexual orientation.
But in the pending cases, Holder said, the administration “faces for the first time the question of whether laws regarding sexual orientation are subject to the more permissive standard of review or whether a more rigorous standard, under which laws targeting minority groups with a history of discrimination are viewed with suspicion by the courts, should apply.”
Obama “has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny,” Holder’s statement said. He added that Obama has concluded that the law “as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the president has instructed the department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the president’s determination.”
Holder went on to say that the legal landscape has changed since the law was passed, including with Supreme Court rulings overturning laws criminalizing homosexual conduct and the repeal by Congress of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Unless Congress repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, or a final court ruling strikes it down, it will continue to remain in effect and the administration will continue to enforce it, Holder noted.
Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the victims of a devastating earthquake in New Zealand and encouraged those involved in rescue efforts.
“My thoughts turn especially to the people there who are being severely tested by the tragedy,” he said Feb. 23 during his weekly general audience.
He expressed concern for the “considerable loss of life and the disappearance of many people, to say nothing of the damage to buildings.”
“Let us ask God to relieve their suffering and to support all who are involved in the rescue operations,” he said in a Catholic News Service report, asking people to join him in praying for the people who lost their lives.
The pope also sent a telegram to Bishop Barry Jones of Christchurch in which he expressed his condolences to the families that lost loved ones.
In the message, he assured “the people of the city and the nation of his prayers for all those who are working urgently to rescue and assist the trapped and injured, as well as for those laboring to restore essential services.”
He also called on God to offer courage and strength to all the people of New Zealand, it said.
A magnitude 6.3 tremor struck Christchurch, New Zealand, Feb. 22 around midday when large numbers of people were working in city offices and buildings.
At least 75 people were killed as buildings crumbled or collapsed. According to news reports Feb. 23, officials said 300 people were believed to still be missing.
Scientists said the tremor was an aftershock of the more powerful magnitude 7.1 quake that struck about 30 miles outside of Christchurch last September, but which left few people dead and injured.
The Feb. 22 quake, however, occurred much closer to the earth’s surface, causing much more damage to buildings whose structure was possibly already compromised by the September tremor, experts said.
About 80 percent of the city was without water and about 40 percent without electricity Feb. 23 as the quake had burst many water mains and damaged power lines.
Libya, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, has the resources to satisfy those requests, Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, the apostolic vicar of Tripoli, told Vatican Radio Feb. 21.
“The people are asking for some things that are just. And they are fundamental requests of young people: to be able to have a house, a better salary, a job,” Bishop Martinelli said.
Libya is relatively well-off, he said, “and perhaps here is where the crisis arises: Young people see a country that could help them, but that doesn’t.”
The comments came after several days of protests and armed retaliation by the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Several hundred people were reported killed in the skirmishes, and parts of the country were said to be under opposition control.
Bishop Martinelli said it was difficult to foresee a resolution of the crisis. He said the Catholic Church, which represents a tiny minority in Libya, wanted above all a “form of reconciliation that allows the Libyan people to have what is just.”
The important thing now is to reopen dialogue between the factions, he said in a Catholic News Service report.
He said Catholic personnel and institutions were not experiencing particular problems during the unrest, but he added that he had been unable to communicate for days with two communities of women religious working south of Benghazi, the center of the protests.
The number of Catholics in the world, the number of deacons, priests and bishops and the number of dioceses all increased in 2009, while the number of women in religious orders continued to decline, according to Vatican statistics.
At the end of 2009, the worldwide Catholic population increased by 15 million or 1.3 percent, slightly outpacing the global population growth rate, which was estimated at 1.1 percent, said a statement published Feb. 19 by the Vatican press office.
The statement reported a handful of the statistics contained in the 2011 Annuario Pontificio, a yearbook containing information about every Vatican office, every cardinal and bishop, every diocese and religious order in the world.
Officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State and its Central Office of Church Statistics presented the first copy of the 2011 yearbook to Pope Benedict XVI during an audience Feb. 19.
The Vatican statement said that in the calendar year 2010, Pope Benedict established 10 new dioceses, bringing to 2,956 the number of dioceses and church jurisdictions in the world.
The more detailed statistics in the yearbook refer to the situation reported by dioceses and religious orders as of Dec. 31, 2009.
The number of Catholics reported was about 1.18 billion, the Vatican said, which was up 15 million from the 1.16 billion reported a year earlier.
While only 13.6 percent of the world’s people live in the Americas, 49.4 percent of all Catholics live there, the Vatican said.
The Vatican said the number of bishops in the world increased to 5,065 from 5,002; the number of priests went from 405,178 to 410,593, increasing everywhere except Europe.
The number of permanent deacons reported — 38,155 — was an increase of more than 1,000 over the previous year; 98 percent of the world’s permanent deacons live in the Americas or in Europe, it said.
The number of women in religious orders fell by almost 10,000 in 2009, despite increases in their numbers in Asia and Africa, the Vatican said. At the end of the year, Catholic women’s orders had 729,371 members.
The U.S. bishops’ pro-life spokeswoman praised a House committee Feb. 17 for its recent bipartisan vote in favor of a bill that would apply long-standing federal policies on abortion funding and conscience rights to the health reform law.
Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the 33-19 vote by the House Energy and Commerce Committee Feb. 15 to send the Protect Life Act to the full House “is an important step toward authentic health care reform that respects the dignity of all.”
She also thanked the committee for rejecting three amendments that would have weakened the bill.
“I now urge all representatives to support the Protect Life Act and oppose all weakening amendments when it comes before them,” McQuade said in a Catholic News Service report.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in a Jan. 20 letter to Congress that the Protect Life Act — co-sponsored by Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., and Dan Lipinski, D-Ill. — was needed to bring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “into line with policies on abortion and conscience rights that have long prevailed in other federal health programs.”