On Sunday, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Benedict XVI asked families, communities and local parishes to help young men in discerning their vocation to the priesthood.
“Dear friends, pray for the church, every local community, that they are like a garden in which can germinate and ripen all the seeds of vocation that God sows in abundance,” said the pope in his midday Regina Caeli address to pilgrims in St. Peters Square April 29.
“In particular, families are the first environment into which ‘breathes’ the love of God, which gives inner strength even in the midst of the difficulties and trials of life.”
Earlier in the morning Pope Benedict XVI had ordained nine new priests for the Diocese of Rome in St Peter’s Basilica. He explained that those young men were, in fact, “no different from other young people” apart from the fact that “they had been deeply touched by the beauty of God’s love, and could not help but respond with their whole lives.”
The pope gave thanks to God for the ordinations, deeming them a sign of God’s “provident and faithful love for the church.” He asked pilgrims to pray that “all young people be attentive to the voice of God that speaks inwardly to their heart and calls them to break away from everything to serve him.”
“The Lord is always calling” he said, adding that “many times we do not listen” due to being “distracted by many things” or by being “afraid to hear the voice of the Lord because we think it might take away our freedom.”
The answer to these fears is the recognition that our freedom is “fully realized” in responding to love and, in particular, to the love of God.
The newly ordained priests, the pope said, had met this love of God through “Jesus Christ in the Gospels, the Eucharist and the church community” where they too discovered that “the life of every man is a love story.”
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!” Pope Benedict continued, quoting the famous phrase of St. Augustine’s “Confessions.”
Recent statistics have shown the numbers of men applying for the priesthood around the world is on the rise. The pope commended all those discerning such a vocation to the Virgin Mary, calling her “mother of every vocation in the church.”
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has praised Pope John XXIII’s historic encyclical “Pacem in Terris” as “a great thing.”
“I would say what struck me about it was how modern it is and how in tune it is with modern thinking,” Wales told Catholic News Agency in Rome April 27.
Wales is in Rome as a guest of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council of Social Sciences. From April 27 to May 1, the council’s 18th plenary session is exploring the legacy of the 1963 encyclical on global peace, which will mark its 50th anniversary next year. Wales, who is not Catholic, read the papal document for the first time last week.
“I thought I better do my homework,” he explained.
“You have the impression that the Catholic Church is quite old fashioned which it is, of course, in many ways,” said Wales, “but also that some of the thinking (in the encyclical) is quite up-to-date and quite modern, so I think that is a great thing.”
“Pacem in Terris,” whose name means “Peace on Earth,” was published on April 11, 1963. Pope John XXIII wrote it at a time when he knew he was terminally ill, and it is often described as his “last will and testament.” He died two months after its release.
The document’s overarching theme is the “tranquility of order” in society as a foundation for global peace. The pope’s reflections were drawn from his re-reading of St. Augustine’s “City of God” in 1942, during the Second World War.
The work had great influence. “Pacem in Terris” is the only papal encyclical to be published in full by the New York Times.
University of Tulsa professor Russell Hittinger, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, told CNA that the plenary session on the encyclical is “a very good occasion” to examine the state of the world “to see what John XXIII anticipated, what was left out of the picture and how principles have to be reapplied.”
Jimmy Wales will speak to participants on Monday April 30 on the topic “Wikipedia, Free Knowledge and Peace.” He said he is keen to use his address to explore and explain the online encyclopedia’s “concept of neutrality.”
Anyone can edit Wikipedia articles, but this openness has forced it to develop a way to mediate disputes about facts and interpretations.
“I think one of the most important avenues towards peace is for people to first think about what we do agree upon and how can we characterize our disagreement in a way that at least we agree what we disagree about,” he said.
The head of the cause for the beatification of an American priest who died in a Communist prison during the Korean War says the chaplain’s fellow inmates are the real promoters of his sainthood.
Father John Hotze told Catholic News Agency on April 18 that there is great support for the cause of Korean War chaplain Father Emil Kapaun “especially among the men who were in prison with him.”
“They have been promoting his cause of holiness and that he be awarded the Medal of Honor since they left prison in 1953.”
Father Kapaun’s prison mates are now all in their 80s.
In November of 1950, Father Kapaun met up with soldiers besieged by Korean troops at the Battle of Unsan. The Army chaplain chose to stay with the wounded and was imprisoned at a concentration camp near Pyoktong, North Korea, where he was tortured.
For six months he ministered to other prisoners, often giving others his own food rations, and was subjected to forced labor. He celebrated baptisms, heard confessions, offered the Mass and administered last rites. The priest eventually developed a blood clot in his leg and fell ill with dysentery and pneumonia.
According to the testimony of his prison mates, he died in prison on May 23, 1951 and was buried in a common grave near the Yalu River.
Father Hotze, a priest from the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., says he’s been personally enriched by researching the story of Father Kapaun who is today considered a Servant of God.
“I learned about his life, what he did and everything he went through. We have stories told by his prison mates and how he cared for their wounds.”
Since July 1, 2011, the cause has been in the hands of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. “Our diocese has turned in the investigation, all the documents, and all this information is now in their hands,” he said.
The evangelization of China hinges on fidelity to the church and the pope, says the Fifth Commission for the Catholic Church in China hosted by the Vatican April 23-25.
“Obedience to Christ and to the Successor of Peter is the presupposition of every true renewal and this applies to every category within the People of God,” read the communique issued April 26.
Although “aware of the particular difficulties of the present situation,” the commission said, “evangelization cannot be achieved by sacrificing essential elements of the Catholic faith and discipline.”
China has an estimated eight to twelve million Catholics, with about half of those people worshiping in government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Founded in 1957, it does not acknowledge the authority of the pope.
Today’s communique paid particular tribute to the “bishops and priests who are detained or who are suffering unjust limitations on the performance of their mission.” Admiration was also expressed for the “strength of their faith and for their union with the Holy Father.”
Pope Benedict XVI himself set out his policy on China in 2007 in an open letter to Chinese Catholics. He criticized the limits placed by the Chinese government on the church’s activities, including the right to appoint bishops.
The lifting of such restrictions, said today’s document, is crucial so that “the face of the church may shine forth with clarity in the midst of the noble Chinese people.”
This clarity is “obfuscated,” however, by “those clerics who have illegitimately received episcopal ordination” and “by those illegitimate bishops who have carried out acts of jurisdiction or who have administered the sacraments.”
This week saw the episcopal ordination of Bishop Methodius Qu Ailin in the Chinese diocese of Hunan. The 51-year-old had the approval of both the Holy See and Chinese Government. In attendance, however, was at least one bishop ordained in recent years without Rome’s blessing.
“The behavior of these bishops” said the communique “in addition to aggravating their canonical status, has disturbed the faithful and often has violated the consciences of the priests and lay faithful who were involved.”
The communique concluded with a reminder that May 24 has been set aside as a Day of Prayer for the Church in China. The date marks the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians and will “provide a particularly auspicious opportunity for the entire Church to ask for energy and consolation, mercy and courage, for the Catholic community in China.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) congratulated the Connecticut bishops, the Connecticut Catholic Conference, Catholic Mobilizing Network, and all dedicated advocates against the death penalty for their work to bring about the repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut. Governor Dan Malloy enacted the legislation April 25, making Connecticut the 17th state to repeal the death penalty.
“As Catholics we are dedicated to promoting a consistent ethic of life, which values all human life as full of dignity and inherent worth – even those convicted of the worst crimes,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. “We welcome the courageous decision by the governor and the legislature to abolish the use of the death penalty in Connecticut. We stand in solidarity with all those who work for a just and safe society that protects its citizens and upholds the sanctity and dignity of all human life.”
Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor John Paul II, has called for the end of the use of the death penalty. In November 2011, Pope Benedict expressed support for efforts for “political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty.”
Blog posts, YouTube videos, an online quiz and resources on Facebook are among the ways U.S. Catholics can learn about the Church’s teaching on issues and involvement in the political process, as part of an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). These resources promote the document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the call to political responsibility issued by the U.S. bishops in 2007 and reissued last fall.
“Christians have a responsibility to live out their faith in the public square, and today that also means online,” said Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Communications. “People donate, speak out on numerous issues, get their news and participate in campaigns through the Internet and social media. The Church also needs to reach people through these media.”
• An issues quiz, which will help Catholics form their consciences through statistics and facts related to key moral issues including abortion, poverty, embryonic stem cell research and immigration. One quiz question will be posted every Tuesday and Thursday starting April 24 at http://www.facebook.com/usccb.
• Video reflections by bishops, including Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, discussing different issues of importance for Catholic voters: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/videos-for-faithful-citizenship.cfm.
• A “Catholics Care. Catholics Vote.” blog series, which explores different aspects of the bishops’ document, including its assertion that political involvement is a moral duty for Catholics, the questions of conscience formation and a range of issues highlighted by the bishops ahead of the 2012 Elections: http://usccbmedia.blogspot.com/2012/04/catholics-care-catholic-vote-series.html.
• A tab on USCCB’s page on Facebook called “Catholics Care. Catholics Vote.” This web portal aggregates all of these resources at http://www.facebook.com/usccb/app_189116767802011.
As Supreme Court considers Arizona law, faith leaders call president, Congress to reassert authority on immigration
In letters sent April 24, on the eve of oral arguments to the Supreme Court on Arizona’s immigration law, 15 religious leaders urged President Barack Obama and the 112th Congress to “reassert your authority” and move to enact immigration reform legislation “as soon as possible.”
The national faith leaders expressed concern that, because of its inaction on this issue for several years, the federal government is implicitly transferring “unprecedented authority” to state and local governments to implement immigration policy, to the “detriment of our nation and our local communities.”
“Instead of one federal immigration system applicable to all, we now have many states and an untold number of localities attempting to create their own immigration policies,” the letters stated. “This will only lead to a patchwork of laws which would cause family separation, economic disruption, and divided communities.”
The leaders called for federal elected officials to move to enact immigration reform legislation, which would reaffirm federal authority over immigration law and preserve family unity as the cornerstone of the U.S. immigration system. They agreed that any reform of the system should feature a path to citizenship for the undocumented.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of USCCB, and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, signed the letters on behalf of the U.S. bishops. Other signatories included Bishop Minerva Circano, resident bishop of the Phoenix area of the United Methodist Church and chair of the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration; Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and Reverend Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
The letters can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/upload/April-2012-USCCB-Interfaith-Letter-to-Congress-Immigration.pdf and http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/upload/April-2012-USCCB-Interfaith-Letter-to-President-Obama-Immigration.pdf.
Testimony of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration on the constitutionality of state laws is available at: http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/congressional-testimony/upload/Testimony-JYoung-042412-Senate-Judiciary-Hearing.pdf.
The USCCB amicus brief on the case of Arizona v. United States is also available online: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/state-of-arizona-v-united-states-of-america.pdf
An expert on international religious freedom said religious hostility should be recognized as the motivation behind a recent Catholic church burning in Sudan.
The international media has “failed to see the religious dimension of this conflict” for years, said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.
Shea told Catholic News Agency on April 23 that attacks on churches “have become a pattern in a growing number of Muslim areas.”
According to witnesses, a Catholic church in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum was torched by a mob of several hundred Muslims on the night of April 21.
The church had been attended by many Southern Sudanese Christians.
International media coverage of the event focused on political and economic disputes involving oil revenues and a poorly-defined border between the two nations, while remaining largely silent on the religious aspect of the conflict.
South Sudan — which is largely Christian — broke away from Sudan to become an independent country in 2011.
However, there is also a crucially important religious aspect to the tension, Shea explained.
She said that in countries including Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, churches have repeatedly been bombed or torched in recent years, sometimes with Christian worshippers inside.
“There can be no more poignant symbol of religious persecution,” she said.
In the case of Sudan, Christians have “long been a target of extremist violence,” she added.
She explained that Christians in Sudan are targeted by “the radical government of General Bashir,” who had warned that religious diversity would not be tolerated in the country if South Sudan were to gain independence.
For almost 20 years, Khartoum — which imposes Islamic law in the north — has also attempted to forcibly apply sharia law on the primarily Christian south, she said, explaining that this development “triggered a rebellion that cost two million lives.”
Shea believes that understanding this religious dispute is critical to an accurate analysis of the ongoing conflict in the region.
“In misreading the message of the church burning in Khartoum,” she said, “the press demonstrates that the blind spot continues.”
The much anticipated movie “Cristiada,” which recounts the story of the Cristero war in Mexico during the religious persecution of the 1920s, was released in Mexico on April 20.
“This movie is not only going to be entertaining, it also has great potential,” said actor Eduardo Verastegui. “It is a film that is very balanced, commercial and moving.”
The Mexican actor praised the film’s cinematography and artistic quality, under director Dean Wright and lauded “great acting by a big cast including great actors.”
The movie also stars Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Peter O’Toole and the Panamanian singer Ruben Blades in the role of anti-Catholic Mexican president Plutarco Elias Calles.
Verastegui, who stars as Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores in the movie, told reporters his character “was a consistent and coherent layman who always acted in accord with his beliefs and was polite and educated. He used all these resources to defend freedom and the faith, which was the center of his life.”
“This touched my heart, it inspired and challenged me,” he said in a Catholic News Agency report.
“Morally speaking, the film underscores what is good, beautiful and true in history,” Verastegui added. “This will set a precedent.”
Methodist-Catholic dialogue issues statement on connection between Eucharist, environmental stewardship
Both Methodists and Catholics believe their celebration of the Eucharist helps them to see God’s glory in all of creation and therefore leads to greater care for the environment, according to a new joint statement produced by the United States dialogue between the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Catholic Church. The statement, “Heaven and Earth are Full of Your Glory,” was issued April 20, ahead of the traditional observance of Earth Day.
Bishop William Skylstad, retired bishop of Spokane, Wash., and Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the UMC Florida Conference co-chaired the dialogue.
Gathering semiannually between the fall of 2008 and summer 2011, the seventh round of the Methodist-Catholic dialogue sought to build on the newfound unity between the UMC and the Catholic Church when the Methodists signed onto the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification — an agreement dispelling the centuries-old disagreement on how people are made just before God — in 2006. The dialogue partners agreed to explore a major issue affecting the common good and chose environmental stewardship.
“We call both Methodists and Catholics to participate more deeply in the Eucharist by recognizing its intrinsic connection with the renewal of creation,” the statement said. “The Eucharist is regarded as the central form of Christian worship because it orchestrates all that humans are and can be on this earth — our senses, abilities, talents, gifts, and intelligence — and offers them back to God the Father in thanksgiving for the Paschal victory of his Son.”
The statement notes that elements of nature — grain for bread and grapes for wine — become part of salvation through the Eucharist and that salvation itself is an act of God at work in all of creation and all creation encountering God. This has implications for believers in their relationship with God’s creation in the environment.
Catholic participants in the dialogue included Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, editor of America Magazine; Msgr. Kevin Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington; Connie Lasher, Ph.D., Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California; and Angela Russell Christman, Ph.D., of Loyola College in Baltimore. Methodist participants included Sondra Wheeler of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington; Karen Westerfield Tucker of Boston University School of Theology; Kendall Soulen of Wesley Theological Seminary; Edgardo Colon-Emeric of Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina; L. Edward Phillips of Emery University in Atlanta; and Glen Alton Messer II, Ph.D., the assistant general secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns of the UMC.
The full document is available online: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/dialogue-with-others/ecumenical/methodist/