Vatican document on Catholic schools' identity
A recently released Vatican document has called for a fresh commitment to Catholic identity within what it calls an increasingly secularised educ-ational environment.
At a press conference on 19 Dec-ember, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Cath-olic Education, said, "the Catholic identity of the school is fundamental."
Noting the many challenges fac-ing Catholic schools, the Cardinal added, "today one of the greatest problems is when large organisations want to impose gender ideology."
The Congregation's document noted: "Today, due to the advanced process of secularisation, Catholic schools find themselves in a miss-ionary situation, even in countries with an ancient Christian tradition.
"Catholic schools' primary responsibility is one of witness. In the various situations created by different cultures, the Christian presence must be shown and made clear, that is, it must be visible, tangible and con-scious."
Cardinal Grocholewski concluded noting the need for schools to avoid "the trap of that facile relativism which holds that all religions are the same and are merely manifestations of an Absolute that no-one can truly know".
Schools should aim at constructing "a civilisation based on love" which, for Christians, "does not mean a vague solidarity, but rather an expression of Christ's charity". More-over, they should "always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel".
Catholic News Agency
US bishops continue to oppose Obama mandate
At their annual gathering in Baltimore in November, the American Catholic bishops issued a message voicing their continued opposition to President Obama's contraception mandate and its threat to religious liberty.
"We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing wit-ness to our faith in its fullness," noted the 13 November message from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"Our great ministries of service ... strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so. Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its oblig-ation to respect the rights of religious believers."
The bishops' statement renewed their opposition to the HHS mandate, or federal contraception mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance covering contracept-ion, sterilisation and some drugs that can cause early abortions, even if doing so violates their religious convictions.
Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the mandate is being challenged in lawsuits by more than 200 plaintiffs across the country. The lawsuits are currently in different stages of the judicial process and could reach the Supreme Court in a future term.
The American bishops said that protection of religious freedom, "especially as threatened by the HHS mandate", is among their priorities, and went on to quote the words of Pope Francis: "In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide."
Abortion rates on decline in Italy
Between 80-90% of gynecologists in Italy are refusing to abort babies, while abortion rates are steadily dec-lining, according to a recent report from the Italian government. This decline is in part attributed to a law which permits health care workers to refuse to perform abortions on the basis of conscience.
A 2010 resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe declared that "no person shall be compelled to practise the removal of a child or an embryo, and no one may be discriminated against in any way as a result of his refusal to carry out abortions."
The numbers of conscientious objectors in the health care field have increased, according to the report. Some 90% of gynecologists in Campania and 80% in southern Italy are refusing to perform abortions.
Zenit News Agency
Pope Francis addresses religious leaders
At a meeting with the Union of Superiors General held on 29 November, Pope Francis said he would be dedicating 2015 to consecrated life, and thanked religious for their witness to Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis' decision followed a conference on "vocational perseverance" held in October, at which Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, Secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life, maintained that "in five years, 13,123 [have] left religious life."
The dedication of 2015 to religious life was aimed at promoting and drawing attention to the challenges facing God's call to consecrated persons.
Pope Francis met with the superiors general for three hours, hold-ing a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, beginning with the subject of consecrated life's identity and mission as a witness to the king-dom of God. He also emphasised the importance of good formation for candidates to religious life.
Catholic News Agency
Secularist intolerance increasing in Europe
Dr Martin Kugler, of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, has highlighted a rising number of attacks on Christian places of worship noting that in 2010 84 percent of these att-acks in France were directed against Christian sites.
Addressing a Ukrainian sponsored conference in Rome on 29 November on the state of religious freedom, Kugler referred to a survey his organisation carried out with the nunciatures of Europe.
He said they documented 41 laws which adversely affect Christians in Western Europe.
In particular, the survey found restrictions in the areas of freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, parental rights and discriminatory equality policies.
"Today, in the West of Europe, my organisation researched and documented in the past six years 1,000 cases of intolerance and discrimin-ation against Christians," he said.
He noted that such restrictions are pushed by three main groups, the first of which are radical feminists. Kugler noted that for them sexual education must be mandatory, start at an early age and focus on technica-lities of sex and contraception. "It does not mention the meaning of sex-uality, love, life and the family."
Another group lobbying for such laws are radical homosexual movements, seeking to silence the Church on moral issues and remove employer rights. Lastly, he singled out radical secularists who seek to exclude relig-ious viewpoints from public life.
"These work independently of each other even though they know each other. They are ready to be intol-erant in the name of tolerance. And the Church is one of their biggest obstacles."
As a first step to remedying the situation, he argued that Christians needed to first be aware of the problem. Secondly, he said Europe needs to understand more deeply the concept of reasonable accommodation. And thirdly, he argued that victim status is helpful and should be used, though with care.
Zenit News Agency
Vietnamese Catholic martyrs celebrated
Vietnamese Catholics living in Thailand gathered in November to cele-brate the witness of 117 canonised martyrs of their homeland.
Remembering their country's martyrs is an imperative for Vietnamese expatriates, Fr Anthony Le Duc, Secretary of the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in Thailand, said, because they are "shining examples of faith, and remind expatriates of the rich heritage of their faith which was hard fought for by our ancestors".
More than 500 Vietnamese, joined by some Thais, gathered at St Joseph's parish in Ayutthaya, about 50 miles north of Bangkok, for Mass, a procession and a play.
In 1998, Pope John Paul II canonised 117 Vietnamese martyrs who had been caught up in the many waves of persecution from 1600 to 1900, when both clergy and lay people were killed for their faith.
Ayutthaya was chosen as the site of the commemoration because its parish was built in 1666 by Vietnam-ese fleeing persecution in their country. To this day, many local Catholics are of Vietnamese ancestry.
Fr Le Duc said that Vietnamese Catholics had contributed to the development of the Church in Thailand in the past, and newcomers could do the same for the local churches into the future when they live out their faith "enthusiastically and courageously".
Fr James Vu, chaplain of the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in Thailand, said that it was wonderful to see that the Vietnamese youth were so excited to make the pilgrimage and to "invest their time and effort to organ-ise this event."
"It's their enthusiasm that served as a gift to offer up to the Viet-namese martyrs and seeing their dis-play of faith is a great source of encouragement and inspiration for us priests and religious who are journey-ing with them."
Catholic News Agency
Croatian referendum defends marriage
Two-thirds of Croatian voters approved of constitutional changes to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in a December refer-endum. The result came after a petit-ion backing the referendum, drawn up by "In the Name of the Family", a Catholic group, received more than 700,000 signatures.
The referendum asked the question: "Do you agree that marriage is the union between a man and a woman?" Almost 90% of Croatia's population are Catholics. The vote also received support from 104 members of Croatia's 151-seat parliament.
The government and some human rights groups strongly opposed a ban. President Ivo Josipovic said he was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome of the vote.
The poll succeeded in spite of government and media represent-atives trying to impede the voting process, according to "In the Name of the Family".
Members of the initiative said they faced insults, aggression and even physical assaults while collecting signatures. They also said opponents attempted to burn the list of sign-atures collected.
"The very beginning of the initiative was being publicly ridiculed by a significant portion of the Croatian high politics, especially by the members of the governing left-wing coal-ition in a number of statements, as also by some journalists on the state-television, as being 'discriminatory', 'retrogressive', 'medieval' and downright as 'imposing a religious doctrine'," a source within the organisa-tion said.
The centre-right opposition HDZ party supported the referendum.
Zenit News Agency
Christmas a "national holiday" in Iraq
According to a report by Joseph Mahmoud of AsiaNews, in a new and important step towards the Christian minority, the Iraqi government accepted a request by the Chaldean Patriarchate to recognise 25 December as an official day of celebration and a national holiday for all of the country's citizens.
In a recent letter to the authorities, the Chaldean Patriarch had asked for an official recognition of the holy day. He said that "Jesus did not come just for Christians, but for everyone" and also emphasised the "special respect" Muslims have for Jesus. Such a recognition would be a way to acknowledge the value and import-ance of a community that has for centuries actively contributed to the development of the nation.
This official recognition was a new and important step for the long-persecuted Christian minority.
Meanwhile, in Karrada, a neighbourhood on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad, where Christians, Shias and Sunnis live peacefully together, the authorities had already set up a five-metre Christmas tree.
As a show of "solidarity", the decision sent a signal meant to curb the huge exodus of Christians over the previous ten years.
In Baghdad, local authorities decked out some areas of the capital with Christmas lights and trees to "show their respect for and closeness to" the Christian community at this time of celebration.