Unified Easter date for Christians sought
In an effort to set a single date for all Christian Churches to celebrate Easter, Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church has sent a letter of request to Pope Francis.
The apostolic nuncio to the Arab Republic of Egypt, Archbishop Paul Gobel, responded to the request by inviting the patriarch to send a representative of the Coptic Church to the next assembly of the Synod of Catholic bishops, to be held in October and dedicated to the theme of the family.
Unifying the dates of the Easter celebration is felt with particular urgency in North Africa and the Middle East because often churches and Christian communities live together in the same areas, but each has a different Easter date depending on whether it follows the Julian or Gregorian calendar.
Zenit News Service
Solidarity for persecuted Christians
Prominent Christian leaders from across ecumenical lines joined together in Washington, DC, to pledge to do more to help religious communities who are being persecuted in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, was among the speakers at a press conference announcing the release of a "Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action" that has been signed by more than 175 religious leaders from across the country.
The pledge, in part, says: "Now facing an existential threat to their presence in the lands where Christianity has its roots, the Churches in the Middle East fear they have been largely ignored by their co-religionists in the West ... American religious leaders need to pray and speak with greater urgency about this human rights crisis."
Republican Frank Wolf and Democrat Anna G. Eshoo, co-chairs of the bipartisan Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, hosted the press conference.
"I regularly meet with beleaguered Christians from this part of the world," Wolf said at the press conference. "Their stories are eerily similar: believers kidnapped for ransom churches – some full of worshippers – attacked, clergy targeted for killing. In the face of this violence, Christians are leaving in droves.
"The resounding theme that emerges is quite simply a plea for solidarity, and an appeal for help," Wolf continued. "Where is the West, they wonder?"
Among the foreign policy recommendations contained in the pledge is the appointment of a high-level Special Envoy on Middle East Religious Minorities. Wolf and Eshoo sponsored legislation to this effect that overwhelmingly passed the House last year and is presently languishing in the Senate.
"The faith leaders assembled, and those who have signed the pledge, have made clear that they are not waiting for Washington to take action," Wolf said. "They recognise that unless the American church begins to champion this cause the foreign policy establishment will hardly lead the way. They are committing to be their 'brother's keeper,' whether in Nineveh, Cairo or Homs. And for that, I thank them."
Zenit News Service
Improving Catholic- Orthodox relations
A member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity affirmed the sentiments of many who believe that Catholic-Orthodox relations have improved under Pope Francis.
"When I look to what I hear about Pope Francis, and I remember when he was elected he spoke to the immense group of the faithful at St Peter's Square, I remember that he referred to the introduction of the letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Christians of Rome," Fr Gabriel Quicke told CNA on 16 May.
"In his introduction in the letter to the Christians of Rome he speaks about the Church of Rome that is presiding in charity over the whole world of Christians, and Pope Francis used that expression," he recalled: "The Church of Rome is presiding in charity over all the churches."
"It was really a very important expression and most appreciated by the Orthodox churches. This is a warming up for all of us."
A former missionary in Lebanon, Fr Quicke is a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and works specifically with the Oriental Churches.
Observing how there is only "one obstacle" preventing the full union of the Catholic Church with the orthodox churches, the priest explained that this is "the role of the Pope, the Petrine ministry."
"We realised that we have so many things in common we are proclaiming the same faith, we have the same sacraments, we have the same ecclesial structure, and we realised that we have the same spiritual roots. Most of the churches also have an apostolic tradition," he observed.
Regarding the future of Catholic-Orthodox relationships, Fr Quicke explained that "we can learn from them and they can learn from us," but "with our human efforts we also have to pray for unity because Christian unity is not only the result of human efforts".
Catholic News Agency
Planning for the October Synod of Bishops
The "ordinary council" of the Synod of Bishops met at the Vatican to go over the working document for the October meeting of the Synod, which will be devoted to the family.
Pope Francis presided on 13 May at the first of two days of meetings. During those sessions the members of the council reviewed the working document, known as the instrumentum laboris, and considered amendments. They also discussed proposals for changes in the workings of the Synod.
The Synod of Bishops will meet in an extraordinary session in October, devoted to the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation. The next regular meeting of the Synod, scheduled for 2015, will be devoted to the same topic.
Catholic World News
PNG Bishops on pressure for abortion, sterilisation
The Catholic bishops of Papua New Guinea have issued a public warning against "dangerous trends" toward acceptance of abortion and sterilisation.
In an open letter to government leaders, the bishops said that their relationship with the state has always been based on mutual respect, and pointed to Church-state cooperation in the fields of health, education, and social services. However, the bishops said that they were compelled to speak out on moral issues, as they have spoken in the past in opposition to capital punishment.
In that context, the bishops remarked that the country's leaders "face great pressure" - including pressure from outside the country - to end the ban on abortion in Papua New Guinea. "We pray that our leaders will never bow to this temptation," they write.
The bishops further denounced the "political ideology that links development with population control", and the willingness to invite organisations to "temporarily sterilise great numbers of women" in order to slow population growth.
Catholic World News
Intolerance of Christians increasing in Europe
An organisation monitoring attacks on Christians in Europe has revealed that 241 cases of intolerance were aimed at Christians in 2013, and it warns that the number of incidents is increasing.
The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians published the findings in May in a report which also included recommendations to governments, international institutions and people of different professions.
Dr Gudrun Kugler, director of the Observatory, said Europe's "increasingly secular society" has "less and less space for Christianity".
She added: "Some governments and players of civil society seek to exclude instead of to accommodate. Countless cases of intolerance against Christians are reported to us. By researching, documenting and publishing these cases, we hope to create an awareness which is a first step towards a remedy."
The Observatory has categorised the 241 cases as "hate-related intolerance, intolerance against Christians in law and politics, and intolerance against Christians in arts and media."
Last year's report published 41 laws in 14 European countries which hinder the free exercise of faith for Christians.
Zenit News Service
Canadian pro-life movement growing
Several thousand pro-life advocates rallied in Canada's national capital on 8 May, seeking an end to abortion and giving witness to the growth of the pro-life movement across the country.
"The March for Life was, once again, a huge success," Matt Wojciechowski, a spokesman for the Campaign Life Coalition, told CNA. "We had thousands upon thousands of Canadians rallying for life and then marching through downtown Ottawa."
The Campaign Life Coalition organised the event, which has been held for 17 years. Wojciechowski said an estimated 23,000 people attended the Ottawa event, while thousands more rallied in provincial capitals.
The rally drew pro-life movement leaders, pro-life Members of Parliament and pro-life religious leaders, as well as ordinary families, young adults, senior citizens, clergy, and Catholic vowed religious.
Cardinal Lacroix of Quebec City read a message of support from Pope Francis, written by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on the Pope's behalf. Cardinal Parolin told the marchers that the Pope "assures them of his spiritual closeness as they give witness to the God-given dignity, beauty and value of human life".
"He prays that this event fosters greater respect for the inviolable right to life of each person from conception to natural death and supports the efforts of all who labour to ensure that this fundamental human right receives adequate legal protection," the cardinal said.
Pope Francis gave his blessing to organizers and participants, particularly those who help women in crisis pregnancies and their children.
However, their effect was minimal. "Most people didn't even notice," the March for Life spokesman said. "It's not something we really focus on because it takes away from the real reason why we're there and that is to celebrate life."
Organisers hope and pray the pro-life movement will continue to grow.
"This is up to God, not us," he said.
Zenit News Service
Liberation theology "archaic"
While in Rome, the president of the Latin American Bishops' Council said at a news conference that the Church in the region has fortunately moved beyond liberation theology.
"The relevant figures of liberation theology are all very elderly, and liberation theology as such, as the expression of what it was, is very archaic, if not already dead," commented Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla on 27 May at the offices of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
"There were efforts by some liberation theologians to clarify their theology," he said. "But that was during the 1970s and 80s, and today, thank God, we have a much wiser theological reflection that does not neglect the necessary, comprehensive, liberation of man."
"Now it is not about class warfare, with the confrontation between rich and poor, because as we know, for the Church this is not the way to social liberation."
Archbishop Aguiar explained that liberation theology "had been put forth with a sociological foundation that did not square with theological foundations", and that consequently "that is where it fell apart".
True liberation, he said, "is showing the merciful face of God the Father, the tenderness of God among us"; this strengthens the human condition, the family as the place where the person matures and is educated, and prepares future generations to be leaders in all areas of society, "whether social, economic, or political".
This task, Archbishop Aguiar reflected, "is one that Pope Francis has described in Evangelii Gaudium".
The Latin American Bishops' Council was in Rome from 1929 May for its annual report on its work with Latin American bishops' conferences and the direction the Church there needs to take.
Archbishop Aguiar also announced that the council will hold in August a preparatory meeting for October's synod of bishops on the family. Bishops and experts in family ministry from the 22 bishops' conferences of Latin America are expected to attend the meeting.
Catholic News Agency