John Paul II's beatification approved
The much-anticipated beatification of Pope John Paul II will take place in St Peter's Square on 1 May, the Sunday after Easter, the Vatican has announced.
The healing of a French nun with Parkinson's disease is to go down in history as the miracle that made John Paul II a "blessed." The title is given to martyrs and other Christians to whom a miracle has been officially attributed, thus bringing them one step closer to sainthood.
Benedict XVI approved the decree for the beatification of his predecessor during an audience on 14 January with the head of the Vatican department for saints' causes, Cardinal Angelo Amato.
John Paul II's cause gained approval after doctors studied the miraculous healing of Sister Marie Simon Pierre Normand and concluded it was "scientifically unexplainable." Following approval from theologians and Church officials, Benedict promulgated the decree with his signature.
The staff at St Peter's Basilica is already preparing for what is sure to be a grand occasion, drawing pilgrims from all over the globe. Workers are cleaning the mosaics in the Chapel of St Stephen, just next to Michelangelo's Pietà, where the soon-to-be "blessed's" body will lie.
Catholic News Agency
Benedict XVI speaks out on religious freedom
Benedict XVI has once more urged Muslim religious leaders and repressive governments to do more to protect the rights of Christians and other religious minorities in their countries.
The Pope used his annual address to diplomats on 10 January to highlight the growing assault on religious freedoms around the world. His tough language underscored the urgency of the conditions facing Christians.
He again condemned attacks in recent months on Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria: "This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.
Benedict also denounced the assassination of the Governor of Punjab state in Pakistan and urged Pakistanis to "abrogate" a blasphemy law that has been used by Muslim extremists to intimidate and imprison Christians.ﾁ
"The particular influence of a given religion in a nation ought never to mean that citizens of another religion can be subject to discrimination in social life or, even worse, that violence against them can be tolerated," he said.
Benedict also offered words of encouragement to Catholics in China, who he said were facing "a time of difficulty and trial."
He also had strong words for European governments and others in the West for their "marginalisation of religion," especially Christianity. For despite their professed interest in "pluralism and tolerance", in many Western countries "there is a tendency to consider religion, all religion, as something insignificant, alien or even destabilising to modern society, and to attempt by different means to prevent it from having any influence on the life of society."
Benedict concluded: "Religious freedom is 'the first of human rights,' because it is about man's relation with his Creator."
Argentinian priest's defence of the faith
An organisation in Argentina is campaigning in support of Fr Jorge Daniel Gomez, a priest being attacked by the media for stopping an anti-Catholic performance.
The organisation, ArgentinosAlerta.org, said it decided to start the online campaign because priests should be supported when they stand up for the truth, and not just criticised for their failings.
A video posted on YouTube shows a clip from a 13 January event known as the Chivo National Festival. After Fr Gomez, a priest from the Diocese of San Rafael, and his folklore band performed, a group called The Lutherieces took the stage to perform a number from "Les Luthiers."
The Lutherieces were dressed as friars and performed a number mocking priests, saints and Catholic teachings, especially on chastity.
Fr Gomez, who was in the audience, bypassed security, came on stage and took one of the microphones and said, "Could we please ask the group to continue with a different number because we are all Catholic here, I am a priest and I won't allow my chastity to be tarnished."
"I know you are excited to be here, but could you do something else?" The crowd of more than 8,000 broke out in applause, and the group went on to perform a different song.
The next day, members of the media and social networking groups began attacking the priest.
ArgentinosAlerta.org then stepped in to defend Fr Gomez, calling him a "courageous priest who did not hesitate to publicly stand up for the faith of his people which was being attacked on stage.
"Fr Jorge teaches us that we need to be courageous when defending the faith, that when our pastors speak out, the people will follow them, that it is possible to be respectful and firm at the same time."
Catholic News Agency
Jewish-Christian Cooperation In Israel
On 12 January Benedict XVI met with prominent Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Riskin who updated him on the efforts of the Jewish community to support local Christians in the face of mounting tensions with Islamic militants.
Riskin, chief Rabbi of Efrat and Chancellor of the Centre for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Co-operation, briefed the Pope during an audience on the work the organisation is doing in Israel.ﾁ
"We are taking Your Holiness' call to stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in Israel and advocating on their behalf," Riskin said.
He added that local members of the Jewish faith are looking for ways to alleviate poverty within the Christian community, as well as "opportunities to dialogue on those areas where we must co-operate." These areas included "our united faith in a God of love, compassion, morality and peace rather than a God of will, power and Jihad."
After the audience, the Centre's Executive Director David Nekrutman spoke about the group's focus in 2011 to address the needs of Christians in Israel. "For the first time in history Jews as a majority are coming face to face with religious minorities. It is Judaism's obligation to adhere to the biblical mandate: 'You shall love the stranger in your land'."
Catholic News Agency
New Missal translation on track in UK
Bishops in England and Wales are preparing for the implementation of the approved English translation of the new Roman Missal, which will be introduced into parishes in September.
A press release from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales noted in January that the text's introduction into parishes would take place three months before the missal is published in Advent.
It added that these three months would be devoted to an "in-depth catechesis on the Eucharist and renewed devotion in the manner of its celebration."
"Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, chairman of the conference's Department for Christian Life and Worship, affirmed that this was "a tremendous opportunity for the Church in England and Wales to learn about our faith and the Mass."
Bishop Roche continued: "In the new translation we find a text that is more faithful to the Latin text and therefore a text which is richer in its theological content and allusions to the Scriptures but also a translation which, I believe, will move people's hearts and minds in prayer."
Zenit News Agency
US Catholic schools being closed: identity problem
In the wake of the Archdiocese of New York recently closing 27 of its schools, discussion on the sharp decline of Catholic school enrolments has once again been ignited. (American Catholic schools don't receive government funding as in Australia.)
With its recent closures, the New York Archdiocese has added to an ominous and growing trend of declining student enrolments in Catholic schools across the US which have fallen by 15 percent since the 2001-02 school year. In 2006 and 2007 alone, 212 Catholic schools were closed or consolidated.
On 17 January, Dr John J. Convey, the St Elizabeth Ann Seton Professor of Education at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, argued that numerous factors had contributed to the decline, notably a falling birth rate and weak leadership.
But a key factor he believed was a "weak Catholic identity" on the part of Catholic schools either based in actual fact or perceived as such by parents. Many families saw Catholic schools as not strong enough in the "value-added" component that should make them different from government schools.
Individual Catholic schools, he said, needed to be more vocal about their importance and effectiveness "in both the academic and religious formation of the students."
Catholic News Agency
Sacred music: Cardinal sees signs of hope
During an interview with Zenit in January, Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, who served for over 40 years as director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, said that although sacred music is currently in crisis, there are signs of hope.
He was one of the new cardinals created in the 20 November 2010 consistory.
During the interview, Cardinal Bartolucci referred to his elevation as "a sign of love of the Pope for sacred music, an evident reclaiming, especially at this moment of crisis."
He commented: "Today there are very talented youths, but the musical formation is often very inadequate. I don't know who is to blame, but at present the stadium and discotheques prevail and everything is reduced to the market."
But the Cardinal saw as hopeful the fact that "Benedict XVI loves Gregorian chant and polyphony very much and wants to recover the use of Latin. He understands that without Latin the repertory of the past is destined to be filed away.
"It is necessary to return to a liturgy that makes room for music, with a taste for the beautiful, and also to return to true sacred art.
"The West has a very rich musical history that has been taken up by many Eastern cultures. The need exists today to recover it and to give it the style and space in the place in which the liturgy was established."
Zenit News Agency
Religious identity of US Catholic universities
Bishops and Catholic university presidents across the US have begun talks as a first step in the 10-year review process for implementing Pope John Paul II's document on Catholic colleges and universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church ).
The document, which was issued in 1990, called for "close personal and pastoral relationships between university and Church authorities, characterised by mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue."
The American bishops subsequently approved "The Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae" in 2001 and the 10-year review process in the upcoming year will consist of dialogue between the local bishop and each university president within his diocese to discuss how effectively the document is being implemented.
Discussion points include: Catholic identity, mission, service rendered by the university, and continued co-operation between the bishop and president. Bishops will report their findings later this year at the annual bishops' assembly in November.
During his visit to the US in 2008, Benedict XVI addressed Catholic educators gathered at the Catholic University of America. He emphasised that Catholic education should lead to an encounter with Jesus, who teaches us the truth. Any failure to do so would lead Catholic institutions to fall short of their Catholic identity.
Benedict stressed that Catholic institutions must ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice: "This requires public witness to the way of Christ, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual."