Victorian Bishops speak out on same sex marriage
Victoria's six Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter on 29 March setting out the true meaning of marriage and calling on parishioners to lobby federal parliamentarians in opposition to same-sex marriage.
The bishops' letter said that "the Church cannot ignore the responsibility to speak the truth in love" and that this involves "reminding people about the truth of the human person".
In this regard, the letter states, "Some now seek to alter the very nature of the human person through legislation. Our Australian society is now at a critical turning point where truth is at stake.
"We speak of current debates about the nature of marriage in our public life. Often it seems as if this matter is simply about human rights and the removal of discrimination. But in addition to 'human rights' there are also 'human responsibilities' ...
"The Church firmly believes that marriage is founded on the wonderful fact of sexual difference and its potential for new life. Without this there would be no human beings and no future. Bringing new human life into the world is founded on the loving union in difference of male and female. Children are best nurtured by a mother and father ...
"Catholics, as responsible citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, have a duty to remind their political representatives that much is at stake for the common good in this debate. We urge you to exercise that right and make direct representation to your Members of Parliament.
"We encourage you to respond to the online survey set up by the Federal Government at their website: www.aph.gov.au/marriage. The closing date for responses is Friday, 20 April 2012."
Biggest obstacle to new evangelisation
A Vatican official says poorly-formed Catholics present one of the biggest challenges to the late Pope John Paul II's vision of re-evangelising formerly Christian societies in the West.
"The major challenge are the Christians, especially those who were baptised, but not sufficiently catechised," said Archbishop Nicola Eterovic, the Vatican's secretary general of the synod of bishops.
In an interview on 7 March, he noted that the upcoming Synod of Bishops and Year of Faith - both taking place in October - will be an opportunity to discuss evangelising traditionally Christian countries that have become increasingly secularised in recent decades.
The Year of Faith, which will also mark the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, will be launched by Benedict XVI on 11 October and run until 24 November 2013.
The Synod of Bishops, which will take place in the Vatican from 7-28 October 2012, will focus on "The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian faith."
Although foreign missionary work for those "who do not yet know Jesus Christ," is an important part of the Church's work, Archbishop Eterovic said that Catholics must coordinate efforts at the parish level in order to "promote the Christian faith" to Catholics who may not understand Church teaching.
Latest statistics on Church growth
The Catholic Church added 15 million new faithful in 2010 and the number of priests continued to steadily increase for the tenth straight year, according to the 2012 edition of the Vatican's Pontifical Yearbook.
The Catholic population increased from 1.181 billion in 2009 to 1.196 billion in 2010, a growth of 1.3 percent. The percentage of baptised Catholics worldwide has remained steady at 17.5 percent of the world's population.
Priest numbers increased from 410,593 to 412,236 with about 277,000 diocesan priests and 135,227 religious order priests. The growth trend has continued since the year 2000. The number of clergy increased by 1,695 in Asia and by 765 in Africa. Growth in the Americas and Oceania was only in the double-digits, while priest numbers fell by 905 in Europe.
The number of bishops has increased from 5,065 to 5,104. Africa again showed the largest growth, adding 16 bishops, while the Americas added 15 and Asia 12.
The numbers of non-ordained male religious increased slightly and stood at 54,665. Female religious declined from 729,376 to 721,935, with almost a three percent drop in Europe, though their numbers increased in Africa and Asia.
The major seminarian population dropped by 10.4 percent in Europe and by 1.1 percent in the Americas, but showed a 14.2 percent increase in Africa, a 13 percent increase in Asia, and a 12.3 percent increase in Oceania.
Catholic News Agency
First South African sainthood cause
The cause for beatification and canonisation of the South African-native Benedict Daswa, who was killed for his refusal to support witchcraft, has arrived in Rome.
Bishop Joao Rodriguez of South Africa's Tzaneen Diocese said he hopes devotion to "this apostle of life" will spread and that people "will receive special graces" from Benedict Daswa's intercession, especially for "problematic family life relations and bondage to the occult and witchcraft."
Daswa's case was sent to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints after he was declared "Servant of God" and diocesan-level inquiries were completed. If approved, he would be on his way to being declared blessed, making him one step away from becoming the first South African-born saint.
Consistently loyal to his profession of Christianity, Daswa refused to take part in anything related to witchcraft or the occult, which is still very much a part of the local culture. His denouncement of witchcraft and the occult eventually led to his violent murder in 1990.
According to the diocesan investigation, when Daswa saw a man approaching him with a club to kill him, he said, "God, into your hands, receive my spirit."
As one of the poorest and most rural dioceses in South Africa, the Tzaneen Diocese is accepting donations through a special bank account dedicated to Daswa's cause for canonisation (dioceseoftzaneen.mariannhill media.org).
Fatwa against Christian churches
The Grand Mufti of Saudia Arabia, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who is one of the most influential spiritual figures in Sunni Islam, has called for the destruction of all Christian churches.
On 12 March, he declared that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region." His ruling came in response to a query from a Kuwaiti delegation over proposed legislation to prevent construction of churches in the emirate. The mufti based his decision on a story that on his deathbed, Muhammad declared, "There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula."
This passage has long been used to justify intolerance in the kingdom. Churches have always been banned in Saudi Arabia, and until recently Jews were not even allowed in the country. Those wishing to worship in the manner of their choosing must do so hidden away in private, and even then the morality police have been known to show up unexpectedly and halt proceedings.
Coptic Christians in Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East are being persecuted and driven out of the region by a deliberate, and concentrated effort by religious and secular authorities. Christian churches are being burned and blown up and Christian clergy murdered.
The Washington Times commented: "If the Pope called for the destruction of all the mosques in Europe, the uproar would be cataclysmic. Pundits would lambaste the Church, the White House would rush out a statement of deep concern, and rioters in the Middle East would kill each other in their grief. But when the most influential leader in the Muslim world issues a fatwa to destroy Christian churches, the silence is deafening."
It appears that Christians in the Middle East are on their own.
Sydney Archdiocese adult stem cell research grant
Cardinal George Pell announced the Sydney archdiocese's fifth major grant supporting adult stem cell research as an ethical and effective alternative to embryonic stem cell research. The $100,000 grant was awarded to Professor John Rasko and Dr Janet Macpherson, two researchers at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
"I am delighted that the grant will help to support the work of two such accomplished and innovative researchers, and wish them every success in their research," Cardinal Pell said on 16 March.
"Their project on finding a way to develop these adult stem cells that could well revolutionise the treatment of a whole range of diseases highlights some of the wonderful avenues for research, and hopefully healing, that adult stem cells open up."
The research will examine how to suppress reactions to foreign tissues after cell transplants or similar procedures and specifically targets bone marrow adult stem cells.
If the research is successful, it could result in improved treatments for cancer and conditions of the joints, bones, heart and immune system.
In his archdiocesan statement, Cardinal Pell noted a shift away from embryonic stem cell research. He said the number and quality of applications for the archdiocese's 2011 grant show that good ethics does not impede good science.
"Adult stem cell research has provided healing and hope without any destruction of human life and without all the other problems to which embryonic stem cell research gives rise. It is also very good to back a winner, both ethically and scientifically."
Hopes for Cardinal Van Thuan's beatification
"The bishops, the faithful, the whole Church in Vietnam, have great hopes for the success of the process of beatification of our beloved Cardinal Xavier Van Thuan. He was a special person, who lived the Gospel as the sole criterion of his life," said Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop OP, the Bishop of Vinh and President of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference, on the eve of the arrival of a Vatican delegation of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The delegation was in Vietnam from 23 March to 9 April 9 to collect testimonies on the life and work of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, which might be useful for his cause of beatification.
"The faithful are anticipating the visit of the Vatican delegation with great joy and hope, with the certainty that the Cardinal's path to beatification will go ahead and will have a good outcome. Cardinal Van Thuan is a much loved figure," Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop said.
"His history and testimony are very important for the Vietnamese faithful, bishops, priests, women religious and laymen: a long list of persons will be received by the Vatican delegation. The Catholic community awaits this historic visit with great expectation, emotion and enthusiasm."
Zenit News Service
Newman: a model for modern Catholics
At a recent conference on Blessed John Henry Newman in Rome, participants were reminded that he is a model of how modern Catholics should carry out God's will, regardless of the cost.
"He always followed his conscience. His conscience was something sacred for him and, following the light of conscience even at the cost of heroic sacrifices in his own life, he came to the fullness of truth," said Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe, Ireland.
Bishop Boyce was the keynote speaker for a conference on 14 March titled, "Tokens of Holiness in the Life of Blessed John Henry Newman." The summit was jointly organised by Rome's Venerable English College and the International Center for Newman Friends and was held at the college.
The Irish bishop, a renowned Newman scholar, noted that it was not until recent years that interest in Newman's life switched back to his sanctity. "For decades at the beginning of the last century, Newman was considered first and foremost as an academic, an intellectual genius, a brilliant writer, a formidable controversialist.
"It was only gradually, and that after the middle of the 20th century, that the focus was changed and more attention was paid to the holiness of his life." This culminated in his beatification by Benedict XVI in September 2010. His followers are now praying for another miracle to pave the way for his canonisation.
Zenit News Service