Benedict XVI's challenge to altar servers
Pope Benedict XVI used much of his General Audience on 2 August to greet the thousands of altar servers who were visiting Rome as part of the international pilgrimage of altar servers, sponsored by Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium.
"Today", he said, "as I look out at you standing here in St Peter's Square, I think of the Apostles and feel the voice of Jesus who says to you, 'I no longer call you servants, but friends, remain in my love and bear much fruit.' I invite you: listen to this voice. Christ did not just say this 2000 years ago, he lives and speaks to you now."
The Pope called the servers to be open to their vocations: "Perhaps to some of you the voice is saying, 'I want you to serve me in a special way, as a priest, becoming my witness, being my friend and introducing others to this friendship."
He told the servers that they were, "in a real way, already apostles of Jesus," when they serve at the altar. By the way they serve, by their reverence and participation at the altar, they are providing a witness to others.
"The bond of friendship with Jesus flows forth from and finds its culmination in the Eucharist. You stay very close to Jesus in the Eucharist, and this is the greatest sign of his friendship for everyone of us," Benedict said.
He challenged the young servers to take the fruits of goodness and service and carry them to all areas of their life, which, he said, would make them true apostles and friends of Jesus.
Catholic News Agency
China halts illicit ordinations
The Chinese Government apparently decided in July to stop the illicit ordination of Catholic bishops, according to a Hong Kong auxiliary bishop. But the AsiaNews service noted that Bishop John Tong Hon still saw Beijing as "not that sincere" in its bid to normalise relations with the Holy See.
Bishop Tong said that the Chinese Government had called a halt to the episcopal ordinations that were held earlier this year, in which the Catholic Patriotic Association nominated new bishops without the approval of the Holy See.
The sharp reaction from the Vatican - which condemned the ordinations as a "serious attack on religious freedom" - convinced Chinese officials that the ordinations endangered prospects for diplomatic relations with Rome.
Bishop Tong mentioned that international media coverage also helped to persuade Communist Party leaders that the ordinations should be stopped.
Quiet talks between Chinese government officials and a visiting Vatican delegation, which arrived in Beijing late in June, produced no concrete results, the bishop revealed. But the willingness of both sides to engage in direct negotiations was regarded as a major advance. Bishop Tong added that "positive changes are already evident in relations between the official and unofficial Church in China."
Catholic World News
Embryonic stem-cell cures unlikely: British research
One week after the European Union voted in August to approve funding for embryonic stem-cell research through to 2013, two leading British scientists said that any potential cures from embryonic stem cell research were many years away, if ever they occur, reported LifeNews. They said that the media and lawmakers, who want funding for the controversial research, have managed to distort public opinion.
Professor Colin McGuckin, a specialist in regenerative medicine at Newcastle University, said the potential for embryonic stem-cell research to cure diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease had been exaggerated.
Dr Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at King's College in London, said people should not have false expectations that these therapies are just around the corner. In fact, he said much more "fundamental research" was needed before embryonic stem cells could ever come close to actually helping patients.
An editorial in L'Osservatore Romano called the EU decision to approve funding for embryonic stem-cell research a "macabre product of a twisted sense of progress."
Catholic News Agency
Catholic and Orthodox Churches' united stance
Made public on 20 July was the text of a message from Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople for the sixth symposium on the environment organised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as part of its "Religion, Science and Environment" project, with its theme "The Amazon River: source of life."
The aim of the project was to promote "awareness of the grave problems threatening creation, and commitment to joint action among Christians and men of religion in attempting to solve them."
In his message, Benedict thanked Bartholomew for "your support for the Brazilian episcopate's commitment in Amazonia and your activity in favour of the environment, the deterioration of which has grave and profound repercussions upon peoples."
He expressed the hope that the Amazon symposium "may once again draw the attention of peoples and governments to the problems and urgent needs of an area ... so threatened in its ecological balance."
Benedict added: "In our common commitment, I see an example of that collaboration which Orthodox and Catholics must seek constantly in order to respond to the need for a shared testimony. This means that all Christians must cultivate that interior openness of soul which is dictated by charity and has its roots in the faith. In this way, they can together offer the world a credible witness of their sense of responsibility towards the defence of creation."
Vatican Information Service
New US Catholic Catechism for adults
The first official catechism produced by the United States Catholic Bishops since the creation of the Baltimore Catechism, was released on 31 July.
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, available from USCCB Publishing, is an adaptation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992.
At that time, the Pope urged that local catechisms be developed to better address specific situations and cultural realities in different countries. This catechism aims to do just that.
Unlike the Baltimore Catechism with its 421 questions and answers, the new catechism is aimed specifically at adults and is said to promote a command of Catholic faith, prayer life, and morals through a more accessible writing style and numerous features.
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults was six years in the making. It was authorised by the American bishops in June 2000 and, prior to publication, went through three national consultations and drafts. It was approved overwhelmingly by the bishops at their November 2004 general meeting and received the necessary recognitio from the Holy See in November 2005.
Catholic News Agency
British Catholicism facing "pastoral catastrophe"
A 260-page report on the state of the Catholic Church in Britain has found that Mass attendance has slumped by 40 per cent and Catholic marriages by 60 per cent over the last 30 years.
The study also showed the number of adult converts fell by 55 per cent and first communions by nearly 40 per cent, describing the crisis as the "greatest pastoral and demographic catastrophe" since the 16th century Reformation.
The study by Anthony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre covered the period from 1963 to 1991, but more recent figures, from 2004, indicated little if any improvement.
In 1991, Mass attendance in England and Wales stood at 1.3 million, compared with 960,000 in 2004. Deaths among congregations rose by 40 per cent between 1963 and 1991, reflecting the growing elderly profile. However, the Catholic population of England and Wales increased by six per cent.
According to the study the number of "late baptisms", of children aged one to 14, also increased.
But Mr Spencer said that this was sometimes believed to "reflect the desire of parents who are no longer active members of the Catholic community to get their children enrolled in popular Catholic schools."
In a separate publication, titled The Future of the Catholic Church in Britain, a former senior press officer for the Catholic Bishops' Conference called for strategic thinking to fix the crisis.
According to this book, "The church in Britain is suffering from a terminal decline in membership, irregular commitment among the remnant, and in the wake of persistent child-abuse scandals, a leadership of bishops and priests that has toppled from its pedestal with a mighty crash."
Cause for Archbishop Fulton Sheen advances
The process of canonisation for Archbishop Fulton Sheen continues to advance. Copies of a report on an alleged miracle that took place in 1999 through the intercession of the Archbishop were signed on 23 July by Church officials.
The 500-page report and supporting documents were delivered to Rome by canon lawyer Fr Andrea Ambrosi, postulator of the cause which was officially begun in 2003.
Archbishop Sheen, who was widely known and respected as a teacher of the faith through his television programs in the 1950s and 1960s, died in 1979.
The alleged miracle involves a woman, then 72 years old, who was undergoing lung surgery when a tear was discovered in her main pulmonary artery. The woman's husband told investigators he prayed for his wife's recovery invoking the archbishop. The woman is still alive and in good health.
Fr Ambrosi has reportedly worked on hundreds of sainthood causes, including Pope John XXIII's. He said it is still very early in the process to have two claims of miracles. The Church still has to investigate how holy his life was.
Fr Andrew Apostoli, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal in New York, is vice postulator of the cause. He said he knows of at least four other claims of miraculous intercession by the archbishop.
Catholic News Agency
Church of England's latest "spirituality"
According to a recent report in the London Telegraph, evensong at one of England's Anglican cathedrals was replaced on 6 August with an evening of worship led by an Elvis impersonator in a black leather jacket.
In place of the 6.30pm Sunday evensong, which has been moved to 4pm, Truro Cathedral in Cornwall has been holding "alternative" services involving line-dancing, jazz sessions and cowboys singing country and western songs.
This repertoire has been expanded to include Elvis "the other king" Presley.
With the aid of a guitar, backing tracks and rock-solid quiff, the Elvis impersonator performed gospel style songs.
During the event, Canon Perran Gay gave a talk on Presley's spiritual side. "We were concerned", he said, "that we weren't reaching people who aren't drawn to traditional services, so we decided to consider alternative ways of worship ... This is just one of many authentic ways of worshipping God."
He said Presley's faith had been profound throughout his life, and that his gospel music could contain spiritual messages that helped others.
"We know", he added, "there are many people who do not come in and worship but who are searching for a spiritual outlet. We want to reach them".