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Obama, Castro credit Pope Francis with urging U.S., Cuba to normalize relations


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis personally appealed to President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro this year to encourage both leaders to normalize diplomatic relations, a senior Obama administration official said.

Speaking on background, the official told reporters Dec. 17 that the pope followed up the personal appeals with letters to the U.S. and Cuban leaders, encouraging them to move forward on efforts to improve relations between the two countries.

American aid worker Alan Gross, third from right, disembarks with his wife Judy, fourth from left, from a U.S. government plane as he arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, outside Washington, after being released from a Cuban prison Dec. 17. The photo was tweeted by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. (CNS photo/Reuters)

American aid worker Alan Gross, third from right, disembarks with his wife Judy, fourth from left, from a U.S. government plane as he arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, outside Washington, after being released from a Cuban prison Dec. 17. The photo was tweeted by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. (CNS photo/Reuters)

The pope’s actions were part of a major diplomatic effort by the Vatican, which hosted direct talks between American and Cuban officials, the administration official said.

“That (letter) gave greater impetus and momentum for us to move forward,” the administration official said.


Pope Francis congratulated both governments for agreeing to establish diplomatic relations “with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

In a statement released after the announcement was made simultaneously by Obama in Washington and Castro in Havana, the Vatican confirmed the pope’s role in negotiations between the two countries.

The Vatican said it had invited Obama and Castro to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two parties.”

“The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the well-being of their respective citizens,” the statement said.

“The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens,” the statement said.

The pope had appealed to both countries for the release of Alan Gross, an American contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, who had been held in a Cuban prison for five years. Gross was released Dec. 17, hours before Obama announced that change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The administration official also said that a U.S. “intelligence asset” was being released after being held for 20 years in Cuba in exchange for three members of the Cuban Five, or Miami Five as they are also known.

The official declined to identify the U.S. spy.

The men were members of a Cuban intelligence network in Miami known as “La Red Avispa,” or “Wasp Network,” dispatched by Cuba’s then-President Fidel Castro in the early 1990s to infiltrate militant exile groups in South Florida, according to the Associated Press.

The policy changes included the lifting of restrictions on travel to Cuba; review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism; allowing the sale of telecommunications equipment to Cuba; lifting of embargoes on Cuban products in the U.S.; and opening financial

The administration official told reporters that with the changes, the U.S. would continue to pursue efforts to promote democracy and strengthen human rights in Cuba.

“Openness is a better policy than isolation in advancing the things we care about in Cuba,” the official said.

The official laid out a timeline that indicated that talks between the U.S. and Cuba took about 18 months to evolve to the point where Obama announced a change in the American position regarding its Caribbean neighbor. The officials said talks mostly took place in Canada with one meeting occurring at the Vatican.

Obama said in a noontime address that the U.S. and Cuba would begin talks to normalize relations and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years. Diplomatic relations between the two countries ended in 1961.

The Vatican’s role in the process is linked to Obama’s visit to the Vatican in March. In a meeting with the pope, the administration official said, Cuba was “a topic of discussion that got as much attention as anything they discussed.”

“President Obama has enormous respect for Pope Francis and his personal engagement is important to us,” the official added.

Senior Vatican officials later received U.S. and Cuban officials together in October. The meeting gave representatives of both countries the opportunity to review details of their negotiations and formalize the exchange and transfer of the prisoners.

The administration official stressed that Gross’ release was a humanitarian gesture by the Cuban government and was not tied to the prisoner exchange.

The official said the Vatican was the only government directly involved in talks between the two countries. Canada hosted meetings between the two governments during, but Canadian officials did not participate.

The Cuban Five were arrested Sept. 12, 1998 by a heavily armed FBI SWAT team. They were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy to commit murder, acting as an agent of a foreign government, and other illegal activities in the United States and failure to register as foreign agents in the U.S. and other illegal activities. Each was sentenced to four life terms plus 75 years in December 2001.

They are hailed as national heroes in Cuba, according to AP.

The five appealed their convictions. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions in 2005, but the full court later reversed the ruling, ending the five men’s bid for a new trial and reinstated the original convictions. In June 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Two were eventually released, one in October 2011 and the other in February of this year.


Sydney archbishop: Darkness of siege cannot overcome Christ’s light


Catholic News Service

SYDNEY — Hell has touched Sydney, but the darkness let loose on a terrorized city cannot overcome the light of Christ, the city’s archbishop said at a special Dec. 16 Mass after a lone gunman took 17 people hostage in a cafe, killing two before being shot by police.

The atmosphere in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, was somber as government leaders arrived for the special Mass. Among those in attendance were Peter Cosgrove, governor general of Australia, and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird.

Worshippers at Sydney's St. Mary's Cathedral light candles for the victims of the Martin Place siege Dec. 16. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney tried to help comfort the people of the city during the Mass. (CNS photo/Giovanni Portelli, The Catholic Weekly)

Worshippers at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral light candles for the victims of the Martin Place siege Dec. 16. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney tried to help comfort the people of the city during the Mass. (CNS photo/Giovanni Portelli, The Catholic Weekly)

“Today the heart of our city is broken by the deaths of two innocent hostages along with their tormentor, the injuries of four others and trauma to many more,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in his homily before the hundreds, Catholic and non-Catholic, who had gathered to pray.

“We went to bed hoping to wake to good news. But despite patient efforts to maintain calm and negotiate, there were, in the early hours of this morning, flashes of gunfire, intervention by our police to save lives, merciful escapes, but finally death.

“Hell had touched us.”

The café’s manager Tori Johnson, 34, was reported to have tried to wrest the gun off the self-styled Iranian cleric Man Haron Monis, but was fatally shot in the process.

Katrina Dawson, 38, a mother and respected barrister, was killed while trying to shield her pregnant friend.

“These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live, imitating the sacrifice of Christ, who said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another,” Archbishop Fisher said.

The first instance of its kind in Sydney threatened to “harden our hearts,” the archbishop said, with the risk “that we become cynical, suspicious of our neighbors, or worse, that we turn on them.”

But he said that “the darkness need not overcome the light,” as witnessed by the calls for calm from a multitude of different religious, ethnic and political leaders; the spontaneous tributes appearing in Martin Place, where the incident occurred; and the instinct to unite in praying to God.

“Indeed, the Christmas-Easter-Christian message is: It cannot! There is something greater than hatred and violence. There is love, that humble, self-donative love that comes in the shape of the Christmas babe, the prince of peace.”

Archbishop Fisher reminded the congregation that the ostensibly peaceful birth of Jesus occurred against a background of darkness, with the Gospel accounts showing “all was not quite as it ought to be.”

“There’s suspicion about the pregnancy; the husband considers divorcing his wife; a mother nearing labor is required to travel a great distance; there’s no room at the motel for them; the child is delivered in the squalor of a cowshed; in the temple the proud parents are warned of trouble ahead; the family must flee as refugees to a strange land; meanwhile the king’s men kill the rest of the little children,” the archbishop said.

“Christ is threatened from the moment of his birth until the violence of this world finally catches up with him on the cross,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“And our world today is every bit as mixed up as it was at the first Christmas. There’s plenty of talk of human rights, the dignity of the person, equal respect and care. We are replete with resources, technology and know-how to help people through troubled times.

“Yet innocent people are threatened the world over, and a little bit of what is commonplace in the region of Christ’s birth has even come to Martin Place. Christmas, we think, is supposed to be different, but in a sense it was always like this.”

Many would be wondering why God allowed the siege to happen, something Archbishop Fisher said was a function of a misuse of people’s God-given free will.

“The God who saves still leaves men free. They choose whether to be of good will or not,” he said.

“The Christ-child proposes peace, again and again; he gives us the wherewithal to be reconciled and live peaceably with our neighbors; but in the end we choose whether to live in his kingdom, by his values,” he said

 — By Robert Hiini


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Hong Kong cardinal surrenders to police to help end street protests


HONG KONG — Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, joined the civil disobedience movement organizers who surrendered to police Dec. 3, with a hope to end the present occupation campaign that has lasted more than two months.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, leaves the police station after surrendering to police Dec. 3. Cardinal Zen asked faithful to pray for the democracy in the city after he stayed at the police station for an hour, documenting his involvement in the Occupy Central movement. (CNS photo/Francis Wong)

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, leaves the police station after surrendering to police Dec. 3. Cardinal Zen asked faithful to pray for the democracy in the city after he stayed at the police station for an hour, documenting his involvement in the Occupy Central movement. (CNS photo/Francis Wong)

Cardinal Zen remained at the police station for an hour. As he left, he asked people to pray for democracy in the city.

The Occupy Central movement, a civil disobedience campaign to block roads in central business area, was initiated by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, and the Rev Chu Yiu-ming, a Baptist pastor, in an effort to force the Hong Kong and Chinese governments to allow true democracy in the city. The protesters feel government authorities have handpicked candidates for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Cardinal Zen had said on his blog in late November that struggling for democracy may be a long road, but a “miracle may take place, like David hurls a stone to hit down Goliath. And no one would expect that the Berlin Wall fell down all of a sudden 25 years ago.”

The cardinal, 82, is a supporter to the Occupy Central movement. Last June, he launched a walking campaign, walking 52 miles over seven days in different areas in Hong Kong, to ask more people to join an unofficial referendum on democratic reforms.


Benny Tai also turned himself in to police Dec. 3. He told reporters after he left the police station that it was time to promote civic education in different platforms, instead of continuing the occupation, as insisted on by the student group.


Recently, protesters and the police had clashed violently. Many academics said police used excessive force to clear the roads.


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Pope Francis prays in Istanbul mosque, rallies local Christians


Catholic News Service

ISTANBUL — A day after hearing Turkish leaders demand the West show more respect for Islam, Pope Francis prayed alongside a Muslim cleric inside Istanbul’s most famous mosque.

At the Blue Mosque, Istanbul’s grand mufti Rahmi Yaran led Pope Francis to the mosque’s “mihrab,” a niche indicating the direction to the holy city Mecca. He explained that the name is related to that of Jesus’s mother, Mary, who is revered by Muslims.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople kisses Pope Francis as they embrace during an ecumenical prayer service in the patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople kisses Pope Francis as they embrace during an ecumenical prayer service in the patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Then, as the grand mufti continued speaking, the pope fell silent and remained so for several minutes, with head bowed, eyes closed and hands clasped in front of him. A Vatican statement later described this as a “moment of silent adoration.”

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, an early 17th-century structure, is known as the Blue Mosque for the predominant color of the 21,000 tiles decorating its interior.

The pope’s Nov. 29 visit had been scheduled for later in the morning but was moved up, out of concern that it would interfere with noon prayers.

The event recalled the last papal visit to Turkey, in 2006, when Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer in the same mosque went far to ease an international furor over his speech in Regensburg, Germany, which had quoted a medieval description of the teachings of Islam’s prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman.”

For Pope Francis, the prayer was only the latest dramatic sign of a desire for closer relations with Islam, including his washing the feet of two Muslims during a Holy Thursday liturgy in 2013, and his invitation to Muslim and Jewish leaders to pray for peace in the Vatican Gardens the following year.

After his arrival in Turkey Nov. 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the issue of prejudice and intolerance against Muslims in other countries, saying that “Islamophobia is a serious and rapidly rising problem in the West” and lamenting that “attempts to identify Islam with terrorism hurt millions.”

Later, during a visit to the Presidency of Religious Affairs, its president, Mehmet Gormez, decried what he called the “dissemination of terror scenarios by the global media through anti-Muslim expressions, which is a form of racism and which has now turned into a crime of hatred.”

After visiting the Blue Mosque, Pope Francis walked to the nearby Hagia Sofia, a sixth-century basilica converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, then turned into a museum in the 20th century. The interior decoration today includes gigantic calligraphy of Quranic verses as well as medieval mosaics of Jesus and Mary. As the pope toured the museum, it was filled with the sound of the noon call to prayer from the minaret of a nearby mosque.

During both visits, as at events later in the day, the pope looked tired but attentive.

In the afternoon, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Istanbul’s 19th-century Catholic cathedral, which ordinarily holds fewer than 600 people, but was filled to overflowing for the Mass. It was the first event during his visit to Turkey, a country whose population is less than 0.2 percent Christian, that recalled the enthusiastic crowds who ordinarily greet him on his travels.

The congregation included Catholics of the Armenian, Syriac, Chaldean and Latin rites and prayers in several languages, including Turkish, Aramaic and English. The varied music included African drumming.

Pope Francis’ homily, which acknowledged the presence of several Orthodox and Protestant leaders, focused on the challenge of Christian unity, which he distinguished from mere uniformity.

“When we try to create unity through our own human designs, we end up with uniformity and homogenization. If we let ourselves be led by the Spirit, however, richness, variety and diversity will never create conflict, because the Spirit spurs us to experience variety in the communion of the church,” he said.

The pope’s last public event of the day was an evening prayer service with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the patriarchal Church of St. George. The service was a kind of prelude to a liturgy planned for the next day in the same church.

Like his predecessors Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and retired Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis timed his visit to Turkey to include Nov. 30, the feast of St. Andrew, patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in what is today Istanbul. As it was for the earlier popes, his primary reason for visiting was to strengthen ties with the ecumenical patriarch, considered first among equals by Orthodox bishops.

A 1964 meeting between Blessed Paul and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras opened the modern period of ecumenical dialogue by lifting mutual excommunications that started the East-West schism in 1054.

Pope Francis already has a strong relationship with Patriarch Bartholomew, having met with him both at the Vatican and in Jerusalem. At the prayer service, the pope and the patriarch prayed the Our Father together in Latin, then each offered a separate blessing, respectively in Latin and Greek.

In a brief address, Patriarch Bartholomew noted that the church contains relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, taken by crusaders during the 1204 sack of Constantinople and returned eight centuries later by St. John Paul II.

“May these holy fathers, on whose teaching our common faith of the first millennium was founded, intercede for us to the Lord so that we rediscover the full union of our churches, thereby fulfilling his divine will in crucial times for humanity and the world,” the patriarch said.

At the end of the service, in a typically spontaneous gesture, the pope asked the patriarch to bless him and the church of Rome.


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Pope, Turkish leaders trade concerns about religious discrimination against Christians and Muslims


Catholic News Service ANKARA, Turkey — Interreligious dialogue dominated Pope Francis’ first day in Turkey, with the pope and Turkish leaders frankly stating their concerns, respectively, about discrimination against Christians in the Middle East and against Muslims in the West. “It is essential that all citizens — Muslim, Jewish and Christian — both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties,” the pope said Nov. 28 in a speech to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials at the presidential palace.

Pope Francis prays with Istanbul's grand mufti Rahmi Yaran during a visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul Nov. 29. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis prays with Istanbul’s grand mufti Rahmi Yaran during a visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul Nov. 29. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

“Freedom of religion and freedom of expression, when truly guaranteed to each person, will help friendship to flourish and thus become an eloquent sign of peace,” the pope said, adding that commitment to such freedoms is essential to countering “fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination.” Turkey’s secularist constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but Pope Francis’ call for equality “both in the provision and practice of the law” seemed to allude to persistent de facto discrimination against non-Muslims. Members of the country’s minuscule Christian community, less than 0.2 percent of a total of 76 million, are still commonly regarded as foreigners by the Muslim-majority population, and authorities have kept the country’s only Greek Orthodox seminary closed since 1971. Speaking prior to the pope, Erdogan raised the issue of prejudice and intolerance against Muslims in other countries, stating that “Islamophobia is a serious and rapidly rising problem in the West” and lamenting that “attempts to identify Islam with terrorism hurt millions.” The pope heard similar complaints later in the afternoon during a visit to Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs, called the Diyanet, a large and well-funded government agency that oversees Muslim worship and Muslim education in the country. The Diyanet’s president, Mehmet Gormez, decried what he called the “dissemination of terror scenarios by the global media through anti-Muslim expressions, which is a form of racism and which has now turned into a crime of hatred.” In September, Gormez complained that Pope Francis had not done enough to combat “violence and discrimination” against Muslims in the West, which he said could not be accomplished “by such things as washing a young girl’s feet or arranging interreligious soccer games,” references to two of the pope’s most prominent gestures toward interreligious harmony. The pope did not speak about discrimination against Muslims to either of the audiences he addressed on his first day in Turkey. Like Erdogan and Gormez, Pope Francis criticized the use of religion to justify violence, particularly in the neighboring countries of Syria and Iraq. Pope Francis focused on the plight of Christian minorities targeted by Islamic State militants there. “Prisoners and entire ethnic populations are experiencing the violation of the most basic humanitarian laws. Grave persecutions have taken place in the past and still continue today to the detriment of minorities, especially, though not only, Christians and Yezidis. Hundreds of thousands of persons have been forced to abandon their homes and countries in order to survive and remain faithful to their religious beliefs,” the pope said. The pope also reaffirmed his qualified support for the use of military force to stop the Islamic State. While he noted that the “problem cannot be resolved solely through a military response,” the pope repeated his stated position that “it is licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor” such as the Islamic State. The pope did not repeat the qualification, which he had stressed to reporters on two previous occasions, that such military action should be undertaken by a coalition and not any single national government. Though Turkey has condemned terrorism by the Islamic State, the government has proven a somewhat ambivalent member of the U.S.-led coalition against the militants, among other reasons, because of the Turkey’s opposition to the Syrian President Bashar Assad regime, which is fighting the Islamic State. Erdogan harshly denounced Assad in his speech to the pope. Turkey has accepted a vast number of refugees from the wars, as many as 1.6 million from Syria alone. Pope Francis acknowledged this twice, first in remarks to reporters accompanying him on the flight from Rome, then in the speech at the presidential palace, where he said that the “international community has a moral obligation to assist Turkey in taking care of these refugees.” The pope was the first official guest at Ankara’s new presidential place, which has 1,000 rooms, occupies more than 1.6 million square feet and cost a reported $615 million. It is a built in a style that has been described as “neo-Seljuk,” recalling the architecture of a dynasty that ruled from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The pope was greeted by a 21-gun salute and an honor guard of dozens of soldiers, many of them on horseback. He approached the palace along a turquoise-colored carpet, stopping to give the soldiers a traditional greeting in Turkish. Earlier in the afternoon, shortly after arriving at Ankara’s international airport, the pope followed protocol for visiting heads of state by visiting the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. The pope entered the monumental structure, reminiscent of an ancient Greek temple, and laid a wreath at Ataturk’s cenotaph, a 40-ton block of marble marking the leader’s burial place below.

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Italy to return 23 million euros to Vatican bank

November 19th, 2014 Posted in International News Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In what the Vatican bank described as recognition that it has established serious measures to prevent money laundering, it announced the Italian government has promised to return 23 million euros ($29 million) that had been blocked for more than three years.

Even though the Italian government in 2011 said it was releasing the funds, the Italians believed “issues regarding customer due diligence remained unsolved” and so held on to the funds, said a statement Nov. 18 from the Institute for the Works of Religion, the formal name of what is commonly called the Vatican bank.

The Italian treasury police seized the funds, which the institute had deposited in a Rome bank, during a money-laundering investigation. The Vatican repeatedly insisted the deposit was legitimate and that the Vatican bank was committed to “full transparency” in its operations.

“The repatriation” of the funds was possible thanks to “the introduction of a fully fledged anti-money laundering and supervisory system in the Holy See in 2013,” the Nov. 18 statement said.

The morning after the announcement of the money’s return, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had named the Swiss lawyer Rene Brulhart to be president of the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Agency. Brulhart had served as director of the agency since November 2012.

He succeeds Bishop Giorgio Corbellini, a canon lawyer and head of the Vatican human resources office; Pope Francis had named the bishop interim president of the agency in January.

The Financial Intelligence Authority monitors the financial and commercial activity of all Vatican entities, including the so-called Vatican bank, to ensure transactions cannot be used for money laundering or the financing of terrorism.


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Pope condemns attack on Jerusalem synagogue that killed four worshippers, policeman


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis condemned the “unacceptable episodes of violence” in Jerusalem, episodes that “do not spare even places of worship,” after an attack in a synagogue left four worshippers, a policeman and the two attackers dead.

At the end of his general audience Nov. 19, the day after the attack on the synagogue, Pope Francis said he was following “with concern the alarming increase of tensions in Jerusalem and other areas of the Holy Land.”

Jewish worshippers covered in prayer shawls pray Nov. 19 at a synagogue in Jerusalem where two Palestinian militants killed four rabbis and a policeman. Pope Francis condemned the “unacceptable episodes of violence” in Jerusalem, episodes that “do not spare even places of worship.”  (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

Jewish worshippers covered in prayer shawls pray Nov. 19 at a synagogue in Jerusalem where two Palestinian militants killed four rabbis and a policeman. Pope Francis condemned the “unacceptable episodes of violence” in Jerusalem, episodes that “do not spare even places of worship.” (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

The pope offered prayers for the victims of the attack carried out by two Palestinian cousins from East Jerusalem and for all those suffering the consequences of the attack.

“From the depths of my heart,” he said, “I appeal to those involved to put an end to the spiral of hatred and violence and make courageous decisions in favor of reconciliation and peace.”

“Making peace is difficult,” he said, “but living without peace is a torment.”

Shortly after the early morning synagogue attack, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem called for an end to all violence in the Holy Land.

“We are praying and waiting. We are sad,” said Patriarch Twal. “We must, all people of responsibility, politicians and religious leaders, do our best in our positions to condemn this violence and avoid as much as possible the causes which lead other people to violence.”

The attack occurred in the Har Nof neighborhood of West Jerusalem, which is popular with the Anglo-Orthodox Jewish community. Three of the dead worshippers had dual Israeli-American citizenship; one had Israeli-British citizenship.

The two perpetrators of the attacks were killed at the scene by Israeli police.

“Violence leads to more violence,” Patriarch Twal told Catholic News Service. He said he sent condolences to the families of all the victims of the recent wave of violence that has rocked Jerusalem as Israel moves toward expanding Jewish settlements in the area and Palestinians fear a Jewish presence on the shared holy site of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

According to a tenuous and contested status quo agreement, Jews are allowed to visit the site where, according to Jewish tradition, the Biblical Jewish temple stood and, but they are not allowed to pray there. According to Muslim tradition, it is the site where Muhammad ascended into heaven.

A day prior to the synagogue attack, a Palestinian bus driver who worked for an Israeli cooperative was found hanged in his bus at the terminal. Israeli police called the death a suicide after a medical investigation, but the man’s family and the Palestinian media maintain that it was a lynching. Some have said the synagogue killings were in retaliation for his death.

“You can’t occupy and then think people (will be quiet),” Patriarch Twal said, referring to Israel occupation of Palestinian lands. “We are against any kind of violence either from a state group or private groups.”

“We are in a very bad situation and condemn the violence and assure the families who have lost loved ones of our prayers,” he added. “It is very sad.”

The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land expressed “shock and horror” at the attack, calling it “horrendous.”

“Such murderous deeds, especially in a house of worship, are the ultimate abuse of religion,” said a statement from the council, which represents Israel’s chief rabbinate, the Palestinian Authority Shariah courts, and local Christian leaders. “We call on all religious political and civic leaders to do their utmost to prevent the local political conflict from being turned into a religious war, the consequences of which will be disastrous for all.”

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, World Council of Churches general secretary, expressed concern and sadness over the attack.

“There is a particular horror in any such attack which takes place at a place of worship. I condemn this violence unequivocally, as I do all violence between the peoples and communities of this region which has seen so much bloodshed in the name of religion,” he said. “Violence, collective punishments and communal attacks can only further damage the prospects of peace and justice for all.’

Israelis were shocked by the attack on the worshippers, killed as they took part in the daily morning prayers at the popular neighborhood synagogue.

In past weeks, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif has been sight of bloody confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinians, and synagogues and mosques have been vandalized.

Over recent weeks, several Palestinians have been killed and injured in demonstrations in East Jerusalem, and several Israelis been killed and injured in attacks by Palestinians in the Jerusalem area and Tel Aviv.

Patriarch Twal said Jerusalem is a city of peace, not violence.

He said the recent attacks have shown that the walls built as a security barrier to separate the West Bank do not protect anyone from violence as long as there is occupation and injustice.

“There is no protection with walls. Only dignity and justice for all (will bring security,)” he said. “All this violence took place within the walls. We need more justice and comprehension.”

Patriarch Twal noted that Christians in the Holy Land were preparing to celebrate Christmas and expressed concern that pilgrims would be afraid to come because of the violence.

‘We hope that by Christmastime there will be no more revenge and no more killings,” he said. He asked for prayers for the peace of Jerusalem, the Holy Land and all its inhabitants, so Jerusalem could return to its vocation as the city of peace.

Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.


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Cardinal Burke urges pope to take hot-button issues off table for next synod


Catholic News Service

LIMERICK, Ireland — A recently reassigned Vatican official has urged Pope Francis to take the issues of Communion for the divorced and remarried, cohabitation and same-sex marriage “off the table” for next year’s Synod of Bishops.

Addressing more than 300 delegates at the family and marriage conference in Limerick Nov. 15, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke said these issues had distracted the work of the synod in its first session in October.

Warning that Satan was sewing confusion and error about matrimony, the cardinal patron of the Knights of Malta said, “Even within the church there are those who would obscure the truth of the indissolubility of marriage in the name of mercy.”

The 66-year-old former archbishop of St Louis instead recommended that next year’s synod devote itself to promoting the church’s teaching on marriage.

Cardinal Burke also ruled out any easing of the restriction on Communion for those divorced and remarried without an annulment of their original marriage.

“I fail to be able to comprehend how, if marriage is indissoluble and someone is living in a state contradicting this indissolubility of marriage, the person can be admitted to holy Communion,” he said.

He urged the Catholic faithful to write to Pope Francis and Vatican and Irish church officials to make their views known.

Lashing out at the “so-called contraceptive mentality,” he warned it was “anti-life” and blamed it for “the devastation that is daily wrought in our world by the multi-million dollar industry of pornography” and the “incredibly aggressive homosexual agenda,” which he claimed could only result in “the profound unhappiness and even despair of those affected by it.”

Cardinal Burke said he was reduced to tears by attempts to introduce “so-called gender theory” into schools.

He warned that such theory was “iniquitous” and that exposing children to such “corrupt thinking” could not be permitted.

He said “society has gone even further in its affront to God and his law by claiming the name of marriage for liaisons between persons of the same sex.”

To applause, the cardinal said he refused to use the term traditional marriage for the marriage of a man and a woman.

“My response is, is there any other kind of marriage? I fear that by using that terminology that we give the impression that we think that there are other kinds of marriage; well, we don’t.”

Speaking ahead of the conference to RTE News, Cardinal Burke said he would refuse Communion to a Catholic politician who voted for same-sex marriage.

In his opening address to the conference, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said the family needs to be rediscovered as the essential agent of evangelization.

However, he referred to the final message of October’s synod, to remind conference delegates that “people need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life.”


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Survey shows Latin Americans leaving Catholicism


Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Increasing numbers of Catholics in Latin America are abandoning the church in favor of evangelical congregations or nonreligious life, according to a new survey, making Pope Francis’ calls for renewed evangelization efforts in the region ever more urgent.

The Pew Research Center survey of 30,000 residents of 18 countries and Puerto Rico showed 69 percent of respondents confirming they were Catholic, even though 84 percent of people said they had been raised in the church.

The Catholic population has slipped sharply over the past century, when their numbers topped 90 percent. Evangelicals have pulled people away from parishes and into their church pews often by promoting what those converting would consider more attractive ways of worshipping the Lord, an emphasis on morality and solutions for their earthly afflictions, mostly poverty related, said Andrew Chesnut, religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Some Central American countries and Uruguay now have almost as many Protestants or religiously unaffiliated people as Catholics in their populations. If the trend continues, “even Brazil, home to the largest Catholic population on earth, will no longer have a Catholic majority by 2030,” said Chesnut, author of a book on evangelicals in Brazil.

The survey underscores the urgency of the pope’s pleas for action in Latin America, where Catholicism has been intimately associated with culture, governance and history for more than 500 years.

Pope Francis has called for Catholics to adopt a more missionary mindset and take their faith to people on the periphery of society, places where Protestants often find converts.

The Pew survey found evangelicals showing more enthusiasm for their faith, expressed by attending church services and praying more frequently, adherence to moral teachings and the level to which religion is important in their daily lives.

The level of enthusiasm “often is more demanding in terms of personal commitment,” said Chesnut, an academic consultant to the Pew survey.

Protestants now make up 19 percent of the Latin American population, while another 8 percent now profess no religious affiliation, a figure reaching 37 percent in Uruguay. Roughly half these people did not grow up in their current congregations or in nonreligious homes, according to the survey.

Some 65 percent of Protestants in Latin America belong to evangelical congregations.

“Christianity in Latin America is thoroughly ‘Pentecostalized,’ with 70 percent of Protestants and 40 percent of Catholics identifying as charismatic,” Chesnut said. “If it weren’t for Charismatic Renewal, Catholic decline probably would have been even greater.”

Some 81 percent of respondents cited “seeking a personal connection with God” as their main reason for switching to a Protestant church. Another 69 percent said they “enjoy (the) style of worship” at their new church and 60 percent “wanted greater emphasis on morality.”

In Brazil, where 60 percent of the population is Catholic, evangelical pastor Jay Bauman said the style of worship attracts people to Protestant congregations — along with the promotion of “prosperity Gospel” teachings by Pentecostals.

“You go in and there are services for healing and liberation, all sorts of things and even a message that basically is that Jesus Christ can renew your life, can change you,” said Bauman, director of Restore Brazil ministries in Rio de Janeiro.

“But what they add on to it … is: (God’s) going to make you rich or he’s going to make you prosperous,” he added.

Chesnut said services at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro showed more of a charismatic style, and it is being adopted by Latin American Catholics in increasing numbers.

The 2013 election of Pope Francis, the first in Latin American to assume the papacy, was interpreted as a sign of the importance of the region to the Catholic Church and concern over its seeming loss of stature.

Pope Francis has proved popular among Catholics in Latin America, “but former Catholics are more skeptical,” with only majorities of ex-Catholics in Argentina and Uruguay expressing approval of the pontiff, according to the survey.

Even with Pope Francis being popular among Catholics, “that hasn’t necessarily resulted in a ‘Francis effect’ in terms of greater attendance at Mass and participation in church life,” Chesnut said.


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Ban of gender-based abortion passes first vote in British Parliament


Catholic News Service

British parliamentarians overwhelmingly approved a bill to criminalize the abortions of baby girls simply because of their gender.

The Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill was approved 181-1 on first reading in a Nov. 4 vote in the House of Commons.

The bill was introduced by Fiona Bruce, a Conservative Party Member of Parliament, after abortion providers and the British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, both insisted that sex-selective abortions were permitted under the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act.

Because the government has argued that such abortions are illegal, the bill has the purpose of ending the ambiguity by stating explicitly that such abortions are illegal.

The huge level of support for the bill was welcomed by Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, England, within whose diocese Bruce’s Congleton district is located.

“It takes courage for a politician to oppose the culture of death in its many forms,” Bishop Davies said in a Nov. 4 email to Catholic News Service.

He added: “Congleton’s MP, Fiona Bruce, deserves the support of all who uphold the sanctity of human life in her efforts to protect the lives of the unborn in gender-based abortions.”

In a Nov. 4 statement, Bruce said the 1967 law was being interpreted too liberally and that “today Parliament agreed that more legislation is needed to silence those claiming that sex-selective abortion can be legal.”

“Never would Parliamentarians in 1967 have imagined that 47 years on, there would be dispute about whether their act permitted abortion where the baby was the a boy or a girl,” she said.

“If the social clause of the act permits sex-selective abortion, the time to revisit it is long overdue,” she continued. “Until then, today’s vote has given a clear signal that MPs are united in working toward a time when the words ‘it’s a girl’ are met with celebration rather than despair.”

The bill’s second reading is set for Jan. 23, though politicians believe it is unlikely to be given time for further debate in the present parliamentary session.

The outcry in Britain over gender-based abortions follows investigations by national newspapers, which found that women who did not want to have baby girls were offered abortions.


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