Japanese gather in prayer to mark six months since multiple disasters

Schoolgirls observe a minute of silence for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Ishinomaki, Japan, Sept. 11, six months after the disaster struck. (CNS photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters) Sept. 12, 2011)

The church bell tolled at 2:46 p.m., marking six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan. Throughout the nation Sept. 11, Japanese gathered for memorial services and to offer prayers for the more than 20,000 people who died and the hundreds of thousands made homeless in the disaster, which also triggered a nuclear meltdown. The Japanese bishops’ conference and the National Christian Council in Japan conducted a joint memorial service at the United Church of Christ’s Shitaya Church. Approximately 180 people gathered for the service, which also had the support of the Japan Evangelical Association, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. The congregation offered prayers in memory of the victims, for the recovery of the worst-affected regions, and for a swift resolution to the nuclear crisis that arose in the wake of the tragedy.UCA News reported that Abp. Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo participated. During the ecumenical gathering, Isao Tadokoro of Caritas Japan gave a short account of the Catholic Church’s relief work in the disaster area. Similar memorials for the dead and prayers for renewal in the disaster-struck areas were conducted throughout Japan. The president of the bishops’ conference, Abp. Leo Jun Ikenaga of Osaka, composed texts for the prayer of the faithful to be offered on the occasion. He urged all bishops to use them during the Sept. 11 Masses, UCA News reported. ©CNS

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Cross always present in late nuncio’s life, USCCB head says at memorial

Abp. Pietro Sambi, the late Vatican nuncio to the US, “viewed his diplomatic vocation, as an ambassador of the vicar of the crucified one, as an extension of the invitation to mercy, reconciliation, unity, peace and life inherent in the Triumph of the Cross,” Abp. Timothy M. Dolan of New York said Sept. 14. Abp. Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the principal celebrant and homilist at a memorial Mass for the Italian prelate at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The nuncio, who died July 27 at age 73, “saw the cross in his varied diplomatic missions, in the poverty and oppression of peoples, in religious acrimony and war,” said Abp. Dolan. “We bishops of the US will never forget the warm, personable manner in which he summoned us to be ambassadors of the healing and reconciliation won by Jesus on the cross, and be ever grateful for the tender way he unfailingly responded to our own needs.” Dozens of US bishops, many of them in Washington for a meeting of the USCCB Administrative Committee, concelebrated the Mass. Sept. 14 is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, which Abp. Dolan used as a theme in his homily. While Abp. Sambi’s service in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps was important, Abp. Dolan said, “what is of far more profound meaning and of everlasting consequence in his life was that the cross of Christ, triumphant over sin, Satan, and death, was on his heart.” ©CNS

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Vatican gives traditionalists doctrinal statement to sign

The Vatican has given the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X a formal “doctrinal preamble” listing several principles they must agree with in order to move toward full reconciliation with the church. US Card. William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave the statement to Bp. Bernard Fellay, head of the society, Sept. 14 during a meeting at the Vatican that lasted more than two hours. Although the Vatican did not give the society a deadline, in order to move toward full reconciliation, leaders are expected to study and sign the preamble “within a few months,” said Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman. The cardinal and bishop also discussed possible “elements of a canonical solution” for the society after “the eventual and hoped-for reconciliation,” said a statement issued by the Vatican after the meeting. Fr. Lombardi said, “Today the most likely solution would be a personal prelature,” which is a church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. It is headed by a prelate, who is appointed by the pope; currently the church’s only personal prelature is Opus Dei. The document given to Bp. Fellay to sign “states some doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity” to the formal teaching of the church, said a statement issued by the Vatican after the meeting. ©CNS

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Prayer means crying out to God with trust, pope says at audience

Praying in the midst of suffering, Christians must remember how God has loved them all their lives and will rescue them, Pope Benedict XVI said. Holding his weekly general audience Sept. 14 in the Vatican audience hall, Pope Benedict continued teaching about prayer and used Psalm 22, “one of the most prayed and studied psalms,” as an example of how to cry out to the Lord from a basic position of trust. The pope returned to the Vatican by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo to hold the audience with about 8,000 pilgrims and visitors–too many to be accommodated at the papal summer villa, but few enough to fit in the air-conditioned audience hall. In Psalm 22, he said, “despite the presence of suffering, the psalmist recognizes God’s closeness and a divine love that is so radical” that he still can say, “Since my mother bore me, you are my God.” The psalm alternates between “the agonizing reality of the present moment and the consoling memory of the past,” when the psalmist knew God was near and saw God at work in his life, the pope said. Pope Benedict said the psalm, which the Gospels of Matthew and Mark have Jesus praying on the cross, does not paint a picture of a grumbling believer, but of one who is truly suffering deeply, yet hanging on to trust and hope in God’s promise of salvation. “God cannot contradict himself, and so the prayer goes back to describing the painful situation of the one praying in order to convince God to have pity and intervene as he always did in the past,” the pope said. ©CNS

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Fr. Pavone suspended from ministry outside Amarillo Diocese

Fr. Frank Pavone, one of the country’s most visible and vocal opponents of abortion, has been suspended from active ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, over financial questions about his operation of Priests for Life. The suspension was made public in a Sept. 9 letter from Amarillo Bp. Patrick J. Zurek to his fellow bishops across the country, but Fr. Pavone told Catholic News Service that he was returning to Amarillo and planned to continue functioning as a priest there. “My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization,” Bp. Zurek wrote. “The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Fr. Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight.” Bp. Zurek said “persistent questions and concerns” from clergy and laity about how the “millions of dollars in donations” the organization has received are being spent led to the action. The bishop also asked Fr. Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, to return to Amarillo “to spend time in prayer and reflection.” Fr. Pavone, meanwhile, told CNS Sept. 13 from Birmingham, Ala., where he had been taping programs for Eternal Word Television Network for more than a week, that he planned to comply with Bp. Zurek’s request to return to Amarillo. Fr. Pavone said he was scheduled to leave Birmingham the afternoon of Sept. 13 and meet with Msgr. Harold Waldow, vicar for clergy in the Amarillo Diocese, immediately after his arrival. “Bp. Zurek asked me to go back to the diocese today, which I am doing for a limited period of time,” Fr. Pavone said. “I am going there and my (priestly) faculties are fully intact and I’m in good standing.” ©CNS

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Abuse victims seek investigation of pope, top Vatican officials

The Hague, Netherlands–Several victims of clerical sexual abuse, a US-based organization for survivors and a US-based human rights organization formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Pope Benedict XVI and other top Vatican officials on charges they bear a responsibility for the abuse of children by Catholic priests around the world. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and their attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based organization, presented their petition to the court Sept. 13, they announced in a press release. The Vatican press office declined comment. The petition alleges that “Vatican officials tolerate and enable the systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world.” Along with the petition, the groups filed thousands of pages of documents, including Vatican policies on handling clerical sexual abuse; correspondence from Vatican officials, bishops and accused priests in reference to several specific cases; and copies of reports and policies from individual bishops’ conferences in several countries. The petition claims the church leaders who bear “the greatest responsibility” for cases of clerical sexual abuse are Pope Benedict, both as pope and as the previous prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Card. Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican secretary of state; Card. Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state and former secretary of the doctrinal congregation; and Card. William J. Levada, current prefect of the congregation. ©CNS

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Muslim student group invites pope to speak at conference in Bali

Leaders of Indonesia’s largest Muslim student group came to the Vatican to extend an invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to speak at a conference in Bali in 2012. The leaders of the Indonesian Islamic Student Association, or Himpunan Mahasiswa Islam, met Sept. 10 with Card. Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, reported Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency. The student association, which counts about 1 million members, was founded in 1947 and is “the oldest, largest and most influential” student group in Indonesia, Fides said. In addition to inviting the pope to address their conference on dialogue and peace, Fides said, the students spoke to Card. Tauran about ways to promote dialogue and religious pluralism and to begin forms of collaboration with Catholics. Fides said the visit of the association’s president, Noer Fajrieansyah, and other members of its executive board demonstrated how the organization has returned to being a force promoting dialogue and interreligious harmony and for combating extremism. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, Fides said, the organization “vigorously protested the US bombing and military intervention in Afghanistan” and rejected claims that radical Islamic groups in Indonesia had ties to al-Qaida. The organization’s president and another leader “were even arrested for burning the American flag,” Fides said. ©CNS

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Faith, sacrifice lead to church for Chaldean, Assyrian Catholics in US

Orangevale, CA–Tom Simon genuflects and kneels in prayer before the tabernacle. “It takes love, faith and sacrifice to build a house of the Lord,” he says. Now, after long years of planning, hard work and some divine intervention, the Chaldean and the Assyrian Catholics of the Sacramento area have their own house of the Lord–Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chaldean and Assyrian Catholic Church in Orangevale. “It’s for the Lord.” Neil Simon Nofaley says softly as he looks around the bright and beautiful church. Nofaley, Simon’s father, has been a subdeacon and leader of the small Chaldean community for 27 years. He speaks proudly about not only their new church building but of the history of the Chaldeans, a Christian church now centered in Iraq, a history that began long before Christianity. “Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldeans, 160 kilometers from Baghdad,” Nofaley says. “And when he wanted a wife for his son Isaac he found her among the Chaldeans.” Centuries later Chaldeans were among the first gentiles to embrace Christianity. St. Thomas the Apostle and two disciples brought the Gospel to the small kingdom of Chaldea in what is now northern Iraq. For nearly 2,000 years, the Chaldeans and the Assyrians have kept the faith even though they were a politically powerless minority in a region ruled at first by pagans and then by Islam. Over the centuries, it has earned the title “the church of the martyrs.” The persecution continues even now. “Sixty-eight of our churches in Iraq were attacked, bombed and some destroyed,” Simon says. “Twenty-eight of our priests, including the archbishop, were kidnapped, tortured and some beheaded. One nun was beheaded. Children have been kidnapped and held for ransom–often far more than families could afford. One 6-year-old was killed because his family could not pay.” ©CNS

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Pope, religious leaders in Europe mark 9/11 anniversary

Ancona, Italy–Remembering the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pope Benedict XVI appealed to government leaders and all people of good will to work toward a future marked by solidarity and peace. The pope marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the US after celebrating the closing Mass for the Italian National Eucharistic Congress in Ancona, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Before leading the midday Angelus prayer with about 80,000 people gathered at a shipyard, the pope recalled the anniversary. “In commending to the Lord the lives of the victims of the attacks carried out that day and their families, I ask leaders of nations and people of good will always to refuse violence as a solution to problems, to resist the temptation of hatred and to work in society, drawing inspiration from the principles of solidarity, justice and peace,” the pope said. Pope Benedict also sent a message to about 300 religious leaders gathered in Munich to commemorate the anniversary at the beginning of the annual interreligious dialogue meeting sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Rome-based lay movement. The theme of the gathering was “Bound to Live Together,” and the pope said that when people do not open themselves to learning from, sharing with and respecting others, living together “can become a hell.” Religious leaders, he said, must ask themselves how they can become forces to promote peaceful coexistence and cooperation. ©CNS

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