Monday, December 31, 2012

Churches can't see beyond the mass appeal of sex (Opinion)

A decree of decorum: churches move at a different pace. Photograph: Alan BetsonIsn’t it remarkable how so much discussion in our churches these days centres on sex?

Mention the words “Catholic Church” anywhere these days and the immediate thought is “child sex abuse”, and/or “contraception/homosexuality/divorce/ abortion”. 

Mention “Anglican” and what springs to mind is probably either “gay clergy” or “women bishops”.

Maybe it is this very public wrestling with such issues by a generally older, mainly male clergy and a greying laity that has turned young people away. 

Our churches appear dominated by thinking that is resolutely stuck in the mid-20th century.

Signs of the times 

The churches refuse to read the signs of the times. Who was it who said, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast’. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times”? Oh, it was that chap Jesus, wasn’t it?.

His, of course, was not an exhortation to become dedicated followers of fashion. Rather, it was encouragement to take on board the insights of the day.

So in a State which has had two outstanding women presidents we have not yet had a woman bishop and, worse, where the largest church is concerned, even the issue of women priests cannot be discussed.

This was why Fr Tony Flannery, Fr Gerard Moloney, Fr Brian D’Arcy, Fr Sean Fagan and Fr Owen O’Sullivan were silenced by Rome this year. All five took on board the insights of the day where women, celibacy, homosexuality and so on are concerned.

Woe unto them! Across the water it was just as absurd. There, with Queen Elizabeth as the titular head of the Church of England, it was decided last month that there could be no women bishops.

Here, though the way has been cleared for the Church of Ireland to have women bishops, it hasn’t happened. Indeed at its general synod last May the Church of Ireland reaffirmed its traditional teaching on marriage as “of one man with one woman” by a two-to-one majority. 

It was in fact a rejection of gay marriage and gay clergy and inspired by the civil partnership of the Dean of Leighlin, Tom Gordon, in July 2011. 

This, 20 years after the ban on homosexuality was lifted in Ireland. Our churches march to a different drum.

One-track minds 

Fine, there were other things going on in 2012. 

There was unease in Catholic Church circles at plans to divest it of some schools, and concern among Protestants at spending cuts in education. 

There was the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin last June and the arrival of the new papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown.

But really it was sex, sex, sex and orthodoxy, starting with the publication in March of a summary of seven visitation reports on the Irish Catholic Church prepared for the Pope following the 2009 Murphy report.

In May there was another shocking TV documentary, this time dealing with Cardinal Seán Brady’s handling of a 1975 inquiry into abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth and, in September, yet another damning tranche of child protection reviews of Catholic institutions. Same old, same old.

The aftermath of the death of Savita Halappanavar in October led to four Catholic bishops taking to the streets on December 4th to protest against possible abortion legislation. 

Wondering why the Catholic faith is not being passed on in Ireland, the papal nuncio asked last month, “Could it be, for example, that filling every hour of every day with music or television or internet or video games or texting leads to a kind of spiritual insensitivity or numbness?”

To which the answer has to be “no”. 

Rather is it not, as Jesus himself indicated when he asked “why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?” 

Our churches need to get into the log-removal business.

Philippines contraception law signed by Benigno Aquino

File photos of nuns marching in protest against the Reproductive Health BillPhilippines President Benigno Aquino has signed into law a bill providing for free access to contraception and family planning.

Supporters say the law, which took 14 years to pass, will reduce poverty and maternal mortality in a country with the highest birth rate in the region.

The Roman Catholic Church repeatedly tried to block the bill.

The country's Congress failed to pass the measure several times before giving it final approval on 19 December.

The law is due to take effect in mid-January, said presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte.

"The passage into law of the Responsible Parenthood Act closes a highly divisive chapter of our history - a chapter borne of the convictions of those who argued for, or against this act," she said.

"At the same time, it opens the possibility of co-operation and reconciliation... engagement and dialogue characterised not by animosity, but by our collective desire to better the welfare of the Filipino people."

The BBC's Kate McGeown reports from the capital, Manila, that even now the bill has become law, the Church and its political allies could still derail it.

Several bishops have already threatened to contest the bill's legality in the Supreme Court.

More than 80% of the population in the Philippines is Catholic, and the Church has had the support of many politicians, media commentators, and businessmen.

Condoms are widely sold in the Philippines, but at a price that many people cannot afford.

Many maternity hospitals are struggling to cope with the number of births, and the UN appealed to the Philippines earlier this year to pass the family planning bill.

A government health survey in 2011 found that the maternal mortality rate had risen by 36% between 2006 and 2010.

Maine holds first same-sex marriages

Gail Berenson carries a placard as couples gather to receive marriage licenses at the City Hall in Portland, Maine. Photograph: Joel Page /ReutersThe first gay and lesbian couples to wed under Maine's new same-sex marriage law exchanged vows early today in a series of civil ceremonies held shortly after midnight in the only state to welcome such nuptials solely by popular vote.

"We finally feel equal and happy to be living in Maine," Steven Bridges (42) said shortly after he and his newly wedded husband, Michael Snell (53) became the first couple at City Hall in Maine's largest town to tie the knot.

After the pair had filled out the necessary paperwork, the city records clerk, Christine Horne, performed the brief, no-frills ceremony, pronouncing the two men married as they exchanged rings and kissed. Mr Snell's two adult daughters, both from a previous heterosexual marriage, looked on smiling.

Other couples waiting in the hallway outside the clerk's office cheered the pair as they emerged, and a much larger crowd of about 250 supporters huddled in front of the building let out a jubilant roar as Bridges, a retail manager, and Snell, a massage therapist, stepped out into the cold night air.

A group in the crowd sang the Beatles song "All You Need Is Love," accompanied by several musicians playing brass horns, and many carried signs with such slogans as "America's new day begins in Maine" and "Love one another".

Similar scenes were repeated as five more couples exchanged vows during the next two hours, and more weddings were expected before the office was scheduled to close again at 3 a.m. About 15 couples simply obtained their marriage licenses, with plans to wed later.

"We've been together for 30 years, and never thought that this country would allow marriages between gay couples," said Roberta Batt (71) an antiques dealer and retired physician with silver hair and round eyeglasses, as she and her longtime partner, Mary, waited their turn to wed.

"We're just very thankful to the people of Maine, and I hope the rest of the country goes the way this state has," she added.

Maine, Maryland and Washington state became the first three US states to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples by popular vote with passage of ballot initiatives on November 6th. But Maine was the only one of the three where voters did so entirely on their own, without state legislators precipitating a referendum by acting first.

Nine of the 50 US states plus the District of Columbia now have statutes legalising gay marriage. Washington's law took effect on December 9th, and Maryland's law does so on January 1st, 2013. Another 31 states have passed constitutional amendments restricting marriage to heterosexual couples.

City clerks' offices around Maine scheduled extra weekend office hours, some opening late last night as in Portland to accommodate same-sex couples rushing to wed as the new law went into force at 12.01am local time.

More lavish same-sex weddings were being booked for the spring at the On the Marsh Bistro in Kennebunk, said owner Denise Rubin. "We support it wholeheartedly," she said. "We look forward to being part of a whole new wave of wonderful thinking."

The tide of public opinion has been shifting in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. In May, President Barack Obama became the first US president to declare his support for allowing gay couples to marry.

A Pew Research Center survey from October found 49 per cent of Americans favored allowing gay marriage, with 40 per cent opposed. The US Supreme Court has agreed to review two challenges to federal and state laws that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The nation's highest court said this month it will review a case against a federal law that denies married same-sex couples the federal benefits that heterosexual couples receive. It also will look at a challenge to California's ban on gay marriage, known as Proposition 8, which voters narrowly approved in 2008.

Maine's voter-approved initiative this year marked a turnaround from 2009, when legislators passed a statute recognising gay marriage only to see it overturned that same year in a statewide referendum.

Funds for suicide prevention diverted

Millions of euro ring-fenced by the Government to hire hundreds of staff to boost suicide prevention and mental health services this year was used to tackle cost overruns in other parts of the health services.

Under plans announced a year ago, €35 million was to be invested in modernising mental health services during 2012, allowing for the recruitment of about 414 staff and the expansion of services in the community. 

Earlier this month, however, just 17 out of the 414 mental health staff – who were to include dozens specialising in suicide prevention – had been hired.

The savings helped reduce the Health Service Executive’s overspend, although it still required an additional €360 million from the Government to help balance its books at the end of this year.

The spending delay comes at a time of rising demand for mental health services in the community and rising concern about suicide.

Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch has acknowledged delays in appointing staff but insisted she would seek to have the amount of money used to shore up the HSE’s finances at the end of this year taken from its allocation for next year and used as originally intended.

Appointments proceeding 

She said some 270 of the promised 414 posts had already been accepted and appointments were proceeding. Many of these staff were expected to start work in late December, meaning their salaries will form part of the 2013 budget.

Ms Lynch said the delay in candidates taking up posts had been due to various factors such as mapping exercises to determine where staff were needed; Garda clearance; and the checking of references.

“We’re dedicated to be fully delivering everything that we set out to and lots of new initiatives are in place for next year,” she said.

Internal HSE records obtained by this newspaper indicate some mental health teams in the State are under considerable strain due to gaps in staffing. 

The clinical director of services in the Louth-Meath area warned senior officials in recent months: “With the huge exodus of nurses who are retiring, coupled with the recruitment embargo, the community services of which we are so proud are being decimated.”

The planned developments that did not take place or that were implemented only in part during 2012 include:

* Hiring 34 professionals who would roll out a suicide crisis service across the State, which would have provided early intervention for people at risk of taking their lives;

* Training for nurses across 13 acute hospitals to support patients at risk of self-harm or suicide;

* The appointment of 192 medical, nursing and therapeutic staff to understaffed community mental health teams;

* The appointment of 150 childcare workers, therapists and medical staff to fill gaps in child and adolescent mental health teams.

Ms Lynch said significant sums were spent on important projects during 2012. For example, €5 million went towards the introduction of counselling in primary care settings and €3 million was provided to the National Office of Suicide Prevention for the implementation of various initiatives.

'Cruel' vandals target more than 30 graves

MORE than 30 graves were targeted by vandals over Christmas.

Gardai are investigating the desecration of plots and headstones at St Joseph's Cemetery in Cork.

Headstones were knocked over while plaques and marble shields on some graves were ripped up and smashed.

The Woods family, which has three generations of relatives buried in a St Joseph's plot, described the incident as "cruel and heartless".

"How could anyone with any piece of humanity do this to the dead," Eileen Woods from Crosshaven asked. "It is frightening to think there are people out there who are capable of doing a heartless act like this."

Gardai have appealed for anyone who may have spotted suspicious activity to contact them.

Unwanted gifts flood in to homeless charity

THE number of unwanted Christmas gifts donated to a major homeless charity is set to top last year's haul.

Hundreds of presents, including festive hampers, toys, hats, gloves and candles, flooded into the Pro Cathedral in Dublin yesterday as part of an appeal by Crosscare.

The Dublin diocesan agency has begun distributing the gifts to people in homeless and residential projects.

The Very Reverend Damian O'Reilly was among the staff taking in the unwanted gifts.

"It is still early days, but we've filled two vanloads already and I would expect to top what we got last year by the end of the appeal," he said last night. "For some reason, we had loads of boxes of Cadbury's Roses last year but not as many this year. Maybe they're not as cheap as they were."

Fr O'Reilly said it is most likely that many of the presents would otherwise have languished in the bottom of wardrobes for the next 12 months.

He said the appeal was a way for families who were hard pressed by the current economic crisis to support those most in need without having to spend.

Staff at "the Pro" were always taken aback by people's generosity, he said.

Unwanted gifts can be left at the Pro Cathedral until January 6.

Snubs and confusion in lead up to 1979 papal visit

One of the files in the state papers just released by the Department of Foreign Affairs relates to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in September 1979.

There was considerable confusion about the plans for the visit.

After months of speculation the Irish ambassador at the Vatican, John Molloy, informed Dublin in late July that he had information from “a very reliable source” that the Pope intended to stop in Ireland for a few days while on his way to address the United Nations Organisation in New York.

“Our informant then said that he had been told on Sunday last that the Cardinal and myself had been informed on Saturday,” Molloy reported.

“I said that I had not been informed and that so far we had not got any official communication.”

There is no hint of the identity of the “very reliable source” in the file just released.

But two years ago the Department of Foreign Affairs released papers from the Vatican embassy and those contained a memorandum that was clearly used to draft the coded telegram.

That memo identified the source as Fr Dermot Martin, who was then based at the Vatican and has since become Archbishop of Dublin.

Fr Romeo Panciroli, the head of the Vatican press office, had told him that he was present on Jul 21, when the deputy secretary of state was about to telephone the Irish ambassador and Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich with the news.

But nobody called the ambassador.

The incident could easily be dismissed as an oversight, if it was not in the midst of a series of snubs.

Lynch was pointedly not invited to the ceremony surrounding the elevation of Archbishop Ó Fiaich to the college of cardinals on June 30, 1979.

On Jun 20, Fr Clyne, the secretary to the cardinal-elect, informed the taoiseach’s private secretary that “Archbishop Ó Fiaich was not expecting the taoiseach to visit Rome for the consistory”.

In 1965, then taoiseach Seán Lemass had attended the elevation of Cardinal William Conway.

Lynch was obviously miffed, because his office publicly announced: “Had an invitation been issued for the recent consistory, the taoiseach would have been very happy to accept.”

Arrangements for the Pope’s visit to his native Poland in June 1979 had been left in the hands of the Polish hierarchy, which set up a commission to liaise with the communist government.

The Vatican seemed to be treating the Dublin government like the communists.

Lynch had little influence on the papal visit. He recommended, for instance, that the Pope should go to Northern Ireland, because otherwise Ian Paisley would exploit his absence as a personal victory. 

Lynch also suggested that Aer Lingus would fly the Pope to New York from Cork, and he offered to accompany the Pope to Cork.

The idea of visiting Northern Ireland seemed like a crazy invitation to trouble, especially in the aftermath of the murder of Earl Mountbatten and members of his family, along with the Warrenpoint killings only weeks earlier.

Moreover, it should be remembered that not very long afterwards the Pope was shot in the Vatican.

Cardinal Ó Fiaich argued that the Pope’s visit to Drogheda would suffice symbolically, because it was within the Archdiocese of Armagh. The Pope subsequently went to Limerick instead of Cork, and he flew out of Shannon.

Lynch had been snubbed again, but then maybe all of his suggestions were not that helpful.

Christmas Message 2012 - Diocese of Raphoe

“The shepherds found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger” (Lk 2: 16).

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of a Child who would bring hope and joy to a world sunk in darkness and despair. Joy would come to us because the Child was the very Son of God who came in our human flesh and spoke to us of God’s saving love. Hope would rise in our hearts because He gave us the invitation and the possibility of sharing in God’s own life and happiness. At our own risk and to our own disadvantage we reject or neglect the message from heaven brought to us by this Child.

 At this season we wish each other a happy Christmas. This greeting is often on our lips and on the Christmas cards we send to our friends. It is good to do this but we should make sure that these words do not lose their profoundly religious value and meaning. Our Christmas cards should portray something of the real meaning of this Feast and of the Birth of Christ, our Saviour, without which there would be no Christmas. A snowman and bells and holly twigs alone do not express the mystery we celebrate. Let us live Christmas in it truest sense, as a commemoration of God’s visible entry into our world, in the Person of his Beloved Son, born of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem. This is something that is sacred and Christian. It is not folklore or mere popular custom.

The sense of hope brought to us by the mystery of Christmas is very necessary at the present time. Budget after budget has made many families struggle to survive. Unemployment and emigration, debt and impoverishment, have become a harsh reality during the past year for many people. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is extending its charitable services to more and more families. Many are responding generously to its requests and to those of other Charities. This too is an essential part of the sacred season we are preparing.

The Child born at Bethlehem is certainly a very special Child. But the birth of every child is special. Every child in the womb is unique. He or she is God’s own creation. The Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity, the lives of both a mother and her unborn baby are sacred. If our concern for human rights is to mean anything, it must include concern for the most basic right of all – the right not to be killed. We ask our public representatives and politicians not to have the burden on their conscience of having legislated for abortion, but to have the courage of their convictions and uphold the uniqueness and sacredness of every human life from the first moment of conception to natural death. Abortion is gravely immoral in all circumstances, no matter how ‘limited’ the access to abortion may be.

As we celebrate the birth of Life and Truth at Christmas, let us respect life and walk in the truth. Let us with Saint Augustine ‘cast ourselves down from our pretentious selves and bow down in adoration before this fragile divine life who built himself a humble dwelling from our clay, so that he might raise and lift us up’ (cf. Confessions, VII, 18. 24). May this Christmas bring hope and peace to your hearts and homes, and joy to your children.

Nollaig mhaith daoibh go léir.

+ Philip Boyce, O.C.D.

Christmas Message 2012 - Diocese of Galway

Christmas is about big hearts, generous giving, joy and peace…Year after year it continues to bring the very best out of us.

Groups of students from our schools undertake twenty four hour fasts to raise money to provide services for the homeless and needy. In the run up to Christmas a whole range of charities get busy collecting money and gifts so that they can make Christmas happier for the less well off. 

Parents make great sacrifices so that their children may really enjoy this festive season. 

Residents of nursing homes benefit from the musical and singing talents of choirs and entertainers who gladly give of their time to make sure Christmas is a time of celebration for as many as possible. 

In these and in many other ways the true meaning of Christmas is kept alive. When all is said and done, the spirit of generous giving begins with God and those who have met this generous God can afford to be generous.

God’s great gift to us is that of his Son. The birth of child is a time for wonder and great celebration, it’s a time to give thanks. 

At Christmas Jesus comes to us above all with his gift of peace. When you think about it, that peace is the gift we need most, and need to pray for. Peace with ourselves, peace in our families, peace in our country and world, peace with God, eternal peace for those who are no longer with us for Christmas, this is the greatest gift we can receive and the greatest gift we can give. 

We gather at Mass as families this Christmas to say thanks to Jesus, the prince of peace. 

If we want Christmas to last through the year then we will gather every Sunday to express our thanks and pray that the Lord may continue to bless us with his peace. 

Besides, our Sunday Mass will help us to remember our journey, as we continue on our path towards eternal peace.



Christmas Homily 2012 - Diocese of Down and Connor

Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor at Midnight Christmas Mass
St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast

Readings : Is. 9.1-7; Ps 95 ; Tit. 2.11-14; Lk.2.1-14

I. The Liturgy of the Word for the Nativity : a window unto the saving mystery of the Incarnation 

The Liturgy of the Word on this Christmas night narrates the drama of the birth of God in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. With human words and literary devices these age-old and sacred texts speak of the self-revelation of God in human history.   

Year in and year out, and from generation to generation, these texts provide us with a glimpse of the divine as deciphered at work in history by prophet and first Christian writers.
Prayed and thought over, these lines of Sacred Scripture, the words, and settings of these readings for the Feast of the Nativity, stretch our human sense of the transcendent. Based on these readings,  our prayer and thought processes introduce us to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God in the Christ child and to the Good News of the gospel He offers. 

II. Gospel Good News in hard times

As in recent years, we hear this Good News in a time of great worry and stress for all our families. Most immediately we and our families feel the impact of the economic recession. Unemployment, loss of work, joblessness for our youth and for friends not so young, negative equity, poverty and new forms of poverty in our families and neighbourhoods loom in the ambient air.  These tough and hard-hitting realities are the setting in which we receive and re-live the Good Tidings of Christmas 2012. 

Beyond this immediate insecurity, a further set of questions and issues preoccupy our time. Among them feature such issues as, humanly apt models for the world economy and models for its just governance so that work is secured and wealth is produced and distributed in justice, care of the cosmos and creation, issues of gender and gender identity, the future of marriage as an institution, ethical limits and the frontiers in the bio-sciences and biotechnological research, issues of ethnic identity and its legitimate expression.  One could go on. 

These and a host of issues induce a sense of living at the edge, a sense of living  on an uncertain frontier, that would seem to lead to possible, massive and tectonic shifts in lifestyle, in our habits, in established and accepted anthropological and cultural paradigms.
In regard to all of this stuff of our almost daily experience, a few question arise for Christmas thought and discussion : what shifts are likely to take place? Will humanity guide them so that they ennoble human life and existence? Will these shifts enhance and improve life, the system of human values in the domains of personal and social ethics? What contribution will we as Christians make to humanity’s efforts to address all these burning issues?  Will you and I play our part? How shall we do so?

III Christian Faith – a faith and lifestyle for the edge 

Against this sketch of our times, many thinking people, Christian believers included, have a sense of being suspended precariously on the edge. As Tennyson put it : ‘the old order changeth yielding place to new’. John Henry Newman, shared by the Anglican and Catholic traditions, friend of Fr Charles Russell, of Co Down, a priest of this diocese, who spent his life in Maynooth College, once asserted that ‘ to live is to change, and to change is to become perfect’. 

In any event, if we feel on edge in the face of massive changes around us, if we feel insecure in the face of all that is happening, it is worth looking again at the narrative of Christ’s birth.
In that scene and event, it is noteworthy that God is born on the edge, in insecurity, in the provisional setting of a stable.

Indeed his mission, his permanent engagement with those on the margins, his crucifixion, his death between two thieves, reveals God as linked inextricably to the precarious edge, to the domain of the powerless, to the frontier with the unknown and insecure. This is the surprise of God as revealed in the Jewish Christian tradition. 

In Jesus of Nazareth, born of the young woman Mary, and through his mission, God has revealed the power that is divine grace to address and save humanity, particularly at the edge. This Gospel grace is offered freely. Its capacity to save depends in some part on our active co-operation and the lifestyle and values we espouse in concrete practice.

IV The secular : periscope to the sacred 

An intriguing feature of our times, and in which we celebrate the Incarnation, my dear friends in Christ, is that the secular order of everyday life –  the new frontier  issues just referred to – unveils with ever sharper profile questions of the meaning and the purpose of life.  

The secular order, professional and daily experience, are birthing questions of ultimate meaning, questions regarding the purpose, dignity and meaning of human life and how such meaning and dignity are to be provided for in the structures of society. 

In arenas of experience and knowledge, the secular order is unveiling ultimate questions that cannot be answered without the input of religious insight offered in dialogue with the human sciences and reason and as a living continuation of the saving mystery of the dynamic of the Incarnation. The secularist denial of the utility of such dialogue leads to an impoverishment of the secular. 

The salvation-mystery of God incarnate in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christian insight that each human being bears an imprint of the divine, is born in the image of God, the life and mission of Jesus – these foundational elements of Christian faith are the grounds and the stuff of the Good News that informs the engagement of Christian faith and lifestyle with the permanently opaque and tumultuous nature of the human condition, that is ever in need from generation to generation of the word and grace of salvation. 

Whatever the issues of our personal life span, we cannot totally escape the drama of salvation, the cry of the poor and powerless for justice, the human search for ultimate meaning and its codifications. 

V. Christmas : a time to connect in faith with the Person of Jesus Christ 

Christmas Night and Christmas Day offer an oasis in the year’s calendar. The Christmas season offers a time to re-connect with family, with friends, perhaps with the roots of one’s identity, with the person of Jesus Christ as the centre of personal Christian faith.    

In this Year of Faith in particular, running from Sunday 11 October past until the Feast of Christ the King on Sunday 24 November next year, this Feast of the Nativity of Christ offers us, whatever our condition, an invitation to re-discover:

  • The sacred liturgy and personal prayer
  • The Christian tradition of art, culture and engagement with societal issues
  • Christian thought and literature
  • The biblical and Gospel contribution to our human value system and ethics
  • Christian anthropology and Catholic Social Thought

as spring-boards for vigorous, thoughtful and full lifestyle,  for engagement with the human condition into which God was born in order to save humanity from evil and the power of sin.

The Christ child, gazed upon in 2012, invites us to kindle our journey of faith, an adventure yes, sometimes an odyssey, always a life choice which limbers up heart, mind and all one’s mental and bodily energies.  

Engagement in faith with the mystery of the incarnation leads to self-possessed living. It links us to community and socialises qualitatively. It opens our minds and hearts to new meaning, to an anthropology of salvation and to a saving Hope.

May the Hope and Joy of the Good News be in our hearts and homes, on our streets and in our neighbourhoods this Christmas and in the New Year.   


Pilgrims of trust and hope

Frère AloisThey are on their way to Rome, they are many thousands, and they bring hope. 

They sing and pray and walk. For decades they have engaged in building a more Christian and human world, through dialogue and respect. 

They are the young people, also joined by the adults and the families, who are nourished by the monastic community of Taizé. 

A community that took its shape in the heart of France thanks to the intuition of Brother Roger Schutz during the dark World War years, and that today continues its journey. 

The faith of the young and the need for unity, spirituality in the post-modern world, and the prophecy of forgiveness; these are the horizons of the young people who are preparing to celebrate the pilgrimage of trust on earth (December 28th - January 2nd) planned in Rome, with tens of thousand of young people who will meet Benedict XVI. 
To narrate and explain what inspires this inner search and commitment in favour of humanity, a great book by Brother Alois of Taizé has been published: Pilgrims of trust. The journey of communion followed by Taizé, published by the Editrice Missionaria Italiana, which describes "a beautiful experience of Christian friendship" as the Pope said on Sunday during the Angelus.
The book talks about the desire for spirituality, the need for listening, and the hunger for trust that young people, whom he met during his experience as a monk, testify at every latitude. 

In the new book, Brother Alois of Taizé, who has been the guide of the ecumenical community since the death of the founder Brother Roger (2005), addresses, on different levels which range from the historical perspective to the spiritual advice, the call for a more radical Christianity and for a fruitful dialogue between the faith and the contemporary world.
Silence, listening to the Word of God, common prayer, service to the poor, commitment toward reconciliation: these are the "pillars" of the spirituality of Taizé which are described in the book anchoring them to the Scriptures and to the undivided Christian tradition, which goes back to the great witnesses of the faith.
In the book, Alois also offers many practical ideas to those who are willing to practice an eloquent Christianity in our time. 

"Develop networks of mutual assistance; stimulate an economy of solidarity; welcome immigrants; understand  different cultures from within; awaken twinning between towns, villages, and parishes to help those in need; use  new technologies consciously to create support networks… ".
Based on the thinking of Brother Roger, who wanted Taizé as a place of prophecy for the unity of Christians, Alois (German by birth, French by language) recalls the unbreakable bond between Taizé and the Council. 

"What we experience in Taizé today would be unthinkable without the reality of the Council. More personally, if, as a Catholic 16-year-old boy, I could go to Taizé in 1970 and deepen my faith with Christians of different denominations, it was as a result of the Second Vatican Council".
Returning from the recent Synod on the New Evangelization, where he was as "special guest" of the Pope, Alois recalls the great intellectual friends of Taizé: the Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément, for whom "the insistence of Brother Roger on the love of God has marked the end of the period characterized by the fear of a God who punishes"; the protestant philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who already wrote about the community in 1947, a few years after its founding; the very close connection with several Popes: John XXIII who was, according to Brother Roger, "the founder of Taizé"; John Paul II, "on whose words delivered at Taizé (1986) we cannot cease to meditate"; and Pope Benedict XVI, who will pray with the young people and the community in Rome on the 29th of December.
Like Ratzinger, Brother Alois also sees the risk of an eclipse of the faith in our era. "Today the faith in God is very often questioned, especially in the western world. The simple thought that God exists seems to become more difficult". 

But in response to this situation, Christians have the task, emphasizes Brother Alois, to re-launch their testimony of life and hope. It is up to them to reaffirm that "every human being is sacred to God. Christ has opened his arms to gather all of humanity in God". Furthermore, the new generations are called to "assert that the life of fraternity introduced by Christ is a reality already possible today. We want to experience now what to human eyes does not seem possible, because we know that nothing is impossible for God".  

Greece, the land of the Church to the people

Pope of GreeceIn these times of deep crisis ecclesiastical institutions are also helping their people with powerful initiatives.   

To help the Greeks in their fight against the economic crisis gripping the country, now in its fifth consecutive year, the head of the powerful Greek orthodox church, archbishop Ieronymos, has offered the faithful the possibility of cultivating land owned by the Church.
"Those who want to work Greek land, to contribute to the country's food security, to the development of a modern and exportable agricultural and livestock production need to know that what little remains of  Church land is available to them," said the Primate during his traditional Christmas message to the nation, but without specifying if the land will be granted to the applicants upon payment of a sum of money.

Romanian Sexton Causes Tension between the Vatican and Bulgaria

A grumpy Romanian sexton deprived the Bulgarians in Rome of a Christmas mass in their church Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi.

Back in 2002, Pope John Paul II presented the church as a gift to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and since then it has been the home of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Bulgarian Orthodox parish in Rome. 

The Church of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi is also the seat of the Bulgarian Orthodox bishop for Italy, San Marino and Malta.

"Our Sunday school has been closed because of this wayward sexton," Father Antony, vicar of the Bulgarian Metropolitan Bishop for Europe, Simeon, complained.

As the church was closed on Christmas, Archimandrite Kliment Bobchev had to serve the Christmas mass in his apartment at the Bulgarian embassy in Rome.

Laymen told the Standart that the sexton had removed all Bulgarian orthodox icons from the church's walls and was preparing to do so with the expensive candlesticks.

Clergymen fear that the liberties of the Romanian sexton may cause unnecessary tensions between the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Holy See.

British government offer stopped cancellation of 1982 papal visit

The Government prevented the cancellation of Pope John Paul II's 1982 visit to Britain by offering to withdraw the involvement of a senior minister from the trip's itinerary, newly declassified papers show.

The Holy See considered cancelling the visit due to Britain's military action in the Falkland Islands following the Argentine invasion.

Days before the Pope was to make the trip Francis Pym, then Foreign Secretary, sent a message to the Vatican suggesting that he would not meet the Pope when he arrived at Gatwick airport nor would ministers be present at a reception to be held at Archbishop's House, Westminster.

"Please therefore tell the Holy See as soon as possible and at the highest possible level that, if it would help the Pope to stand by his visit, HMG [Her Majesty's Government] would be ready to treat the visit even more than at present envisaged as a purely pastoral event and therefore to remove from the present programme most or all aspects of governmental involvement," Mr Pym wrote in a telegram to the British Ambassador to the Holy See.

This also included a planned meeting between Pope John Paul II and then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The papers, which are being released under the 30-year rule, show the Holy See thanking the Government for the offer.

Then Cardinal Secretary of State, Agostino Casaroli, said that the ministers' withdrawal from the visit "had done much to make it possible for him [the Pope] to come."

Editorial: The Archbishop's unseasonal note (Comment)

It is a sad comment on the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales that the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, thought his Christmas sermon a suitable place to launch his fiercest attack so far on the Government's plans to legalise gay marriage. 

It might have been hoped that, at a time of joyful festivities, a time moreover when people of all religions and none are uniquely open to the Christian message, the prevailing tone from the pulpit would be one of generosity.

Instead, Archbishop Nichols turned his attention to the politicians, decrying the fact that "there was no announcement in any party manifesto, no Green Paper, no statement in the Queen's Speech". 

"From a democratic point of view," he told his flock, "it's a shambles".

No more of a shambles, it might be said, than the Archbishop's Christmas message. His words might have given the impression that the Government would require the Roman Catholic Church to marry homosexual couples. 

But nothing is further from the truth. Indeed, one disappointing, even shameful, aspect of the proposed law is that the Church of England, the established Church, will be banned from conducting gay marriages, even though – as we report today – opinion is strongly in favour of letting individual priests do so if they wish.

And if the Church of England will not be permitted to conduct gay marriages, at least for the time being, it is unthinkable that any pressure would be placed on the Catholic Church, whose hierarchy is far more united in its opposition than that of the Anglican Church. 

The proposed legislation is designed to give gay people, not before time, full equality before the law. 

So what is the Archbishop so worried about?

If it is that some Roman Catholics might draw encouragement from ministers' plans, then there is a doctrinal argument to be had within the Church. 

But it is no reason for the Archbishop to attack a piece of proposed state legislation in his Christmas sermon. 

That he chose to do so suggests weakness, not strength.

Belgium to bring fraud charges against Scientologists, claims newspaper

Belgium to bring fraud charges against Scientologists, claims newspaperDe Tijd, Belgium's financial newspaper, has reported that charges of fraud, illegal medicine, breaches of privacy and extortion have been drawn up against the Church and two senior executives.
"The subpoenas have only just been sent to the scientologists," the newspaper reported yesterday.

The charges are said to relate to employment contracts issued to recruit volunteers and members in breach of Belgium's strict employment laws.

Prosecutors are investigating claims of extortion of members, the illegal use of "pseudo-medicine" and the keeping of records that contravene privacy laws.

A spokesman for the Church's Brussels headquarters said: "Unfortunately we have not received anything from the prosecutor's office yet. The media have been informed, we have not."
Scientology's rejection of many medical practices and its psychological "auditing" techniques of recruits, including the taking of personal records, have long been controversial. 

In February this year, a French appeals court upheld fraud charges and a £490,000 fine against the Church of Scientology in France for talking its recruits into paying large sums for bogus personality tests and cures.

The movement, which has the actor Tom Cruise as its figurehead, has been under investigation in Belgium for 15 years without any charges being brought against an organisation that is viewed with suspicion as a cult in many European countries.

The Church of Scientology came under renewed scrutiny following the divorce last summer of Mr Cruise and Katie Holmes, his actress wife. There were reports suggesting that Ms Holmes, who was raised a Roman Catholic, was worried about their daughter Suri's future involvement in her father's religion. 

The Church of Scientology in Belgium has existed since 1974, with its European office for "public affairs and human rights" based in Brussels and with an active organisation offering courses and exhibitions.

While Scientology is regarded as a religion in the United States, Italy and Spain, it is not recognised as a church in other European countries such as France, Germany, Belgium and Britain.

Church of England should consider opening doors to Muslims and Hindus

The Archbishop of Canterbury says public opinion isn't everythingThe Church of England should consider opening its doors to congregations from other faiths including Muslims and Hindus, the head of the Countryside Alliance has said. Sir Barney White-Spunner said he was concerned that churches in villages and towns were falling into disrepair and not being used enough. 

He said he was “hugely excited” about opening up churches to other Christian denominations and, in the longer term, other faiths. 
He also proposes making churches into community centres which host local markets, nurseries and even police contact points.

Sir Barney, a Roman Catholic, said: “Personally I think it would be hugely exciting, it would restore life and vigour to these incredibly important buildings. The poor old Church of England is faced with an enormous bill to maintain these wonderful structures. I happen to be a Roman Catholic. I would love to see Church of England, Catholic and other Christian denominations sharing. If you look in an English village or a small English town the church tends to be the dominant building. I happen to be Roman Catholic, and quite a lot of our churches are rather unattractive, some not inaccurately described as post-war Nissan huts. The future is in sharing.” 
He added that in his personal view, other faiths could also use churches. He said: “I personally think that in the long run you can extend it further to other faiths. Britain is changing, as the census has shown.”
According to the most recent census, the number of Christians in England and Wales has fallen by more than 4million since 2001, while the number of non-believers more than doubled to one in four of the population.
While the number of Christians has fallen from 37m to 33m, almost all other major faiths in Britain have seen a rise in their following. The number of Muslims has risen almost doubled to 2.7m, while the number of Hindus has risen from 144,000 to 148,000.
The Church of England said that while it would allow its buildings to be used by worshippers from other Christian denominations, it could not allow them to be used for worshipping other faiths.
Steve Jenkins, head of media for the Church of England, said: “It wouldn’t be a Church of England church if it was open to other faiths. They want their own buildings anyway, they don’t want to share with us.
“We do, however, want people to use them for more diverse things. Most communities have churches at their heart and we want them to stay that way.”
He added that despite the decline in Christianity detailed in the census, more than 1.7million people worship in Church of England buildings every month.
The Church of England spends more than £100million every year on the upkeep of its buildings. 

“The Church of England’s churches are in better condition than they have been for hundreds of years,” he said.
According to the census, the Northeast and the Northwest remain strongholds for Christianity, but in London up to three in four people are now Muslim. 

 In Bradford, Luton, Slough and Birmingham more than a fifth of people are Muslim.
The biggest decline in Christianity was in Kingston Upon Hull, where the number of believers fell by 16 per cent.
The highest numbers of non-believers was in Norwich, Brighton and Caerphilly in Wales, where more than four in ten people said they had no religion.
Separate polling by the British Humanist Association has found that around 53 per cent had described themselves as Christian.
Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, insisted in his last Christmas sermon that Christianity has not "had its day" even if fewer people believe than a decade ago.

Agenda for a year of faith: looking ahead at Pope Benedict’s 2013

Fortunetelling, like all occult practices, is strictly taboo at the Vatican; and prophecy is a rare gift among journalists. 

But Pope Benedict XVI’s calendar for 2013 is already filling up with planned, probable or possible events. 

Here are 10 to watch for in the news during the coming year.

Italian elections: When Italians go to the polls Feb. 24, the big story for most foreign observers will be the fate of a comeback attempt by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. For the pope and other Italian bishops, a prime concern will be whether voters instead elect a center-left majority that could bring Italy into sync with other major Western European countries — and out of line with Catholic moral teaching — on such issues as in vitro fertilization and legally recognized unions of same-sex partners.  

New Encyclical: Pope Benedict’s fourth encyclical will be released in the first half of next year, very possibly in the spring, according to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. Treating the subject of faith, the encyclical will complete a trilogy on the three “theological virtues”; the previous installments were “Deus Caritas Est” (2005) on charity, and “Spe Salvi” (2007) on hope.  

Worldwide solemn eucharistic adoration: On the feast of Corpus Christi, June 2, Pope Benedict will lead an hour of eucharistic adoration to be observed simultaneously around the world, highlighting a traditional devotion that fell largely out of use in the decades after the Second Vatican Council, but which has lately grown more popular with the pope’s personal encouragement. This promises to be one of the most visually impressive of many events scheduled for the Year of Faith, which ends Nov. 24. 

New charter for health care workers: The Vatican plans to publish an updated version of its 1995 guidelines for Catholic hospitals, taking into account nearly two decades of technological developments and political trends in areas including abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning. The document, whose target release date is in June, will reflect Catholic moral teaching on biomedical issues and Catholic social teaching on the equitable and effective provision of health care.  

World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro: Hundreds of thousands of young Catholics are expected to gather in Rio in July for a week of events whose highlight will be the presence of the pope, encouraging them to cultivate their faith and religious identity. This will be Pope Benedict’s second trip to Brazil, the country with the world’s largest Catholic population, where he is also likely to address problems of inequality in a developing economy, as well as the need for good government and civil peace in Latin America as a whole. 

New U.S. ambassador? The post of U.S. ambassador to the Vatican has been vacant since Miguel H. Diaz stepped down shortly after the November 2012 elections, and the choice of his replacement will be especially delicate given current tensions between the church and the Obama administration. All previous ambassadors have been Catholics, but it could be hard to find one who has not taken a public stand over the administration’s plan — strenuously opposed by U.S. bishops — to require that most Catholic institutions provide insurance coverage for contraception and sterilizations, which violate the church’s moral teaching.  

New Secretary of State? Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has served as Pope Benedict’s top aide since 2006. Some commentators, especially in the Italian press, have accused him of neglecting necessary administrative reforms and blamed him for mismanagement documented in the so-called “VatiLeaks” of confidential correspondence. Pope Benedict reaffirmed his confidence in his longtime collaborator last July, but the cardinal is already three years past the standard retirement age of 75, so he could well leave the stage this year. His replacement would likely be another Italian, perhaps Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, currently prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.  

New archbishop of Chicago? Cardinal Francis E. George, who has led the Archdiocese of Chicago since 1997, turned 75 — the age at which bishops must offer to resign — last Jan. 16. Pleased with the effects of his recent chemotherapy for kidney cancer, he has called his prognosis “very, very hopeful” and said that he has no plans to step down. But he has acknowledged the seriousness of his condition and the possibility that Pope Benedict might replace him this year.  

New cardinals? The number of cardinals under the age of 80, the only ones eligible to vote for the next pope, will be down to no more than 110 by Oct. 19. Pope Benedict could choose to boost their number to the legal limit of 120 by calling a consistory on the day before the feast of Christ the King (Nov. 24, 2013), a traditional occasion for the creation of cardinals and the last day of the Year of Faith. Likely additions to the College of Cardinals include Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Vincent G. Nichols of Westminster, England.  

Anniversary of the Edict of Milan: 2013 is the 1,700th anniversary of the Roman Empire’s legal toleration of Christianity, a watershed moment in the history of the church. Hopes have dimmed that Pope Benedict and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow might jointly commemorate the occasion at the Serbian birthplace of the Emperor Constantine I, who promulgated the edict. But the pope is almost certain to mark the anniversary in some way, perhaps taking the opportunity to highlight one of his primary concerns, threats to religious liberty around the world today.