9/11: We remember

From the archives:

Pope expresses horror at ‘inhuman terrorist attacks’ (Sept. 11, 2001)

–  Pope Benedict XVI talks with Julie Malik at the former site of the World Trade Center in New York April 20. Malik, was among four survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who spoke with the pope during his visit to the site. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)At ground zero, pope offers silent prayer, comforts survivors (April 20, 2008)

The sounds of ground zero (April 20, 2008)

Text of pope at ground zero (April 20, 2008)

Meeting pope at ground zero brings tears to Sept. 11 survivor (April 29, 2008)

Former NYC fire commissioner asks pope to remember Sept. 11 victims (Sept. 10, 2008)

Trip preview: Pope wants to encourage a revival in France

(Cross-posted from catholicnews.com)

Related stories:

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

A man fills a glass with water that comes from the spring uncovered by St. Bernadette Soubirous at the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

A man fills a glass with water that comes from the spring at Lourdes in France. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI is traveling to France in mid-September, making a four-day visit that is loaded with events and charged with pastoral challenges.

The Sept. 12-15 trip was designed primarily to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Lourdes, a southern French town that has become one of the world’s most popular pilgrimage sites.

But the pope will spend the first day and a half in Paris, speaking to political and cultural leaders, meeting with priests and seminarians, and celebrating Mass with the lay faithful.

For the 81-year-old pope, it will be a trip to the heart of an increasingly de-Christianized Europe, an area where, as he once put it, the “great churches seem to be dying.”

The pope wants to encourage a revival, and his schedule offers him several possibilities:

– In meetings with civil and cultural leaders on the trip’s first day, he is likely to defend the legitimate voice of religion in today’s secularized European culture.

Hospitality volunteers assist pilgrims with special needs during a Mass at the grotto of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France, in February. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

– By personally commemorating the anniversary of the Lourdes apparitions, the pope will have an opportunity to evoke the long tradition of Marian devotion in France and explain its relevance today.

– The papal events in Lourdes, a place where millions of sick pilgrims go to pray every year, will highlight the church’s solidarity with the suffering.

– His three meetings with French bishops — two regional encounters behind closed doors and one national meeting with a public speech — present occasions for a frank assessment of pastoral problems and strategies.

Those pastoral problems are real, and numbers tell a somewhat bleak story.

Although officially more than 75 percent of the population in France is Catholic, participation in local parish life has declined steeply over the last 50 years. Studies have shown that probably no more than 12 percent of French Catholics attend weekly Mass, and a majority of Catholics go rarely or not at all.

An elderly woman guards herself against the cold at a Mass in Lourdes, France, last February for the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

An elderly woman guards herself against the cold at a Mass in Lourdes, France, last February for the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

The number of diocesan priests in France has plummeted almost 50 percent in the last 25 years, and the priestly vocations rate is one of the lowest in the world. The rates of baptism, marriage and other sacraments also have declined steadily.

To church leaders, perhaps even more disturbing than French religious practice, or lack of it, are attitudes. A World Values Survey in 1999 showed that 56 percent of the French people did not believe in the concept of sin, nearly 60 percent said churches do not give answers to moral problems, and 62 percent said they did not receive comfort or strength from religion.

Pope Benedict has set his sights on these kinds of challenges from Day One of his pontificate. In sermons and speeches, he has argued that a life without faith is ultimately empty and unfulfilling, and that the evidence of such unhappiness is all around us.

In France, he is likely to make the point that simple faith — like that of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the young Lourdes visionary — is still relevant in the 21st century.

The pope was working on his speeches for the French trip over the summer and in mid-August gave a hint of what was on his mind. Marking the feast of the Assumption , he spoke of the value of “pure and simple faith” in the modern world.

The life of Mary, in particular, he said, can inspire Christians to live their daily lives “oriented toward the beatitudes.” Faced with all the false happiness in modern society, he said, people can learn from Mary to “be witnesses of hope and consolation.”

A statue of Mary is seen at the grotto of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

A statue of Mary is seen at the grotto of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

The pope sees the sanctuary of Lourdes as a place where the church carries out its Gospel of hope in a very concrete way, helping relieve the burdens of individual sufferers and the families who care for them.

At a Rome conference earlier this year to mark the Lourdes anniversary, he said a society that did not show compassion to its sick and suffering was “a cruel and inhuman society.”

Citing his latest encyclical, “Spe Salvi” (on Christian hope), he went on to say that families, especially poor families dealing with a member’s illness, risk being “swept asunder” in communities that value only productivity.

In France, the pope also may remind society of its duty to help relieve the loneliness of the sick and dying. He has warned that such isolation has contributed to the growing acceptance of euthanasia; in France, there has been a strong push for the decriminalization of euthanasia in recent years.

Here, too, the pope can point to the church’s own efforts to bring spiritual and physical healing and, in the process, reinforce his point that Christianity is lived, and spread, more by witness than by arguments.

As on previous trips abroad, the pope’s strategy appears to be to raise these broader themes — Christian hope, the faith as love in action, and the need for moral truths and religious values in a materialist society — and make them resonate with his audience.

French Catholics probably will not receive a papal dressing-down or a lecture on Mass attendance. In the pope’s view, it’s not just a question of making time for the church in their weekly schedules, but making room for God in their lives.

Air travelers make friends with Atlanta deacons

Traveling by air can be easy at times. Or it can be a pain, depending on how late your plane is. Certainly though, it’s rarely pleasurable, given the tight security at airports these days. 

No matter what the situation, Deacons Don Kelsey and Mike Landaiche try to make the travel experience as enjoyable as possible for the 250,000 passengers who pass through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest, each day.

The Georgia Bulletin profiles the two deacons and their ministry in a piece by Andrew Nelson. Photographer Michael Alexander also has developed a digital slide show of the men as they make their rounds of the airport.

From helping moms outnumbered by their children to greeting some of the airport staff who unload planes, assist passengers and transport travelers from one terminal to the next, Deacon Kelsey and Deacon Landaiche perform a worthwhile ministry of comfort and friendship.

The men are two wonderful examples of people working in a public venue bringing Christ’s peace to those they encounter. Thanks, gentlemen.

Spotlight on evolution

Charles Darwin is pictured at Down House in Kent, England, in this photo circa 1880. The English naturalist formed the theory of evolution by natural selection. (CNS/English Heritage, National Monuments Record/HIP/Art Resource)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is about to unveil another upcoming international conference on evolution, this one  on the topic, “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 Years after `The Origin of Species.’”

Scheduled for March 3-7, 2009, the Rome conference is being organized by the Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of Notre Dame, under the sponsorship of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Next Tuesday, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the council for culture, and other Rome academics will present the initiative to Vatican journalists.

The Rome conference will take place a few weeks after the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, the English naturalist who wrote “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. The work established evolutionary theory as the dominant explanation of biological diversity in the world.

The Vatican’s interest in the question of evolution has intensified in recent years. This fall, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences will take its most systematic look at evolution in an Oct. 31-Nov. 4 conference on the theme, “Scientific Insights Into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life.”

Over the summer, the Vatican newspaper ran a series of articles on Darwinism, creation and intelligent design. In a nutshell, they said evolution and Christian faith are compatible as long as evolutionary theories do not exclude a greater divine plan.

Pope Benedict XVI has also shown a keen interest in the issue and its implications for the faith. He described creation as an “intelligent project” in 2005 and hosted his former doctoral students in a symposium about evolution in 2006.

USCCB responds to Biden

It’s not yet up on the conference’s Web site as of this writing, but the following release was just issued by the USCCB. We’ll have a story in the morning.

(UPDATED Sept. 10):

WASHINGTON-Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the  U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman, U.S. Bishops Committee on Doctrine, issued the following statement:

Recently we had a duty to clarify the Catholic Church’s constant teaching against abortion, to correct misrepresentations of that teaching by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on “Meet the Press” (see www.usccb.org/prolife/whatsnew.shtml).   On September 7, again on “Meet the Press,” Senator Joseph Biden made some statements about that teaching that also deserve a response.

Senator Biden did not claim that Catholic teaching allows or has ever allowed abortion.  He said rightly that human life begins “at the moment of conception,” and that Catholics and others who recognize this should not be required by others to pay for abortions with their taxes.

However, the Senator’s claim that the beginning of human life is a “personal and private” matter of religious faith, one which cannot be “imposed” on others, does not reflect the truth of the matter.  The Church recognizes that the obligation to protect unborn human life rests on the answer to two questions, neither of which is private or specifically religious.

The first is a biological question: When does a new human life begin?  When is there a new living organism of the human species, distinct from mother and father and ready to develop and mature if given a nurturing environment?  While ancient thinkers had little verifiable knowledge to help them answer this question, today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception (see www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/fact298.shtml).  The Catholic Church does not teach this as a matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact.

The second is a moral question, with legal and political consequences: Which living members of the human species should be seen as having fundamental human rights, such as a right not to be killed?  The Catholic Church’s answer is: Everybody.  No human being should be treated as lacking human rights, and we have no business dividing humanity into those who are valuable enough to warrant protection and those who are not.  This is not solely a Catholic teaching, but a principle of natural law accessible to all people of good will.  The framers of the Declaration of Independence pointed to the same basic truth by speaking of inalienable rights, bestowed on all members of the human race not by any human power, but by their Creator.  Those who hold a narrower and more exclusionary view have the burden of explaining why we should divide humanity into those who have moral value and those who do not and why their particular choice of where to draw that line can be sustained in a pluralistic society.  Such views pose a serious threat to the dignity and rights of other poor and vulnerable members of the human family who need and deserve our respect and protection.

While in past centuries biological knowledge was often inaccurate, modern science leaves no excuse for anyone to deny the humanity of the unborn child.  Protection of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but a demand of justice.

Ancient prayer helps Toronto-area Catholics evangelize, heal

A group of Toronto-area Catholics calling themselves “lamb seekers” have embraced ancient contemplative prayer as a way of healing from traumatic life experiences and as a tool in attracting people to the church.

The Catholic Register, Canada’s national Catholic weekly based in Toronto, tells the story of a woman who helped establish the “lamb seekers” and the good that has come from their practice of the ancient contemplative prayer.

This type of prayer has helped one woman survive poverty, a broken marriage and sexual abuse as a child.

Producer finds documentary on Dorothy Day a labor of love

Claudia Larson didn’t want to produce a documentary on Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, but she did it anyway.

Since debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2006, “Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me a Saint” has been slowly making the rounds to parishes, schools, colleges and anywhere else people want to learn more about the the woman who devoted her life to hospitality with homeless and marginalized people. (Catch a trailer here.)

Larson says it took 14 years to finish the 55-minute documentary.

“I didn’t want to do it,” says Larson, who lives in Hollywood, Calif. “It was not my idea. It was her (Day’s) idea.”

Although Larson never met the woman who has inspired the opening of dozens of Catholic Worker houses of hospitality around the world, she felt called to portray the Day’s life in a way that no one else had. But why so long?

She didn’t know how to go about such a project. Every time Larson approached a filmmaker she was turned away. It was discouraging, she admits. But she maintains that Day kept leading her to other sources.

Larson eventually started her own production company, lucky dog productions (named for her dog, Lucky). Then she had to find people who could help her through the process of researching Day’s life, writing the script, scoring the music, recording interviews and editing the interviews into the final product.

Larson is distributing copies of the DVD “out of my backroom.” It’s available on a sliding-rate scale. Details are available on her Web site.

Last-minute Vatican visit by Mrs. Cheney

VATICAN CITY – On my way to the Vatican press hall this morning, waiting for the crosswalk light to turn green, I was kind of shocked to see a large convoy of black vehicles with U.S. plates and insignia speed by.

Big burly men with flak jackets leaned out of SUVs and scoped pedestrians — I suddenly realized it probably wouldn’t be a very good idea to stick my hand in my bag just then to pull out my sunglasses. So I just squinted in the glare trying to catch a glimpse of who the visiting dignitary might be.

Turns out Lynne Cheney, wife of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, was being escorted away from the Vatican after an unofficial visit to the tomb of St. Peter. The event was planned at the last minute, according to an official at the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for the upkeep of St. Peter’s Basilica and the vast necropolis below.    

The vice president, who has been meeting with Italian officials this week to discuss U.S. concerns over Russia’s actions against Georgia, did not take part in the private tour of the Vatican necropolis.

The second-century subterranean burial ground includes the spot where St. Peter’s tomb has been venerated since early Christian times. For the past decade, the Vatican has been using state-of-the-art techniques to repair, restore and conserve the tombs and funerary artwork.

After making obligatory reservations in writing in advance, most visitors interested in seeing the necropolis have a long wait to get in on a tour. However, exceptions are obviously made for visiting VIPs.

One official at the Fabbrica told me they were quite proud so many high-level government officials and their family members from around the world have come to visit the underground mausoleums and the tomb of St. Peter, adding it was hoped these government leaders “get inspired” by the life and example of the martyr buried there.

Record number of women for Bible synod

VATICAN CITY — The Oct. 5-26 world Synod of Bishops on the Bible will have the largest number of women ever participating in a Catholic synod, as forecast in an earlier post.

Pope Benedict XVI has named six female scholars to be among the 41 experts to serve as resource people for the synod members as they discuss the importance of the Scriptures in the life of the church, look at the Bible’s role in Catholic prayer and liturgy, evaluate its role in ecumenical and interreligious relations and discuss ways to improve biblical literacy at every level of the church.

The list was published with the experts’ names given in alphabetical order, but it seems fitting that the first woman on the list was Sister Sara Butler, a professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY. A member of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, Sister Butler was one of two women Pope John Paul II named to the International Theological Commission in 2004. They were the first women ever named to the body that advises the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The other women experts named to the synod today were:
– Sister Nuria Calduch Benages, a professor of the biblical theology of the Old Testament at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.
– Bruna Costacurta, also a professor of Old Testament theology at the Gregorian.
– Marguerite Lena, a professor of philosophy in Paris and director of theological formation for young adults at Paris’ St. Francis Xavier Community.
– Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Mary Jerome Obiorah, a professor of Sacred Scripture at the University of Nigeria and at the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria.
– Trappist Sister Germana Strola, a member of the monastery at Vitorchiano, Italy.

Pope Benedict also named 19 women to be among the 37 synod observers; the observers attend all synod sessions, participate in the synod working groups and are given an opportunity to address the entire synod assembly. Like their male counterparts, most of the women observers are professors or leaders of religious orders, Bible-based Catholic lay movements or large Catholic organizations.

Topping the list of all observers — again, because the list is given in alphabetical order — was Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

CNS will carry a complete story on the papal nominations Monday.

UPDATE: Click here for the full CNS story.

Opening the synod at St. Paul’s, not St. Peter’s

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will open the world Synod of Bishops on the Word of God with an Oct. 5 Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The choice of location — the site of the Apostle Paul’s tomb — highlights the connection between the synod’s focus on the Bible and the special celebrations of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul, traditionally recognized as the author of 14 New Testament letters.

The Vatican put out the pope’s autumn liturgical calendar today and it made it quite clear the decks have not been cleared just because he’ll be meeting Monday through Saturday with synod members Oct. 5-26.

The October calendar also includes:

– An Oct. 9 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII, the object of continuing controversy because of his words and actions during World War II.

– An Oct. 12 Mass in St. Peter’s Square to canonize: Italian Father Gaetano Errico, founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart; Swiss Franciscan Sister Maria Bernarda Butler, a missionary to Ecuador and Colombia; Indian Franciscan Clarist Sister Alphonsa Muttathupandathu, a mystic; and Narcisa Martillo Moran, an Ecuadoran laywoman renown for her dedication to prayer.

– An all-day visit Oct. 19 to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Pompei, Italy, for a morning Mass and evening recitation of the rosary.

– The Oct. 26 Mass closing the synod in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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