A Lebanese archbishop’s practical argument for married priests

Archbishop George Bakhouni of Tyre. (Nancy Wiechec/CNS)

TYRE, Lebanon — Heading a southern Lebanese diocese that goes from the sea then east two-thirds of the way along the border with Israel, the one problem Melkite Archbishop George Bakhouni of Tyre says he doesn’t have is finding priests.

In fact, the archbishop said, he’s surprised bishops and other leaders of the Latin-rite church aren’t more interested in the Eastern Catholic churches’ experience with ordaining married men.

“Christianity survived in the Middle East because of the married priests,” the bishop said. Because they are married with families and homes, they tend to stay even when conflicts and hardship send many celibate priests fleeing to safety.

The archbishop met Saturday with a small group of Catholic journalists visiting Lebanon with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a North American agency supporting Christians in the region.

For the archdiocese’s 10 parishes, “I have 12 priests. Eight of them are married and four are single, but two of the singles are serving in Italy,” the archbishop said.

“We always propose this to the Latin church because you are Catholic and we are Catholic, but we always feel a lot of reticence when we mention this issue to the Roman Catholic Church. I don’t know, but I think it could be helpful to allow a married person to be a priest.”

A cross at the Melkite church in Yaroun, less than a mile from the Israeli border. (Nancy Wiechec/CNS)

The celibacy rule for priests in the Latin-rite church has always been defined as a church discipline, not a theologically or scripturally based dogma that is unchangeable.

The archbishop knows all the arguments against relaxing the celibacy requirement in the Latin church, but in his experience, ordaining married men is the most naturally pastoral response to every Catholic’s need for regular access to the sacraments.

In little villages where there may be only 20 or 30 families, he said, it would be hard to find a single, celibate priest who would be happy to live and minister there. And that handful of families would not be able to support him.

The Eastern tradition, he said, is “to choose someone who has his own work in the particular village, a good man, a faithful man, a Christian man. He will study a little bit, some theology and philosophy, and he will be ordained.”

The archbishop said it doesn’t matter that it’s impractical to send a married man to the seminary for six years. “We don’t want all of them to be doctors or theologians,” but witnesses. Priests don’t all have to be well spoken orators; they could even be fishermen, like the Apostles, he said.

The important thing, he said, is that they live exemplary lives among their fellow villagers, know a bit of theology and the Bible and that they are available to celebrate the sacraments.

Pope asks Spanish Catholics to defend human life

BARCELONA, Spain — Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics in Spain to resist every attack on human life and promote the natural institution of the family.

During a Mass Nov. 7 in which he consecrated the still incomplete church dedicated to the Holy Family of Nazareth, the pope pronounced his strongest words yet against Spain’s drift away from its Christian roots.

Under the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who came to power in 2004, Spain has relaxed its divorce laws, eased restrictions on abortion, legalized gay marriage and allowed gay couples to adopt.

Barcelona marked the second and last day of the pope’s 18th trip abroad, which brought him first to the ancient pilgrimage shrine of Santiago de Compostela. In his homily in the Barcelona’s Church of the Sagrada Familia, the pope praised the technical, social and cultural progress of modern Spain.

But he said a country must also advance morally, “such as in care, protection and assistance to families, inasmuch as the generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end.”

The pope said the church advocates social and economic policies that let women find “their full development” both at home and at work and let families “receive decisive support from the state.”

He asked that courts, legislative bodies and society respect and defend the sacred and inviolable life of the child from the moment of conception. “For this reason the church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family,” he said.

More than 6,000 people filled the church, which the pope elevated to a minor basilica during the Mass. Another 50,000 people followed the event outside on 33 jumbo screens that dotted the surrounding streets and squares.

A “kiss-in” protest of about 200 people happened along the pope motorcade route, as gay rights’ advocates kissed as the vehicle passed. At least 200,000 people lined the streets of the city to see the pope, according to city authorities.

The church, begun in 1882 and expected to be finished by 2026, is the masterpiece of Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, a Catholic whose beatification cause is underway.

The pope incensed the main altar, sprinkled it with holy water and rubbed chrism oil into the immense, roughly-hewn block of rose-colored stone. The basilica interior was bathed in golden light as Spanish bishops anointed some of the white treelike columns branching out to support the 200-foot-high vaulted ceilings.

Gaudi had renounced secular art in his later years and dedicated much of his adult life to building the church. The pope, in his homily and Angelus address, praised the artist for producing “a hymn of praise to God carved in stone” and creating a visual catechesis that brings the Gospel to everyone.

The massive church with intricate sculpted facades attracts an estimated 3 million visitors a year. It is wrought with symbolism representing the life of Jesus and merges elements of the natural world, sacred Scripture and the liturgy.

The pope said he was happy to learn that Gaudi once said, “St. Joseph will finish this church,” noting that it had been formally consecrated by “a pope whose baptismal name is Joseph.”

He said the church is a visible testament to the importance of basing the family on the Holy Family — “a school of love prayer and work” and service to others – and displays the kind of beauty that results when art and faith come together.

Gaudi accomplished “one of the most important tasks of our times: overcoming the division between human consciousness and Christian consciousness, between living in this temporal world and being open to eternal life, between the beauty of things and God as beauty,” he said. Just as a building needs a solid foundation, individuals and societies need to be built upon solid moral and ethical grounding, he said.

Christians must show the world that God is a God of peace, freedom and harmony, not violence, coercion and discord, he said in his homily.

In a visit later in the day to Obra Nen Deu, a center run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart for children with mental disabilities, the pope urged Christians to keep offering financial support for charitable works even at a time of economic crisis.

Precisely because so many more people are facing economic hardship, Christians “must multiply concrete gestures of effective and constant solidarity,” he said.

The pope noted that science and medicine have done much to bring urgently needed care to those in need, but he said new technological advancements must always respect for human life and dignity. Those who suffer from illness and physical or mental challenges need love and attention, and should not be marginalized because of their limitations, he said.

Before taking off for Rome from the Barcelona airport later in the day, the pope met privately with Prime Minister Zapatero at the airport. King Juan Carlos of Spain, Queen Sofia and other representatives from the national, regional and local governments saw the pope off during a farewell ceremony on the tarmac.

In his remarks, the pope praised the “openness and hospitality” shown him by the Spanish people and said the preservation of their rich spiritual heritage was a sign of their love for their nation and its history and culture.

He said the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela unites thousands of diverse Europeans who travel the Way of St. James and discover their common roots as members of one human family.

The pope and ‘El Gordo’

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — Spanish lottery lovers have seen a sign from God, well, specifically from Pope Benedict XVI, who is visiting their country today and tomorrow.

The famed Christmas lottery, called Loteria de Navidad, has the largest cash prize payout of all the lotteries in the world.

Its first prize is dubbed “El Gordo” because it is a “fat” chunk of money. Last year’s top prize gave out $4,200,000. There are hundreds of smaller cash winnings and the drawing on Dec. 22 every year can take hours.

As I was reading one of today’s local Galician newspapers, I saw a small article about how the main lottery outlet that sells the tickets was receiving a “multitude of requests by telephone and Internet” for the numbers 61110 and 71110.

Apparently a large number of people think the dates of the pope’s visit 6/11/10 and 7/11/10 (Europeans put the day first and the month second) are mighty auspicious and want to cash in.

I checked last year’s winning numbers and the closest winners were 61112 and 71104 — not too far off.

Loving service is key to happiness, pope says in Spain

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — When societies and governments are no longer at the loving service of all people, then arrogance and exploitation risk snuffing out true human development and fulfillment, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Only by loving and serving others like Jesus did, even with the simplest of gestures, will humanity regain a sense of happiness and hope, he said during an outdoor Mass celebrated in front of the 12th century cathedral of Santiago de Compostela Nov. 6.

Some 6,000 people filled the tiny square to capacity and 200,000 more were present in the small city, lining the streets and squares, according to local authorities. The cathedral bells tolled and pilgrims cheered and screamed “Viva el papa!”

The pope’s two-day visit to Spain brought him first to one of Catholicism’s most popular and ancient pilgrimage sites, Santiago de Compostela. His second and final stop on the trip was to Barcelona, where he was to consecrate the unfinished masterpiece of Catalan Architect Antoni Gaudi, the Church of the Sagrada Familia.

On the four occasions the pope spoke Nov. 6, including to journalists aboard the papal flight from Rome, he underlined that society needs to embrace the transcendent values of religion.

For the past century, a growing belief has taken hold of Europe suggesting that God is an “antagonist and enemy” of human freedom, he said in his homily in the Plaza del Obradoiro at Compostela.

As a result, he said, human dignity is threatened because it has been stripped of its “essential values and riches” and “the weakest and poorest” in the world are marginalized and left to die.

Even Jesus knew that when the rulers of nations no longer serve the best interests of others, “there arise forms of arrogance and exploitation that leave no room for an authentic integral human promotion,” the pope said.

Christians cannot remain silent and must be “clear and valiant witness” to the Gospel, the pope said.

Yet while “we need to hear God once again under the skies of Europe,” his word must be spoken with holiness and with no ulterior motives other than to reveal God’s message of truth, the pope said.

God’s word also cannot be spoken authentically without concretely loving and serving others in all aspects of one’s daily life, he said.

The pope came as a pilgrim to a city with which he shares a symbol, the scallop shell of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the Way of St. James. The pope’s coat of arms carries the pilgrim shell as a sign of the pope’s desire to carry out the pilgrim mission of journeying in search of the truth.

To go on pilgrimage “really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God” and to open oneself up to his grace and experience conversion, he said in remarks earlier in the day inside the city’s cathedral.

The pope came to commemorate the holy year of St. James, which occurs every time the feast of St. James — July 25 — falls on a Sunday.

He took part in some of the traditional pilgrim rituals such as kneeling in prayer in the small crypt housing the apostle’s tomb, walking through the holy door and admiring the immense stone and silver-plated statue of St. James that most pilgrims embrace.

The pope also lit a large silver incense burner, called a “botafumeiro” in Galician. Nine men pulled on thick ropes attached to a pulley that made the large burner swing across the church at impressive speed.

In his talk at the cathedral, the pope emphasized that the church wants to be at the service of the human person and that in order to do that it must declare what it true, just and good.

Thousands of people, including many families, lined the six-mile route from the airport to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Many were waving small yellow and white Vatican City flags and blue and white flags representing the autonomous region of Galicia. Giant salvos of confetti were shot over the popemobile as it cruised along the main road.

The city’s excitement in welcoming the pope as a fellow pilgrim was evident as city-sponsored banners celebrated “Camino do Papa” — the Way of the Pope. People greeting the pope at the cathedral wrapped a brown pilgrim’s cloak around him.

At at airport ceremony earlier, after the pope’s plane safely landed in dense fog, he was greeted by the Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of the Asturias, Spanish cardinals and bishops, and government authorities from the local, regional and national level.

Pope Benedict said in his welcoming speech that he came to Spain “to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith.”

He said that in Barcelona he hoped to nourish the faith that for centuries nurtured countless institutions and organizations dedicated to charity, culture and education.

Human progress and development requires not just fostering people’s material wellbeing, but also upholding and protecting their moral, spiritual and social needs, he said.

On plane to Spain, pope talks about art and faith

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO SPAIN – Without the desire for truth and the search for the transcendent, art and individuals’ lives are incomplete, Pope Benedict XVI said at the start of a two-day journey to the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela and the cultural beauty of Barcelona.

When he consecrates the still incomplete architectural and artistic wonder of Barcelona’s Church of the Sagrada Familia Nov. 7, the pope will also highlight the importance of the Holy Family as a model for today’s families.

“God had his son born in a family and he calls us to build” and support the family, which is the basic and most fundamental cell of society, he said Nov. 6 in response to journalists’ questions aboard the papal plane.

The church dedicated to the Holy Family brings to light “the problem of the family and the (need for the) renewal of the family,” which are major concerns still today, he said.

The Holy Family of Nazareth “shows us where we can go both in building society” and in reuniting faith and religion with society, he said.

The pope said the church of the Sagrada Familia, designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi and begun in 1882, is a splendid example of the natural synthesis of tradition and novelty as well as of faith and art.

Humanity’s search for truth and beauty finds its expression in art, he said. “We need beauty,” he said.

For centuries the church served as “the mother of art,” generating countless paintings, musical compositions, and other priceless works handed down to generations today, he said.

But today there is “a certain dissonance” between the world of art and religion, he said, and “this hurts both art and faith.”

Art that is no longer rooted in the transcendent “would be an art that is incomplete,” he said.

Art and faith need to be brought back together again and be in dialogue, he said, because truth is expressed in beauty and in beauty one finds the truth.

“Therefore, where there is truth, beauty must emerge,” he said.

Civil society also needs to be open to the transcendent and Christian values, he said.

In Spain, he said, the trend toward “anticlericalism and secularism” was especially marked in the 1930s, which created “a clash between society and faith that also exists today.”

He said faith and society must come together, not be wedged apart.

Pope Benedict said a major theme of the trip is that of pilgrimage, which he said was an important element of his life and pontificate. His coat of arms details the shell which symbolizes the pilgrim’s journey to Santiago de Compostela, where tradition holds St. James the Greater is buried.

Life is both an inner journey of deepening one’s faith every day and an outward search for God in other people, he said.

When embarking on an actual pilgrimage to another place, “one transcends oneself, transcends the everyday world and in that way one also finds a new freedom,” he said.

Through pilgrimage, one discovers an inner peace and in making the journey with others, discovers the common bond that unites all humanity and learns to see God in the face of the other, he said.

Hurricane’s impact not as great as first feared in Haiti quake zone

An earthquake survivor looks at the rain in the early morning in a provisional camp in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 5. (CNS/Reuters)

Hurricane Tomas seems to have spared much of the area in Haiti most devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake from serious damage and major flooding as of mid-afternoon Friday.

The sun was shining over the capital of Port-au-Prince even though hundreds of thousands of people remaining in hundreds of tattered tent camps are wet and muddy.

Scott Campbell, country director Catholic Relief Services in Haiti, reported that the rain was intermittent overnight and into this morning and was not nearly as bad as first feared, according to Robyn Fieser, the agency’s regional information officer based in neighboring Dominican Republic.

Relief teams were assessing damage in the Grand Anse and South departments on the southern peninsula, which absorbed the worst of the storm.

Fieser told Catholic News Service that some coastal homes were flooded in the communities of Les Irois and Anse d’Hainault in westernmost Haiti.

“Right now the teams in the south are trying to get a sense of how many people are in temporary shelters and where, and will be providing support depending on what they find in the next 24 hours,” she wrote in a mid-afternoon e-mail.

Haiti isn’t totally free of the storm’s wrath yet. Hurricane warnings remained posted in the afternoon as winds and rains continued over much of the country.

Concerns also remain that swollen rivers, creeks and tributaries may carry cholera from the Artibonite Department, north of Port-au-Prince, to other parts of the country.

Forbes puts pope in top 10 most powerful people

VATICAN CITY — Forbes magazine doesn’t mind searching far and wide for compiling its roundup of the world’s most powerful men and women.

Pope Benedict XVI is seen with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during a meeting at the Vatican 2007. Forbes magazine ranked Putin and the pope the 4th and 5th most powerful people in the world. ( CNS photo/Andrew Medichini, Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI made #5, behind Chinese President Hu Jintao, U.S. President Barack Obama, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Last year, the pope placed 11th on the list, right behind Bill Gates III.

Forbes cast a wide enough net this year to include people who use their power for unjust and immoral ends like Osama bin Laden, who made #57, and, at  #60, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, which is the largest cocaine supplier to the U.S.

Here’s the magazine’s rationale for how and why they chose who they did.

Faith-based groups asks administration for more aggressive response to home foreclosure crisis

(CNS photo by Reuters)

Forty representatives of a nationwide coalition of faith-based community organizations asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Nov. 3 to step up efforts to end the home foreclosure crisis.

Under the PICO National Network banner, the group told Geithner that the Obama administration’s strategy on foreclosures was not working and that a bolder approach to rein in banking and mortgage company foreclosure practices was necessary to end the stream of homeowners being forced out of their homes.

Their concerns were aired just days after RealtyTrac reported 930,437 foreclosure actions nationwide during the third quarter of 2010. That represents a 3.9 percent increase from the previous quarter, but a 0.8 percent decline from the same period in 2009.

Ideally, the group wants to see a freeze on foreclosures until an investigation into the foreclosure process is concluded, said Gina Gates, a parishioner at Most Holy Trinity Church in San Jose, Calif., who was among those at the meeting.

“From my perspective, I think he heard what we said and (he) said what we suggested was smart and was reasonable and that he would go back and check it out,” Gates told Catholic News Service.

The parish got involved because it tracked a high amount of foreclosures in San Jose’s working-class neighborhoods where Latino, Filipino and Vietnamese families live, Gates said.

The group also wants to see the administration appoint a senior-level official to lead the administration’s efforts to fix the housing crisis; adopt an aggressive strategy that promotes the reduction of principal for homes whose mortgages are “underwater”; hold mortgage services accountable for compliance with Home Affordable Modification Program, which is designed to slow, if not stop, the hemorrhage of foreclosures; and require banks to help homeowners who are unemployed and in danger of losing their homes.

Leaving Treasury, the group headed to the White House to deliver the same message to presidential aides.

In San Jose, Most Holy Trinity parishioners were instrumental in a recent campaign as part of the interfaith grass-roots organization People Acting in Community Together to convince San Jose city officials to divert nearly $1 billion from Bank of America into other investments because the bank was unwilling to modify loans to prevent foreclosures.

Bank of America has denied any violation of federal guidelines on forecloses.

The success of People Acting in Community Together has prompted other community groups across the country to look at how similar campaigns might work in their towns, Gates said.

Catholic colleges join water bottle ban

CNS photo from Reuters

Water may be everywhere but these days it’s not in plastic bottled form at Seattle University or the University of Portland.

The two Catholic universities joined a group of eight colleges that have banned the sale of plastic water bottles on campus according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Jesuit-run Seattle University just got on board in September– after a three-year campaign — and Portland University, affiliated with the Congregation of  Holy Cross, began its ban back in February.

Both schools were tapping in — so to speak — on nationwide campaigns to educate consumers on the environmental costs of bottled water and urge people to use free public tap water.

The West Coast colleges focused on ending the sale of bottled water at school cafeterias, concession stands and vending machines. They installed bottle fillers at water fountains around campus and encouraged students to carry reusable water bottles.

Seattle University is selling steel water bottles to students at a discount. Proceeds from the sales will be used to install water treatment systems at medical clinics in Haiti, where less than half of the population has access to clean water. A university statement says every bottle sold will help four Haitians drink clean water for 10 years.

The switch is also economical. According to officials at Seattle University, tap water costs half a penny per gallon, while a 20-ounce bottle of water costs $1.50 from a university vending machine, or about $9.60 a gallon — making it almost 2,000 times more expensive. The ban also will help the school reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since oil is used to make, deliver and dispose of water bottles.

Holy Cross Father William Beauchamp, president of  University of Portland, said the plastic water bottle ban also has another aim — to “help focus attention on the critical issues of sustainability and water rights.”

A university statement said the decision not to buy or sell plastic water bottles also fits into the Catholic belief that “water cannot be treated as a commodity and that access to water is a universal and inalienable right.”

A new survey that isn’t about today’s elections

How about a survey on Americans’ perspectives that has nothing to do with today’s midterm elections?

(CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

This one is about people’s views on “love, forgiveness and a connection to the global community.” A majority of Americans “express a near-universal desire for a more loving and unified world,” according to the results of a survey commissioned by the Fetzer Institute and conducted online. There were 1,000 respondents, ages 18 and older. The institute describes its mission as engaging “with people and projects around the world to help bring the power of love, forgiveness and compassion to the center of individual and community life.”

Sixty-eight percent of  respondents said they “recognize a need for more meaningful love and forgiveness”  in their own lives; 89 percent say this is greatly needed in their communities; 95 percent in the nation; and 95 percent in the world. The survey also indicated the U.S. is becoming a more spiritual country: 67 percent of the respondents described themselves as spiritual; 60 percent said they are more spiritual today than they were five years ago.

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