Pope will go to Croatia

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, confirmed reports that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted an invitation by the Croatian government and the church to visit the Balkan nation.

Priests pray around the glass sarcophagus of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac in the cathedral of Zagreb. (file photo Oct. 1998)

Priests pray around the glass sarcophagus of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac in the cathedral of Zagreb. (file photo Oct. 1998)

Although there are no set dates, it’s expected he will travel to the capital, Zagreb, sometime in the spring.

He will also visit the tomb of Blessed Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac.

The cardinal served as archbishop of Zagreb and metropolitan of Croatia during both World War II and Marshal Tito’s term of dictatorship.

He strongly opposed the communist regime and was convicted in 1946 by the Yugoslavian communist government on charges he was a Nazi supporter. He died in 1960 while under house arrest. Those charges have been consistently denied by Croatian Catholics.

The church has said the cardinal was persecuted because he refused to break the Yugoslavian church’s allegiance to the Vatican by setting up a national Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul II declared him a martyr and beatified him in 1998.

B16, Row 1, St. Peter’s Basilica

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI had just walked by when I saw some of his fans in St. Peter’s Basilica for the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

B16 fans enjoy the moment after seeing the pontiff. (CNS/Paul Haring)

This was in the people’s section of the basilica, an area for ardent fans, (who know where the pope will arrive), but also for those with no expectations of seeing the pontiff.

In the people's section, you can be yourself. This boy was blessed last year. (CNS/Paul Haring)

It’s an area where you can wear your heart on your sleeve and the pope just might reach out to you. It’s OK to wear a red T-shirt saying, “Catholic Est. 0033,” or other Catholic fan apparel.

A young fan sports his Benedict jersey last Sunday. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The scene in the people’s section reminded me of attending Sunday Mass in Pittsburgh on game day. Many people wear their yellow and black Steelers jerseys to Mass as they prepare for the big game. Similarly, what better way to show your affection for the pontiff than by wearing a “Benedict 16” jersey?

Miners’ rescue shows the real Chile

Last miner rescued stands by Chilean president. (CNS photo from Reuters)

Arturo Fermandois, Chilean ambassador to the United States, said he used to have a hard time finding concrete examples to explain the Chilean spirit.

Not anymore.

Five days after the Oct. 13 rescue of the 33 trapped miners he told The Catholic Standard that it is now easy to explain to the world: “This is Chile.”

The ambassador said the miners were able to stay alive by their practicality and by maintaining the “spirit and faith which were centrally and critically important for reaching the end.”

“Because you know if they were defeated by a lack of hope, we would not have found them alive,” he added.

The ambassador said the miners may not all have been active believers but “some of them, who were not as deeply involved in faith, began to pray and began to think about God” while they were trapped.

During the whole ordeal, there was a large outpouring of support for the miners from the Chilean community in the Washington area.

On Oct. 12, the embassy set up a large TV screen outside to broadcast the rescue. Several hundred people spontaneously showed up to watch and wait for the miners to emerge above ground.

When the first miner was rescued, Fermandois said, “There was an explosion of emotions, explosion of happiness, explosion of unity as I’ve never seen in my life!”

After their rescue, the miners were admitted to the hospital for health checkups and released a couple of days later. Some of them returned to the site of the mine for a Mass of thanksgiving Oct. 17. In recent weeks the men have been besieged by media with requests for interviews. In November Discovery Channel and PBS plan to air documentaries about their remarkable rescue.

Next synod theme: New evangelization

Pope Benedict XVI at the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict announced today that he’s chosen “new evangelization” as the theme for the next world Synod of Bishops in 2012.

The pope said the topic reflects a need to re-evangelize in countries where Christian faith and practice have declined, and where people “have even moved away from the church.”

The pope made the announcement at the end of his homily at the closing Mass for the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which focused on the pastoral challenges of the region. He said that in this synod, too, bishops spoke of the “need to offer the Gospel anew to people who do not know it very well.”

“What was often evoked was the need for a new evangelization for the Middle East as well. This was quite a widespread theme, especially in the countries where Christianity has ancient roots,” he said.

The pope said he chose the next synod topic, “The new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith,” after consulting with the world’s episcopate. He recently created the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, and has made re-evangelizing a main theme of his pontificate.

In his homily, the pope also touched on the sensitive subject of religious freedom in the Middle East, especially in predominantly Muslim societies:

Another contribution that Christians can bring to society is the promotion of an authentic freedom of religion and conscience, one of the fundamental human rights that each state should always respect. In numerous countries of the Middle East there exists freedom of belief, while the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited. Increasing this space of freedom becomes essential to guarantee to all the members of the various religious communities the true freedom to live and profess their faith. This topic could become the subject of dialogue between Christians and Muslims, a dialogue whose urgency and usefulness was reiterated by the synodal fathers.

The pope made a plea for peace in the region, saying it was the best way to stop Christian emigration:

Conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for too long in the Middle East. Peace, which is a gift of God, is also the result of the efforts of men of goodwill, of the national and international institutions, in particular of the states most involved in the search for a solution to conflicts. We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the indispensable condition for a life of dignity for human beings and society. Peace is also the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East.

The synod’s final message

Prelates at the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East released a “Message to the People of God” today, a 10-page text that drew together the main points of the two-week assembly.

The bishops said they had come to Rome “carrying in our hearts the concerns of our people.” They said the synod was a “new Pentecost” for participants, who would return home “full of hope, strength and resolution” to live unity in their Catholic communities and witness the Gospel in public life.

Here are some excerpts from the message, which was released in four languages, including Arabic.

On the challenges facing the church:

We are now at a turning point in our history: The God who has given us the faith in our Eastern lands 2,000 years ago, calls us today to persevere with courage, strength and steadfastness in bearing the message of Christ and witnessing to his Gospel, the Gospel of love and peace.

Today, we face many challenges. The first comes from within ourselves and our Churches. We are asked by Christ to accept our faith and to apply it to all situations in our lives. What he asks from our Churches is to strengthen the communion within every Church sui iuris and that of the Catholic Churches of various traditions, and to exert every effort in prayer and charitable acts in order to attain the full unity of all Christians so as to fulfil the prayer of Christ: “that they may all be one.”

The second challenge comes from the outside, namely, political conditions, security in our countries and religious pluralism.

The message commented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict several times, as well as the suffering of Iraqi Christians, and appealed to the international community for help:

The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the Security Council’s resolutions and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.

The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security. The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders. The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-State-solution might become a reality and not a dream only.

Iraq will be able to put an end to the consequences of its deadly war and re-establish a secure way of life which will protect all its citizens with all their social structures, both religious and national.

Lebanon will be able to enjoy sovereignty over its entire territory, strengthen its national unity and carry on in its vocation to be the model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims, of dialogue between different cultures and religions, and of the promotion of basic public freedoms.

We condemn violence and terrorism from wherever it may proceed as well as all religious extremism. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia and we call upon the religions to assume their responsibility to promote dialogue between cultures and civilisations in our region and in the entire world.

The message said the church’s dialogue with Jews was important, not only on a theological level:

We hope that this dialogue can bring us to work together to press those in authority to put and end to the political conflict which results in separating us and disrupting everyday life in our countries.

It is time for us to commit ourselves together to a sincere, just and permanent peace…. Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable.

On dialogue with Muslims, the message avoided overt criticism:

We say to our Muslim fellow-citizens: we are brothers and sisters; God wishes us to be together, united by one faith in God and by the dual commandment of love of God and neighbour. Together we will construct our civil societies on the basis of citizenship, religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Together we will work for the promotion of justice, peace, the rights of persons and the values of life and of the family. The construction of our countries is our common responsibility.

The message also asked Christians who have left the Middle East not to forget their homeland:

Look at your goods and your properties in your home country; do not abandon and sell them too quickly. Keep them as your patrimony and as a piece of the homeland to which you remain attached, a homeland which you love and support. The land is part of a person’s identity and his mission. It is a vital aspect of the lives of those who remain there and for those who one day will return there.

Synod crunch time: amending final proposals

(CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East has hit the crunch point.

This morning, the 185 voting members were given the first draft of the “propositions” in Arabic, French, English and Italian. The final proposals will be given to Pope Benedict XVI as suggestions for use in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation. 

There are 41 different proposals in the first draft; they are the result of a multilingual committee sifting through and consolidating the 194 propositions submitted by the small working groups. 

The fact that the committee worked until 2 a.m. on putting the list together and translating each proposal means they have to be forgiven for missing a few things — even if they’re big things — said Maronite Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayah of Haifa, Israel. 

Winnowing through 194 ideas submitted in either French, Arabic or English and translating them all into four languages overnight is a great achievement, “so we can be lenient,” the archbishop said. 

The first thing his small group did this morning, he said, was list the items that inadvertently got left out. Surprisingly, because so many synod members mentioned them as essential to the church’s work and mission, Catholic schools were not the topic of one of the 41 draft proposals. Also missing, he said, were references to young people and youth ministry, to laity in general and to the social work and medical care offered by the church in the region. 

The bishops are back in their small groups working on amendments to the 41 proposals. They are scheduled to vote Saturday on the final version to give to Pope Benedict. 

Then the real work begins, Archbishop Sayah told reporters at a briefing today. “Ultimately what matters is what we bring to our people and how it impacts their lives day to day.”

Thirteen killed, hundreds homeless in Haiti flooding

Floods brought on by three days of heavy rain have claimed 13 lives and left the more than 1 million people living in tent camps since the Jan. 12 earthquake struggling to shore up their makeshift shelters.

The unexpected storms caused the greatest damage in the capital of Port-au-Prince and the towns of Leogane and Carrefour west of the city, near the quake’s epicenter.

Several people were swept away in landslides and flash floods in the coastal mountainous areas.

Niek de Goeij, head of the community resettlement program for Catholic Relief Services in Haiti, told Catholic News Service that this week’s storms were the most recent “act of God” that earthquake victims had to face. “It’s more of the same,” he said.

Two of the transitional shelters constructed by the agency in Carrefour, about 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince, were destroyed, but families living in more than 100 others escaped unharmed.

Further west in Leogane, the United Nations said at least 4,000 people were forced from their homes. Potable water, food and hygiene kits were most in need.

Scattered thunderstorms were expected today and tomorrow, mostly over Haiti’s southern peninsula.

Despite the regular downpours, earthquake-battered Haiti has escaped largely unscathed during this year’s hurricane season, which runs June 1-Dec. 1. No tropical storms have hit the country yet this season, but the country has had two other bouts with severe thunderstorms and flooding since Sept. 24. About 20 people were killed in those storms.

In anticipation of the hurricane season, agencies such as CRS have hired hundreds of Haitians to clean drainage canals and ditches of trash and debris to prevent more extensive flooding.