Text of papal address to U.S. bishops on secularism, religious freedom

UPDATE: Story: Pope warns of threat to freedom of religion, conscience in US

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In an unusually strong speech to visiting U.S. bishops this morning in Rome, Pope Benedict warned that militant secularism threatens the core values of American culture, including religious freedom, and he called on the church in America to render “public moral witness” on the great issues of the day. Here is the text of the pope’s speech:

Dear Brother Bishops,

I greet all of you with fraternal affection and I pray that this pilgrimage of spiritual renewal and deepened communion will confirm you in faith and commitment to your task as Pastors of the Church in the United States of America. As you know, it is my intention in the course of this year to reflect with you on some of the spiritual and cultural challenges of the new evangelization.

One of the most memorable aspects of my Pastoral Visit to the United States was the opportunity it afforded me to reflect on America’s historical experience of religious freedom, and specifically the relationship between religion and culture. At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such. Continue reading

Getting their game on for peace tonight

The men’s basketball matchup of Villanova University against Seton Hall University scheduled for tonight has another angle to it. The Catholic universities partnered with Catholic Relief Services in “Playing for Peace,” giving the game the added impetus of drawing attention to  violence, hunger, displacement and human suffering in Sudan. (Update: Villanova beat Seton Hall 84-76.)

As part of this initiative, CRS is providing the coaching staff of both teams with special ribbons to wear during the game. The universities also designed shooting shirts for players to wear during pre-game warm-ups and halftime. Fact sheets about conditions in Sudan are to be distributed to fans as they arrived and Augustinian Father Peter Donohue, president of Villanova, plans to speak about the situation in a halftime address.

Malual Deng-Duot, a Sudanese “lost boy” who graduated from Villanova last year, was planning to attend the game along with other “lost boys” from Philadelphia.  The men were driven from their tribal villages and separated from their parents during the height of their country’s civil war.

In anticipation of the 2011 Sudanese referendum vote, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and CRS launched the Campaign for Peace in Sudan initiative to raise awareness, advocacy and prayers for the people of Sudan. The Villanova University community actively participated in the campaign. Despite a peaceful vote that resulted in South Sudan seceding to become the world’s newest nation, peace and stability in all of Sudan remain at a critical juncture. Political tensions and allegations of attacks on civilians are occurring in the disputed border areas daily.

Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations at CRS, said the relief organization saw the shared Catholic mission of these Catholic universities “as an opportunity to use the power of their voice and their resources to advocate for and give continued support to peace in Sudan.”

Obama’s decision on oil pipeline welcomed by faith-based groups, environmentalists — for now

Actress Daryl Hannah joins August protest in front of White House against proposed pipeline. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Faith-based groups welcomed this afternoon’s White House announcement that President Barack Obama would deny a crucial permit for a 1,700 mile pipeline (1,400 miles in the U.S.) to carry oil from the tar sands of icy Alberta through sensitive U.S. lands to Gulf Coast refineries.

But they also don’t expect the Keystone XL project to suddenly come to an end.

The pipeline has been opposed by social justice advocates, indigenous communities, farmers and environmentalists. They are concerned that mining oil found in sandy soil under Canada’s arboreal forest would hasten climate change by pouring massive amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. They also fear a massive leak would endanger a Midwest aquifer supplying water to 2 million people.

“The battle is not over yet,” said Kathy McNeely, interim director of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns. “It’s just feels like this really important decision about the heartland of America is a political game right now, especially since the consequences are so high and it’s such a huge threat to the earth as we know it in the Midwest.”

Franciscan Father Jacek Orzechowski, parochial vicar at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., who represents the Franciscan Action Network, cautiously welcomed the announcement. He was one of more than 1,200 people arrested in a series of daily nonviolent protests at the White House near the end of last summer.

“We applaud the administration for standing up to the narrow corporate big oil interests and for doing the right thing for America,” he said. “I think this is a moral victory that advances the cause of justice, respect for life and the common good of all God’s creation.”

Also supporting the move was the Columban Fathers’ Center for Advocacy and Outreach.

Obama’s decision comes less than a month after legislation extending the middle class tax cuts was approved by Congress after a lengthy end-of-the-year battle. The law included a 60-day deadline for a decision from the administration.

In a statement released today at the White House, Obama said the “arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment” of the pipeline’s health, safety and environmental impact.

Obama and the State Department, which has jurisdiction for the permit process because the project crosses an international border, left open the possibility that the pipeline could still be pursued.

TransCanada had no immediate response to the decision.

As proposed, the pipeline would carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil daily from icy Hardesty, Alberta, to U.S. refineries. Nearly 1,400 miles of the pipeline would be built in the United States from Montana to Texas. TransCanada has said the project would create as many as 20,000 jobs. Union leaders have supported the project in a time when jobs are needed and the need by the U.S. for more dependable energy sources grows.

Opponents say the projection overstates the economic impact of the pipeline in largely rural areas.

Rev. King’s message of action, service remembered today

Sculpture of Rev. King at memorial in Washington. (CNS photo/ Bob Roller)

What the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “was talking and preaching about to us … is so relevant now. It’s what we as a people are fighting for now, as far as justice, peace and equality,” said Nova Nelson. She made the comments last October at the dedication of a new memorial to the slain civil rights leader in the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington. Today especially, the memorial is a focal point for celebrating  Rev. King’s life and legacy. Nelson — director of the Washington Archdiocese’s Mass Choir who also directs the gospel ensemble and children’s choir at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Washington — sang the national anthem at the dedication. She later noted in an interview with the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, that Rev. King drew his strength from his faith. That’s an example for all those who want to carry forth his work and message today, she said.  “No matter how much he was hated or rejected, he kept going because he believed in God and believed God would make a way, and he wasn’t afraid. He had to keep pushing for what God wanted him to do. Sometimes, we get doors closed in our faces. We have to keep pushing, knowing God is walking with us every step of the way.”

17th-century Catholic bishop who was geologist makes news

The first Google doodle of 2012 was a tribute to Bishop Nicolaus Steno on his 374th birthday, Jan. 11. The bishop was a Danish anatomist and geologist famous for his “principle of original horizontality,” or the theory that layers of rock are formed horizontally — hence the rock-layer image for the Google doodle.

Google doodles — the changes made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries and the lives of famous artists, pioneers and scientists — typically draw attention to known and unknown figures. To date the Google team, according to their site, has created more than 1,000 doodles.

Often the doodles generate their own news stories, and this image was no exception. A story in the Christian Science Monitor points out that the bishop’s legacy, “like the mysterious stones that he examined, has since been obscured by layers of historical sediment.”

The bishop, known in Denmark as Bishop Niels Stensen, was born in 1638 and beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. He is considered the founder of modern geology who also made notable discoveries in anatomy before he joined the Catholic Church and became a priest. He also formulated Steno’s law, which deals with the relationship of angles on the faces of crystals.

He not only studied rocks and fossils extensively but he also discovered that the heart is a muscle that pumps blood and that tears are formed in the eye.

A story in the Los Angeles Times blog about the doodle described the bishop as a 17th-century mythbuster who “threw it all over for God” when he became Catholic in 1667, a priest in 1675 and a bishop in 1677.

The next day the Times blog posted comments by readers who disagreed that science took a back seat to the bishop’s religion.

Readers noted that the bishop, who died in 1686 at the age of 48, continued his pursuit of science after becoming a priest by studying the brain and the nervous system.

Haiti recovery moves slowly two years after quake

Workers clean up a camp which housed people displaced by the January 12, 2010 earthquake for almost two years, in Port-au-Prince January 10, 2012. (CNS/Reuters)

Today marks two years since a powerful earthquake rocked the poor nation of Haiti. More than 316,000 people died; an estimated 500,000 people — a third of the original 1.5 million people left homeless — remain in tattered shelters in hundreds of settlements in and around the capital of Port-au-Prince.

While a sizable amount of rubble from collapsed buildings has been removed, the capital still bears signs of the destruction with structures askew and little reconstruction in place. The collapsed National Palace, which housed the offices of the president, still sits silently across from Champs de Mars Park, where 20,000 people remain camped. The scene serves as a stark reminder of the perilous struggle Haiti faces.

Aid workers and other observers find any progress distressingly slow. About $2.4 billion of the $4.5 billion pledged by the world’s governments meeting in New York two months after the quake has been received, the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti reported. Even less actually has been spent.

Only four of the 10 largest construction projects -– from a $200 million wastewater treatment plant to a $224 million industrial park that is expected to add 65,000 garment worker jobs –- have broken ground. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission coordinating the distribution of funds from overseas donors has an uncertain future after its 18-month mandate ended in October because opposition Haitian lawmakers failed to act to renew the mandate for another year. Without the commission, work on future projects was halted.

Since the earthquake Haiti has encountered numerous challenges as it tries to recover. A tumultuous political battle in late 2010 and 2011 delayed the installation of a new president. When Michel Martelly finally took office in May, he was unable to move forward on his agenda for months until the Haitian Parliament approved his choice — the third — for prime minister.

In the mean time, cholera spread to every corner of the country, leading aid workers to shift gears during periodic spikes of the disease from earthquake recovery to emergency health care. In the 15 months since the disease erupted, more than 522,000 people have contracted the disease leading to more than 7,000 deaths, statistics from the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population show.

The optimistic promise to “build back Haiti better” seems far from assured.

But Prime Minister Garry Conille remains optimistic. On Monday he told Parliament that 2012 would be a “year of construction” as he announced plans to enroll 1 million children in school, improve health care and plant trees to reverse erosion caused by deforestation.

Private programs encompassing small rebuilding efforts have moved forward, even if somewhat slowly. One, the Program for the Reconstruction of the Church in Haiti, or PROCHE, which means “close by” in French, is administering $33 million contributed by American Catholics designated for reconstruction. The effort was crafted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services in cooperation with the Haitian Catholic Church to help rebuild the 70 parishes destroyed in the quake. The first projects are under way.

CRS also has coordinated the rebuilding of St. Francis de Sales Hospital in the center of Port-au-Prince. A new 200-bed hospital is under construction at the site where 70 people died.

Certainly, rebuilding -– or even building for the first time –- requires a strong and lasting commitment from the world. Will the world -– and more importantly, Haiti –- have the patience to see it through?

Mass in Rome memorializes Cardinal John Foley

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

ROME — Thirty days after the death of our friend Cardinal John P. Foley, his successor as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications celebrated Mass in his memory, recalling the late American prelate as a “man of God who became a man of communication.”

Archbishop Claudio Celli gives the homily during a Mass in memory of Cardinal John P. Foley in Rome Jan. 11. Cardinal Foley, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications for more than two decades, died Dec. 11 after a battle with leukemia. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Claudio M. Celli offered the traditional trigesimo Mass for Cardinal Foley at Rome’s Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, only a few blocks from St. Peter’s Square. Among his concelebrants were Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the council, and Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office. Among those attending the Mass were Marian Diaz, wife of the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and numerous members of the Vatican press corps.

In his homily, Archbishop Celli recalled the late cardinal’s last visit to the council’s offices early in 2011, shortly before he left Rome for his native Philadelphia for good. Weakened by the leukemia that would ultimately kill him, Cardinal Foley nevertheless showed his usual humor, referring to a bottle of Coca-Cola as American champagne.

In that meeting, Archbishop Celli said, the late cardinal acted in the role of teacher to his former colleagues, demonstrating how “suffering has at its disposal modes of expression that not even all the new (information) technology can ever match.”

“He had come to give us the last, most important lesson,” the archbishop said, “giving his best, as a communicator of course, but all the more so as a witness and faithful servant of the Word.”

Archbishop Celli paid tribute to Cardinal Foley’s civility: “He had the tone of one who, in confrontation, saw neither enemies nor adversaries” but people to whom he could show, “through an always cordial welcome, the benevolence of the Lord.”

Cardinal Foley (CNS/Bob Roller)

The archbishop recalled some of the highlights of Cardinal Foley’s career, including his stint at The Catholic Standard and Times in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and of course his 23 years at the council, where he led the Vatican into the Internet age and presided over the publication of studies on key issues in contemporary communications, including online pornography.

Visibly moved, Archbishop Celli concluded his homily by thanking God for “this wise and generous pastor who bore witness, up to the very end, to how the essence of communication may be translated into a true and authentic reality of communion.”