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A sign of hope; Christmas tree illuminates St. Peter’s Square

Vatican City, Dec 19, 2014 / 05:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 83-foot Italian tree in St. Peter’s Square was lit for the first time this season at the unveiling of the Vatican’s nativity scene, which Pope Francis called a sign of “light, hope and love” for the world.

The nativity scene and the Christmas tree “are an invitation to unity, harmony and peace; an invitation to make room, in our personal and social life, for God,” the Pope said in a Dec. 19 audience with delegates of the Italian regions who donated the decorations.

In the birth of Jesus we see that God “does not come with arrogance, imposing His power, but instead offers His omnipotent love through the fragile figure of a Child. The creche and the tree therefore bring a message of light, hope and love,” he said.

Donated to the Vatican by the southern Italian region of Calabria, where Pope Francis visited in June, this year’s tree is 70 years old, stands 83.6 feet tall and weighs 8 tons.

It was lit for the first time this season during a special “Lighting Ceremony” held in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 19.

A unique characteristic of the tree is the fact that it has what is called a “twin trunk,” in which two separate trunks have been fused together into one. It is a symbolic feature, and is often used to show that man is never alone on his journey, but is always accompanied by the Lord.

The scene, entitled “The Nativity scene in Opera,” contains figures that were donated by the “Verona for the Arena” foundation, and draw their inspiration from famous opera productions staged in the Verona Opera Arena, particularly Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera “The Elixir of Love.”

With the emphasis on opera, the Nativity’s title and design are meant to be a play on the two meanings of the Italian word “opera,” which can refer to either a theater production or the verb “to work.”

Given this background, the “Nativity scene in Opera” is also meant to emphasize the work that God did through the birth of his son, Jesus Christ.

In his audience with representatives of the regions who donated the Nativity and the tree, Pope Francis praised them for “enriching” their culture with literature, art and music, saying that they are a valuable heritage for future generations.

“The Nativity and the Christmas tree are evocative festive symbols very dear to our Christian families,” he said, noting how they remind us of Christ’s incarnation, who was made flesh in order to save us, as well as the light Jesus brings to the world through his birth.

They are symbols that touch the hearts of all, he said, through their message of fraternity, intimacy and friendship.

But they also serve as a calling “(for the) people of our time to rediscover the beauty of simplicity, sharing and solidarity,” the Roman Pontiff observed, saying that the tree and the Nativity are an invitation to create peace and harmony by allowing God to enter into our lives.

He recalled how Jesus, as the Messiah, became man and lived among us in order to cast out the darkness of sin and error, and to bring his own divine light to humanity.

“Jesus Himself says of Himself: ‘I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life,’” the pontiff said, and encouraged all to follow him, and to bring his light to others.

“Let us follow Him, the true light, so as not to lose our way and in turn to reflect light and warmth on those who go through moments of difficulty and inner darkness.”

Fr Lombardi’s ‘Ten Commandments’ for Catholic communications

Rome, Italy, Dec 19, 2014 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- “To communicate is to unify” is the first of the “Ten Words of Communication” that Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, described in a lecture given Nov. 24 at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome.

Fr. Federico Lombardi was given an ‘honoris causa’ degree in social communication from the university, and in the lecture he held at ceremony he traced with passion the 25 years he has spent working in the Church’s communications, summing up all the teaching he had learned in Ten Commandments, which he called ‘Ten Messages.”

“There are people who think that conflict must be fed in order to make communication more dynamic. Let me stress that I am radically against this view; I hate and refuse this kind of communication. And this truly comes from my heart,” Fr. Lombardi said.

The first message is “communicating to unify,” and it is built on the background of the personal experience of Fr. Lombardi, who was appointed director of Vatican Radio in 1991, “on the day when the first bombs of the First Gulf War were lobbed.”

Fr. Lombardi confessed he was unaware of what to do, but that he soon learned that his job “was not so difficult,” since Vatican Radio is the “Pope’s Radio … and the Pope was not silent about what was going on in the world.”

Commitment to peace is crucial for the communication of Vatican Radio, according to Fr. Lombardi.
“Peace. Talking about peace. Continually and insistently. How many times during these years the Popes have patiently and constantly guided us in speaking of peace!”

Fr. Lombardi’s second message is “to understand and preserve the value of the variety of cultures.” He recounted how after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a proposal to close the Eastern Languages section of Vatican Radio, since the Eastern Churches no longer needed such great support.

He was totally against the idea, he said, since “communication for the Church and for persons must accompany their life and historical situation, interpret their expectations and needs. If you really love people, you continue walking with them.”

This message is linked to the third, which “deals with focusing on minorities and on poor regions, which lack technical and economic possibilities.”

His Fourth Word regards transparency: “If your conscience is clear and you are objectively looking for truth, you can endure any situation.”

Fr. Lombardi’s Fifth Message is that “serving the Church and a beloved Pope can provide the needed motivation to achieve together – I insist, together, as a community – great enterprises, even in communication.”

He reflected on his experience covering the last year of St. John Paul II’s life, and the subsequent conclave of 2005.

The positive outcomes of the coverage let him understand that “if well prepared and motivated, everyone can produce great things,” considering that “we are talking about people, not about numbers, (but) about human resources.”

This communication enterprise included filming and covering the last acts of St. John Paul II in his sickness, and his suffering.

“I am absolutely convinced that it would not have been possible to cover with a camera and transmit to the world the image of the suffering Pope, with truth, discretion and respect, all at once, if the camera and the transmission had not been directed by a profound love for the person filmed,” Fr. Lombardi stressed.

And he concluded that “to understand and fully communicate the deepest message of one person, we should love him, love him very much” – this is the Sixth Message.

Fr. Lombardi then spoke about his experience as director of the Holy See press office, and of how much his work had been tried, especially in the cases of the clergy sex abuse scandal and of Vatican finances.

On the side of sex abuse scandal, Fr. Lombardi reminded that “Benedict XVI had spoken several times about the path of purification of the Church regarding these horrible signs of the presence of evil within herself.”

“Being on the frontline as a communicator permits and requires one to be involved in a very deep way in this path, and to take part in it trying to pay with your own personal suffering a little contribution to the huge price the Church has to pay off it,” Fr. Lombardi confessed.

And he stressed that the Seventh Message is “being ready, in solidarity with the community of the Church, to pay the often painful price of growing up in truth.”

On the finances side, Fr. Lombardi recounted how the communication strategy developed, also thanks to an external communication firm specialized in that kind of communication, because “it is right to observe that the press office, with the current resources, is not able to manage by itself the communication of technically complex issues and needs to continually integrate its service.”

Fr. Lombardi takes from the financial issue the Eight Message: “We must consider normal being able to honestly account of the administrative and juridical issues of our institutions. This is part of the Church’s credibility.”

The ninth message, then,  is that of “living and securing the specific nature of being a pilgrim Church, and reporting about it so that this may be shared, not denaturalized,” since “the mission of the Church, and communication, are strictly linked because of their nature.”

“This is what I am intensely living during this Pontificate, that was able to put into question many aspects of our life and of our work. This is my Tenth and Last Message.”

Boko Haram suspected in reported kidnapping of 200

Abuja, Nigeria, Dec 19, 2014 / 11:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nigerian gunmen suspected to be with the militant Islamist group Boko Haram reportedly killed 35 people and kidnapped about 200 young men, women and children in northeast Nigeria on Sunday.

Pope warns against sterile egoism rooted in a desire for power

Vatican City, Dec 19, 2014 / 09:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis cautioned Christians against an egoism that excludes the need for God in his homily at Mass on Friday, saying this attitude renders our lives sterile and prevents the Church from bear…

Catholic Radio bringing voice to voiceless in Uganda

Arua, Uganda, Dec 19, 2014 / 08:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A small community radio station in rural Uganda, running almost entirely on solar power, is spreading the Gospel and giving “voice to the voiceless” in regions of conflict and suffering.

Radio Pacis, located in Arua, Uganda, was recently the recipient of Eurosolar’s European Solar Prize for 2014 in the category of One World Corporation, for its promotion of solar power.

“We produce more power during the day than we need,” said Comboni missionary Fr. Tonino Pasolini in an interview with CNA, “so the power goes into the community.”

Fr. Tonino, who founded Radio Pacis in 2003, was in Rome for the award ceremony in November.

He said that, because the station is in a region with a long history of conflict and suffering under dictatorships, it has been called “Radio Pacis” – or “Radio of Peace.”

With the tagline “Peace of Christ for all,” Fr. Tonino said, “its mission is to proclaim the good news, the Good News of Jesus for the holistic development of the person and the society.”
As a community radio staffed with nearly 100 people, including a network of 75 local journalists, the team goes out into communities, sometimes hundreds of kilometers away, to explore the various issues being faced.

The local people of these communities, many located in regions of conflict or injustice, “speak out,” Fr. Tonino said. “They are courageous because they are safe with us, with our staff. They have the courage to say what they think because they feel protected by us.”

“People are amazed by this because they hear their voices, these problems which are in a given village, [and how] it’s similar to the issues of another village,” he said. They “feel really that the voice of the voiceless finally is heard.”

Reaching out to Protestants, Muslims and Catholics alike, Fr. Tonino described the station as a “missionary radio.”

“We want to portray the vision of the Second Vatican Council,” he said. “Pope Francis speaks so much about [how] we are happy to share [the faith] with everybody, and people start understanding. Even Muslims start respecting Catholics much more than they used to in the past.”

Recently, director of Vatican Radio’s English program, Sean Patrick Lovett, was part of a team which went down to Radio Pacis to teach the journalists and technicians the basics of radio broadcasting.

“The response was extraordinary,” he told CNA, “because the people were so passionate about what they do.”

At Radio Pacis, he explained, the journalists are not confined to studios and offices, but rather must “go out into the field” to “encourage people to tell their stories.”

Lovett, who himself was born in South Africa, explained that “in Africa, you still have this wonderful, oral story-telling tradition.”

“The young people, the old people, the men, the women, the children, they tell their stories.”

Vatican Radio provides some of the programming for Radio Pacis, bringing the voice of the Pope to those in the region.

For many – such as refugees from South Sudan and Congo – radio “really becomes their only connection with the world outside. A source information. A source of consolation,” Lovett said.

“Africa is immense,” he explained. “Africa is so diverse. You have the huge, thriving cities. You have the rural Hinterlands. You have the towns. You have the villages. And you have areas where electricity doesn’t reach…Very often the people don’t read or write.”

“Radio cuts across all of this. Radio doesn’t need electricity. Radio doesn’t need to be read. Radio touches the most elemental and emotional heart of the human person. It reaches places where no other media will reach. And, it touches people in a way that no other media can touch them.”

“And that is why radio will never die. In Africa, it’s growing faster than you and I can imagine.”

For priests like Fr. Tonino, who is often unable to visit many of the parishes in his community on a weekly basis, Lovett said Radio Pacis “truly becomes the connecting link: that which allows the community to feel as a community, and to be part of the Church, and linked with other communities in the area.”

Concern mounts in India over persecution of religious minorities

New Delhi, India, Dec 19, 2014 / 04:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The rise in attacks by Hindu radicals against members of minority religions in India, primarily Christians and Muslims, is drawing concern across the country, with many calling for more concre…

Vatican communications committee advances path of reforms

Vatican City, Dec 19, 2014 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican’s committee on communications has finished its third round of visits to Vatican media branches, and will likely discuss the outcomes of the visits in their next meeting, due to take place in January.

The committee has completed its rounds of visits to Vatican media branches, and also started collecting opinions and suggestions from journalists and Catholic agencies who deal often with Vatican news.

With the wish to improve the system of the delivery of news and to rationalize expenses, the members of the committe made an on-site visit to the Holy See press office Dec. 17.

According to a source who took part in the meetings, “the committee proved to be very attentive to the needs of the Holy See press office, and tried to understand how the work of the Holy See press office may be enhanced.”

“Unlike the members of the Pontifical Commission of Reference for the Economic and Administrative Structure of the Holy See/Vatican City State (known with the Italian acronym of COSEA), the committee showed that cutting expenses is not their sole desire, but that that before all else they want to find an effective way of sharing information from the Vatican,” the source maintained.

During the next meeting, in January, the members of the committee will likely discuss the outcomes of their visit, and will start analyzing in-depth the responses of communication experts and journalists on their desk.

In the offing, there is the need for a comprehensive reform of  Vatican media, with a possible unification of the three major Vatican media outlets – Vatican Radio, Vatican Television, and L’Osservatore Romano – under a single digital platform.

Until now, the Vatican outlets have depended directly on the Vatican State Secretariat, but some of the proposals for Curia reform on the desk of the members of the Council of Cardinals suggest the creation of an ‘ad hoc’ Secretariat for Communications within the Roman Curia.

The notion of the establishment of a third Secretariat has however been seemingly discarded, while the idea of putting all communications under the Pontifical Council for Social Communications remains on the table.

Kentucky priest returns to ministry after unsubstantiated abuse claim

Louisville, Ky., Dec 18, 2014 / 07:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Ronald Domhoff, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, has returned to ministry after being cleared of sexual abuse allegations.

The priest was pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Chu…

A ‘bullying’ move? UK midwife abortion ruling sparks outcry

London, England, Dec 18, 2014 / 05:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.K. Supreme Court has ruled that midwives in charge of delivery wards are not exempt from assisting in the procurement of abortions – prompting warnings that the decision will have significant consequences for medical personnel opposed to the procedure.

“Today’s decision sadly makes it likely that senior midwives who refuse to kill babies will be forced to leave the profession,” Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said Dec. 17.

“This will affect anyone who objects to abortion, of any religion or none. It will create a second-class status in midwifery for those who only deliver babies and don’t kill them,” he said.

Tully’s group helped fund the legal case of Catholic midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, who were coordinators at a labor ward at a Glasgow, Scotland hospital. They challenged the National Health Service Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board’s requirement that they delegate, supervise and support staff who were performing abortions.

The two women said a right to opt-out of providing abortions was upheld by the U.K.’s 1967 Abortion Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh in February 2012 initially ruled against them. In April 2013, appeal court judges ruled in their favor, saying “right of conscientious objection extends not only to the actual medical or surgical termination but to the whole process of treatment given for that purpose.”

However, the Supreme Court in London sided against the two midwives, BBC News reports.

Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said that Parliament, when it wrote its legal protections, did not have in mind hospital managers or administrators or “the caterers who provide the patients with food and the cleaners who provide them with a safe and hygienic environment.”

“Yet, all may be said in some way to be facilitating the carrying out of the treatment involved,” she said about Monday’s decision. In the judge’s view, “participation” in an abortion means “taking part in a ‘hands-on’ capacity.”

Doogan and Wood said they were “extremely disappointed” with the verdict, adding that they “can only imagine the subsequent detrimental consequences that will result from today’s decision on staff of conscience throughout the U.K.”

They said the ruling makes the conscience clause in practice “meaningless for senior midwives in a labor ward.”

The number of abortions at their hospital’s labor ward was “a tiny percentage of the workload” and their conscientious objections could have been accommodated “with minimal effort,” they added.

Tully warned that the ruling could particularly affect junior midwives.

“They could easily be placed in an impossible situation by pro-abortion superiors, and would be unable to receive promotion to a more senior role without fear of being required to violate their consciences,” he said.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) sided with the NHS board, saying they were “deeply concerned” about extensions of the right to conscientious objection.

Tully said that the ruling also declared that the Abortion Act’s conscience clause does not apply to general practitioners or hospital doctors who may be asked to prescribe abortion drugs.

“We anticipate that this will lead to renewed efforts by health officials to force doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion either to compromise their respect for human life or to leave the profession,” he continued, adding that the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children will “support and encourage doctors to resist any such bullying approach.”

Cuba, US: how the Holy See was behind the scene for 50 years

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2014 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The announcement that the US and Cuba will enjoy warmer relations follows more than 50 years of Vatican diplomacy, which was ramped up by St. John Paul II during his 1984 visit to nearby Puerto Rico.

The Church’s commitment for Cuba has a twofold path: on one side, the relations that bishops, especially from the US, had with Cuba, thus ‘de facto’ creating a bridge between two worlds divided by the embargo; and on the other side, the Holy See’s diplomatic effort, backed by St. John Paul II.

Cuba is the only communist nation with which the Holy See never broke off diplomatic relations. The US broke off its ties with the island in 1961, and during the October 1962 missile crisis St. John XXIII wrote to both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev to avert a war.

And the American ecclesiastical hierarchy had always been in touch with the Cuban bishops: In 1972, the US bishops’ conference backed the 1969 request by Cuban bishops to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and in 1985, American and Cuban bishops conference exchanged a visit.

During the 1980s, the Archdiocese of Boston became one of the most prominent actors in the scene of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Cardinal Bernard Law, then Archbishop of Boston, strongly supported the opportunity of a new diplomatic tie between Cuba and the U.S., and advocated against the embargo.

Cardinal Law visited Cuba in 1985 and 1989, and on both occasions he met Fidel Castro. Under Cardinal Law’s administration, the Boston Archdiocese started its own aid-plan to Cuba.

On the Vatican side, the main actor of the reapprochment between the Holy See and Cuba was Cardinal Roger Etchegaray.

Then president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Etchegaray made his first trip to Cuba in 1989, and spent nine days there, between Christmas and the New Year’s Day.

Cardinal Etchegaray’s Cuban tour was capped by an intimate meeting with Castro during Christmas week. The meeting underscored an easing of tensions between Church and state in the officially atheist country, where practicing Christians and Jews have been objects of government repression for almost 30 years.

During the meeting, Castro made no secret of his eagerness to welcome the Pope, partly because a visit would burnish his fading international image and partly because he believed John Paul II saw eye to eye with him on many of the world’s secular problems, such as disarmament, Third World debt, and poverty.

Cardinal Etchegaray met Fidel Castro once again, in December 1993.

In the meantime, the Cuban bishops had released the message “Love endures all things”, which marked a turnabout on the Church’s approach to the regime. The Cuban bishops substantially proposed to Castro and to his opponents – included the political refugees exiled in the U.S. – to open a political dialogue for a peaceful national reconciliation.

The message was one of the hot issues of the dialogue between Cardinal Etchegaray and Fidel Castro. They both stressed they backed peace, reconciliation and the end of the U.S. embargo.

It was probably after that visit that Fidel Castro changed his attitude toward the Catholic Church.

Castro seemed to accept the role of the Holy See as a credible partner for dialogue about the future of Cuba. At the same time, the regime abated restrictions on the Church.

St. John Paul II backed an active, although secret, diplomatic process toward Cuba, and this process had been put into effect at the beginning of the 1990s and developed through a series of high level meetings between the Holy See and Cuban administration officials.

On July 12, 1994, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, then Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Central America, had a private meeting with Fidel Castro in the Holy See Nunciature in Cuba.

After the meeting, Castro spent two hours at the nunciature, chatting with Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, created cardinal by St. John Paul II in October 1994, and the first Cuban cardinal created after the revolution.

Back in Rome, Cardinal Gantin reported to St. John Paul II about the improvement of the religious atmosphere in Cuba, and he also recounted that Castro would more than properly welcome a papal visit.

Cardinal Gantin told the Pope that “generally, the country urges big transformations, and these latter seem to have begum, albeit on a smaller scale”, and that “the acceptance of the Church, with its features of service to Truth and Peace, can already be a meaningful change for the Cuban government.”

In 1996, Fidel Castro was received by St. John Paul II in the Vatican, a signal that the dialogue was  strengthened.

This was the climate that led to St. John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba in 1998. The first Pope ever to step foot in Cuba, St. John Paul II said in Havana that “Cuba needs to open herself to the world, and the world needs to draw close to Cuba.”

During the trip, St. John Paul II spoke about family and youth, and criticized both socialist society as well as the neo-liberal capitalism.

A new way was open in Holy See – Cuba relations.

Ten years later, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, visited Cuba to celebrate the 10th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s visit, and he met with Raul Castro, who in the mean time had replaced his brother Fidel at the helm of the country.

During a meeting with journalists, Cardinal Bertone stressed, “there is seemingly the opportunity to open doors: Raul knows well the people’s difficulties, what they miss, their aspirations.”

Benedict XVI’s trip in 2012 marked a step toward a new opening of Cuba to the world. Raul Castro was often at the Pope’s side, showing his desire to update Cuba and to give importance to the visit.

Cuba needs the Church to find a way out of history, and to continue to strenghthen relations with the United States. The diplomatic work is also favored by the fact that Archbishop Angelo Becciu, deputy to the Secretariat of State, has been apostolic nuncio to Cuba, and he helped organize Benedict XVI’s trip.

This is the path that brought to historic choice of re-opening US-Cuba relations. Pope Francis has become a main actor in this story, and his final commitment was decisive. But he also, in the end, harvested the fruits of a diplomatic work that went on throughout 50 years.

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