POPE MEETS WITH ROMAN UNIVERSITY STUDENTS
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS REPORTS) - Yesterday at 5 p.m., in keeping with a pre-Christmas tradition of meeting with university students, the Holy Father presided at Vespers in the Vatican Basilica with students from Roman universities. (IMAGE SOURCE: RADIO VATICANA)
"The God of Abraham", he said in his homily, "revealed Himself, He showed His face and came to dwell in our flesh, in Jesus the Son of Mary - true God and true man - Whom we will meet once again at the Manger in Bethlehem. To return there, to that humble and cramped place, is not simply a mental journey; it is a path we are called to follow by experiencing the closeness of God here and now, and His action which renews and sustains our lives".
"The road to the Manger of Bethlehem is a journey of inner liberation, an experience of profound freedom, because it encourages us to emerge from ourselves and to move towards God, Who has come close to us. ... He wishes to infuse courage into our lives, especially when we are tired and weary, when we need to rediscover the serenity of the journey and joyfully to feel that we are pilgrims on our way to eternity. ... The Child we will find between Mary and Joseph is the Logos-Love, the Word which can give full consistency to our lives. ... In Bethlehem, the today of God and the today of man meet, and together they begin a journey of dialogue and intense communion.
"Dear friends", the Holy Father added, "you who are following the fascinating and demanding journey of research and cultural endeavour, the Incarnate Word asks you to share with Him the patience 'to build'. Building your lives, building society, is not an undertaking that can be achieved by distracted and superficial minds and hearts. ... In our own time we feel the need for a new class of intellectuals capable of interpreting social and cultural dynamics, and of proposing solutions that are not abstract, but concrete and realistic. Universities are called to play this vital role, in which the Church will provide her committed and effective support".
The Roman university community - which is made up of State, private, Catholic and Pontifical institutions - must, said Benedict XVI, "play an important historical role: that of overcoming the misunderstandings and prejudices which at times hinder the development of authentic culture. Working together, especially with faculties of theology, Roman universities can show that it is possible to implement a new dialogue and new collaboration between Christian faith and the various fields of knowledge, without confusion or separation but sharing the same aspiration to serve man in his entirety".
At the end of the ceremony, an African university delegation consigned the image of "Maria Sedes Sapientiae" to a delegation of Spanish students. The image will be taken on pilgrimage to all Spanish universities in preparation for World Youth Day, due to be held in the Spanish capital Madrid in August next year.
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - The Holy Father has sent a Message to Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, Italy, for opening of the archdiocese's Jubilee Year which began recently and is due to last for all of 2011.
Naples, the Pope writes, "has a rich religious heritage, and this calls for coherence of faith and courage of witness. In keeping with this opulent tradition, Christian sanctity has flowered abundantly, finding expression in famous figures who left profound traces in the Church and in society. These shining examples have handed down the responsibility to continue the history of faith and charity in your land, showing the same vigour and apostolic drive as they did.
"Of course", the Holy Father adds, "today's social and cultural context is very different from the past and, although we may joy in the Lord for the genuine and persisting faith of so many Christians, it is painful to note the spread of a secularised view of life and the emergence of evils afflicting the body public, which is threatened by individualism.
"In this atmosphere, negative and deviant models also exercise their influence, having a strong impact on family and social life, especially on the new generations. Thus I wish to reiterate the urgent need for the human and Christian formation of children and young people, because they are seriously exposed to the risks of deviancy".
"Christians are called to work for truth and to bear courageous witness to the Gospel in all areas of life. Each individual can and must strive to ensure that spiritual and ethical values, translated into life choices, make a decisive contribution to the creation of a more just and fraternal society. To this end we must work to create ... relationships of authentic charity which give concrete expression to solidarity and service, so as to provide alternative life examples that are accessible to all and, at the same time, emblematic".
The Holy Father concludes his message: "In this way we will reinforce the awareness that today, as always, the seed of the Kingdom of God is present and active. A seed of the future, capable, if welcomed personally and generously, of transforming even the most difficult situations and of renewing the heart and countenance of Naples".
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - Yesterday evening at the Palazzo of San Pio X, the Pontifical Academies held their fifteenth public session on the theme: "The Assumption of Mary, a sign of consolation and of sure hope".
During the session Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. read out a Message sent by the Pope to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Co-ordinating Council of the Pontifical Academies, and to participants.
"The fifteenth public session", the Pope writes, "was organised by the Pontifical International Marian Academy and the Pontifical Academy of Mary Immaculate which, most opportunely, wanted this solemn meeting to recall the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Dogma of the Assumption".
Benedict XVI recalls how "Vatican Council II, in its Dogmatic Constitution 'Lumen gentium', teaches that Mary is a sign of sure hope and consolation for the People of God on their pilgrimage through history".
"The Fathers and Doctors of the Church, echoing the shared feeling of the faithful and reflecting upon what the liturgy celebrates, proclaimed Mary's singular privilege and illustrated her shining beauty, which supports and nourishes our hope", the Pope writes.
"Theological and spiritual reflections", he goes on, "the liturgy, Marian devotion, and artistic representations are really all part of the same thing, a complete and effective message capable of arousing wonder in our eyes, of touching our heart, of stimulating our mind to an even deeper understanding of the mystery of Mary, in whom we see our own destiny and hope clearly reflected and announced".
In this context, the holy Father invites the scholars "to follow the 'via pulchritudinis'", expressing the hope that, "even in our own day, thanks to greater collaboration between theologians, liturgists and artists, more incisive and effective messages may be presented for people's contemplation and admiration".
Accepting a suggestion made by the Co-ordinating Council of the Pontifical Academies, Benedict XVI also announces that his year he is assigning the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academies Prize to the Marian Academy of India, represented by its president Fr. Kulandaisamy Raya, and to Luis Alberto Esteves dos Santos Casimiro, for his doctoral dissertation on the Annunciation in sixteenth century Portuguese painting.
The Holy Father concludes by saying: "Furthermore, as a sign of appreciation and encouragement, I wish to present the pontifical medal to the 'Gen Verde' Group, part of the 'Focolari' Movement, for its artistic undertakings so strongly impregnated with Gospel values and open to dialogue between peoples and cultures".
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - Today in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received the Letters of Credence of Francesco Maria Greco, the new Italian ambassador to the Holy See.
In his address to the diplomat, the Pope spoke of the preparations underway for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Italian unity, affirming that "one of the most important aspects of the long and sometimes tiring and difficult journey which led to the modern Italian State, was the search for a just distinction between the civil and religious communities, and for correct forms of collaboration between them. This need is more deeply felt in a county like Italy, whose history and culture are so profoundly marked by the Catholic Church, and the capital of which is the episcopal see of the visible head of that community, which has spread throughout the world.
"These characteristics", he added, "which have been part of Italy's historical and cultural heritage for centuries, cannot be denied, forgotten or marginalised. The experience of these 150 years teaches us that when attempts have been made to do so, they have led to dangerous imbalances and painful fractures in the social life of the country".
In this context the Pope underlined the importance of the Lateran Pacts and of the Villa Madama Agreement, which "set the co-ordinates for well-balanced relations, which are of benefit to the Apostolic See just as they are to the State and Church in Italy".
"These international agreements are not the expression of a desire for power, privilege or economic and social advantage on the part of the Church or the Holy See, nor do they aim to encroach into the area of the mission which the Divine Founder entrusted to His community on earth. Quite the contrary, the basis of these agreements lies in the State's just desire to ensure that individuals and the Church can fully exercise their religious freedom. This right has dimensions that are not only personal. ... Religious freedom is, in fact, a right not just of individuals, but of families, religious groups and the Church, and the State is called to safeguard not only believers' right to freedom of conscience and religion, but also the legitimate role of religion and of religious communities in the public sphere".
Benedict XVI continued: "The correct exercise and reciprocal recognition of this right enables society to make use of the moral resources and generous service of believers. Thus, we cannot hope to achieve authentic social progress by the marginalisation or even the explicit rejection of the religious factor, something which is happening in various ways in our time. One of these, for example, is the attempt to eliminate religious symbols from public places, first among them the Crucifix which is certainly the symbol par excellence of the Christian faith but which, at the same time, speaks to all men and women of good will and, as such, does not discriminate".
The Holy Father went on to thank the Italian government for having operated in this field "in accordance with a correct view of laicism, in the light of its own history, culture and traditions, finding positive support therein also from other European nations. While some societies attempt to marginalise the religious dimension", he said, "recent news stories demonstrate how, in our own time, even flagrant violations of religious freedom take place. Faced with this painful truth, Italian society and government have shown particular sensitivity towards the fate of those Christian minorities who suffer violence and discrimination because of their faith, or are forced to emigrate from their homeland.
"My hope is", the Pope concluded, "that awareness of this problem may increase and, as a consequence, efforts may be intensified to ensure full respect for religious freedom, everywhere and for everyone. I am certain the Holy See's commitment in this field will not lack Italian support in the international arena".
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - Benedict XVI today received a delegation from the town of Luson in the province of Bolzano, part of the Italian region of Alto Adige, which has donated the Christmas tree which will decorate St. Peter's Square during the festive season this year.
The tree, which will be lit this evening during a public ceremony to be presided by Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, is a Norway spruce, thirty-four metres high and ninety-three years old. Apart from the main tree, Luson has also donated fifty smaller trees which will be used to decorate various sites in the Vatican.
The Holy Father noted that the spruce, "which stood at an altitude of 1500 metres and was cut down without damaging the forest environment, will stand next to the nativity scene until the end of the Christmas festivities".
"The Christmas tree", he went on, "enriches the symbolic value of the nativity scene, which is a message of fraternity and friendship, an invitation to unity and peace, an invitation to make space for God in our life and society. He offers us His omnipotent love through the fragile figure of a child, because He wants us to respond freely with our own love. Thus the nativity scene and the tree bear a message of hope and love, and help to create an environment in which to experience the mystery of the birth of the Redeemer in the right spiritual and religious context".
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - At midday today the Holy See Press Office released the following English-language communique concerning the Eighth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives, which took place in Beijing from 7 to 9 December.
"With profound sorrow, the Holy See laments the fact that from 7 to 9 December there was held in Beijing the Eighth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives. This was imposed on numerous bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful. The manner in which it was convoked and its unfolding manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China. The persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens' lives, namely their conscience, and to interfere in the internal life of the Catholic Church does no credit to China. On the contrary, it seems to be a sign of fear and weakness rather than of strength; of intransigent intolerance rather than of openness to freedom and to effective respect both of human dignity and of a correct distinction between the civil and religious spheres.
"On several occasions the Holy See had let it be known, first and foremost to the bishops, but also to all the faithful, and publicly, that they should not take part in the event. Each one of those who were present knows to what extent he or she is responsible before God and the Church. The bishops in particular and the priests will also have to face the expectations of their respective communities, who look to their own pastor and have a right to receive from him sure guidance in the faith and in the moral life.
"It is known, moreover, that many bishops and priests were forced to take part in the assembly. The Holy See condemns this grave violation of their human rights, particularly their freedom of religion and of conscience. Moreover, the Holy See expresses its deepest esteem for those who, in different ways, have borne witness to their faith with courage and it invites the others to pray, to do penance and, through their works, to reaffirm their own will to follow Christ with love, in full communion with the universal Church.
"Addressing those whose hearts are full of dismay and profound suffering, those who are wondering how it is possible that their own bishop or their own priests should have taken part in the assembly, the Holy See asks them to remain steadfast and patient in the faith; it invites them to take account of the pressures experienced by many of their pastors and to pray for them; it exhorts them to continue courageously supporting them in the face of the unjust impositions that they encounter in the exercise of their ministry.
"During the assembly, among other things, the leaders of the so-called Episcopal Conference and of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association were appointed. Concerning these two entities, and concerning the assembly itself, the words written by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 Letter to the Church in China continue to apply.
"In particular, the present college of Catholic bishops of China cannot be recognised as an episcopal conference by the Apostolic See: the 'clandestine' bishops, those not recognised by the government but in communion with the Pope, are not part of it; it includes bishops who are still illegitimate, and it is governed by statutes that contain elements incompatible with Catholic doctrine. It is deeply deplorable that an illegitimate bishop has been appointed as its president.
"Furthermore, regarding the declared purpose to implement the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church, it should be remembered that this is incompatible with Catholic doctrine, which from the time of the ancient Creeds professes the Church to be 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic'. It is therefore lamentable also that a legitimate bishop has been appointed president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
"This is not the path that the Church must follow in the context of a great and noble nation, which attracts the attention of world opinion for its significant achievements in so many spheres, but still finds it hard to implement the demands of genuine religious freedom, despite the fact that it professes in its Constitution to respect that freedom. What is more, the assembly has rendered more difficult the path of reconciliation between Catholics of the 'clandestine communities' and those of the 'official communities', thereby inflicting a deep wound not only upon the Church in China but also upon the universal Church.
"The Holy See profoundly regrets the fact that the celebration of the abovementioned assembly, as also the recent episcopal ordination without the indispensable papal mandate, have unilaterally damaged the dialogue and the climate of trust that had been established in its relations with the government of the People's Republic of China. The Holy See, while reaffirming its own wish to dialogue honestly, feels bound to state that unacceptable and hostile acts such as those just mentioned provoke among the faithful, both in China and elsewhere, a grave loss of the trust that is necessary for overcoming the difficulties and building a correct relationship with the Church, for the sake of the common good.
"In the light of what has happened, the Holy Father's invitation - addressed on 1 December 2010 to all the Catholics of the world to pray for the Church in China which is going through a particularly difficult time - remains pressing".
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in separate audiences:
- Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, accompanied by Bishop William Edward Lori of Bridgeport, U.S.A.
- Cardinal Agostino Vallini, his vicar general for the diocese of Rome.
This evening he is scheduled to receive in audience Cardinal Marc Ouellet P.S.S., prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - The Holy Father appointed Msgr. Peter Paul Angkyier, former vicar general and diocesan consultant of Damongo, Ghana, as bishop of the same diocese (area 29,000, population 440,000, Catholics 22,700, priests 42, religious 32). The bishop-elect was born in Nandon, Ghana in 1961 and ordained a priest in 1992.