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Friday, February 29, 2008


VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) - Today in the Vatican, the Holy Father received the Letters of Credence of Mary Ann Glendon, the new ambassador of the United States to the Holy See and former president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

  Addressing the new ambassador in English, the Pope expressed his conviction "that the knowledge and experience born of your distinguished association with the work of the Holy See will prove beneficial in the fulfilment of your duties and enrich the activity of the diplomatic community to which you now belong".

  "From the dawn of the Republic, America has been ... a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order", said the Holy Father, noting the American characteristic "of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good.

  "Today", he added, "this task of reconciling unity and diversity, of forging a common vision and summoning the moral energy to accomplish it, has become an urgent priority for the whole human family, which is increasingly aware of its interdependence and the need for effective solidarity in meeting global challenges and building a future of peace".

  "The experience of the past century, with its heavy toll of war and violence, culminating in the planned extermination of whole peoples, has made it clear that the future of humanity cannot depend on mere political compromise. Rather, it must be the fruit of a deeper consensus based on the acknowledgement of universal truths. ... The building of a global juridic culture inspired by the highest ideals of justice, solidarity and peace calls for firm commitment, hope and generosity on the part of each new generation".

  "The building of a more secure future for the human family means first and foremost working for the integral development of peoples, especially through ... curbing the corruption and militarisation which divert precious resources from many of our brothers and sisters in the poorer countries.

  "The progress of the human family is threatened not only by the plague of international terrorism, but also by such threats to peace as the quickening pace of the arms race and the continuance of tensions in the Middle East", said the Pope who also expressed his hope "that patient and transparent negotiations will lead to the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons and that the recent Annapolis Conference will be the first of a series of steps towards lasting peace in the region".

  The Holy Father recalled the role played by the United Nations in resolving this and other problems, highlighting how such international organisations, "by their nature are capable of fostering genuine dialogue and understanding, reconciling divergent views, and developing multilateral policies and strategies capable of meeting the manifold challenges of our complex and rapidly changing world".

  Benedict XVI noted with gratitude "the importance which the United States has attributed to inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. The Holy See is convinced of the great spiritual potential represented by such dialogue, particularly with regard to the promotion of non-violence and the rejection of ideologies which manipulate and disfigure religion for political purposes, and justify violence in the name of God".

  The Pope alluded to the "American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues", noting that at times this role is "contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse".

  Such appreciation, he told the ambassador in conclusion, "is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family".


VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum", who are meeting to reflect on the theme: "Human and spiritual qualities of people who work in Catholic charity institutions".

  "Charitable activity occupies a central position in the Church's evangelising mission", said the Pope. We must not forget that works of charity are an important area in which to meet people who do not yet know Christ, or who know Him only partially. It is right, then, that pastors and those responsible for pastoral charity work ... should concern themselves with the human, professional and theological-spiritual formation" of people who operate in this field.

  "Those who work in the many forms of charitable activity of the Church cannot, then, content themselves just with offering technical services or resolving practical problems and difficulties. The assistance they provide must never be reduced to mere philanthropy but must be a tangible expression of evangelical love".

  Charity workers, the Pope explained, must be, "above all, witnesses of evangelical love". They achieve this "if the ultimate aim of their mission is not that of being social service operatives, but of announcing the Gospel of charity. Following Christ's footsteps, they are called to be witnesses of the value of life in all its expressions, especially defending the life of the weak and the sick, following the example of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who loved and looked after the dying, because life is not measured in terms of efficiency, but has value always and for everyone".

  Ecclesial charity workers, Benedict XVI continued, are also "called to be witnesses of love, of the fact that we fully become men and women when we live for others, that no-one must die and live for themselves alone". And, he concluded, charity workers "must be witnesses of God, Who is fullness of love and invites us to love".
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VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) - Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for March is: "That the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation between persons and people may be understood and that the Church, through her testimony, may spread Christ's love, the source of new humanity".

  His mission intention is: "That Christians, who are persecuted in many parts of the world and in various manners because of the Gospel, may continue, sustained by the strength of the Holy Spirit, to bear witness courageously and openly to the Word of God".
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VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) - This morning, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. presented the Holy Father with the 2008 edition of the "Annuario Pontificio," or pontifical yearbook. Also present were Archbishop Fernando Filoni, substitute for General Affairs, and the officials responsible for compiling and printing the volume.

  A communique regarding the presentation highlights some of the salient facts contained in the new yearbook. In 2007, eight new episcopal sees were created, as well as one apostolic prefecture, two metropolitan sees and one apostolic vicariate; 169 new bishops were also appointed.

  Between 2005 and 2006, the number of Catholics in the world increased from 1,115 million to 1,131 million, a growth of 1.4 percent. Over the same period, the number of bishops grew from 4,841 to 4,898, an increase of 1,2 percent.

  The number of religious and diocesan priests passed from 406,411 in 2005 to 407,262 in 2006 (a growth of 0.21 percent). The number of priests has grown steadily from 2000 to 2006.

  However, the distribution of priests differs from continent to continent. Their numbers have fallen in Europe and America, and increased in Africa and Asia.

  Students of philosophy and theology in diocesan and religious seminaries number 115,480, an increase of 0.9 percent over last year. Of these 24,034 are in Africa, 37,150 in America, 30,702 in Asia, 22,618 in Europe, and 976 in Oceania.
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VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) - Made public today were the responses of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to two questions concerning the validity of Baptism conferred with certain non-standard formulae.

  The first question is: "Is a Baptism valid if conferred with the words 'I baptise you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier', or 'I baptise you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer'"?

  The second question is: "Must people baptised with those formulae be baptised 'in forma absoluta'?"

  The responses are: "To the first question, negative; to the second question, affirmative".

  Benedict XVI, during his recent audience with Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved these responses, which were adopted at the ordinary session of the congregation, and ordered their publication. The text of the responses bears the signatures of Cardinal Levada and of Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B., secretary of the dicastery.

  An attached note explains that the responses "concern the validity of Baptism conferred with two English-language formulae within the ambit of the Catholic Church. ... Clearly, the question does not concern English but the formula itself, which could also be expressed in another language".

  "Baptism conferred in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", the note continues, "obeys Jesus' command as it appears at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew. ... The baptismal formula must be an adequate expression of Trinitarian faith, approximate formulae are unacceptable.

  "Variations to the baptismal formula - using non-biblical designations of the Divine Persons - as considered in this reply, arise from so-called feminist theology", being an attempt "to avoid using the words Father and Son which are held to be chauvinistic, substituting them with other names. Such variants, however, undermine faith in the Trinity".

  "The response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith constitutes an authentic doctrinal declaration, which has wide-ranging canonical and pastoral effects. Indeed, the reply implicitly affirms that people who have been baptised, or who will in the future be baptised, with the formulae in question have, in reality, not been baptised. Hence, they must them be treated for all canonical and pastoral purposes with the same juridical criteria as people whom the Code of Canon Law places in the general category of 'non-baptised'".
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VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) - Made public yesterday afternoon was the final deceleration of the annual meeting of the "Joint Committee for Dialogue of the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Religious Dialogue among the Monotheistic Religions and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue". The meeting was held in Cairo on 25 and 26 February, under the presidency of Sheikh Abd al-Fattah Muhammad Alam and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.

  In the English-language declaration, the sheikh and the cardinal ask that such "noble principles and exemplary values" as "peace, truth, justice, and right behaviour and co-operation in the development and use of the earth's resources for the benefit of the whole of humanity", may "guide human behaviour, especially at the present time when boundaries and distinctions between peoples are decreasing and the phenomenon of violence, extremism, terrorism is increasing, together with contempt for religions, religious values and everything that is considered sacred".

  Taking into consideration the place of al-Azhar as a centre of study and research in the Muslim world, and bearing in mind the specific role of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Sheikh Abd al-Fattah and Cardinal Tauran recognise "on both sides the importance of mutual knowledge and of the search for common ground between the two religions as a basis for wider co-operation and improved relations".

  The meeting "examined the theme of 'Faith in God and Love of Neighbour as the Foundations for Inter-religious Dialogue'", says the communique, adding: "During its exchanges the committee underlined common principles and emphasised shared spiritual and moral values", as well as discussing "the question of freedom of expression, noting that it can never justify harming people's feelings in religious matters, thus creating strained relations and destroying brotherly love".

  In this context the committee "strongly condemned the republication of offensive cartoons and the rising number of attacks against Islam and its Prophet, as also other attacks against religion".

  "The members of the committee expressed their satisfaction at the agreement reached, seeing this as an encouragement to continue to engage in dialogue".

  At the end of the meeting participants agreed upon certain recommendations, including the affirmation "that all religions respect the dignity and honour of the human person without consideration of race, colour, religion or conviction, and condemn any offence against personal integrity, property and honour".

  They also recommended that "religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, as well as intellectuals and educators, should make every effort to inculcate these values in their activities in places of learning and in all levels of society".

  The recommendations also included an appeal to the communications media "to be vigilant that freedom of expression not be taken as a pretext for offending religions, convictions, religious symbols and everything that is considered sacred, but rather to oppose extremism, to encourage mutual acceptance, love and respect for all, regardless of their religion".

  The next meeting of the joint committee is scheduled to be held in Rome on 24-25 February 2009.


VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in separate audiences:

 - Juan Gavarrete Soberon, ambassador of Guatemala, accompanied by his wife, on a farewell visit.

 - Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

 - Msgr. Felix Anthony Machado, archbishop-bishop-elect of Nashik, India.

  This evening, he is scheduled to receive in audience Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
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