After four Months of confinement Bishop Julias is released

Zhengding,China, Dec.17,2007 (CINS/UCAN) -- After almost four months of detention, Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding was released on Dec. 14.

Bishop Jia is unaffiliated with the government-approved Catholic Church and has been detained numerous times in past years. Catholic sources in Zhengding diocese told UCA News the 72-year-old bishop arrived at his cathedral in Wuqiu village, Hebei province, Dec. 14 evening. The village is near Shijiazhuang, Hebei'a capital, 270 kilometers southwest of Beijing.

According to one source, Bishop Jia's family made numerous requests for the release of the bishop because the uncle of the bishop is seriously ill. With Christmas approaching, the source added, the bishop reportedly also asked the local government many times to release him so that he can celebrate the major Church feast at his cathedral.

The source also quoted a government official saying Bishop Jia will again be detained after a few days because he needs to undergo a "learning session," but the official did not specify if that would be before or after Christmas.

Another local source who confirmed to UCA News that the prelate was freed said he wonders why Bishop Jia was released now, since the government in the past did not release him in the weeks before and after a major Church feast.

Bishop Jia had been detained since Aug. 23, when he reportedly removed a sign displaying the words "Catholic Patriotic Association" that government officials placed outside his cathedral. According to sources, priests of the diocese say they have no details about the detention.

Bishop Jia's recent detention was his second in 2007. On June 5, public security officers took him "for travel to some places for about 10 days." On June 22, he was freed from detention at a military barracks near a reservoir in Yuanshi county, south of Shijiazhuang, sources told UCA News the next day.


Australia's Catholic Bishops listen to reasons for Mass exodus

Sydney, Australia, Dec.17,2007 (CINS/Cathnews) - Australia's Catholic Bishops have discussed a survey that reveals many Catholics have stopped attending Mass because they feel the Church is irrelevant to their lives.

News of discussion of the research project was included in the news briefing that followed the Bishops' plenary meeting in Sydney earlier this month. The briefing was released on Friday.

The research project on Catholics Who Have Stopped Attending Mass reached its conclusion with a final report to the Bishops, outlining four key recommendations for pastoral focus.

The Bishops commissioned the research in 2004 in an effort to explore some of the reasons why people who had been active in Church life are ceasing to attend Mass and engage in parish life.

The qualitative research project, undertaken by the ACBC Pastoral Projects Office, under the direction of Mr Bob Dixon, was based on interviews with 41 people who had stopped attending Mass.

Reasons given for people ceasing to attend Mass included a perceived irrelevance of the Church to modern life, the quality of homilies, inter-personal problems with a parish priest, problems with Church teachings or personal faith, and disillusionment in the wake of sexual scandals. There were also cultural and societal factors which meant that Mass was no longer a priority.

However, half the respondents said they still attend Mass occasionally and almost one third of participants said they might return to weekly Mass attendance in the future.

Following the tabling of the findings of the research in November 2006, the Pastoral Projects Office undertook wide consultation within the Church community on possible pastoral strategies to help people to re-engage with their Parish.

The four primary recommendations put forward in the report and accepted by the Bishops are:

*Building community that resources for effective parish reviews be developed, distributed and engaged, such that local communities might better know and plan for their people.

* Personal identity that forums at every level be established for the purpose of greater listening to people, and for pastoral discernment.

* Leadership that on both diocesan and parish levels there be enhanced formation of lay and ordained people for collaborative leadership, for the sake of mission.

* Mission that there be renewed effort for the proclamation of the Good News, and for the development of faith formation, particularly using the resources of contemporary technology and the resources being developed by the National Office for Evangelisation.


Archbishop of Lahore: Spe Salvi reminds Christians their role as messenger of hope

Lahore, Pakistan, Dec.13, 2007 (CINS/AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI’s new encyclical “is an outstanding message for the whole world in the present situation,” said Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore about the encyclical Spe Salvi “because our lives are full of depression.” The Pope “stressed that ‘hope’ should be a necessary act in our present life and we should not be depressed.”

“These days,” the chairman of the Pakistan Catholic bishops Conference noted, “we should be certain that Christmas is a symbol of new life and hope because Jesus came to give us eternal life and light.”

The document “reminds Christians of their role of messengers of hope. In Pakistan “in the present situation when we are facing a deteriorating law and order situation, extremism and intolerance, there is a need to be more confident in Jesus for His light and hope in this dark and hopeless world.”

These factors of instability “can affect the atmosphere of this Christmas season. Christians must be careful of what they do because we live under emergency rule and this could influence Advent and Christmas preparations. Moreover, prices are high and this is a hindrance for the poor who are so many.”

Still “there are signs of hope. First of all, there is prayer which nothing influences and which remains an unchanging fact for us all. Secondly, for the first time Christians will receive some media coverage. Even state-run television will report on Christmas activities with 30 minutes for the Catholic Church and for Protestant denominations.”


Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., discussed his reaction to the shootings in Colorado

- In an exclusive interview with CNA, the archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., discussed his reaction to the shootings in Colorado, which ended in Colorado Springs’ New Life Church with four victims and their killer dead. 

When asked if the shootings are a reflection of anything in the larger American society, Archbishop Chaput said the events should teach Americans to be less self-centered. “We can't as a country stay on our course of self-absorption, callousness toward the poor and weak, and consumer excess, and then pretend to be shocked when people lose their balance and lash out violently.  The farther away we get from our religious and moral identity, the fewer constraints we have on our choices and behaviors.  Violence happens when we lack the interest and conscience to understand the damage we can do to others.  That's the kind of society we're building.”

The archbishop said he had written to the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs and to the pastor of Faith Bible Chapel, the Arvada church whose campus hosts the Youth With a Mission dormitory where the shootings began.  He said he assured the pastors of his support and prayers.

CNA asked Archbishop Chaput how the Catholic Church could help those who demonstrate the capacity to commit such shootings. 

“I'm not sure there's any reliable way of identifying these killers in advance, but a tragedy like this reminds all of us to notice the environment around us.  It's important to notice the troubled persons around us and to make them known to medical and, if necessary, law enforcement authorities,” the archbishop replied.

Archbishop Chaput especially addressed the grieving families of the shooting victims.

“The one great advantage these families have is their faith in Jesus Christ.  That doesn't ease the pain of these terrible events, but it provides them with the sure hope of seeing their loved ones again in the presence of God.”

“I know that Catholics across Colorado are joining their prayers to the prayers of these families,” he said.


U.S. bishops' Committee:'Theologian's book could easily confuse or mislead the faithful'

Washington, Dec.12,2007 (CINS /CNS) - A Vietnamese-American theologian's 2004 book on religious pluralism contains "pervading ambiguities and equivocations that could easily confuse or mislead the faithful," the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine said in a Dec. 10 statement.

Father Peter C. Phan's "Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue," published by Orbis Books, also contains "statements that, unless properly clarified, are not in accord with Catholic teaching," the committee said.

In its 15-page statement, the committee said it undertook an evaluation of "Being Religious Interreligiously" at the request of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and "invited Father Phan to respond" to questions.

"Since Father Phan did not provide the needed clarifications, and since the ambiguities in the book concern matters that are central to the faith, the Committee on Doctrine decided to issue a statement that would both identify problematic aspects of the book and provide a positive restatement of Catholic teaching on the relevant points," the statement said.

The statement was signed by Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, and the six other committee members.

Father Phan, a former Salesian and now a priest of the Dallas Diocese, holds the Ellacuria chair of Catholic social thought in the theology department at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington.

The statement on "clarifications required" in Father Phan's book cited three areas of concern:

-- Christ's role as "the unique and universal savior of all humankind."

-- The "salvific significance of non-Christian religions."

-- The Catholic Church as "the unique and universal instrument of salvation."

Quoting frequently from the book, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and "Dominus Iesus," the 2000 declaration of the Vatican doctrinal congregation on the "unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," the committee said Father Phan's book "could leave readers in considerable confusion as to the proper understanding of the uniqueness of Christ."

Although "the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is affirmed at some points" in the book, it is presented at other times as "not exclusive or absolute," the committee said.

Father Phan says in the book that the terms "unique," "absolute" and "universal" in relation to Jesus' role as savior "have outlived their usefulness and should be jettisoned and replaced by other, theologically more adequate equivalents."

But "Dominus Iesus" declares that theological understandings of Jesus as just one of many historical figures who manifest "the infinite, the absolute, the ultimate mystery of God" are in "profound conflict with the Christian faith," the committee said.

Although the church finds "elements of goodness and truth" in other religions "as a preparation for the Gospel," Father Phan's book "rejects this teaching as an insufficient recognition of the salvific significance of non-Christian religions in themselves," the statement said.

By asserting that "God has positively willed non-Christian religions as alternative ways of salvation," the book calls into question "the very goal itself of universal conversion to Christianity" and implies that "to continue the Christian mission to members of non-Christian religions would be contrary to God's purpose in history," the committee said.

But the church sees its evangelizing mission not as "an imposition of power but an expression of love for the whole world," the statement added. "Thus there is no necessary conflict between showing respect for other religions and fulfilling Christ's command to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations."

Father Phan's book also says the church's claim "as the unique and universal instrument of salvation" should be "abandoned altogether," primarily because of "the humanness of the church and her historical entanglement with sin and injustice," the committee said.

"The book is certainly correct when it points out that members of the church, through the course of history, have sinned and that the credibility of Christian witness to the world has suffered greatly from this," it added. "Nevertheless, the holiness of the church is not simply defined by the holiness (or sinfulness) of her members but by the holiness of her head, the lord Jesus Christ."

As "Dominus Iesus" points out, "it would be contrary to the faith to consider the church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the church or substantially equivalent to her," the committee said.

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