Patriarch Alexei, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church to meet with Pope

Top Russian ecumenical official to meet with Pope Vatican City, Dec. 6, 2007 (CINS /CWN) - Pope Benedict XVI will meet on December 7 with the top ecumenical-affairs official of the Russian Orthodox Church, L'Osservatore Romano reports. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk-- who is in Rome this week for festivities marking the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, the patron of Rome's Russian Orthodox Church-- met on December 6 with Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. Informed sources said that Cardinal Kasper would convey an invitation for Patriarch Alexei II to attend the next meeting of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, which is scheduled to take place in 2009. Metropolitan Kirill-- who is regarded as a likely eventuall successor to Patriarch Alexei as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church-- has praised Pope Benedict for his commitment to ecumenism. But earlier this week he criticized the Catholic Church for establishing new dioceses in Russia. The Orthodox prelate said that the four Catholic dioceses of Russia, established in 2002, should be downgraded to their previous status as apostolic administrations. Catholic dioceses in Russia are an affront to the Orthodox claim that the country is the "canonical territory" of the Orthodox Church, he said, and "we shall never recognize them." The Vatican does not accept the Russian argument regarding "canonical territory." In related news, in an interview with the KAI news agency, the general secretary of the Russian Bishops Conference, Father Igor Kowalewski, said the country’s Catholic bishops are ready to discuss the Moscow patriarchate's claims to special canonical status in Russia. He said that the recent remarks by Metropolitan Kirill upset many Russian Catholics, and the country's bishops will bring up the subject at a meeting with Orthodox leaders in January.

New Archbishop of Guangzhou: “Also in China the Church is One and Catholic”

Guangzhou, China, Dec.05,2007(CINS/AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church, even in China is “one holy Catholic and apostolic”.  It was underlined by the new archbishop of Guangzhou, Msgr. Joseph Gan Junqiu, and minutes before he gave his parting blessing to the faithful who had gathered in Sacred Heart Cathedral to participate in his ordination.  Local sources who took part in the celebrations described the event to AsiaNews.

The solemn mass took place this morning in the “House of Stone”, the great cathedral that lies in the centre of the city.  Press and faithful from other diocese were not allowed attend due to “lack of space”.  About 900 people participated, each given an admission pass with the number of the pew assigned to them as well as their position within the same pew.  

A” massive” police presence as well as members of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics [PA, a government organism not recognised by the Holy See, which interferes in the life of the church and tries to impose its own bishops on diocese without Vatican consensus ed], were there, “to keep an eye on all of the people gathered in the square for the duration of the mass”.

Despite this climate, Msgr. Gan took advantage of the moment in which the congregation exchanged the sign of peace to come down from the altar, leave the cathedral and make his way to a room close by the Church, where other Catholics were following the mass via a giant screen. There he embraced the only foreigners who were present in a sign of communion with the Universal Church.

Catholics from the Archdiocese of Guangzhou place a lot of hope in their new pastor.  They tell AsiaNews, that he “has an open heart and mind and is held in high esteem by many people.  He does not love compromise, but he knows how to find balance there where it is often difficult to put tolerance into practise. All of this costs him dearly and shows his deep love for his people and for the Church, which is universal. We have been without a pastor for far too long and this grace from God has made us very, very happy”.

Msgr. Gan was elected archbishop in November 2006.  Immediately after his election, he received Holy See approval and communicated this to the local faithful. Thanks to the obstructionism of the PA who did not view this public declaration of loyalty to the Pope kindly, his ordination was blocked until today.

Church responds to crisis of urban violence in Chicago

Chicago, Nov.24, 2007 (CINS /CNS) - On Oct. 30, at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in a Chicago neighborhood known as "Back of the Yards," Auxiliary Bishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of Chicago celebrated a Mass for victims of violence. He read dozens of victims' names and met with their family members and loved ones.But the next day, another victim was added to the roll: Leticia Barrera, shot in gang crossfire as she returned home from trick-or-treating with her three children on Halloween. She was four months pregnant, and it was her 32nd birthday.

Bishop Garcia-Siller led her wake service Nov. 6 at St. Michael the Archangel Church.

Providing support and comfort through the rituals of funerals and wakes is one of the ways in which the church is obligated to respond to violence, according to Bishop Garcia-Siller and several priests who serve in communities where such violence has happened all too often.

"Violence is an unhealthy thing," the bishop said. "It is destructive. We are called to life; life is our goal. We are made by God who is the God of life. Some people think death is the end, but it's not. After death, there is resurrection and new life."

But the obligation of the church goes much further, said the bishop and others interviewed by the Catholic New World, Chicago's archdiocesan newspaper. The church must walk with the victims through their mourning and grief and healing, and it must also work with the wrongdoers, to heal them and help them find the right path.

Precious Blood Father David Kelly lives and works in a house in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, offering a ministry of reconciliation.

Helping people find new life in the wake of violence is "directly tied to the central beliefs of Christians," Father Kelly said. "It's the power of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. There's hope in the midst of this."

In practice, that means reaching out to victims of violence and their family members, listening to them and helping them join into "peacemaking circles" where they can share their feelings, and, they hope, move beyond the grief to a new place.

Those whose grief is raw -- the mother who has not left her home for a year after losing her only son, or the parents who had two sons gunned down within three months -- can take hope from others who have found new ways to live, the priest said.

"They can say, 'I know how you feel,' and there's comfort in that," Father Kelly said. "They can see that maybe I won't always be like this."

Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of Chicago's St. Sabina Parish, knows the feeling of helplessness that can strike family members. In 1998, his 17-year-old foster son was shot. He died in Father Pfleger's arms.

"I have buried my mother and my sister," Father Pfleger said. "The most difficult thing I have had to do was bury Jarvis. That was the one time I felt paralyzed, like I couldn't make it. It was only my faith that pulled me out of it."

Those who work in the Precious Blood order's reconciliation ministry also serve in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center through Kolbe House, the Archdiocese of Chicago's prison and jail ministry. The young people in the center have their own peacemaking circles. When they return home, the ministry of reconciliation is there for continued support and mentoring.

When possible, Father Kelly said, the families of the victims and those who have harmed them can come together.

"The victims often want to know, 'Why? Why did my son have to die?'" Father Kelly said. "And the accused, many times they want to say 'I'm sorry.' There's a lot of remorse happening, but the legal system doesn't allow for it until after the trial is over."

Father Matthew Foley, pastor of Chicago's St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, said many, if not most, of the shootings are done by young people hoping to prove themselves to older gang members and who have no idea of the ramifications of what they've done. Many of those young people have been exposed to violence in their own homes.

"Domestic violence is the No. 1 call to the police in our neighborhood," he said. "I always wonder what a child sees. I think it makes them almost numb."

St. Agnes of Bohemia tries to honor the mourning process by having nine days of prayers with families, and then making a procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the site where the violence took place. This year, the parish has had six or seven of those processions, Father Foley said.

"Our mission is what we do because we go to church. Our worship is as real as it is lived out," Father Pfleger said. "If you read the Gospel, Jesus' whole ministry is reaching out to people in situations of crisis. That is our mission -- we are the salt and the light."

Church officials closed and locked Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral and suspended all services

Mexico, Nov.24, 2007 (CINS /CNS) - Church officials closed and locked Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral and suspended all services after about 150 leftist protesters stormed into a Sunday Mass shouting slogans and kicking over pews.

Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Mexico City Archdiocese, said Nov. 19 that the cathedral will not resume Masses until federal and city police can guarantee security. It is the first time the cathedral has suspended services since Mexico's Cristero uprisings in the 1920s, he said.

"We have to take this action before there is bloodshed," Father Valdemar told CNS.
 "We need police to launch a public campaign showing we are being protected."

Leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost the 2006 presidential race by a razor-thin margin, was leading a protest in the plaza adjoining the cathedral. Lopez Obrador claims the election was rigged and calls himself Mexico's "legitimate president."

The ringing of the church bells during one of the rally's speeches angered the demonstrators.

A breakaway group stormed past a line of police and charged up the cathedral aisle. They finally left after the bells stopped ringing and other protesters called for moderation.

Father Ruben Avila Blancas, who was in the church, described it as an act of terrorism.

"The protesters came in threatening and assaulting. Many of the faithful were injured: old people, crying children," Father Avila said. "We cannot go on like this."

Guadalupe Acosta, head of Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, condemned the incident but called for an investigation into why the church bells were sounding for such a long time.

"We deny responsibility for these acts," Acosta said on Mexico's W Radio.

Lopez Obrador, who says he wants to lift millions of Mexicans out of poverty, has always described his movement as nonviolent and says he supports demonstrations and civil resistance.

He accused Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of supporting President Felipe Calderon during the 2006 election campaign. Mexico's 1917 Constitution bans clergy from any intervention in politics.

Cardinal Rivera's vocal opposition to Mexico City laws permitting abortion and gay civil unions also angers leftists.

Cardinal Rivera was in Rome Nov. 19 but has voiced full support for the suspension of Masses, Father Valdemar said.

In 1926, the Catholic Church suspended Masses across Mexico after assailants carried out bombings and killings in churches and President Plutarco Elias Calles introduced tough anti-clerical laws.

Some 90,000 people were killed in the ensuing Cristero war before the government and church reached an accord in 1929.

Today in Church History

235 St. Anterus begins his reign as Catholic Pope

496 St. Gelasius I ends his reign as Catholic Pope

695 Pope Sergius names Willibrord as archbishop Clemens of Friezen

1964 Pope Paul VI signs 3rd sitting of 2nd Vatican council 

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