Zimbabwean church groups are in danger of police interference

Cape Town, South Africa , June 10, 2008 (vaticans.org) - Zimbabwean church groups are "in danger of police interference at any time," a Catholic official said after the Ecumenical Center in the capital, Harare, was raided June 9.

"No one is immune to these raids," Alouis Chaumba, head of Zimbabwe's Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said in a June 10 telephone interview from Harare.

Chaumba said he is "afraid of what may happen to me and my family and my friends," noting that he knows many people who have been injured or had their property destroyed in the violence that followed late-March elections.

Harare's Ecumenical Center houses a variety of groups, including the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance.

"Heavily armed members of the police, central intelligence and military personnel" raided the center and arrested five staffers, including the Student Christian Movement general secretary, Prosper Munatsi, the movement said in a June 10 statement.

Offices in the center were ransacked and computers, digital cameras and a minibus were confiscated, the statement said.

Also June 9, police "raided an organization that looks after orphans and the homeless and said it must close shop," Chaumba said.

Police are visible all over Zimbabwe, he said, noting that there are "roadblocks everywhere" with some rural areas impossible to reach. Police officers "make you get out of your vehicle and take everything out before they start searching, which can take hours," he said.

The Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe is the national office of the Geneva-based World Student Christian Federation. The Zimbabwe Christian Alliance was formed in 2005 to help the estimated 700,000 Zimbabweans who lost their homes and livelihoods in a government campaign in which riot police demolished homes and vendors' stalls in shantytowns around major cities.

The Student Christian Movement statement said the arrests and raid were aimed at hindering its work, which is "fully geared toward sensitizing Christian students and youth on their rights and responsibilities in the face of a break-or-make presidential runoff" election scheduled for June 27.

In the March elections, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai garnered 47.9 percent of the vote, leading President Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since 1980 and is widely blamed for the country's economic crisis. The runoff was scheduled because a minimum of 50 percent plus one vote was needed to win the presidency in the first round.

A report on postelection violence in Zimbabwe by the Solidarity Peace Trust, an ecumenical group of church organizations from Zimbabwe and South Africa, said, "There needs to be a general recognition that Zimbabwe is sinking fast into the conditions of a civil war, propelled largely by the increasing reliance on violence by the ruling party to stay in power, and the rapidly shrinking spaces for any form of peaceful political intervention."

The report, released in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 21, contained about 50 eyewitness accounts of orchestrated beatings, torture and the destruction of homes and shops.

The Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe said it viewed the June 9 "arrests and detentions as part of the broader campaign of intimidation orchestrated against defenseless citizens," noting that the government "has abdicated its duties by declaring war on its own people and creating an atmosphere of general insecurity among the populace."

It is "our sacred duty as civil society and opposition forces to continue fighting for the opening up of democratic space and justice in Zimbabwe," the statement said, noting that the time has come for church groups "not only to speak but also to act against injustice, oppression and corruption."

Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate -- more than 100,000 percent -- an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent and severe shortages of basic foods and fuel.

Chaumba also said that Anglicans in Zimbabwe "are being beaten up in their churches and are bearing the brunt of the lack of freedom of worship" in the country.

Anglican bishops from Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe said in an early June pastoral letter that members of the Harare Diocese are being barred from praying in their churches, which "mirrors the persecution of Christians of the early church, and in this context we remind the perpetrators that then, as now, God still triumphs over evil."

The people of Zimbabwe are living in "an environment devoid of any resemblance of justice and peace," the bishops said.

They called on perpetrators of "the immoral and criminal activities" to respect the rule of law which safeguards and preserves human life and dignity, noting reports that "people are being maimed, killed, and denied decent burials."


"Smoke of Satan" entering the Catholic Church - Pope Paul VI

Vatican City, May. 16, 2008† - When Pope Paul VI spoke about the "smoke of Satan" entering the Catholic Church, he was referring to liturgical abuses, according to the prelate who served as his master of ceremonies.

Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the chief Vatican liturgist during the pontificate of Paul VI, spoke candidly about the late Pope's concerns in an interview with the Roman Petrus web site. The Italian prelate-- who was also the Vatican's top liturgist under Pope John Paul I and the early years of the pontificate of John Paul II-- is now retired, and at the age of 86 his health is failing. In his interview with Petrus he concentrated primarily on his years serving Pope Paul VI.

Pope Paul accepted the liturgical reforms after Vatican II "with pleasure," Cardinal Noe said. He added that Paul VI was not be nature a sad man, but "he was saddened by the fact of having been left alone by the Roman Curia." Regarding the late Pope's famous remark about the "smoke of Satan," Cardinal Noe said that he knew what Paul VI intended by that statement. In that denunciation, he said, the Pope "meant to include all those priests or bishops and cardinals who didn't render worship to the Lord by celebrating badly Holy Mass because of an errant interpretation of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He spoke of the smoke of Satan because he maintained that those priests who turned Holy Mass into dross in the name of creativity, in reality were possessed of the vainglory and the pride of the Evil One. So, the smoke of Satan was nothing other than the mentality which wanted to distort the traditional and liturgical canons of the Eucharistic ceremony."

For Pope Paul VI, the cardinal continued, the worst outcome of the post-conciliar liturgical reform was the "craving to be in the limelight" that caused many priests to ignore liturgical guidelines. Cardinal Noe recalled that the Pope himself believed in careful adherence to the rubrics of the Mass, firmly believing that "no one is lord of the Mass."

Speaking for himself, the former top Vatican liturgist said that the liturgy must always be celebrated with reverence and careful respect for the rubrics. He said with regret that in the wake of Vatican II "it was believed that everything, or nearly, was permitted." Cardinal Noe said: "Now it is necessary to recover-- and in a hurry-- the sense of the sacred in the ars celebrandi, before the smoke of Satan completely pervades the whole Church."

Pope Benedict XVI decided a special day of prayer for the Church in China

Vatican City, May. 17, 2008†- Pope Benedict XVI has composed a prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan, following up on his decision to make May 24 a special day of prayer for the Church in China.

In his message to the Chinese faithful, released in May 2007, the Holy Father asked the worldwide Church to join in prayer for Chinese Catholicism on May 24. That date is the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. In China, devotion to the Virgin Mary centers on the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan, in Shanghai.

Pope Benedict 's prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan reads:

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother, venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title 'Help of Christians,' the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection. We come before you today to implore your protection. Look upon the People of God and, with a mother's care, guide them along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said 'Yes' in the house of Nazareth, you allowed God's eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption. You willingly and generously co-operated in that work, allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul, until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary, standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way, the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross. Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter. Grant that your children may discern at all times, even those that are darkest, the signs of God's loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China, who, amid their daily trails, continue to believe, to hope, to love. May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world, and of the world to Jesus. In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high, offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love. Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love, ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built. Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

warning of doctrinal difficulties in Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church

Canberra, May. 13, 2008 (vaticans.org) - The Australian Catholic bishops' conference has issued a public statement warning of "doctrinal difficulties" in a book by the retired bishop.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, who was an auxiliary bishop of the Sydney archdiocese for 20 years prior to his retirement in 2001, is the author of Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. Bishop Robinson is currently on a promotional tour, speaking about the book to audiences in the United States.

At their May meeting, the Australian bishops warn that Confronting Power calls into question "the authority of the Catholic Church to teach the truth definitively." The book reflects "Bishop Robinsonís uncertainty about the knowledge and authority of Christ himself," the bishops report.

The bishops' statement goes on to note problems with the bishop's book on "among other things, the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, the infallibility of the Councils and the Pope, the authority of the Creeds, the nature of the ministerial priesthood and central elements of the Churchís moral teaching."

The Australian bishops express their gratitude for the work Bishop Robinson did before his retirement, particularly his work with victims of sexual abuse. "However," their statement continues, "people have a right to know clearly what the Catholic Church believes and teaches."

The statement indicates that the bishops' conference had corresponded with Bishop Robinson in an effort to resolve problems with the book. The fundamental problem, the statement notes, is the author's failure to acknowledge that "the Church's magisterium teaches the truth authoritatively in the name of Christ."

The bishops acknowledge, "The authority entrusted by Christ to his Church may at times be poorly exercised." Nevertheless, the statement says, the failures of human leaders does not "invalidate the Churchís authority to teach particular truths of faith and morals."

Today in Church History - April 21

1957 Pope Pius XII publishes encyclical Fidei Donum

1878 Pope Leo XIII publishes encyclical Inscrutabili

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