Vatican City, Oct.02, 2009 - Welcoming the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI outlined wide areas of potential cooperation with the administration of President Barack Obama, but drew a sharp line on the issues of abortion and the rights of conscience.
The pope called for "a clear discernment with regard to issues touching the protection of human dignity and respect for the inalienable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the protection of the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care workers, and indeed all citizens."
He made the remarks at a ceremony Oct. 2 to accept the credentials of Miguel Diaz, named in May by Obama as the ninth U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. After the encounter at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome, Diaz held talks at the Vatican with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
The pope's comments on the right to life touched on a current debate in the United States over provisions of health care reform and how they would affect abortion policies.
Leading U.S. bishops have insisted that any final health reform bill exclude mandated coverage of abortion and protect conscience rights. Obama has said that under his plan "no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place," but the bishops say none of the proposals under congressional consideration have met that challenge.
The pope smiled and greeted Diaz warmly at the papal villa, chatting with the ambassador before greeting members of the U.S. embassy staff and Diaz's family. Diaz also prepared a speech, but the pope and the ambassador handed each other their texts instead of reading them.
In his text, the pope said he recalled "with pleasure" his encounter last July with Obama, and expressed his confidence that U.S.-Vatican relations would continue to be marked by fruitful dialogue and cooperation in favor of human rights and human dignity.
The pope praised the founding U.S. ideals of freedom, dignity and pluralism and, in a reference to Obama's short time in office, said that "in recent months the reaffirmation of this dialectic of tradition and originality, unity and diversity has recaptured the imagination of the world."
In his own speech, Diaz spoke of the need for the United States to act cooperatively to resolve international problems, saying that "more than ever the United States realizes that we cannot act alone."
The pope strongly endorsed that orientation toward "a greater spirit of solidarity and multilateral engagement," saying today's crises cannot be resolved on individualistic or even national terms. As a prime example, he pointed to the global economic crisis, and said it calls for a revision of financial structures in the light of ethics.
The pope said multilateralism should also be applied to "the whole spectrum of issues linked to the future of humanity," including basic health care, immigration policies, climate control and secure access to food and water.
He expressed his particular satisfaction for the results of a recent U.N. summit on nuclear disarmament, chaired by Obama, which unanimously approved a resolution on nuclear disarmament and set the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
The second half of the pope's address examined the necessary connection between genuine progress and "fidelity to the truth." The pope defended the right and responsibility of church leaders in the United States to weigh in on ethical and social questions by "proposing respectful and reasonable arguments grounded in the natural law and confirmed by the perspective of faith."
The pope repeated a point he made during his visit to the United States in 2008: that freedom is also a continual summons to personal responsibility. He said that requires discernment and reasoned dialogue, and the church has a rightful voice in this process.
In explaining why the church insists on the unbreakable link between an "ethics of life" and every other aspect of social ethics, he quoted Pope John Paul II's encyclical, "The Gospel of Life," which said a society lacks solid foundations when it asserts values like human dignity but then "radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued or violated."
Diaz began his speech by saying Obama had been "deeply touched" to meet with and listen to the pope last July.
The ambassador, citing the pope's recent encyclical on economic justice, listed several areas of mutual U.S.-Vatican concern, including interreligious dialogue, environmental protection, the financial crisis, global poverty and the migration of peoples.
"Your urgent priorities coincide with those set forth by President Obama, and as ambassador of the United States I look forward to working with the Holy See to advance our common interests," he said.
He said the United States deeply respects the Vatican as "a sovereign entity, as a humanitarian actor and as a unique moral voice in the world." He noted past U.S.-Vatican partnerships in favor of religious freedom and human rights, and pledged to continue along that path.
The new ambassador closed his remarks by promising to be a "bridge-builder" between the United States and the Vatican, and strengthening their "indispensable relationship."
Diaz, 46, who taught at St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota, is the first Hispanic and the first theologian to represent the United States at the Vatican. Born in Havana, he came to the United States from Cuba as a child with his parents.
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, Oct.02, 2009 - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Benedict XVI have discussed anti-Christian violence in Pakistan, emphasizing the need to overcome discrimination.
The leader of the Islamic republic visited the Pope today in Castel Gandolfo.
A communiqué from the Vatican press office characterized the discussion as "cordial," saying it "provided an opportunity to examine the current situation in Pakistan, with particular reference to the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects."
"Evoking recent episodes of violence against Christian communities in some localities, and the elements that have favored such serious incidents, emphasis was given to the need to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation, with the aim of promoting respect for the rights of all citizens."
Christians and Hindus combined make up only 5% of Pakistan's 176 million people.
A series of violent incidents in the last few months have resulted in the death of several Christians at the hands of Muslim fundamentalists.
In this regard, Christians are urging the repeal of an anti-blasphemy law, which they claim gives Muslims "an invisible sword."
These laws were at the heart of a conflict in September, for example, when a Muslim mother, enraged at her adolescent daughter's romance with a Christian, accused the young man of desecrating the Quran. The boy was arrested and executed in prison.
The anti-blasphemy regulation went into effect in 1986; it calls for life imprisonment or death for those who blaspheme Mohammed or desecrate the Quran. Most of those who have been prosecuted under the law are Muslims.
However, the World Council of Churches says the law keeps minorities living in a "state of fear and terror" since it is often invoked as a way to punish minorities in business disputes.
In 2000, then President Pervez Musharraf tried to reform the law but failed under the pressure of fundamentalist groups.
Zardari, in office for just over a year, has announced that his government would work against the abuse of the legislation and increase vigilance.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Oct 02, 2009 - As the Catholic Church celebrated the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI offered his reflections on what her life can teach the faithful. The French saint's “little way,” he said, is the “humble path of love, capable of enveloping and giving meaning and value to all human affairs."
The Holy Father made his comments on Thursday as he bid farewell to Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano—the diocese in which the papal summer residence is located—as well as the numerous personnel that made the Pontiff's two month stay possible.
After thanking everyone for their service, the Pope recalled the fact that today marks the Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite nun of the convent of Lisieux.
"Her witness," he said, "shows that only the Word of God, accepted and understood in its concrete requirements, can become the source for renewed life.”
“To our society, often permeated by a rationalist culture and widespread materialism, St. Therese of Lisieux shows, as a response to the great questions of life, the 'little way' which looks to the essence of things. It is the humble path of love, capable of enveloping and giving meaning and value to all human affairs," Benedict XVI remarked.
Rome, Italy, Oct 2, 2009 - The government of Cyprus announced on Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted an invitation to visit the country made by President Demetris Christofias during an audience with the Holy Father at the Vatican on March 27.
The papal trip could take place in June of 2010, according to a story published by Vatican Radio.
According to the report, Maronite Archbishop Josef Souaef of Cyprus, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, and Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custodian of the Holy Land, have expressed their joy at the announcement of the Pope’s visit.
Vatican City, August 21, 2009 - Toward the end of his encyclical "Charity in Truth," Pope Benedict XVI included a brief but strongly worded analysis about the "increasingly pervasive presence" of modern media and their power to serve good or immoral interests.
The two pages on communications were barely noticed in an encyclical that focused on economic issues, but they underscored the pope's cautionary and critical approach to today's media revolution.
In particular, the pope zeroed in on the popular assumption in the West that the penetration of contemporary media in the developing world will inevitably bring enlightenment and progress.
"Just because social communications increase the possibilities of interconnection and the dissemination of ideas, it does not follow that they promote freedom or internationalize development and democracy for all," the pope wrote.
The pope's critique made several important points:
-- The mass media are not morally "neutral." They are often subordinated to "economic interests intent on dominating the market" and to attempts to "impose cultural models that serve ideological and political agendas," he said.
-- The media have a huge role in shaping attitudes, a role that has been amplified by globalization. That requires careful reflection on their influence, especially when it comes to questions of ethics and the "solidarity" dimension of development, he said.
-- Media have a civilizing effect when they are "geared toward a vision of the person and the common good that reflects truly universal values." That means they need to focus on promoting human dignity, be "inspired by charity and placed at the service of truth," he said.
Inspired by charity? That may sound overly idealistic to those familiar with some of the more popular talk-radio shows or blogs these days.
Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said recently that the pope is not naive about what's out there.
"He knows perfectly well what's circulating on the great networks of information. That's why he says we need to reflect on the distribution of words and images that are degrading to the human person, and put a halt to whatever fuels hatred and intolerance, or whatever wounds the beauty and intimacy of human sexuality," the archbishop said.
Archbishop Celli, who has pioneered some of the Vatican's new media initiatives, said that while the pope wants to affirm the opportunities of the media explosion he will voice concern when needed. One example is the concept of friendship: The pope believes it's an important element of the digital age, but risks being trivialized.
"It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop online friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbors and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation," the pope wrote in his annual message to communicators earlier this year.
Pope Benedict faces a challenging task when it comes to communications. The 82-year-old pontiff is definitely old school, preferring books to videos and expressing his most important ideas in documents that he writes out longhand.
At the same time, his aides have gone to great lengths to portray the pope as a friend of new media, featuring him in text messages, YouTube videos and podcasts. Yet Pope Benedict 's teaching style is not easily reduced to sound bites or video clips. Even his off-the-cuff remarks come across as carefully reasoned.
Moreover, the pope has found that his core message -- the importance of faith in God and the power of the Gospel to change lives -- often fails to make the news ticker. Media interest perks up when there's a Vatican controversy, but not when the pope talks about the need for saints in modern society.
Even the pope's long-awaited encyclical on economic justice, timed for release as the world's leaders were meeting to tackle the global financial crisis, was bumped off network newscasts and relegated to the inside pages of newspapers by an event too big to ignore: the massive memorial service the same day for Michael Jackson.
"The convictions and modes of behavior that hold the church together are located at a deeper level than the forms of expression and behavioral patterns that are imposed on us by the mass media," he said.
That's no sound bite, either, but it reflects the pope's caution against presuming that today's media culture is on the church's wavelength. It also implies that the media themselves should be a major target of modern evangelization.