Moscow, Russia, Dec.29,2007 (CINS/Spero) - Russia’s only Catholic weekly Svet Evangelia (The Light of the Gospel) ceased publication on Christmas Day on orders of Mgr Paolo Pezzi, the new Archbishop of Moscow. In a farewell editorial its editor-in-chief Victor Khroul announced the paper closing, thanking readers for “their long lasting attention to weekly’s publications, for their prayer support, for their strong interest to Catholic Church life, for their generous mercy and inexhaustible hope.” Moreover, “[w]e would like to use this last chance to publish serious and interesting texts. That is why this Christmas issue is not so festive and joyful as it was some years before,” Mr Khroul wrote.
For many Catholic and non-Catholic readers alike the decision was as sad as it was unexpected. After its last issue was released the editorial offices received via e-mail many letters from readers from different regions expressing their sorrow, support and gratitude. Many also expressed hope that the publication might be revived because it was the only official outlet for Russian Catholics.
Founded in 1994 by Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, then Archbishop of Moscow, Svet Evangelia was launched by Fr Bernardo Antonini, an Italian missionary who passed away in 2002.
In addition to editorial offices in Moscow, the weekly had correspondents in Saint Petersburg, Saratov, Sochi, Novosibirsk, Tula, Ekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Magadan, and Vladivostok as well as other cities. It co-operated with Vatican Radio and news agencies in Poland, Italy, United States, Germany, Ukraine, Belorus and others. It published 13 monthly supplements overall.
It became a well-known and reliable source of news about religious life in Russia, developing an important readership among Russian Orthodox Christians.
In 2004 the International Catholic Union of the Press awarded it the Titus Brandsma Prize for weekly publications “for its remarkable efforts and initiatives for building bridges, for advocating justice and freedom, for promoting unity and dialogue among religions and churches and for defending human dignity through exemplary journalism.”
This year Svet Evangelia journalists were given the Award for Excellence in Journalism and the Award for Inter-Religious Dialogue at the International Catholic Union of the Press World Congress in Canada.
The Pontifical Council for Social Communications expressed its highest appreciation for the weekly’s professional level and for its contribution to the development of the Catholic Church in Russia and in favour of ecumenical dialogue.
The former chairman of the Pontifical Council, Archbishop John P. Foley, in his message of congratulations on Svet Evangelia’s10th anniversary in 2005, wrote: “I am happy to assure you and the staff and readers of the newspaper of the prayers of Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II.”
Vatican City, Dec 27, 2007 (CINS/CNA).- After years of rumors and speculation about his religious beliefs, former British prime minister Tony Blair was officially received into the Catholic Church on Friday.
Blair was received into full communion by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, during Mass in the chapel at the Archbishop’s house in Westminster. He had been receiving doctrinal and spiritual preparation from the cardinal’s private secretary, Monsignor Mark O’Toole.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor commented: “I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church. For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a program of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion.
“My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together.”
According to the New York Times, aides say that Blair, who stepped down as prime minister six months ago, delayed his formal conversion until after leaving office to avoid politicizing his religious beliefs. His conversion in office would also have generated controversy because the prime minister’s duties include a role in the appointment of Anglican bishops.
Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, and their four children are Catholics. Blair had made a practice of attending Mass with them, saying he did so to keep his family together on Sundays.
In 1996, the year before Blair became prime minister, Cardinal Basil Hume wrote to him asking him to stop receiving Holy Communion at a Catholic church near his home. Blair obeyed, but according to aides he wrote back to the cardinal, saying, “I wonder what Jesus would have made of it.”
Some Catholics in Britain have raised questions about Blair’s conversion, citing among other concerns the Blair government’s stands in favor of lax anti-abortion laws, embryonic stem cell research, adoptions by homosexuals, and same-sex civil unions.
John Smeaton, director of Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said in an interview published earlier this month in the journal The Spectator that Blair needed to clearly articulate a change of mind. “We need to hear a full repudiation from him.
Without one, having Blair as a Catholic is like having a vegetarian in a meat-eating club. It simply does not make sense,” Smeaton said.
Some indications of a change of heart have leaked through the virtual privacy fence Tony Blair has set up around his faith. Fr. Tim Russ, the pastor of the parish Blair frequented when he was prime minister, revealed to The Guardian that Blair confided his doubts about his administration’s stance on embryonic research several years ago. As the debate on embryo experimentation was going on in Parliament, Blair told Fr. Russ, "We are acting beyond our competence." The pastor took this to mean that Blair thought “matters of life were not within men's competence to decide.”
Former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe, who converted to Catholicism in 1993, also commented on Blair’s pro-abortion voting record saying, 'The crucial thing to remember is at the point you are received [into the Catholic church] you have to say individually and out loud: "I believe everything the church teaches to be revealed truth."
'That means if you previously had any problems with church teaching - as Tony Blair obviously did over abortion - you would have to say you changed your mind,' she told Sky News .
Meanwhile, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, commented on Blair’s conversion to the Catholic faith. This is "good news that we welcome with respect," he said. "Catholics are glad to welcome into their community those who, through a serious and reflective journey, convert to Catholicism."
Archbishop Rowan Williams, the leader of the Anglican Communion, to which Blair had belonged, wished the convert every good in his spiritual journey.
Tony Blair is presently an envoy to the Middle East.
Vatican City, Dec.20,2007 (CINS/VIS) - Today in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received a group of young people from Italian Catholic Action (ACI), for a traditional exchange of Christmas good wishes.
The Pope greeted Luigi Alici, national president of ACI, and Bishop Domenico Sigalini of Palestrina, Italy, recently appointed as the group's general ecclesiastical assistant, then began his remarks by mentioning the Italian child Antonia Meo, whose heroic virtues were promulgated recently by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Antonia, known as Nennolina, died of bone cancer in 1937 shortly before her seventh birthday. The Holy Father recalled how during her brief life she "showed special faith, hope and charity" and, presenting her as a model for the young people of ACI (of which she was a member), he affirmed that "her existence, so simple and yet so important, shows that sanctity is for all ages: for babies and for young people, for adults and for the elderly."
"She travelled quickly," said the Pope, "down the 'highway' that leads to Jesus ... Who is, in fact, the true 'path' that leads to the Father, and to His and our definitive home which is heaven."
"Jesus is the way that leads to the true life, the life that never ends. It is often a steep and narrow way but, if one allows oneself to be attracted by Him, it is always stupendous, like a mountain path: the higher one climbs the easier it becomes to gaze down upon new panoramas, ever more beautiful and vast. The journey is tiring but we are not alone. ... What is important is not to lose our way, not to miss the path, otherwise we risk falling into an abyss or getting lost in the woods.
"Dear friends," the Holy Father added, "God made Himself man to show us the way. Indeed, by becoming a child He made Himself the 'way,' also for young people like you: He was like you, He was your age."
Finally, Pope Benedict expressed the hope that Italian Catholic Action as a whole may "walk jointly and briskly along the path of Christ, bearing witness, in the Church and in society, to the fact that this is a beautiful path. It is true that it requires commitment, but it leads to true joy."
Bangkok,Thailand, Dec.19, 2007 (CINS/AsiaNews) – Christmas “is a spiritual, not a commercial event. We must prepare ourselves in the best possible way to welcome Christ in our hearts. For this reason, let us add to the traditional celebrations a special programme for ethnic minorities which are 90 per cent Catholic,” said Sister Supin Sirisawang, an ethnic Karen nun who talked AsiaNews about Christmas preparations in Thailand’s Mae Hongsorn province.
Masses during the Christmas season “are conducted in Thai and local languages. Most local Catholics are in fact ethnic Karen, Hmong, Akha or other groups. Each group has prepared its own cultural performance which will be presented in local school yards on Christmas Eve, both as a form of entertainment and as a path of inculturation.”
Sister Sirisawang’s own vocation was born when she met a missionary, Fr Peadae Bedo, who “brought Christ to the Karen. After meeting him my people converted to Catholicism and I decided to take the veil to follow his example, inspired by Christ.”
Now “in addition to catechism and preparing for Christmas, I am in charge of caring for the elderly and the widows in the villages of my area,” she added.
“Hua-la village was born in 1962,” said the parish priest for Hua-la district, Fr Komema Umpaipipat. “The first congregation to reach us was the Holy Heart of Betharram. Our first church was a hut made out of bamboo. Now, 45 years late, we can accommodate 4,000 tribal Catholics for next Christmas.”
Beijing, China, Dec.19, 2007 (CINS/AsiaNews) – For many underground Catholics there will be no Christmas mass: there bishops are under house arrest, as are many priests. As a result the only way they have of celebrating the Jesus’ birth is to gather together and listen to the mass transmitted by Vatican Radio. The lack of priests, (and of freedom) in many areas in China, forces many to travel up to 50 km to attend midnight mass.
Chinese Catholics divide themselves into 3 categories according to the different levels of devotion: those who pray every day; those who go to mass every Sunday; those who attend mass during the 4 principal feasts of the year, Easter, Pentecost, the Assumption and Christmas. But above all Christmas sees the greatest participation. Catholics from the Official and Underground Church prepare themselves during Advent with special prayer groups, confessions and novena’s, and by preparing the Christmas hymns.
The economic opening of China has led to Christmas becoming an accepted and loved holiday. Christmas trees are on sale in the major cuties and countryside, as will as nativity scenes and greeting cards.
In the cities, Catholic universities are increasingly in number and they organise carol singing and nativity plays for the night of December 24th. In numerous parishes, above all those in poorer rural areas, collections are made to help those in need or gifts are gathered for the poor children. Many prepare banners or red cards, with the greeting “Merry Christmas” to hang on their doorposts, echoing a tradition of the Chinese New Year.
But even at Christmas an atmosphere of persecution and control prevails. In official communities, during Christmas mass – above all the midnight vigil, invaded by university students many non Christian –it has become a tradition to limit participation with the introduction of entrance tickets. There are some who claim it is only a question of security and order, to avoid crowd control problems during the celebration. But in reality it is a method to stop new entries: tickets are only given to those who can prove they belong to a registered Catholic family.
Even Chinese police give great importance to surveillance during Christmas. This is why the underground communities are so careful: they prepare the mass in private homes, or in warehouses rented for the occasion. In some areas in the countryside – where local authorities hate the church – the faithful transfer elsewhere, they move to other villages using all available means of transport: buses, tractors, cars. For these night-time “excursions” all that is needed for the celebration of mass is brought along as well as for the party which will take place after, with sweetmeats and fruit.
The Christmas period is the most dangerous for underground priests because they have a higher risk of arrest. An elderly woman who has to travel over 50 km to participate in mass comments: “When will this persecution end? We only want to be able to practice our faith in freedom. In all of these years, even without freedom, we have always prayed that our political leaders will allow Christmas to be celebrated with joy in China”.