Today in Church History

1524 Pope Clement VII approves Organization of Jewish Community of Rome

1769 Pope Clement XIV proclaims a universal jubilee 

Pope at General Audience: Wish you a nice time of Advent inspired by the communion of the Church

Vatican City, Dec.12, 2007 (CINS/SIR) - A figure that “helps us feel the Church as a sacrament of the intimate union with God, the unity between all of us and with all of mankind”. This is how the Pope defined Saint Paolino of Nola, a monk, a presbyter and a bishop of that city of Campania (but a native of Bordeaux), a contemporary of Saint Augustine, bound to him “by a lively friendship”. Of Saint Paolino’s typical spiritual traits, Benedict XVI mentioned “communion as his key approach to the mystery of the Church. In this sense – said the Pope to the about 5 thousand devotees who were in Aula Paolo VI –, I wish you a nice time of Advent”. In telling the biography of the Saint who was the topic of the catechesis of today’s general audience, the Pope began by recalling that Saint Paolino had “a fast political career”, as he became “at a young age” the governor of Campania, a position in which “he was much admired for his gifts of wisdom and mildness”. His “conversion” was driven by “the simple, intense faith with which the people used to honour the tomb of a saint, Felix the martyr”. “Since he was in charge of governance – said the Pope –, he took an interest in the sanctuary and had a poorhouse built, with a street to ease access to the pilgrims”. His meeting with Christ “was the finishing line of a laborious path, sown with ordeals” in which he experienced the transience of all things.

“A big-hearted man”, who “managed to be close to his people in the sorrowful contingencies of the barbarian invasions”. This is another definition used by the Pope to describe Saint Paolino of Nola, who “also experienced marriage”: he actually married Teresia, a “pious noblewoman” from Barcelona, from whom he had a son, who however died shortly after. Just because of this premature death, told Benedict XVI, Paolino understood that “God had some other design for his life”, and he felt himself “called to devote himself to Christ in a rigorous ascetic life”. Thus, “in full agreement” with his wife, he moved to Nola, where he lived in “chaste fraternity” and according to “a form of life of typically monastic retreat”. Ordained presbyter in Barcelona, Paolino “lived his priesthood to the benefit of the pilgrims” by lavishing pastoral attention mostly on the poor and through a “genuine pastoral of charity”. “In his monastic community – said the Holy Father –, the poor felt at home”, because Paolino “did not just give them alms, but welcomed them as Christ Himself”; he had “given them a ward of the monastery, he called them his patrons”.

With his poems, according to the Pope, Paolino “created the true Christian poetry”: “for me, the only art is faith – one of his verses – and Christ is my poetry”. His poetic production, according to Benedict XVI, is made up of “songs of faith and love, in which the daily history of small and big events is grasped as the history of salvation, of God with us”. Paolino was also “a paragon of Christian archaeology”: he had the sanctuary of Saint Felix extended with a new basilica and added to it “pictures and captions for a visual catechesis”, to attract people’s interest. As well as poverty, prayer and the practice of the “lectio divina”, Paolino had a strong feeling, according to the Pope, “of the meaning of the Church as a mystery of unity”, of “communion, mostly lived through a marked practice of spiritual friendship: in this he was a real master”, as is proven by “the intense pages he wrote to Augustine”, which exude “the warmth with which he praises friendship itself as a manifestation of the only body of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit”. “A beautiful description of what it means to be Christians, to live in the communion of the Church”, Benedict XVI defined it. 

Christ's Peace Parish Church shutdown by Indonesian authorities

Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec.12, 2007 (CINS/AsiaNews) – Indonesian authorities have prevented the parish priest of Christ’s Peace Church in South Duri (West Jakarta) from celebrating mass. The Catholic parish church in which the function was supposed to take place is at the centre of controversy ever since a group of Muslims have challenged its legal status. As a result of strong pressures from Muslim extremists Tambura Sub-district officials banned all activities in the church to avoid “social tensions.”

The parish priest, Fr Matthew Widyalestari MSC, signed an agreement forcing him to cease all activities in the church but expressed a desire to celebrate a Sunday mass for his 4,000 parishioners who now find themselves unable to practice their faith.

On Friday after a meeting between local Catholic leaders and officials from the West Jakarta District and the Tambura Sub-district, local political authorities insisted on cancelling the Eucharistic function as well. The same reason or excuse was given, “public order,” and the fear of sectarian clashes as Father Widyalestari told AsiaNews.

“The faithful want their spiritual needs fulfilled; they feel like they are on a most wanted list, forced underground to find another place to practice their religion,” the priest said.

But “technically it is difficult to find the right place”, said another priest, Father Lestari, MSC. “Some parishioners go to mass at the Provincial House of the Missionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but that place is not big enough for thousands of people.”

The Christ’s Peace Parish has at least 4,000 members and usually held three masses on week-ends. It has used the same building since 1968.

Some weeks ago a group of local Muslims calling themselves the Cooperation Forum for Mosque, Prayer Rooms and Koranic Group of Duri Selatan, challenged the legal status of the church and its presence in the area because it does not have the right permits required by places of worship.

In 2005 the Interior and Religious Affairs Ministries issued a joint decree designed to put a stop to violent attacks against so-called “illegal churches” by making it easier to get building permits.

However, attacks have not stopped and local Christian communities are still in a legal no man’s land, at risk of having to give up all forms of religious practice.

Today in Church History

384 St. Damasus I ends his reign as Catholic Pope

1925 Pope Pius XI publishes encyclical Quas Primas

1983 1st visit to Lutheran church by a pope (John Paul II in Rome) 

Christian leaders in China arrested, Secret campaign underway to normalise protestant Churches

Linyi, China, Dec.11, 2007 (CINS/AsiaNews) – Police in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have arrested 270 Protestant pastors from house Churches for taking part in an “illegal religious gathering” in the district of Hedeng near the city of Linyi. At present about 150 Christians are still in a state prison, this according to a US-based NGO, the China Aid Association (CAA), which lobbies for freedom of worship in China.

The arrests took place last Friday at around 1.30 pm local time. The Protestant clergymen had met to study the Bible when about 50 policemen from 12 different towns stormed the meeting place, blindfolded and handcuffed them two-by-two, and then taken them to a local police station for questioning.

According to Reverend Li, an eyewitness, the raid was “violence and swift.” Police arrived in armoured trucks and prevented anyone from leaving the area. About 120 Christians were eventually released after paying 300 yuan (US$ 40) as an “interrogation tax.”

Beijing allows evangelical Christianity to exist in China but only within the Three Self-Patriotic Movement, an organisation set up in 1950 soon after Mao’s takeover, followed by the expulsion of foreign missionaries and the incarceration of Chinese religious leaders.

Official Churches have about 10 million members within the Three Self-Patriotic Movement.

According to a secret document written by the Communist Party in Hubei Province, which was leaked to the West last November, a nationwide campaign is underway to “normalise” underground Protestant Churches by giving them two options: either join the Three Self-Patriotic Movement—the set of government-sanctioned patriotic Christian organisations—or be suppressed.

Either way, the campaign is in clear violation of United Nations resolutions on religious freedom which ban any distinction between lawful (government-controlled) and unlawful religions activities.

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