Pope Meets New U.S. Ambassador to Vatican

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.

Pope Benedict XVI : Vatican and Italian police like guardian angels

LES COMBES, Italy, Aug 1, 2009 - Pope Benedict XVI said the Vatican and Italian police who watched over him while he was on vacation in the Italian Alps were like "guardian angels, discreet and efficient."

But he was not quite so sure what his own guardian angel was up to.

"Unfortunately, my guardian angel -- certainly following orders from above -- did not prevent my accident," he said, referring to the fact that he tripped in the dark July 17 and broke his wrist.

Before leaving Les Combes to fly to the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome July 29, the pope met with the police, firefighters and other officials who were involved in maintaining public order and security while he vacationed in northern Italy.

Still referring to his broken right wrist, the right-handed pope told them, "Perhaps the Lord wanted to teach me greater patience and humility, and give me more time for prayer and meditation."

The pope said he had spent the past 16 days immersed in a "heavenly peace," with the silence interrupted only by the songs of birds, rain falling on the grass and the wind blowing through the trees.

He told the dozens of security officers, "Angels are invisible, but efficient at the same time. And you were the same -- invisible, but efficient."

"I enjoyed a heavenly peace here. No disturbance could enter. But many good things -- both material and immaterial -- got in. Many cakes, cheeses, wines," he said.

Pope Benedict posed for a separate group photograph with each of the public security agencies responsible for patrolling the Salesian-owned chalet where he was staying and with the journalists who followed him to the Alps.


Pope gave a Vatican document on bioethics to Obama

Vatican City, July 10, 2009 - When Pope Benedict XVI gave President Barack Obama a Vatican document on bioethics, he was trying to be clear with him about church teaching and open a path to further dialogue, the Vatican spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters after the meeting between the pope and the president that, in giving Obama the document July 10, "the intention was not to be divisive or political, but for clarity and objectivity; to say that, for us, this is extremely important."

Pope Benedict gave Obama the document "Dignitas Personae" ("The Dignity of a Person"), which was published in December by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In discussing issues such as abortion, artificial fertilization and stem-cell research, the document started with two fundamental church teachings: that the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception and that responsible human procreation occurs in an act of love between a man and a woman in marriage.

"There was no intention to be polemical," Father Lombardi said. "I do not agree with the idea that the pope was trying to point out their differences."

"It is important to talk about these things and to find a path to dialogue," he said.

The spokesman said Pope Benedict told him after the meeting that he felt Obama listened carefully, and the pope said that "the president explicitly expressed his commitment to reducing the number of abortions" and demonstrated his attentiveness to the church's concerns on a variety of moral issues.

In a briefing aboard Air Force One for reporters accompanying Obama to Accra, Ghana, Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the president and the pope had an extensive conversation about bioethics and abortion.

McDonough said the president emphasized his interest in finding common ground on reducing abortion and that Obama said he was looking forward to reading "Dignitas Personae."

Father Lombardi said the Vatican is very well aware of and supports the U.S. bishops in their efforts to try to convince the Obama administration to respect human life.

But, he said, the Vatican did not consult with the bishops in preparing for the visit, which the pope had been looking forward to for months.

"The election of Obama had an impact of global importance" and his policies have been known and followed "by everyone, including the pope and the (Vatican) secretary of state," Father Lombardi said.

"I think here we are talking about a level of attention and knowledge that I would say is very broad," he said.


Memorandum of Understanding signed at the Vatican Apostolic Palace

Vatican City, April 26, 2009 - According to a communique published yesterday, April 23, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretariat of State and the League of Arab States was signed at the Vatican Apostolic Palace. It was signed for the Secretariat of State by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States, and for the League of Arab States by Amr Moussa, secretary general of that organisation.

Among those present at the signing ceremony were Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. And Monsignors Fortunatus Nwachukwu, Alberto Ortega, Christophe El-Kassis, Nicolas Thevenin, Lech Piechota, and from the League of Arab States: Walid Al Gargani, Head of the Arab League mission to the Holy See, El Fateh El Naciry, Head of the European Department and Euro-Arabian Affairs, and Dina Douay, Desk Officer for Europe in the Cabinet of the General Secretariat. Also present were Ambassadors from several member-countries of the League of Arab States, to the Holy See.

The agreement consolidates the existing ties of collaboration between the Holy See and the League of Arab States, especially at a political and cultural level, in favor of peace, security and stability, both regionally and internationally. Furthermore, it proposes instruments for consultation between the two sides, with particular emphasis on initiatives of inter-religious dialogue. The agreement enters into effect with the signature of both parties.

-Agenzia Fides

Vatican released the programme of Holy Fathers trip to Holy Land

Vatican City, March 27, 2009 – Benedict XVI’s often-expressed desire to visit the Holy Land is now becoming reality. The Vatican released today the programme of the Holy Father’s trip set for 8-15 May, in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. In each country he will meet the head of state, Jordanian King Abdullah, Israeli President Peres and Palestinian President Abbas. This is the third papal visit in modern times to the land where Jesus lived. Pope Paul VI came in 1964 and John Paul II, in 2000.

In Jordan on 9 May Benedict XVI will visit the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo, the Mosque of al-Hussein bin Talal in Amman, and bless the cornerstone of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Madaba University. On the following day he will travel to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, site of the Lord's Baptism.

The Holy Father will arrive in Israel on Monday 11 May. After the welcome ceremony he will visit the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem and hold a meeting with organisations devoted to inter-faith dialogue.

On Tuesday 12 May, he will visit the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem and meet the Grand Mufti. He will then visit the Western Wall and meet Israel’s two Chief Rabbis. In the afternoon he will celebrate Mass in the Valley of Josaphat.

On Wednesday the Holy Father will travel to the Palestinian Territories. In Bethlehem he will celebrate Mass in Manger Square and in the afternoon visit the Grotto of the Nativity. After that he will visit the Caritas Baby Hospital and the Aida Refugee Camp, before returning to Jerusalem.

The visit to Nazareth will take place on Thursday, 14 May. Here he will celebrate Mass on the Mount of Precipice and then preside at Vespers with bishops, priests, religious, ecclesial movements and pastoral workers from the Galilee.

On Friday 15 May, the Pontiff will attend an ecumenical meeting at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and visit the Holy Sepulchre and the Armenian patriarchal church of St. James in Jerusalem, last leg of his trip before his farewell address and departure for Rome.


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