Archive for the ‘bishops’ Category
Interview With Archbishop of Accra
ACCRA, Ghana, APRIL 11, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church in Ghana is now just over 125 years old, and it is making the transition from being a missionary Church to one that is truly Ghanaian, with local languages being used for the Bible and worship.
Though this process is well under way, there are still many challenges to overcome.
In this interview given to the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, the archbishop of Accra, Ghana, considers the progress and the work still to be done.
Q: Your Excellency, the refrain of the missionaries was: “That Africa must be evangelized by Africans.” How much is this the reality now in Ghana?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In fact it was Pope Paul VI who sometime in 1969, I think, at the foundation of what we call the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of African and Madagascar, said: “You must have an African Christianity.”
Q: And is this happening in Ghana?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very much so, very, very much so. We have now 19 dioceses in Ghana, and all the bishops are Ghanaian. In fact there are dioceses in Ghana that have had a fourth generation Ghanaian bishop. The last foreign bishop I think left the shores of Ghana in the early 70s.
Q: What was the importance of these early missionaries for the Church in Ghana?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: We have to thank God for them. You know they began in 1880, the SMA Fathers — the Society of the Missionaries of Africa were the first ones to come to the south, Elmina near Cape Coast, the shores and they started the evangelization gradually along the coast and northward.
Q: With great physical suffering … I mean for these Europeans to come to Ghana must have been…?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Actually Ghana in those days was called the graveyard of the white man because many died of malaria within six or eight weeks of their arrival there. But we must thank God for the persistence, perseverance. … The missionaries kept coming. The men came, the women, the Lady of Apostles, that’s the female congregation of the SMA, they also came in 1882, I think, and they accompanied them, gradually to evangelize the south. In the north they had the SMA, who descended at that time from Ouagadougou, in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, and they settled in 1906 in Navrongo and they started the evangelization of the northern part also gradually descending into and meeting in the middle belt of the country. Today if you look at the statistics of Ghana, there must be I think roughly about 1,400 priests, and of these 1,400 about 1,000 are Ghanaian, are indigenous.
Q: So it’s a good foundation?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very much so, we have about 800 sisters, religious, of whom I think half or more are also indigenous, they are Ghanaian. We have about 600 religious brothers more than half are also Ghanaian.
Q: So there is great hope for the local church?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Well, very great hope, in fact many more challenges because the people … the country has a population of about 22 million. The Catholic population is a little bit below 20% of the overall population. The Protestants — the Anglicans, Methodist, Presbyterians, the Baptist and the rest — they are about 18% also, a little bit more than the Catholic population. The Muslims are about 16%. The Pentecostals are even more now. They got in only somewhere in 1929…
Q: But they are growing fast?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very fast they are about 24% of the population. So Ghana can boast of 68% of the population being Christians.
Q: The Ghanaian people have a deep love for the Word of God. In fact it is stated or reputed that if somebody comes to the market place and starts preaching, those in the market will stop and listen because it’s the Word of God. Where does this love for the Word of God come from?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Not only do they preach the Word of God, you’ll find it even on vehicles, written on vehicles Exodus 14:14 or Mathew 7:7: “Ask and you shall receive” and people know the Scriptures quite well. I would have to say that we must give credit to the Protestant churches and particularly to the Pentecostals for heightening the love of the Word of God, the Scriptures, the Bible, but I must also say that we’ve been working together in an ecumenical setting. For instance: Last year Ghana celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent country, and one of the projects of the Christian Council and the Ghana bishops’ conference was to distribute a million Bibles to young people who are in the junior high schools. We’ve already distributed about 250,000 – not [just] the Catholic Church, [but] the whole Christian family and we are still distributing further because our people love to read the Scriptures. They love to go to the Bible.
Q: Ghana is not only Christian, but there are still a lot of traditional religions in Ghana. What would be the different expression of traditional religion still existing in Ghana today?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: From our last census which took place in the year 2000 only about 8% of the population still belong steadfastly to the traditional religion.
Q: Would this be animist? What kind of religions would we be talking about?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Well, the word “animism” is no more being used very much because animism means believing in spirits. We believe in the Holy Spirit, but we are not animist are we? But what is the difference is that they believe that the forest has a spirit, the waters have spirits, the rocks have spirits, you know all of creation has spirit and they are still living in those things and what we admire them for is their respect for creation, their respect for the ecology which, unfortunately we Christians can blame ourselves for watering it down. So it is one of the things that we are now taking up: the protection of creation, the conservation of the environment which we have taken from them, and we are heightening it and there is a good resonance with the traditional religion it seems.
Another thing that we have to give credit to them for is that they have maintained our traditional governance: most of our chieftaincy rites rituals, which are embedded in their religious culture, and they’ve kept them going. They have also kept the family together, the sort of respect in the family between father, mother, parents, and children; they have maintained quite a lot of it and we are beginning to see that Christianity, at a point in time, emphasized more the individuals’ salvation as against the communitarian, community, social perspective of the history of salvation. We are taking that also from them and heightening it you know.
Q: Becoming a Christian sometimes means abandoning some one or more of these traditional aspects. Where and how is the Church trying to find a balance in this regard?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: We’d have to admit that from about 1880 to about Vatican II the mentality was that everything traditional was pagan, was very demonic, and was not good. Thanks to Vatican II, the Church has allowed us to appreciate the values in our culture. We are now beginning to realize that there is a lot of similarity, for instance, the rites of our people. I come from Accra; they have a rite for outdooring of a child when the child is born. They outdoor the child on the eighth day…
Q: What is that?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: That means giving a name. They bring the child out to the public. They give it a name, and the name is normally the name of one or the other ancestor who had lived a good life so it is believed that the ancestor then protects the child. The child becomes a property no more of his or her parents alone but of the entire clan, and the clan takes its responsibility toward the child. This is a beautiful rite. In fact I had to do my doctoral thesis on that to show its similarity to baptism, through which a person is born anew into the family of God and then is given a name, which identifies him or her with Christianity.
Q: Baptism is integrated into this traditional ritual?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In many places what they do is they have the traditional ritual very early in the morning because it must happen before sunrise and then they have the baptism in the afternoon on Saturday.
Q: There are some elements of traditional religion that the Church has to redress like polygamy and issues like this. How does the Church work with the local and the traditional cultures to try and address these kinds of problems?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Not only for polygamy, we also have very violent widowhood rites and other rites that we are now trying to deal with for example…
Q: What would be some of these examples?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: When a woman’s husband died, she was maltreated, and she was subjected sometimes to some form of cruelty in some cases she was driven out of the house…
Q: Because they thought that somehow she was responsible for the death of her husband or?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In some cases ignorantly it was so thought, in other cases it was some sort of a shock therapy for her to get over the pain of having lost her husband. There are very positive aspects and negative aspects — because of human wickedness sometimes the negatives have overshadowed the positive, but I must say that, above all the good rites, as you say polygamy for instance where a man married two or three wives, had children; they all farmed with him on the farm, they acquired property together, the kids were more or less farm hands and everything. Now, the difficulty of Christianity has been to come in and tell the man: send 2 of your wives away, send your children away…
Q: What do you do?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: What do you do? Just like Abraham had to, in the book of Genesis to send away Hagar and her son Ishmael, and if you look back today you have to admit that some of the present problems go further back to those who trace their origins to Isaac and those who trace it to Ishmael. It’s very sad so we have been caught up in the Church; we know how to deal with this particular situation.
Q: Practically, a man comes to you: I want to become a Christian, I want to be Baptist, I’m in a polygamous relationship, I have four wives. How does the church respond to a situation like this?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Officially we tell them what the Church says: One man one woman. We normally advise them, the man to choose the oldest wife, the one with whom he is at, but we also try to help them to take care of the children and the women without necessarily making use of what we call the marital offices that offend Christian morality of adultery and the rest of it. And it’s not easy. There have been cases where the offspring of these women, together with the man, have blamed the Church for ruining their family system because in many, many places they have lived at peace with one another: The boys have identified with the three women as their mothers, in the absence of their father, the women have taken care of all the children. This is an ideal situation of course. There have been other situations where it wasn’t too ideal, with a lot of rivalry between their mothers and their children and that has created a lot of pain.
So what we try to do is to accompany them through growing. Once they accept Christ, you must accompany them to grow in their faith, and as they grow in the knowledge of their faith, by the grace of God, those who have been baptized do away with what we call the sinful remains of a thing like polygamy or like the widowhood rites or other rites that may not be in consonance with the Catholic or the Christian faith.
Efforts to Stimulate Interest in Reconciliation
By Father John Flynn, L.C.
ROME, OCT. 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Confession is undergoing a revival of sorts after a long period of neglect. There has been a spate of recent press articles on the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation, as it is often termed.
On Sept. 21 the Wall Street Journal reported that more than 5,000 people turned up at a Reconciliation Weekend held in March in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida.
A column dated March this year by Bishop Thomas Wenski, posted on the Orlando Diocese’s Web page, spoke about the need for confession. The loss of the sense of sin was termed “the spiritual crisis of our age,” he said.
Last year, the bishop noted, he wrote to the priests of his diocese, asking them to make more time to hear confessions. This year he explained that a number of parishes were going to organize a special Reconciliation Weekend, just prior to Holy Week.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal article explained that interest in confession is rising among some Protestant denominations. This summer, a North American branch of the Lutherans passed a resolution at a meeting supporting the rite of confession, after more than a century of neglect.
Some of the Protestant versions of confession being popularized are, however, notably different from the Catholic sacrament. The Wall Street Journal mentioned practices such as individuals coming clean in videos that are even posted on sites such as YouTube, for all to see.
Other initiatives include a confession Web site, set up by an evangelical congregation in Cooper City, Florida, which according to the Wall Street Journal has postings from 7,700 people who list their faults.
The rising interest in confession marks a turnaround, the article observed. A 2005 survey reported that only 26% of Catholics in the United States went to confession at least once a year, down from 74% in the early ’80s.
The revival in confession, particularly of the public kind, can take all sorts of forms, as is evidenced in a Reuters article from Sept. 27. The agency reported on a new Web site set up by a major publisher of romantic fiction, Harlequin Enterprises. People will be able to confess, anonymously, their sins online, with others being able to read their postings.
More news on varieties of confession came in a major feature article, published Aug. 31 by the Los Angeles Times. The paper gave details about a number of Web sites where confessions can be made. One of the sites even allows other persons to comment on and give advice to those who confess.
Turning on the light
The Catholic Church is also trying to promote interest in confession. This year some dioceses launched campaigns to encourage use of the sacrament in the period prior to Easter. In Washington, D.C., for example, all the 140 churches of the archdiocese opened for confession every Wednesday evening.
The effort was part of a campaign titled “The Light Is On for You.” Included in the campaign were radio and billboard ads, and a Web page set up with a variety of material encouraging participation in the sacrament. In addition, 100,000 printed guides in Spanish and English were distributed.
Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl also penned a pastoral letter, “God’s Mercy and the Sacrament of Penance,” as part of the campaign.
“Despite our best intentions, each of us has experienced personal failure,” he noted in the introduction to the letter. We are aware, explained Archbishop Wuerl, “that a part of us is determined to do good while at the same time an element within us continually turns away from the good we know we can do.”
God does not leave us alone in this situation of our human weakness and the ever-present reality of sin, the letter added. “Jesus gives us newness of life in grace that begins to restore our relationship with God which will lead to full communion with God in glory.”
This power to forgive sins was extended by Jesus to the Church and is administered through the sacrament of confession.
“It remains one of the great marvels of God’s love that God would make forgiveness so readily available to each of us,” Archbishop Wuerl commented.
“The sacrament of reconciliation is the story of God’s love that never turns away from us,” he said. “Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, God waits, watches and hopes for our return every time we walk away.”
Not all are convinced, however, that these efforts to stimulate confession will succeed. Time magazine, which gained notoriety for its Sept. 3 cover issue that sought to cast doubts on Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s faith, posted an article dated Sept. 27 on its Time.com Web page titled “The Unrepentant.”
Noting the decades-long decline in us by Catholics of the sacrament, the article attempted to argue that reaction against the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” has “led to a wider re-evaluation of what constitutes sin — and whether confession is really necessary.”
The article also doubted that recent efforts in the American dioceses to promote confession had obtained any real success and concluded that future efforts are similarly doomed.
Another recent initiative to revive interest in confession comes in the form of a book titled “The Gift of Confession, (Connor Court Publishing). Father Michael de Stoop, a priest in the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, aimed to portray confession in a positive way, emphasizing the many benefits the sacrament offers believers.
Many people, he noted in the book’s introduction, are unaware of the theological background that can help us to understand and appreciate confession. In addition to freeing us from sin, the sacrament also restores and increases our opportunities to share in God’s divine life, Father de Stoop explained.
Thus, confession frees us from sin, and also restores our freedom to live a life of virtue by restoring within us the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The grace we receive strengthens our will to resist sin, thereby enabling us to progress in holiness.
By making us more aware of the evil of sin and the need to avoid it, regular participation in confession, the book observes, also helps us to build our character and develop good habits. Coming closer to God by means of the sacrament of reconciliation will also make it easier for us to pray.
Benedict XVI reflected on the importance of confession, in words directed to the youth of Rome, gathered March 29 in St Peter’s Basilica to prepare for the local diocesan celebration of World Youth Day on April 1.
God’s love for us, expressed by the death of Christ on the cross, has obtained for us the gift of the Holy Spirit through which our sins are forgiven and peace granted, the Pope commented.
“Christ draws us to him to unite himself with each one of us so that, in our turn, we may learn to love our brothers and sisters with this same love, as he has loved us,” the Pontiff added.
Once we are filled with this love, Benedict XVI recommended to the young people, we are called upon to make an impact in the world by means of an authentic Christian witness. Valuable words of encouragement to encourage participation in a sacrament neglected for too long.
Catholic Schools in the Spotlight
Role of Faith and Education Debated
By Father John Flynn, L.C.
ROME, OCT. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- State funding of Catholic schools has been a hotly debated topic in the lead-up to Oct. 10 legislative elections in the Canadian province of Ontario.
John Tory, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, raised the issue when during the campaign he questioned why Catholic schools in the province are state-funded while other faith-based schools are not, reported the National Post newspaper Aug. 25.
Tory, who is hoping to unseat the ruling Liberal Party Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty, proposed extending public funding to other faiths, at an estimated cost of 400 million Canadian dollars (US $407).
The newspaper article explained that the decision to fund provincial Catholic schools dates back to the 1867 Constitution Act, which established in Canada two systems of publicly funded education: government and Catholic. Other provinces have since changed their education funding, but this has not been the case in Ontario.
In reply to Tory’s proposal some critics proposed simply eliminating any public funds for all faith schools. “The best course of action would be to simply eliminate public funding for Ontario’s Catholic schools,” opined an editorial in the Globe and Mail newspaper on Sept. 6.
The editorial echoed a censure heard with frequency in some quarters, saying: “As we struggle to avoid the polarization of ethnic and religious minorities, governments should not be contributing to it by encouraging kids to interact only with members of their own faith.”
An opinion supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in an open letter dated Sept. 21 written to Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, said: “Public funding of religious schools will drain resources from the public system and promote private schools at the expense of public schools.”
The province’s Catholic bishops had their say in the altercation, reported the Ottawa Citizen newspaper on Sept. 10. “The public funding of Catholic schools recognizes that parents have the right to make educational choices for their children, and that the state should assist them,” said a statement issued by Bishop James Wingle, head of the Diocese of St. Catharines and president of the Ontario conference of bishops.
“The primacy of parental rights in education is a value which should be realized not only by Catholic parents, but also by others,” the prelates’ continued.
The bishops also stated that they “respect and support the wishes of parents in other faith communities for religion education in the public school system or for alternative schools which reflect their beliefs and values.”
Faith-based education was also criticized in England recently, by columnist Zoe Williams, in a commentary written Sept. 19 for the Guardian. Her article came after the decision of Catholic schools in Northern Ireland to disband their support groups for Amnesty International, owing to its adoption of a pro-abortion stance.
Williams accused Christians of “prosecuting an agenda that is repugnant,” through their schools and argued that they should not receive any public funds.
Times opinion columnist Alice Miles previously expressed similar sentiments. In a May 23 article, she accused the middle classes of using the faith schools “as a barely covert form of social and academic selection.”
Selecting on belief
Schools run by Anglicans or the Catholic Church, Miles argued, should not be allowed to select pupils on the basis of belief, but should simply accept anyone who applies to enter.
The question of using religious criteria to select pupils also came up recently in Ireland, reported the Irish Times newspaper on Sept. 15.
Replying to criticisms of Catholic schools, Bishop Leo O’Reilly, chairman of the Irish bishops’ education commission, said that the schools were founded by the Church to provide a Catholic education for its members.
Parents have a right to have their children educated in Catholic schools, and having contributed through taxes to fund public education, it is not unfair that the faith schools receive government funds, argued Bishop O’Reilly.
The right of parents to choose what sort of education they wish for their children, he added, is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.
Shortly afterward, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh spoke about the topic of faith schools in a speech given Sept. 21 for the launch in Belfast of a Web site for the Consultative Group on Catholic Education.
At a time of moral confusion, he argued, Catholic education defends the dignity of the human person and offers a set of values based on the Gospel.
Labeling such an education as divisive is simply not the truth, Archbishop Brady maintained. “Reconciliation, love of neighbor, respect for difference: These values are intrinsic to Catholic education because they are intrinsic to the message of Jesus,” he said.
“We do not abandon children to the ‘whatever you think yourself’ approach to morality so often associated with a purely secular or state-based education often found in other countries,” the archbishop added.
The advantages of a Catholic education were enough to persuade even an atheist to make a large donation, as an article posted May 23 on Bloomberg.com explained. Retired hedge-fund manager Robert W. Wilson announced he was giving $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York to fund a scholarship program for needy inner city students attending Catholic schools.
“Let’s face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization,” Wilson said.
Nevertheless, Catholic schools face trials in some areas. In Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald Wuerl is proposing to convert eight out of the 28 Catholic schools into charter schools, due to financial pressures, reported the Washington Post on Sept. 8.
The plan means the schools lose their religious identity, as they would be run by a secular body. Archbishop Wuerl said this was the only way to continue providing education for many low-income families.
Chicago is also facing a time of transition, as an article published Sept. 11 in the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported. Chicago’s Catholic schools educate 98,000 students, but responsibility for this task now depends on laypeople instead of members of religious orders.
Citing data from the National Catholic Education Association, the article noted that while in the 1950s about 90% of the Catholic teaching staff was made up of religious brothers and sisters. Today, there are only 206 religious teaching in Chicago’s Catholic schools, or 4% of the staff.
Meanwhile, Catholic schools in Australia face a different kind of situation. Private schools, many of them Catholic, are flourishing. An article published Feb. 27 by the Australian Associated Press reported that the number of students at independent and Catholic schools had risen by 21.5% since 1996.
Over the same period, numbers in government schools increased by just 1.2%. By the end of last year, 66.8% of Australia’s 3.36 million full-time school students went to government schools, down from 70.7% in 1996.
In spite of the numerical success there are concerns over the Catholic identity of the Church schools. On Aug. 8 the bishops of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory issued a statement titled “Catholic Schools at a Crossroads.”
In it, they observed that over the past two decades the proportion of children in their schools from non-practicing Catholic families has risen considerably. As well, enrollments from non-Catholics have more than doubled to 20% from 9%.
The bishops urged school leaders to study how to maximize enrollment of Catholic students and also to work in order to maintain the religious identity of their institutions. The document recommended a greater space for prayer and liturgy, along with sound religious education. Maintaining the Catholic identity of schools in clearly no easy task in today’s world.
Interview With Mark Miravalle
ROME, SEPT. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Violations of human rights and religious freedom continue to be widespread in China, says the author of a book on the Asian country.
Mark Miravalle, a professor of theology and Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, traveled to China last summer and saw firsthand the daily struggles of the people and the faithful in the country.
In this interview with ZENIT, he talks about his book “The Seven Sorrows of China” (Queenship Publications), and some of the testimonies from underground Church clergy, religious and laity, as well as a confidential interview with an underground bishop.
Q: What led you to visit China and write this book on the situation there?
Miravalle: I went to China with the sole intention of helping friends there who were taking in terminally ill abandoned orphans and caring for them in a Mother Teresa-type manner.
Each day instead brought with it an encounter with the horrific violations of human dignity and religious freedom that have been significantly neglected in the secular media’s recent portrayal of a “new democratic and open” China. I found the opposite to be the case.
Women are being forced to have abortions by the population police in every province. Bishops and priests who refuse to cooperate with the government-run Chinese patriotic church are oftentimes hounded down, arrested, imprisoned and sometimes tortured.
Underground seminaries are at times no more than an abandoned building without electricity or heat. Religious and human-rights violations are ubiquitous.
Q: What are the seven sorrows of China that you refer to in the title of your book?
Miravalle: The seven sorrows represent seven categories or concrete cases of oppression presently being experienced by the Chinese people. For example, one sorrow conveys the account of a woman I met in a secret refugee house for pregnant women who wanted to have their babies in spite of government prohibitions. She had to flee the house in her hospital gown and rush into a taxi held by a Catholic religious sister in order to save her baby from abortion.
Another sorrow refers to an underground bishop who risked his life to give an interview so that the West could know the real story about religious persecution in China. Still another sorrow tells of a small Catholic village that, through Catholic solidarity Chinese-style, are having large families and public Catholic liturgies in spite of the one-child policy and government opposition to unsanctioned public religious gatherings.
Love of our Blessed Mother was so frequently referred to by members of the underground Church. I could not help but think of how her heart, pierced seven times historically because of the innocent suffering of her divine Son, continues to be pierced mystically as she observes the unjust suffering of the noble Chinese people. She sees Jesus in each innocent Chinese person tortured, abused, aborted. So should we.
Q: What about the fact that Beijing has been awarded the 2008 Olympics? Isn’t the Chinese government trying to convince the West that it is more open and democratic?
Miravalle: This is precisely the question I asked the underground bishop I was able to interview.
We met secretly in an impoverished family dwelling near his cathedral, as he had numerous police watching the cathedral. His answer was, “The Chinese government is like the fox that goes up to the chicken and says, ‘Happy New Year,’ and then devours the chicken. We are not free to practice our Catholic faith. I have been imprisoned for a total of 20 years, where I have experienced hard labor, and witnessed the torture and killing of priests and laity.”
When I suggested that perhaps it would be imprudent to include the reference to 20 years in prison for fear that it would break his anonymity, he said there would be no problem including this fact since all underground bishops have spent approximately 20 years in prison for refusing to compromise their Catholic faith and their loyalty to the Holy Father.
Q: Did the underground bishop have any comment on Benedict XVI’s recent letter to the Church in China?
Miravalle: Yes, the bishop had received a copy of the letter just a few days before our interview. The Chinese government blocked all Web sites, including the Vatican Web site, that posted the Holy Father’s letter, but the underground Church has its information networks.
The bishop praised Benedict XVI’s letter for its wisdom and prudence. In fact, my interview with the bishop was interrupted 10 minutes after it began, because regional police came to the cathedral searching for the bishop. The people at the house were afraid they were taking the bishop back to prison.
A half-hour later, the bishop returned to our clandestine meeting place, and told me the police had come to warn him not to say anything publicly about the Pope’s letter. The bishop then smiled and commented how the inevitable could not be stopped.
Q: What about the government’s one-child policy? How is this being enforced?
Miravalle: I received testimonies from women who had gone to the hospital nine months pregnant and in labor, but without the government’s certificate allowing for birth. After consultation with the population police, a doctor or nurse would re-enter the room with a needle and inject a substance into the abdomen of the woman, which would instantaneously kill the unborn child.
Other married couples would return home from the hospital with their second child and find their home burned to the ground. Still others would be forced to pay high fines or return to homes where everything was removed, including windows and doors, except for the kitchen table.
Does this sound like a new, democratic, religion-respecting government? What if any of our Western families received this type of treatment for trying to bring a beautiful new baby into the world?
Just last week, another underground bishop died in prison and his body was cremated six hours later in the middle of the night. Was there something to hide? What if this happened to one of our bishops in the West?
Q: Did you see any signs of hope for the Church in China during your visit?
Miravalle: Yes. In a few remarkable villages within provinces known for their heroic stands of faith and martyrdom for our Catholic faith under untold persecution, many families had multiple children and public Masses and Marian processions.
I flew to one particular village and interviewed the parish priest, asking how this was possible in light of Beijing’s one-child policy. He answered, “Here, we are united. The priests would die for the bishop, and people would die and have died for their bishop and priests, and the bishop is completely loyal to the Holy Father. We are so united that they would have to wipe us all out, and they will not do that now.”
I asked the parish priest and religious sister translating for us, what makes this village different. They responded: “We rely on the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the blood and prayers of the martyrs before us. Here we are Catholic. If you do not follow the Holy Father, then you are not Catholic.”
Q: What can the Church in the West do to help the Church in China?
Miravalle: Our hearts should feel pierced as we hear of the daily plight of our Chinese Catholic brothers and sisters. This should lead to committed daily prayer for the Church and the people of China.
I also asked the underground bishop this question. He said, “Pray, pray for the Chinese Church. Finances can help, but most of all, pray.”
The bishop added that Communism is not the only evil facing his people.
He shared: “In the last few years, my people are being affected with a secular, worldly idea of happiness, that they can find their ultimate happiness in this life. They have lost their desire for prayer and sacrifice. This is an even greater danger than the Communist government.”
The bishop then exhorted, “Pray to Our Lady, Maria! She is the remedy for the situation in China. It is like the battle in the Book of Revelation, between the woman and the dragon. It is first a spiritual, cosmic battle. Pray to Our Lady for China.”
“The Most Difficult Moment Was in Cairo”
ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Though Cardinal Renato Martino wanted to be a missionary, his poor health prohibited him from following that dream. Instead, he joined the Holy See’s diplomatic service and in this way, he says, fulfilled his great desire to evangelize.
Cardinal Martino is now the president of two pontifical councils: the Pontifical Councils of Justice and Peace, and the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers. This summer he celebrated the golden anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, a vocation with which he says he is “still enchanted.”
In this interview with ZENIT, the 74-year-old prelate reflects on some of the milestones of his ministry.
Q: Your Eminence, how did you discern your vocation?
Cardinal Martino: I come from a family marked by faith and Catholic tradition, with a wonderful mother, who was also an artist. The holy card marking my 50th anniversary to the priesthood, with the Virgin and Child, was painted by her. [I had] a strict father and four brothers and sisters. A large family, totaling 56 people at Christmas gatherings; I have 13 nephews and nieces and 26 great-nephews and nieces.
Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a missionary. I was fascinated by the Jesuit missionary preachers who came to Naples, to our parish.
Unfortunately, the dream very soon vanished, because I was too frail and the doctors told me clearly that my constitution would not endure in missionary lands.
My desire to carry the Gospel to the world took on another path. Through a number of circumstances, I frequented the Vatican Diplomatic Academy, the oldest in the world and, since 1962, I have worked with the nunciatures of Nicaragua, Philippines, Lebanon, Canada and Brazil.
Between 1970 and 1975, I was in charge of the section for international organizations in the Secretariat of State. Subsequently, on Sept. 14, 1980, the Pope at that time, John Paul II, sent me as pro-nuncio to Thailand, as apostolic delegate, to attend to the relations with Singapore, Malaysia, Laos and Brunei.
In 1986, I was appointed permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York and, in that capacity, I took part in the major international conferences promoted by the United Nations during the 90s, particularly in New York, 1990, at the World Summit for Children; in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992, at the Conference on Environment and Development; in Barbados, 1994, at the Conference on Small Island Developing States and, that same year, in Cairo, at the Conference on Population and Development.
In Beijing, China, 1995, at the World Conference on Women; in Istanbul, Turkey, 1996, at the Conference on Human Settlements; in Rome, 1998, at the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court; in New York, 2000, at the Millennium Summit;
In Monterrey, Mexico, 2003, at the International Conference on Financing for Development. Also, in Madrid, Spain, at the World Assembly on Aging, and, that same year, in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Conference on Sustainable Development.
Q: You have had to face many difficult situations, including frequent disagreements with United Nations offices and delegations that, particularly in the 90s, were especially critical of the Holy See, above all with regard to demographic policies, abortion, contraception … Could you comment on this experience?
Cardinal Martino: The most difficult moment was in 1994, in Cairo, during the Conference on Population and Development. President Bill Clinton’s administration, together with a greater part of the developed countries, were determined to get the conference to recognize abortion as an international right.
Some nongovernmental organizations even requested that the Vatican delegation be expelled from the United Nations. But with the Lord’s help and thanks to the support, on that occasion, of Latin American and Islamic-majority countries, we succeeded in rejecting the attempt to approve abortion as a contraceptive method.
As head of the Vatican delegation, I managed to obtain the support of 43 delegations and to ensure that paragraph 8.25 of the final document adopted by the conference should declare that “on no account may abortion be invoked as a family planning method.”
This regulation remains in force to this day, despite frequent and continuous attempts to eliminate it. So far, voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which, unfortunately, is still a dramatic phenomenon these days, has never been approved by any United Nations body.
Q: What mission to you look back upon with most satisfaction?
Cardinal Martino: From May 15 to 21 this year, at the express request and in representation of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, I visited Ivory Coast, a country torn by a long period of strife and bloodshed.
During my stay, I celebrated the Eucharist in several cities and parochial communities; I met with the bishops and highest authorities in the country. Particularly, I attended a meeting with the President, Laurent Gbagbo, who appointed as his prime minister former rebel chief, Guillaume Soro, a brilliant 34-year-old Catholic.
In order to give consistency and solidity to the peace agreements, I invited both of them to the solemn Mass I celebrated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Abidjan, on May 20.
The cathedral was crowded with faithful, together with the bishops and civil authorities. I encouraged the people of Ivory Coast to continue along the way of peace and to promote national reconciliation and the participation of all the country’s living forces, without any form of political, religious, cultural or ethnic exclusion.
When the time came to exchange a gesture of peace, I invited the president of the republic and the prime minister to come up to the altar to receive my peace gesture. After that, I invited them to exchange peace with each other: They hugged each other, assuring that this would last — a great gesture of reconciliation, before the applause of several thousand people.
All this was transmitted live by the national television channel. I instructed them never to forget that day, should difficulties arise in the future, because this was a historical gesture, a commitment of peace and concord sealed in the cathedral, before God. To all the people of Ivory Coast, to the numerous innocent victims, to the groups of those displaced, to those wounded, and to so many others, I expressed the spiritual closeness of the Holy Father and, in his name, I offered some financial help toward the primary needs of those in most dire hardship.
This was the most effective way of presenting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and its practical application.
I have also been thanked for this meeting and for the reinforcement of the peace process by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who I had met before he took on that position, because he represented South Korea before the United Nations during the same period as my stay in New York, where I attended to a group of South Korean Catholics.
For 18 years, I administrated confirmation to members of this group. I saw Ban Ki-moon in Rome, when the promotion of his candidature had not yet begun, and I told him I was sure of his election. He looked at me in surprise, incredulously. I assured him: We’ll talk about it after your election. I’m sure you will do a lot of good.
Q: On Oct. 1, 2002, John Paul II called you to Rome, to take over the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, but as head of this dicastery, you continued your travels throughout the world …
Cardinal Martino: Taking on the direction of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and, since March 11, 2006, also that of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers, allows me to sustain and prolong the task of evangelization which I wished to carry out from the days of my youth.
The publication and diffusion of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was a stimulating task. As I noted in the introduction to the volume, “transforming social realities with the power of the Gospel, to which witness is borne by women and men faithful to Jesus Christ, has always been a challenge and it remains so today at the beginning of the third millennium of the Christian era.”
I am fully aware that the announcement of Jesus Christ is not easily swallowed in the world today, but precisely because of that, the people of our time are in need, more than ever, of faith that saves, of hope that enlightens, and of charity that loves.
These are the reasons that move the Church to intervene with its teachings in the social field, in order to help and accompany Catholics in serving the common good.
Q: Is there something that you would like to accomplish but which you have been unable to?
Cardinal Martino: I have no regrets. I am still enchanted with the priesthood. I thank the Lord every day for the grace of the priesthood. I have celebrated more than 19,000 masses, and each one of them has been a real gift to me, because, even if my role had only been that of celebrating the Eucharist alone or for a small community, I would, however, be grateful to the Lord for having had the opportunity to serve him.