Posts Tagged ‘mass’

Beijing Faces a Faith Explosion

ROME, JUNE 28, 2007 ( A new documentary, “God in China. The Struggle for Religious Freedom,” explores the best-kept secret of China: religion. According to the documentary, China is going through a massive resurgence of religious belief that the authorities of the atheistic regime are neither able to control nor contain.

Written and directed by Raphaela Schmid, director of the Becket Institute, and produced by Yago de la Cierva of Rome Reports TV News Agency, the documentary was previewed by students, professors and journalists in Rome.

With its new office in Rome, the Becket Institute is exploring ways to go beyond the conventionally academic means to educate a wider public about religious freedom.

“One such way is making topical television documentaries about religious freedom, based on the situation in various countries,” Schmid said.

While not a film exclusively about Catholic issues, the China documentary offers unprecedented insight into both sides of the divide between the “official,” or the government-controlled Patriotic Association of Catholic Churches, and the “underground” Church that remains loyal to Rome.

The film takes viewers across China where they meet believers of different faiths struggling for religious freedom, walking a thin line between toleration and persecution. In some places they discover new freedom, in others they suffer state control and even persecution.

From a rural underground parish to a clandestine seminary, from a state-sponsored Buddhist Academy to a mosque at the heart of Beijing’s Muslim community, Chinese people from all walks of life candidly tell their stories and offer their assessment of what the future may hold for them.

The film coincides with the first official admission that at least 30% of all Chinese declare themselves to be members of a religion. More surprisingly, 20 million of the 60 million members of the Communist Party confess belonging to a religion.

It also makes clear the limitations various religious communities, whether state-controlled or independent, continue to face. “During the Cultural Revolution, faith communities were driven underground,” Schmid explains. “In 1978, Deng Xiaoping’s liberalization program began to open doors for the return of religion to Chinese public life.”

Schmid said that some properties were restored and religious rights reaffirmed in the recently revised constitution. But even this limited sort of freedom came at a price: obeying the directives of the state-run Bureau for Religious Affairs.

In the case of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Patriotic Association was founded in an attempt to bring Catholic Church teaching in line with Communist party ideals.

“Those who refused to compromise had to remain underground,” Schmid said. Throughout the documentary, viewers are made aware of the dangers that still exist. Christians who do not surrender their faith to government directives are in danger of being arrested. Mass is celebrated secretly, and makeshift churches can be torn down by local authorities from one day to the next.

Schmid said that while the underground Church is less vigorously persecuted today, there are still many bishops and priests in prison. In addition to more obvious issues of freedom, the documentary explores more subtle problems, such as making the teachings of the Church accessible to the faithful.

“It’s important to understand that joining the Patriotic Association is not a mere formality for Chinese Catholics,” Schmid explained.

“The problem is that, under state control, the Church cannot speak up on important issues such as abortion, the one child policy, human rights, and the death penalty — and for this they must have leaders who do not acquiesce to a mutilated version of the faith, accommodated to the demands of the state.”

Reflecting on her experience in China, Schmid said, “What struck me most during the filming of this documentary in China was the generosity and kindness of the people we met, particularly those who did so at great personal risk.”

The film on China is the team’s second venture. The first project was about religious freedom in Turkey and was filmed shortly before Benedict XVI’s visit there last November.

* * *

Learning Peace in Bethlehem

Within the Israeli-built wall that segregates Bethlehem from its neighboring communities, Bethlehem University of the Holy Land is a haven for some 2,500 students.

The university, supported by the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches and staffed by the De LeSalle Christian Brothers, is the only Catholic Christian institution of higher learning in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Brother Daniel Casey, vice chancellor and chief executive officer of Bethlehem University, was among the 100 or so members of the Vatican agency that coordinates funding to Eastern Catholic Churches that met in Rome last week for their annual meeting. The agency, known by its Italian acronym ROACO, is under the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

Founded in 1973, the university opened almost a decade after Pope Paul VI’s historic visit to the region when Palestinians expressed their desire for a Catholic University in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Throughout its 30-year history, the Christian brothers, educational leaders, and the local Church have all supported the university and the ever-increasing numbers of students who receive practical training and an education in an atmosphere of true Christian dialogue.

Despite the recent infighting between Fatah and Hamas, and increased tensions in the Holy Land, Brother Casey said the culture and ethos of Bethlehem remains Christian.

“Bethlehem is in a unique position, in that it is the town that Jesus was born in, and the Christian population here, along with the two neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, is nearly a majority,” Brother Casey said.

“It is very different here than in Gaza where the number of Christians is infinitesimal,” he added.

Christian-Muslim dialogue is a high priority in the region, said the vice chancellor. The university and other area agencies educate both Christian and Muslim students to know and understand each other, know their religions, and to work together. “I believe we are successful at this,” Brother Casey said.

There are very encouraging signs, he added. People in the area respect the university’s Christian ideals and long-standing traditions. “We still adhere to a Sunday Christian day of worship. We are one of the few places that is closed on Sunday and open on Friday, the Muslim day of worship,” Bother Casey said.

Moreover, Christian and Muslim students actively participate in their faiths and attend worship services. The university Mass is well attended. The Orthodox Christians also hold regular services, and a room for prayer is provided for the university’s Muslim population.

Benedict XVI has expressed deep concern for the Christians and others in the entire Middle East. In addresses both to ROACO as well as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pope urged both respect and charity as principles for dialogue.

Against a backdrop of tension that pervades the whole region, Brother Casey said that the university does its best to maintain normalizing influence.

“There is a definite fear no matter where you live. In casual conversation I often hear people express gratitude for another day but unease at what the night will bring,” Brother Casey remarked. While fear is inevitable, the university continues to hold international conferences, regular academic sessions, and to turn away applicants that exceed its capacity.

The past year presented special challenges. The crippling embargo, recently lifted, prevented the Palestinian Authority from providing much-needed aid to all of the region’s institutions, including universities.

But, Brother Casey said, grants provided through UNESCO by the World Bank and Saudi Arabia allowed the university to continue to operate. “We did not experience the dire financial consequences that other sectors did,” Brother Casey said. “Hundreds of families in the area had no regular income.”

Students at the university also face unique challenges on a regular basis. Surrounded on all sides by the Israeli wall, most Palestinian towns, including the small town of Bethlehem, are virtual prisons. Students traveling to school from outside of Bethlehem are subject to random gate closures, military harassment and security checks that can cause long delays.

“I’ve experienced this myself, even as a foreigner,” Brother Casey said. “There are people who have not been out of Bethlehem for five years. Living in Bethlehem is like living in a prison.”

“This has an awful effect on people,” he added. Brother Casey believes the violence the world witnesses among Palestinians is oftentimes a reaction to what is happening in their own lives.

“Young men who have no opportunity for employment, who have not made university admission, have absolutely nothing to do. They are naturally angry at their lot and are prey to the political situation. It breeds a violent reaction,” Brother Casey said.

In addition to fostering positive relations among young people of different faith backgrounds, the university offers hope to many young people. As always, Brother Casey said Palestinians are looking for the way forward. With the lifting of the embargo and another new government, he said there is some hope.

“The idea of prayer has never been so pertinent as now,” he said. “I hope people will pray for peace in the Holy Land.”


Professor Shares E-Mails From Father Ragheed

ROME, JUNE 13, 2007 ( ).- “The situation here is worse than hell,” Father Ragheed Ganni wrote to a former professor the day before he and three deacons were shot after Sunday Mass in Mosul, Iraq.

Father Robert Christian, a theology professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in Rome, spoke at the requiem Mass held in that school on Tuesday. There, Father Ganni had studied theology and ecumenism.

On June 3, Father Ganni and three deacons, Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Wadid Hanna, were killed in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Father Christian began his homily, saying: “On Saturday, June 2, I received an e-mail from Mosul. In part it read: ‘The situation here is worse than hell, and my church has been attacked a few more times since we last met. Last week, two guards in it were wounded after an attack. We shall meet in the near future and have a chat about all these events. God bless, Ragheed.'”

Father Christian continued: “The patriarch of the Chaldeans called them martyrs. And martyrs, who conform closely to the passion and death of Jesus Christ, have been revered since Christian antiquity as saints.”

A hell

Father Christian called a hell that which “those left behind are experiencing: Ragheed’s family and friends; the flock he pastured; his Chaldean Church, other Christians, and yes, Muslims, too, trapped in the senseless vortex of blind hatred and violence that is daily life in Iraq.”

“Ragheed could have fled,” Father Christian continued. “As far as I know, he came to Italy three times after he returned to Mosul upon finishing his licentiate in ecumenism at the Angelicum.

“But Ragheed had a strong sense of his priestly duty to be an icon of the Good Shepherd for his people.”

Father Christian also read a message he received from Father Ganni last October.

It read: “Dear Father Christian, How are you? I’m really happy to get your message, and to know that there are people who still think of and pray for my country.

“The situation, as you can follow in the news, is dreadful. Christians are suffering twice, first because of the situation, second because of their religion.

“The Pope’s speech lit a fire in the city. A Syrian Orthodox priest was beheaded; my parish church was attacked five times. I was threatened even before that priest was kidnapped, but I was very careful about moving around. I postponed my vacation twice because I couldn’t leave the city under such conditions.

“I was planning to travel to Europe on Sept. 18, but I moved it to Oct. 4. Then I had to change the date to Nov. 1.

“Ramadan was a disaster for us in Mosul. Hundreds of Christian families fled outside the city — including my family and uncles. About 30 people left all their properties and fled, having been threatened.

“It is not easy but the grace of the Lord gives support and strength. We face death every day here.”

Courageous witness

These words show, Father Christian said, that Father Ganni “knew he was facing the threat of death for his faith. But he also knew that staying there was his duty, giving courageous witness to our faith in the resurrected Lord.”

The professor continued: “We are used to teaching future leaders of the Church. When we hear about one of our former students becoming a bishop, we rejoice. But having taught a martyr is something else entirely. And sometimes we professors learn from our students.

“The emotions are strong: sadness, pain, anger and the feeling of helplessness.

“However, there is the awareness that we are before a person who was prepared to pay the supreme price; a person who wanted to live and die heroically; a person ready to shed his blood for the life of the faithful. This awareness humbles us.”

Body and blood

Father Christian explained the source of Father Ganni’s fortitude: “The strength of Father Ragheed was the Eucharist, and in his homilies he taught the faithful that the body and blood of Jesus, who was sacrificed and resurrected, strengthened the union among the members of the mystical body of Christ.

“May the Eucharist give us the courage to live and die like Father Ragheed.

“Giving into the temptation of revenge does not honor Father Ragheed, but rather promoting peace, dialogue, and constructing or building a civilization of love.”

On Sunday, another requiem Mass was celebrated by Father Joseph Chedid in the Church of St. Roukoz of the Antonine Maronite order in Lebanon.

In his homily, Father Chedid, an Antonine priest and friend of Father Ragheed, spoke about the “souls of the martyrs whose blood was shed to witness to the word of God.”

He asked the faithful to pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Iraqi people, and especially for Christians, to remove the “dark clouds hanging over them during the dreadful situation they are experiencing.”

“Let Us Recognize Father Ragheed’s Sacrifice for What it Was”

DUBLIN, Ireland, JUNE 9, 2007 ( Here is the message Irish President Mary McAleese sent on the occasion of the Requiem Mass for Father Ragheed Ganni, held Thursday at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

Father Ganni and three deacons were shot and killed in Mosul, Iraq, on Sunday after Mass.

* * *

I was in Rome last weekend when the tragic news came through that Father Ragheed Ganni, someone I first met in Lough Derg some years ago, and a former student of the Irish College, had been killed with three of the deacons who worked with him — one of those deacons his cousin.

Father Ragheed’s father and mother, and all his family, must suffer great pain at this time. Their loss is all the more terrible for the suddenness and evil manner of his death. May Father Ragheed’s dear parents be sustained by their deep faith.

The manner of Father Ragheed’s death will be mourned in particular by the people of Iraq — and as his funeral mass in northern Iraq demonstrated — by the people of the whole region. Father Ragheed returned to live and minister in the ancient city of Mosul, in the parish of the Holy Spirit, in full consciousness of the risks.

There had been a bomb attack on the parish church as recently as Pentecost Sunday. Let us recognize Father Ragheed’s sacrifice for what it was. Equally, we should reflect in truth on the sequence of events that has brought so many communities in Iraq to the edge of survival. As we follow the daily tragedies of Iraq, we should pray, as Benedict XVI said, that this “costly sacrifice will inspire … a renewed resolve to reject the ways of hatred and violence.”

In the middle of the forced exodus to Connaught in the 1650s, a Gaelic poet (Fear Dorcha O’Mealláin) wrote about the possibility of faith even under dire circumstances of persecution and social dislocation (An Duanaire). He spoke too of God’s oneness:

“People of my heart, stand steady,
Don’t make play of your distress.
Moses got what he requested,
Religious freedom, even from Pharaoh.

“Identical Israel’s God and ours,
One God there was and still remains.
Here or Westward God is one,
One God ever and shall be.”

Father Ragheed Ganni’s death challenges us to work for reconciliation between faiths and to create a world where each human life is revered. The process of our own island’s reconciliation that began so promisingly in Belfast a few short weeks ago may hold out hope for Father Ganni’s beloved, but troubled, homeland.

These are days of sorrow for a caring family, for a lacerated country, and for so many others. But Father Ragheed lived his life by a commandment to love. In our sorrow we remember, on this feast of Corpus Christi, his sacrifice, his willing sacrifice in service of his faith.

I thank God today for the blessing that has been given us in Father Ragheed Ganni.

“Ar dheis Dé go raibh a ainm dílis” (May his faithful soul be on God’s right side).

Mary McAleese
President of Ireland

Interview With Father Raniero Cantalamessa

ROME, May 31, 2007 ( Though we are in an age of communication, there is growing incommunicability among people, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa says that using communication media to evangelize can help resolve the negative aspects related to the communication world. In this interview with ZENIT, he speaks of the problems caused by media and the secret for Catholics trying to help.

Q: What is your perception of mass media today?

Father Cantalamessa: The characteristic of our day and age, its most brilliant achievement and success, is information, in other words, mass communication: the press, cinema, television, Internet, cellphones.

Mass media are the great protagonists of the moment. Anyone can, at any time of day or night, find out what is going on in the world and establish direct contact with someone else at any point of the globe. All this is a sign of great progress and we ought to be grateful to God for the technology which has made it possible. However, there are serious dangers and negative aspects involved in social communications today.

Q; What exactly do you have in mind?

Father Cantalamessa: The means of communication are consumerist, in the sense that they encourage people to consume, and they are consumed and come to an end in themselves. Communication media are exclusively horizontal. People exchange their news items and, since we are ephemeral and transitory beings, news is equally ephemeral. Each item cancels out the previous one.

Along with an increase in communications, there is a growing experience of incommunicability. Communications are limited to sounds, to rumors. Rumors assure us that we are not alone; however, there is a lack of vertical, creative communication, a total absence of others. Communication media become a mirror reflecting the image of human misery and the echo of human emptiness.

In short, modern communication media convey sadness. The media place far more stress on the evil and tragic side of the world than on the good and positive aspects.

Q: What other risks do you see in mass media?

Father Cantalamessa: Mass media set before our eyes, at all times, what we could be and are not, what others do and we do not do. This gives rise to a feeling of resigned frustration and passive acceptance of one’s own fate or, on the contrary, to an obsessive urge to struggle out of anonymity and impose oneself on other people.

Another negative feature in mass communication, particularly in show business, is the exploitation of women, the abuse of their bodies and, in general, a negative view of the relationship between the sexes.

Q: Could you describe the characteristics of communications based on the Christian outlook, which could serve to offset the methods and content of today’s communication?

Father Cantalamessa: I think the Gospel can help us change this situation. It is the Good News of God’s love for mankind. God knows us perfectly well, but he does not use this knowledge to judge us. His correction is love.

I can say, as a Franciscan, that we must contribute to spreading hope and joy. Francis is the man of perfect happiness, God’s minstrel — not an illusory happiness, but a happiness based on hope. We have to insist on this ground of faith — deep union with Christ and, particularly, with Christ’s cross.

Q: So then, is there any secret to Catholic communications?

Father Cantalamessa: If we want to evangelize through mass media, the secret is quite simple: to be in love with Christ.