Friday, January 18, 2013
A heads-up: My guest this week on Vatican Insider is the basilica of St. Sebastian in Rome. I take you to this historic church on the very weekend that marks St. Sebastians feast day on January 20 so join me on radio Saturday morning at 9:30(ET) and Sunday afternoon at 4:30 (ET).


Ive been out for much of the day at a variety of meetings, including one late afternoon gathering for a small group of journalists at the Rome offices of CNEWA the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. It was a fascinating roundtable presentation and discussion with New York-based Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA president, and CNEWA's three Middle East regional directors. Joining Msgr. Kozar were Ra'ed Bahou from Amman, Jordan, Issam Bishara from Beirut, and Sami El-Yousef from Jerusalem.

Also in attendance were Archbishop Terence Prendergast of Ottawa, Canada, who heads CNEWA in that country and Carl Hetu, who spearheads CNEWA work in Canada. Youll be hearing more about CNEWAs amazing work in future columns and interviews for Vatican Insider. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is Chair of the Board of CNEWA.

Wednesday, Msgr. Kozar addressed over 100 prominent Italians about the needs of Eastern Christians, especially those of the Middle East, at the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Rome. He spoke in the presence of the Orders Grand Master, Cardinal Edwin OBrien and co-host, Cardinal Leonardi Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of the Eastern Churches.

Msgr. Kozar highlighted the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy but noted the thousands of volunteers came from far and wide to assist the victims of this horrific storm to help people rebuild.

He then said, almost every day, in an area of the world called the Middle East, people face forces far greater than the destruction of a hurricane: they face the storms of conflict, hostility, hatred, poverty, injustice and religious and political persecution. At times, there is little hope of survival, let alone the opportunity to rebuild and to live in peace with hope.

The Catholic Church in this part of the world, said the CNEWA president, especially its family of Eastern churches, is small in number, but deeply rooted in the history, culture and fabric of society in the Middle East. It is the presence of the church that offers the poor, the oppressed and the victims of the daily storms of life a sign of hope, where otherwise there would be only flight, fear and despair.

He spoke of Pope Benedicts September visit to Lebanon, saying I was there and witnessed firsthand how this humble frail man dressed in white shared his message of peace and love with all Christians, Muslims, Jewish people all. For three days during his visit there was an abiding calm.

Msgr. Kozar noted how CNEWA reaches out to the Middle East, together with the Holy Fathers Congregation for the Eastern Churches, to assist the patriarchs, bishops, priests, sisters and brothers of these Eastern churches in proclaiming Christs message of peace and hope.


A PAPAL TWITTER: DPA January 18: A month after first landing on the Twitter micro-blogging website, on Sunday Pope Benedict XVI will start posting messages in Latin, the Vatican said. In a bid to expand the Catholic Churchs reach, the pontiff already has Twitter accounts opened in eight languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Polish and Arabic. The handle for his latest account is @Pontifex_ln. On the profile page, Twitter is translated in Latin as "pagina publica breviloquentis." Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church. The new account, opened on Thursday, had over 3,150 followers as of noon on Friday (1100 GMT). In English, the pope has over 1.4 million followers. (JFL: How do you say twitter or tweet in Latin?)

A PAPAL RETREAT MASTER: Romereports January 18: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will lead the spiritual exercises that take place for the Pope and Roman Curia during the first week of Lent. According to the news agency I.Media, Ravasi will become the eighth prelate that Benedict XVI confers this responsibility to. In previous years, other prelates that have led the exercises for Lent include Congolese Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, French Carmelite Franois Marie Lethel and Enrico dal Covolo, Salesian rector for the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, among others.

A PAPAL AMBASSADOR: Malaysia News January 17: American Archbishop Joseph Marino has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as the first Apostolic Nuncio to Muslim-majority Malaysia, according to La Stampa newspaper column Vatican Insider. The appointment is widely seen as a highly significant development between the Holy See and Malaysia, where religious rows between Muslims and Christians dominate the headlines, most recently over the use of the name Allah. An Apostolic Nuncio is a diplomatic representative of Vatican, and Marino will be posted to a nunciature (embassy) which has already been planned for Kuala Lumpur. The diplomatic move came almost two years after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razaks visit to Rome in July 2011 to meet Pope Benedict XVI at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. Abp. Marino was also appointed the Apostolic Nuncio to Timor Leste and Apostolic Delegate to Brunei. Timor Leste is one of the most Catholic countries in Southeast Asia, with 927,000 out of its 1.1 million population being Catholics. Before appointed to Malaysia, Marino served as Apostolic Nuncio in Bangladesh, another Muslim-majority country.

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS, THE VATICAN AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION: RNS - January 16: The Vatican Wednesday criticized a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that affirms employers' right to limit the expression of religious beliefs in the workplace when it conflicts with equality laws. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, said that on "morally controversial subjects, such as abortion or homosexuality," people have the right to defend their freedom of conscience. In what has been hailed as a landmark ruling, the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday rejected three out of four appeals filed by Christians who had been fired or disciplined by their employers for behaviors connected to their faith. The cases included a registrar who was disciplined for refusing to officiate the civil partnership of a same-sex couple, and a counselor who was sacked for denying sex therapy to gays. The Strasbourg-based court also rejected the appeal of a nurse who had refused to remove a crucifix during work, while upholding the right of a British Airways hostess who had been disciplined for wearing a small cross on her uniform. Mamberti didn't comment on the specific cases. But he said that the court's rulings show how complex the issues of freedom of conscience and religion have become in a European society marked by the increase of religious diversity and "the corresponding hardening of secularism." In this context, Mamberti added, societies face the risk of a "moral relativism" that threatens to "undermine the foundations of individual freedom of conscience and religion."

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