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from UK News:

UK Catholics warn against “decriminalising” suicide

BRITAIN/Catholic bishops in England and Wales warned against people thinking they may be exempt from prosecution in assisting suicide after new guidelines were issued.

The  Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) set out the guidelines in September in an attempt to bring greater clarity to the thorny issue of prosecution, inviting comments during a consultation period.

Suicide is still against the law in Britain, but the high-profile case of multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, from Bradford, northern England, who has sought clarification on whether her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her go abroad to die, has been an impetus for the guidelines. 

They set out a range of factors influencing whether a person would face prosecution or not. In favour of prosecution would be if there were a financial motive involved, pressure put on the individual into committing suicide and if the person wanting to die was suffering from mental illness.

Factors against prosecution would include whether the suspect was motivated wholly by compassion and was a spouse, partner, close relative or personal friend.

El Salvador honors Jesuit priests slain during civil war

painting
(Photo: A painting commemorating six slain Jesuit priests,16 Nov 2009/Luis Galdamez)

El Salvador has honored six Jesuit priests killed by the army 20 years ago in one of the most notorious atrocities of the country’s long and vicious civil war.Leftist President Mauricio Funes, the first leader from a party of former Cold War rebels that fought in the conflict, granted the priests El Salvador’s highest honor posthumously in a ceremony on Monday.U.S.-backed soldiers shot the priests at their home at a local university on the night of Nov. 16, 1989, to silence their strong criticism of rights abuses committed by the army during the 12-year civil war that ended in 1992.  Five of the priests were Spanish and one was Salvadorean.Read the whole story here. More on this at … Vatican RadioBBC (photo essay)Catholic News ServiceLos Angeles TimesNational Jesuit News.

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Russian Orthodox wants joint traditional front with Catholics


(Video: Archbishop Hilarion holds a news conference in French during his Paris visit, 13 Nov 2009/courtesy of Orthodoxie.com)

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Orthodox Church’s top official for relations with other churches, has been busy this past week putting his revived church’s stamp on the world Christian scene. Over the weekend, he urged Catholics and Orthodox to join forces to defend their traditional version of Christianity. His comments, made during a visit to Paris to inaugurate his Church’s first seminary outside of Russia, come only days after positive remarks he made last week about how the Vatican and Moscow were slowly moving towards a meeting between Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict. Also last week, Hilarion indicated the Russian Orthodox might end their ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans after Germany’s Protestants elected a divorced woman, Bishop Margot Kässmann, as the new head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). After all this, he planned to take off for a visit to China. russian-church-in-paris (Photo: Saint Seraphin Russian Orthodox Church (Ecumenical Patriarchate) in a courtyard in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, 27 Sept 2009/Tom Heneghan)

At his news conference, the 43-year-old archbishop said the Catholic and Orthodox churches were “already working together in many areas. Their views are almost identical in matters of doctrine and social ethics. They could show all these values in secular society, nationally or internationally, for example regarding the concept of family, environment, economy, education etc.. Orthodox and Catholics should find a common language and speak with one voice to defend the values that derive from their faith. They could also work effectively in many areas of social and charitable work. This testimony and cooperation, I am sure, could help us take a different approach to the theological issues that divide us. They could make the question of unity more interesting to a wider audience, which is little concerned with theological issues such as the Filioque or primacy issues, but sensitive to questions that concern everyday life. I had the honour to raise these issues with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI last September, during my visit to Rome.”

He also evoked this theme at the opening of the Russian Orthodox seminary in a former 17th-century Catholic convent in Epinay-sous-Sénart outside of Paris. “The opening of an Orthodox seminary of the Moscow Patriarchate in Paris is an unprecedented event,” he said. “The seminary is called among other things to become an important center of rapprochement between traditional Christian Churches in Europe … The primary task of Paris Seminary is to offer high-quality theological education. The seminary is also to become a link between the Russian Orthodox Church and Christians in France.”

Pope, Moscow patriarch moving slowly towards possible meeting

hilarionA senior Russian Orthodox leader has said the idea of a meeting between Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict could be moving towards the preparation stage. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the “foreign minister” of the Russian church, made clear that neither a date nor a location for such the long-awaited meeting was under discussion. But given the glacial pace at which progress on this issue is made, even the change in tone from Moscow is worth noting.

There has never been a meeting between a pope and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of the Orthodox Churches that make up the second biggest Christian family after Roman Catholicism. The late Pope John Paul II wanted to make history with a visit to Russia, but strains between the Vatican and Moscow over alleged Catholic proselytising in the former Soviet Union got in the way. (Photo: Archbishop Hilarion in Brussels, 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)

The election of Pope Benedict in 2005 and of Patriarch Kirill early this year seemed to close that chapter of the churches’ bilateral relations and open a new one moving towards a possible meeting. But despite the warmer tone in comments from each side, problems still remained.  Only last month, Hilarion denied reports of an impending meeting and said relations needed a “radical improvement.”

Italian invents an anti-swine flu holy water dispenser

holy-water-1 (Photos: Anti-swine flu holy water dispenser, 10 Nov 2009/Stefano Rellandini)

An Italian inventor has combined faith and ingenuity to come up with a way to keep church traditions alive for the faithful without the fear of contracting swine flu — an electronic holy water dispenser. The terracotta dispenser, used in the northern town of Fornaci di Briosco, functions like an automatic soap dispenser in public washrooms — a churchgoer waves his or her hand under a sensor and the machine spurts out holy water.

“It has been a bit of a novelty. People initially were a bit shocked by this technological innovation but then they welcomed it with great enthusiasm and joy. The members of this parish have got used to it,” said Father Pierangelo Motta.

Catholics entering and leaving churches usually dip their hands into fonts full of holy water — which has been blessed by a priest — and make the sign of the cross. But fear of contracting the H1N1 virus has led many in Italy — where some 15 people have died of swine flu — not to dip their hands in the communal water font.

from UK News:

Testing the limits of animal lab experiments

CHINAA mouse that can speak? A monkey with Down's Syndrome? Dogs with human hands or feet? British scientists want to know if such experiments are acceptable, or if they go too far in the name of medical research.

The Academy of Medical Sciences has launched a study to look at the use of animals containing human material in scientific research.

Using human material in animals is not new. Scientists have already created rhesus macaque monkeys that have a human form of the Huntingdon's gene so they can investigate how the disease develops; and mice with livers made from human cells are being used to study the effects of new drugs.

Vatican’s Anglican plan won’t alter celibacy for most priests

benedict-waveThe Vatican said on Monday its plan to allow married Anglican priests to convert to Catholicism does not signal any change to its age-old rule of celibacy for the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests. It set out its position in a preface to Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus” (Groups of Anglicans) regulating the admission of Anglican converts to Catholicism, including married priests and bishops.

“The possibility envisioned by the Apostolic Constitution for some married clergy within the Personal Ordinariates (the structure for ex Anglicans) does not signify any change in the Church’s discipline of clerical celibacy,” it said. (Photo: Pope Benedict, 4 Nov 2009/Alessia Pierdomenico)

The Vatican announced last month an initiative to make it easier for conservative Anglicans who feel their church has become too liberal to convert to Catholicism. This stirred widespread speculation on what it could eventually mean for the celibacy rule in the Roman Catholic church. There was also speculation about whether men who had left the Catholic priesthood to marry and later became Anglicans could return to the Catholic priesthood and remain married.

Some east German Protestants feel overlooked as Wall recalled

thomaskircheAs Germany celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some Protestants feel the crucial role their church played in shepharding the democracy movement to success is quietly being overlooked. This seems strange to someone like myself who reported on those events back then. Any reporter in Berlin in the tense weeks before Nov. 9, 1989 knew the Protestant (mostly Lutheran) churches sheltered dissidents and was working for reform. But the idea that this was fading from public view came up during my recent visit to Leipzig when, at an organ recital in Johann Sebastian Bach‘s St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche), the pastor mentioned the point in a sermon. (Photo: St. Thomas Church in Leipzig with Bach statue, 17 Oct 2009/Tom Heneghan)

When I later went up to Berlin, I ran the idea past a leading east German Protestant theologian and a pastor and two parish council members from the Gethsemane Church (Gethsemanekirche). That church in eastern Berlin was one of the most active centres of protest in the tense months before demonstrators forced open the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. They all agreed.

The many anniversary celebrations, documentaries and discussions now underway across Germany seem to focus mostly on how fearless street protesters and astute politicians pulled off the “peaceful revolution” that ended communism. Films and photos of dissidents packed into the Gethsemane Church in East Berlin or Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), the leading houses of worship that sheltered them until the Wall opened , are among the trademark images.  But those crowded “peace prayer” evenings were only the tip of the iceberg of behind-the-scenes work by pastors and lay people who considered it their Christian duty to promote civil rights and human dignity in a rigid communist society.

Founder of Catholic Opus Dei group focus of movie

opus-deiIf Opus Dei had a rough ride in the blockbuster movie based on Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” it looks set for an altogether more sympathetic portrayal in another film that deals with the Catholic organization.

British director Roland Joffe, renowned for Oscar-nominated “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” is making “There Be Dragons,” a film set during the Spanish Civil War that focuses in part on the life of Opus Dei founder Jose Maria Escriva. (Photo: Image of Escriva at his canonisation at the Vatican, 6 Oct 2002/Paolo Cocco)

Principal photography is complete, and Joffe is now in the editing room aiming to have the movie, which stars Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, ready for theatres by autumn next year.

UPDATE: Uproar after court says no crucifixes in Italian schools

crucifix-italy (Photo: A crucifix in a Rome classroom, 3 Nov 2009/Tony Gentile)

Here’s an update from Phil Pullella in Rome:

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that crucifixes should be removed from Italian classrooms, prompting Vatican anger and sparking uproar in Italy, where such icons are embedded in the national psyche.

“The ruling of the European court was received in the Vatican with shock and sadness,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, adding that it was “wrong and myopic” to try to exclude a symbol of charity from education.