Friday, December 30, 2011

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - December 30, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Dec. 30

Countdown of the best interviews of 2011

4:00 – #6 Is the “Arab Spring” a Good Thing for Christians? How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Religious Freedom Worldwide.
Accusations of "blasphemy," "apostasy," or "insulting Islam" are now exploding in their use by authoritarian governments and extremist forces in the Muslim world to acquire and consolidate power. These charges, which traditionally carry a punishment of death, have proved effective in intimidating not only converts and heterodox groups, but also political and religious reformers. Paul Marshall has been fighting for religious freedom for decades and is here to describe hundreds of victims, including political dissidents, religious reformers, journalists, writers, artists, movie makers, and religious minorities throughout the Muslim world. He also addresses the move toward new blasphemy laws in the West and the increasing threat of violence to stifle commentary on Islam in the West even in the absence of law.

4:30 – #5 The Catholic Church & Science; Answering the Questions, Exposing the Myths
In The Catholic Church & Science, Ben Wiker takes on the most common errors that modern materialistic thinkers, convinced that faith and science must be mortal enemies, have foisted into popular culture. With great learning, clarity, and wit he tackles stubborn confusions many people have about the relationship between Christianity especially Catholicism and the empirical sciences, and separates truth from lies, the factual from the fanciful. He joins us.

5:00 – #4 Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith
What is the Catholicism? A 2,000 living tradition? A worldview? A way of life? A relationship? A mystery? In Catholicism Father Robert Barron examines all these questions and more, seeking to capture the body, heart and mind of the Catholic faith. Starting from the essential foundation of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, life, and teaching, Father Barron moves through the defining elements of Catholicism – from sacraments, worship, and prayer, to Mary, the Apostles, and Saints, to grace, salvation, heaven, and hell – using his distinct and dynamic grasp of art, literature, architecture, personal stories, Scripture, theology, philosophy, and history to present the Church to the world.

Egypt raids foreign organizations' offices in crackdown

Reporting from Cairo and Washington (LA Times) — Egyptian security forces on Thursday raided the offices of 17 nongovernmental organizations, including three U.S.-based agencies, as part of a crackdown on foreign assistance that has drawn criticism from the West and threatened human rights groups and pro-democracy movements.

The move appeared to be part of a strategy to intimidate international organizations. The ruling military council has repeatedly blamed "foreign hands" for exploiting Egypt's political and economic turmoil. But activists said the army was using the ruse of foreign intervention to stoke nationalism and deflect criticism of abuses.

The military's actions angered Washington at a time the White House is pressuring Egypt to respect civil liberties. But the Egyptian military has been increasingly agitated by democracy advocates and protests that have gripped the nation. Clashes last week between demonstrators and soldiers ended in the deaths of at least 15 people.

"This action is inconsistent with the bilateral cooperation we have had over many years," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a news briefing after the raids. "We call on the Egyptian government to immediately end the harassment of NGO staff, return all property and resolve this issue immediately."

Egyptian soldiers and black-clad police officers swept into offices, interrogated workers and seized computers across the country. Those targeted included U.S. groups the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House, which are funded by Congress to monitor elections and promote democracy overseas.

"The public prosecutor has searched 17 civil society organizations, local and foreign, as part of the foreign funding investigation," the official news agency MENA cited the prosecutor's office as saying. "The search is based on evidence showing violations of Egyptian laws, including not having permits."

Freedom House, which said it had filed papers to officially register three days earlier, condemned the actions as a sign that Egypt's government has become more repressive since last winter's revolution overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.

The raids were part of "an intensive campaign by the Egyptian government to dismantle civil society through a politically motivated legal campaign aimed at preventing 'illegal foreign funding' of civil society operations in Egypt," said Freedom House President David J. Kramer, who was a senior State Department official in the administration of then-President George W. Bush.

"It is the clearest indication yet that the [ruling] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces … has no intention of permitting the establishment of genuine democracy and is attempting to scapegoat civil society for its own abysmal failure to manage Egypt's transition effectively," he said.

Tarek Awadi, a human rights activist, said he witnessed the raid at the Future House for Legal Studies in Cairo. He said a police official in the search held up an Arabic-Hebrew dictionary, saying it was evidence the organization was engaged in sabotage and hidden agendas.

"I think authorities have carefully chosen a number of organizations, some of whom are Egyptian or American or European, to defame all NGOs in the eyes of Egyptians," Awadi said.

Relations between the ruling generals and the United States, which provides $1.3 billion in aid a year to the Egyptian military, have been strained in recent months even as Egypt conducts staggered rounds of parliamentary elections. The military's recent crackdown on protests drew a rebuke from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Egypt's campaign to discredit nongovernmental organizations as treasonous, a strategy once used by Mubarak, began this summer. Military leaders accused activist groups of relying on foreign expertise and funding to undermine the Egyptian state. This tactic resonated in the provinces as the military sought to blame outside intervention for the country's mounting economic and social problems.

"Human rights organizations are the guardians of the nascent freedom," Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and possible presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter. "Efforts to suffocate them will be a major setback and will surely backfire."

The National Democratic Institute said it was particularly disturbed that authorities had targeted local groups involved in observing and otherwise supporting the parliamentary elections.

"Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt's historic transition sends a disturbing signal," Ken Wollack, the group's president, said in a statement.

The raids came the same day an Egyptian court cleared five policemen of charges of killing five demonstrators during the rebellion that led to Mubarak's ouster Feb. 11. The court ruled that none of the defendants were at the scene when the slayings occurred.

That decision is also likely to further anger activists. More than 800 protesters were killed during last winter's uprising and authorities have been slow in bringing police and security officers to justice. Mubarak's trial on charges that he was complicit in the deaths of protesters resumed this week after a three-month adjournment.

Pope's 2012 to include synod, international trips, canonizations

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A trip to Latin America, a Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, the start of the Year of Faith, creation of new cardinals and proclamations of new saints are all on Pope Benedict XVI's calendar for 2012.

Of particular interest to the United States, the pope will also continue his meetings with groups of U.S. bishops making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican during the first half of the year. His talks to the bishops are expected to focus on themes of education, religious freedom and the relationship between culture and religion.

The 2012 highlights are only a small part of the pope's day-to-day schedule, which includes hundreds of meetings, speeches, messages and liturgies. The German pope, who turns 85 in April, also pursues a "private" agenda of writing whenever he gets the chance, as he works to complete the latest in his "Jesus of Nazareth" series of books -- this one on Jesus' infancy and childhood.

Pope Benedict is virtually certain to call a consistory to create new cardinals in 2012. He may do so as early as February, when there will be at least 13 "vacancies" in the roster of voting-age cardinals (those under the age of 80); or he may wait until fall, when 10 more cardinals will have turned 80.

When he does name new cardinals, the list could include one or more Americans. U.S. prelates in line for the red hat -- now or later -- include Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem; and Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York. From Canada, Archbishop Thomas C. Collins of Toronto is a likely choice.

Pope Benedict plans to travel to Mexico and Cuba in March, on a trip that will turn a spotlight once again on Latin America, home to nearly half the world's Catholics. It will also move the pope onto the radar of U.S. media, which have cut back on their coverage of the pope and the Vatican in recent years.

The pope may also travel to Lebanon, probably in the spring. An invitation from Lebanese leaders came a month ago, and Vatican officials have said the pope wants to deliver his follow-up document on the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, held at the Vatican in 2010. Such a visit would give the pope a high-visibility platform to weigh in on religious freedom issues during a period of volatile political change in the region.

The fall of 2012 will bring several important events, including the world Synod of Bishops Oct. 7-28. New evangelization has become the leitmotif of almost everything Pope Benedict does these days, and the gathering of bishops will help translate the term into practical pastoral initiatives. The essential idea is to find ways to energize Catholics, reminding them of their duty to witness the faith publicly and proclaim it to others.

The synod will follow the somewhat streamlined format introduced by Pope Benedict in 2005: a shorter assembly, shorter individual speeches and more free discussion in the synod hall.

The Year of Faith was designed by the pope to help Catholics rediscover the basic content of their faith, and the Vatican's preparation materials -- due out very soon -- will have a strong doctrinal element. The special year will begin Oct. 11, 2012, which is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and some Vatican sources say the pope may publish a document that connects the two events.

Sometime during 2012, the pope is expected to proclaim new saints, including two with special significance to U.S. Catholics: Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Mother Marianne led a group of sisters from New York to the Hawaiian Islands in 1883 to establish a system of nursing care for leprosy patients; Blessed Kateri, daughter of a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in upstate New York, will become the first Native American to be canonized.

The date for these two canonizations has not been set, but many think it may happen on Oct. 21, World Mission Sunday.

Bachmann stands firm on bribery allegation against Paul campaign

Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Michele Bachmann pressed her allegations that the former head of her Iowa presidential bid was bribed by the campaign of rival Ron Paul to endorse him, even as one of her own aides denied the charge.

The aide who issued the denial later quit Bachmann’s campaign, the candidate said.

The dispute centered on the decision yesterday of Kent Sorenson, an Iowa state senator who was Bachmann’s campaign chairman in the state, to abandon her effort and endorse Paul, a Texas congressman. Paul is a leading contender to win Iowa’s Jan. 3 Republican caucuses.

“He told me that he was offered money, he was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign,” Bachmann said of Sorenson in comments to reporters today in a parking lot adjacent to a funeral home near downtown Des Moines. “No one else knows about that conversation other than Kent Sorenson and myself.”

Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswomen who polls show is in the back of the pack in the Iowa race, said Sorenson told her during a Dec. 27 phone call that he was offered money to support Paul. As she spoke outside the studios of WHO-AM radio in Des Moines, she declined to say how much money was involved.

Sorenson’s Denial

Sorenson yesterday resigned as Bachmann’s state chairman and announced his backing of Paul. Following her comments today, he issued a statement through Paul’s campaign denying what he termed Bachmann’s “ridiculous allegations.”

“I was never offered money from the Ron Paul campaign or anyone associated with them and certainly would never accept any,” Sorenson said in the statement

Paul’s campaign earlier had sent out a statement by Wes Enos, Bachmann’s Iowa political director, also denying the bribery charge.

“I can say unequivocally that Kent Sorenson’s decision was, in no way financially motivated,” Enos said in his statement. “While I personally disagree with Kent’s decision, and plan to stay with Michele Bachmann because I truly believe in her, I cannot, in good conscious watch a good man like Kent Sorenson be attacked as a ‘sell-out.’”

Bachmann said in a later interview with CNN that Enos has now quit her campaign and been replaced as political director.

Sorenson’s Reasoning

Sorenson, in a statement released yesterday by Paul’s campaign, said he made the switch because he believes Bachmann can’t win her party’s contest.

“There is a clear top tier in the race for the Republican nomination for president, both here in Iowa and nationally,” he said. “Ron Paul is easily the most conservative of this group.”

Bachmann in her comments in Des Moines also targeted Paul for criticism on other fronts, including the Texas congressman’s calls to withdraw U.S. troops from overseas commitments and to legalize drugs as a way to better regulate their sale and reduce profits to violent drug cartels.

She termed Paul’s foreign policy “dangerous,” and said he is “willing to legalize drugs in the United States, including heroin and cocaine.”

Bachmann denied that her campaign is struggling in Iowa, where she has placed her greatest emphasis. She also said she would finish he quest to visit all of the state’s 99 counties today.

Doors open for Anglicans to join Catholic Church

( New Year’s Day ushers in a new era for Roman Catholics and members of the Anglican Church who will have the opportunity to enter into “corporate reunion” with the Holy See.

An apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus, issued by Pope Benedict XVI, will lead to the creation of “personal ordinariates,” geographic regions similar to dioceses but typically national in scope.

Parishes in these ordinariates are to be Catholic yet retain elements of the Anglican heritage and liturgical practices. They are to be led by an “ordinary” who will have a role similar to a bishop, but who may be either a bishop or a priest.

The Vatican’s action was in response to repeated and persistent inquiries from Anglican groups worldwide who were seeking to come into sacramental communion with Rome.

Some are currently part of the Episcopal Church and others, though Anglican, are not part of the Episcopal Church. Ordinariates seek to provide a way to enter in “corporate reunion” as a group and not simply as individuals. This would allow them to retain their Anglican liturgical heritage and traditions, and to have their own leadership structure, accountable to the Pope alone.

The Pastoral Provision, established by Pope John Paul II in 1980, already provides a way for individual Episcopal priests, including those who may be married, to be ordained Catholic priests for dioceses in the United States.

It also allows Anglican parishes to become Catholic parishes or chaplaincies within existing dioceses. Since 1980, three parishes and a number of smaller groups have been established. They are commonly referred to as “Anglican Use” communities, since they use The Book of Divine Worship in their liturgies, a Vatican-approved Catholic resource that reflects traditional Anglican prayers and formularies

At the fall meeting of U.S. bishops in November 2011, held in Washington, D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, announced that Pope Benedict XVI approved the creation of an ordinariate in the United States.

Set for New Year’s Day

The canonical establishment of the ordinariate will take place on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. An ordinary for the United States will be named at that time. It is expected that former Rio Grande Episcopal Bishop Jeffrey Steenson will named the ordinary.

In anticipation of the move, local Anglicans have established St. James, a mission congregation of the pro-Diocese of the Holy Family, headquartered in Orlando.

“Anglicans may retain distinctive aspects of their spiritual and religious patrimony, while enjoying full communion with the See of St. Peter,” explains St. James mission administrator Nicholas Marziani. “This very new and innovative development in the Roman Catholic Church embraces Anglicans seeking union with the Holy See in a manner unprecedented in history,” Marziani continues.

Anglicanorum coetibus is new in two ways: It applies to the world, not solely the United States, and it allows Anglican groups to be received into the Catholic Church — not through a local diocese, but through a new entity, an ordinariate which, though similar to a diocese, is national in scope and is fully responsive to Anglican liturgical and other traditions.

The St. James mission congregation meets 4:30 p.m. at the House of Prayer, across from the Nombre de Dios Mission grounds for Saturday Evensong. Other services will be conducted as the ongoing liturgical year warrants. At present seven community members attend Evensong, and it is anticipated that potentially up to 100 Anglicans and current Catholics interested in the Anglican Patrimony will join the mission congregation when the Holy Eucharist will be offered this coming summer upon the completion of Marziani’s seminary training and ordination to the Catholic priesthood. The training is being conducted through distance learning arrangements with St. Mary’s Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

Father Mike Morgan of the Diocese of St. Augustine noted that: “At the request of Cardinal Wuerl, the Diocese of St. Augustine is working with Dr. Marziani to help him complete the requirements necessary before his request for ordination receives final approval from the Holy See.”

Marziani, a former engineer, teacher and Episcopal priest, currently holds the doctor of ministry from Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry in Ambridge, Pa. He and his wife of 40 years, Joanne, are residents of St. Augustine Beach. The couple have three adult children and four grandchildren.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - December 29, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Dec. 29

Countdown of the best interviews of 2011

4:00 – #10 Novels and the Mind of a Writer
David McCullough

4:20 - #9 A Catholic View of Immigration
Cardinal Roger Mahoney

5:00 – #8 Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?
America is disintegrating. The “one Nation under God, indivisible” of the Pledge of Allegiance is passing away. In a few decades, that America will be gone forever. In its place will arise a country unrecognizable to our parents. This is the thrust of Pat Buchanan’s Suicide of a Superpower. The author of six New York Times bestsellers traces the disintegration to three historic changes: America’s loss of her cradle faith, Christianity; the moral, social, and cultural collapse that have followed from that loss; and the slow death of the people who created and ruled the nation. Pat is here to make his case.

5:40 – #7 Animal rights group's lawsuit alleges Sea World is keeping orcas in slavery and violating their 13th Amendment rights
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a lawsuit against Sea World for allegedly violating the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- which bans slavery -- by keeping orcas at parks in San Diego and Orlando, Fla. Part of the lawsuit also asserts that it is illegal to artificially inseminate the females and then take away their babies. We talk to bioethicist Wesley Smith about this case and while ridiculous, why it is also very dangerous.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - December 28, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Dec. 28

Countdown of the best interviews of 2011

4:00 – #14 Biden Under Fire for 'Not Second-Guessing' China's One-Child Policy
Vice President Joe Biden is under fire for appearing to condone China’s one-child policy during a speech Sunday at Sichuan University in Chengdu. Addressing social and budgetary challenges faced by the U.S. and China in the wake of respective population booms, Biden told his audience, “Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I’m not second-guessing -- of one child per family.” He has since back-tracked a bit, but we talk with China expert Steven Mosher.

4:20 - #13 God in Action: How Faith Can Address the Challenges of the World
What if God has his own ways that are not always our ways? What if God acts in public affairs in ways that can, of course, be ignored from day to day but at a price for individuals and whole societies? If God is an actor, how is it possible to trace his action? Can we discover God’s actions in the part of human experience that is public in our day?" These are some of the questions that Francis Cardinal George asks and answers in his new book God in Action: How Faith Can Address the Challenges of the World. He joins us.

5:00 – #12 Why Catholics Are Right
Columnist, television host, author, and Canadian Catholic Michael Coren is here to examine four main aspects of Catholicism as they are encountered, understood, and more importantly, misunderstood, today. For some Catholicism is the only permanent, absolute body of truth, while for others it is the last permanent, absolute body that has to be opposed and stopped. Coren then traces Catholic history, with a discussion of the Crusades, Inquisition, Holocaust, and Galileo. He looks at Catholics and theology, explaining what and why Catholics believe what they do — Papal infallibility, Immaculate Conception, and Tradition vs. Bible alone. Finally, Coren outlines the pro-life position and why it is so important to Catholicism. Michael draws on history, politics, and theology to present the arguments for the truth of Roman Catholicism. He is with us today.

5:40 – #11 The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive
Computers playing chess. Computers playing Jeopardy! What does this technology teach us about what it means to be alive? In a fast-paced, witty, and thoroughly winning style, Brian Christian documents his experience in the 2009 Turing Test, a competition in which judges engage in five-minute instant-message conversations with unidentified partners, and must then decide whether each interlocutor was a human or a machine. The program receiving the most "human" votes is dubbed the "most human computer," while the person receiving the most votes earns the title of "most human human." Ranging from philosophy through the construction of pickup lines to poetry, Christian examines what it means to be human and how we interact with one another, and with computers as equals.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Funeral for North Korean leader amid worry about future

(Reuters) - North Korea will hold a funeral procession on Wednesday for its deceased "dear leader", Kim Jong-il, making way for his son, Kim Jong-un, to become the third member of the family to run the isolated and unpredictable Asian country.

The coming year was supposed to mark North Korea's self-proclaimed transformation into a "strong and prosperous" nation, but it faces a dangerous transition to a young, untested leader at a time when dictatorships across the world have tumbled.

The pomp, show of military might and weeping crowds at the funeral will likely mirror the 1994 funeral procession for Kim's father, Kim Il-Sung, the first of the family to rule.

Similarly, it would seem that little is set to change in a country that has staged what many analysts have dubbed a "Great March Backwards" over the last 20 years.

Strong it may be - North Korea is backed by neighboring China, has conducted two nuclear tests and has ambitions to become a nuclear power and boasts a 1.2 million-strong armed forces - but prosperous it is not.

On average, North Koreans die three-and-a-half years earlier than they did when "Eternal President" Kim Il-sung died, according to U.N. data.

The North is one of the most closed and poorest societies on earth, ranking 194 out of 227 countries in terms of per capita wealth, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The United Nations, in a country program for 2011-15, says North Korea's main challenge is to "restore the economy to the level attained before 1990" and to alleviate food shortages for a third of its 25 million-strong population.

Indications from the transition since Kim Jong-il's death on December 17 suggest the father's hardline "military first" policy will continue, leading to further hardship in a country that endured mass starvation in the 1990s.

Leverage from outside, with the exception of China, is limited so all the United States, South Korea and Japan can do is hope that the regime does not collapse, nor flex its military muscle as it did in 2010, when it shelled a South Korean island.

"So far, there is little reason to expect policy changes given that the leadership hierarchy is basically the same with the exception that Kim Jong-un is replacing Kim Jong-il," said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea Studies at Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. thinktank.


North Korea was established in 1948 and under its founding father, Kim Il-sung, went to war to try to conquer the South. It failed and in 1953 a dividing line that would become the world's most militarized frontier was drawn across the peninsula.

While Kim Il-sung was revered by his people for fighting Japanese colonial rule, the halo surrounding his successors has steadily dimmed to such an extent that his grandson, the new ruler, will have to rely on people such as his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, to hold on to power, at least in the short term.

"The outlook for stability is not good, because Kim Jong-un's succession is very different from Kim Jong-il's," said Jia Qingguo, a professor of international relations at Peking University.

"Kim Il-sung was the country's founding father with an extraordinary career and a great deal of personal authority, so when he transferred power to his son, his son assumed quite a lot of authority."

Official media in the North have built Kim Jong-un, a jowly and rotund man in his late 20s, into a leader worthy of inheriting the crown, naming him "respected general", "great successor", "outstanding leader" and "supreme commander".

This year, dissident groups based in South Korea, citing North Korean refugees and businessmen working in China, linked the youngest Kim to a crackdown on business activities and a tougher policy on people seeking to flee from North Korea.

Those reports could not be independently verified, but would again suggest that further repression is more likely than an economic opening under the new man.

It also gives little hope for the 200,000 North Koreans who human rights group Amnesty international says are enslaved in labor camps over some infringement, subjected to torture and hunger or execution.

"here is likely to be a politically motivated purge and imprisonment, and it could go on for a considerable period of time," said Pak Sang-hak, who heads a group in Seoul working to support defectors, and is himself a defector.

"That is especially because of the relative instability of Kim Jong-un's leadership. There might also be persecution as a way of intimidation and discipline."

Pope says Christmas shows God's will to save people from sin, violence

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God sent his son into the world to save it from evil, pride and violence, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Christmas message "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

"The child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace," the pope said Dec. 25 as he stood on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and gave his solemn Christmas blessing.

Tens of thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter's Square for the noon address and blessing. Under bright sunny skies, they listened to the music of military bands, admired the Vatican's Nativity scene and snapped pictures of the Swiss Guards, who were wearing armor over their colorful medieval uniforms.

In his Christmas message, like in his homily at Mass the night before, Pope Benedict spoke about God's desire to save humanity and his decision to do that by being born in Bethlehem, living among people, dying for them and rising from the dead.

"Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers," the pope said. Jesus "is the hand God extends to humanity to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his truth and love."

Pope Benedict said most of the world's problems are caused by human sin, "the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death."

Jesus came to earth to bring people back to God, to turn them from their sin and to promote reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation, he said.

As is customary, Pope Benedict used his message to ask Christians to pray and offer concrete help to people who are suffering this Christmas: from famine in the Horn of Africa; flooding in Thailand and the Philippines; tensions between Israelis and Palestinians; violence in Syria; a lack of peace and security in Iraq and Afghanistan; the struggle for democracy and human rights in across North Africa and the Middle East; and for the people of Myanmar, South Sudan and Africa's Great Lakes region.

Just before the pope appeared at the balcony, news agencies reported a bomb blast at a Catholic Church on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria. Initial reports said there were more than 10 dead.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the blast, "precisely on the occasion of the celebration of Christmas, unfortunately once again is a sign of the ruthlessness of a blind and absurd hatred that has no regard for human life and tries to create and increase more hatred and confusion."

"We are close to the suffering of the church and the entire Nigerian people so harshly tried by terrorist violence, even in these days that should be days of joy and peace," Father Lombardi said.

At midnight Mass Dec. 24 in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope said, "God has appeared -- as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace."

At the beginning of the two-hour liturgy, children from Italy, Guatemala, Gabon, Burkina Faso, South Korea and France brought white flowers up to a statue of the baby Jesus near the altar.

The 84-year-old pope processed in on a mobile platform.

Children carried the gifts of bread and wine to the pope during the offertory. The procession was led by two very young Korean boys, and the pope, with a big smile, watched them approach, blessed them and patted their heads.

At the end of the Mass, the children took the flowers to the Nativity scene in St. Peter's Basilica, where a deacon placed the statue of baby Jesus. The pope followed behind them on his mobile platform and when everything was in place, fake snow began to fall on the scene. It was the first time, according to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

In his homily, Pope Benedict said the birth of Jesus was something completely new in salvation history: God became visible.

"No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words," he said.

Before Christ's birth, ancient people feared that God might be "cruel and arbitrary," and instead, Christmas proves that "God is pure goodness," the pope said.

"At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways," he said, the world cries out to God.

They pray that God's "peace may triumph in this world of ours," he said.

Pope Benedict said Christmas is about the birth of the savior, the prince of peace, and not some sappy sentimentality.

"Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God's humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light," he said.

White House to seek increase in borrowing limit

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration says the federal government has nearly reached its borrowing limit — again.
Treasury officials said Tuesday that the White House plans to request another $1.2 trillion in borrowing authority Friday. The increase is necessary, they say, because the government will be within $100 billion of its current limit by then.
In the past, such a request would be routine. But this one follows a summer of intense partisan debate over the nation's record debt, which has yet to end despite a last-minute deal reached in August that averted a potential default.
The increase would boost the debt limit to $16.4 trillion. Congress and the Obama administration agreed to raise it to that level in three steps as part of the August deal. Officials say that should be enough to allow the government to keep borrowing until the end of 2012, or just after the presidential election.
Congress can reject the request, although Obama can veto their objection. If Congress doesn't act by Jan. 14, the increase will take place automatically.
The debt limit is the amount the government can borrow to finance its operations. It has soared because the government has run record deficits over the past decade. The borrowed money has helped pay for two wars, stimulate the nation's economy after the worst recession since the Great Depression and finance broad tax cuts initiated during the Bush administration.
The enormity of the debt has also stoked a debate in Congress over spending and taxes. Polls show growing voter anger with the inability of both parties to reach solutions to the country's budget problems.
In August, Congress and the administration agreed to raise the borrowing limit by $2.1 trillion in three steps. The deal was reached hours before a potential default on the nation's debt and only after the parties also agreed to cut more than $2 trillion from the deficit over the next 10 years.
Three days after the agreement was signed into law, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded long-term U.S. debt. The difficulty Congress and the White House had in reaching agreement was a key reason for the downgrade, S&P said.
The parties remain at odds over how to reduce the deficit. In November, a bipartisan panel failed to meet a deadline to agree on $1.2 trillion of the cuts. That means automatic cuts of that amount will begin in January 2013 — a condition included in last summer's deal.
Republicans want to modify the timetable for the automatic cuts, largely because it includes steep cuts to the nation's defense budget.
Congress agreed to raise the debt limit by $400 billion in August and by another $500 billion in September.
House Republicans voted against the second increase. But they failed to block it because the Senate approved it. The increases are scheduled to take effect unless both chambers vote against them.

Nigerian church bombings condemned

(Detroit Free Press) MADALLA, Nigeria -- In the chaos after the Christmas terror attack on a Catholic church, a mortally wounded man cradled his wounded stomach and begged a priest for religious atonement. "Father, pray for me. I will not survive," he said.

At least 35 people died at St. Theresa Catholic Church, and dozens were wounded as radical Muslim militants launched coordinated attacks across Africa's most populous nation within hours of one another. Four more people were killed in other violence blamed on the group known as Boko Haram.

It was the second year in a row that the extremists seeking to install Islamic sharia law across the country of 160 million have staged Christmas attacks. Last year, a series of bombings on Christmas Eve killed 32 people in Nigeria.

On Monday, women tried to clean the sanctuary of the damaged church, while one man wept uncontrollably amid the debris. Crowds gathered among the burned-out cars in the dirt parking lot, angry over the attack and fearful that the group will target more churches.

The Rev. Christopher Jataudarde told the Associated Press that some parishioners already had left the church at the time of the bombing Sunday, causing the massive casualties.

At least 52 people were wounded in the attack, said Slaku Luguard, a coordinator with Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency. Victims filled the cement floors of a nearby government hospital, some crying in pools of their own blood.

Pope Benedict XVI denounced the bombing at his post-Christmas blessing Monday, urging people to pray for the victims and Nigeria's Christian community.

The United Nations Security Council condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms" and called for the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors "of these reprehensible acts" to be brought to justice.

The African Union also condemned the attacks and pledged to support Nigeria in its fight against terrorism.

"Boko Haram's continued acts of terror and cruelty and absolute disregard for human life cannot be justified by any religion or faith," said a statement attributed to AU commission chairman Jean Ping.

On Sunday, a bomb also exploded in the central Nigeria city of Jos and a suicide car bomber attacked the military in the nation's northeast. Three people died in those assaults.

After the bombings, a Boko Haram spokesman using the pseudonym Abul-Qaqa claimed responsibility for the attacks in an interview with the Daily Trust, the newspaper of record across Nigeria's Muslim north. The sect has used the newspaper in the past to communicate with public.

"There will never be peace until our demands are met," the newspaper quoted the spokesman as saying. "We want all our brothers who have been incarcerated to be released; we want full implementation of the sharia system and we want democracy and the constitution to be suspended."

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - December 27, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Dec. 27

Countdown of the best interviews of 2011

4:00 – #18 Kresta Comments – God and Natural Disasters
Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, the Indonesia Tsunami, The Japan Tsunami. After all of these tragic events, the question is always raised; "Why does God allow natural disasters?” As we see in Deuteronomy, James and Numbers, God sometimes causes natural disasters as a judgment against sin. So is every natural disaster a punishment from God? Al has some answers to these questions being asked right now.

4:20 – #17 Scythian
Rousing and raucous, Scythian plays kicked-up Celtic and world music with hints of Gypsy and Klezmer, all infused with a touch of punk-rock sensibility. Take a pair of classically trained dueling fiddlers, toss in a rhythm guitar and the occasional funky accordion, then power it with the driving rhythm of a jazz percussionist, and you've got the ingredients for a show you won't soon forget. Their high-energy, adrenaline-peddling, interactive brand of music has one goal in mind: to get people on their feet and dancing. Their repertoire ranges from traditional and contemporary Celtic and folk music to the alluring and dramatic strains of Gypsy and Eastern European tunes, and then crosses back over the border to pick up some good old-fashioned bluegrass licks. Their latest release is Cake for Dinner, an interactive, educational musical project for children. We talk to band members Alexander and Danylo Fedoryka.

5:00 – #16 Search For Human Trafficking Victims Continues With Arrest Of Suspect
International government officials and the Minneapolis-based Institute for Trafficked, Exploited & Missing Persons (ITEMP) continue their search for information about a suspected human trafficker arrested and currently awaiting formal charges in Bolivia. José Ignacio Llopis Miro, 45, was arrested by INTERPOL agents June 17 at a café in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, after a nearly three-year manhunt. He is suspected in the disappearance of two women in Bolivia. He is also wanted in Uruguay, Spain, Guatemala, Argentina, and Australia on fraud, theft, and human trafficking-related charges. Furthermore, he is under investigation in Guatemala in connection with a homicide. We talk about this case and the work of ITEMP with their founder, Patrick Atkinson.

5:20 – #15 After America: Get Ready for Armageddon
In his giant New York Times bestseller, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, Mark Steyn predicted collapse for the rest of the Western World. Now, he adds, America has caught up with Europe on the great rush to self-destruction. It’s not just our looming financial collapse; it’s not just a culture that seems on a fast track to perdition, full of hapless, indulgent, childish people who think government has the answer for every problem; it’s not just America’s potential eclipse as a world power because of the drunken sailor policymaking in Washington—no, it’s all this and more that spells one word for America: Armageddon. He makes his case.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - December 26, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Dec. 26

Countdown of the best interviews of 2011

4:00 – #22 The New Introductory Note to ‘Faithful Citizenship’ Should Inspire Catholics in 2012
There has been a flurry of commentary on the Introductory Note added to the new version of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” Some have commented that the version just published by the bishops’ conference is the 2007 version, without revisions, and, as such, has been scored a victory by the Catholics who supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. A closer look at the new Introductory Note, however, suggests to us language that was intended to be more than a mere appendage, to be conveniently overlooked when it comes time to sell Obama and other pro-abortion politicians to Catholic voters in the upcoming election. Deal Hudson and Matt Smith have the analysis.

4:40 – #21 Kresta Comments: Pat Robertson says Alzheimer's makes divorce OK
Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is justifiable because the disease is "a kind of death."During the portion of the show where Robertson takes questions from viewers, he was asked what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from the incurable neurological disorder. "I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her," Robertson said. Al comments.

5:00 – #20 Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
John Fea is here to offer an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many Christians assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the question from a historical perspective, helping us see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. People on both sides of the issue will appreciate that this book occupies a middle ground, noting the good points and the less-nuanced arguments of both sides and leading us always back to the primary sources that our shared American history comprises.

5:30 - #19 The Gospel According to St. Media
William McGurn

Friday, December 23, 2011

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - December 23, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Dec. 23

Countdown of the Best Interviews of 2011

4:00 - #25 Mass Revision - How the Liturgy Is Changing and What It Means for You
The Mass Is Changing THIS WEEKEND --How? Why? And what does it mean for you? Catholics all across America will be asking these questions, seeking the answers from a trusted source. In a highly readable, information-packed volume, award-winning author Jimmy Akin describes the transformation and lays out the facts. Jimmy goes straight to the heart of the issue, quoting the Church's own documents so you can see for yourself what the Church has to say and not be deceived by falsehood and spin. He is here to shows us exactly which parts of the liturgy are changing, review the rites and new wording, and provide very practical information on who can and cannot receive Communion, liturgical furnishings and vestments, postures and actions during Mass, as well as the hot-button issue of liturgical abuses.

5:00 – #24 History in His Hands: A Christian Narrative of the West
By writing as if God did not exist, professional historians have stripped history of its meaning. But in a courageous challenge to his fellow scholars, Harvard-trained historian Brennan Pursell shows why denying the central truth about man cripples our understanding of history. Dr. Pursell argues that history is much more than man's encounter with economic, social, or psychological forces. It is, as St. Augustine saw, the story of man's love--the love of wealth and power or the love of God. He joins us

5:40 - #23 Catholic Hospitals vs. the Bishops: Administrators shop for theologians to support practices that conflict with church teachings
The severing of ties two weeks ago between the Catholic Church and St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., is the latest example of the fraying relationship between the bishops and Catholic hospital administrators. In recent years, some Catholic hospitals have taken greater liberties, authorizing abortions and sterilization procedures that the church strictly prohibits. Earlier this year, for instance, Bishop Robert Vasa, bishop of the Diocese of Baker, Ore., ended the church's sponsorship of St. Charles Medical Center in Bend over the hospital's performance of tubal ligations. But the Phoenix case breaks new ground. In explaining his decision, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, bishop of the Phoenix Diocese, was the first to explicitly point to the role played by Catholic theologians in providing theological cover for "a litany of practices in direct conflict with Catholic teachings." Anne Hendershott is here to look at how administrators are shopping for theologians to support practices that conflict with Church teachings.

Pope pays tribute to Havel, his visionary leadership

Prague ( - Pope Benedict XVI has paid tribute to the late Vaclav Havel and his visionary leadership in developing democracy after the 1989 fall of communism in the Czech Republic in a letter that former papal nuncio to Prague, Giovanni Coppa, read at the beginning of Havel´s state funeral today.

In the letter, addressed to President Vaclav Klaus, the Pope expressed his sadness at the death of Havel, a playwright, dissident and Czechoslovak and Czech first post-communist president. The Pope voiced his sympathy to the mourning Czechs.

Benedict XVI wrote he remembers how courageously Havel defended human rights at the time when the Czech people were systematically deprived of them.

He paid homage to Havel´s visionary leadership with which he helped create a new democratic establishment after the fall of the previous regime.

At the close of his letter, Benedict XVI thanked God for the freedom people in the Czech Republic enjoy.
Havel died at his country house in east Bohemia on December 18 aged 75. His state funeral started in Prague´s St Vitus Cathedral at noon today.

In 1990, shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Havel, in his capacity as president, invited the then Pope John Paul II to visit Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia then became the second Eastern Bloc state that John Paul II visited, after his native Poland. John Paul II paid another two visits to the Czech Republic in 1995 and 1997.
Benedict XVI visited the Czech Republic two years ago.

NJ hospital settles suit with 12 nurses, says they don’t have to aid in any abortion procedure

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Twelve nurses who sued one of the state’s largest hospitals after claiming they were forced to assist in abortions over their religious and moral objections reached a deal Thursday with their employer in federal court.

Under the agreement, 12 nurses in the same-day surgery unit of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey can remain in their current positions and not be compelled to assist in any part of an abortion procedure. The nurses must only help in a life-threatening emergency if no other non-objecting staff members are available and only until which time one can be brought in to relieve them, according to the agreement.
Fe Esperanza Racpan Vinoya, one of the plaintiffs who said she opposes abortion on religious grounds, said she was happy that the agreement meant she and her colleagues would not have to assist in any aspect of an abortion procedure. Despite the ruling specifying that the nurses wouldn’t be discriminated against, Racpan Vinoya said she was still nervous they would be transferred, have their hours cut or otherwise be punished for having sued.

“I’m still scared about the part of them having four nurses brought in and we might become the surpluses,” Racpan Vinoya said, referring to the hospital hiring four nurses who do not object to assisting with the procedure.

Matt Bowman, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a coalition of Christian lawyers and organizations that represented the nurses, said they were satisfied with the agreement.

An attorney representing the hospital, Edward Deutsch, said his client was pleased the case was resolved.

“I think it’s an appropriate resolution, and the hospital has been very accommodating,” he said.

The hospital issued a statement saying the agreement addresses the best interests of the patients it serves, while respecting the beliefs of its nurses.

Attorney John Peirano, who also represented the hospital in the suit, said the hospital had a mission to treat all patients who come in, regardless of whether they share the nurses’ views.

The ACLU, which was not party to the suit, said it was concerned about a growing number of similar cases around the country as what the organization sees as an effort to use religion to discriminate in a health care context.

“No one should ever have to worry about facing discrimination when they check into the hospital,” said Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “No woman should have to fear that medical staff will place ideology over duty or deny her care.”

Bowman said his clients would never compromise their duty as nurses to care for patients or their oath to respond to medical emergencies.

The agreement was mediated by U.S. District Judge Jose Linares in Newark federal court. Linares said his understanding of the agreement was that the nurses would be allowed to remain in the unit and wouldn’t be discriminated against because of their position on abortion, but he declined to rule on how the hospital had to staff its shifts, saying that was an issue governed by contract rules and subject to collective bargaining. Linares said he would retain jurisdiction over the case to rule on enforcement or any disputes that might arise.

Racpan Vinoya and two other nurse plaintiffs attended court Thursday. All but four nurses in their unit had signed on to the lawsuit filed Oct. 31 after they said they were notified in writing the previous month that the hospital’s new policy would require same-day surgery unit nurses to assist in abortions.

The nurses claimed in the suit that the hospital was compelling them to undergo training that involved assisting in abortions and had indicated they could be subject to termination if they didn’t comply. Racpan Vinoya and others said they had made their objections known to their supervisor and to hospital officials and their concerns were dismissed or ignored.

The hospital denied those claims, saying nurses were not compelled to participate, or even be in the room, during a procedure to which they objected on cultural, religious or ethical grounds.

Linares complimented both sides for reaching an agreement after several hours of discussions. He said it wasn’t an easy case to resolve considering it revolved around a highly emotional issue and involved the complexities of the hospital’s obligations to its patients.

Hackers post cops’ personal data to avenge Occupy movement

(Washington Times) Computer hackers are avenging the Occupy movement by exposing the personal information of police officers who evicted protesters and threatening family-values advocates who led a boycott of an American Muslim television show.

In three Internet postings last week, hackers from the loose online coalition called Anonymous published the email and physical addresses, phone numbers and, in some cases, salary details of thousands of law enforcement officers all over the country.

The hackers said they were retaliating for police violence during evictions of Occupy protest camps in cities around the country, but law enforcement advocates slammed the disclosures as dangerous.

“I hope the individuals behind these cyberattacks understand the consequences of what they are doing,” said John Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. “There are very dangerous criminals out there who might seek retribution” against any of these police officers.

Another hacker calling himself ihazcAnNONz struck the website of the Florida Family Association. The group opposes gay marriage and has promoted a successful but highly controversial boycott of advertisers on the reality TV show “All-American Muslim.”
The group says the show is “propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Shariah law.”

Supporters of the show say it depicts ordinary Muslim-American families living their normal lives, and they accuse its critics bigotry.

The hacker, ihazcAnNONz, warned the Florida family group, “Your hatred, bigotry and fear mongering towards Gays, Lesbians and most recently Muslim Americans has not gone unnoticed!”

In an Internet posting, he told the family association he was reading its email, and he provided email addresses and partial credit-card information of two dozen or so of the group’s supporters. He referred to the Occupy Wall Street movement’s slogan about the “1 percent” and the “99 percent.”

“I am going to assume most of the people who receive your newsletter, email you and make donations are potentially part of the 99 percent … who have been mislead by all of your [expletive] and god talk,” he wrote, adding that he therefore would not post confidential information on them.
The family association did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Last week, a hacker calling himself Exphin1ty posted the email and physical addresses, phone numbers and encrypted passwords of more than 2,400 police officers and corporate security executives.

“We have seen our fellow brothers and sisters being teargassed for exercising their fundamental liberal rights,” he wrote.

He urged fellow hackers with access to greater computing power to crack the encryption on passwords and see if the victims had used the same password for any other accounts.

Websites that require users to register typically store data such as names, email addresses and passwords on their servers.

In Christmas message, Holy Land’s top Roman Catholic cleric voices concern for Arab Christians

JERUSALEM (AP) — The top Roman Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land says he is concerned about the fate of Christians because of upheavals sweeping the Middle East.

In his annual pre-Christmas address in Jerusalem, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal told his followers that he supports the changes taking place in favor of freedom and democracy and called on Christians to take part in the movements.
He also said he was praying for authorities to “protect the minorities” in the region.

Since the overthrow of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, Muslim extremists have torched churches and attacked Copts in the worst violence against the Christian community there in decades. Twal’s territory does not include Egypt.

Twal, a Palestinian citizen of Jordan, ministers to some 70,000 Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Cyprus and Jordan.

Renewed faith needed for reform, Pope says in 'State of the Church' speech

(EWTN) A renewal of the faith is the only basis for true Church reform, Pope Benedict XVI told members of the Roman Curia in his pre-Christmas “State of the Church” address on Dec. 22.
Along with his Christmas greetings, the Pope offered the Curia his thoughts on the year's events and the demands of the future.

In this year's speech, the Pope said that the proclamation of the Gospel to the modern world would be the “key theme” of the coming years. The full text of the speech follows:

Brother Bishops and Priests,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The occasion that brings us together today is always particularly moving. The holy feast of Christmas is almost upon us and it prompts the great family of the Roman Curia to come together for a gracious exchange of greetings, as we wish one another a joyful and spiritually fruitful celebration of this feast of the God who became flesh and established his dwelling in our midst (cf. Jn 1:14). For me, this is an occasion not only to offer you my personal good wishes, but also to express my gratitude and that of the Church to each one of you for your generous service; I ask you to convey this to all the co-workers of our extended family. I offer particular thanks to the Dean of the College, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has given voice to the sentiments of all present and of all who work in the various offices of the Curia and the Governorate, including those whose apostolate is carried out in the Pontifical Representations throughout the world. All of us are committed to spreading throughout the world the resounding message that the angels proclaimed that night in Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will" (Lk 2:14), so as to bring joy and hope to our world.

As this year draws to a close, Europe is undergoing an economic and financial crisis, which is ultimately based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent. Even if such values as solidarity, commitment to one’s neighbour and responsibility towards the poor and suffering are largely uncontroversial, still the motivation is often lacking for individuals and large sectors of society to practise renunciation and make sacrifices. Perception and will do not necessarily go hand in hand. In defending personal interests, the will obscures perception, and perception thus weakened is unable to stiffen the will. In this sense, some quite fundamental questions emerge from this crisis: where is the light that is capable of illuminating our perception not merely with general ideas, but with concrete imperatives? Where is the force that draws the will upwards? These are questions that must be answered by our proclamation of the Gospel, by the new evangelization, so that message may become event, so that proclamation may lead to life.

The key theme of this year, and of the years ahead, is this: how do we proclaim the Gospel today? How can faith as a living force become a reality today? The ecclesial events of the outgoing year were all ultimately related to this theme. There were the journeys to Croatia, to the World Youth Day in Spain, to my home country of Germany, and finally to Africa – Benin – for the consignment of the Post-Synodal document on justice, peace and reconciliation, which should now lead to concrete results in the various local churches. Equally memorable were the journeys to Venice, to San Marino, to the Eucharistic Congress in Ancona, and to Calabria. And finally there was the important day of encounter in Assisi for religions and for people who in whatever way are searching for truth and peace, representing a new step forward in the pilgrimage towards truth and peace. The establishment of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization is at the same time a pointer towards next year’s Synod on the same theme. The Year of Faith, commemorating the beginning of the Council fifty years ago, also belongs in this context. Each of these events had its own particular characteristics. In Germany, where the Reformation began, the ecumenical question, with all its trials and hopes, naturally assumed particular importance. Intimately linked to this, at the focal point of the debate, the question that arises repeatedly is this: what is reform of the Church? How does it take place? What are its paths and its goals? Not only faithful believers but also outside observers are noticing with concern that regular churchgoers are growing older all the time and that their number is constantly diminishing; that recruitment of priests is stagnating; that scepticism and unbelief are growing. What, then, are we to do? There are endless debates over what must be done in order to reverse the trend. There is no doubt that a variety of things need to be done. But action alone fails to resolve the matter. The essence of the crisis of the Church in Europe is the crisis of faith. If we find no answer to this, if faith does not take on new life, deep conviction and real strength from the encounter with Jesus Christ, then all other reforms will remain ineffective.

On this point, the encounter with Africa’s joyful passion for faith brought great encouragement. None of the faith fatigue that is so prevalent here, none of the oft-encountered sense of having had enough of Christianity was detectable there. Amid all the problems, sufferings and trials that Africa clearly experiences, one could still sense the people’s joy in being Christian, buoyed up by inner happiness at knowing Christ and belonging to his Church. From this joy comes also the strength to serve Christ in hard-pressed situations of human suffering, the strength to put oneself at his disposal, without looking round for one’s own advantage. Encountering this faith that is so ready to sacrifice and so full of happiness is a powerful remedy against fatigue with Christianity such as we are experiencing in Europe today.

A further remedy against faith fatigue was the wonderful experience of World Youth Day in Madrid. This was new evangelization put into practice. Again and again at World Youth Days, a new, more youthful form of Christianity can be seen, something I would describe under five headings.

1. Firstly, there is a new experience of catholicity, of the Church’s universality. This is what struck the young people and all the participants quite directly: we come from every continent, but although we have never met one another, we know one another. We speak different languages, we have different ways of life and different cultural backgrounds, yet we are immediately united as one great family. Outward separation and difference is relativized. We are all moved by the one Lord Jesus Christ, in whom true humanity and at the same time the face of God himself is revealed to us. We pray in the same way. The same inner encounter with Jesus Christ has stamped us deep within with the same structure of intellect, will and heart. And finally, our common liturgy speaks to our hearts and unites us in a vast family. In this setting, to say that all humanity are brothers and sisters is not merely an idea: it becomes a real shared experience, generating joy. And so we have also understood quite concretely: despite all trials and times of darkness, it is a wonderful thing to belong to the worldwide Church, to the Catholic Church, that the Lord has given to us.

2. From this derives a new way of living our humanity, our Christianity. For me, one of the most important experiences of those days was the meeting with the World Youth Day volunteers: about 20,000 young people, all of whom devoted weeks or months of their lives to working on the technical, organizational and material preparations for World Youth Day, and thus made it possible for the whole event to run smoothly. Those who give their time always give a part of their lives. At the end of the day, these young people were visibly and tangibly filled with a great sense of happiness: the time that they gave up had meaning; in giving of their time and labour, they had found time, they had found life. And here something fundamental became clear to me: these young people had given a part of their lives in faith, not because it was asked of them, not in order to attain Heaven, nor in order to escape the danger of Hell. They did not do it in order to find fulfilment. They were not looking round for themselves. There came into my mind the image of Lot’s wife, who by looking round was turned into a pillar of salt. How often the life of Christians is determined by the fact that first and foremost they look out for themselves, they do good, so to speak, for themselves. And how great is the temptation of all people to be concerned primarily for themselves; to look round for themselves and in the process to become inwardly empty, to become "pillars of salt". But here it was not a matter of seeking fulfilment or wanting to live one’s life for oneself. These young people did good, even at a cost, even if it demanded sacrifice, simply because it is a wonderful thing to do good, to be there for others. All it needs is the courage to make the leap. Prior to all of this is the encounter with Jesus Christ, inflaming us with love for God and for others, and freeing us from seeking our own ego. In the words of a prayer attributed to Saint Francis Xavier: I do good, not that I may come to Heaven thereby and not because otherwise you could cast me into Hell. I do it because of you, my King and my Lord. I came across this same attitude in Africa too, for example among the Sisters of Mother Teresa, who devote themselves to abandoned, sick, poor and suffering children, without asking anything for themselves, thus becoming inwardly rich and free. This is the genuinely Christian attitude. Equally unforgettable for me was the encounter with handicapped young people in the Saint Joseph Centre in Madrid, where I encountered the same readiness to put oneself at the disposal of others – a readiness to give oneself that is ultimately derived from encounter with Christ, who gave himself for us.

3. A third element, that has an increasingly natural and central place in World Youth Days and in the spirituality that arises from them, is adoration. I still look back to that unforgettable moment during my visit to the United Kingdom, when tens of thousands of predominantly young people in Hyde Park responded in eloquent silence to the Lord’s sacramental presence, in adoration. The same thing happened again on a smaller scale in Zagreb and then again in Madrid, after the thunderstorm which almost ruined the whole night vigil through the failure of the microphones. God is indeed ever-present. But again, the physical presence of the risen Christ is something different, something new. The risen Lord enters into our midst. And then we can do no other than say, with Saint Thomas: my Lord and my God! Adoration is primarily an act of faith – the act of faith as such. God is not just some possible or impossible hypothesis concerning the origin of all things. He is present. And if he is present, then I bow down before him. Then my intellect and will and heart open up towards him and from him. In the risen Christ, the incarnate God is present, who suffered for us because he loves us. We enter this certainty of God’s tangible love for us with love in our own hearts. This is adoration, and this then determines my life. Only thus can I celebrate the Eucharist correctly and receive the body of the Lord rightly.

4. A further important element of the World Youth Days is the sacrament of Confession, which is increasingly coming to be seen as an integral part of the experience. Here we recognize that we need forgiveness over and over again, and that forgiveness brings responsibility. Openness to love is present in man, implanted in him by the Creator, together with the capacity to respond to God in faith. But also present, in consequence of man’s sinful history (Church teaching speaks of original sin) is the tendency that is opposed to love – the tendency towards selfishness, towards becoming closed in on oneself, in fact towards evil. Again and again my soul is tarnished by this downward gravitational pull that is present within me. Therefore we need the humility that constantly asks God for forgiveness, that seeks purification and awakens in us the counterforce, the positive force of the Creator, to draw us upwards.

5. Finally, I would like to speak of one last feature, not to be overlooked, of the spirituality of World Youth Days, namely joy. Where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly, there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being. If ever man’s sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable. Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably. We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness, that can be read on so many human faces today. Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within. That is one of the wonderful experiences of World Youth Days.

It would take too long now to go into detail concerning the encounter in Assisi, as the significance of the event would warrant. Let us simply thank God, that as representatives of the world’s religions and as representatives of thinking in search of truth, we were able to meet that day in a climate of friendship and mutual respect, in love for the truth and in shared responsibility for peace. So let us hope that, from this encounter, a new willingness to serve peace, reconciliation and justice has emerged.

As I conclude, I would like to thank all of you from my heart for shouldering the common mission that the Lord has given us as witnesses to his truth, and I wish all of you the joy that God wanted to bestow upon us through the incarnation of his Son. A blessed Christmas to you all! Thank you.