Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pope asks US donors to pray for religious freedom

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Meeting a group of major U.S. donors to Catholic charitable works, Pope Benedict XVI asked them to pray "for the freedom of Christians to proclaim the Gospel and bring its light to the urgent moral issues of our time."

The pope met April 21 with about 80 members of the Papal Foundation, who presented him with an $8.5-million donation that will be used to fund scholarships and 105 Catholic projects in close to 50 countries.

The projects include the construction of five schools in Egypt, where Christian leaders and human rights activists have been concerned about ensuring religious freedom as the country transitions to a democratic government.

While the pope did not refer to any specific conflicts involving religious freedom, his remarks to the American group also may have alluded to current tensions in the United States over the right of Catholic bishops and institutions to act according to Catholic teaching in matters of adoption and health insurance coverage.

Pope Benedict also paid tribute to the "historic role played by women in building up the church in America," as exemplified by Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and Blessed Marianne Cope, two North Americans who will be canonized in October.

The pope spoke just three days after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that it had ordered the reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main U.S. organization of heads of religious congregations. In the announcement, the congregation said, "the Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contributions of women religious to the church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by religious over the years."

Pope Benedict thanked members of the Papal Foundation for their support for the church's work in evangelization, education and development.

Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas, secretary of the foundation's executive board, told Catholic News Service that the idea behind the foundation, which was established in 1988, was to help the pope in his support of Catholics in poor countries. "Every year the pope gives a list of what he'd be interested in" and the foundation evaluates requests it receives in accordance with that list.

Most of the foundation members are "leaders in their communities," and give generously to their parishes and dioceses, but they also want to assist with the universal work of the church, he said.

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas, a member of the board of trustees, said the foundation's Stewards of St. Peter each pledge $1 million to the foundation and promise to pay it within 10 years.

"It is admirable to see how many people are involved in this, helping the church promote programs of evangelization all over the world. I do believe it is one of the great unwritten stories of charity in our day, especially in the United States," Bishop Farrell said.

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