Christians Pray, Plead for Peace
GAZA--Msgr. Manuel Musallam, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, says Gaza is “drowning in blood” as its hospitals overflow with patients. In a message to participants read during a special Mass for peace at St. Stephen’s Church in Jerusalem on Jan. 4, Musallam wrote: “What you see on television cannot be compared to what is happening. The word love is choking in my throat.... We are living like animals in Gaza. We cry and nobody hears us. I am asking God for mercy and pray that the light of Christianity continues to shine in Gaza.”
Israel launched a ground attack in Gaza on Jan. 3 after several days of airstrikes to stop the Palestinian militant group Hamas from launching rockets into Israel. As of Jan. 8, at least four Israelis and more than 500 Palestinians, including 100 civilians, had been killed.
Church leaders from the Holy Land attended the Mass at St. Stephen’s while local and international Christians gathered elsewhere in Israel and the West Bank to pray for a halt to the violence in Gaza. At St. Stephen’s the retired Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, said the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip means death for both sides. “What is happening now is death for Palestinians as well as Israelis,” Patriarch Sabbah said at the Mass. “What is happening in Gaza has made us all come to pray and join in a prayer that says stop the massacre.”
Earlier in the day at St. Catherine’s Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, Christians also attended a special Mass. “This is genocide,” said one Bethlehem resident, Adel Sahouri, 70, who attended the Mass. “Israel is so strong and has all the weapons the world can afford. What does Hamas have? Just rockets, nothing.” Another told Catholic News Service after Mass he was praying “not just for the people in Gaza but also for those in Tel Aviv. Every [Israeli] soldier going into Gaza now has a mother who is sitting glued to the television with her heart in her throat. He who truly has God in his heart loves everybody.”
This parishioner said he did not understand the purpose of Hamas’s rockets, given their inaccuracy, and he emphasized the fact that there is only one Palestinian government, headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. In June 2007, Hamas split with Abbas’s Fatah movement and took control of the Gaza Strip. Abbas’s government still controls the West Bank. “What are we fighting over—for a piece of land? Take the land. In the end the land will swallow us all,” he said, noting that, given the situation, he was not able to speak so freely with many of his friends and acquaintances.
After the Mass in Bethlehem more than 50 worshippers—carrying a flower wreath, placards calling for peace and black and Palestinian flags—processed around Manger Square reciting Psalm 50, traditionally said at funerals. “What is going on is war and I am praying to stop it. I am not waiting for people to hear [my prayer]. I am waiting for God; and whatever God’s plan is, we will follow,” said Rosemarie Nasser, 55. “No one understands that God has his own time. So many times in our lives God uses the bad for good.”
Couple Questions Vatican Instruction
NEW HAMPSHIRE--As committed Catholics, Timothy and Dawn Smith of Fitzwilliam, N.H., respect Vatican pronouncements, but recent statements by church officials regarding frozen embryo adoption have bewildered these parents of three children who came into the world through this process. “If the church did come out and say you can’t adopt frozen embryos, we wouldn’t openly challenge church teachings,” said Timothy Smith, 44, in an interview with Catholic News Service. His wife, Dawn, 40, has given birth to three children who were adopted as frozen embryos and believes their road to parenthood was morally righteous. “But, the door is still open a crack here. Until that is shut, we would like to say we think this is a very good thing to do.”
In the document Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of a Person)—released at the Vatican on Dec. 12—church leaders did not condemn frozen embryo adoption, the procedure through which couples may adopt embryos that are not used during in vitro fertilization, but said the practice raises serious ethical concerns. Vatican officials insist no fully moral solution exists for dealing with frozen embryos, not even the idea of adopting or “rescuing” abandoned embryos to bring them to full development and birth.
When the Smiths married in 1991 they knew they wanted three or four children, but learned in 1997 they were infertile. As they researched their options, the couple—who were living in Delaware at the time—discovered that people who go through in vitro procedures sometimes donate their excess frozen embryos to others who cannot conceive children through marital sexual intercourse, and decided this was the course they wanted to take.
Though they subscribe to church teachings that artificial methods of procreation, such as in vitro fertilization, are immoral, the Smiths believe they protected the lives of their three children by adopting them as frozen embryos and providing Dawn’s womb as a nurturing place for them to grow.
They say they were surprised at the contents of the bioethics document released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “I would have thought that, after some reflection on the matter, they would have leaned a little more” in favor of the practice, Smith said. “It doesn’t read like they talked to people—especially Catholics —who had gone through this and weighed the moral issues involved.”
The only completely moral way of acting is to stop creating and freezing embryos, which possess the dignity of all human beings, the document said.
Speaking at the Dec. 12 Vatican press conference to explain the document, Bishop Elio Sgreccia—former president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who helped prepare the Vatican’s new bioethics document—told reporters: “The basic advice, explicitly stated in the document, is that embryos must not befrozen. It is one of those actions that has no remedy. Once it is done, correcting it implies committing another error.”
U.S. Bishops Applaud Conscience Regulations
The U.S. bishops’ pro-life spokeswoman welcomed a final regulation issued on Dec. 18 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that protects the conscience rights of health care providers. Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications, said the regulation is a way to protect medical personnel from “being coerced” to violate their consciences in federally funded programs. The new regulation clarifies and implements existing federal statutes enacted by Congress over the last several years, most recently in 2004. “Individuals and institutions committed to healing should not be required to take the very human life that they are dedicated to protecting,” McQuade said in a statement. “The enforcement of federal laws to protect their freedom of conscience is long overdue.” She said, “Catholic health care providers will especially welcome this mark of respect for the excellent life-affirming care they provide to all in need.”
Ugandan Rebels Killing Congolese Civilians
A Catholic Church official said the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army is killing Congolese civilians to avenge military attacks by the Congolese army. “It is the civilian population who are paying the price of this violence,” said Marie-Bernard Alima, a St. Joseph Sister who is executive secretary of the Congolese bishops’ justice and peace commission. Sister Marie-Bernard told Catholic News Service on Dec. 29 that 50 bodies were found in the courtyard of a Catholic church in Doruma Christmas morning. The L.R.A., a Ugandan rebel group, has been blamed for the church massacre as well as continued tensions in northeastern Congo. In early December, Ugandan, Congolese and southern Sudanese forces launched an offensive against the group. Sister Marie-Bernard said the local justice and peace commission currently is taking scores of people to the local hospital.
Number of Catholics in Congress Grows
The number of Catholic members of Congress is slowly growing and the Catholic contingent, like the full Congress itself, has taken a decided turn toward the Democratic Party. When the 111th Congress is sworn in on Jan. 6, more than a quarter of its members will be Catholics, roughly matching the percentage of Catholics in the U.S. population and consistent with the statistical trends of the past decade. Four years ago, when the 109th Congress convened, it included 153 Catholics. Two years later there were 155 Catholics in the 110th Congress. The new group of senators and representatives has 162 members who identify themselves as Catholics. With nearly all the 2008 electoral battles settled by early December and the Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama still not filled, the Catholic delegation includes 17 Democrats and nine Republicans in the Senate and 98 Democrats and 38 Republicans in the House.
Eugene Fisher, a retired official at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been honored by two organizations for his work in promoting understanding between Catholic and Jewish communities. • Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Oakland was named archbishop of Detroit on Jan. 5 • A new online survey conducted for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found that 78 percent favored requiring that abortions be performed only by licensed physicians and that 72 percent favor requiring that women who are seeking abortions be told of the potential physical and psychological risks. • The president of Caritas Internationalis called for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip to allow the wounded and their physicians to reach the region’s hospitals. • Despite the bombings in the Gaza Strip, the six Missionaries of Charity working there say life has some normalcy and they plan to remain. • Benedictine Brother Dietrich Reinhart, former president of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., died Dec. 29 at age 59. • Catholic bishops in southern Africa paid tribute to the anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman, who died on Jan. 1 in Johannesburg at age 91.