SINGAPORE – About 60 altar servers representing the 27 parishes in Singapore met Archbishop Nicholas Chia together for lunch for the first time at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on Dec 18.

The lunch, hosted by the archbishop at Bishop’s House in the cathedral grounds, was organised by Father Gerard Weerakoon, assistant priest of Church of the Holy Spirit.

SINGAPORE – Catholic and other Christian teachers from kindergartens, schools and polytechnics reflected on their vocation as educators at a retreat titled “Called to be Teacher” from Nov 28-30 at Montfort Centre (photo).

During the retreat, retreatants reflected on their respective calls to be a teacher and the journeys they have taken since responding.

 VATICAN CITY – A new Vatican document warned that certain recent developments in stem-cell research, gene therapy and embryonic experimentation violate moral principles and reflect an attempt by man to “take the place of his Creator”.
The latest advances raise serious questions of moral complicity for researchers and other biotech professionals, who have a duty to refuse to use biological material obtained by unethical means, the document said.
The 32-page instruction, titled “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”), was issued on Dec 12 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Benedict XVI personally approved the text and ordered its publication.
The document represented an updating of the congregation’s 1987 instruction, “Donum Vitae” (“The Gift of Life”), which rejected in vitro fertilisation, human cloning, surrogate motherhood and non-therapeutic experiments with human embryos.

At a glance

Here are the major points of  “Dignitas Personae”:
– Two fundamental principles for reflection on bioethical questions are: First, the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; second, responsible human procreation occurs in the act of reciprocal love between a man and a woman in marriage.
– Stem-cell research opens new prospects for regenerative medicine and is morally permissible when it uses stem cells taken from adult organisms, but not when it takes cells from human embryos, because it invariably causes their death.
– Researchers in the biotech profession have a moral duty to refuse to use biological material that comes from a procedure considered gravely immoral by the church, even
if there is no close connection between the
researcher and those doing the illicit procedure.
– The morning-after pill and other methods of preventing the implantation of a fertilised egg are immoral because they are intended to cause an abortion. Using such methods falls “within the sin of abortion”, and when there is certainty that an abortion has taken place there are serious canon law penalties.
– Human cloning, whether for producing embryonic stem cells or to obtain the birth of a genetically predetermined baby, is immoral.
– Techniques for assisting fertility are morally permissible if they respect the right to life of every human being and respect procreation as a result of the conjugal act in marriage.
– In vitro fertilisation and the deliberate destruction of embryos are morally unacceptable.
– The freezing of embryos or of human eggs, commonly done in assisted fertility treatment, is also morally illicit.
– The thousands of unused, frozen human embryos are in a sense “orphans”. The proposal for “prenatal adoption” that would allow frozen embryos to be born, although well intended, would itself be subject to a number of problems.
– Genetic therapy that aims to correct genetic defects on a subject’s non-reproductive cells, limiting the effect to a single person, is morally acceptable.
– Therapy that makes genetic modifications aimed at transmitting the effects to the subject’s offspring is morally illicit, because of potential harm to the offspring. -  By John Thavis, CNS

SINGAPORE – The Canossian family welcomed a new provincial leadership team in a simple paraliturgy on Sunday Dec 14 during which outgoing Provincial Sister Anne Tan welcomed new Provincial Leader Sister Marilyn Lim and her two Councillors, Sisters Theresa Seow (Vicar) and Geraldine Tan.

The Canossians’ XV General Chapter had called on the entire Canossian religious family to a journey of conversion that will "ensure a mentality of change that facilitates an authentic transformation in conformity with Jesus … respecting the various cultural realities in which we live and serve", said Sister Marilyn.

Her main responsibility as Provincial Leader is to be a good shepherd to the 53 Sisters that make up the province, and to network with lay partners to be agents for change in order "to create a more humanised world".

Sister Marilyn joined the Canossian Sisters in 1969 and though her passion was in the educational field she was asked to go into formation work in 1978.

She went to Rome in 1990 to be part of the International Secretariat team for six years. "That has given me a very broad vision of the universal Church and being at the hub of the Institute has provided me with a very rich experience," she said.

She returned to Singapore in 1996 where she remained until 2002, before serving in Rome again after being elected one of the General Councillors. After serving six years there, she took a short sabbatical in Australia and returned to Singapore in August this year.

"The province faces many challenges in this time of transition and change and I suppose that the Sisters are looking for someone who can continue to lead the province through this critical time,"
Sister Marilyn said. "Together, we
want to search for a more relevant
way of being religious and Canossian, yet remain faithful to the charism that has been handed on to us by our Foundress,
St. Magdalene of Canossa."

"I have great hopes for the province as we are being called to embrace new perspectives in our community life for mission," Sister Marilyn said. "We are rediscovering the joy of community as we share our life and vision more and more with our lay partners in ministry. As the Singapore population grows in age, we also want to be prepared, to be able to offer quality pastoral care to our senior citizens. The poor will always be among us and we need to have eyes to spot them out, especially the youth who are challenged by a globalised world and often become disoriented." n

SINGAPORE – When St. Paul had his conversion experience, a light from the sky flashed and he fell to the ground (Acts 9:3-4).

The 149 priests and laity who attended the Conversion Experience Retreat at the Catholic Spirituality Centre (CSC) from Dec 4-7 had a conversion experience too though there were no lightning flashes.

Joseph Lum, a retreatant from St. Anne’s Church, summed up his conversion experience, one shared by many, like this: "I have experienced a deep conversion. I
encountered the love of God. I was blind but now I see. I encountered the power of the Holy Spirit. I had longed for my heart to burn with the love of God again. I had longed to walk closely with Jesus again. But I was blinded and my heart was hardened. I have learnt to truly praise God... for how much He loves me. I have been reborn."

Seven priests from Indonesia, India and Kenya, two friars and a seminarian from Singapore were all touched too.

Father Simon Kithinji from Meru, Kenya emerged from the retreat radiating joy.

"I was experiencing some burnout in my spiritual life, and sincerely needed refilling," he said. "I came feeling very empty at heart, but now, I feel happy and full of joy. The preaching (was) a tremendous reawakening of faith and hope in Christ. I came wounded but I am now healed."

The Conversion Experience Retreat, now in its eleventh run, is a main programme of the CSC. It is conducted four times a year in March, June, September and December by CSC Spiritual Director Father William Goh. The next retreat will be held from Mar 12-15.

SINGAPORE – A five-day charismatic conference held in Jakarta was "a wonderful and awesome experience", said a Singaporean delegate, Magdalene Yun, from Living Stones Campus Outreach. She was at the Sep 14-18
First Asia-Oceania Catholic Charismatic Renewal Leader’s Conference organised by the Asia-
Oceania sub-committee of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS).

Ms Yun, one of the few youth present, shared that she had the opportunity to interact with leaders from all over Asia and Oceania "to gain their perspective which is crucial for the young adults and youth groups".

Among those who participated were laypeople, priests, religious and bishops from the region including Archbishop Nicholas Chia. Father Henry Siew, who attended the conference, said,
"What struck me is the importance of encouraging, and building up the youth in the (charismatic movement). It’s essential to include them in the planning and decision making, while not forgetting to provide training for them."

"The conference had also reminded me that a Catholic is meant to live life in the spirit," he added. "The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is not just a prayer group but a way of church revival, to renew the life of every member and to empower him to serve and evangelise."

Conference programmes included Eucharistic celebrations, Adoration, the sacrament of reconciliation, workshops, and plenty of praise and worship. There was also healing and ministering during which participants were prayed over before they ministered to over 7,000 Indonesians in a "Revival and Healing Rally" the next day.

Singaporeans can experience the Jakarta spirit at a a three-night rally at Church of the Risen Christ from Jan 6-8.

The rally is being organised by the Asia-Oceania sub-committee with Singapore Archdiocesan Catholic Charismatic Renewal (SACCRE).

Bishop Joe Grech from Melbourne will be the main speaker and celebrant. He has spoken at international seminars, retreats and rallies, as well as at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. He has been an ICCRS Council member since 2001.

KOTA KINABALU CATHOLICS and Archbishop John Lee were treated to an "evening of sacred music in praise and thanksgiving to the God who made us" at Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) on Dec 3 by Peter Low and the Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ.

The choir was established in 1970 at Church of the Risen Christ, where it served for 32 years before being installed at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in April 2002.

It has a strong tradition of public performances in aid of worthy causes, both local and international, in line with its philosophy that music can be placed at the service of society. It performed for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1985 and 1997.

Proceeds from the concert at Sacred Heart Cathedral went to welfare organisations like SHC Charity, Don Bosco Children’s Home in Bundu Tuhan, Franciscan and Good Shepherd Hostels.

One of Peter Low’s compositions, Juravit Dominus – Tu Es Sacerdos In Aeternum ("You Are a Priest Forever") was dedicated to Archbishop Lee.

SINGAPORE – The sky above SAFRA Tampines was clear with the sun shining brightly over the the football field on the morning of Nov 29 when altar servers from 14 parishes gathered for the Archdiocesan Archbishop’s Cup Tournament.
Their day began with their heads bowed in prayer as Father Ignatius Yeo said the opening prayers. Father Ignatius is assistant priest at Church of the Holy Family. He was acting as chaplain for the altar servers as chaplain Father Christopher Lee was away on pilgrimage.
Archbishop Nicholas Chia came for the final football matches.
He had praises for the altar boys, referring to them as the “closest to the altar of the Lord”, and sensing a “family atmosphere”, he praised the organisers and all present. He handed trophies to all winners and runners-up.
The tournament was organised by Church of the Holy Family Altar Server’s Society, led by Joshua Maniar and James Kwa. The tournament had been absent from the diocesan scene for two years.
Teams competed in four categories: Under 20s, Under 15s, Under 12s and Parents. Fathers of
altar servers gamely took up the challenge and participated actively
in the Parents category created for them. Five teams in that category competed against each other.
- By Junita Decruz

HARARE – Caritas Internationalis is warning that the crisis in Zimbabwe is so grave that people facing crushing food shortages are mixing cow dung with their food.

With pressure continuing to mount on President Mugabe to relinquish his hold on power, Zimbabweans are suffering the consequences of his government’s policies. Besides the lack of food, people are also suffering a cholera epidemic and crippling hyperinflation.

Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight reports that "people in Zimbabwe are dropping dead on the streets from cholera".

They have witnessed people mixing cow dung with what’s left of their food to make it go further. "This is poverty at its most dehumanising."

Caritas plans to ramp up its aid operations across the country with hunger likely to increase after poor harvests.

A Caritas survey in October found 70 to 90 percent of households going hungry and the remainder on the brink of starvation. At least 5.1 million people are facing starvation out of a population of 13 million people. Additionally, nearly 14,000 cases of cholera have been reported.

Knight also commented on the political crisis, saying, "An effective government that can rectify the policies that have put the country into this position must be established.

"The international community must maintain the pressure on Zimbabwe for an end to this crisis. We must also prepare ourselves for the implosion of the country and the catastrophe that will mean in terms of human suffering across the region".

Zimbabweans have faced discrimination in South Africa and other neighbouring countries and Knight warned that they "must address the xenophobia directed at Zimbabwean refugees in their own countries".

"These are very challenging conditions for aid agencies to operate, but Caritas remains committed to delivering aid to the country in its hour of need," she said. - CNS

NEW DELHI – An Indian Catholic on a hunger strike to force government action for peace in India’s Orissa state refused food even after police took him to a hospital.

Rajiv Joseph was taken to the hospital Dec 18, eight days after he began his "hunger strike until success or death" on Human Rights Day, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

After returning to his cloth canopy on the roadside the same day, he told UCA News, "I’m physically fit, and I’ll continue fasting." His canopy is in an area set aside for public protests, about a mile from India’s Parliament.

Joseph said he has consumed only water since he began fasting. The police followed normal procedure by taking him to a hospital, but when the doctors said he was fit, the police could not keep him there, he added.

Joseph, president of the Indian Minority Front, a political party he launched in November, is demanding that more security forces be sent to Orissa, where he said Christians remain afraid after Hindu fanatics attacked them for seven weeks, starting Aug 24.

The violence left at least 60 people dead and more than 50,000 displaced. Thousands of Christians
still live in government-run relief camps or far from home for fear of being attacked if they return to their villages.

Joseph wants the government to block a general strike Hindu radical groups have called in the state for Christmas Day and is calling for the federal and state governments to rehabilitate victims of the violence.

Federal government leaders have asked him to end the strike and promised to meet his demands; Joseph said, "but I need action, not promises".

The "double talk", he said, forced people of minority faith communities to form the new party.

Though he sat alone in his tent,
Joseph said Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and some political organisations were backing his action.

In the first 10 days of Joseph’s hunger strike, about 30 Catholic priests and 20 nuns visited him.

Divine Word Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told UCA News Dec 17 that the Catholic Church "fully supports his act of care and concern for the people of Orissa, especially the Christians".

"It is a noble way of protesting and helping fellow brethren in their distress," Father Joseph said, adding that a hunger strike is "the best way to express strong disagreement
with the government". -cns

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican media must unite their efforts to provide packages of word, sound and images to proclaim the Gospel to modern Internet users, Pope Benedict XVI said.
“Today the Internet calls for a growing integration of written, audio and visual communications and therefore challenges the media at the service of the Holy See to enlarge and intensify their collaboration,” the pope said during a meeting with employees of the Vatican Television Center.
The meeting marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the centre, which is responsible for filming papal events, making documentaries and providing them to Catholic and other television outlets.
Pope Benedict told the employees that, because the Catholic Church cannot allow its message to be outside “the spaces in which numerous young people navigate in search of answers and of meaning for their lives, you must seek ways to spread voices and images of hope in new formats”.
The Vatican Television Center has a small staff and limited resources, but the pope asked the employees and members of the administrative council not to be intimidated; “many people, thanks to your work, can feel closer to the heart of the church”, he said.
For centuries pilgrims have been coming to Rome each year to see the pope, he said, and “today this desire can be satisfied, at least in part, thanks to radio and television”.
The advantage of providing audiovisual images of the pope to television networks around the world is that they reach an audience well beyond the Catholic faithful, he said.
The access gives billions of people “timely information about the life and teaching of the church in today’s world at the service of the dignity of the human person, justice, dialogue and peace”, the pope said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who serves as director of the television centre as well as of the Vatican press office and Vatican Radio, said almost every television image of the pope people around the world see is an image filmed by the Vatican Television Center.
“Even if they are watching RAI (in Italy), Bayerische Rundfunk (in Germany) or CNN, we are the origin in almost every case,” Father Lombardi said.
Father Lombardi thanked the pope for his graciousness in allowing the Vatican camera operators to shadow his every public move, but he said that being there with the camera rolling “is our job. It is our obligation. We do it with passion and joy”.
Pope Benedict said much of the work of the television centre involves filming and distributing images from liturgical celebrations at the Vatican.
“The liturgy truly is the summit of the life of the church, a time and place for a deep relationship with God,” he said.
Filming the ceremonies requires not only professional expertise, but also a “spiritual harmony” with what is being filmed and with the devotion or desire for the spiritual nourishment of the audience, the pope said. -By Cindy Wooden, cns
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The days of Facebook only being for college and high school students are long gone. Little Rock Bishop Anthony B. Taylor is believed to be the first U.S. Catholic bishop to join the popular website.
As of Dec 11, he had 894 friends worldwide and counting.
Started in 2004, Facebook rivals MySpace as one of the largest social networking sites on the Internet. It is the fourth most-trafficked site in the world, according to comScore, an Internet research company.
Facebook reports more than 120 million registered users. Of these, the fastest-growing segment is people 25 and older. The site is free to users, but small advertisements are interspersed with the content. Only Facebook members can view the site.
Members can join networks based on cities, workplaces and campuses to find friends and co-workers in the system. Every member has a profile page where he or she can add work and personal information, as well as install applications that perform a wide range of functions. Members can view their friends’ profile pages, send private messages, share photos and interact in a variety of ways. Based on their interests, members also can join groups and fan clubs.
Shortly after being ordained as Little Rock’s bishop in June, Bishop Taylor said he was told a fan club had been created about him on Facebook. When he went online to look at the page, he realised he had to sign up to see it, so he did.
Not long after posting his information and a photo, the word spread fast and before long he had more friend requests and group invitations than he could keep up with.
“I want to be available and accessible to everybody in the diocese,” Bishop Taylor said of his membership on Facebook. “This is a way to be present to the younger people of the diocese.”
Stephen Elser, 17, a senior at Catholic High School in Little Rock, attended Bishop Taylor’s ordination. Afterward Elser was so enthusiastic about the diocese finally having a bishop after a two-year period without one that he went onto Facebook and found the “Bishop Taylor Fan Club”. Its administrators had abandoned the page so he took it over and invited all his friends to join.
Elser said his goal was to get Bishop Taylor to join Facebook, which he did shortly thereafter.
“It actually kind of surprised me; I mean I hoped he’d get one, but it was just surprising,” Elser told the Arkansas Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. “I thank God he did because I like how he posts his homilies.”
Though unable to respond to the many messages he receives, Bishop Taylor does accept all friend requests. Beyond youths in the diocese, he is friends with people of all ages worldwide who
are laypeople, clergy and religious.
The bishop also gets numerous invitations on Facebook to attend high school youth and campus ministry events from around the state.
“I’m not able to go to hardly any of them, but I become aware of what’s going on,” he said.
“I want to be part of their lives,”
Bishop Taylor said. “Technology like anything has good points and weak points. But it can certainly be used to spread the Gospel and to build up the community.”
Many parish and diocesan leaders seem to agree. Several of Arkansas’ priests, religious, youth and campus ministry and religious education workers are also on Facebook for the same reason – to evangelise.
“It’s a tremendous tool of evangelisation,” said Father John Antony, pastor of St. Raphael Church in Springdale. “Like St. Paul used to write letters to the churches, we use notes on Facebook to reach people with the Gospel.”
He also posts homilies on Facebook and considers doing that for a young adult ministry.
Catholic youths and youth ministers all over the country are no doubt using Facebook to make connections, share news about events or stay in touch.  -By Tara Little, cns

Singaporean Elaine Seow, a Masters degree holder, recently made her perpetual vows as a Verbum Dei Missionary

"I THOUGHT THAT it was going to be a normal retreat – normal in the sense that you get touched by certain experiences, and then recharged, you get back to your normal way of life, and that’s it. But I forgot that God is never normal, and at the least expected times, He acts in ways that we can never understand," says Elaine Seow, a Verbum Dei Missionary who professed her perpetual vows on Nov 29, in Taipei, with almost 200 family members and friends witnessing.

Her parents, Doris and James Seow, as well as 31 other Singaporeans were among those present. The Mass was celebrated by Taipei Archbishop John Hung Shan-Chuan, and concelebrated by nine priests.

The retreat that Elaine refers to was one led by the Verbum Dei Missionaries in 1998 in Singapore.
At that time, Elaine had just graduated from her Masters Course at Nanyang Technological University, and was looking for a quiet but rejuvenating time to get her started on her career as economic analyst. But God had other plans, and in a prayer with the word of God, she experienced the call of the living God: "Why spend money on what cannot nourish and your wages on what fails to satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and you will live. I shall make an everlasting covenant with you" (Isaiah 55:2-3).

"It was something and someone whom I could not ignore, an attractive pull that challenged my whole way of life. At that time, I didn’t think of consecrating myself as a religious, but I knew deep inside that something had to change radically," Elaine recalls.

That started the journey of discernment and discovery that brought her to the Philippines for
the formation course, and to Taiwan, where she spent the last seven years as a missionary, studying theology and actively promoting the Verbum Dei charism. "And not only had my life changed, my sister Sandra also had her world turned upside down."
Sandra too is now a Verbum Dei Missionary in Singapore.

Born in a Catholic family active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the parish of the Holy Cross, she was awakened, at a very young age, to the idea of mission when she saw a documentary on Doctors without Borders, about medical personnel who try to aid people in the poorest and most war-torn areas.

However, she took economics as a major in university because of the changed concept that it was money and not just medicine that helps people to get out of poverty. Then why now dedicate her life as a Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity, in a community that stresses not social help but "Prayer
and the Ministry of the Word"?

"As I grew up, it became clearer that nothing material and nothing on this earth can ever satisfy the human heart," she recalls.
"My own lifestyle was comfortable:
my parents tried to give us everything possible, I went places, met friends, had good relationships,
but the song of U2 kept echoing in my mind, ‘But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’."

The 1998 financial crisis was also a wake-up call not to place hopes on money and false securities
because that crisis affected the Master’s thesis that Elaine was working on. "It was then that God
called me through His word and I experienced a deep sense of peace and fulfilment, and a deeper joy than touring Europe for a whole month had done for me," she says. "Only God can satisfy the abyss that is within each heart."

For the Verbum Dei Missionaries, an encounter with the living Word of God, that is Christ himself, is the key to any social or personal transformation. And looking at the world and its many problems, it is evident that people need to learn to listen to God, to learn to live out His word, and to share it with others.

Elaine’s mission experience in Taiwan is varied, "from aborigines, to university professors
and students, to couples and children, from Catholics to people who do not know Christ", all need to personally know the God who knows, loves and calls each one of them from their mother’s womb.With regards to her vocation, she likens herself to a match in God’s hand, which although provides a small light, nevertheless lights up the darkness and shows the way. And for constant encouragement in the mission land where the Chinese language poses an everyday challenge for someone who used to dislike the language, she recalls Archbishop Oscar Romero’s words: "We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promises. We provide yeast that produce effects far beyond our capabilities. We may never see the end results but that’s the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are ministers, not messiahs, prophets of a future that is not our own."

VATICAN CITY  – Building peace and eradicating poverty demand an overhaul of shortsighted financial policies and unjust economic and social structures, Pope Benedict XVI said.
In his annual message for the Jan 1 celebration of the World Day of Peace, the pope said “peace can be built only if everyone is assured the possibility of reasonable growth: Sooner or later, the distortions produced by unjust systems have to be paid for by everyone.”
The world of finance and commerce need global governance and a new ethical approach that can ensure that investments and development truly contribute to the common good and peace in the world, he said.
The message, “Fighting Poverty to Build Peace”, was sent to heads of state around the world and was released on Dec 11 at a Vatican press conference.
The pope said that while globalisation has brought many benefits it must be governed and “managed with great prudence”.
Policies and norms must be based on a common code of ethics, he said, and actions must be guided by “the principles of fraternity and responsibility”.
With natural law, God has inscribed upon every conscience a deep yearning to uphold the common good and peace in the world, he said.
Closing the gap between rich and poor will only happen if people everywhere listen to their conscience and “feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world and by the concomitant violations of human rights”, he said.
“It is utterly foolish to build a luxury home in the midst of desert or decay,” he said.
The world of finance has lost sight of its most important function which is “to sustain the possibility
of long-term investment and hence development”, he said.
He said the current economic and financial crises are the result of financial activities – on both the national and global level – that are “based upon very short-term thinking”.
Financial practices that are limited to the short term become “dangerous for everyone, even for those who benefit when the markets perform well”, he said.
By not taking into any long-term consideration of the common good, investments lose their “capacity to function as a bridge between the present and the future” and to stimulate new businesses and job opportunities in the long term, said the pope.
He said economic and legal structures must work together to come up with and implement strategies to fix current shortcomings in the financial and commercial world and create incentives for more appropriate behaviours.
Overcoming the scandal of poverty means addressing the institutional, material and cultural causes of poverty along with the spiritual and moral flaws that are “harboured in the human heart, like greed and narrow vision”, he said.
It is not enough to skim off one’s surplus to redistribute to the poor, he said. A real change of heart, “of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption and of the established structures of power” governing communities, is urgently needed, he said.
Pope Benedict said when people show a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of every human person “the cruel forces of poverty are unleashed”.
He criticised some major causes of poverty and economic inequality, such as immense military spending, the inadequate distribution of food resources and price speculation in food commodities.
Because many have linked high birthrates to poverty, some family planning campaigns have used methods that violate the right of parents to responsibly choose how many children to have, the pope said.
This has caused “the extermination of millions of unborn children, in the name of the fight against poverty”, he said.
The pope noted that despite marked demographic growth the percentage of the world’s population living under the threshold of absolute poverty has been cut in half since 1981.
In fact, some of the nations that have emerged today as new economic powers “have experienced rapid development specifically because of the large number of their inhabitants”, the pope said.
“Population is proving to be an asset, not a factor that contributes to poverty,” he added.
Some countries afflicted by pandemic diseases like HIV/AIDS are sometimes “held hostage, when they try to address them, by those who make economic aid conditional upon the implementation of anti-life policies”, he said.
While AIDS is a major cause of poverty in the world, the disease must be fought with educational campaigns and “a sexual ethic that fully corresponds to the dignity of the person”, he said.
Life-saving treatment and medicines must be made available to poorer populations, which may call for the “flexible application” of international rules protecting drug patents, he said.
Pope Benedict said people should also be concerned about forms of poverty that have nothing to do with a lack of basic physical necessities.
For example, he said, even people living in wealthy societies can experience marginalisation or “affective, moral and spiritual poverty”.
Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, presented the message to the press on Dec 11.
He said the pope’s emphasis on so-called “moral underdevelopment” and the negative consequences of “superdevelopment” referred to a growing lack of respect for the right to life as seen in the growing number of laws permitting abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia.
By Carol Glatz, CNS

Editor’s Note: The Vatican’s English translation of the pope’s message is available online at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20081208_xlii-world-day-peace_en.html.

"I encourage all parents and the wider parish community to cooperate with their respective catechists in creating a faith community where the mission of Jesus is truly experienced as an invitation that springs from the prayerful reading of the Word!" – Archbishop Nicholas Chia

SINGAPORE – The Archdiocese of Singapore celebrates Catechetical Sunday on Jan 11, 2009, Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

On this day, parishes in the archdiocese will invite all their catechists and faith formation teachers to be recognised, celebrated, commissioned, and prayed for at a special Mass. This will also be an opportunity for the parish communities to show their support and appreciation for the witness and dedication with which catechists spread the word of God, and to join them in spreading the word of God.

Parishes have been given posters and prayer cards and an outline to incorporate the rite of blessing into the homily at Masses on the weekend of Catechetical Sunday.

Catechetical Sunday was initiated by Pope Pius XI, in 1935, when he encouraged dioceses around the
world to set aside a Sunday to celebrate, recognise and give vision to catechesis: "The faithful should be called together in the parish, and having received the Holy Eucharist, they should pray to obtain greater fruit from catechesis."

Pope Pius also called for a special sermon on the necessity of catechetical instruction and for a reminder to parents about their duty to instruct their children in the faith ("On Better Care for Catechetical Teaching", "Provido sane consilio").

This year, the theme for Catechetical Sunday is the same as that for the International Synod of Bishops (October 2008): "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church".

This theme fits beautifully with the Jubilee Year of St. Paul (Jun 28, 2008 to Jun 29, 2009) proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Paul’s inspired writings make up a large portion of the New Testament. This prolific writer, who realised that he did not have true sight until he "saw" the Lord Jesus Christ, left us with many inspired words:

– "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:19).

– "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 18:1).

– "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:9-11).

– "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself
all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Col 1:19-20).

Paul explained the mission of the Church – shown to him by Christ himself – in his writings.

"What does Paul say the mission is? What does Paul say the very life of the Church is?" It is for us, catechists, to weave these questions inside and outside, and through the middle of every class we teach, every lesson we learn, and every discussion we have this catechetical year.

As we read, pray and meditate on the letters of Paul, we must ask ourselves again and again: "What does the word of God say about the mission of the Church? What does the word of God say about the life of the Church?" Our effort will bear fruit, for it is the living Word of God that we will be taking in and reflecting on.

Catechesis is a ministry that opens our hearts to Christ’s love, draws us into a deeper relationship with him, and invites us to assume our role as his faithful disciples in our world today; and Catechetical Sunday reminds us of the importance of our duty to pass on our faith in intelligible, attractive, and truthful ways so as to help all of us encounter the living Christ.

On Dec 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the full text of which appears below. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicise the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories"



Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,  Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,  Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,  Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,  Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realisation of this pledge, Now, therefore, The General Assembly,

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.



3 Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.


No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.


No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.


All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.


Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.


No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.


Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.


No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.


Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.


Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.


Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.


Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.  Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.


Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.


Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others
and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.


Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.


Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.

The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be
expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.


Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organisation and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.


Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.


Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.


25 Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing,
housing and medical care and necessary social services,
and the right to security in the event of unemployment,
sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care
and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.


Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.


Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.


Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.


Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.


Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein. n

VATICAN CITY – The foundation upon which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is based will remain fragile if its ethical and divine origins are ignored, Pope Benedict XVI said during a Vatican commemoration of the document’s 60th anniversary.

While much has been done over the past decades to promote and safeguard human rights around the world, “hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters still see their rights to life, liberty, and security threatened”, he said.

VATICAN CITY – “Dignitas Personae” forcefully states that although there is no certainty about when a human being receives a soul an embryo is to be treated as a person from the moment of conception.
That means all human embryos deserve recognition of fundamental human rights, including the inviolable right to life, the document said.
This ethical principle conforms to natural moral law and is also supported by solid scientific evidence about the initial stages of human life, it said.
Debate over the precise timing of ensoulment has been raised by some who argue that the destruction of an early-stage embryo might not be the same as killing an innocent human person.
The Vatican document said that although the presence of the spiritual soul cannot be observed experimentally, scientific knowledge about the human embryo supports “continuity in development of a human being” from conception onward.
“Indeed, the reality of the human being for the entire span of life, both before and after birth, does not allow us to posit either a change in nature or a gradation in moral value, since it possesses full anthropological and ethical status,” the document said.
“The human embryo has therefore from the very beginning the dignity proper to a person,” it said.
The instruction builds on the teaching expressed in a similar 1987 Vatican instruction on procreation, which noted increasing scientific evidence about personal identity from the earliest moments of life and raised the question: “How could a human individual not be a human person?”
This argument leaves the burden of proof on those who hold that an embryo is not a person, a point made in 1987 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – when he was head of the doctrinal congregation.
At that time, Cardinal Ratzinger said determining whether an embryo is a person with a soul was a question for philosophy, not science. On the basis of scientific evidence, however, there is “at least a good probability that it is”, he said.
He said science shows there is no “qualitative leap” in the life of a child in the period from conception to birth.
“Already in the zygote (fertilised egg) there is a genetically
defined individual,” he said. -By John Thavis, cns

THE NEW VATICAN document warns that certain recent developments in stem-cell research, gene therapy and embryonic experimentation violate moral principles and reflect an attempt by man to "take the place of his Creator".

The 32-page instruction titled "Dignitas Personae" ("The Dignity of a Person") was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Benedict XVI personally approved the text and ordered its publication.

The document represented an updating of the congregation’s 1987 instruction, "Donum Vitae" ("The Gift of Life"), which rejected in vitro fertilisation, human cloning, surrogate motherhood and non-therapeutic experiments with human embryos.

The new instruction expanded on those teachings or presented new ones.

The document closes with an appeal to view the church’s teachings not as a series of "no’s" but as an effort to protect society’s weakest and most defenceless against forms of unjust discrimination and oppression.

"There are those who say that the moral teaching of the church contains too many prohibitions. In reality, however, her teaching is based on the recognition and promotion of all the gifts that the Creator has bestowed on man: such as life, knowledge, freedom and love," it said.

"Behind every ‘no’ in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great ‘yes’ to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence," it said.

"Dignitas Personae" drew on a number of sources, in particular "Donum Vitae" and Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"). It also cited the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, notably his address on stem cells to the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2006.

The Vatican said the new document, as a papally approved instruction of a doctrinal nature, falls under the category of the "ordinary magisterium", which is the church’s teaching authority, and is to be received by Catholics "with the religious assent of their spirit". -cns

COMMENT "This magisterial document reiterates the Catholic Church’s position on Artificial Reproduction Technologies (ART) and the parameters of Genetic Engineering. These are not new teachings. The document merely offers "additional clarification" of the Church's teachings. The Church has always supported scientific progress that respects the integral good of the human person. This integral good needs to go beyond the physical dimension to the ontological dimension. The document is clearly against reductionism where the human person is seen merely as a group of cells or tissues to be manipulated. This will depersonalise the human person and turn it from a subject into an object. I think before going into the specifics, we need to understand the Christian vision of the human person based on "faith and reason" and this vision is set out for us in Part I of the document." – Father James Yeo, moral theologian

Stem cells have opened new prospects in regenerative medicine. It is morally acceptable to take stem cells when they do no serious harm to the subject, as is generally the case when tissues are taken from an adult organism, from the umbilical cord at the time of birth or from foetuses that have died from natural causes.

On the other hand, it is always gravely illicit to take stem cells from a living human embryo, because it invariably causes the death of the embryo.

In vitro creation of human embryos, a technique often used in fertility treatment, is morally wrong, first because it separates procreation from the conjugal act in marriage, and second because in practice unused embryos are often discarded, thus violating the principle that the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception.

Freezing such embryos is itself a violation of ethics, because it exposes them to a serious risk of death or harm. Most of such embryos remain "orphans". Despite the good intentions of people who have suggested a form of "prenatal adoption" to allow unused frozen embryos to be born, such a proposal would be subject to medical, psychological and legal problems.

Genetic engineering that aims to correct genetic defects by intervening on non-reproductive cells, a process called somatic-cell gene therapy, is in principle morally acceptable. The effects in this case are limited to a single person.

But is it not permissible to make genetic modifications that seek to transmit the effects to the subject’s offspring, called germ-line cell therapy, because of potential harm to the progeny. In the present state of research, germ-line cell therapy in all its forms is morally illicit.

An embryo is constituted after fertilisation of the egg, and drugs and techniques that prevent its implantation in the uterine wall are morally illicit because they intend to cause an abortion – even if they don’t actually cause an abortion every time they are used.

Anyone who seeks to prevent the implantation of an embryo that may have been conceived, and who therefore requests or prescribes such a drug, generally intends abortion. The use of such anti-implantation methods falls within the sin of abortion and is gravely immoral; when there is certainty that an abortion has resulted, there also are serious canon law penalties.

The freezing of oocytes, immature human egg cells, has been introduced as part  of an in vitro fertilisation technique, in which only those eggs to be transferred to the mother’s body are fertilised. The freezing of oocytes for this purpose is morally unacceptable.

Recent efforts to use animal eggs to reprogramme human cells in order to extract embryonic stem cells from the resulting embryos is immoral. These efforts represent a grave offence against human dignity by mixing animal and human genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man. In addition, use of the resulting stem cells would expose humans to unacceptable risks.

(In a section titled "The use of human ‘biological material’ of illicit origin", the document examined the ethical questions posed for people who, in research or the production of vaccines or
other products, deal with cell lines that are the result of a procedure the church considers immoral.)

In cases where there is a direct connection, such as embryonic experimentation that inevitably involves the killing of the human embryos, such acts always constitute a grave moral disorder.

The situation is more complex when a researcher works with cell lines produced apart from his research centre or obtained commercially. The "criterion of independence", as formulated by some ethics committees, which argues that using such biological material would be ethically permissible as long as there is a clear separation between those causing the death of embryos, for example, and those doing the research, is rejected.

It is necessary to distance oneself in one’s ordinary professional activities from the injustice perpetrated by others, even when immoral actions are legal, in order not to give the impression of tacit acceptance of actions which are gravely unjust.

Therefore, it needs to be stated that there is a duty to refuse to use such "biological material" even when there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who performed the artificial fertilisation or the abortion, or when there was not prior agreement with the centres in which the artificial fertilisation took place.

In the wider framework, there are differing degrees of responsibility, and grave reasons may in some cases justify the use of such "biological material". For example, the danger to the health of children could permit parents to legitimately use a vaccine that was developed using cell lines obtained illicitly. In such a case, the parents have no voice in the decision over how the vaccines are made. However, at the same time, everyone should ask their healthcare system to make other types of vaccines available.

Human cloning, whether done to produce embryos for stem cells or to define the genetic identity of an individual person, is a form of biological slavery, and is condemned.

Couples need to be aware that techniques such as pre-implantation diagnosis, which is used in artificial fertilisation and leads to the destruction of embryos suspected of defects, reflects a growing "eugenic mentality". Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of cases in which couples with no fertility problems are using artificial means of procreation in order to engage in the genetic selection of their offspring.

VATICAN CITY – 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, Vatican officials said.
“It is worse than a dead end, which has only one way out; this has none,” said Bishop Elio Sgreccia.
After years of study and debate over the morality of adopting frozen embryos, the Vatican did not rule out the practice, but the bioethics document “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”) said the idea raises serious ethical concerns.
“It needs to be recognised that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved,” said the document. 
The only completely moral way of acting is to stop creating and freezing embryos, which have the dignity of human beings, said the document.
Bishop Sgreccia told reporters: “The basic advice, explicitly stated in the document, is that embryos must not be frozen. It is one of those actions that has no remedy. Once it is done, correcting it implies committing another error.”
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, current president of the academy, told reporters that “the discussion is still open” and the Vatican has not ruled out the possibility of embryo adoption completely, although it is leaning toward a completely negative judgement because embryo adoption involves the future parents in an immoral process.
Maria Luisa DiPietro, a professor of bioethics at Rome’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and president of the Italian Science and Life Association, said that 50-80 percent of frozen embryos do not survive thawing and a significant percentage of those that remain viable will have serious abnormalities.
“I doubt that a woman would accept the transfer of embryos independent of the condition they are in,” she said.
Most likely the couple and the treating physician would insist on pre-implantation testing and selection, “adding a further injustice”, DiPietro said. “This is one of the reasons that led to prudence” in the Vatican document.
In the end, DiPietro said, the most morally acceptable practice might be to keep the embryos frozen until they naturally are no longer viable.
When asked if the principle of a “lesser evil” might legitimate adopting the embryos to give them life, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that the church always has condemned freezing embryos “and does not have an obligation to indicate a moral way out”.
The new document said that embryo adoption, “solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction”, is “praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life”.
The practice “presents, however, various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above” in the document’s discussion of the morally unacceptable practice of making the embryos available to “infertile couples as a treatment for infertility”, it said.
The document specifically cited ethical norms that make “artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood”.
Heterologous procreation refers to procedures in which both the egg and the sperm come from donors other than the couple having the baby.
Many Catholic moral theologians and other church leaders had hoped the document would resolve a lively debate over the morality of adopting abandoned embryos and having them implanted in a woman’s womb with the hope of bringing them to term and welcoming the child into a loving family.
Some theologians have said that, since a central criterion for making bioethical judgements is the defence of the right to life even though the creation and freezing of the embryos is immoral, rescuing them from long-term freezing and possible destruction is not only morally acceptable, but laudatory.
Others have argued that giving birth to a baby conceived immorally would be cooperation in that immoral act; that it would involve surrogate motherhood, which is also condemned by the Church; and that it involves the adoptive parents in embryo-transfer procedures, which are themselves illicit because they separate fertility from sexual intercourse between a husband and wife.
Also, moral theologians have expressed concern about the fact that adoptive parents would themselves have to keep the embryos frozen until the adoptive mother reaches the optimal point in her monthly cycle and that the choice of which embryos to adopt – for instance, based on the donors’ race – could involve the adoptive couple in treating the embryos as a commodity.
In addition, some moral theologians have expressed concern that if the Church says embryo adoption or “rescue” is morally permissible it could appear to the public to be agreeing that some good can come from a process that it says is always morally wrong.
According to the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center, run by Nightlight Christian Adoptions, there are almost 500,000 frozen embryos in storage in the United States. The California-based adoption agency said in September that since 1998 its embryo adoption programme had led to the birth of 170 babies and that 26 women were pregnant with formerly frozen embryos. -By Cindy Wooden, cns

WE WERE ONCE a nation afflicted with “affluenza”, the disease of addiction to material wealth. We are recovering now, but instead of feeling better, we feel worse. Like a whole population finally going on a diet, deprivation hurts.
As the clouds of economic hardship gather, forecasters predict the cold winds of depression and deflation. That translates into desperation for many families.
What does an economic downturn mean for people of faith?
As families endure unemployment and loss of savings, how does this affect their belief?
When our belts tighten, there can be great blessing in the burden. If our obsession with greedy consumerism is indeed at an end, we can learn to be thrifty and actually endure without the latest stuff and be emancipated from our excesses. Having a job can be seen as a great gift; a supportive family, a lifeline. The simple things can, and should, matter again.
As Wall Street and the Singapore Exchange fall to their knees, it seems like we do likewise. We pray fervently and wait on God’s providence. And God will come through, not with more material things but, let us hope, by helping us seek lives that are more authentic and more generous, more grounded and more truly Christian.
My brother-in-law, father of four small children, lost his job. He found one about three months later, but those three months were anxious ones. They were also prayerful and uncomplicated.
While that young family was waiting on God’s providential intervention, they embraced simplicity. For entertainment, they went to the library and played in the city parks. They ate home-cooked meals and created homemade gifts.
They prayed.
They now look back on their survival tactics and realise joy is not in the “stuff”, but in family. They toughened up and appreciated what they had.
The Christian keeps hope alive not so that material prosperity will return but that we will become a more godly society.
In this Year of St. Paul, we read in Romans 5:3-5: “We even boast of our afflictions, knowing
that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
Needless to say, working-class people will suffer disproportionately more in this declining economy. What will happen?
Others will notice and react. This is an opportunity for the prosperous to reach beyond themselves: “Much will be required the person entrusted with much” (Lk 12:48).
Community outreach and assistance programmes will rally and respond. “As a community, the church must practise love. Love thus needs to be organised if it is to be an ordered service to the community,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”).
Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”
Our hope as Christians is that generosity will flourish. Hospitality will be revived.
We will surely witness neighbours pitching in to help neighbours. Assistance will come from where we least expect it. The cry of the poor will be heard. Welcoming kitchens, food pantries, gentle exchanges and fervent prayers will feed us. We will be a unified pilgrim people travelling though hardship.
As we re-examine our responsibilities to the very needy, we will hunger for the dignity of labour. We will expect the economy to serve the multitudes, not just the wealthy.
Finally, we will learn that the Christian response to suffering is releasing love into the world. And we will find the best in ourselves as we learn that our faith is our most precious commodity.
As a fellow parishioner once told me, “When God is all you have, you find that God is all you need.” - By Mary Eileen Andreasen
VATICAN CITY – “Light a star on the tree of life” by helping the Vatican provide antiretroviral drugs to people with AIDS in the world’s poorest countries, said Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan.
The Mexican cardinal is president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, which oversees the Vatican’s Good Samaritan Foundation and its efforts to provide AIDS drugs to Catholic health-care centres, mainly in Africa.
“We are a bridge. Anyone who sends us, say, 10 euros (S$20), that
10 euros goes immediately to Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe or Zambia because we have innumerable requests to help AIDS patients who are dying,” the cardinal told Vatican Radio on Dec 15.

So far in 2008, he said, the foundation had sent US$119,000 to Vatican nuncios in Africa to purchase the antiretroviral drugs. From Christmas to the feast of the Epiphany, the foundation makes a special appeal for more funds, he said. By collecting the funds at the Vatican and depositing them in the Vatican bank, Cardinal Lozano said, the foundation can transfer the funds quickly and directly to the nuncios in the countries where the need is greatest. Catholic healthcare providers make their requests for assistance through the nuncios, he said. With just under US$300, he said, the foundation can buy enough of the drugs to treat one patient in Africa for an entire year.

The foundation’s email address – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – can be used to request specific instructions on sending a check or transferring money to the fund. - By Cindy Wooden, cns

Give and get rich – participants at Rome conference on philantropy and human rights told

ROME – It is better to give than to receive, but it’s not easy to be generous with your wealth when there’s a recession eating away at your wallet, or perhaps stealing your job. Yet charitable giving and philanthropy are vital to a prosperous society, and should be encouraged in good times and in bad.
The reasons for this were outlined at an inspiring Rome conference co-hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Acton Institute. Titled “Philanthropy and Human Rights: Creating Space for Caritas in Civil Society”, the Dec 4 seminar tried to show how important it is for philanthropy and human rights to flourish in society, creating room for “caritas”, or individual acts of charity, so that everyone can prosper.
The most spirited defence of charitable giving came from Professor Arthur C. Brooks, the recently elected president of the American Enterprise Institute. The author of many books on philanthropy, Brooks explained how, until a few years ago, he never believed in the philanthropic philosophy of John D. Rockefeller, the 20th-century American multi-millionaire. (Rockefeller was sure that by giving his wealth away he became richer, and believed that God would take away his money if he stopped giving.)
“The reason I didn’t believe it is because I’m an economist,” he joked. “As an economist, I learned you had to have money before you can give it away. It’s not that you give it and then you get it – it has to be the reverse.”
In fact, he was so sure he was right that four years ago he set out to prove Rockefeller wrong by conducting a comprehensive survey of 30,000 households across the United States. But the data he acquired simply backed up Rockefeller’s philosophy, one shared by many other entrepreneurs: that those who gave to charity ended up richer.
It took a psychologist friend of his to tell him why this was so, reminding him that the secret was happiness. His friend had found that when people gave, they became happier, and when they were happier they became richer. Brooks was subsequently converted, and the discovery changed his life. Moreover, now he realises that people have as much need to give as they have to receive, he believes those institutions that act as a conduit between the giver and the receiver, such as the Church, must be helped and encouraged.
Father Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, pointed out that such encouragement and assistance can only be achieved in the context of economic liberty. But with such freedom comes responsibility to serve God and neighbour at all times. “The system that encourages the entrepreneurial vocation,” he stressed, “should also encourage an entire network of voluntary associations”.
The United States, of course, leads the way in individual charitable giving, which partly explains why the country is so prosperous. Several of the speakers pointed out that American citizens gave around US$300 billion to charity last year, more than the entire income of Sweden, Denmark or Norway. Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, said such generosity has been made possible thanks to public and private efforts, not least President George Bush’s initiative to encourage faith-based institutions.
Ambassador Glendon wanted to co-host the conference to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She recalled how the United States and other countries successfully lobbied the Declaration framers to consider
a space for “caritas” in civil society so as not to dampen private initiative or to give too much power to the state. The Soviet Union had wanted to make the state the primary guarantor of all social and economic rights.
Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, referred to Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” in his message to the conference, delivered in his absence by Cor Unum’s secretary, Monsignor Karel Kasteel. The pope stressed that “caritas” is always needed, even in the most just society, but that what is required, above all, is holiness. “It is not charity that makes us saints,” Cardinal Cordes reminded the conference participants, “but holiness that makes us truly charitable”.

Ethics needed

In his speech, Professor Brooks made clear he was not advocating that individuals give just to be prosperous.
But in today’s financial world, the “quid pro quo” mentality dominates, and often it stems from a utilitarian approach in which profit and reward are the sole incentives. It’s a philosophy which Blessed Antonio Rosmini fought against in the 19th century and which he would probably say was most to blame for today’s economic woes.
That’s according to Professor Carlos Hoevel, who was the guest speaker at another Acton Institute conference held in Rome lon the topical subject of “Finance, Globalization and Morality – A Challenge for the 21st Century.”
A professor of history and philosophy of economics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, Hoevel gave a fascinating insight into how profoundly relevant Rosmini’s writings are to the current economic crisis.
The Italian priest and philosopher, Hoevel pointed out, gave the market economy an ethical, anthropological and Christian basis in his writings. He was one of the first Catholic thinkers to embrace the market economy and strongly believed that it couldn’t function without an ethical and moral foundation. “In an immoral or culturally poor environment, market competition is deformed and loses many of its beneficial effects,” Hoevel said, drawing on Rosmini’s writings.
A utlitarian philosophy that places profit as an end in itself results in an “endless and vain race of unhappy people to reach happiness through inadequate means”.
But Hoevel, who collected the Novak Award at the conference for outstanding research into Rosmini, stressed that the philosopher avoided extremes and can best be described as a moderate liberal in the economic sense. He wasn’t in favour of a totally unfettered free market, but neither was he supportive of those who, like today, are reacting to the current crisis by demanding nationalisations and quasi-collectivist policies.
So what would be Rosimini’s solution to the current crisis? Hoevel said that, according to the philosopher’s vision, what we most need now is not so much “the endless injection of billions of dollars and euros” into the economy and heavy government interference, but “the urgent recovery of moral balance and moral content”.
Rosmini argued for more juridical institutions based on natural law “to help and guide the moral recovery” and help foster fair and just competition. He did not believe the markets were self-regulating, but that some intervention was necessary in order to repair their failures and help them work in a normal way, being “extremely careful” not to damage their spontaneity.
Similar to calls today for a “globalisation ethic,” Rosmini also advocated a “global rule of law” in order to combat international monopolies, and he supported gradual free immigration but with protection of national and regional cultures.
“Rosmini is a secret treasure,” said Hoevel, “that many Italians and many others in other countries don’t know about”. Hopefully today’s world leaders will discover this sensible and prophetic thinker who, although he lived over 150 years ago, would probably remark today:
“We’ve seen this all before.” -By Edward Pentin, ZENIT

SISTER ANGELA MCBRIEN, an FMDM pioneer to Singapore and who who initiated the birth of Mount Alvernia Hospital, died on Nov 22 in La Verna, an extension of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood Motherhouse in England.

The Memorial Service for Sister Angela was held on Dec 7 at Mount Alvernia Hospital Chapel. The eulogy was delivered by Sister Agnes Tan, FMDM. Edited excerpts of the eulogy follows:


Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, editor in chief of America, explores what a new instruction on bioethics from the Vatican means to humanity

IN HIS DYSTOPIAN (grim) novel, "That Hideous Strength" (1945), the late C. S. Lewis embodied his fears for humanity’s fate in the hands of an unprincipled science in the N.I.C.E. (National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments) and its nominal leader, "The Head", the decapitated head of an executed French scientist, that served as the spokesman for evil spirits (eldila). As in his famous essay "The Abolition of Man", Lewis’s concern was for the loss of genuine humanity to unscrupulous scientific invention, which in the novel consists in the suppression of natural human affections.


Science outpaces morality


For many years, I thought that Lewis was a better theologian of the moral life than he was a moralist because of his curmudgeonly opposition to modernity and his fear of science. He may have lacked the subtlety in moral matters required of a moral theologian or the penetrating insight of a spiritual director, though "The Screwtape Letters" showed him astute about the varieties of evil; but his grasp of the dangers inherent in the technological manipulation of human life has proved prophetic. Louise Brown, the first child conceived by in vitro fertilisation, is now 30 years old. Among the affluent a market has grown up in double and sometimes triple, side-by-side baby carriages to convey the twins and triplets born to older parents through in vitro technology. Animal cloning, surrogate motherhood, even male pregnancy are realities. Stem cell research is advancing quickly, and experimental therapies using products of stem-cell generation are already being tested. In a vexing development, the British government this year approved experimental development of human-animal hybrids. Human beings are threatened with becoming the instruments of utility and desire.

Scientific advances take place almost faster than law and ethics can keep up. And in some cases,
like embryonic stem cell research, popular and special-interest agitation seems to be wilfully antinomian (opposed to or denying the universal applicability of moral law), attempting to violate moral norms out of sheer defiance, even though adult stem cells already provide a proven and reliable source of biological material for research and therapy. Even more than at the dawn of genetic revolution a generation ago, serious discussion is needed among scientists, ethicists, theologians and lawyers. Innovations like bioethics centres, institutional review boards and the President’s Council on Bioethics have failed to hold back the flood of ethically problematic biotechnologies and produce serious public examination of evolving technologies. A pragmatic attitude – "What we can do we must do" – has captured the media, the public and elites, especially in the field of law.


Dignitas Personae


Into this morally anarchic environment comes a new instruction on bioethical issues affecting the beginnings of life from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Dignitas Personae" ("The Dignity of a Person", released on Dec 12). Addressed to "the Catholic faithful and to all who seek the truth", it will most profitably be studied by physicians, biologists (especially embryologists), geneticists, philosophical ethicists and moral theologians because of the technical scientific problems it addresses and the dry philosophical language it employs. But its significance for addressing the watershed we are crossing in the scientific control of human nature should not be underestimated.

The instruction reminds readers that the Catholic tradition favours science and supports endeavours that improve the human condition. It shares the evaluation that "science [is] an invaluable service to the integral good of the life and dignity of every human being". It encourages the participation of Catholics in scientific research and the progress of biomedicine, expressing special hope that the benefits of research will be shared with the afflicted in poor regions of the world. While the document is primarily concerned with problematic innovations in biomedicine, it commends the contribution of contemporary science in advancing knowledge of the beginning stages of life. Furthermore, it regards new developments as "positive and worthy of support when they serve to overcome or correct pathologies (a deviation from a normal condition) and succeed in re-establishing the normal functioning of human procreation". Its criticism and condemnation falls on those developments that "involve the destruction of human beings" and on techniques that "contradict the dignity of the person" or are employed contrary "to the integral good of man".


The argument


The twin piers of the instruction’s argument are familiar from the moral teaching of Pope John Paul II and the congregation’s previous instruction, "Donum Vitae" (1988): (1) "The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception" and (2) "The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and in the family" and so responsible procreation must be "the fruit of marriage". The text is strong, and sometimes eloquent, in expounding its insistence upon respect for the human person in every stage of its development and in whatever natural condition (of ability or disability). It reminds the reader, however, that the role of the magisterium in declaring its moral judgements is not to intervene in medical science, but rather to call "everyone to ethical and social responsibility for their actions".

The first chapter of the instruction lays out the suppositions about human life and procreation taken from "anthropology", i.e., the philosophy of human nature, ethics and theology. The following section addresses issues related to conception, in vitro fertilisation and allied techniques; and a third takes up genetic engineering, commenting on gene therapy, stem cell research and hybridisation. It is not possible here to list all the issues reviewed in the instruction or to summarise all its turns of argument. What I present are some highlights of greater public and pastoral interest.


Selected topic


The instruction’s treatment of in vitro fertilisation re-applies the teaching of "Donum Vitae" and elaborates it with regard to recent medical developments. Briefly put, conception must take place as a result of the conjugal act, so only techniques that aid sexual intercourse and its fertility are licit. The document encourages adoption for infertile couples and research to prevent sterility, and it deplores the destruction of embryos that takes place as a matter of course during in vitro fertilisation. Furthermore, it regards the freezing of embryos in connection with in vitro fertilisation as weakening respect for the human person. Finally, it explicitly rejects intracytoplasmic sperm injection (I.C.S.I.) as a technical intervention by a third party in what ought to be a fully interpersonal act between spouses.

With respect to genetic engineering, the instruction approves of strictly therapeutic interventions to bring an individual to normal functioning, so-called "somatic cell gene therapy", but it prudently judges so-called "germ-line cell therapies" aimed at correcting an abnormality not only in the patient but also in his or her offspring as morally impermissible for the present, because the risks are considerable and the technique not fully controllable. The congregation opposes non-therapeutic or eugenic uses of genetic engineering to improve the gene pool through the selection or elimination of inherited traits. These, it says, favour the preferences of some over the will of others and, as the example of Nazism has shown, are notoriously liable to ideological taint.

Rejecting the use of embryonic stem cells, it recognises as licit the use of stem cells taken from adults, from umbilical cords and from foetuses who have died of natural causes. Clinical use of stem cells from these sources is morally permissible; and "research initiatives involving the use of adult stem cells, since they do not present ethical problems" are encouraged. Human cloning is rejected because it does not proceed from sexual union and because it violates the dignity of the unique individual person. Therapeutic cloning, moreover, is regarded as especially heinous in that creating "embryos with the intention of destroying them, even with the intention of helping the sick, is completely incompatible with human dignity". It would make one human being a means to the end of health and life for another.


Reaching postmodern minds


The instruction’s subject matter is technical. It offers a sustained and serious treatment of vital problems. Just as the sciences have their own languages, so moral theology needs technical terminology and patterns of argument. The problems the congregation addresses are pressing; but the obstacles to communication are great. The language of natural law has limited power today to turn back the tide of technological transgression we face. Pastorally, the Church needs to find an improved rhetoric to engage the postmodern mind, and in its apologetics it must experiment with varied genres of persuasion to affect the fluid imaginations of the Digital Age. Who will be the C. S. Lewis for our day, defending human nature and celebrating the Christian vision of life for the 21st century?

This article looks at the history of the Church’s social teachings and explains how the Church helps Catholics respond to relevant social issues of the day.

IN RECENT years, several Church leaders around the world, including Archbishop Nicholas Chia, have called the Catholic Social Teachings one of the best kept secrets of the Church. Why is this so? After all, our social teachings which tell how Catholics should relate to our fellow men, emanate from the Bible. Jesus had asked all of us “to love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Well, the challenge is how do we realise and live this commandment of Jesus, especially in today’s society?

Some 850 Cambodian children are running around with "happy feet" because a group of young adults from Singapore provided them with footwear for Christmas.

WHEN CLOSE FRIENDS Deborah Chew and Grace Chia went to Siem Reap for a vacation in June 2007, they brought along some slippers to give to children at a village they visited. Seeing that the majority of the children went around without footwear, Ms Chew and Ms Chia were saddened that they didn’t bring enough slippers for all. It was then that they decided to do more.
RECENTLY I WAS able to verify once again that there are disasters far more devastating than the Wall Street type, and that there are also more important recoveries. There is, in fact, genuine hope out there and "change we can believe in" – especially the kind that happens one person, and one heart at a time.

"They are giving of themselves to bring about peace in our society and the world. They live the life of poverty and are detached, showing by way of example, not to be materialistic. Through their vow of chastity, they show that things of the world are not to be counted, and instead consecrate themselves to God and to others. Their vow of obedience shows that they are not egoistic, but do things for the Lord." – Archbishop Nicholas Chia, praising golden jubilarians Sisters Anna Ong, Mary Siluvainathan and Mary Tan, and silver jubilarian Sister Theresa Seow

As more than 130 countries celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, the Vatican also turned its gaze toward the heavens

VATICAN CITY – The International Year of Astronomy, which began Jan 1, was established by the United Nations to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first use of the telescope to observe the cosmos.
The Vatican also is celebrating the star-studded jubilee year, as the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Observatory and other Vatican offices participate in several special initiatives.

FOR MANY YOUNG BOYS, the prospect of playing for what is arguably the greatest football club in the world is what dreams are made of, and for Manchester United defender John O’Shea, the dream came true.

The former altar boy from the parish of Ferrybank, in Co Waterford, took time out from his busy training schedule recently to chat with The Universe.

O’Shea has never shied away from his Catholic upbringing in Ireland and he can regularly be seen attending Mass at the parish of St. Joseph’s in Sale, Cheshire.

TWELVE VERBUM DEI Missionaries from Singapore and a group from Sydney went on an eight-day mission trip to Tagaytay City, Philippines recently.

There, they helped farming families plant lettuce and clear pineapple ?elds in the mornings; and in the afternoons they went to squatter areas to teach English, Art, Mathematics and Hygiene to children (photo), and distributed snacks to them.