Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I have been a bit remiss in recent days with news from the Vatican but I want to report to you today the words from the Holy See Press Office on Tuesday and from Pope Benedict Wednesday on the continuing violent attacks on Christians, Catholics in particular, in India.

The press office Tuesday issued a communiqu, speaking out on what it called the tragic news coming from India of violence against the faithful and the institutions of the Catholic Church. It said the Holy See, while it expresses solidarity with the local Churches and the religious congregations that have been involved, deplores these actions that harm the dignity and freedom of persons and compromise peaceful civil coexistence. The statement appealed to everyone so that, with a sense of responsibility, an end will be put to all suppression and a climate of dialogue and reciprocal respect will be established. Catholics institutions and personnel have been attacked and buildings burned, including thatched hut homes, and at least 11 people have died, including a number who burned to death.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, told the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, that these attacks against Christians were "a sin against God and humanity. He said "There is no justification possible. One certainly cannot invoke religion for crimes of this nature. He said he had been to India recently and acknowledged that the Vatican did not understand Hinduism as well as it should. "I think my department should intensify our contacts with religious leaders," stated Cardinal Tauran. Cardinal Tauran spoke Monday in Rimini, Italy, at the 29th annual Meeting of Friendship Among Peoples sponsored by the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation founded by Fr. Luigi Giussani.

Pope Benedict flew to the Vatican by helicopter Wednesday to hold a weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall, returning afterwards to Castelgandolfo. At the end of the audience he condemned anti-Christian violence in India where at least 11 people have been killed by Hindus attacking churches. He said he was "profoundly saddened" by news of the attacks on Christian communities in eastern India. "I firmly condemn any attack on human life," he said. "I express spiritual closeness and solidarity to the brothers and sisters in faith who are being so harshly tested." The Pope also called "deplorable" the killing of a Hindu leader, whose death hard-line Hindus have blamed on Christian militants. Maoists have declared they are responsible for the killing of the Hindu leader, Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati.

In his first remarks on the violence in India, Benedict urged religious leaders and local authorities to "work together to re-establish between the members of the various communities the peaceful co-existence and the harmony that have always marked Indian society." The killing and burning began when Hindu hard-liners Monday, in retaliation for the death of their leader, set a Christian orphanage on fire, killing a teacher and badly injuring a priest,. Four more people were killed later that day, including two who burned to death when rioters set fire to thatched huts. Yet four more people died on Tuesday in a gun battle between rival groups in the village of Barakhama. Hinduism is the majority religion in India. Muslims comprise 14 percent of the populace and Christians just 2.5 percent, of whom 1.6 percent are Catholic. Normally relations between Hindus and majority groups are peaceful.

The Popes appeal for an end to violence in India came at the end of the general audience catechesis. He began the days lesson by noting that, In the last catechesis before vacation, two months ago, at the start of July, I began a new series of catecheses on the occasion of the Pauline Year, looking at the world in which St. Paul lived. .. Todays catechesis, he said, presents the life of Saint Paul, the great missionary whom the Church honors in a special way this year. Born a Jew in Tarsus, he received the Hebrew name Saul and was trained as a tent maker . Around the age of twelve he departed for Jerusalem to begin instruction in the strict Pharisaic tradition which instilled in him a great zeal for the Mosaic Law. Benedict said that, On the basis of this training Paul viewed the Christian movement as a threat to orthodox Judaism. He thus fiercely "persecuted the Church of God" until a dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus radically changed his life. He subsequently undertook three missionary journeys, preaching Christ in Anatolia, Syria, Cilicia, Macedonia, Achaia, and throughout the Mediterranean.

The Pope explained that, After his arrest and imprisonment in Jerusalem, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to the Emperor. Though Luke makes no reference to Neros decision, he tells us that Paul spent two years under house arrest in Rome, after whichaccording to traditionhe suffered a martyrs death. Paul spared no energy and endured many trials in his anxiety for all the churches. Indeed, he wrote: I do everything for the sake of the Gospel May we strive to emulate him by doing the same, concluded Benedict XVI.


Today we will start our visit to Kalaupapa, now a National Historical Park, but once a no mans land, inhabited by lepers, banished here for the rest of their days, about whom Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: They were strangers to each other, collected (sic) by common calamity, disfigured, mortally sick, banished without sin from home and friends. Few would understand the principle on which they were thus forfeited in all that makes life dear; many must have conceived their ostracism to be grounded in malevolent caprice; all came with sorrow at heart, many with despair and rage. In the chronicle of man there is perhaps no more melancholy landing than this of the leper immigrants among the ruined houses and dead harvests of Moloka'i. But the spirit of our race is finely tempered and the business of life engrossing to the last. As a spider, when you have wrecked its web, begins immediately to spin fresh strands, so these exiles, widowed, orphaned, un-childed, legally dead and physically dying, struck root in their new place . . . fell to work with growing hope, repaired the houses, replanted the fields, and began to look about them with the pride of the proprietor. . . . And one thing is sure, the most disgraced of that unhappy crew may expect the consolations of love; love laughs at leprosy; and marriage is in use to the last stage of decay and the last gasp of life.

As I traveled throughout the small peninsula, learning about Fr. Damien De Veuster, Mother Marianne Cope, OSF, who tended to the ill of Molokai for more than 30 years after Damiens untimely death at the age of 40, Brother Joseph Dutton, and the 8,000 patients who lived and died here since 1866, I became aware of a great tragedy the tragedy of people treated as the worst kind of outcasts and exiled to a small plot of land because of an illness they neither sought nor could cure (it seemed). Yet, far more than the tragedy, I became aware of a great love story, the love and charity and humanity of one man for his people, a man who saw mans inhumanity to man on a small Pacific island which had become for the ill a living tomb. Damien sought not just to care for the health of the prisoners of Kalaupapa but to restore their innate human dignity.

I will tell just a brief story today in photos. In coming days we will visit Kalawao, the site of the very first settlement for victims of leprosy.

As you recall I flew from Honolulu to Molokai, then from Topside Molokai with Maria Sullivan to the peninsula of Kalaupapa. Maria and I were then driven by Gloria Marks to a clearing beyond the Settlement, where the patients live, along with workers from Hawaiis Department of Health and the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Here we met the group that had come down the pali the cliffs - on mules as you will see in these photos, including one man intent on filming every moment of his journey. A man after my own heart!

This is the school bus that Gloria and later our guide Keanini drove throughout our stay. Keanini told us the bus was from 1980 - I suggested that it was probably built decades earlier! Gloria heads Damien Tours that you see written on the bus. If you dont get in touch with Gloria, you dont visit Kalaupapa. Its that simple.

One of our first stops was the church of St. Francis here you see us parked outside the church grounds. In 1906 the wooden church burned down. A new one was built in 1908, with extensive restoration work done in 2002.

This is the view from the entrance of St. Francis Church.

These two pictures show the interior of St. Francis Church and the lovely statue of Fr. Damien perennially covered in leis (many are real flowers, some are artificial), as is his tomb outside St. Philomena Church in Kalawao, not far away.

We stopped briefly at the grave of Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, who is as revered throughout the islands as Blessed Damien.

As we leave her gravesite for a brief visit to the settlement, this was our view the ever stunning mountains of Kalaupapa.

As Keanini drove us through the settlement we did not get off the bus but later in the afternoon Maria and I had an unexpected meeting at the Kalaupapa airport with a friend of hers who is a nurse at the Settlement and she drove us around. We stopped often and I was able to take many more photos of places relative to life in the Kalaupapa settlement..

The last picture here is of a patients home typical for Kalaupapa.


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