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Wednesday, February 25, 2004


VATICAN CITY, FEB 25, 2004 (VIS) - The following telegram of condolences was sent on behalf of Pope John Paul by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of State, to Archbishop Antonio Sozzo, apostolic nuncio in Morocco, for the victims of the earthquake in the northern part of that country which has killed an estimated 600 people:

"Having learned of the tragic earthquake which has struck northern Morocco, the Holy Father has asked me to transmit to the families and to all Moroccans touched by this drama that he is close to them in their sorrow through prayer, asking the Almighty to welcome into His Kingdom the victims and to bring comfort and courage to the wounded, to those close to them and to persons participating in rescue operations, in the hope that gestures of solidarity will be shown to lighten the pain of our brothers and sister in mankind."


VATICAN CITY, FEB 25, 2004 (VIS) - Today, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, at 10:30 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica the Holy Father presided at a celebration of the Word during which ashes were blessed and distributed.

After the rite of introduction and the liturgy of the Word, the Holy Father gave the homily.

The Pope said that Lent, "a journey of prayer, penitence and authentic Christian asceticism," begins with the imposition of ashes, "an austere, penitential act that is highly esteemed in Christian tradition. It emphasizes the awareness of man who is a sinner before the majesty and sanctity of God. At the same time, it shows man's willingness to embrace and translate adhesion to the Gospel into specific choices."

"External gestures of penitence," he affirmed, "have value if they express an interior attitude, if they express the firm will to avoid evil and to take up the just path. It is here that the profound meaning of Christian asceticism lies. 'Asceticism': the word itself evokes an image of rising up toward higher goals. This necessarily involves sacrifice and self-denial. . In order to become authentic disciples of Christ, it is necessary to deny oneself, take up the cross every day and follow Him. It is the arduous path of holiness which every baptized person is called to take."

John Paul II recalled that the Church indicates many ways of embarking on this path: "Above all, it is the humble and docile adhesion to the will of God, accompanied by incessant prayer; these ways are the typical penitential customs of Christian tradition, such as abstinence, fasting, mortification and giving up goods that are in and of themselves legitimate; there are the specific gestures of embracing our neighbor which today's Gospel evokes with the word 'alms.' All of this is proposed again with greater intensity during the period of Lent which represents an 'intense time' of spiritual training and generous service to our brothers and sisters."

Referring to this year's Lenten message which speaks of "the difficult conditions in which so many children live in the world," the Holy Father concluded: "The problems that afflict children in the world are many and complex. I hope that we, as a result of our solidarity, will dedicate necessary care to our smallest brothers and sisters who are frequently left to themselves. This is a specific way to channel our Lenten effort."

After the homily, the ashes were blessed and distributed. The Pope received ashes from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of State, while the faithful present received them from a number of priests. After the prayers of the faithful and of the Lord, the liturgy concluded.

Click here to retrieve the Pope's entire homily in Italian.
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VATICAN CITY, FEB 25, 2004 (VIS) - Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, spoke yesterday afternoon at a congress that opened earlier that morning at the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya on the theme "Contemporary Problems for an Integral and Sustainable Development." The meeting was an initiative of the university's Social Services Institute, according to a communique released by the pontifical council.

In his talk he made an appeal for those countries in Africa that have been hammered by bloody conflicts, devastating epidemics and a suffocating foreign debt. He underscored the question of arms trafficking, saying it was "deplorable" that some countries profit from this while others are living enormous human tragedies because of poverty as well as ecological disasters.

Cardinal Martino termed "unacceptable the pretext of terrorist groups, who intend to reestablish peace and justice through blind violence, not hesitating to destroy innocent human lives." He also denounced the "scandal" of States who enlist children as soldiers. Turning to AIDS he called this "the scourge of the century or the millennium with its disastrous demographic, health, economic and social consequences." He also called for a reduction, if not the elimination, of the foreign debt of Africa's poorest countries.

During his talk, says the communique, Cardinal Martino, who for 16 years was the Holy See permanent observer to the United Nations, "did not exclude that in a near future the Holy See could go from observer status to that of member of the U.N." and he "repeated the urgency of a reform of the United Nations that would allow for this institution to fully undertake its role on the international scene."
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VATICAN CITY, FEB 25, 2004 (VIS) - The Vatican has published a volume produced by the Pontifical Academy for Life entitled "Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Scientific and Legal Perspectives." It contains the findings of the symposium organized by the academy in collaboration with other offices of the Holy See that was held in the Vatican April 2-5, 2003 on "Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Priests and Religious."

The book has been sent to the world's episcopal conferences and will be made public at the end of March. A copy was made available to journalists for consultation.

The scope of the April 2003 conference and of this book, says a communique by the pontifical academy, "was exclusively to present the phase reached by scientific research on this theme. Obviously, it was not possible to invite all experts in this sector, however several of them, of the highest scientific stature, were available to come to Rome and to publish their contributions, even if none of the eight experts is Catholic."

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Academy for Life, notes in an introduction to the volume, that the 2003 symposium touched upon "a terrible phenomenon which, in recent years, has increasingly created unease in the Church and in the media. Pope John Paul II has clearly and emphatically drawn attention to the grave injustice done to the victims. He called upon the Church to do everything in its power to assuage the resultant pain and to prevent future incidents. Many men and women in the Church have already dedicated themselves to this important task, bishops' conferences have produced guidelines and the Holy See has devoted itself intensely to this issue through various dicasteries. Sexual abuse presents a huge challenge. To formulate responsible solutions requires the consideration of psychological, medical, ethical, anthropological, theological, pastoral, juridical, and many other perspectives. Obviously all this goes beyond the scope of what one can achieve in one single symposium."

He added that the scientists present at the symposium "were able to present the theme in its complexity and . also presented different opinions current in the scientific world." He noted that "international ecclesial personalities who are actively involved in the treatment of priests and religious" were at the symposium, though "they did not participate in the role of experts to be consulted. . Instead they were the listeners and questioners. . The criterion for inviting them was that the institutions they represent are de facto used by bishops' conferences for the treatment of priests and religious."

Calling the book "a first step," Bishop Sgreccia said "important aspects of the theme have yet to be dealt with. May this publication prove to be a support and stimulus for all who deal with this troubling and complex issue."
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