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Tuesday, March 23, 2004


VATICAN CITY, MAR 23, 2004 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in separate audiences:

- Six prelates from the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference on their "ad limina" visit:

    - Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishops Julian Charles Porteous and Anthony Colin Fisher.

    - Bishop Luc Julian Matthys of Armidale.

    - Bishop Patrick Dougherty of Bathhurst.

    - Bishop David Louis Walker of Broken Bay.

- Participants in the General Chapter of the Missionary Sisters of the Pallottine Catholic Apostolate.
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VATICAN CITY, MAR 23, 2004 (VIS) - This morning in the Holy See Press Office, there was a presentation of the book "Faith and Martyrdom: The Eastern Churches in Twentieth Century Europe" (Proceedings of the meeting on contemporary Church history, Vatican City, October 22-24, 1998).

 Among those who spoke during the presentation were Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio, Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk of the eparchy of Kolomyia-Chernivtsi, Ukraine and Msgr. Tertulian Ioan Langa of the eparchy of Cluj-Gherla, Romania.

  Cardinal Daoud indicated that this book documents "the suppression of various Eastern Catholic Churches: Ukrainian, Romanian, Slovakian and Ruthenian. After being erased from history, these Churches have come back into existence and today strive to never forget the persecution they suffered."

  After emphasizing that the publication "gives a voice to those who suffered so much," he said: "Despite this, there is no rancor. Despite difficult relations in the past, in many cases during the 'century of martyrs', Eastern Catholics and people of other confessions learned how to suffer together in prisons, in the 'gulags', in the forced labor camps."

  The prefect of the congregation assured everyone that they will continue to collect documentation about the faith experience of Eastern Catholics, "reflecting on the witnesses of the faith of our Churches, which can explain the root of so many prejudices."

  Professor Riccardi said that "the martyrdom of Eastern Catholics is connected to their specific situation, that is the fact that they belong to two worlds: the world of Eastern tradition and the world of the Catholic Church."

  "Eastern Catholics," he continued, "belonged to a group that communist policy did not admit in any part of the Eastern empire (from the former Czechoslovakia to Romania), with rare exceptions, such as in the small and tormented Bulgarian community and in Hungary. These pages illustrate the Soviet design to exterminate Eastern Catholicism."

  The founder of the Sant'Egidio Community explained that "the big problem is religious freedom. Depriving Eastern Catholic communities of life means denying religious freedom and freedom of diversity. It was that diversity that the communist regimes could not accept."

  Referring to the term "martyr," he affirmed that "this is a word which is abused in our language." In this way, people speak about "suicide martyrdom which is very different from Christian martyrdom." Christian martyrs "do not die in order to kill others but rather give their life to save the life of others, so that they do not have to give up their faith, to support other believers out of love. They are not seeking death, but they do not renounce their faith or human behavior in order to save their own life. This is the story that is told in these pages."
  Msgr. Tertulian Ioan Langa, 82, spoke of his 16 years in communist prison camps, describing the "massive and threatening atheistic Soviet presence on the Romanian borders," the "violent and atrocious presence of atheistic communism" and "the brutal and humiliating presence of Soviet troops who had occupied almost a third of the national territory."

  In spine-tingling terms he described the indescribable: the countless times he was interrogated, the years of torture, deprivation, humiliation, and unspeakable suffering, the "diabolic rituals" prisoners underwent to make them talk. What became important for him and helped him to survive were his own rituals: praying, composing litanies, remembering and reciting Psalms.

  "I have never written much about these dramatic experiences," said Msgr. Langa today. "Who can believe what seems unbelievable? Who can believe that the laws of biology can be overcome by the will. ... But even Jesus was not believed by all who saw Him. 'After this many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with him'. Nothing is pure chance in life. Every second the Lord gives us is laden with grace - the impatient benevolence of God - and with our chance to either answer it or, filled with fear, to refuse it."

  He spoke of his bishop and his intellectual guides, "all victims of atheistic communism," whose lives and teachings marked his own life. "Through them I discovered the meaning of communism, what it means to eliminate Christ from society and how mutilated the human soul can become" without Him. He underscored "the flagrant difference of perception and reaction to communism "between the Christians and intellectuals of the West" and those in the East who had lived through and undergone communism.

  Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk, 77, and one of 11 children, was imprisoned many times over many decades by Soviet authorities. During his first term in prison from 1947 to 1956, he was ordained a deacon and performed his ministry in prison, saying he only found the strength to do so because "what is impossible for a human person is possible for the Lord. The conditions we lived in the concentration camps were pitiless, worse than the German concentration camps. ... The Gospel ... kept us human, kept us Christian."

  Shortly after being freed in 1956 he was ordained a priest, imprisoned again from 1959 to 1964 and exiled upon his release, forbade to minister in western Ukraine, though he did anyway. Ordained a bishop in 1974, he was constantly threatened by the KGB, but continued his episcopal ministry. On August 4, 1987, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church "announced to the entire world our Church's exit from the catacombs to a full and normal religious life."
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VATICAN CITY, MAR 23, 2004 (VIS) - Made public today was a Letter from Pope John Paul to Sister Stella Holisz, superior general of the Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate on the occasion of their 15th General Chapter during which they are reflecting on the theme: "Rekindle your first love - respond to the challenges of today."

  "Your vocation as missionaries," he writes in the Letter, dated January 24, "patterned on the lives of the Apostles, eloquently shows that the more one lives in Christ the better one serves Him in others, going even to the furthest missionary outposts and facing the greatest dangers."

  The Holy Father stated that "in a world where the shadows of poverty, injustice, and secularism are cast over every continent, the need for authentic disciples of Jesus Christ remains as urgent as ever. It is precisely witness to Christ's Gospel that dispels the darkness and illuminates the way of peace, fostering hope in the hearts of even the most marginalized and dejected of people. The men and women you encounter from many religions, cultures, and social groups searching for meaning and dignity in their lives can never have their longings fulfilled by some vague religiosity."

   "Dear Sisters," he concluded, "the Church looks to you to 'speak' of Christ to those whom you serve and to "show" him to them. Such witness demands that you yourselves first contemplate the face of Christ. Your initial and ongoing formation programs must therefore assist all the Sisters to conform themselves totally to Christ and His love of the Father."


VATICAN CITY, MAR 23, 2003 (VIS) - The Holy Father:

 - Appointed Bishop Joseph Anthony Galante, coadjutor of Dallas, U.S.A., as bishop of Camden (area 6,967, population 1,337, 476, Catholics 450,271, priests 353, permanent deacons 115, religious 406 ), U.S.A. 

 - Erected the new ecclesiastic province of Raipur (area 135,242, Catholics 367,028, priests 496, religious 1,380), India, taking it from the ecclesiastic province of Bhopal.  The new province will consist of the suffragan dioceses of Ambikapur, Jagdalpur of the Siro-Malabars and Raigarh.

 - Appointed Bishop George Thomas, auxiliary of the archdiocese of Seattle, U.S.A., as bishop of Helena (area 134,426, population 509,439, Catholics 67,693, priests 82, permanent 34, religious 49), U.S.A.  

 - Accepted the resignation from the office of auxiliary of the diocese of Syracuse, U.S.A., presented by Bishop Thomas Joseph Costello upon having reached the age limit.
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