ROME - The diocese of Rome launched a new web site dedicated to the beatification and canonization of Pope John Paul II.

Published in seven languages, the site offers news updates and background information on the late pope and his sainthood cause, as well as a live webcam of his tomb in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica.

The web site also announced that the beatification ceremony in St. Peter's Square May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday, will be open to the public and no tickets will be required to attend. The evening before the ceremony, April 30, there will be a prayer vigil at Rome's ancient Circus Maximus racetrack, it said.

New round of talks in Anglican-Catholic dialogue

As Catholics and Anglicans sit down again for official theological dialogue this spring, they face the challenge of adding to some of the most substantial and carefully reasoned theological documents written in the last 35 years.

“It’s been some of the best theology of the 20th century, and we’re into the 21st century now. It’s excellent theology,” said Margaret O’Gara, a former Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) member and professor at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College.

A new stage of ARCIC discussions opens May 17 to 27 at the Monastery of Bose in northern Italy. The international dialogue group has been asked by the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI to examine “the Church as communion — local and universal” and “how in  communion the local and universal Church comes to discern right ethical teaching.”

Pakistan 'surrenders' to blasphemy law

LAHORE, Pakistan - The head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan expressed outrage at the government’s decision to withdraw a private member’s bill proposing changes in the country’s blasphemy law, calling it “an act of surrender.”

“It’s a mistake giving in to pressure by Islamic parties,” Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, president of Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told the Asian church news agency UCA News. “The government has totally caved in and there seems no prospect of changes in the controversial legislation in the near future.”

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly Feb. 2 that the government never intended to change the law and had disbanded the committee reviewing it. The blasphemy law makes insulting the Quran punishable by life imprisonment, and calls for the death penalty for insulting Mohammed.

Packers' chaplain expects record Super Bowl crowd — at pre-game Mass

ALLOUEZ, Wis. - If the Super Bowl is anything like the National Football Conference championship game, Norbertine Father Jim Baraniak said he expected an overflow crowd.

The Packers' Catholic chaplain wasn't referring to the attendance at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but rather the Mass to be celebrated before the big game Feb. 6.

In Chicago, before the Packers beat the Bears Jan. 23, "everybody showed up. We maxed out the room," said Baraniak.

"It was just unbelievable,. The Mass was full of energy. I felt nervous during the homily."

Officials can't stop North African protests, Arabic expert says

Egypt protest and armyROME - Police and military officials will not be able to stop demonstrators in Egypt or other countries of North Africa, said the former rector of Rome's Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies.

"Ordinary people cannot tolerate any more the appalling conditions of human degradation in which they live. They say, 'Enough is enough' and believe that they have nothing to lose," the former rector, Fr. Justo Lacunza Balda, said in an e-mail to Catholic News Service in Rome.

"Therefore, neither the police nor the army will stop people in the Arab countries from demanding freedom and human dignity," he wrote Jan. 28 as massive protests intensified in Egypt.

The demonstrations began Jan. 25 as people took to the streets to protest unemployment, corruption and rising prices.

French Senate rejects legislation allowing euthanasia on demand

PARIS — The French Senate has rejected legislation that would have permitted any adult to request a "quick and painless death."

Under the draft Bioethics Law amendment, French citizens would have been entitled to seek medical help to die when "in a terminal state, or with a serious and incurable illness causing physical or psychological pain." The right would have applied when the pain "cannot be alleviated or is considered unbearable," enabling doctors to bring about the patient's death "as the outcome of a deliberate act."

During the Senate's Jan. 26 debate on the amendment, Catholic pro-life groups conducted a vigil and protest, during which about 700 people pretended to be dead.

Bishop Ruiz championed Mexico’s indigenous

Bishop RuizMEXICO CITY - Retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, known as the champion of the poor and indigenous in southern Mexico, died Jan. 24 of complications from long-standing illnesses. He was 86.

The bishop headed the diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas from 1960 to 2000, and from 1994 to 1998 mediated a commission looking for an end to the conflict between the Mexican government and the indigenous Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas state.

For his work with the state’s indigenous population he received death threats and, in 2002, was the recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize for his work “raising the social standing of the indigenous communities of Mexico” and for his work toward “the reclamation and preservation of their native cultures.”

Bishop Ruiz had suffered from arterial hypertension and diabetes for a decade and had obstructed arteries, some cerebral damage and difficulty moving his body. The severity of his illness led to his transfer Jan. 12 to a Mexico City hospital from one in the state of Queretaro.

Pope John Paul II miracle approved, beatification set for May 1

John Paul IIVATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI approved a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II's intercession, clearing the way for the late pope's beatification on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Pope Benedict's action Jan. 14 followed more than five years of investigation into the life and writings of the Polish pontiff, who died in April 2005 after more than 26 years as pope.

The Vatican said it took special care with verification of the miracle, the spontaneous cure of a French nun from Parkinson's disease — the same illness that afflicted Pope John Paul in his final years. Three separate Vatican panels approved the miracle, including medical and theological experts, before Pope Benedict signed the official decree.

Pakistani prelate calls official's remark on blasphemy law 'setback'

BANGALORE, India - Catholic officials in Pakistan expressed disappointment after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reiterated there would be no amendment to the country's blasphemy law, which makes insulting the Prophet Mohammed or the Quran punishable by life imprisonment or death.

"This is a setback. We have to take it in our stride and move on," Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, told Catholic New Service Jan. 12, hours after the prime minister's remarks.

"We are really disappointed," Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the church's National Commission for Justice and Peace, told CNS from his office in Lahore.

Vatican foreign minister meets ambassador called back to Egypt

VATICAN CITY - In the wake of Egypt's displeasure at recent comments by the Pope, the Vatican's foreign minister met with Egypt's ambassador to the Vatican before the minister was recalled to Cairo for consultations.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, whose formal title is secretary for relations with states, met with Ambassador Lamia Aly Hamada Mekhemar Jan. 11, just hours after she was told to return to Cairo in response to Pope Benedict XVI's appeal to Egypt to protect Christians.

The Vatican said in a written statement that it "fully supports the government's concerns about 'avoiding an escalation of clashes and tensions for religious reasons,' and appreciates the efforts that it is taking in this direction."

Pope denounces recent attacks in meeting with Holy See diplomats

Blasphemy protestsVATICAN CITY - Religious freedom and religious diversity are not threats to society and should not be a source of conflict, Pope Benedict XVI told diplomats from around the world.

The Pope asked the representatives of 178 countries, as well as of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the European Community and the Knights of Malta, to examine how well their own countries respect the right of individuals to believe, to act in accordance with their conscience, to gather with other believers for worship and to carry out the educational and social projects their faith inspires.

Pope Benedict met Jan. 10 with diplomats accredited to the Holy See and continued his Christmas-season focus on the connection between religious liberty and peace, and on threats to full religious freedom in Western democracies as well as in countries notorious for violating human rights.

Once again he denounced recent attacks on Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria and expressed concern about the recent renewal of Chinese government restrictions on Catholics there. Condemning the murder Jan. 4 of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab in Pakistan, the Pope said the country must overturn its blasphemy law, which makes insulting the Prophet Mohammed or the Quran punishable by death.

Taseer supported the move to abrogate the law, which the Pope said often “serves as a pretext of acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities.”