{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Meeting American Jewish leaders who were on their way to Israel, Pope Benedict XVI announced Feb. 12 that he, too, was preparing to visit the Holy Land.

A papal trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories had appeared to be set for May 8-15 until plans seemed shaken by the late-December escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and along the Israeli border with Gaza.

Churches hope to sponsor Guantanamo detainees

{mosimage}TORONTO - Churches are lining up to help inmates of the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, come to Canada.

Catholic, Anglican and United churches have all submitted sponsorship applications to bring Guantanamo prisoners to Canada as refugees. The Canadian Council for Refugees has been organizing the sponsorships and has called on the federal government to expedite the applications.

Better ways needed to protect life

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - The Feb. 9 death of Eluana Englaro after nutrition and hydration were withheld should lead Italian citizens and their government to find more effective ways to protect and promote human life, said the Vatican spokesman.

“In the name of Eluana we must continue to seek more effective ways to serve life,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

New tactic used against death penalty

{mosimage}WASHINGTON - A U.S. national organization founded by Sr. Helen Prejean and headed by a Jesuit priest is trying a new tactic to end use of the death penalty, state by state.

The Moratorium Campaign , based at the Martin Luther King Jr. Catholic Student Centre at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., hopes to convince physician licensing boards or medical societies in each state to declare it unethical for doctors to participate in executions, thus making it impossible for states to carry out their own protocols for capital punishment.

Williamson told to publicly disavow Holocaust views

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - The Vatican said a traditionalist bishop who has minimized the full extent of the Holocaust must disavow his positions before he will be accepted into full communion with the church.

A Vatican statement Feb. 4 said Pope Benedict XVI did not know about the controversial statements by British-born Bishop Richard Williamson when he lifted the excommunication of him and three other traditionalist bishops ordained illicitly in 1988.

Lenten fast brings together love for God, neighbour

lent.jpgVATICAN CITY - Fasting from food and detaching oneself from material goods during Lent helps believers open their hearts to God and open their hands to the poor, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The Lenten fast helps Christians “mortify our egoism and open our hearts to love of God and neighbour,” said the Pope in his message for Lent 2009.

The papal message for Lent, which begins Feb. 25 for Latin-rite Catholics, was released Feb. 3 at the Vatican.

Anglicans honour Canadian ecumenist

DonBolan.jpgThe spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has honoured a Canadian Catholic priest for his service to ecumenism.

Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury awarded Msgr. Donald Bolen the Cross of St. Augustine in recognition of his work in the field of Anglican-Catholic relations, said a Feb. 3 statement from Lambeth Palace, the archbishop's residence.

"Msgr. Bolen has for many years been far more than an able facilitator of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. He has been a friend and colleague whose deep commitment to the possibilities of ecumenical dialogue and our common witness to the truths of the Gospel has been unflagging and inspirational," Williams said in an e-mail sent to Catholic News Service Feb. 4. "This award is a small sign of the regard, affectionate and admiring, in which Don is held and a sign of my personal appreciation of his work and friendship in recent years."

Bishop's Holocaust denial 'gibberish'

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Remarks made by a traditionalist bishop who denied that millions of Jews were murdered during the Second World War are unacceptable, “foolish” and in no way reflect the position of the Catholic Church, said the Vatican’s top ecumenist and major dialogue partner with the Jews.

“Such gibberish is unacceptable,” said German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica Jan. 26.

Catholic aid agencies expect tough year

{mosimage}Caught  between the push and pull of more demand for help in poor countries and financial fears squeezing donations in rich countries, the world’s Catholic aid agencies are approaching Lent this year with caution.

At a Jan. 14-15 meeting near Amsterdam of the 16 European and North American Catholic agencies that make up CIDSE (a French acronym for International Co-operation for Development and Solidarity), agency heads and bishops discussed how the financial crisis will strain finances.

Pope welcomes election of new Russian patriarch

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI said he learned "with joy" of the election of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad — a prelate he has met three times — as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch-elect Kirill, 62, who had been in charge of ecumenical relations for the Russian Orthodox Church for the past 20 years, was elected patriarch of Moscow Jan. 27 on the first ballot cast by members of the church's local council. He will be enthroned Feb. 1 in Moscow as the successor of Patriarch Alexy II, who died in December after more than 18 years as head of the church.

Pope lifts Lefebvrites excommunications

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunication of four bishops ordained against papal orders in 1988 by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The move was considered a major concession to the archbishop's traditionalist followers.

The Vatican said the decree removing the excommunication, signed Jan. 21 and made public three days later, marked an important step toward full communion with the Society of St. Pius X , founded by Lefebvre in 1970. It said some questions remain unresolved with the society, including its future status and that of its priests, and that these issues would be the subject of further talks.