Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
July 13, 2008

  Some of you have asked for a copy of the remarkable statement that I cited in my homily this past weekend, the grateful testimony to the Catholic faith as a sustaining power offered in Paris on July the Fourth-a happy coincidence!- by Ingrid Betancourt, as a former candidate for the presidency of Columbia, the most prominent among the fifteen hostages recently rescued from a jungle camp run by the Colombian terrorists known as the FARC. (FARC is an acronym for the Spanish title of the self-styled Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia). In an interview aired on Radio Europe One and in her subsequent answers to the press at a conference held in the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the President of France, Madame Betancourt emphasized the supremely important role that her Roman Catholic faith and her devotion to our Blessed Mother played in sustaining her morale during six seemingly endless years of brutal captivity. I reprint here, slightly abridged, The New York Times account (issue of July the fifth) from which I quoted.

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Betancourt, in Joyous Return to France, Details Her Suffering in Colombia
             By Steven Erlanger and Alan Cowell
             From: The New York Times, July 5, 2008

   Two days after her rescue, six years after being captured by guerrillas in the Colombian jungle, Ingrid Betancourt arrived in Paris on Friday to thank the joyful nation that had championed her cause and to begin to share some of the painful details of her long ordeal.
    "I owe everything to France," she said, after landing at a military air base outside Paris to a warm greeting by President Nicolas Sarkozy. "France is my home. You are my family."
   In comments to Europe 1 Radio, she said that her captors had chained her day and night for the first three years, but that she was sustained by her Roman Catholic faith and thoughts of her family. "I was in chains all the time, 24 hours a day for three years," she said. "I tried to wear those chains with dignity, even if I felt that it was unbearable."
   Asked if she had been tortured, she said, 'Yes," and said her captors had fallen into "diabolical behavior," adding, "It was so monstrous I think they themselves were disgusted." She called her rescue "a miracle of the Virgin Mary" and said, "You need tremendous spirituality to stop yourself from falling into the abyss." She had made herself a wooden rosary in the jungle, she said.
   Pope Benedict XVI has invited her to meet him next week.
   Speaking at the Elysée Palace with Mr. Sarkozy later on Friday, before a reception for her family and supporters, Ms. Betancourt said the jungle was "an absolutely hostile world." She described "no sun, no sky, a green ceiling-it was too much, it was too much, a wall of trees, a lot of insects, each more dreadful than the next."
   She said she walked perhaps 200 miles a year. "I walked with a hat pulled down over my ears because all sorts of things fall on your head, ants that bite you, insects, lice, ticks, with gloves because everything in the jungle bites, each time you try to grab on to something so that you don't fall, you've put your hand on a tarantula, you've put your hand on a thorn, a leaf that bites, it's an absolutely hostile world, dangerous with dangerous animals," she said. "But the most dangerous of all was man, those who were behind me with their big guns "
   Ms. Betancourt, 46, whose father was a Columbian diplomat in Paris, studied here and married a French diplomat, attaining dual citizenship. They divorced, but their two children campaigned for their mother's release, helping make her a French symbol of suffering and endurance.
   On the flight to France, news agencies reported, Ms. Betancourt said: "I owe my life to France. If France hadn't fought for me, I wouldn't be here making this extraordinary joumey."
   Mr. Sarkozy, who championed her cause, greeted her at the airport with an embrace, and said. "Dear Ingrid, we have been waiting for this so long. All of France is welcoming you back today."
   He called her bloodless rescue "a message of hope today for all those who believe in freedom."
   Mr. Sarkozy was accompanied by his wife, Carla, senior officials and members of the support group.  It was a signal honor [-reminiscent of President and Mrs. Bush's greeting Pope Benedict at the airport-] for the French President to meet the plane, which he had sent to Columbia with her children to reunite the family and which now brought them all back to France
   At one point, Ms. Betancourt grabbed Mr. Sarkozy's hand and said, "I owe so much to this extraordinary man who did so much for me," and she praised France for aiding her family, providing moral support and for pressing the Colombian government to find a nonviolent way to rescue her. "France opposed a military operation that put the lives of the hostages at risk, particularly my life. " She said, "So in a sense you saved my life."
   She asked Mr. Sarkozy for his continuing help in freeing the other 700 or so hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC.  She was freed along with three American contractors and 11 Colombians. He answered, "Let it be clear we will continue. "...
   Frederic Lefebvre, a spokesman for Mr. Sarkozy's political party, said .... that Mr. Sarkozy had displayed "total commitment these past 12 months in the search for all possible ways" to ensure Ms. Betancourt's release.... Ms. Betancourt is expected to undergo a medical examination at a French medical hospital on Saturday....

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   On the local Twin Cities scene another recent big story was Archbishop Nienstedt's commanding St. Joan of Arc Parish not to hold a prayer service that seemingly would endorse the homosexual life-style, a service that had been planned to coincide with the local "Gay Pride Celebration." To no one's great surprise the media's coverage of Archbishop Nienstedt's intervention was by and large slanted in favor of the side that was perceived to be "The Underdog". Our Archdiocese's new Vicar General, a former student of mine and my very good friend Father Lee Piché (pronounced Pi-SHAY), wrote for The Catholic Spirit, issue of July the third, an excellent justification of Archbishop Nienstedt's position. I reprint it here. And please keep Archbishop Nienstedt in your prayers.
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Church, Archbishop Love Homosexuals as Children of God
                                By Father Lee Piché
                                From: The Catholic Spirit of July 3, 2008

   This past week the secular media reported that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis ordered the cancellation of a prayer service at St. Joan of Arc parish in Minneapolis, because the service had been advertised as promoting the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender agenda.
   In leaming of the intervention by the Archdiocese, a spokesperson for the organization that was sponsoring the event characterized Archbishop John Nienstedt as a religious bigot and tyrant, guilty of directing "another volley of dehumanizing spiritual violence," and overseeing a "reign of homophobic hatred."
   Another person claimed that the archdiocese was now dictating to people what they could and could not pray for.
   Three important points need to be made in response to these allegations, allegations which received a basically favorable hearing in the press.
   First, there is the question of the facts of the matter. The parish of St. Joan of Arc was not ordered to cancel the prayer service, but cooperated with archdiocesan officials when we insisted that the scheduled event not become a platform for promoting the GLBT agenda. Theacting pastor at St. Joan proposed that the service be held as a prayer servicefor peace instead. This seemed to be a favorable compromise, for which the parish of St. Joan of Arc should be commended.
   Second, the clear implication in the statements quoted is that the Catholic Church, the archdiocese, and our archbishop must harbor hatred for GLBT persons, and are conducting some sort of campaign against them. This is simply not true.
   Jesus Christ commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Church has a special love for all persons, including all those who deal with same sex attraction. It is precisely because of our love and concern for homosexual persons that we must stand in opposition to the GLBT agenda.
   That agenda seeks to legitimize sexual activity outside the protective confines of marriage vows-or to redefine marriage as something other than the unitive-procreative lifelong union of one man and one woman, a covenant which is sealed and expressed in sexual intimacy. An agenda so clearly contrary to Catholic Church teaching cannot be celebrated and promoted in a Catholic place of worship.  "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
   Characterizing the Catholic Church and our archbishop as being hateful of homosexuals is incorrect, misleading and unfair. Not only is it a kind of verbal foul play-reducing a considered position to a sound-bite or slogan, and thereby appealing to emotion rather than to intelligence --- but it is also a violation of a foundational Gospel principle. It is a flagrant example of judging the heart and intention of other persons, without allowing those persons the chance to explain the reason for their actions.
   The Catholic Church loves homosexuals, not because they are homosexuals, but because they are children of God made in the divine image. The programs of ministry with and for homosexuals and their families, programs such as Courage and Encourage, demonstrate this love. The Missionaries of Charity and other Catholic congregations do more to bring comfort and compassion to dying victims of HIV-AIDS than any other groups we know of. The church is committed to defending all the legitimate human rights of all persons. But to use our church pulpits and sanctuaries to advance an agenda contrary to our church's beliefs is not a human right, and to deny such a request is not a violation of love.
   Out of love, the Catholic Church is not afraid to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, including the Goods News about the sanctity of married sexual love, and the various precepts of divine law, which call Christians to the virtue of chastity. We are optimists when it comes to sex, because we believe that all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, are capable of achieving the joy and true freedom of a chaste love, friendship and intimacy, with the help of God's love and grace. This is the same chastity that is operative in a healthy, happy marriage.
   The GLBT agenda seeks to obliterate, or at least obscure, that vision by reducing the debate to the issue of genital sexual activity, and claiming that any person has the right to consensual sex with any other person at any time. Because we love all persons and care deeply for their happiness, we continue to proclaim and defend what we believe to be saving truth, and so are accused of being hateful.
   Third: This leads to the third point. The archdiocese is not dictating to people what they can and cannot pray for. We have been clearly taught by Jesus Himself, through the Scriptures, that whatever we pray for ought to conform to God's will. "Thy will be done." The question then becomes: Who gets to decide what is in harmony with God's will and what isn't? Catholics turn to three sources for the answer. Sacred Scripture, Church tradition and the Church's magisterium or authoritative teaching ministry.
   But prayer isn't really the issue here: the issue is public prayer, which by its very nature as public must express the common belief of all the faithful and draw us more closely into unity. The archbishop, as high priest of this archdiocese has both the authority and the responsibility for ensuring that all the public prayer that takes place in our own churches is in harmony with the teachings of Christ and His Church.
   For this reason, if we had been notified that a parish had planned a prayer service during Gay Pride Week in which hatred of homosexuals had been the advertised theme, or in which divine punishment had been called down upon persons with same-sex attraction, this archdiocese would have intervened just as quickly and decisively as it did this past week.
   Those who are convinced of the rightness of the GLBT cause will probably not be persuaded by these words, and may even be disturbed by them. But it may be hoped that those who have been troubled by the misinformation they have received concerning these recent events may find, through these clarifications, some hope and comfort.