World AIDS Day Draws Support From Churches Large and Small
From Washington to Dakar, Senegal, Catholic bishops joined in marking World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 with promises of support for those with H.I.V./AIDS and encouragement to change behaviors that lead to the spread of the disease. In Rome, Pope John Paul II and the head of the Vatican office for health care encouraged Catholics to join them in praying for people with H.I.V./AIDS and to care for those with the disease. And across Asia, Catholic organizations worked on AIDS prevention in China, India, Myanmar and Nepal.
In Dakar, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, which represents the bishops in Africa, issued its first collective statement on the topic of H.I.V./AIDS. It proposes a plan of action that involves work with parishes, other faiths, medical institutions and religious formation programs. It focuses on changing behavior and accepting responsibility for tackling the complexities of the problems brought on by H.I.V. and AIDS.
We have also come to realize that poverty goes hand in hand with H.I.V. and AIDS, they said. It concerns us that our already fragile economies should be further weakened with much of the trained labor force lost to H.I.V. and AIDS. Poverty facilitates the transmission of H.I.V., makes adequate treatment unaffordable, accelerates death from H.I.V.-related illness and multiplies the social impact of the epidemic. More than 11 million children in Africa under age 15 have been orphaned by AIDS, according to Unicef. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, as many as 28 million people have H.I.V./AIDS, according to Unaids.
In a separate statement, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is an international humanitarian crisis. The number of orphans in the region is already around 12 million and is estimated to reach 20 million by 2010, a situation exacerbated by AIDS, the statement said.
In Washington, two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a joint letter urging their fellow bishops to help mobilize the Catholic community and the general public to fight the H.I.V./AIDS crisis. Auxiliary Bishop Gordon D. Bennett of Baltimore, Md., chairman of the Committee on African-American Catholics, and Bishop James A. Tamayo of Laredo, Tex., chairman of the Committee on Hispanic Affairs, said more than half of all new H.I.V./AIDS cases in the United States are among African-Americans, 61 percent of them among teens. Hispanics account for 20 percent of the total reported AIDS cases, they said. And 78 percent of all cases of women with H.I.V./AIDS are either African-American or Hispanic.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 700,000 and 800,000 people in the United States are infected with H.I.V. or have AIDS.
In Rome, the pope used his midday Angelus address on Nov. 30 to pray for those struck by this plague, and to encourage all those in the church who provide a priceless service of welcome, care and spiritual accompaniment to these brothers and sisters of ours.
Congress Praised for Medicare, Told Other Work Left Undone
The head of the Catholic Health Association praised Congress on Nov. 25 for its approval of legislation reforming Medicare but said more remains to be done in the health care field. The Rev. Michael D. Place, president and C.E.O. of the St. Louis-based association, said in a statement that the Medicare reforms were a much needed first step in providing a prescription drug benefit for seniors and ensuring access for Medicare beneficiaries by supporting our nation’s health care providers. But he reminded Congress that their work in the area of health care reform is not complete.
There still remain 43 million children, women and men without any health insurance who deserve and command our focus and support, Father Place said. Congress, the administration and the American people must not rest until every individual has access to quality and affordable health care. In addition, he called on Congress to strengthen and enhance the legislation in the coming months so as to strengthen benefits for low-income seniors.
But another Catholic organization, Network, which describes itself as a national Catholic social justice lobby, strongly opposed the Medicare conference report in a statement on Nov. 14, saying that the conferees are intent on actually dismantling Medicare as an entitlement by privatizing the program. Medicare as we know it will eventually cease, said Maureen Fenlon, O.P., Network’s national coordinator.
Religious Leaders Urge Stronger U.S. Role in Middle East Peace
Cardinals Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington and William H. Keeler of Baltimore joined an interreligious group of 32 Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders on Dec. 2 in calling on the Bush administration to take strong steps to promote peace in the Middle East. Israelis and Palestinians are the ones who must create a just peace, but the United States has a moral obligation to use its powerful influence to help them do this, Cardinal McCarrick said at a press conference in Washington called by the National Interreligious Leadership Delegation, a new group. President Bush committed the United States to this kind of leadership when he outlined the road map,’ the cardinal added. Together, we urge him and all our national leaders to take up again this process which can lead to a just peace. The road map is a plan designed to produce the two-state solution proposed by President Bush in his speech to the United Nations last year.
Ordination of Gay Bishop Affects Catholic-Anglican Dialogue
The crisis within the Anglican Communion following the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the United States has led the ordaining bishop to resign his post on the Anglican-Catholic dialogue team. At the same time, the Vatican and the Anglican Communion announced they were convoking a panel of experts to study the ecclesiological issues raised by the U.S. Episcopal Church’s decision to ordain an openly gay bishop and the decision’s potential to split the Anglican Communion. Bishop Frank Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States, resigned as Anglican co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission on Nov. 29 in the interest of not jeopardizing the present and future life and work of the commission. Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, accepted his resignation saying, I am very sorry that this has seemed the best course, but he thanked the U.S. bishop for his contributions to the dialogue. The commission, commonly referred to as ARCIC, is responsible for the official theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
Canadian Bishops Discuss Lectionary With Vatican
During a weeklong visit to the Vatican, top officers of the Canadian bishops’ conference met with Pope John Paul II and continued their discussions with Vatican officials about revisions to the book of Scriptures used at Mass. In 1994 the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation told the U.S. bishops the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible was not appropriate for liturgical use, but the Canadian bishops had been using it since 1992 with the approval of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. Since 1994 the Canadian bishops have been working on revisions of passages the Vatican considered problematic. The N.R.S.V. translation uses gender-inclusive language, for example, changing references to men to men and women.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has no objection to us using the New Revised Standard Version, but they want us to make revisions to keep the translation in harmony with Catholic tradition, said Archbishop Brendan O’Brien of St. John’s, Newfoundland, conference president. For example, he said, in the Book of Psalms certain references to the just or faithful man traditionally have been interpreted as referring to Christ; using inclusive language would make the reference difficult to see. We have had extensive discussions with the congregation about inclusive language and have come up with some rules for revising the translation, he said.
Archbishop O’Brien said the Canadian bishops also had discussions with several Vatican offices about the challenges from and Catholic responses to public policy issues, particularly regarding same-sex unions and new reproductive technologies.
A recent Massachusetts court decision clearing the way for same-sex marriages is a national tragedy that will violate the rights of generations to come unless it is reversed, the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts said in a joint statement.
Approximately 85 priests from the Diocese of Albany have sent a letter to the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urging the U.S. bishops to consider optional celibacy for priests. The Albany priests joined clergy from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn., who have written similar letters.
Pope John Paul II held talks on Nov. 27 with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in a meeting that was downplayed by the Vatican for fear of political reaction by China.
About 842 million people worldwide are undernourished, with the number of chronically hungry people growing at a rate of nearly 5 million a year, according to a report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The report, released on Nov. 25, said the fight against world hunger was being lost and that countries would not meet the goal stated at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome to reduce by 50 percent the number of undernourished people by 2015.
The annual protest aimed at closing a U.S. Army training school for foreign militaries drew an estimated 10,000 people to Fort Benning, Ga., on Nov. 22-23. Forty-five demonstrators were arrested, most on charges of trespassing.