Signs of the Times

Vermont Bishop Decries Passage of Civil Unions’ Bill

Bishop Kenneth A. Angell of Burlington said a bill approved by the Vermont House allowing civil unions between homosexuals is simply same-sex marriage under another name. The bishop said the 76-to-69 vote made him feel the way he supposed a majority of Vermont citizens felt: Disappointed. Disrespected. Dismissed. Maybe even dishonored by a majority of our elected representatives who chose to ignore the pleas of the majority of Vermonters to protect the sanctity of traditional marriage.

Meanwhile, the Pontifical Council for the Family strongly criticized a European Parliament vote recognizing the legal rights of gay couples, calling it an attack on the institution of the family. The European Parliament, in a 251-to-169 vote on March 16, urged member states to extend the same legal status as married couples to couples who live together, whether heterosexual or homosexual.


Religion Good For Marriage, Researcher Says

Religion is good for marriage, Michael Lawler said at a meeting on March 16 on ministry to interchurch marriages sponsored by the Washington Theological Consortium. The Creighton University theologian said that his study found that joint involvement in religious activities was one of the three greatest predictors of marital stability. The second predictor was also religious: The fewer religious differences a couple had, the less likely they were to end up separated or divorced. The third biggest factor was whether the person’s family approved of the spouse when they got married.

The study was limited to people who identified themselves as Christian and who said the person they married was also Christian at the time they were engaged. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said both belonged to the same church when they were engaged to marry. Of those who belonged to different churches when they were engaged, Lawler said, roughly half remained interchurch at the time they were interviewed, but nearly half said they had eventually become same-church couples. The chief reason given for moving from interchurch to same-church was to make the marriage stronger.

He said among those surveyed, the lowest rate of separation or divorce was among couples who started as interchurch but became same-church. Next were those who started and remained same-church, and the divorce rate was highest among those who started and remained interchurch.

Jewish Leaders Laud Papal Apology

Pope John Paul II’s jubilee-year apology for wrongs committed by Catholics has drawn strong praise from U.S. religious leaders, including two national rabbinical groups. In a joint statement the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) and the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) hailed the pope’s inspiring leadership and courageous strides in working to heal the historic breach that has separated our communities. In a separate statement the executive committee of the Rabbinic Committee for Interreligious Dialogue called the pope’s expression of sorrow a revolutionary and epoch-making confession.

A.F.L.-C.I.O., Bishops to Collaborate on Amnesty, Immigration

The U.S. bishops and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. will collaborate on efforts to reform U.S. immigration policy, including a new amnesty program for illegal immigrants. At a press briefing on March 15, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. president John Sweeney and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Camden, N.J., announced that the two organizations will work together to seek fundamental changes in U.S. immigration policies.

A formal statement issued by the three calls for:

the legalization of immigrant workers and their families, especially those who come to the United States fleeing oppression and destitution,

greater respect for both the civil and workplace rights of immigrant workers, regardless of their legal status,

U.S. foreign and economic policies that better address the conflict, poverty and denial of human rights,

a repeal of employer sanctions for hiring illegal workers, which, as a nationwide policy applied to all workplaces, has failed and should be eliminated.

Florida Judge Overturns Opportunity Scholarship Program

A Florida Circuit judge’s ruling on March 14 that the use of public funds in private schools is unconstitutional puts the Opportunity Scholarship Program supported by the Florida bishops and Governor Jeb Bush on the path to higher courts. Michael McCarron, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, said the case will likely end up at the Florida Supreme Court.

Harvard Study: School Vouchers Help D.C. Children Excel

A recent Harvard University study reveals that African-American students in grades 2 to 5 attending private or Catholic schools in Washington with the help of financial aid scored higher in math and reading than their peers in public schools. The 810-student survey compared Washington Scholarship Fund recipientswho are students living in the District of Columbia randomly selected by lottery to receive tuition voucherswith those students who were not chosen and remained in public schools. The students were tested about six to seven months after entering a private or Catholic school. Approximately 70 percent of all Washington Scholarship Fund recipients attend Catholic schools.

Pope Traces Pilgrim’s Path in Holy Land, Preaches Peace

On the most desired and perhaps most difficult trip of his papacy, Pope John Paul II traced a pilgrim’s path in the Holy Land, preaching peace and justice but doing his best not to fuel political controversies. The first three days of the March 20-26 pilgrimage took the pope from Moses’ mountain in western Jordan to the place of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, administered by Palestinian authorities.

In Jerusalem, he received a historic welcome from Israeli officials, who told the pontiff that the holy city was their eternal capital. Palestinian officials made the same claim the following day. The pope did not directly address the verbal tug-of-war by his hosts on the status of Jerusalem, but he strongly defended Palestinians’ right to a homeland and said their legitimate aspirations would only be met through a negotiated settlement. No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on too long, he said in Bethlehem.

Throughout his heavy schedule of events, the pope kept his main focus on the spiritual goal of the tripto revisit the roots of the faith in the places where the most dramatic events of the Old and New Testaments were lived. He prayed on Mount Nebo in Jordan on March 20, the place from which Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying, and from a promontory looked out upon a dramatic biblical landscape stretching from the Dead Sea to Galilee.

Our gaze directed to Jerusalem, let us lift up our prayer to almighty God for all the peoples living in the lands of the promise: Jews, Muslims and Christians, the pope said. They share the same place of blessing, where the history of salvation has left an indelible trace.... Bestow upon all who live here the gift of a true peace, justice and fraternity.

Arriving at Tel Aviv’s airport during a light rain on the evening of March 21, he was met by the Israeli president, Ezer Weizman, and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who walked with him down a red carpet amid a sea of Vatican and Israeli flags. The pope, who repeatedly used the phrase the state of Israel in his airport speech, said much had changed since Pope Paul VI visited the region in 1964. He said the launching of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994 was a seal on our efforts to open an era of dialogue.

Relations on a religious level have improved as well, he noted. With new-found openness toward one another, Christians and Jews together must make courageous efforts to remove all forms of prejudice.... We must strive always and everywhere to present the true face of the Jews and of Judaism, as likewise of Christians and of Christianity.

Weizman, welcoming the pope, traced the history of the Jewish people and thanked the pope for condemning anti-Semitism as a sin. With the Vatican continuing to insist on the special character of Jerusalem and the need for internationally guaranteed access to holy sites, Weizman invited the pope to see for himself how Israel governs the city, which he called the reunified capital of his country.

On March 22 the pope traveled to Bethlehem and said he had reached the heart of his pilgrimage. Celebrating Mass in Manger Square, he encouraged the Middle East and the world to rediscover the gift of peace Christ brought to humanity 2,000 years ago.

Christ’s kingdom, he said in a homily, is not the play of force and wealth and conquest which appear to shape our human history, but the power to heal wounds and make peace. He said it had special relevance in Bethlehem, a place that has known the yoke and the rod of oppression. At the close of his sermon, the Mass was briefly interrupted by the noontime Muslim call to prayerabbreviated out of respect for the pope, according to church officials.

At the Dehiyshe refugee camp that afternoon, the pope expressed his support for the Palestinians and emphasized the plight of their refugees, calling for a just solution to their situation. The pope told a group of some 200 invited guests at a camp school that degrading conditions in which refugees often must live are the measure of the urgent need for a just solution to the underlying causes of the problem.

In a speech to Arafat at the Bethlehem headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority, the pope issued his strong defense of Palestinians’ natural right to a homeland and called for new attitudes of compromise to bring about a definitive peace agreement with Israelis.

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