Signs of the Times

Encuentro 2000 Celebrates Diverse U.S. Church

Encuentro 2000 opened with Native American drums calling the participants from across the nation to gather in assembly. At the end of its final liturgy, 5,000 worshipers tied ribbons to one another’s wrists, a traditional Hmong sign of sending forth. In between, the different languages and styles of dress, music, art and worship celebrated the many-textured, many-hued richness of Catholic life in the United States. The encuentro (Spanish for encounter or meeting) took place from July 6 to 9 in the Los Angeles Convention Center under the sponsorship of the U.S. bishops.

Mariachi bands joined Native American drums in bringing people together for the opening service on July 6. Conch shells were blown from the four corners of the altar to announce the start of prayer. Negro spirituals accompanied delegates as they paraded to the back of the hall, where they poured water brought from their home towns into a fountain, blending the liquid into a common flow. The climactic evening jubilee Mass on July 8 featured Mexican music and Negro spirituals at the opening procession. Hymns were sung in English, Spanish, Tagalog and Latin. The second reading was in Apache. The Gospel was read in Mandarin Chinese. Two huge screens provided simultaneous English translations, and headsets were available to hear translations in Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese.


At a reconciliation service ending the second day of the meeting, several representatives of minority groups spoke movingly of their faith despite their experiences of discrimination in the church. Bishop Donald E. Pelotte of Gallup, N.M., the country’s first Native American bishop, spoke of growing up in dire poverty, dilapidated housing...with an alcoholic, physically abusive father who ended up a suicide, like so many of our Indian people today. Many of our native people were baptized, but in the process vast numbers were robbed of their cultural identity, he said.

Sister Mary Paul Lee, a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the granddaughter of a slave owned by Jesuits, told of having to leave her native Philadelphia to become a nun because at that time no women’s order in the archdiocese would accept an African American. K. LaVerne Redden, an African American who is the president of the National Council of Catholic Women, sobbed as she described the embarrassment of knowing she could not drink from the Communion cup in many parishes because if she did nobody else would touch it.

Msgr. Raymond East, the African-American pastor of a multiethnic parish in Washington, D.C., summed up the encuentro with the comment, The devil doesn’t want us to gather like this. He would much rather have us fussing and fighting with each other, all divided up.

Debt Relief Funding Vote in House Called 'Amazing Victory'

A House vote to more than triple the amount of debt relief for poor countries that had been recommended by its appropriations committee was an amazing victory, said John Carr, the head of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Social Justice and World Peace. The 216-to-211 vote on July 13 increased debt relief funding in the Foreign Operations bill for fiscal 2001 from $69 million to $225 million. Carr reports the vote surprised the House leadership and others who considered efforts to boost the funding a fool’s errand. The bishops were joined by Jubilee 2000/USA, Bread for the World, Catholic Relief Services and other organizations in supporting debt relief.

The House also voted to increase international funds to fight AIDS and the virus that causes it by $42 million over the amount approved by its Appropriations Committee. Increased funding in both areas had been advocated by Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy.

Catholic, Protestant Leaders in Moluccas Appeal for U.N. Help

Catholic and Protestant leaders from Ambon, one of Indonesia’s violence-torn Molucca Islands, are calling on the United Nations to protect their Christian communities. Although the Indonesian government has declared a state of emergency in the Moluccas and has sent in troops, the majority of troops are Muslim and either do nothing or join the attacks against the islands’ Christians. Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Ambon and Protestant leaders plan to go to Geneva to speak with officials of the U.N. Human Rights Commission and ask for the commission’s intervention.

Indian Christians Meet to Prepare for Dialogue With Hindus

Indian Christian leaders issued a common statement in preparation for a proposed dialogue with Hindu groups in the wake of continued attacks on Christians. Some 35 leaders of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the Protestant National Council of Churches in India assembled on July 11 at the council’s headquarters in Nagpur and issued the statement after a serious and close look at the continued atrocities against churches. The statement demanded that the federal government, led by Hindu nationalists, take measures to instill confidence in the minds of minorities.

The Christian leaders also asked the government to desist from any utterances regarding the issues of conversion. Hindu groups and some members of the government have accused Christian missionaries of forcibly converting indigenous and the poor and described anti-Christian violence as a natural reaction to such actions. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) assumed power in 1998 as the lead party of a coalition, India has witnessed some 200 attacks on church people and property, including killings of missionaries, burning of Bibles and desecration of churches.

The Catholic-Protestant statement reiterated that Christian churches would continue...upholding the values of the free choice of any individual and would not engage in any form of forced and coercive conversion. The bishops’ secretary-general, Auxiliary Bishop Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, said that the churches are determined to deal with Hindu fundamentalists with one voice.

The Catholic-Protestant statement noted that Christianity in India was nearly 2,000 years old and listed churches’ service to the nation in education, health, poverty alleviation programs, emergency relief, and gender and social justice. Despite our ministries of service and proclamation, our numerical strength has remained below 2.5 percent of a population of 1 billion, the Christian leaders said, adding that this small number disproves the malicious theories of forced or coercive conversion.

Church Participants at AIDS Meeting Focus on Care

Access to lifesaving drugs was high on the agenda of the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, but church participants focused primarily on caring for those living with HIV and AIDS. It was evident at the conference that the church is very involved in work at [the] grass-roots level, said Dominican Sister Alison Munroe, who heads the AIDS office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Pretoria. She used the example of Nigeria, where 40 percent of the care to people living with H.I.V.-AIDS is provided by the church. Church representatives to the conference on July 9-14 gave many presentations on caring for orphans and providing home-based care for the dying, Sister Munroe said.

Archbishop Wilfrid Napier of Durban, president of the bishops’ conference, said he was disappointed with South Africa’s response to the pandemic, as shown in President Thabo Mbeki’s opening speech. The archbishop said, Mbeki stalled by saying he is waiting for a report to be drawn up by a group of his advisers. AIDS activists have criticized the group, which includes many scientists who dispute the link between H.I.V. and AIDS.

D.C. Mandates That Health Plans Cover Contraceptives

The D.C. Council July 11 mandated that health insurance providers in the District of Columbiaincluding Catholic institutionsmust pay for contraceptives as part of their prescription coverage. The D.C. Council rejected several proposed amendments for a conscience clause that would allow some religious employers to opt out of covering services and products that conflict with their teachings.

Are we going to sit here and defer to Rome? asked council member Jim Graham. Calling the Catholic Church homophobic, Graham said to approve a conscience clause excluding religious organizations from the requirement would be like surrendering decisions of public health matters to the church. We would be telling people that because Rome has decreed [not using contraceptives] a tenet of the church, poor people cannot have comprehensive health care, he said.

Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Catholic Conference, noted that the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing requests to approve distribution of the drug RU-486 as a contraceptive. RU-486 is the designation for two drugs used in combination to induce an abortion within the first seven weeks of pregnancy. If the F.D.A. puts RU-486 on the list for contraceptives, then we have an abortion problem, Chopko said.

L.A. Firm Will Market Vatican Bank, Phone Cards

A multimedia management company that is producing a CD of Pope John Paul II’s prayers is now marketing Vatican-branded credit, debit and telephone cards. Each of the cards will carry an imprint of an image from the art works contained in the Vatican. Maxx International, a Los Angeles-based firm, announced that it had obtained the exclusive rights to market and distribute the cards in an agreement with the Treasures of St. Peter’s in the Vatican Ltd. The company estimated that once the program is fully instituted, it could generate revenue in excess of $150 million in license fees for Maxx.

No details were released on how much of that revenue would go to the Vatican.

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