Signs of the Times

Egan to Be a Leader at Synod of Bishops

Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Edward Egan of New York to be one of the principal leaders at the Synod of Bishops in October (see page 15 of this issue). As the synod’s general rapporteur, or recording secretary, he will have the very influential role of introducing and later summarizing the bishops’ discussions. The cardinal was also appointed to the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Questions of the Apostolic See, which deals with Vatican finances. The pope also named Bishop Tod D. Brown of Orange, Calif., a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Bishop Brown is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Religious in Zimbabwe Decry Lawlessness, Violence

The rule of law is no longer respected in Zimbabwe, and terror and intimidation go unpunished, said the Conference of Religious Superiors of the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe. The conference said in a statement from Harare after its annual meeting that this is no longer a free country. People live in abject fear of violence, crime and threats. The conference stressed its support for the judges and law officials who defend the constitutional rights of the citizens of Zimbabwe.


Pope Urges Mideast Bishops to Keep Catholics From Leaving

Pope John Paul II called for an immediate return to negotiations by Israelis and Palestinians and urged bishops from the Middle East to do all they can to keep Catholics from leaving the region. The pope said the combination of violence and economic hardship was continuing to threaten the historic presence of Christians in the Holy Land. He made the remarks in a speech on March 17 to bishops of the Middle East, who were making their ad limina visits to the Vatican.

Church Coalition Unites Working Poor, L.A. Mayoral Candidates

After months of hosting 2,000 house meetings throughout Los Angeles County, members of Catholic churches and Protestant and Jewish congregations demonstrated their organizational muscle for Los Angeles’ mayoral candidates at a forum urging them to make working with the poor a priority. The packed forum of nearly 2,000 people at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on March 11 was sponsored by the L.A. Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a federation that has as members about 80 religious congregations, schools, unions and community organizations. That Los Angeles is known as the poverty capital of the United States is unacceptable to us, said the Rev. Ed Bacon, an Episcopal minister who is L.A. Metro committee chairman. Every religion agrees that the essence of being religious is to take care of your neighbors.

College Students Once Again Spend Break Helping Others

This year, while hundreds of thousands of college students flock to the beaches during their spring break, a growing number of college students are taking part in service projects. Instead of drinking beer and sunbathing, they’ll be building homes, tutoring students, registering voters, visiting the sick and elderly and volunteering in homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Students are spending the week in projects dubbed Alternative Spring Breaks, Spring Break Out or Appalachian Outreach-helping people in rural areas in the United States and Central America.

Nigerian Bishops: Peace Lacking Amid Injustices, Corruption

The Nigerian bishops’ conference said the country cannot be truly at peace while the people still suffer injustices and the government fails to protect citizens from violence. It is dangerous to presume that all is well in Nigeria simply because we are no longer burning houses or killing one another, the bishops said in a statement issued after a meeting in Abuja. Their statement called on Nigerians to say a clear no to any public official who refuses to behave responsibly. This should be done peacefully and nonviolently, but firmly.

Some Church Policies Alien to Hispanics, Says Bishop

Many Hispanics are kept away from the sacraments by church practices and policies alien to them, said Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M. Church authorities need to be more flexible about procedures associated with baptisms, annulments and weddings, he said. I am concerned that we have far too many in leadership positions of the church who are intolerant to anyone who is different and whose ecclesiology or faith expressions are different from their own. Bishop Ramirez said that often Hispanics will travel many miles away to make a pilgrimage but won’t go to Mass at the local parish. They do not feel welcome at the parish because nobody encourages them or everything is in English, he said.

The canonical process for an annulment is probably very strange and new to many of our people, he said in a speech at a Miami meeting of the National Institute of Liturgy for Hispanics. Some will find it difficult to obtain the documents and paperwork from remote villages and will not meet the requirements of those who interpret church law in a strict manner, he said in the speech. In the interview, he said that Hispanics are leery of a process that requires them to relate their private lives to another person. This is considered offensive, an intrusion of privacy.

Regarding marriage, he said that flexibility needs to be exercised. Co-habitation is different in Hispanic and American culture, he said. In an American-style co-habitation the couple often has an open-ended agenda. In Hispanic culture once a couple starts living together it’s considered a lifelong commitment by people who intend to marry, he said. Sometimes they live together because they’re too poor to pay for the wedding.

Bishop Ramirez said that many rituals of Hispanic popular religiosity should be incorporated into the liturgy to make the church’s prayer life more attractive. He mentioned a home ritual associated with baptism, called la entrega, Spanish for the handing over. The godparents hand over the child to the parents and recite a verse that they are now returning the baby as a child of God, said Bishop Ramirez. Why can’t this take place in church?

Many U.S. Congregations Engaged in Community Service

A study of American religious congregations has found that a large majority engage in community services of the type that President Bush’s program for faith-based efforts presumably would support. Congregational outreach programs provide a national, personal network of human services extending to virtually every community, says a report on the study, Faith Communities Today. Most pastors or other key leaders providing information say their congregations are vital and alive, and 51 percent of the congregations report they have grown in the past five years. Funded by the Lilly Endowment, the study was directed by Carl S. Dudley and David A. Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary. The findings are available on the Hartford Institute’s Web site,

Indian Bishop’s Participation in Hindu Festival Draws Praise

An interreligious program led by an Indian Catholic bishop to observe Holi, traditionally celebrated by Hindus, has drawn praise for deepening communal harmony. Bishop Victor Thakur of Bettiah told some 300 Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who gathered with him on March 10 that Holi, the festival of colors, is a human festival that has nothing to do with any religion, reported UCA News. Cherubim John, a Catholic, recalled that in the past, people of other religions had exchanged Holi greetings with Hindus, but avoided joining them in smearing colored powder, sprinkling colored water or sharing a meal, the prime ways of celebrating the festival. Our traditional Catholic priests considered these rituals taboo for Christians, and we accepted it as such, said John.

Bishop Thakur, 46, said that Holi creates a spirit of rainbow-like solidarity among people. It was this metaphor of a rainbow, he added, that inspired him to organize the program. Saying that celebrating another’s faith strengthens one’s own faith, the bishop said that if Christians cannot join the festivity of our neighbors, they cannot live the teaching of Christ to love the neighbor.

Vatican Working to Address Sexual Abuse of Nuns by Priests

The Vatican acknowledged the problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests in some missionary territories and said it was working to correct it. The problem is known and is restricted to a limited geographical area, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Vatican spokesman, said. The Vatican was taking the dual approach of formation of persons and of solving individual cases in conjunction with bishops and the two main international organizations of men and women religious, he said. Navarro-Valls’s statement came in apparent response to an article in the National Catholic Reporter on March 16. The article cited four reports by senior members of women’s religious orders between 1994 and 1998 asserting that sexual abuse of nuns by priests, including rape, was a serious problem, especially in Africa.

McCarrick Speaks on Human Rights Issues to Jewish Leaders

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C., celebrated the productive dialogue between Catholics and Jews who have worked together effectively on social justice issues. The cardinal delivered a keynote address at the opening session of the biennial Consultation on Conscience, Reform Judaism’s premier public policy conference held in Washington. Cardinal McCarrick, who serves on several top church and government commissions along with other religious leaders, called for more concern for poor countries ravaged by wars, poverty and disease.

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11 years 11 months ago
The report in Signs of the Times (4/2), “Some Church Policies Alien to Hispanics,” is indeed timely. This past Feb. 1, I completed a pastorate of 30 years and more at Sacred Heart Parish in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, NY. The parish in the 60’s, 70’s and the mid-80’s was heavily Puerto Rican, and for the past 15 years heavily Mexican.

Our Anglo-Saxon culture and even the traditions of the church in the United States and style of ministry do not always connect with the great Mexican influx, a great part of the future of our church in the United States. And this lack of connection is often also in the ministerial style and culture of some Hispanic priests from other countries.

Mexican people are warm and giving, faith-possessed, and their simplicity is disarming. As for priests ministering to them, including chancery officials, we just cannot minister in a two-fisted autocratic and despotic style. All of the i’s cannot always be dotted, or the t’s crossed. What will happen to our new people if we do not minister with open hearts and hands? We might just overpopulate the evangelical churches.

Did you ever try to inveigle a response to a request for a baptismal record or letter of freedom from a church 200 miles from nowhere in the mountains, or even in a city plaza? Try it.

Emma Lazarus was not a spiritual writer, but she hit the nail on the head when she wrote those beautiful words that ought be in the heart of every priest, “Give me your tired, your poor.”


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