Signs of the Times

Pope Visits Ukraine

Paying tribute to Ukrainians who endured decades of repression and assuring the nation’s Orthodox majority of his respect for their faith and fidelity, Pope John Paul II ended his long-awaited visit to Ukraine. Over the course of the visit on June 23-27, the pope drew larger and larger crowds, a rhythm matched by the increasingly emotional chords he struck, especially with the young and with survivors of the Communist suppression of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. An estimated 1.2 million people attended the Divine Liturgy on June 27 for the beatification of 27 Ukrainian and Ruthenian Catholic martyrs.

As soon as he arrived in Ukraine on June 23, the pope told the Orthodox he did not want to steal their faithful, but to overcome animosity and move forward together to transform society. I have not come here with the intention of proselytizing, but to bear witness to Christ together with all Christians, the pope said in his arrival speech. Bowing down before our one Lord, let us recognize our faults, he said. As we ask forgiveness for the errors committed in both the distant and recent past, let us in turn offer forgiveness for the wrongs endured.


Members of Ukraine’s largest Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox Church to which it is allied, objected to the pope’s visit and refused to participate in his meeting on June 24 with leaders of Ukraine’s churches and religious communities. They claimed the Catholic Church was trying to steal believers and that Catholics had used violence to take over thousands of church buildings in western Ukraine.

Meeting religious leaders on June 24 in Kiev, the pope did not dwell on tensions, but on the importance of the leaders working together to restore the traditional place of faith in Ukrainian culture and society. Religion, when practiced with a humble and sincere heart, makes a specific and irreplaceable contribution to the promotion of a just and fraternal society, he said.

While in Kiev, Pope John Paul also paid homage to Ukrainian Jews and Muslims who were persecuted, murdered or exiled under totalitarian regimes. Speaking of the Nazi shooting of tens of thousands of Jews at Babi Yar, near Kiev, in the early days of World War II, the pope said: May the memory of this episode of murderous frenzy be a salutary warning to all. What atrocities is man capable of when he fools himself into thinking that he can do without God. The previous evening the pope had prayed at Bukovnya, a forest on the edge of Kiev where the bodies of 120,000 victims of Joseph Stalin’s purges in 1937-41 were dumped.

In his speeches, his visits to the mass graves of the victims of the Soviets and the Nazis and his beatification of the martyrs, the pope paid homage to the suffering of the Ukrainian people. Pope John Paul said all of Ukraine’s Christians suffered under Communism, and their shared experience of martyrdom should draw them closer to unity.

The pope congratulated Ukrainians on the 10 years of independence they will celebrate in August, an independence won from the Soviet Union without bloodshed. He also urged the nation’s politicians, business leaders and economists to work together to promote the common good, to improve Ukraine’s economic situation and to care for the poor, who have not benefited from the nation’s transition to a market economy.

On the evening before his departure, meeting with 300,000 youths in a downpour in a Lviv suburb, the pope stood under a canopy and joked, Let it rain, the children will grow. He sang two Polish folk songs: one about the rain going away andafter having changed his wet white robes toward the end of the servicethe other about a peasant who wants to go home because his feet are tired.

Domestic Violence Shameful, Sinful, Bishop Says

Domestic violence is a shameful exercise of power against those whose lives are entwined by ties of blood and family, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., said in a new pastoral letter. The letter, dated July 6 to mark the feast of St. Maria Goretti, contains an apology for mistakes made by clergy who contributed to the domestic violence by encouraging the abused to return to their abuser for the sake of the marriage. To encourage a victim to return to such an environment without benefit of qualified professional help is irresponsible, Bishop Ramirez said in the letter. When such errors are made or sinful actions are excused in God’s name, the consequences are even more tragic.

Weakland Told to Revise Cathedral Renovations

Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has ordered Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, Wis., to revise the renovation plans for his cathedral. Opponents of the renovation, who hired a canon lawyer to take their case to Rome, released the letter, dated June 30, to the press. The current plans, according to Cardinal Medina, fail adequately to respect the hierarchical structure of the Church of God that the cathedral by its schema is to reflect. By moving the altar into the central nave, the plan diminishes the distinction between the presbyterium (sanctuary) and the assembly. In the two-page letter to Archbishop Weakland, the cardinal objected that the proposed new organ in the apse is visually imposing and in what is the clear natural focal point of the cathedral. He wrote that the proposed Blessed Sacrament chapel is too small and out of sight and that the high altar is the more suitable location for the tabernacle. He also objected to reducing the number of confessionals from four to two.

Archbishop Weakland defended the renovation plan as consistent with liturgical norms and practice and said he would appeal the decision of the prefect.

Jesuit Murdered in Jamaica

On Sunday June 17, Martin Royackers, S.J., preached about Jamaica’s nagging crime problem: 453 people have been killed on the Caribbean island since the beginning of the year, among them three priests. This could also happen to me, he told his congregation. Four days later, the 41-year-old Canadian Jesuit was found lying face down in a pool of blood, a bullet in his chest, on the veranda to his office at the church.

Together with James F. Webb S.J., the regional superior in Jamaica, Father Royackers was deeply involved in a development project that seeks, among other things, to put unused government land to food production. The St. Mary Rural Development Project (S.M.R.D.P.) is a joint effort of the local people, the Canadian Jesuits and CIDA, the official Canadian international development agency. In early June, the S.M.R.D.P. office received a phone call threatening the two priests with death. The caller linked the threat with S.M.R.D.P.’s application to the government to release 60 acres of land for local agriculture.

Vatican Issues New Rules on Third World Clergy Living Abroad

Concerned about the growing number of indigenous clergy emigrating from missionary dioceses, the Vatican issued stricter rules to govern how long priests may be gone and to make sure they return home. The Vatican said study and training abroad can be useful for priests from mission territories, but their own dioceses should ultimately benefit. Too often, it said, clergy from developing countries spend many years in Europe or North America because of better living conditions and because they are needed to serve in first world dioceses. In Italy alone, there are 1,800 priests from missionary territories, 800 of them engaged in full-time pastoral service. It called on bishops to set conditions and a time limit for each case of clergy exchange and to take immediate steps for the return of priests in irregular situations.

Vatican Supports U.N. AIDS Declaration with Reservations

The Vatican welcomed the Declaration of Commitment on H.I.V.-AIDS adopted by consensus at a special sesion of the U.N. General Assembly on June 25-27, but expressed some reservations and regrets in a statement of interpretation. The Vatican delegation said the Holy See’s support for a new commitment to fight AIDS does not include a change in its moral position on the use of condoms as a means of preventing H.I.V. infection.... The Holy See also regrets that irresponsible, unsafe and high-risk or risky behavior was not adequately discussed and addressed in preparing this declaration.

Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, told the assembly that the agencies and nongovernmental organizations of the Catholic Church are providing one-fourth of all care given to those with H.I.V. and AIDS around the world.

While condoms were often at the center of attention during the meeting, the archbishop told the assembly that training in the authentic values of life, love and sexuality is the most effective way of preventing sexual transmission of AIDS. No one can deny that sexual license increases the danger of contracting the disease, he said. It is in this context that the values of matrimonial fidelity and of chastity and abstinence can be better understood.

On the high cost of AIDS medicines, he said that the law of profit alone cannot be applied to essential elements in the fight against hunger, disease and poverty. In a message to the meeting, Pope John Paul II decried the excessive, sometimes even exorbitant prices of H.I.V.-AIDS medicines and urged wealthy nations to respond generously to the poor who have H.I.V. or AIDS.

Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa, said after the meeting that the South African bishops are wrestling with the question of whether the AIDS crisis has brought a need for new thinking about condoms. Bishop Dowling, the South African bishops’ AIDS liaison, said the church will continue to emphasize AIDS prevention through abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage. But he said the bishops are looking at a reflection document that will address whether, in a world where people choose not to live according to these values, condoms may be seen in some contexts as a means to prevent death, not a means to prevent transmission of life.

A statement signed by faith-based organizations, coordinated by the World Council of Churches, said: In many cases, religious organizations and people of faith have been among the first to respond to the basic needs of people affected by [AIDS] and indeed have pioneered much of the community-based work. It called for promotion of delayed sexual activity in young people, voluntary testing and counseling, mutual faithfulness in sexual relationships and the use of condoms.

From CNS, staff and other sources.

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