Signs of the Times

Pope Clears Way for Beatification of 27 Ukrainian Martyrs

Just seven weeks after the local study of 27 Ukrainian martyrs ended, Pope John Paul II cleared the way for their beatification during his trip to their homeland on June 23-27. The Vatican published the decrees recognizing the martyrdom of the 27 members of Ukraine’s Catholic Church who died at the hands of Nazi invaders and Communist occupiers, in Soviet gulags or as the result of their imprisonment.

Bomb Found Near Bishop’s Residence in Indonesia

A bomb was found hidden among banana trees some 160 feet from the bishop’s residence in Atambua, the second such incident in five months. “It is really a bomb to terrorize the bishop,” one police official said following the discovery. Bishop Anton Pain Ratu of Atambua was not home when a group of East Timorese refugee children found the bomb. A life insurance employee, who was talking with a priest in front of the bishop’s residence, immediately took the box from the children and carried it to the Atambua police station, an eyewitness said. Bishop Pain Ratu has been called “the bishop of the refugees” for his efforts to reconcile people in neighboring East Timor with East Timorese refugees in West Timor.


Bush Asked to Redirect Support for Plan Colombia

Latin American church leaders were among signers of a letter calling on President Bush to redirect U.S. support for Plan Colombia, saying the anti-drug campaign will undermine Colombia’s peace process. “We ask you to suspend and reformulate U.S. support for the implementation of Plan Colombia, placing a greater emphasis on supporting the peace process,” said the letter of April 16 to Bush, signed by more than 100 Latin American government and church officials, as well as authors and academics. The signers said they were “gravely concerned” that Plan Colombia “will cause more harm than good in Colombia and in the region at large—while having little or no effect on the drug problems of the consumer countries.”

U.S. policymakers seem to have forgotten the lessons of El Salvador’s civil war as they handle the so-called drug war in Colombia, said former U.S. Ambassador Robert White. White, who was ambassador to El Salvador when the four U.S. churchwomen were murdered there more than 20 years ago, has long been critical of U.S. Latin America foreign policy. White is concerned that the United States continues to use the lure of military spending to attract Latin American leaders’ loyalty. Now president of a Washington-based think tank called the Center for International Policy, White made the comments while in Cleveland, Ohio, at Jesuit-run John Carroll University.

Underground Catholics Arrested in China Near Easter

At least 22 Catholics, including two elderly bishops, were arrested around Easter time in areas of China where underground Catholics are active. A bishop, seven priests and 13 lay people were arrested in mid-April in Fujian, Hebei and Jiangxi provinces and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, said a statement from the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation. According to an April 23 report of Fides, a Rome-based Catholic news agency, Bishop Matthias Pei Xiangde of Beijing, 82, was arrested in early April.

At People’s Summit, Archbishop Calls for Rights Before Profits

To a standing ovation from some 2,000 international delegates, Archbishop Maurice Couture of Quebec renewed the Canadian bishops’ call for a more equitable distribution of wealth in the Americas and called on transnational corporations to put human rights and dignity before profits. “I share your faith in equality for all people in all countries and for the smaller countries of the hemisphere,” Archbishop Couture told the representatives of a broad section of civic organizations from throughout the Americas gathered at the People’s Summit, organized as a parallel event to the official Summit of the Americas. The archbishop reaffirmed that the church calls for an economic order in which equitable distribution of wealth, the rights of women, children and individuals must come before companies’ profits.

Educators Urged to Boost Teen Girls’ Self-Image

Sexualized and superficial media images of girls and women can damage the self-image of adolescents, said two writers who specialize in nurturing spirituality among girls and young women at a presentation for Catholic educators on April 19. As examples of harmful media images, Marilyn Kielbasa and Janet Claussen, editors and authors at St. Mary’s Press in Winona, Minn., cited photos of waif-like fashion models, ads featuring provocatively posed shots of teens, and even Disney movies with subtle sexual messages. The two led a workshop titled “Listening to Their Voices: The Spirituality of Adolescent Girls,” during the National Catholic Educational Association’s annual convention in Milwaukee.

Canadian Church Says Free-Trade Policies Cause Suffering

Members of a Canadian churches’ delegation said they witnessed “soul-wrenching human suffering” during a fact-finding trip to Mexico to study the impact of free-trade policies. “It was in Ciudad Juarez that I saw the worst living conditions I’ve ever seen in my life,” Auxiliary Bishop Jean Gagnon of Quebec told Canadian Catholic News following a news conference on Parliament Hill on April 19. The bishop, who is also a member of the social affairs commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he had visited other Latin American countries but that the conditions in the border city—home to almost 400 maquiladoras, or foreign-owned factories—were the worst. He and four other church leaders visited Mexico on March 28-April 6 to see what has happened to poor people under free-trade policies that culminated in the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

Church, Civil Leaders Shocked at F.B.I. Finding in Priest’s Death

Church and civil leaders expressed surprise and shock at an F.B.I. investigation that concluded an outspoken U.S. missionary’s death probably was suicide. Bishop Colin Davies of Ngong, the Kenyan diocese where U.S. Mill Hill Father John Kaiser worked, called the suicide finding “a cheap way of getting out of the problem.” Bishop Davies told Catholic News Service the church will not rest until Father Kaiser’s murderers are apprehended. “This was a clear case of murder, and obviously there was a murder,” said the bishop. F.B.I. officials presented an 80-page report at a press conference on April 19 and said there was “no credible evidence that points toward Father Kaiser’s demise at the hands of someone else.”

Salvadoran Government Uses Quake Aid Politically

The government of El Salvador is using earthquake aid “to support a political agenda,” Mauricio Gaborit, S.J., of El Salvador told CNS during a visit to St. Louis University. The quake on Jan. 13 killed hundreds and left some 200,000 homes destroyed or uninhabitable. Father Gaborit said El Salvador was totally unprepared for the earthquake disaster and “the amount of aid is substantially less than what people think.” But he said that what aid there is “is being steered by the government and is being taken to support a political agenda. They are using it as a political campaign.”

Two Iowa Nuns Indicted for School of the Americas Action

Two Dubuque Franciscan nuns are among 26 people from across the country who have been indicted for acts of civil disobedience last November at the U.S. Army’s school for training Latin American military officers in Fort Benning, Ga. Sisters Dorothy and Gwen Hennessey, who are siblings, were shocked shortly before Easter to find they have been targeted for prosecution in the case. More than 10,000 people took part in the massive demonstration. The Hennesseys were among 3,000 who defied federal regulations and trespassed onto the U.S. Army base. The sisters could receive a prison sentence of up to six-months and a $5,000 fine. They have been ordered to report to Columbus, Ga., on May 22 for trial in U.S. District Court.

Governor Backs Off Bus Transit Cuts for Iowa Catholic Students

Iowa Gov. Thomas Vilsack has backed down from a proposal to cut 70 percent from the state budget line item for nonpublic school transportation. After Vilsack announced his budget in late March, Iowa Catholics responded with hundreds of letters, phone calls and e-mail messages telling him that such a drastic budget cut, coming after many schools had already set their budgets for the 2001-02 school year, could force many Catholic schools to close. From the calls, “we have learned that by cutting $5.7 million from nonpublic school transportation, these schools could potentially be forced to close,” Vilsack, a Democrat, said in an announcement on April 4, “That is not and never was our intention.”

Sister Chittister Urges Following Christ’s Example ‘to Question’

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, during a closing address on April 20 in Milwaukee at the annual National Catholic Educational Association convention, urged Catholic school teachers and administrators to become consummate questioners. “Spirituality has to do with critiquing the present,” she said in an hour-long talk. “Follow the example of Jesus to question, question, question authority.” Sister Chittister, whose appearance generated controversy when at least two U.S. dioceses said their teachers should not attend the convention, told the N.C.E.A. delegates that “the tradition is clear. The tradition is being courageous enough to ask the right questions along the way. The courage to question the seemingly unquestionable is the essence of spiritual leadership.”

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