Signs of the Times

Youth Ministers, Chaplains Offer Comfort to Shooting Victims

In an outpouring of faith in the midst of tragedy, Catholic youth ministers, priests, chaplains, parents and teens ministered to one another following the shooting on March 5 of 15 people at Santana High School in Santee, Calif. Five youth ministers from area churches were meeting together that morning at Guardian Angels Church in Santee, when one of them received a call by cell phone from her terrified daughter, who was fleeing the high school minutes after the shooting. The Rev. Michael Cunnane, pastor at Guardian Angels, and several youth ministers immediately drove to the school and gathered with fleeing students and parents in the parking lot of the shopping mall across the street. In such chaotic and terrifying moments “presence is the big thing,” said Father Cunnane.

Speaker Assesses Ups, Downs of History of Women in Church

Opening a consultation with 150 women in diocesan leadership posts, a former official of the U.S. bishops’ conference reviewed the history of “high ascents and steep declines” that marked the bishops’ efforts to approve a pastoral letter on women. The talk by Dolores R. Leckey, former executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth and now a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, also addressed other key issues affecting women in the 19th and 20th centuries and the role that the Catholic Church played in them. The gathering in Chicago on March 11-13 brought together top women leaders in U.S. dioceses at the invitation of the bishops’ Committee for Women in Society and in the Church.


At the same meeting, Leodia “Lee” Gooch, program manager for evangelization and parish outreach in the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said improved collaboration among women and men in the Catholic Church must start with moving the site of decision-making out of the rectory or other locations closed to women. Another speaker, Carol Fowler, the director of personnel services for the Archdiocese of Chicago, warned that Catholic leaders who fear that raising the salaries of teachers in Catholic schools might cause some schools to close must face the fact that a teacher shortage will force closings if salaries do not improve.

Pope Writes Letter of Concern, Praise to German Cardinals

Pope John Paul II has written to German cardinals to express concern about erroneous developments in the church, while praising many aspects of the cardinals’ work. The letter praised the German church for its “solid organization” and its efforts for those in need. The pope singled out four areas in which he said he considers that the German church needs to improve: the attitude to marriage and the family, ecumenism, the doctrinal orthodoxy of theological schools and problems with the relationship between priests and laity in community life. In general terms he warned of increasing secularization and a loss of faith “which threatens to hollow out the church from within, so that, while it may appear strong, it is internally weak and losing credibility.”

In the letter, Pope John Paul emphasized that the German church must subject itself more to the doctrinal direction of the Vatican. For example, he said that efforts toward ecumenism must “have a better orientation.” Although “the way of irreversible,” he said he was concerned about “confusion and abuse,” such as the “not infrequently practiced inter-Communion” between Protestants and Catholics. The pope emphasized that the Vatican’s document Dominus Iesus, which last year re-emphasized the primacy of the Catholic Church among Christian churches, must be the “firm basis” for ecumenical work.

On marriage and the family, the letter said the bishops should follow the Vatican’s teachings, such as the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which banned artificial contraception, and the exclusion from Communion of divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received an annulment. The pope also called on the German church to protect the distinction between priest and laity, which he described as “vitally important” for the church. He encouraged the cardinals to explain better the Vatican’s 1997 instructions on this issue.

Russian Duma Asks Government to Combat Catholic Expansion

Russia’s parliament has asked the Foreign Ministry to explore ways of combating “intolerable Catholic expansion” in Russia and other predominantly Orthodox Christian countries. In early March, the Russian Duma approved a nonvoting resolution to instruct its international affairs committee to work with the Foreign Ministry on a plan to impede the growth of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, a country of 145 million people with about 500,000 Catholics. The measure, sponsored by Duma Vice Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has little practical weight but highlights a growing closeness in the interests of Russia’s executive and legislative branches with the dominant, 80-million-member Russian Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, the general secretary of the Russian bishops’ conference was refused a Russian visa for the third consecutive time. “I don’t think I’ll try again. It’s just not worth it,” said Stanislaw Opiela, S.J., a Pole. Besides serving with the bishops in Russia, Father Opiela headed a Catholic college and edited a new religious magazine. At one time he was the Jesuit order’s Moscow-based provincial.

In India, Missionaries Flee Following Militants’ Death Threats

Several missionaries and teachers at Catholic schools in northeastern India’s Manipur State have fled following death threats from separatist militants. Catholic mission schools in the state capital, Imphal, have threatened to close following the threats to administrators, who earlier met and decided not to pay protection money, reported UCA News. In the past decade, three Catholic priests were shot dead and several attacked, reportedly for similar refusals.

Caritas Calls for Immediate Suspension of Iraqi Sanctions

Caritas Internationalis called for an immediate suspension of the economic embargo against Iraq, saying it had provoked a long-term humanitarian crisis in the Arab country. “Whatever the cause, whoever the adversary, we cannot tolerate the suffering and death of countless innocent people. It is time for new thinking and new approaches,” said the organization, a Rome-based umbrella group for Catholic aid organizations.

Anglican Priest-Biochemist to Get Templeton Religion Prize

The Templeton Foundation announced that the 2001 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion would go to the Rev. Arthur Peacocke, an English biochemist and Anglican priest. Father Peacocke, 78, was chosen for his contribution to the movement for relating religion to science, an effort he has carried out through teaching at Oxford, Georgetown and other universities and through publication of numerous books and articles.

Most U.S. Dioceses Now Observe Ascension on Sunday

Less than two years after they received approval to decide province by province, most U.S. dioceses and archdioceses have switched to observing the feast of the Ascension on Sunday. Dioceses in most East Coast states and Nebraska continue to observe the feast on Thursday.

Thai Bishop Calls on Catholics to Free Women From Oppression

Aware of various cultural conditions that prevent the recognition of women’s dignity, a Thai bishop has called on Catholics to help set women free from every form of oppression. “We must begin by acknowledging the dignity of women and raising our consciousness of the various roles of women in the family, church, society and nation,” said Bishop Lawrence Thienchai Samanchit of Chanthaburi, president of the Catholic Commission for Women. In a pastoral message on the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, Bishop Thienchai said that, to free women from various types of oppression, Catholics must look to Jesus, who overcame cultural impediments of his time to give women respect and appreciation.

Interreligious Dialogue Needed for Peace in Philippines

Working through interreligious prejudices at the grass-roots level among Muslims, Christians and indigenous people is needed for lasting peace in the conflict-ridden southern Philippines, said a Catholic Relief Services worker. “What we are hearing from the communities is that there is more work to be done with the Christians, because there are more prejudices on their part rather than the Muslims,” said Myla Leguro, a C.R.S. peace and reconciliation specialist based in Davao City on the island of Mindanao, Philippines.

Greek Orthodox Bishops Approve Papal Invitation

The Greek Orthodox Church formally approved a government invitation to Pope John Paul II, clearing the way for a possible papal visit. The decision came on March 7 by a unanimous vote of the 79 bishops of the church’s Holy Synod, or central governing body.

Chilean Cardinal: Peace Requires Truth and Justice

Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa of Santiago said the truth about those who disappeared during the 1973-90 reign of Gen. Augusto Pinochet is required for building reconciliation among Chileans. Chilean President Ricardo Lagos invited the new cardinal to a ceremony at the president’s official house. During the nationally broadcast ceremony, Cardinal Errazuriz proposed a formula to achieve final reconciliation among Chileans, sharply divided between critics and supporters of Pinochet. “The only possibility to bring Chileans together is the way of truth, justice, forgiveness, repentance and clemency,” said the cardinal, who is also president of the Chilean bishops’ conference.

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