Signs of the Times

Nation Moves from Terror to Prayer

Americans moved quickly from shock and terror to prayer after suicidal terrorists used hijacked passenger planes to demolish the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a large section of the Pentagon. On Sept. 16 worshippers packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington for special Masses. Throughout the country churches reported overflow crowds at Sunday liturgies.

Pope John Paul II, who rarely speaks more than once or twice about any tragedy, spoke out immediately and repeatedly against the inhuman terrorist attacks and offered his prayers for the victims. Even as he condemned the violence, he urged Americans not to resort to revenge. In messages read at Masses in New York and Washington on Sept. 16, the pope said, To all I solemnly repeat the Gospel injunction not to be conquered by evil, but to conquer evil with good.


In Washington, five cardinals and 31 bishops attending the administrative committee meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops suspended business to join Cardinal McCarrick in a midday Mass at the National Shrine. In a statement mourning the victims of the tragedy, the gathering of bishops also prayed for those whose hatred has become so great that they are willing to engage in crimes against our common humanity. The bishops also appealed to Americans to turn away from the bitter fruits of the kind of hatred which is the source of this tragedy. Especially, they added, let us not engage in ethnic, religious or national stereotyping for what may be the acts of a few irrational terrorists.

In a joint statement on Sept. 14, top U.S. Catholic and Muslim leaders engaged in interreligious dialogue warned against sinking to the mentality and immorality of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s crimes. Despite such pleas, several U.S. mosques and Islamic centers were attacked, and a number of Americans of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent faced violence or threats of violence. Within the first four days after the attacks, the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported more than 200 such incidents.

Among charitable aid agencies that quickly geared up for the long recovery and assistance to thousands of families affected by the disaster was Catholic Charities USA, the agency commissioned by the U.S. bishops to represent the Catholic community in such situations. The agency invited people to contribute by phone at (800) 919-9338, over the Internet at or by mail to Catholic Charities USA, P.O. Box 25168, Alexandria, VA 22313-9788.

Muslim Theologians Say Attacks Cannot Be Justified Under Islam

Muslim theologians have vigorously rejected suggestions that terrorist attacks on the United States could be defended under Islamic teaching and insisted that Islam stresses peaceful coexistence among religions. In Egypt, Grand Sheik Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi of al-Azhar University, who is seen as Sunni Islam’s highest religious authority, strongly condemned the attacks. The killing of innocent people is a despicable and heinous act that is not accepted by religion or human sensibility, he said. Such terrorism should be condemned, whatever the source, he said.

To kill not only yourself, but also innocent people going about the normal business of their lives, cannot be justified from any theological viewpoint, said Imam Abduljalil Sajid, Britain’s best-known Muslim theologian. No scholar from any Islamic tradition could cite any text to claim such actions are permissible, he said.

Ratzinger Says Catholics Focus Too Much on Power

Even after 2,000 years, Jesus’ modern-day disciples are still arguing over who comes first and who should have power instead of focusing on promoting holiness, said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. If he [Jesus] came among us today and asked us what we were talking about, we would have to blush and fall silent like the disciples in the Gospel, said the cardinal, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger told the pastoral convention of the Diocese of Aversa, Italy, that too often ecclesiologythe theology of the churchgets so bogged down in questions of structure that the purpose of the church is overlooked.

Church Report Urges Culture of Vigilance’ to Protect Children

The final version of a report commissioned by the English and Welsh bishops urges a culture of vigilance in the Catholic Church to prevent the sexual abuse of children. This is a very practical report that requires vigorous action, said Lord Nolan, a judge and member of the British House of Lords who chaired the commission. Our overriding aim has been to create a secure environment for children. Our approach has been to identify the best child protection practice, and, wherever possible, to apply it to the policies and procedures of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, he said. Child abuse is a great evil, and we believe that the church should be an example of excellence in rooting it out, he added.

Priest Says Extremists Threaten Christians if Pakistan Helps U.S.

Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan have threatened to attack Christian churches if their government assists the United States in its search for Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden, said the director of the Pakistani bishops’ human rights office. The Rev. Khalid Rashid Asi, the director, said fundamentalist groups have issued a warning to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that if he allows the United States to use Pakistani air space or allows U.S. ground troops to attack Afghanistan from Pakistan, the fundamentalists will attack Christian churches and buildings.

Vatican: Stop Courses Preparing Women to Be Deacons

Courses that directly or indirectly appear to be preparing women for ordination as Catholic deacons must be discontinued, said a statement from three Vatican congregations. Because the Catholic Church does not foresee the possibility of ordaining women deacons, it is not licit to undertake initiatives which, in some way, aim at preparing female candidates for diaconal ordination, said the statement of Sept. 17. The prefects of the congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Divine Worship and the Sacraments and for the Clergy signed the notification after it was approved by Pope John Paul II.

Particularly in Germany and Austria, courses have been organized to prepare women for possible future ordination as deacons and, eventually, as priests. The three-year programs are offered to women who already have completed theological studies. Although Pope John Paul has said the church cannot ordain women to the priesthood, the Vatican has not definitively ruled out the possibility of women deacons. But over the past five years the International Theological Commission and various Vatican congregations have discussed the issue and appear to be building a consensus that the deaconesses mentioned in the New Testament were not ordained as male deacons were.

Ratzinger: Church Government Could Be Decentralized

While the papacy is an essential element of the Catholic Church, there are many possible ways to decentralize governing functions in the church, said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation. Undoubtedly, regional forums which take on even some of the functions until now carried out by Rome are necessary, the cardinal said in God and the World, a book-length interview with journalist Peter Seewald published in German and Italian. Retired Archbishop [John R.] Quinn of San Francisco has vigorously argued for the need for decentralization, the cardinal said. Certainly, much could be done in this area. Regional and continental gatherings of bishops may be one of the most important and effective means of decentralizing the government of the church, he said, as long as they maintain a degree of informality and do not degenerate in a bureaucratic way and do not open the way to the domination of functionaries.

Guatemalans Fight Malnutrition, Famine After Summer Drought

Antonia Ramírez crosses thin, lesion-covered arms over her pregnant belly. Suffering from malnutrition, she has spent 20 days in a church-run clinic, fed by doctors in hopes of saving herself and the baby inside her bony body. We lost our entire corn crop when the rains didn’t come, and we’ve just been eating bits of tortilla, said the Chorti Indian in the Jocotan clinic, 140 miles from Guatemala City in northeastern Chiquimula province. As she spoke, swollen-bellied, thin-limbed toddlers cried beside her on the floor. In what officials call the worst disaster since Hurricane Mitch in 1998, a summer drought destroyed crops across Central America and left thousands of farmers awash in debt and famine.

K. of C. Gives $1 Million for Families of Rescue Workers

The Knights of Columbus announced on Sept. 13a $1=million heroes fund for families of firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel killed in the line of duty at the World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters. Families of those brave men and women will each receive $3,000 from the Knights of Columbus in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice made by their loved ones, said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson. He also said the knights’ educational trust fund would offer full scholarships at any Catholic college or university to all the children of Knights who were in the military [or were] full-time law enforcement officers or full-time firemen killed or permanently disabled in New York or Washington as a result of this criminal action.

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