Signs of the Times

Pope’s Visit Produces Ecumenical Firsts

Two ecumenical firsts occurred when Pope John Paul II visited Armenia at the invitation of the Armenian Apostolic Church, an ancient and independent Oriental Orthodox church that in recent years has improved its relations with the Vatican. He stayed at the residence of the Armenian Apostolic leader, Catholicos Karekin IIa first in papal travels. The Mass, at the Armenian Apostolic Church’s headquarters, made ecumenical history, too. It was the first time the pope has celebrated the liturgy on the main altar of a separated bishop.

Catholicos Karekin welcomed the pope from the altar at the start of the liturgy, then took a seat in the front row. He did not take Communion, but joined the pontiff at the altar for the kiss of peace and a final blessing. His presence was a wonderful sign of our common faith, the pope said. My own heart is eager to hasten the day when we shall celebrate together the Divine Sacrifice which makes us all one. At this altar, which is your altar, I beg the Lord to forgive us our past failings against unity and to lead us to the love that overcomes barriers.


Jesuit Provincials on U.S. Response to Terrorism

Our government has the moral right and is under grave moral obligation to defend the common good against aggression, the 10 Jesuit provincials in the United States wrote President Bush on Oct. 1. The provincials said that they were aligning themselves with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on this issue. The unique nature of the terrorist threat, which appears to ignore the sanctity of human life, may require a carefully measured military response, which should be pursued only after all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted.

The provincials listed six principles, drawn from the Catholic moral tradition, that they hoped our country would follow in its response:

that care be extended for the protection of the innocent, including the rights of refugees to seek protection across international borders; our Jesuit Refugee Service stands ready to assist your administration in providing humanitarian assistance to those displaced by this crisis;

that the response be proportional to the attack so that it is clear to the world that we are seeking justice, not revenge;

that an indiscriminate, blanket military response be avoided;

that specific legislative proposals meant to identify and prosecute suspected terrorists on U.S. soil do not undermine constitutional and civil rights with measures such as mandatory and indefinite detention of immigrants without charges;

that our government radically examine the roots of suffering and anger in the Middle East;

that we respect and use the structures and standards of international law and human rights.

The Jesuit provincials also applauded the president’s calling on the American people to refrain from acts of ethnic and religious intolerance.

Vatican: Protecting Environment Goes Along With Globalization

Environmental protection needs to go hand in hand with globalization, and corporations should be made to answer for actions that damage human health or the natural environment around the world, a Vatican official said. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Vatican’s permanent observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, made the comments during an address at a preparatory meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, scheduled for September 2002. Archbishop Martin said the current drive for open markets and economic growth can be combined with strong environmental concern. Indeed it should be clear to all, including the business world, that globalization will be sustainable in the long term only in the manner in which it equitably integrates social and environmental concerns, he said.

Rapid Response Sought to Avert Afghan Refugee Crisis

With 1.5 million Afghan refugees expected to flee to neighboring countries, humanitarian relief agencies called for a rapid response from the international community to avert the great humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. Neighboring countries have sealed their borders, forcing a U.N. airlift of emergency supplies into northern Afghanistan on Sept. 30 and leaving aid workers wondering how the refugees were surviving without adequate food, water or shelter. Only God and the suffering know what’s really going on, said Will Lynch, South Asia deputy regional director for Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency.

Holiness, Collegiality, Doctrine and Terror, Topics at Synod

Nearly 250 bishops from more than 110 countries gathered at the Vatican for a monthlong meeting of the Synod of Bishops on how to revitalize their ministry. In addition to the bishop’s teaching role, other recurrent themes included bishops’ relationships to the Vatican and the function of episcopal conferences.

Drawing the only applause of the first two sessions, Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne said Catholic leaders were partly to blame for a current crisis of faith facing the church because they had adopted a laissez-faire approach to governance. The cardinal said this approach had led to a loss of appreciation for authority. Cardinal Meisner said bishops were called not only to witness, nourish and protect the faith, but also to judge it, discipline it and impose it in its correct form in union with the pope.

But other participants, particularly from Asia, put the emphasis on bishops’ traits of listening and accompaniment to bring the Gospel to men and women in pluralist societies. Bishop Paul Yoshinao Otsuka of Kyoto, Japan, said the church’s proclamation of the Gospel should emphasize walking hand in hand with people in today’s modern pluralist and secular culture, because God’s truth does not impose itself on people.

Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, S.J., of Jakarta, Indonesia, said the Second Vatican Council’s vision of the bishop assumed a unified Christian world, which does not apply in modern, pluralist Asia and Africa. Even today, he said, the church in Asia remains foreign in its lifestyle, in its institutional structure, in its worship, in its Western-trained leadership and in its theology. He said Asia’s Catholics should make Christ’s love present in the region by working in friendship with other religious believers to combat widespread poverty and forms of injustice.

As more participants in the synod of the world’s bishops took the microphone, a growing number questioned whether modern church governance achieves a co-responsibility model, which they said was envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. Several criticized the functioning of the synod, saying it fell short of the council’s definition of it as a privileged instrument of effective collegiality. Others supported expanding the competency of bishops’ conferences and reducing the authority of Vatican agencies in local church decisions.

Today we must realize that all the measures taken [at the council] have not yet found their meaning and their objective, Bishop Norbert Brunner of Sion, Switzerland, told the synod. We ask ourselves once again with serious preoccupation what value the pastoral urgencies of the local churches have to the Roman Curia, he said. Invoking the principle of subsidiarity, he said the Vatican should limit its role to what is necessary for church unity and have more trust in the responsibilities of the local bishops.

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore called for more study of the positive aspects and specific tasks of bishops’ conferences. He said the U.S. bishops’ conference had shown itself invaluable in developing doctrinally sound catechetical materials, ecumenical and interreligious initiatives, translations of liturgical texts and social statements. Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni said the local churches should not be seen as vicariates of a superchurch in Rome. Excessive centralization in Rome could suffocate the riches of the particular churches, the patriarch said.

But several bishops warned that while joint efforts could be beneficial, the conference must not encroach on the work or authority of individual bishops.

The first week of the Synod of Bishops heard several calls for an examination of conscience on the part of bishops. Bishop Nestor Ngoy Katahwa of Kolwezi, Congo, said the bishop’s ministry today is often marked by a search for privilege and by soulless ritual practices that do not engage bishops in a spiritual way. We are more at home with the rich and the powerful than with the poor and the oppressed, he said.

Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, the synod’s general recording secretary, thanked the bishops for their prayers and support after the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11. In his hourlong opening report in Latin he highlighted the challenges of modern-day attacks on marriage, family and human life, as well as social injustices brought by globalization and a growing number of refugees worldwide. He said bishops must be fearless but respectful teachers of sound doctrine, spiritual guides who bring people to holiness by being holy themselves and leaders who are intimately involved in all aspects of diocesan life.

Asked whether the attacks should prompt U.S. soul-searching over its foreign policy, Cardinal Egan said: Definitely. We have to examine our consciences, which is one of the things you do in the pursuit of holiness. You say: What have I been doing wrong?’ even in times when there’s not a tragedy, but how do we account for what has happened? the cardinal said. Now the explanation is not necessarily that there have been misdeeds on the part of the United States, but that is a possibility, he said.

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