Signs of the Times

Nuncio Urges Pro-Poor’ Plan to Close Nations’ Rich-Poor Gap

The Vatican nuncio to the United Nations said on Nov. 6 that growing inequalities both between and within states should be countered with promotion of economic growth that was pro-poor. Archbishop Renato R. Martino said, More pro-poor growth needs more pro-poor national policies which assure sustainable social and economic development. Addressing a committee of the U.N. General Assembly dealing with development issues, the nuncio said agrarian reforms were particularly important since most of the world’s poor still live in a rural area.

Bishops Urge Court to Reject Adoption by Same-Sex Couple

Nebraska’s Catholic bishops encouraged the state supreme court to reject an adoption petition involving a lesbian couple on the grounds that it would give legal recognition to the women’s relationship. The Nebraska Catholic Conference argued that a de facto marriage relationship would be created by allowing the lesbian partner of the child’s mother to legally adopt the boy, who is identified only as Luke. In the case, Luke’s biological mother is seeking to have her companion formally adopt the 3-year-old, to share legal custody in the same way a stepparent would. According to court records, the action would make the boy entitled to health, Social Security and other benefits from his adoptive mother.


C.H.A. Urges Helping Unemployed With Health Coverage

The president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association urged lawmakers to give special consideration to health insurance coverage for the unemployed in economic stimulus bills being considered by Congress. I urge you to include...important health insurance protections for workers who have lost their jobs, the Rev. Michael D. Place wrote in a letter dated Nov. 6 and distributed to every U.S. senator. The Senate’s version of the economic stimulus package, unveiled by Democrats on Nov. 6, would devote nearly a third of its $90 billion total toward boosting Medicaid payments to states and expanding and extending health care coverage and insurance to the unemployed.

He concluded the letter by asking Congress not to forget the millions of Americans who could not afford health coverage even in a booming economy. Catholic Health Association asks you to pass legislation this year to allow states to cover low-income pregnant women in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.... Other measures, such as allowing states to enroll newborns utomatically...are low-cost, common-sense ways to ensure that vulnerable individuals have the health coverage they need.

Pax Christi International Calls for End of Bombing of Afghanistan

The Catholic peace group Pax Christi International called on the United States and Britain to stop bombing Afghanistan. In a letter addressed to U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Pax Christi said the allies should bring the terrorists to justice through established international law. The letter, dated Nov. 4, was signed by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem, president of Pax Christi International, on behalf of all the members of the organization’s international council. The joint U.S.-British military actions have only worsened an already existing humanitarian disaster and polarized religious communities throughout the world, the Pax Christi statement said.

Pax Christi International, a Catholic peace movement based in Antwerp, Belgium, was founded after World War II when French and German Catholics began to look for a way toward peace. Today membership includes groups in 53 countries whose aim is to prevent, overcome and end violent conflict.

Bishop Praises Ashcroft on Drug Laws and Assisted Suicide

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has praised Attorney General John Ashcroft’s decision to give permission for federal agents to enforce drug laws against doctors who use medication to help patients commit suicide. Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston said the directive not only ends the federal government’s involvement in assisted suicide, but also promotes improved pain management for patients near the end of life. In a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration released on Nov. 6, Ashcroft reversed a June 1998 order by former Attorney General Janet Reno that prohibited agents from enforcing federal drug control laws against doctors who prescribe lethal doses under Oregon’s assisted suicide law.

Charity Trains Abused Women for Child Care in Sierra Leone

A Catholic charity has been assisting young women sexually abused during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war by training them to run child-care centers. Gwendolene Alghali, head of the gender desk of Children Associated with the War, said that the lack of opportunities for young women in Sierra Leone prompted her organization to develop programs to assist young unemployed women. Alghali said a particular challenge is working with women who were former fighters for the Revolutionary United Front rebel movement, many of whom turned to prostitution or crime after the war. Many of the women are beyond school age, almost all of them bore children while fighting for the rebels, and many of those who work as prostitutes are exposed to H.I.V.-AIDS, she said. By training women to work at or open day-care centers, they are able to help other poor women in their communities, Alghali said.

Oregon Church Hosts Summit on Irrigation, Fishing Rights

Farmers, government regulators and representatives of Oregon’s Klamath Tribes gathered at a Catholic church in Klamath Falls near the Oregon-California border to find some common ground in an ongoing struggle between farmers’ need for water for crop irrigation and the tribes’ fishing rights. This is not to solve problems right away, but to sit down peaceably and hear each other, the Rev. Frank Buckman, pastor of St. Pius X Parish, said of the summit on Nov. 1. The meeting at the church in the Diocese of Baker was prompted by a ruling from government biologists this spring that crop irrigation with water from Klamath Lake must be halted to save the endangered mullet fish, pitting farmers against the tribes. As a result of the ruling, farmers’ crops failed; and about 4,000 demonstrators from around the country descended on Klamath Falls in August to protest.

Afghan Crisis Provokes Warning From Pope on Global Hunger

The chronic problem of hunger in the world and the specific humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan drew words of warning from Pope John Paul II. In a message on Nov. 3 to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization conference in Rome, the pope said that following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the moral debate over rooting out injustice must not forget the most obvious injustice, global hunger. He pointed out that food shortages affected the lives of millions of individuals, with serious consequences for global peace.

Interfaith Group Wants Human Dignity to Guide World Trade

On the eve of the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, a coalition of more than 40 U.S. religious groups challenged global traders and investors to make the dignity of the human person a central ethical principle guiding their policies and actions. It is our belief, as members of diverse faith communities, that moral and spiritual principles can provide guidance in the search for practical measures to address the profound ethical issues raised by international trade and investment, said the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment.

Cardinal Mahony: Cushion Blow for Unemployed

Following news that unemployment has soared since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles has urged the Bush administration and Congress to take quick action to help cushion the blow for unemployed Americans.

Expansion of our unemployment insurance system, modifications to food and nutrition programs to meet increased need and extension of health care benefits are essential first steps to respond to the crisis, said Cardinal Mahony, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He issued his statement on Nov. 2, after the government announced that 415,000 jobs were eliminated in October, raising the nation’s unemployment rate from 4.9 percent in September to 5.4 percent in October. It was the highest unemployment rate since December 1996.

Reform W.T.O. to Help Poor

The World Trade Organization should reform itself to be of more help to the world’s poorest countries, said the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva. In addition, trade liberalization could bring more benefits to the world’s poorest countries than international aid, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Vatican envoy. The world needs a World Trade Organization, Archbishop Martin told a group of British parliamentarians in London on Oct. 31. We all have an obligation to work to change the W.T.O. We need to change it precisely because we need it. The poor countries of the world need a W.T.O., the archbishop said.

The archbishop said that when commerce was balanced against the needs of the people, the universal destination of the goods of creation, a traditional principle of Catholic social teaching, should be applied. This is a complex expression for a very simple reality: it affirms that when God created the goods of this earth, he created them for the benefit of all. Traditionally this principle was applied, for example, to land and natural resources. Today it must be applied more and more to knowledge. For example, while the archbishop appreciated the concerns of international pharmaceutical companies, he said that when it came to prohibitive costs of medicines for diseases such as AIDS or malaria, the fruits of human ingenuity should be placed at the service of all.

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