Signs of the times

Vatican Says It Is Time to End Nuclear Weapons Tests

The Vatican nuncio to the United Nations said on Nov. 11 that the time has come for the world to end all nuclear weapons testing. Archbishop Renato R. Martino made his statement in support of efforts to secure approval of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. He noted that the Vatican ratified the treaty in July to express its firm conviction that nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century. He said, Today, the Holy See adds its voice to those who appeal to the states whose ratification is necessary for the entry into force of the treaty. The nuncio spoke on the first day of a three-day conference at U.N. headquarters in New York on facilitating the entry into force of the treaty.

President Clinton signed for the United States when the treaty was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996, but in 1999 the Senate voted 51 to 48 against ratification. The Bush administration boycotted the conference because it has no intention of ratifying the treaty.


Pope Says Aid to Migrants, Refugees Is Matter of Justice

Offering assistance to migrants and refugees is a matter of justice, not almsgiving, Pope John Paul II said. The pope met at the Vatican on Nov. 12 with donors and council members of the International Catholic Migration Commission, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. Over the course of five decades, the pope said, patterns of human migration have changed, but the phenomenon is no less dramatic and your work grows more urgent as the problem of refugees grows ever more acute.

French Bishops Call for End of U.S.-Led Bombing of Afghanistan

After a month of bombing in Afghanistan, it is time to try other ways of curbing terrorism, French bishops said. The bishops, in a statement issued on Nov. 9 during a plenary assembly in Lourdes, cited civilian casualties and the risk of a wider war in the impoverished Asian country. Increasingly violent bombardments are now striking Afghanistan, with the aim of destroying terrorist bases there, the bishops said. But the bombardments also create dead and injured among the innocent civilian population. They destroy resources. Fear is sending thousands of refugees to the roads or into the mountains, the statement read. A situation of war is spreading throughout the country. It is time to search for other methods, in order that evil not be added to evil, and violence not be added to violence, they said.

Solving Hunger Essential for Peace, Vatican Official Says

With the lives of 800 million people threatened by hunger, food security has become an essential issue for the preservation of world peace, a Vatican official told an international conference of food experts. The multitudes suffering chronic hunger and poverty risk becoming a hopeless and frustrated mob that turns to worse instincts, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, the Vatican representative to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said in Rome on Nov. 8. He said it was unacceptable that so many are threatened with starvation at a time when much of the world lives in unprecedented development and progress. This contrast threatens peace and stability, especially in the present moment of world tension, he said.

Medical Knowledge Must Benefit All, Says Vatican official

Like all forms of power, the power to heal must be used with respect for the truth and for human rights, or it can become a force for oppression and exploitation of the poor, said Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan. The Mexican archbishop, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, said the power to create drugs that can lengthen the life of AIDS patients brings with it an obligation to find ways to get the drugs to the poor who cannot afford them.

Poor Countries Need Access To World Markets, Says Vatican

Addressing a World Trade Organization conference, a Vatican official backed the push by poorer countries for greater access to Western markets, particularly in agriculture and textiles. As representatives of more than 140 countries tried to negotiate an agreement on the future trade agenda, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he hoped the meeting would be remembered as the development conference of the World Trade Organization.

The poorer countries in particular need an equitable, rules-based system, in which they can participate in global trade on the basis of the highest achievable equality of opportunity, Archbishop Martin, head of the Vatican delegation, told conference participants in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 12.

One of the most controversial issues during the Nov. 9-13 meeting was the effort by developing countries to have richer nations drop longstanding protectionist subsidies and import quotas in agriculture and textiles. Prolonged protectionism and other trade practices which bring disproportionate benefit to wealthier sectors of the world’s economies cannot be the basis for an equitable rules-based system, Archbishop Martin said. Reform in the area of market access for the products of the poorer countries, especially agriculture and textiles, cannot be put aside indefinitely without causing irreparable damage to the multilateral trade system itself, he said.

Archbishop Martin also spoke in general terms about another key issue at the conference: the ability of poorer countries to respond to massive health problems like H.I.V.-AIDS, through a waiver on drug-patent laws. The archbishop said governments have a primary responsibility to protect the lives of their citizens. He said the conference should give a clear signal that nothing in the rules of international trading should prevent governments from dealing with such health crises.

Bishops Begin Work on Agenda at Fall Meeting

The U.S. bishops opened their fall general meeting on Nov. 12 in Washington with discussions on the church’s role in the world, particularly since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The first day of the Nov. 12-15 meeting of the U.S. bishops under their new conference structurethe U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishopsfeatured preliminary presentations of proposed statements on the church’s outreach to Asian and Pacific Catholics and on solidarity with Africa and a proposed revision of their plan for pro-life activities. Further debate and a vote on each of those documents was scheduled for later in the meeting.

The U.S.C.C.B. president, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, opened the meeting at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill by contrasting the destructive power of hate behind the Sept. 11 atrocities with the message of hope that bishops are called to preach. It is Christian hope alone that gives confidence despite the catastrophic problems of the present time, he said on Nov. 12 in his last address as U.S.C.C.B. president.

The bishops heard a preliminary presentation on a Pastoral Message on the Aftermath of Sept. 11, which calls the use of force to root out terrorism legitimate but asks for a host of nonmilitary solutions to issues that could be seen to spark terrorist acts. No grievance, no matter what the claim, can legitimate what happened on Sept. 11, said the proposed message, submitted by the bishops’ Committee on International Policy, chaired by Boston’s Cardinal Bernard F. Law. The proposed text, which was to be debated and voted on Nov. 15, said there is a duty to preserve the common good, noting that while military action may be necessary, it is by no means sufficient to deal with this terrorist threat. The message also condemned the U.N. embargo on Iraq, calling the massive suffering of the Iraqi people over the past decade simply wrong.

Three major documents to be voted on during the meeting were also presented for preliminary discussion.

A Call to Solidarity With Africa touches on the church’s role in addressing poverty, disease, war and refugees on that continent. The 40-page document calls on Catholics to make real contributions to justice, peace and integral development on the African continent, especially in support of the impoverished millions of people in the sub-Saharan region.

The bishops also briefly discussed a pastoral statement encouraging efforts to make the church more hospitable to Asians and Pacific Islanders. The 57-page document, Asian Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith, concludes by recommending several pastoral responses to support Asian and Pacific communities, including: creating pastoral institutes to offer continuing education to clergy and other pastoral ministers; promoting coalitions between Asian and Pacific communities to build an advocacy network; and exploring an appropriate national structure for a liaison with the U.S.C.C.B.

For the first time in 16 years, the bishops considered a revision of their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities. The revision was introduced by Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, who said the pastoral plan has served the church very well, should continue to do so in the future.

The proposed new version of the plan, subtitled A Campaign in Support of Life, for the first time highlights capital punishment as a particular concern under its own heading. The 39-page revision addresses new threats to human life since 1985, citing partial-birth abortion specifically and the deliberate destruction of human embryos to harvest embryonic stem cells for scientific research.

The bishops also began discussion of national norms for lay preaching and for those who explain Catholic teaching on television and radio. Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., chairman of the Committee on Liturgy, presented a set of what he called relatively minor changes that the Vatican has suggested for proposed U.S. adaptations to general church norms for the liturgy.

On the second day of the meeting, the bishops elected Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., as U.S.C.C.B. president and Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., as vice president. Bishop Gregory is the first African-American to serve as president of the conference.

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