Signs of the Times

Trappists in South Carolina Open New Library to the Ecumenical Community

On Sunday, Nov. 11, the Trappist community at Mepkin Abbey, outside Charleston, S.C., dedicated the new Clare Boothe Luce Library. Located near the burial site of the Congresswoman, ambassador, journalist and playwright, the $3.1 million state-of-the-art facility was funded largely by the Henry Luce Foundation of New York to encourage religious, ecumenical and theological conversation in the Southeast.

The library’s collection numbers some 50,000 volumes, including patristic, medieval and monastic theology, philosophy and art history. The Laurens Conference Room in the library sponsors lectures by noted Catholic scholars and hosts a wide variety of meetings, including ecumenical groups and environmental planners. The aim of the monastery is to share its 1700-year-old Benedictine and Cistercian tradition with the spiritual public in an area where only three percent of the population is Catholic and where libraries and seminaries are scarce.


Present for the dedication were Henry Luce III, C.E.O. and chairman of the Henry Luce Foundation, as well as other foundation board members, bishops, ecumenical leaders, politicians and benefactors. Major addresses were given by South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean H. Toal and Ladislas Orsy, S.J., of the Georgetown University Law Center.

Eastern Rite Encounter

The nation’s Eastern-rite bishops have agreed to gather with their Canadian counterparts for a joint encounter in 2004, said Bishop Basil Schott of the Byzantine Diocese of Parma, Ohio. The decision was made on Nov. 13 at a meeting of Eastern-rite bishops held in conjunction with the U.S. bishops’ fall general meeting in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 12-13. The nature and site of such an encounter is not yet set, Bishop Schott said. But it was decided that the meeting could build on the positive effects of a similar meeting of Eastern-rite bishops of the Americas and Oceania held in Boston in 1999, he added.

Catholic Near East Assistance

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, through its support of Eastern churches throughout Asia, promotes ecclesial biodiversity, said its director, Msgr. Robert Stern, in an address to the U.S. bishops on Nov. 13. Because most of the U.S. bishops are of the Latin rite, they should appreciate that Catholic Near East’s work preserves a tremendous, precious diversity, Monsignor Stern said during the bishops’ fall general meeting in Washington. Monsignor Stern lauded the work of the Eastern churches, especially their work to bridge traditions between Rome and the Orthodox church. In that effort the Eastern churches draw on their liturgical traditions and their support of the Holy See, he said, and, for the most part, do it successfully. Catholic Near East is able to distribute about $20 million a year in assistance to Eastern churches, according to Monsignor Stern.

Plea to Re-Investigate Romero Case

A Salvadoran church official has asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to pressure the Salvadoran government to investigate seriously the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero. The Salvadoran government has not complied with a commission decision last year asking for a reopening of the case and the abrogation of an amnesty law preventing suspects from being brought to trial, said Maria Julia Hernandez, director of the legal aid office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador. The state is protecting the murderers and plotters,’’ she told Catholic News Service Nov. 15 after testifying before the commission, which is part of the Organization of American States. The Archbishop Romero case is still important because it shows the high degree of impunity that exists in the country, she said.

Cardinal Dulles on Culture

The recent terrorist attacks in the United States are an opportunity for the Catholic Church to influence American culture significantly, said Cardinal Avery Dulles, an internationally recognized theologian. The terrorist attacks have the potential to shake us out of our individualism, hedonism and consumerism, he said. Historically, U.S. Catholics have not had a major impact on U.S. culture, and many have succumbed to its negative consumerism, opening up a chasm between their faith and their American culture, he said. The immigration flows from culturally Catholic areas such as Latin America also have the potential for increasing the church’s influence on American culture, he said. Cardinal Dulles, a Jesuit who is a professor at Fordham University in New York, spoke on Nov. 13 at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington about The Impact of the Catholic Church on American Culture.

Faith-Sharing With Buddhists

Thailand’s tiny Catholic minority must not be afraid to share the Gospel with others and to explore common spiritual values with the nation’s Buddhist majority, Pope John Paul II said. In particular, Catholics and Buddhists should share their experiences of monasticism and contemplation, he told the bishops of Thailand in a message dated Nov. 16. The bishops were ending their ad limina visits to the Vatican to report on the status of the church in Thailand, where Catholics make up less than 1 percent of the population. About 95 percent of the Thai population is Buddhist.

Religious Freedom Linked to Human Rights

Religious freedom is the very heart of human rights, with its foundation in human nature itself, the Vatican said in a statement to the United Nations in New York. The right to life and the right to freedom of religion or belief are the basic premises for human existence, Archbishop Renato R. Martino, the Vatican’s U.N. nuncio, said. But, while deploring too many cases of religious repression in the world, the nuncio also condemned violence in the name of religious belief. Archbishop Martino read the statement on Nov. 13 to a committee of the U.N. General Assembly reviewing questions of human rights.

Bishops’ Conference Highlights

The new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on the church to respond pastorally to never-before-experienced challenges in the world’s current troubled times. In his first address to the bishops on Nov. 14 at their fall general meeting after being elected president the day before, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., said he realizes he comes to the office at a very troubled time in human history. Bishop Gregory said the new and developing circumstances of the world call for religious leaders to pledge ourselves to...the achievement of true peace and justice among all peoples.

In an extensive discussion on Nov. 13 of new Vatican norms for liturgical translations, the U.S. bishops expressed a wide range of critical reservations but indicated the norms may not be as rigid or difficult to work with as initial reports and reactions had suggested. The bishops devoted almost the entire afternoon session on the second day of their meeting in Washington, D.C., from Nov. 12 to 15 to a discussion of Liturgiam Authenticam (The Authentic Liturgy). That document, issued last May by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, sets new norms for translating liturgical texts into local languages and for structuring international liturgical translation commissions.

The bishops sent an English translation of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal back to the translators for reconsideration in light of a recent Vatican instruction on translations for the liturgy. Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, said the committee recommended remanding the document for further revision because the translationcompleted before the new instruction on translations had come outwas not consistently in accord with that instruction. The bishops voted 135 to 8 to remand the document to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, the body formed by English-speaking bishops’ conferences to develop common English texts from Latin liturgical documents.

On Nov. 14 the bishops adopted national norms implementing general church law on lay preaching and qualifications for those who explain Catholic teaching on radio and television. They approved the norms for lay preaching by a vote of 190 to 20. Norms governing Catholics who regularly expound Catholic teaching on radio or television were approved 210 to 2. For clergy or religious who participate in broadcast programs treating faith or morals, the bishops adopted U.S. norms by a vote of 208 to 3. All three items must receive a recognitio, or approval, from the Holy See before they can take effect.

With little discussion, the U.S. Catholic bishops voted on Nov. 15 on a pastoral statement that encourages efforts to make the church more hospitable to Asians and Pacific Islanders. Because it came up in the last minutes of their four-day meeting, however, there were too few bishops in the room to constitute the two-thirds of the membership needed to approve the document, so balloting was to be completed by mail. The result will be announced by the staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The statement is broadly supported by the bishops, and it is expected to be approved without difficulty.

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