Signs of the Times

Christians, Churches Attacked in Rioting Over Miss World Pageant

At least 215 people were reported killed (as of Nov. 25), during riots in Kaduna, Nigeria, sparked by a newspaper article about the Miss World pageant, reports Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the Nigerian Red Cross. About 12,000 people had been forced from their homes, and more than 1,100 have been injured and are in hospitals. Hundreds were taking shelter in army and police barracks.

“Once again Kaduna has been brought to a standstill by Islamic fundamentalists,” reports the Rev. George Ehusani, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria. “We have been reliably informed that all the churches and other structures belonging to Christians in Tudun Wada and Kabala have been destroyed.” A Nigerian priest was in serious condition and the Archdiocese of Kaduna’s Catholic Resource Center was destroyed.


Violence spread to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Nov. 22. After their Friday prayers, “thousands of irate youths, coming out of the mosque, chanted their war songs and descended on innocent motorists and passersby, causing pandemonium in the city,” says Father Ehusani. “Many people who could not respond to questions posed to them in Arabic received machete cuts, while a number of cars belonging to non-Muslims were burnt or destroyed.”

The riots were sparked by a newspaper article that said the prophet Mohammed would have found Miss World contestants so beautiful that he would have married one of them. The newspaper This Day has published apologies over several days for publishing the offending article, saying it was not meant for publication and that the paper never intended to denigrate the founder of Islam or its adherents. Organizers moved the pageant from Abuja to London.

“No one can say when normalcy will return, especially to Kaduna,” said Father Ehusani. “Christian youths, who were taken unaware this time around, may still be poised for a revenge mission.” Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, head of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and sultan of Sokoto, appealed to Muslims to stop rioting and to allow religious leaders to address their grievances.

Father Ehusani notes that since February 2000, sharia-related violent riots “have become a regular feature in Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Zaria and Bauchi, where a large population of Christians lives alongside Muslims.” Hundreds of lives have been lost.

“What we have been witnessing in Nigeria in the last few years is actually the failure of state and the collapse of governance,” says Father Ehusani. “There is nothing on the ground to demonstrate that ours is not a land run over by political bandits, ethnic warlords and religious fanatics. The average citizen now seems to have lost confidence in the capacity of those in power to protect lives and property.”

Casa Alianza Head Says Killing of Children Persists in Honduras

Improved relations between government and children’s rights officials have not yet stopped the daily killing of children, said Bruce Harris, director of Casa Alianza, the Latin American branch of the New York-based Covenant House. In a report released in September, Casa Alianza detailed the killings of more than 1,200 children in Honduras from January 1998 through June of this year.

Seminary Numbers Up in Eastern Europe, But Officials Cautious

New figures on seminary enrollments reveal increases in Eastern Europe and a continued dropoff in Western Europe. In Poland, church officials attributed a 10 percent increase in seminary enrollments to a sort of cultural curiosity. “Although our situation looks good, we are not full of optimism,” said Father Marek Dziewiecki, Poland’s national vocations chaplain. “Polish seminarians are children of their times. Some find they have made the wrong decision, while those who stay on need a solid formation to build up their self-confidence and correct their complexes.”

Poland’s 6,810 seminarians represent about 25 percent of the total number of seminarians in Europe (similarly, Poles make up 23 percent of the 78 European Jesuit novices this year). The figures contrasted with those of traditionally Catholic Ireland, where seven out of eight seminaries have suspended admissions, leaving 110 students at St. Patrick’s College, the Irish national seminary in Maynooth.

Father Dziewiecki noted that 50 percent of recruits at some seminaries came from families with alcohol-related problems, while a third of seminarians nationwide abandoned studies in their first two years. “High numbers do not always mean high quality,” he said. “Some seminarians lack a mature, religious motivation, while many have personal problems and cannot cope with the demands of celibacy, subservience and difficult work with people,” he said.

In Western Europe, some countries have reported decreases in seminary admissions. In predominantly Catholic Belgium, where enrollments have fallen by 50 percent in five years, 26 mostly foreign seminarians began studies in October. In neighboring France, where 111 priests were ordained for 46 Catholic dioceses in June, seminary admissions fell from 1,210 in 1991 to 927 in 2001, according to church data. In Switzerland, no admissions were reported for the first time in October at seminaries in Geneva, Fribourg, Lausanne and Sion, which usually recruit five to 10 students yearly.

Some Eastern European countries are reporting different kinds of problems. In Hungary and the Czech Republic, church leaders have faced problems providing deeper theological education for men hurriedly trained under Communist rule.

Father Dziewiecki believes social and economic conditions make answering vocations easier in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe. But issues such as declining birthrates, crisis in family life and a “culture of self-gratification” that have negatively influenced Western Europe may also affect vocations in Eastern Europe eventually, he said. “In the end, seven years of solid verification ensure you can’t delude yourself. Though social conditions may play a part, there must be a genuine religious motivation,” Father Dziewiecki said.

Catholic League: Planned Parenthood Stymies Reporting

The opposition of Family Planning Advocates, the lobbying arm of Planned Parenthood, and the New York Civil Liberties Union is holding up passage of a comprehensive bill requiring all professionals to report instances of sexual abuse of minors to the authorities, according to William Donohue, president of the Catholic League. “They objected to having abortion providers report instances of statutory rape to the authorities,” he said. Such a bill would also cover priests who do not now have to report under New York State law. “If the real issue is protecting minors, then everyone should be blanketed by the same law,” he says. “But if the real issue is to ‘get the priests,’ then the exemption for the abortion industry will shamefully continue.”

National Shrine Bars Medjugorje Priest from Celebrating Mass

Jozo Zovko, the Franciscan priest most widely connected with Medjugorje, the site of the reported Marian apparitions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been told he may not celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Shrine officials said the action was taken after receiving information from the priest’s home diocese of Mostar-Duvno in Bosnia-Herzegovina that his priestly faculties had been revoked. The church has never declared the Medjugorje visions to be authentic, and the Vatican has discouraged official Catholic pilgrimages to Medjugorje. But the Vatican has allowed lay-organized pilgrimages accompanied by priests to visit Medjugorje.

Hell Is Real, Says Cardinal Dulles

Contrary to what some modern Catholic thinkers have said, hell is real, and the church continues to teach that there are “two classes” in humankind, “the saved and the damned,” Cardinal Avery Dulles said in the McGinley Lecture given at Fordham University in New York on Nov. 20. The middle of the 20th century saw the beginnings of a “shift in Catholic theology” away from the view that “the majority of humankind go to eternal punishment in hell,” he said. The shift in Catholic theology has not been “as dramatic as some imagine,” the cardinal added. “The constant teaching of the church supports the idea that there are two classes: the saved and the damned,” Cardinal Dulles said.

News Briefs

• The Vatican is studying the practical steps, including ecumenical concerns, needed in order to proclaim the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church a patriarch, said Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Lviv.

• Two Catholic factory workers in Belarus were facing possible fines and jail time for staging a public demonstration against the country’s harsh new religion law. Police in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, detained the two laymen on Nov. 8 after they walked down the city’s main street wearing white capes covered in slogans denouncing the law, then unfurled a banner in Independence Square comparing authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko with past Soviet dictators.

• Christians and Muslims have a God-given duty to work and pray for peace, said Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. “The origin of the causes of conflict is often to be located in hearts which refuse to be open to God,” the archbishop said in a message to the world’s 1 billion Muslims for Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of their Ramadan fast.

• Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, is putting about $200 million toward the opening of Ave Maria University, a new Catholic university outside of Naples, Fla., and the creation of a town to go with it.

• Paul Baumann, the executive editor of the lay Catholic magazine Commonweal, will become editor in January. He will succeed Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, who has been editor since 1988.

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11 years 11 months ago
In Signs of the Times on Dec. 9, under the heading “Seminary Numbers Up In Eastern Europe, But Officials Cautious,” it is stated, “Father Dziewiecki noted that 50 percent of recruits at some seminaries came from families with alcohol-related problems....” Including the rest of what he says with this statement seems to imply that candidates from alcoholic homes should not be considered “high quality” candidates.

In recovery programs in the United States, men and women from alcoholic homes are referred to as adult children of alcoholics or A.C.O.A.’s. Persons coming from an alcoholic home bring with them certain weaknesses, but they also bring certain strengths. With treatment, the weaknesses can become strengths. I do not know what is available in Eastern Europe, but in the United States, in addition to professional treatment such as A.C.O.A. counseling, there are the offshoots of A.A.: Alanon and A.C.O.A. groups. I am sure that A.A. must be operating in Eastern Europe. If so, Alanon and A.C.O.A. probably also exist. If a candidate to the priesthood or the religious life is humble enough to go to one of these groups and face the scars left by growing up in an alcoholic home, he or she can become a wonderful counselor and resource person for others from similar backgrounds. If they want to join the priesthood or religious life just to escape the home, remain in denial and refuse to get into some recovery program, then they are not “high-quality” candidates.


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