Signs of the Times

Pope, Physically Fading, Crisscrosses Slovakia

On a trip that taxed his fading physical powers, Pope John Paul II crisscrossed Slovakia to celebrate liturgies, beatify two 20th-century martyrs and offer people inside and outside the church a message of hope. But he had trouble delivering that message personally. Weakened by infirmity, he had to let others read long sections of his prepared speeches and homilies during the visit on Sept. 11-14. He could not stand or walk, and his difficulties left many wondering if the pope would continue to travel.

The centerpiece of the pope’s visit was a closing Mass in Bratislava, during which Bishop Vasyl Hopko and Sister Zdenka Schelingova were beatified, both of whom died after suffering years of prison and torture from Communist authorities. Assisted at every turn and wheeled on a mobile throne, the 83-year-old pontiff celebrated the liturgy before an estimated 100,000 people in the city’s suburb of Petrzalka, planned decades ago as a modeland churchlessneighborhood by the Communist regime.


In a sermon, read in part by Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, the pope said Bishop Hopko and Sister Schelingova had demonstrated that suffering for the love of Christ, even to the point of martyrdom, can ultimately lead to new strength and hope. Both shine before us as radiant examples of faithfulness in times of harsh and ruthless religious persecution, he said. Both faced up to an unjust trial and an ignoble condemnation, to torture, humiliation, solitude, death. And so the cross became for them the way that led them to life, a source of fortitude and hope, a proof of love for God and man, he said.

When he arrived in Bratislava on Sept. 11, the pope said it was important for Slovakia to preserve its Christian heritage and to make religious values felt throughout the continent when the country joins the European Union next year. Dearly beloved, bring to the construction of Europe’s new identity the contribution of your rich Christian tradition, he said. The pope, who suffers from a neurological ailment believed to be Parkinson’s disease, was able to pronounce only a few lines of the text himself, and a Slovak priest read the rest.

Do not be satisfied with the sole quest for economic advantages. Great affluence in fact can also generate great poverty, the pope said. In a veiled reference to a recent legislative battle over abortion, the pope asked Slovakia to respect human life in all its expressions.

The pope traveled to Slovakia’s heartland on Sept. 12, celebrating Mass in the packed main square of Banska Bystrica. In a sermon, he urged the country’s Catholics to preserve the institution of marriage and family values in their rapidly changing society. The pope appeared in better form on the second day of the trip. When his first words in Slovakian rang out in a strong voice, the crowd broke into smiles and applause. At the end of the Mass, pilgrims cheered the pope at length. As a choir sang a final song, he gazed over the moving panorama of Slovak, Vatican, Hungarian and Polish flags, and his face broke into a rare smile.

Church Officials Displeased With World Trade Meeting

Church officials and Catholic groups said the collapse of international trade talks amid a rift between rich and poor countries was a lost opportunity. Trade is an important tool to help solve poverty, said Paul Cliche, a delegate to the meetings from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. The World Trade Organization’s fifth ministerial conference, held in Cancun, Mexico, ended on Sept. 14 without any agreement. Developed nations refused to make substantial reductions in agricultural subsidies, and developing nations refused to accept new rules on foreign investment.

Farmers in poor countries said they cannot compete with food imports from the United States and the European Union, where governments give producers billions of dollars in subsidies each year. Representatives from the Holy See had urged delegates to take action to help struggling farmers across the world. The effects of export subsidies, domestic supports and dumping from developed countries are particularly harmful for small farmers, said Msgr. Frank Dewane, under secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. There has been unsatisfactory progress in the areas of trade for the poorest countries. Bold and decisive action is needed that will have positive implications for development, he said.

Jacques Bertrand, head of the global issues department for Caritas Internationalis, said the outcome of the meeting in Cancun underscores the gap between rich and poor countries. He said the meeting failed because no progress was made on agriculture, an issue of great importance for developing countries and one that was already on the World Trade Organization agenda. This means that there is no end in sight for the dumping of subsidized food products on developing country markets. This is [a] serious blow for millions of small farm producers, said Bertrand, a former researcher for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

While farm subsidies were a bone of contention throughout the meeting, the final stumbling block appeared when the European Union insisted on the so-called Singapore issuesthe writing of four new sets of trade laws. Developing nations said the rules encroached on their freedom to decide their economic policy. It was a bad deal for poor countries. It is logical that they refused to accept it, Cliche said.

The conference was marked by the emergence of a common voice for a group of developing countries, including China, India, Mexico and Brazil. The bloc of poor states began the talks with 21 nations but increased to 80 by the final day. Many nongovernmental organizations claimed the bloc’s refusal to bow down to the demands of rich nations was a victory, and their representatives reportedly danced in the halls of the conference center and held up banners saying, We won.

James Hug, S.J., president of the Center of Concern, a social justice think tank based in Washington, D.C., said nongovernmental organizations were dismayed by the decision to have them barred from press briefings. Since N.G.O.’s have no access to the negotiation rooms at this meeting and minimal access to negotiators in their hotels, this cut off the only remaining forum where N.G.O.’s could put questions to the government representatives and get their concerns to the negotiators and the public, he said.

Bishop in Guinea-Bissau Heads Post-Coup Democratic Committee

A day after a military coup overthrew the president of Guinea-Bissau, Bishop José Câmnate na Bissign of Bissau was appointed head of a committee to help the impoverished West African country return to democratic rule. Guinea-Bissau’s army chief of staff, Verissimo Correia Seabre, and fellow officers ousted President Kumba Yala on Sept. 14, saying they acted to save democracy.

The leader of the coup, who has assumed presidential powers until elections can be held, then consulted with church, political, labor and other civilian leaders, who named Bishop Câmnate to head a 16-member committee to form a transitional government. Catholics represent a tiny minority of the country’s 1.4 million people, who are mostly Muslim or followers of traditional African religions. The choice of the bishop was definitely a recognition of the church’s role in the past and in the present for peace in this country, according to a church official in Bissau.

News Briefs

Lay teachers for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s 22 Catholic high schools voted in mid-September by a narrow margin to accept a new contract and end a nine-day walkout. The vote was 486 in favor, with 434 opposed to the new three-year pact, which will give teachers $100 more each year than the contract they rejected on Sept. 2. The total raise over three years is $3,800 compared to $3,500 in the previous proposal. Under the new contracts the teachers will eventually pay up to 9.5 percent of the cost of their medical insurance.

Research on new nuclear weapons and provisions to enable resumption of nuclear testing should be opposed, the president of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy told members of the Senate in a letter dated Sept. 15.

The rock star Bono teamed up with bishops from three Christian denominations to ask that President Bush and Congress live up to their pledge to commit $3 billion in the year ahead to combat AIDS in Africa.

The United States is the richest nation on earth, said Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy. And it is a scandal that we are the last among industrialized nations in terms of per capita spending on development assistance for the poorest countries in the world.

In a letter on Sept. 3 to L. Paul Bremer, the U.S.-appointed civilian administrator of Iraq, Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic bishops have accused the U.S. government of excluding the country’s Christian minority from structures preparing the way for civilian rule in Iraq.

Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation of Cardinal Jaime Sin, the ailing archbishop of Manila, Philippines, who reached the retirement age of 75 at the end of August. Cardinal Sin undergoes daily dialysis treatment for a kidney ailment and was hospitalized briefly in March following a minor stroke.

Cardinal Juan Sandoval íñiguez of Guadalajara is being investigated by Mexican federal police on charges of laundering drug money, but church officials say he is being framed because he is seeking justice for his predecessor, Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, who was murdered in 1993.

Pope John Paul II has accepted the resignation of Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond, Va., and named Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

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