Signs of the Times

World Joins John Paul II in Anniversary Celebration

As voices from around the world offered congratulations and encouragement, Pope John Paul II celebrated a 25th anniversary Mass and prayed for the wisdom, holiness and strength to keep leading the church.

The Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 16 brought together church leaders, civil authorities and some 50,000 of the faithful from many countries, all of them eager to share the moment with the aging and fragile pontiff.


The Mass was an emotional high point of the anniversary events, which included a conference of cardinals and bishops to discuss the pontificate’s major themes, the release of the pope’s post-synodal document on the role of bishops and heartfelt expressions of support from average Catholics.

The liturgy in St. Peter’s Square was a celebration of what the pope has accomplished in 25 years and a reminder of how much his physical strength has slipped. Youthful and energetic when he greeted the world on Oct. 16, 1978, the 83-year-old pontiff had to be wheeled on a chair to the altar and struggled to pronounce the Mass prayers.

In a sermon read in part by an aide, the pope alluded to his physical difficulties and asked for continued prayers and support from Catholics all over the globe. He said that aware of his human fragility, he meditated daily over his ability to meet the demands of the papacy.

More than 250 cardinals and bishops from more than 120 countries concelebrated with the pope. Most of them have taken office under Pope John Paul and helped him shape the modern church. Addressing the pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, described the pontiff as a tireless missionary who has preached Christ’s message to young and old, rich and poor, the powerful and the humble.

Sitting in a spotlight under a canopy, his head tilted forward under a brocaded gold miter, the pope glanced out at the crowd and smiled as visitors waved caps, flags and scarves in tribute. He told them their support helps him carry on his ministry. God alone knows how much sacrifice, prayer and suffering have been offered up to support me in my service to the church, he said. Introducing the prayer of the faithful, the pope asked that God continue to pour upon me the Holy Spirit, the spirit of wisdom, of holiness and strength, in order to serve his holy people and proclaim to all people the Gospel of salvation and peace.

At the Vatican conference on Pope John Paul II’s first 25 years, leading cardinals said the pope had guided the church through a time of confusion with the sure touch of an understanding father. Cardinal Bernardin Gantin of Benin, former dean of the College of Cardinals, appeared to counter rumors of future papal retirement when he said: Popes don’t take retirement pay, having been chosen to serve for life.

On Oct. 16 the pope signed an apostolic exhortation, Pastores Gregis (Shepherds of the Flock), his response to the 2001 world Synod of Bishops, which discussed the identity and role of the bishop in the church and in the world. The document called on every bishop to be a living sign of Jesus Christ, teacher, priest and pastor, while acknowledging the tremendous demands of pastoral ministry in the modern age. Where will we find the strength to carry it out according to the will of Christ? Undoubtedly, only in him, the pope told more than 250 cardinals and bishops at the signing ceremony.

Pope Beatifies Mother Teresa

Pope John Paul II offered his thanks to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, for being close to him in her lifetime and for courageously showing the world what it means to love and serve Jesus completely.

The venerable servant of God, Teresa of Calcutta, from this moment on will be called blessed, the pope said at the beatification Mass on Oct. 19 as the crowd burst into applause. In the homily he wrote for the ceremony, the 83-year-old pope said: We honor in her one of the most relevant personalities of our age. Let us accept her message and follow her example.

For the first time at a major event, Pope John Paul did not read even one line of his own homily. A Vatican official said that because of the pope’s difficulty in speaking, the crowd would not have been able to understand much of his message, so others were asked to read the text for him.

St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding streets were a crush of some 300,000 pilgrims and admirers of Mother Teresa. Under a bright sun, which weather forecasters had said would not appear, the scene was awash with vibrant colors: flags from dozens of countries, banners in languages from Polish to Hindi, the blue-trimmed saris of the Missionaries of Charity and the colorful traditional dress of Guatemalans and Nigerians.

In an unusually personal homily, read by a Vatican aide and by Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias of Mumbai, the pope wrote, I am personally grateful to this courageous woman, who I always felt was alongside of me. An icon of the good Samaritan, she went everywhere to serve Christ in the poorest of the poor. Not even conflicts or wars could stop her.

Mother Teresa was beatified in record timejust over six years after her deathbecause Pope John Paul set aside the rule that the process for determining sainthood cannot begin until the candidate has been dead five years.

The congregation at the beatification Mass included official delegations from the Orthodox Church of Albania, Albania’s Sunni and Bectascian Muslim communities and from 26 governments, including the United States, the Canadian province of Quebec, India, Albania and Macedonia. Several royal guests were seated not far from 2,000 people who eat or sleep at the missionaries’ facilities in Rome.

In his homily, Pope John Paul wrote that Mother Teresa’s life was a radical living and a bold proclamation of the Gospel.... Her life is a testimony to the dignity and the privilege of humble service.... Her greatness lies in her ability to give without counting the cost, to give until it hurts.’ Pope John Paul appeared to be doing the same thing. What little he read during the Mass, he read with great strain. But after Mass, he stayed on the stage for 20 minutes greeting members of the official delegations, then rode through the massive crowd in an open popemobile.

Mother Teresa shared the passion of the Crucified One, particularly during her long years of interior darkness,’ the pope wrote in his homily. In the darkest hours, she clung with even greater tenacity to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This harsh spiritual struggle allowed her to identify even more with those she served every day, experiencing the pain and even rejection they felt.

Pope Creates 30 Cardinals, Asks Them to Be Fearless Witnesses’

In ceremonies that combined solemn tradition and the cheers of the faithful, Pope John Paul II created 30 new cardinals on Oct. 21 and asked them to preach the Gospel to all people, without exception on every continent. New members from 22 countries were added to the college, including Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. The pope said the new cardinals reflected the multiplicity of races and cultures that make up the Christian population.

In his sermon and prayers, the pope emphasized the cardinals’ special duty to preach the Gospel and serve others. Only if you become the servants of all will you complete your mission and help the successor of Peter to be, in turn, the servant of the servants of God,’ he said in his sermon during the consistory, which was read by an aide. But because of his increasing difficulty in speaking, the pope let others speak for him at several key points, including the reading out of the new cardinals’ names.

In his sermon, the pope told the cardinals he was counting on their collaboration and prayers. He asked them to preach the Gospel with words and with example and to serve the church humbly, refusing every temptation of career or personal benefit.

Cardinals Discuss Pope’s Health

The festivities in Rome during October offered the cardinals an unprecedented eight days for introductions, formal discussions and private conversations. It also subjected them to press interviews, including questions about how to deal with an incapacitated pope. Cardinal Jorge Mejía of Argentina said he was convinced that Pope John Paul had written a letter of resignation, to be used in case of his physical or mental incapacity. The cardinal also said he thought that the pope’s increasing problem with speaking and communicating might prove an impediment to office.

But Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins said the pope’s failing powers of communication do not threaten his ability to govern the church. The church does not govern with the tongue, but with the head and with the heart, he said. Italian Cardinal Mario Pompedda, head of a main Vatican tribunal, tried to referee. He said that a mute pope would not be able to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments, but could still govern the church through other means of communication, like writing.

Vatican Approves ICEL Statutes, Calls Meeting

The Vatican has approved new statutes for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, giving the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments at the Vatican veto power over ICEL staff and translators. Marking the end of several years of conflict over how the commission should be structured and operate, the new statutes marked a Vatican rejection of the views of some English-speaking bishops who wanted less centralized control of the commission and a broader role for it.

ICEL is the commission formed by English-speaking bishops’ conferences in 1963, when the Second Vatican Council authorized use of local languages in the liturgy, to prepare common liturgical texts in English for use in their countries. The new statutes describe ICEL’s task only as translating Latin liturgical texts approved by the Vatican into English. In recent years, at the request of bishops, ICEL had also been developing original texts in English, such as sets of alternative collect prayers at the beginning of Sunday Masses reflecting the three-year cycle of Scripture readings.

The statutes say that ICEL’s staff, translators and collaborators must have the congregation’s clearance before beginning work. Those employed or consulted on a stable basis must also make the church’s profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity.

Continuing concerns over English-language liturgical translations will be aired at a meeting to be held on Oct. 23 at the Vatican. Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, invited the presidents of English-speaking bishops’ conferences to the meeting. The meeting, just over a year after the cardinal’s appointment to the congregation, was to focus on improving understanding and cooperation between bishops’ conferences, which approve liturgical texts, and the congregation, whose authorization is required for their use.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the meeting would be an opportunity for a new dialogue. We had no real dialogue with the congregation’s previous prefect, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, because he did not speak much English and most of the English-speaking bishops did not speak Italian or Spanish well enough to communicate fully, Cardinal Napier said.

One of the most practical concerns facing Cardinal Arinze and the English-speaking bishops is the preparation of a new missal containing the prayers for Mass. English-speaking Catholics now use a 1973 translation of the first Latin missal issued after the Second Vatican Council; the proposed English translation of the second Latin edition was never approved by the congregation, and a translation of the third Latin edition promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 2002 is under way.

U.S. Senate Passes Ban on Partial-Birth Abortion

The U.S. Senate passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act by a vote of 64 to 34 on Oct. 21. President Bush has said he would sign the legislation, which three weeks earlier was passed 281 to 142 by the House. Bush applauded the Senate action, saying the ban will end an abhorrent practice and continue to build a culture of life in America. The Senate approved the bill without an earlier amendment it had attached affirming the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark abortion decision, Roe v. Wade.

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Actwidely described by commentators as the most significant anti-abortion legislation since 1973defines partial-birth abortion as the partial delivery of a fetus from the womb for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus and then performing that act, killing the partially delivered fetus instead of delivering it alive. Doctors who violate the ban could face a fine and up to two years in prison.

The legislation allows an exception to save the life of the mother but does not include an exception for the mother’s health. A health provision would have rendered the legislation virtually meaningless because of the broad definition of maternal health given by the Supreme Court in 1973. President Clinton twice vetoed bills barring partial-birth abortions on grounds that there was no health exception in them. Abortion advocates plan to challenge the constitutionality of the law in court.

News Briefs

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the results of survey of sexual abuse by members of the clergy going back more than 50 years could be startling to Catholics but should reassure them that church leaders are serious about solving the problem. The survey is expected to be completed by the end of February.

The Archdiocese of Boston’s record $85 million offer to settle claims of clergy sexual abuse took hold on Oct. 20 when the required 80 percentat least 442 of the 552 plaintiffs eligible to participatesigned on. More were expected to join by the Oct. 23 deadline.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League praised the pope on his 25th anniversary for his many efforts to reconcile Christians and Jews.

Of the active U.S. bishops, more than 95 percent owe their current appointments to Pope John Paul II.

A U.N. document allowing human cloning for research purposes would legitimize the creation of human beings for the express purpose of destroying them, said Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations. If human rights are to mean anything, at any time, anywhere in the world, then surely no one can have the right to do such a thing, he said.

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