Signs of the Times

Basil Pennington Dead at 74; Known Worldwide as Writer and Teacher of Prayer

Abbot M. Basil Pennington, the Trappist monk known worldwide for his books and ministry on centering prayer, died on June 3 at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester from injuries sustained in a car accident two months earlier. He would have turned 74 in July. The funeral Mass for the abbot was celebrated on June 10 at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., followed by burial in the abbey cemetery. Born in the borough of Queens, New York City, on July 28, 1931, he attended Cathedral Prep High School and the Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Brooklyn from 1945 to 1950. He entered the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly called the Trappists, in 1951 at St. Joseph’s Abbey, his lifelong community. He was consecrated a monk in 1956 and ordained a priest in 1957. He later studied in Rome at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas and Gregorian University, obtaining a licentiate in theology and another degree in canon law. Over his lifetime, he wrote 57 books and 1,000 articles, several of them published in America, particularly on centering prayer.

Pope Affirms Commitment to Jewish Dialogue

In his first major meeting with world Jewish leaders, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed his commitment to Jewish-Catholic dialogue, fighting anti-Semitism and promoting continued Catholic reflection on the Holocaust. It is my intention to continue on this path begun by the Second Vatican Council to improve Catholic-Jewish relations, the pope told members of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The committee, which met the pope on June 9, is made up of leaders of the world’s major Jewish organizations. Since 1970, the international committee has been an official dialogue partner of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.


Papal Visit to World Youth Day Will Include Bonn

Pope Benedict XVI will visit Bonn in addition to Cologne during his Aug. 18-21 trip to Germany for World Youth Day, the Vatican announced. On June 21 the Vatican published the dates and the list of cities the German-born pope would visit. It did not publish a detailed schedule of papal events, but the pope is also expected to visit a synagogue during his stay in Cologne. Pope Benedict will arrive in Cologne at noon on Aug. 18 and, according to plans established while Pope John Paul II was still alive, will participate in a meeting that evening with young people from around the world. The brief Vatican announcement about the trip showed Pope Benedict traveling by car on Aug. 19 to Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, where the German president maintains a secondary residence. The pope will meet in Bonn with the president, Horst Koehler, and return to Cologne the same day, said Ciro Benedettini, a Passionist father who is vice director of the Vatican press office.

Zimbabwe Bishops Condemn Demolition

Zimbabwe’s Catholic bishops condemned the government’s demolition of shantytowns, saying the action was a gross injustice done to the poor. People have a right to shelter, and that has been deliberately destroyed in this operation without much warning, the bishops said in a pastoral letter, The Cry of the Poor, which was read during Masses nationwide on June 19. According to the United Nations, about 250,000 people have been left homeless since late May, when the government began its Operation Restore Order. Authorities, including riot police, have been demolishing homes and vendors’ stalls in shantytowns around the capital, Harare, as well in other Zimbabwean cities and towns including Bulawayo, Mutare and the tourist resort of Victoria Falls. Government officials said the operation is aimed at getting rid of illegal settlements and reducing crime in the black market, which has flourished in the past five years amid a worsening economic crisis.

Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, in a rare public attack on the government of President Robert Mugabe, spoke out against the government’s Operation Drive Out Trash, calling it inhuman. He criticized the evictions in a radio interview with the BBC. Under the policy, bulldozers have cleared away buildings and market stalls the government considers illegal. The government said it also wants to combat shantytown crime levels, which have soared amid the country’s economic crisis. About 30,000 people have been arrested for living in illegal buildings.

Dominicans Mark 200th Anniversary in U.S.

With Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington as chief celebrant, the Dominican friars celebrated 200 years in the United States at a Mass on June 8 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Dominicans first came to the Americas with Spanish colonists in the 16th century, but it was not until 1805 that the Dominicans formally established the order’s St. Joseph Province in this country. The first member of the community was Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P., a native of southern Maryland whose ancestors fought in the American Revolution. Father Fenwick was later appointed first bishop of Cincinnati in 1821.

Bishops Prepare Major Document on Lay Ministry

The U.S. bishops set the stage on June 16 for the adoption of a major document on lay ecclesial ministry when they meet again in November. Reflecting extensive developments in the church over the past several decades, the draft document the bishops are working on is titled Co-Workers in the Vineyard: Resources for the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry. Introducing a panel presentation on the first day of the bishops’ meeting in Chicago on June 16-18, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., told the bishops that there are currently some 30,000 lay ecclesial ministers working for the U.S. church in such full- or part-time paid positions as parish directors of music, liturgy, catechetics or youth ministry. Bishop Kicanas, chairman of the lay ministry subcommittee of the bishops’ Committee on the Laity, said the proposed document the bishops will be asked to discuss and vote on in November deals specifically with those laity who are involved in leadership responsibilities, particularly those in parishes, who are collaborators with the ordained, priests and deacons, in the work of the church. Among topics the planned document deals with, he said, are the theological foundations of lay ecclesial ministry, the pathways to it, formation for it, guidelines for the official authorizing of people as lay ecclesial ministers and workplace issues that should be addressed.

Revisions Do Not Weaken Charter Protections

When the U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved revisions in the charter and norms to protect children and deal with sexual abuse by clergy on June 17, they did not weaken either document, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis told reporters at the final press conference of the meeting. The archbishop, who has headed the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse for the past three years, said the bishops continue to have a zero tolerance policy on such abuse, following the principle enunciated by the late Pope John Paul II that there is no room in the priesthood for those who would abuse children. The bishops approved revisions in their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by a vote of 228 to 4 and changes in the Essential Norms implementing the charter legislatively 229 to 3.

San Francisco Settles Suits for $21 million

The Archdiocese of San Francisco and its insurance carriers have agreed to settle 15 sexual abuse lawsuits against members of the Catholic clergy for about $21,250,000, the archdiocese announced on June 10. Retired Judge Coleman Fannin mediated the agreement, which covers one-fourth of pending sexual abuse claims against the archdiocese. The archdiocese is to provide $6.6 million of the settlement, with the remainder coming from insurance carriers.

Muslims and Christians on Nuclear Weapons Danger

From May 23 to May 25, 2005, a gathering of Muslim, Christian and other religious leaders and scholars was convened by the Islamic Society of North America, the Managing the Atom Project of the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy. The group met at the Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in Tarrytown, N.Y., to discuss what their traditions had to contribute to the question of the nuclear weapons danger at this time in history. The participants agreed that the possession of nuclear weapons is an unacceptable risk for the human community in these times and is a continuing threat to the entire planet and its fragile ecosystem. The risk of theft of nuclear weapons or materials by nonstate actors for nuclear terrorism as well as the continuing risk of accidental use of nuclear weapons by nation states themselves makes even the possession of nuclear weapons a danger to God’s creation. We therefore believe that the common position held by both of our traditions, expressed as the sanctity of human life, leads us inexorably to say that the only real security for the world and the most responsible position for people of faith in our two traditions is to call upon the United States and other countries of the world to, gradually and in a verifiable manner, finally eliminate these weapons from the face of the earth.

Arab Christians Can Help Promote Reconciliation

Israel’s tiny Christian minority is in a unique position to promote reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians in the nation, but needs help to do so effectively, said the Rev. Elias Chacour, founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Israel. I hope there will be some motivated Christians who would care for the survival of Christianity in the Holy Land, and its important role between the Muslim minority and the Jewish majority, because we Christians represent the voice of moderation. Father Chacour was in Michigan in early June to receive an honorary doctorate from the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit. Of the 4,500 students attending the schools, 32 percent are Christians, 57 percent are Muslims, and the rest are Jewish and Druze. We are the voice of moderation, but we are such a low voiceit’s whispering, it’s not reaching the ears of others. Through these educational projects, we might have a better hearing among the Muslims and among the Jews.

Another major educational initiative is the de La Salle Christian Brothers’ Bethlehem University. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., a prominent Biblical scholar and retired archbishop of Milan, has been chosen to receive an honorary doctorate from the university. Cardinal Martini characterized the university as an institution which has a primary role in promoting peace and human rights in this land; an institution which recently has been described as a wonderful university’ by American and European bishops; an institution whose story is one of remarkable perseverance, in spite of many problems and difficulties; an institution where Christian and Muslim students come together from diversified backgrounds and learn to live and study together. This institution is inspired by the courage and commitment of faculty, staff and students, and finally many look to her as a beacon of hope for the necessary continuation of a presence of Christian families in the Holy Land.

DiMarzio Urges Worldwide Efforts on Immigration

Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., who is the U.S. representative to the Global Commission on International Migration, called on June 9 for a worldwide effort to address immigration issues. He outlined information gathered through what he described as painstaking research conducted by the 19-member commission. The body was formed in late 2003 by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to provide a global response to migration issues. The findings of the report, expected to be out later this year, cover 181 issues organized into key categories, including the economic dimension of migration, irregular migration, human rights and the governance of international migration. Communication, cooperation and collaboration are the challenges for finding ways to gently bring people together to deal with these tremendous issues, not only socially but politically, said Bishop DiMarzio. He made the remarks in a keynote address at the opening day of a symposium titled Migration Studies and Jesuit Identity: Forging a Path Forward, held on June 8-12 at Jesuit-run Fairfield University in Connecticut.

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