Signs of the Times

Ugandan Archbishop Makes Plea to U.N.

Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, presented a statement to the United Nations Security Council on Jan. 24 asking that the United Nations take action to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda. Specifically he asked that the United Nations bring the warring factions into dialogue, serve as a mediator to bring about a lasting cease-fire, monitor claims of human rights violations and oversee the reconciliation process and steps toward keeping peace. In the past 20 years, there have been 200,000 casualties in the conflict, and the populations of entire districts have become internally displaced persons, forced to relocate to camps.

Since 2002, children in the camps trek every night to bigger towns to sleep in relative safety there. It is estimated that 40,000 children make the trip every night and morning. Children are the primary target of the Lord’s Resistance Army, an outlaw group that has abducted nearly 30,000 people, mostly children, forced them into combat training and made them fight in the rebel army’s ranks. Some have escaped, but others are presumed dead or still held captive. As the war drags on, people living in these areas are experiencing a complete breakdown of societal and economic structures.


On Eagle’s Wings’ Tops Liturgical Music Survey

On Eagle’s Wings, the musical reworking of the 91st Psalm by the Rev. Michael Joncas, topped all other songs in an online poll asking which liturgical song most fostered and nourished the respondent’s life. Two songs made popular by the St. Louis Jesuits, Here I Am, Lord and Be Not Afraid, came in second and third, followed by You Are Mine, by David Haas. The online poll was sponsored by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. The poll was featured last year in an issue of its membership magazine, Pastoral Music, and announcements about the poll were distributed to diocesan newspapers in an effort to get the input of rank-and-file Catholics, said J. Michael McMahon, the association’s president. In the poll, respondents could vote for only one song. No songs were listed on the association’s Web site as suggestions. About 3,000 people took part in the poll.

Catholic Aid Not Primarily for Material Need

Catholic charitable activity is not primarily a response to material needs, but a response to God’s love, three Vatican officials said. The three officials presented Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), at a Vatican press conference on Jan. 25. Archbishop Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican’s agency to promote charitable activities, said work on a letter explaining the theological basis of Catholic charitable activity already had begun under Pope John Paul II, and I cannot deny my joy that Pope Benedict has made it his own. Under Archbishop Cordes’s leadership, Cor Unum has been working for years on strategies to strengthen the Catholic identity of Catholic-sponsored development and relief agencies. Although the archbishop spoke about the risk of secularization faced even by Catholic aid agencies, he and Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Archbishop William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also spoke about the need to work with governments and private institutions to meet people’s needs.

Hamas Victory Worries Holy Land Christians

The victory of the militant Islamic group Hamas in Palestinian elections has worried the Christian community in the Holy Land, said Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. He said the Hamas movement’s willingness to use terrorism for political ends was one of its most troubling elements and expressed the hope that governing would prove to be a moderating experience for Hamas leaders, who will now have to learn the art of compromise. Father Pizzaballa spoke at a press conference in Rome on Jan. 27, two days after Hamas swept to a surprising parliamentary victory over the secular Fatah Party, which had controlled the Palestinian Authority. Father Pizzaballa said church leaders in the region were generally suspending judgment until they learned details of Hamas’s governing program and heard the tone of its statements. There are no reasons to be afraid, but there are reasons to be worried, Father Pizzaballa said.

Iraq Militants Put Bombs Near Christian Sites

Unidentified militants planted explosives near several Christian churches and the Vatican Embassy in Iraq, causing few casualties but triggering fresh fears among the minority Christian population. The near-simultaneous attacks on Jan. 29 in Baghdad and Kirkuk, a northern Iraqi city, were launched just as some Sunday afternoon services had ended. A blast targeting a Chaldean Catholic church in Kirkuk left one parishioner and two passersby dead and one person injured. Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad told Catholic News Service, We thank God there was very little damage and so few victims. In a phone interview from Baghdad on Jan. 30, the Catholic patriarch said the attacks would affect not only Christians but all Iraqis, all good Iraqis, because they are sorry this has happened, and we hope it will not happen again. In Baghdad a wall in front of the Vatican Embassy suffered some damage after a bomb was detonated on the opposite side of the street.

Rebuilding Human Values Key Challenge for Cuba

The Catholic Church in Cuba faces the challenge of rebuilding human values in a society that is falling apart economically and ethically, said Msgr. José Pérez Riera, associate general secretary of the Cuban bishops’ conference. After more than four decades of Communist rule, people have lost respect for telling the truth, for personal responsibility and for their human feelings, he said. The government, instead of helping people achieve the material means to live in dignity, proposes living in sacrifice, said Monsignor Perez in a speech in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 23. The church official said it was impossible to predict what will happen in Cuba after the death of 79-year-old President Fidel Castro, who has led the country since his successful revolution in 1959. It is difficult to see right now how changes will take place, but change will happen, he said.

Congregations of Sisters to Be Reconfigured

Seven U.S. congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph announced on Jan. 23 that they plan to reconfigure themselves into a single new congregation in April 2007. The communities that will form the new Congregation of St. Joseph currently have 891 vowed religious and 548 nonvowed men and women associates. Sister Marianne Race, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of La Grange, Ill., said, The decision to form a new congregation grew out of our seven congregations’ common origin, heritage, charism and mission from the original Sisters of St. Joseph who were founded more than 350 years ago in LePuy, France. Besides the La Grange congregation, with 92 members, the other congregations involved are: Sisters of St. Joseph of Cleveland (123); Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Mich. (257); Sisters of St. Joseph of Tipton, Ind. (38); Sisters of St. Joseph of Wheeling, W.Va. (83); Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita, Kan. (157); and Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, based in Cincinnati (141).

Tribunals Must Act Quickly, Follow Law

For the good of individuals and the Catholic Church as a whole, marriage tribunals must act as quickly as possible while fully following church law, Pope Benedict XVI said. For more than a few of the faithful, he said, ecclesiastical sentences in this area, in fact, have an impact on the possibility or not of receiving Communion. Pope Benedict met on Jan. 28 with members of the Roman Rota, a church court that deals mainly with marriage cases. A tribunal declaration that a marriage was invalid would allow a divorced and civilly remarried couple to have their union recognized by the church and, therefore, to receive Communion. Pope Benedict said the reason why so many bishops at the October synod on the Eucharist raised questions about tribunals and annulment procedures was precisely because receiving the Eucharist is so important.

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