Signs of the Times

Harassed Christians in India Get Morale Boost

Members of the small Christian community in India’s Rajasthan state expressed elation when hundreds of activistsincluding Muslims and secular groupsjoined them to protest the harassment of Christians. Up to 6,000 Christians and others marched silently in the blazing sun on March 21 for nearly three miles in the Rajasthan capital, Jaipur, to the state legislature before police blocked them near the state assembly building. We are very happy that so many groups came in support of us, Bishop Oswald Lewis of Jaipur told Catholic News Service after addressing the three-hour sit-in. Bishop Lewis called the protest a huge success, a rare occasion when the small Christian community in the sprawling desert state gathered to protest harassment by Hindus. He and Bishop Ignatius Menezes of Ajmer marched with the protesters. The Christian protest rally had an immediate echo in the state legislature. Opposition parties stalled legislative proceedings by demanding immediate action to end the harassment of Christian minorities.

Improvement in Vatican-China Relations

The time is ripe for improvement in Vatican-China relations, said a top Vatican official. In interviews with a Hong Kong television station and a local newspaper, The South China Morning Post, the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, said there was hope for an eventual normalization of relations between the two polities. The fact itself of [China] entering into unofficial contacts is an attitude not of closure but of openness, the archbishop told the Hong Kong-based newspaper. While official diplomatic ties have been severed since 1951, some sort of improvement may be on the horizon, he added. The time is ripe, the archbishop said on March 25 during a Hong Kong cable television program. We hope for an opening on the part of the Chinese authorities, who cannot ignore the expectations of their people or the signs of the times.


Palestinian Diplomat Criticizes Checkpoints

Some two million Palestinians living in the West Bank of the Jordan River are losing millions of hours of work and family time daily because of the hundreds of Israeli-run checkpoints across the territory, said the Palestinian representative to the United States. Afif Safieh, a Catholic who is head of the Palestine Liberation Organization mission to the United States in Washington, D.C., said the lost time comes at the 450 checkpoints the Israeli government has established to control the movement of all Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike. It’s an arbitrary system, where the indigenous population of the country is made to feel unwelcome every moment of every day, Safieh said in an interview with The Catholic Universe Bulletin, Cleveland’s diocesan newspaper. And our mistake is simply to have existed. Safieh, 55, was in Cleveland in mid-March to urge the local Palestinian American community to see their homeland as a nation in progress and to support the nation-building effort by sending money home and speaking out about the situation in their homeland.

Observatory Head Calls Intelligent Design Absurd’

The director of the Vatican Observatory called the concept of intelligent design absurd and part of a religious fundamentalist movement in the United States, which wants science to show that God exists. They are using the Bible as science, as a source of scientific knowledge. This is wrong, George Coyne, S.J., told Catholic News Service after a lecture on March 27 in Washington, D.C. The earliest date given for the start of modern science is the 13th century, more than 1,000 years after all of the books of the Bible were written, he said. How could biblical writers draw on science when modern science didn’t exist yet? said Father Coyne. He also discussed intelligent design in his speech on the evolution of the universe and in a subsequent question-and-answer period. His talk was sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Intelligent design is a religious movement based on fear that if you don’t teach an alternative to evolution, we will have a lot of little atheists running around, he added.

Are Pro-Choice Catholics Heretics?

The church needs to examine whether Catholic pro-choice politicians’ views are in heresy regarding church teaching against aborting unborn human life, said Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Ore. I think there is suitable reason to consider the possibility that there is a right-to-murder heresy, he told Catholic News Service. The bishop spoke by telephone to CNS on March 22 about a column he wrote in the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Sentinel, raising the question whether the views of Catholics who believe a woman has a right to choose abortion are in heresy. Bishop Vasa told CNS that he is not in a position to state whether a right-to-murder heresy exists. I’m raising the question. I’m not a theologian, he said. The bishop said the question goes beyond Catholic legislators and could extend to other Catholics who believe that it would be O.K. to be pro-choice and Catholic.

Parish, School Reorganization Plans

One of the largest archdioceses in the United States and two smaller dioceses are immersed in planning new alignments of their parishes and schools to reflect shifting demographics and a declining pool of priests. Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York has received recommendations from the group studying realignment to close 31 parishes and 14 schools. Many of the affected parishes would be replaced by new churches in the northern portion of the archdiocese, he said. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Burlington, Vt., outlined a parish reconfiguration plan on March 10 that would be implemented only when/if pastoral care cannot be provided by a priest. Under the plan, up to six parishes would close and many more would be joined together and/or share a pastor. In Buffalo, N.Y., Bishop Edward U. Kmiec has announced plans to close four schools in June and open a new one in September. The diocese’s Strategic Planning Commission was to recommend possible parish closings or mergers by the end of 2007.

Sacrilege Charge Leads to Church Closing

Citing sacrilege by demonstrators who disrupted a Mass, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans has ordered the removal of the Blessed Sacrament from historic St. Augustine Church and closed the church for the foreseeable future. The order came on March 27, the day after sign-waving protesters repeatedly interrupted a priest trying to celebrate Mass in the church, causing the liturgy to be terminated. St. Augustine Parish, in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans next to the French Quarter, was founded in 1841 as a multicultural parish attended by free African-Americans, slaves and whites. It calls itself the nation’s oldest predominantly African-American parish and was the birthplace of the Sisters of the Holy Family, the second-oldest congregation of African-American women religious. Following the recommendations of an archdiocesan pastoral plan after Hurricane Katrina, Archbishop Hughes had decided to close the small parish, merging it with neighboring St. Peter Claver Parish, but to keep the church building open for one Mass each Sunday.

Former America Editor to Woodstock Center

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., former editor in chief of America, will return to Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, D.C., this July as a senior fellow. Father Reese was a senior fellow at Woodstock from 1985 until 1998, when he left to become editor of America. During the current academic year, he has been on sabbatical as a visiting scholar at Santa Clara University in California. At Woodstock, a Jesuit-sponsored theological think tank on religious and social issues, he will specialize in contemporary church issues, religion and politics, and ethics and public policy. Woodstock Center is an ideal setting for scholarly reflection on contemporary theological and ethical issues, he said. I look forward to returning.

American Catholic Historian Honored

Jay P. Dolan, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, will receive the Catholic Library Association’s Jerome Award for outstanding contributions to Catholic scholarship on April 20, during the association’s annual convention, in Atlanta, Ga. Dolan, who joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1971, founded the university’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism in 1975 and served as its director until 1993. He has written or edited numerous books on the history of Catholicism in America, including The American Catholic Experience: A History From Colonial Times to the Present. A former visiting professor at the University of Chicago, Boston College and University College in Cork, Ireland, he also has served as president of the American Society of Church History and the American Catholic Historical Association.

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