Signs of the Times

New U.S. Ecumenical Group Founded

Christian Churches Together in the USAthe broadest, most inclusive ecumenical movement in U.S. historywas officially founded during a gathering near Atlanta, Ga., on March 28-31. Its founding 34 Christian churches and national organizations represent more than 100 million Americans. Twenty-two additional churches and organizations are participating as observers or are in the process of deciding about joining, and more than 30 others are in conversation with Christian Churches Together. Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, Md., who hosted a meeting in Baltimore in 2001 at which plans for the new organization first took shape, will represent the Catholic Church as one of five co-presidents. He said he was delighted that the work we began in Baltimore has continued to prosper. Christian Churches Together is intended as a forum of ecumenical dialogue and witness involving the participation of representatives from all five major Christian families of churches in the United States: Catholic, Orthodox, historic Protestant, evangelical/Pentecostal and historic racial/ethnic.

Vatican Observer Urges People-Centered’ Policies

When immigration is seen as a problem to be solved, it may be painted as a threat and...manipulated for short-term political gain, the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations told the U.N. Commission on Population and Development on April 5. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the permanent observer of the Holy See to the international body, said such an approach can be detrimental to the most natural rights of all human beingsthe right to life, to citizenship, to work and to development. The archbishop said, For this reason, the upcoming high-level dialogue on this subject is very welcome; indeed it is a long overdue discussion on a perennial social question with consequences for people far beyond the 191 million or so presently considered migrants. The commission met on April 3-7 at U.N. headquarters in New York City to prepare for the dialogue on international migration and development, also to be held in New York on Sept. 14-15.


Mexican Deacon Program Stopped by Vatican

A Mexican bishop has said that the Vatican is still refusing to allow him to ordain permanent deacons from the indigenous populations in his diocese in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de las Casas also said that he has been told to stop his formation programs for candidates to the permanent diaconate. The Vatican fears that the ordinations are part of a plan to develop an autonomous local church and would be used to prepare the way for the ordination of married priests, he said. The decision was communicated in a letter of Oct. 26, 2005, from Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, said the bishop. Bishop Arizmendi discussed the Vatican’s decision during an interview with Catholic News Service in Washington, D.C., on April 7. He made the decision public at a diocesan conference for his 335 permanent deacons on March 13-16.

Cardinal Surprised by Merger of Migrant Council

The former head of the Vatican’s office for pastoral care of migrants said he was never consulted about changes being made to the pontifical council he headed for almost eight years. Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao of Japan, who served as president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers since June 1998, said he was disappointed and saddened by the way the Curial reform took place. He learned his post was being absorbed by another council only when he read it in the newspaper. Nobody consulted me, he said. I felt a little bithow do you say itsad, the cardinal said in an interview on March 15 with UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand, which published the story online on April 7. The 76-year-old cardinal learned from reading in the newspapers that the pope had accepted his retirement and that the council’s presidency would temporarily be filled by Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Cardinal Dulles Affirms Ministry of Laity

Lay people are called to serve the church’s mission, both by ministry within the church and by apostolate to the world, Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., said in a lecture on March 29. While some Catholics would like to restrict the use of the term ministry to what the ordained do, Scripture, tradition and official church documents make the use of the term much broader, the Jesuit theologian said. It is also a mistake to view lay ministry within the churcha necessary support for strong lay apostolate toward the worldas somehow undermining the lay apostolate, he said. Cardinal Dulles, the Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York City, spoke about The Mission of the Laity in his spring McGinley lecture at the university.

Judas Document Does Not Merit Name Gospel

The Gospel of Judas was unimportant to most Christians when it was written hundreds of years ago and it is unimportant today, said a Jesuit professor who has convoked a series of ecumenical studies of the historical Jesus. Gerald O’Collins, S.J., a longtime professor of Christology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, said this text, like those known as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Philip, does not merit the name gospel.’ The National Geographic Society unveiled the document on April 6, releasing English translations of portions of the text. A gospel’ is a literary genreestablished by Matthew, Mark, Luke and Johnfocusing on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Father O’Collins said. While including events supposedly related to the life of Jesus, the Gospel of Judas and the others really are texts attempting to bolster the importance of the personalities they are named after, not of Jesus, the priest said. They are not summaries of the good news, he said.

Cost of Sexual Abuse Now Exceeds $1.5 Billion

The cumulative financial cost to the U.S. Catholic Church for sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy is now more than $1.5 billion and still climbing. A new report released on March 30 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said U.S. dioceses, eparchies (Eastern-rite dioceses) and religious orders spent $467 million last year in settlements, therapy for victims and abusers, attorney fees and other costs related to sexual abuse of minors by priests or deacons. A similar national survey the previous year revealed costs of $158 million. An extensive national study of the U.S. church’s costs related to sexual abuse from 1950 to 2002, completed in early 2004, revealed an amount during that period of at least $573 million. The bishops did no national survey of 2003 costs, but a review of Catholic News Service archives shows that diocesan payments for settlements and victim compensation funds that year ran to more than $180 million.

Pilgrim Cross on Road to 2008 World Youth Day

With the unveiling of a logo, the handing over of a pilgrim cross and the cheers of young Australians, the road to Sydney and World Youth Day 2008 were officially opened at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI sent the World Youth Day cross on a two-year trip across Africa and Oceania after a Mass on Passion/Palm Sunday, April 9. Accepting it were young Australians, eager for the spiritual spotlight that will soon begin to swing across their country. With Australian flags unfurled, the young people indulged in some lively celebration after the liturgy in St. Peter’s Square. That was the spirit of Sydney on display, remarked Morris Iemma, premier of the Australian state New South Wales, at a press conference afterward. He predicted that young people would find Sydney the friendliest city and the most welcoming city in the world. Pope Benedict XVI gave the organizers a morale boost when he told pilgrims, See you in Sydney, God willing. When Australia was announced last year as the venue for the next international gathering, there was doubt about whether the pope would make the trip.

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