Signs of the Times

Archbishop Calls for More Spanish-Language Radio

Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha has encouraged his fellow U.S. bishops to develop Spanish-language Catholic radio stations as a way of reaching Hispanic Catholics. With the Hispanic population growing rapidly in the United States, many dioceses face difficulty finding enough Spanish-speaking priests, staff and volunteers, he said in a March letter to the country’s bishops. Spanish-language Catholic radio is an impressive and overlooked means of reaching Hispanics, he said. It can help teach about religion and provide practical information about accessing social services, he added. Archbishop Curtiss invited bishops to attend a breakfast on June 16, during their annual spring meeting in Los Angeles, to learn more about how to start a radio station and how to find Catholic programming in Spanish. The breakfast is being sponsored by the Catholic Radio Association’s episcopal advisory board. Archbishop Curtiss is the board’s chairman.

Less Independence for Franciscans at Assisi

The Franciscan sanctuary of Assisi, long a haven of pilgrimage, prayer and social activism, has found its independence curbed under Pope Benedict XVI. Inspired by the life of St. Francis and the interfaith outreach of Pope John Paul II, the Franciscan friars of Assisi sponsored a series of interreligious prayer meetings, peace marches and conferences on social justice over the last 25 years. The guests included Buddhist monks and Muslim imams, antiglobalization activists and death penalty opponents and a great number of politicians. The deputy prime minister of Iraq at the time, Tariq Aziz, who is a Christian, lit a candle of peace in Assisi shortly before the United States invaded his country in 2003.


Seven months after his election, Pope Benedict issued a one-page document that gave the local bishop and the Italian bishops’ conference control over all pastoral activities of Franciscans in Assisi. Later he named a papal delegate to keep closer ties with the friars.

Some Surprising Numbers About Illegal Immigrants

Amid the enthusiastic rallies and dueling politicians’ rhetoric about immigration during the last few weeks, recent demographic analyses and opinion polls put the debate into numerical perspective. Among the conclusions drawn from the data are that the nation’s illegal immigrants include many families in complex situations, and that the opinions of Americans on the subject do not line up easily into neat rows.

Some of the demographic information may surprise people who think the illegal immigrant population consists largely of single young men. About 36 percent, or 2.3 million, of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants are single men with no children; another 12 percent, or 740,000, are single women with no children. About 540,000, or 9 percent, are couples without children. According to an analysis of census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, the other 41 percent or so break down into an assortment of mixed status families, in which parents are not in the United States legally. Those mixed status categories include 1.5 million families in which all the children are U.S. citizens, but at least one parent is in the country illegally; 630,000 families in which all the children are also in the United States without legal papers; and 460,000 families in which some minor children are U.S. citizens and others are not.

Health Group Head Sees Promise in New Law

Although it is too early to tell whether a new Massachusetts law will succeed in its goal of providing health insurance coverage for nearly everyone in the commonwealth by July 2007, the president and C.E.O. of the Catholic Health Association said she is immensely impressed that the Legislature took on the difficult issue of universal health care. Sister Carol Keehan, of the Daughters of Charity, who heads the association, said the move to find creative solutions to the health care crisis is long overdue and must be imitated around the country and in Washington. Every person in this country will be better off if more people are insured, she said in a telephone interview on April 17 with Catholic News Service. Those with good health insurance and those who contribute to their employees’ insurance will see the rise in health care costs slowed, while those without insurance will get coverage and will no longer delay treatment because of worries over costs. It’s too new to know if it’s the right model, she added, but we need to make this a priority. We all have to do something. Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts signed the health insurance reform bill into law on April 12.

Catholic Author Muriel Spark Dies at 88 in Italy

The Catholic novelist Muriel Spark, author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and more than 20 other books, died on April 13 in a hospital in Florence, Italy. She was 88. Her funeral took place on April 15 in the Tuscan town of Civitella della Chiana, where Spark had lived for almost three decades.

Spark, who became a Catholic in 1954, received the 2001 Campion Award, given annually to a noted Christian person of letters by the Catholic Book Club, a subsidiary of America Press. A working journalist, editor and biographer, Spark did not publish any novels until she was 39, three years after she became Catholic. Her first novel, The Comforters (1957), was inspired by her studies on the Book of Job, according to a BBC Web site. Several critics agree that her religious conversion was the central event of her life, the BBC said of Spark. In 1961 she published her most famous work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the story of a charismatic teacher and her influence on a group of favorite girls.

Memphis Bishop Wins N.C.E.A. Award

Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn., won the National Catholic Educational Association’s 2006 John F. Meyers Award. The award is presented to a person who has supported Catholic education on a national level through such contributions as development, public relations, scholarship programs or government relations. He received a standing ovation on April 18 from 5,000 delegates, who were in Atlanta for the N.C.E.A.’s 103rd annual convention, for reopening long-closed Catholic schools and establishing new ones in Memphis’s inner city since 1999. Called jubilee schools because the Catholic Church was about to celebrate a jubilee year in 2000, the seven schools educate about 1,000 Memphis children. In January of this year, Bishop Steib announced that an eighth school will be built and said the fund to support them had reached $44 million. I’m here because of a lot of help, Bishop Steib said in accepting his award, citing the students, teachers, administrators and volunteers who make the jubilee schools work.

Boston Archdiocese in Dire Financial Shape

Boston’s Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., called the archdiocesan financial condition dire on April 19 as he unveiled audited disclosure reports showing a $46 million deficit for the 18-month period ending June 30, 2005. It is quite obvious that the situation is urgent, putting programs and ministries at risk, Cardinal O’Malley said at a news conference held to release the financial disclosure reports and an archdiocesan fiscal recovery plan. Also announced were plans to cut the deficit that include eliminating 50 positions, consolidating or merging programs, selling more property and making efforts to increase fundraising. "I don’t think there are any quick fixes but we are poised to stop the bleeding and hopefully our fundraising efforts will continue to generate the kind of capital we need," the cardinal said at the news conference held at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. He expressed hope that the fulfilment of the promise of financial transparency he made last October will restore trust in the archdiocese.

Egypt’s Christian Communities Threatened

Recent stabbings and violence against Egypt’s Christian community raise questions about their rights as a minority, said a Coptic Orthodox journalist. Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of Watani, a Coptic weekly newspaper in Alexandria, Egypt, said the nation’s Christians suffer from marginalization and are denied their right to occupy chief posts in the public sector and in the government. The recent violence began on April 14, when Coptic Orthodox churches were full of worshipers celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, normally celebrated on Palm Sunday. This year, Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on April 23; in Egypt, however, Coptic Christians generally attend church on Fridays because weekends are observed on Friday and Saturday. An attacker broke into St. George Church and stabbed people in the back row. About 45 minutes later, another church was attacked.

Spokane Must Rebuild Abuse Settlement Plan

The Diocese of Spokane, Wash., must restructure its settlement offer to people who claim they were abused as minors by clergymen, ruled Patricia Williams, a U.S. bankruptcy judge. She said the $45.7 million plan did not treat all claimants fairly, because it favored one group over another. Another hearing on the matter has been set for May 15.

On Feb. 1, the diocese offered the settlement to 75 claimants. Since then the diocese has received more than 100 other claims, which it is reviewing to see if there is enough evidence to justify the claims. This settlement violates a rule that requires fair treatment, Williams said on April 21. She told attorneys for the diocese and for the plaintiffs that she expected them to come up with a solid settlement plan by autumn, before the second anniversary of the diocese’s filing for Chapter 11 protection from bankruptcy. The diocese’s bankruptcy filing was announced on Dec. 6, 2004. Under Chapter 11 proceedings, a bankruptcy judge has to approve any settlements in cases of sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy and oversees the reorganization of diocesan finances.

Knights Leader Says Love Should Guide Policy

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson of the Knights of Columbus, in a newspaper commentary, urged Americans to let the light of Christian love guide efforts to amend the U.S. immigration policy. Anderson observed that the Knights of Columbus was founded by immigrants and their sons, who struggled long and hard to demonstrate to those who feared and hated us that we were just as fervent about being patriotic Americans as they were. The column appeared as the U.S. Senate prepared to resume consideration of immigration legislation, and advocacy groups around the country planned more efforts to rally immigrants. If any group within American society ought to be able to weigh the issue with charity and understanding, it is the Catholic community, Anderson said. Although nearly every American can trace his lineage to immigrants who came here from somewhere else, Catholics bore the brunt of some especially virulent nativist resistance to their arrival, which began early in the 19th century and continued well into the 20th.

Vatican Prepares Text on Condom Use and AIDS

Pope Benedict XVI has asked a commission of scientific and theological experts to prepare a document on condom use and AIDS prevention, a Vatican official said. Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, said the document would focus at least in part on condom use by married couples when one spouse is infected. He said the document would be made public soon, but refused to give details about the commission’s conclusions. Cardinal Lozano was responding to questions in the wake of an interview by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., retired archbishop of Milan, who said use of condoms can be the lesser evil in some situations. Cardinal Lozano spoke in an interview on April 23 with the Rome newspaper La Repubblica. He was asked specifically about use of condoms by married couples seeking to prevent transmission of AIDS. It’s a very difficult and delicate theme that requires prudence, Cardinal Lozano said. My council is studying this attentively with scientists and theologians expressly charged with preparing a document on the subject, which will be made public soon, he said.

Jesuits Mark Jubilee Year of Founding Fathers

The Society of Jesus, the Catholic Church’s largest religious order of men, is in the midst of a jubilee year called to remember three of the original members of the order. The 2006 celebrations mark the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and the 500th anniversary of the births of two of his closest companions, St. Francis Xavier and Blessed Peter Faber.

In St. Peter’s Basilica and in chapels, churches and cathedrals around the world on April 22, Jesuits and their friends gathered to remember the three and to reflect on the mission of the Jesuits today. The celebration date was the feast of Mary, Mother of the Society, marking the day in 1541 when the three and the other original members of the Jesuits pronounced their solemn vows in Rome. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, presided over the Mass in St. Peter’s.

Pope Benedict XVI and Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the Jesuits’ superior general, addressed the congregation after the Mass. In his discourse, the pope invoked the Jesuits’ special vow to fulfill missions assigned by the holy father. Pope Benedict XVI asked the Society of Jesus to concentrate on teaching and research in theology and philosophy, dialogue with modern culture and the Christian education of future generations. Pope Benedict called the three founders men of extraordinary holiness and exceptional apostolic zeal. The pope said: Precisely because he was a man of God, St. Ignatius was a faithful servant of the church. From his desire to serve the church in the most useful and efficient way, the vow of special obedience to the pope was born.

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11 years 11 months ago
Two items in “Signs of the Times” (5/8) provided an interesting contrast. One described the “dire” financial plight of the Archdiocese of Boston, with a $46 million deficit, which, as has been reported elsewhere, resulted in parish and school closings and consolidations, the sale of property, reductions in programs and ministries, and layoffs of personnel.

A second short article described the recent reopening of seven closed Catholic schools in center city Memphis, Tenn., and construction of a new school by Bishop J. Terry Steib, at a cost of $44 million, which has been generously and joyfully contributed by Memphis Catholics in the center city, suburbs and countryside.

It would be most interesting to see a comparative study of the episcopal leadership styles of the Bishop of Memphis with the former Archbishop of Boston, living now in Rome.

Likewise, perhaps the next time the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meets to elect a new president, the bishops in their collective wisdom might consider a servant leader with some vision, enthusiasm and optimism, rather than simply picking the next man in line for the job. We desperately need episcopal leaders who are eager to go and make disciples, versus continuing the downsizing of the church in the United States, especially in troubled urban areas.


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