Signs of the Times

Church Leaders Call for Peace in Mideast

Pope Benedict XVI endorsed a declaration by the Group of 8 that criticized the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah for fueling an escalation in fighting and urged Israel to exercise restraint. "I find myself in full agreement with the G-8 communiqué," the pope said on July 18 during his vacation in the Alpine village of Les Combes in northern Italy. He said the statement, issued by the leaders of seven industrialized nations plus Russia at the end of their summit on July 17 in St. Petersburg, Russia, seemed to be the path to take to end the violence. When reporters asked what the international community should do concerning the growing Middle East conflict, the pope said, "I have nothing else to add other than the importance of prayer so that God may help us."

Meanwhile, the head of the Vatican’s justice and peace council also lent his support to the G-8 declaration. Cardinal Renato Martino told Vatican Radio on July 18 that G-8 leaders promised to collaborate with the United Nations to help promote dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and to help fulfill U.N. resolutions 1559 and 1680 that called on all countries, especially neighboring Syria, to respect fully Lebanon’s sovereignty and its borders. The Italian cardinal re-emphasized the seriousness of the situation in the Middle East, underlining the pope’s concern for the fate of the region’s civilians.


Cardinal Martino said the cycle of violence is to be repudiatedboth the terrorist acts on the one side and the military retaliation on the other as they both constitute a violation of law and of the most basic principles of justice. He said the world community and especially the United Nations must act immediately to foster a state of law in the area and to help jump-start a process of dialogue and peace among warring sides before the conflict degenerates and spins out of control. He cautioned against the potential involvement of countries like Syria and Iran in fueling Islamic fundamentalist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah. He said the involvement of these countries would further sour an ideological conflict already under way and provoke an even more serious reaction from Israel, adding that any use of weapons of mass destruction or nuclear arms would mark a tragic page in the history of the human family.

The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Policy called for an end to the violence in the Holy Land and Lebanon and for a cease-fire to be secured. Violence, from whatever side, for whatever purpose, cannot bring a lasting or just peace in the land we call holy, said a statement on July 18 from Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla. Bishop Wenski said rocket barrages and suicide bombings against innocent Israeli civilians and cross-border attacks and abductions by extremist Palestinians, as well as Israel’s sweeping counterattacks on civilian areas, civilian infrastructure, blockades and other acts of war in Gaza and Lebanon, are actions we cannot support.

The statement, titled Break the Cycle of Violence in the Holy Land, was issued in response to escalating attacks on Israel in July by Palestine’s Hamas faction and Lebanon’s Hezbollah faction and Israel’s retaliation for those attacks.

Prayer and Penance for Peace

Faced with the worsening situation in the Middle East, the Holy See Press Office reported on July 20 that Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed Sunday, July 23, as a special day of prayer and penance, inviting the pastors and faithful of all the particular Churches, and all believers of the world, to implore from God the precious gift of peace. The pope, the announcement said, hopes that prayers will be raised to the Lord for an immediate cease-fire between the sides, for humanitarian corridors to be opened in order to bring help to the suffering peoples, and for reasonable and responsible negotiations to begin to put an end to objective situations of injustice that exist in that region.

In a related development, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the Vatican relief and development agency located in New York, announced that it has launched an emergency appeal to aid Lebanese families displaced by the shelling of southern Lebanon and Beirut’s southern suburbs. More than 500,000 people (13 percent of Lebanon’s population of 3.9 million) have thus far fled; some 30,000 families have found shelter in schools in the regions of Baadba, Chouf, Jbeil, Kesserwan and Metn. An additional 150,000 people have fled the country.

C.N.E.W.A.’s Beirut-based staff has surveyed displacement centers in Jbeil, Kesserwan and Metn and report urgent need for drinking water, powdered milk, blankets, canned food, soap, detergents and sponge mattresses. Within the next 10 to 15 days, critical shortages of fuel oil and gasoline, food supplies and drinking water will affect the entire countryLebanon is cut off from the rest of the world.

Contributions can be sent by mail to C.N.E.W.A., 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195, or through C.N.E.W.A.’s Web site:

Nun’s Beatification Helps Hungarian Church Image

The beatification of a nun killed for sheltering Jews during World War II will help the church’s image in Hungary and strengthen Catholic-Jewish ties, said the Hungarian bishops’ conference spokesman. The Communist and liberal image of the church in our country is that of an institution which uses the resources of the state to live a good life while doing nothing, said Csongor Szerdahelyi. This story firmly shows that the church was and remains on the side of the poor and helpless. The beatification will be a very important pastoral event. Sister Sara Salkahazi of the Sisters of Social Service was shot and thrown into the Danube River in Budapest Dec. 27, 1944, by agents of Hungary’s pro-Nazi Arrow Cross regime for sheltering Jewish women and children at her convent. Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree for her beatification April 28; Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest is to preside at the beatification ceremony in Hungary on Sept. 17.

Vatican Shows Surplus for Fiscal Year 2005

Despite the $8.9 million of extraordinary expenses related to the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican closed its 2005 budget with a surplus of more than $12 million, officials said. Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani, president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, presented the 2005 consolidated budget figures at a press conference on July 12. The cardinal did not provide figures for total Vatican income and expenses at the press conference, but promised to provide the figures later. Improved exchange rates and higher interest on investments helped give the Vatican its healthiest bottom line in eight years, the cardinal said. He reported that the Vatican’s investment sector closed with a profit of $55 million, compared with a profit of only $7.7 million in 2004.

East Timor Leaders Endorse Prime Minister

Catholic Church leaders in East Timor have endorsed José Ramos-Horta as the country’s new prime minister, calling his leadership a step toward ending violence and political uncertainty. Ramos-Horta, who was sworn in on July 10 as prime minister at the presidential office in Dili, promised close collaboration with the Catholic Church and an end to the violence that forced 150,000 people to flee their homes. I think this is a good step forward to solve the crisis, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili told journalists outside the presidential palace after the swearing-in ceremony. The church fully supports the effort of the government, and the church is also available to work together with the government to build this country.

Pope to Visit Hometown in September

When Pope Benedict XVI visits Germany this September, he will make stops in his hometown of Marktl am Inn, a nearby town that houses a Marian shrine, and cities where he studied for the priesthood, taught theology and served as archbishop. On July 12 the Vatican released a general itinerary of the pope’s trip to Bavaria, in Germany, on Sept. 9-14. On Sept. 9 Pope Benedict will fly from Rome to Munich, where he will stay until Sept. 11. He served as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1981. On Sept. 11 he will travel from Munich to Altötting. As a boy, Pope Benedict often went with his family to Altötting to pray at the shrine of the Black Madonna. Later that same day, the pope will head to Marktl am Inn, where he was born. From there, he will travel to Regensburg, where he taught theology at Regensburg University, where his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, still lives, and where their parents and sister, Maria, are buried. On Sept. 14 the pope will go to Freising, where he attended the seminary, finished his undergraduate studies and was ordained a priest.

Sisters of St. Joseph Criticize Bush Policies

At a national meeting in Milwaukee, leaders of the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph sharply criticized policies of President George W. Bush that continue the war in Iraq, that violate human rights along our borders, that intensify poverty, that pollute our earth and that deny our interdependence with all peoples. The women religious issued a statement addressed to the president on July 11, when they learned that he was to speak that afternoon at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center at a fundraiser for Mark Green, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin who is running for governor of the state. Nearly 1,100 nuns and associates, representing 7,000 U.S. Sisters of St. Joseph and 2,500 associates, were at the Milwaukee meeting. More than 60 sisters from other parts of the world were also there. "Committed to relationships grounded in compassion and love, we call upon you and your administration to change your policies and practices," the nuns said.

Caritas to Stress Peace-Building

Caritas Internationalis will focus on peace-building as a core activity of its global Catholic relief, development and social services organization, said Duncan MacLaren, secretary-general of Caritas. The decision was made by participants at Caritas’s first peace forum held in Sri Lanka in late June. The forum approved a blueprint for a peace-building manual that is to be considered for adoption at the Caritas general assembly in 2007. We chose Sri Lanka as the venue as the nation is gripped with all the dimensions of a conflict situation, MacLaren told Catholic News Service. Just an hour before the forum began, a suicide bomber from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam killed Gen. Parami Kulatunga with an explosive-laden motorbike.

U.S. Senator to Introduce Federal Voucher Measure

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said on July 14 that he planned to introduce legislation to provide $100 million in federally funded vouchers so that students in low-performing public schools could attend private or parochial schools. The senator made the announcement in New Orleans at the conclusion of a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development. The hearing was held to gather testimony about the post-Katrina recovery of the public school system in Orleans Parish, a civil entity comparable to a county. Alexander, subcommittee chairman and former U.S. secretary of education, said that under his measure a public school would have to fall below standards established by the No Child Left Behind Act for six years for a student to qualify for the voucher. "In his new budget, President George W. Bush has recommended $100 million for a voucher program to allow children the options of attending any school or receiving additional tutoring services," Alexander said.

Bishop Urges Medjugorje Visionaries to Stop Claims

The bishop whose diocese includes the Bosnian village of Medjugorje has urged six alleged Marian visionaries to stop claiming that Mary has been visiting them for 25 years. Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, Bosnia-Herzegovina, said the church has not accepted, either as supernatural or as Marian, any of the apparitions said to have been witnessed by a group of people from Medjugorje. As the local bishop, I maintain that regarding the events of Medjugorje, on the basis of the investigations and experience gained thus far throughout these last 25 years, the church has not confirmed a single apparition as authentically being the Madonna, he said. He then called on the alleged visionaries and those persons behind the messages to demonstrate ecclesiastical obedience and to cease with these public manifestations and messages in this parish. The bishop made his comments on June 15 during a homily at a confirmation Mass in Medjugorje’s St. James Church. The diocese published the homily in English and Italian on July 3.

Pope Uses Holy Grail at Mass in Valencia

King Arthur and his knights and Indiana Jones looked for it, and most recently Dan Brown’s sleuth, Robert Langdon, hunted it down in The Da Vinci Code. But these legendary and fictional characters might have saved a lot of trouble in their hunt for the Holy Grail by just going to Valencia. The host city of Pope Benedict XVI’s third pastoral journey abroad, on July 8-9, is home to what tradition says is the cup Jesus used during the Last Supper. The custodian of the Santo Caliz, or Holy Grail, said the age of the stone chalice and documents tracing its history back to 1071 make it absolutely likely that this beautiful cup was in the hands of the Lord during the Last Supper. Msgr. Jaime Sancho Andreu, head of the Archdiocese of Valencia’s liturgy commission and curator of the Holy Grail, wrote a full-page article in the July 5 edition of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, describing the chalice, its history and the likelihood of its being authentic, although at least one Vatican art official challenged the notion.

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