Signs of the Times

Knights’ Relief Quick and Generous

The $10 million raised by the Knights of Columbus for hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast represents the largest disaster relief effort in the organization’s 124-year history, reported Patrick Korten, vice president for communications. Almost before the winds had died down on the Gulf Coast following Katrina in August 2005, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson had initiated a conference call with all state directors in the United States and Canada to begin relief efforts. The first response was to place $2.5 million aside for disaster relief immediately, Korten told The Clarion Herald, the New Orleans archdiocesan newspaper, during a visit to New Orleans. He said that even before local councils knew what was going on at the national level, they were raising funds and collecting supplies. The local Knights didn’t wait, they were already doing something, Korten said. For the first two months following the storm, the supreme council matched all funds raised at the local level, adding another $2 million to its initial commitment, he said.

Lebanon Refugees Suffering

The refugee problem in Lebanon is huge, and the situation in the south of the country is atrocious, lamented Paul Nabil Sayah, the Maronite archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land. In some of the areas in the south the humanitarian situation is dire. People have no food, no medicine and no way of going anywhere or getting anything, he said in a phone interview from Amman, Jordan, on July 19. They are living in fear, with one raid after another. Archbishop Sayah was in Lebanon when the war began with Israel, and he arrived in Amman on July 18, traveling through Damascus, Syria, and getting through only by sheer providence, he said. He said he wanted to make the dangerous return trip to be with his people in Israel, some of whose communities have been hit by Katyusha rockets lobbed by Hezbollah militants. The Lebanese are also my people but my responsibility is here.... [In] Haifa and [the village of] Jish they are scared. I can’t help but feel the suffering of my people, and I am helpless, he said.


Commission to Review Apparitions at Medjugorje

Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, announced a commission would be formed to review the alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje and pastoral provisions for the thousands of pilgrims who visit the town each year. The commission members have not been named yet, Cardinal Puljic told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview on July 24. I am awaiting suggestions from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on theologians to appoint. But this commission will be under the [Bosnian] bishops’ conference, as is the usual practice with alleged apparitions, he said. The cardinal said he did not expect the commission to be established until sometime in September because of the summer holidays. He said the primary task of the commission would be to review a report from the region’s bishops in 1991 that concluded, It cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations.

Methodists Adopt Joint Declaration

Methodist, Roman Catholic and Lutheran leaders said their communities will be able to work more closely in proclaiming the Gospel message of salvation after the World Methodist Conference adopted the Catholic-Lutheran joint declaration on justification. "This is a historic day. This is a gift of God. We can be grateful for it," Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said at the signing ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, on July 23. The agreement on justification - how people are made just in the eyes of God and saved by Jesus Christ - provides a basis for a more profound common witness before the world, said the cardinal. Delegates to the World Methodist Conference voted unanimously on July 18 to adopt the declaration, which was approved in 1999 by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation.

Emergency Aid to Lebanon and Gaza

Catholic aid and development agencies from around the world are channeling funding and support through Caritas offices in Lebanon and Jerusalem to help victims suffering from the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, has committed $1 million toward a $2.9 million appeal for Caritas. Half will go to Caritas in Lebanon, and half to Caritas projects in the Gaza Strip. Catholic Relief Services and other aid agencies work with local partners within the Caritas Internationalis confederation of more than 160 Catholic relief, development and social services agencies. Tom Garofalo, C.R.S. country representative for Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, said the agency plans to send its regional director, Mark Schnellbaecher, into Beirut, Lebanon. Schnellbaecher, who was in Cairo, Egypt, was trying to plan a safe route into Beirut to join local C.R.S. staff people working with Caritas.

State Compensation for Abused Irish

Ireland’s Residential Institutions Redress Board has received more than 14,500 claims for compensation from people who say they suffered physical abuse or neglect while residing in industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and other institutions. Most of these institutions were managed by Catholic religious orders, but because they were subject to state regulation and inspection, the Irish government admitted liability and established the board as a means by which survivors of abuse or neglect could seek and gain compensation without having to go to court and undergo cross-examination. According to the board’s annual report for 2005, published in mid-July, more than a third of last year’s applications for compensation were received in the final two weeks before the deadline on Dec. 15. The report said applications for compensation were received from former institutional residents now living in 26 different countries across the world.

Immigrants Determined to Learn English

As the debate over U.S. immigration policies continues to rage in the nation’s capital, Catholic-run centers in Philadelphia that teach English as a second language are struggling to meet the demand of immigrants determined to learn it. A survey released by the Pew Hispanic Center on June 7 showed that 57 percent of Latino immigrants feel it is necessary to learn English to be part of American society. Further, 92 percent of Latinos believe it is very important that the children of immigrants be taught English, the study found. That percentage reaches 96 percent when only foreign-born Latinos are surveyeda higher percentage than whites (87 percent) or blacks (83 percent) who hold that opinion.

The experience of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Philadelphia bear out those numbers. Tens of thousands of adult learners have passed through their literacy and welcome centers, which are staffed by sisters of those communities and other volunteers, both lay and religious.

Trenton Bishop Against Death Penalty

Speaking for the Catholic bishops of New Jersey at the first New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission hearing on July 19, Trenton’s Bishop John M. Smith called for an end to capital punishment, because all human life has dignity and other means are available to punish heinous crimes.

Bishop Smith cited a statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005 that said: The death penalty diminishes all of us. Its use ought to be abandoned not only for what it does to those who are executed but what it does to us as a society. We cannot teach respect for life by taking life.

According to a Zogby International survey in December 2004 of 1,700 American Catholics, only 48 percent support the death penalty, Bishop Smith said. When given a choice, the majority of New Jerseyans who regularly attend religious services (54 percent) prefer life without parole over the death penalty for murder, he added. While I am encouraged by these poll numbers, I believe that the trend against the imposition of the death penalty will grow in our community as people learn and grow in their understanding that the death penalty is inconsistent with standards of decency.

Vatican Official Praises Kneeling at Mass

"Kneeling during the consecration at Mass is the most appropriate way to express the fact that in the Eucharist one meets Jesus, who was bowed down by the weight of human sin," said an article by a Vatican official. The Lord lowered himself to the point of death on the cross in order to encounter sinful man, freeing him from sin, said the brief article published in Notitiae, the bulletin of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

If the Eucharist represents the sacramental memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, it seems appropriate that those for whom the Lord bowed himself down would bow down before this supreme mystery of love, said the article by Msgr. Stephan Hunseler, a congregation official from Germany.

The article, which appeared in late July, said that Christ’s self-emptying reaches its climax when the Lord Jesus Christ takes on himself, as the lamb of God, all the sins of the world.

Jesuit Designs Coat of Arms for Cardinal

Every kid has a hobby. For some it is sports, or collecting stamps. For George Cannizzaro, S.J., it started out as a fascination with flags - the colors, the symbolism, the emblems. "I’ve had an interest in flags for as long as I can remember," said Cannizzaro, 25, who is studying at Loyola University in Chicago and is in priestly formation as a Jesuit. That fascination would lead him, ultimately, to a most unexpected honor: designing the coat of arms for the newly installed French Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, also a Jesuit and the former rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, this past March.

The design, picked from among three of Cannizzaro’s submissions, incorporated the Jesuit sun-and-splendor symbol and an open book, representing the Bible and the cardinal’s church career in exegesis. It also included the galero, the fanciful red hat with tassels that signifies its wearer is a cardinal.

Positive Changes in China’s Church

Hong Kong’s Auxiliary Bishop John Tong Hon said positive changes are already evident in relations between China’s open and underground Catholic communities, but that China should stop ordaining bishops illicitly. If the Chinese government wants to hold dialogue with the Holy See, they should not interfere with the church by illegitimate ordinations, Bishop Tong told 35 bishops, priests, religious and laypeople at a seminar on July 18-20 just south of Seoul, South Korea. His remarks were reported by UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. The seminar, The Search for Christian Unity: Where We Stand Today, was organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.

The church in China ordained two bishops without papal approval earlier this year: the Rev. Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming Diocese on April 30, and the Rev. Joseph Liu Xinhong of Anhui Diocese on May 3.

Pope Visits Alpine Kennel

Vacationing in the Alps, Pope Benedict XVI made a brief visit to Switzerland, walking across the Italian border to visit the famed St. Bernard kennel of an Augustinian monastery. News of the pope’s excursion on July 18 came from the pope himself. Returning to Les Combes, where he has been staying since July 11, Pope Benedict told reporters he had gone first to a convent of Benedictine nuns at Saint-Oyen, Italy.

We had a lovely meeting with the Benedictine sisters and we prayed together, the pope said. Then we went to the Great St. Bernard Pass, where we prayed vespers with the monks and with the people before having a nice encounter in the refectory.

Meeting the pope shortly after 8 p.m., the reporters asked if he had a chance to visit the kennels, where for more than three centuries the Augustinians raised Saint Bernard dogs and trained them to assist in mountain rescues. Smiling, the pope said yes, adding that the dogs were very good, very well behaved.

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