Signs of the Times

Catholic Common Ground Marks 10th Anniversary

Listening has to be an essential ingredient in relationships within the church, just as it must be in all healthy relationships, said the keynote speaker at an event at Loyola University in Chicago on Aug. 11 marking the 10th anniversary of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., said that 10 years of seeking common ground within the church has only reinforced the idea of the initiative’s founders, that seeking communion in Christ requires seeking communion with one another. The past 10 years have given me a privileged place where I have met people, some with very critical views of the church, who yet possess a passionate regard and deep love for the church, he said. I have come to respect them and have concluded that they are critical precisely because they love that church family to which they belong.

New Edition of Program of Priestly Formation

A new edition of the Program of Priestly Formation has been issued for use in all U.S. Catholic seminaries. It places more emphasis on the human formation of seminarians, and especially on formation for celibacy, than did the fourth edition of the program, which had been in effect since 1992. The 98-page revised version of the program, the fifth edition, has been posted on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Program of Priestly Formation has governed seminary formation in the United States since the bishops issued the first edition in 1971. The new version, reflecting the bishops’ recent response to the scandal of clergy sexual abuse of minors, says explicitly for the first time that no seminary applicant is to be accepted if he has been involved in sexual abuse of minors. It also incorporates stricter norms, adopted by the bishops in 1999, for evaluating an application for seminary admission from someone who previously left or was dismissed from a seminary or a formation program for religious life.


C.R.S. Relief in Lebanon Helps Returnees

As those displaced by the fighting in Lebanon returned to their hometowns, Catholic Relief Services and other international aid agencies were sending assessment teams throughout southern Lebanon and were meeting to coordinate their efforts. David Snyder, spokesman for C.R.S. in Beirut, said on Aug. 17 that 90 percent of the people housed in shelters during the monthlong fighting left within the first 48 hours of the cease-fire, which began on Aug. 14. Many shelters are down to a handful of people, said Snyder. C.R.S. is the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency. After providing accommodations, food, clothing and medicine in the shelters, C.R.S. and the other aid agencies are shifting their focus to meeting the needs of returnees, many of whom are going back to houses destroyed or damaged, without electricity and clean water. Everyone is trying to figure out what to do next, Snyder said.

Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue Back on Track

Theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches has been derailed for six years. In mid-September, 60 ecumenical experts will try to get it back on track. The Catholic-Orthodox international dialogue commission is meeting in the Serbian capital of Belgrade on Sept. 18-25, in what Pope Benedict XVI has optimistically described as a new phase in dialogue. That the encounter is taking place at all has been described as a big step forward by Vatican officials. Representatives from 10 Orthodox churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, will attend. But church officials also recognize that it would not take much to send the whole enterprise off the rails again. For one thing, the two main topics of the meeting are papal primacy and the role of Eastern Catholic churchestwo of the sorest points in Catholic-Orthodox relations. In fact, it was the re-emergence of Eastern Catholic churches in post-Communist Eastern Europe that so troubled the mixed commission’s meetings throughout the 1990’s. After an acrimonious meeting in Emmitsburg, Md., in 2000, the dialogue was suspended.

New Director for Vatican Observatory

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed José Funes, 43, an Argentinian Jesuit, to be the new director of the Vatican Observatory. The astronomer, an expert on disk galaxies, has served as a staff astronomer at the Vatican Observatory since 2000. Father Funes succeeds George V. Coyne, S.J., 73, of the United States, who had served as director since 1978. The observatory staff divides its time between facilities at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, and the University of Arizona in Tucson. The observatory traces its origins back to the observational tower erected at the Vatican by Pope Gregory XIII in 1578 in preparation for reforming the Western calendar. Use of the tower for astronomy began in 1800. Pope Leo XIII formally established the Vatican Observatory in 1891, and it has been entrusted to the Jesuits since 1934. Father Funes, the new director, was born in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1963 and earned a master’s degree in astronomy from the National University of Córdoba in 1985.

Syro-Malabar Catholics: End Latin Dominance

Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Syro-Malabar Church in India, called for an end to dominance of the Latin-rite over the Syro-Malabar Church, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. Cardinal Vithayathil spoke at an international meeting on Aug. 18-20 that brought together Syro-Malabar leaders in Cochin, which is in Kerala State, the base of the Syro-Malabar Church. Syro-Malabar Catholics from around the world called for an end to restrictions on that oriental church’s administration and demanded more dioceses.

The 400 delegates represented Syro-Malabar communities in Australia, Canada, Germany, Persian Gulf nations, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as in major Indian cities outside Kerala. Organized by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of Migrants, the meeting in Cochin was the first gathering of its kind.

Lefebvrite Bishop Says No Progress with Vatican

A year after his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, said there had been no substantial progress on reconciliation with the Vatican. Bishop Fellay said that after the terms of a possible agreement were discussed by cardinals and officials of the Roman Curia in meetings last spring, there has been no development on the issue. I think probably the pope would like things to go quicker, and he is probably facing a lot of opposition from the cardinals, from within, Bishop Fellay said on Aug. 24. Right now, there is not much happening in either direction, he said. Bishop Fellay spoke by phone to Catholic News Service from the society’s headquarters in écone, Switzerland. In late August 2005, he and another official of his order met privately with the pope for 35 minutes, an encounter that prompted speculation about possible reconciliation. The society, which rejects many of the changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council, broke with the Vatican in 1988 when its late founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of France ordained four bishops against papal instructions. Bishop Fellay was one of those ordained.

Czech Catholic Church Sells Property

The Czech Catholic Church has begun selling its properties at low prices to cope with plummeting church donations and membership. The reason is simplewe just do not have the money to maintain them, said Martin Horalek, spokesman for the Prague-based bishops’ conference. Some priests are spending most of their time on the upkeep of their churches when they should be providing pastoral care for the faithful. Horalek said property sales by the country’s eight dioceses had been approved at the church’s synod in 2005. But, he said, church officials hoped local municipalities would still allow occasional use of the churches for Mass. Village and town councils can receive state funds to renovate or rebuild them, said Horalek. The situation differs in each diocese, however, so individual bishops must decide how many should be handed to the municipality or sold to private owners.

Refuge for Iraqi Christians

Joseph Kassab, head of the Chaldean Federation of America, met on Aug. 25 for the sixth time this year with officials from the State Department to press the case to allow ChaldeansIraqi Christiansfleeing their homeland to emigrate to the United States. We’ve got their attention, Kassab told Catholic News Service during an interview in Arlington, Va., a Washington suburb, prior to the meeting. Afterwards he said: There’s going to be a little help.... There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel. Kassab, whose brother is Chaldean Archbishop Djibrail Kassab of Basra, Iraq, is still waiting for effective action. He estimated that less than half of the 1.1 million to 1.2 million Chaldeans who were in Iraq before the U.S. war began in 2003 remain in Iraq today. Kassab said most of them, 92 percent, have fled to Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan.

Nuncio Shows How Church Is Fighting Terrorism

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Catholic Church has worked steadily to overcome terrorism by examining the root causes behind the phenomenon, said the Vatican’s nuncio to the United Nations. Archbishop Celestino Migliore compared the crashing noise of a falling tree to the quieter sound of a growing forest. What the Catholic Church has been doing in the aftermath of 9/11 is more in the order of a forest that grows and expands every day without much fanfare, he said. In written comments to Catholic News Service, Archbishop Migliore mentioned in particular the interreligious peace gathering that Pope John Paul II convened in Assisi, Italy, in 2002, as well as Pope Benedict XVI’s call for people to band together to overcome terrorism not only through analysis of its political and social causes, but also its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations.

Conscientious Objection Remains Possible

Conscientious objection to fighting wars is still a possibility 33 years after the United States ended obligatory military service. But objectors in the all-volunteer U.S. armed forces have to be opposed to all wars, not just to a particular one such as Iraq. Even with volunteers, where the presumption is that someone who enlists is willing to fight, the law allows troops to change their minds for religious or philosophical reasons. One result has been that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, activities picked up at the Catholic Peace Fellowship, which helps military personnel filing for conscientious-objector status or who just want information about Catholic moral teachings on war. Sept. 11 shaped what we have done since, said Michael Baxter, national secretary of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, based in South Bend, Ind. Through e-mails, telephone calls and personal contacts, the once-dormant Catholic group has actively aided about 60 people seeking conscientious-objector status since Sept. 11 and fielded more than 1,500 requests for information, said Baxter, who is also an assistant professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Mary Luke Tobin Dies, Observer at Vatican II

Mary Luke Tobin, of the Sisters of Loretto, who played a leading role in the U.S. renewal of religious life and was one of a handful of female observers at the Second Vatican Council, died at the Loretto motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky., on Aug. 24. She was 98 years old. Sister Tobin donated her body to science. A memorial service is to be held at the motherhouse on Oct. 7. An ardent ecumenist and advocate of church renewal, peace, social justice and women’s rights in church and society, Sister Tobin was president of her religious congregation from 1958 to 1970 and during Vatican II was head of what is now the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She was one of only 15 women worldwide invited to attend the council’s last two sessions as an auditor, and she was part of the commission that drafted the council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Only two other women were members of commissions that drafted council documents. Born in Denver, Colo., on May 16, 1908, Ruth Marie Tobin joined the Loretto community and took the religious name Mary Luke when she professed her vows in 1927.

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