Signs of the Times

2008 World Synod of Bishops Will Focus on Bible

Pope Benedict XVI has scheduled a meeting of the World Synod of Bishops for 2008 and has decided the synod will focus on the Bible in the life of the church. A brief announcement issued on Oct. 6 said bishops from around the world elected to represent their peers will meet at the Vatican from Oct. 5 to Oct. 26, 2008, to discuss the theme The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. During the last synod, the 2005 gathering focused on the Eucharist in the life of the church, participants elected members to a council to follow up on the synod and prepare for the next session. Participants at the 2005 synod also offered Pope Benedict XVI suggestions for topics to be treated; the importance of the Bible was one of the most popular topics. The synodal assembly will prepare an outline and list of questions for bishops’ conferences and individual bishops to consider, then use the responses in drafting a working document for the 2008 meeting.

Proposal on Military Chaplains’ Prayers Rejected

A Congressional proposal that would have guaranteed the right of military chaplains to pray according to their conscience could also have had an adverse effect on unit cohesion and even result in a ban on all public prayer in the military, according to the head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien said in a letter of Sept. 21 to U.S. Catholic chaplains that a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 would seek to impose a legislative mandate for military chaplains without considering the religious needs of all military members. He added, We believe this legislation may well result in less public prayer and marginalization of military chaplains. Although the House approved the mandate, the Senate did not. House-Senate conferees agreed on Sept. 29 to replace the House language with a section overturning current Air Force and Navy regulations that restricted prayers specific to one faith at public military ceremonies.


Canonization of Mother Theodore Guerin on Oct. 15

Marie Kevin Tighe, of the Sisters of Providence, took over in 1996 as promoter of the cause for beatification of Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. Eighty-seven years had passed since the cause was opened, and the Vatican had not yet accepted as the first miracle attributable to Mother Theodore’s intercession the healing of Mary Theodosia Mug, S.P., in 1908.

Phil McCord, the director of facilities for the religious community in Indiana, did not start working for the sisters until 1997. He never thought he would need a miracle, but in 2000 he needed a corneal transplant after suffering complications from cataract surgery. The healing of McCord’s eye was accepted by the Vatican as the second miracle attributable to Mother Theodore’s intercession, and the foundress will be canonized in Rome on Oct. 15.

Pope Plans to Extend Use of Tridentine Mass

Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to expand permission to use the Tridentine Mass, the pre-Vatican II rite favored by traditionalist groups, said an informed Vatican source. The pope is expected to issue a document motu proprio (on his own initiative), which will address the concerns of various traditionalists, said the source, who asked not to be named. The source said the new permission, or indult, was a papal decision, but was being done in cooperation with agencies of the Roman Curia. He would not elaborate on the extent of the indult, when it would be established or how it would work.

The Tridentine rite is currently available to groups of Catholics who ask and receive permission for its use from their local bishops. The old rite is celebrated in Latin and follows the Roman Missal of 1962, which was replaced in 1969 with the new Roman Missal. Among those who have strongly pushed for wider use of the Tridentine rite are the followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was excommunicated in 1988.

Canadian Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg, Manitoba, told Catholic News Service on Oct. 10 that Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Congregation for Clergy, had spoken briefly to Canadian bishops about the expected step. It sounded to me like it was a sort of concession somebody has made, the archbishop said.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II first made it possible for groups of the faithful to worship according to the old rite under certain conditions. In 1991, the Vatican established more liberal guidelines, encouraging bishops to grant permission and retaining just one basic condition: that those seeking the old Mass form must also accept the validity of the new rite. Pope Benedict has long questioned the wisdom of the liturgical changes made after the Second Vatican Council. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was sometimes outspoken about what he considered the dismantling of the church’s liturgical tradition.

Paisley Meets With Catholic Leaders in Northern Ireland

Two days before Northern Ireland’s political leaders were to meet to discuss restoration of a power-sharing government, a prominent Protestant politician met with Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland. Archbishop Brady and the Rev. Ian Paisley, founder and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Free Presbyterian Church, discussed areas of social concern. Several other members of Parliament from the Reverend Paisley’s party and several other Catholic leaders joined the meeting at the Stormont government buildings in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Oct. 9. British and Irish commentators saw the move as significant partly because it signaled that the Reverend Paisley is willing to work with Catholics. The Northern Ireland peace process has been in a stalemate because the Democratic Unionist Party refuses to join in a power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group that is now observing a cease-fire.

Catholics Pray for Amish Community After Killings

In a demonstration of support for the local Amish community, Catholics in the Harrisburg Diocese filled St. Catherine of Siena Church in Quarryville and the Cardinal Keeler Center in Harrisburg on Oct. 5 for prayer three days after the shootings at the Amish schoolhouse. The Mass at St. Catherine’s and the prayer service at the Keeler Center took place the same day the Amish community buried four of the girls shot in the schoolhouse. St. Catherine of Siena Church is located just seven miles from the school. The Mass on Oct. 5 was celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Harrisburg, with several diocesan priests as concelebrants. It drew an overflow crowd. As a Catholic community of faith, we pray for our beloved Amish neighbors, our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith. We pray for the children who have died, so precious in the sight of the Lord, Bishop Rhoades said, praying also for the girls who remained hospitalized, for the victims’ families and for Roberts and his family.

World 'Sleepwalking’ Toward Nuclear Terrorism

The world seems to be sleepwalking down the path of nuclear weapons proliferation, increasing the risk of nuclear terrorism, said the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations. The United Nations must foster greater international dialogue to ensure compliance with treaties restricting the proliferation of nuclear weapons and banning their testing, said Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s U.N. nuncio. Without a firmer commitment to these treaties more states will arm themselves with nuclear weapons, increasing the possibility that such weapons will fall into terrorist hands, he said on Oct. 5 in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The Vatican has observer status at the United Nations, which entitles it to speak at sessions but not to vote.

Russia Faults U.S. Report on Religious Freedom

The Russian government has accused the U.S. State Department of one-sided views about religious freedom after the United States criticized Russia for failing to protect the rights of Catholics and other minorities. We did not expect balanced, unbiased judgments, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told the Interfax news agency in late September. As in previous years, the State Department’s report abounds with inaccurate and often grossly erroneous wordings. It juggles facts, outdated information and references to apparently unreliable sources. The State Department released its annual Report on Religious Freedom on Sept. 15. Kamynin said the text contained politically motivated judgments and ignored previous explanations to U.S. diplomats. It once again recites the standard set of unfounded critical remarks migrating from one report to another, Kamynin said. The report, which included 197 countries, said the Russian government generally respected the constitutional right to religious freedom, but failed to prevent restrictions by local authorities.

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