Signs of the Times

Mideast Patriarchs Address Instability

Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East said political instability across the region must be tackled if the current Christian exodus is to be stemmed. The negative impact of this instability on local economies and services, as well as on the psychology within communities, are key factors driving Christians away from the region, said the Council of Catholic Patriarchs. The council’s 16th assembly closed Oct. 20 in Bzommar, Lebanon, near Beirut, with a statement focusing on the dwindling presence of Christians in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Iraq and the wider region. The statement said that Eastern Christian churches acted as a bridge between Western Christianity and Islam, creating an avenue for dialogue between the faiths. The Christian leaders were adamant that this link should not be broken. Despite this summer’s 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Islamic militant group, the patriarchs said Lebanon remains a source of hope that must play an effective role in solidifying the coexistence of religions in the Middle East.

Roman Magazine Says, 'Shelve War'

Waging a war against so-called rogue states does not and will not eliminate terrorism, but it feeds the violent fanaticism that leaders aim to eliminate, said an influential Jesuit magazine. In order to fight terrorism, it is necessary to shelve any notion of warworse when preventative’ waragainst an Islamic nation and instead adopt other measures, like beefing up intelligence and freezing funds channeled to terrorist organizations, said an editorial in the magazine La Civiltà Cattolica. The Oct. 21 editorial, reviewed by the Vatican prior to publication and released on Oct. 19, discussed the consequences of waging wars against Afghanistan and Iraq in response to the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Military action and invasion did not help the United States succeed in reaching its goals of capturing Osama bin Laden or the head of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, it said.


Communion Debate About Identity of U.S. Church

U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick told Canadian bishops Oct. 17 that the subject of dissenting Catholic politicians receiving Communion was a ground zero issue for the church in America. Cardinal McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington who led a task force examining Catholics in public life for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the issue of politicians and Communion prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential election was the crux of a struggle to identify the real Catholic Church in the United States. He said, In a sense, I fear it diverted us from the fundamental concern for the life and dignity of the human person that are so central in the teaching of the Holy Fathers. Instead, he said, the debate devolved into charges that those who denied Communion were outside the practice of the church or that those who refused to deny Communion were cowards or sycophants.

Governorate Might Save Iraq’s Minorities

A new administrative region for Christians and other minorities in northern Iraq is the only solution to keep them from disappearing from the Shiite-majority country, said Pascale Warda, the former Iraqi minister of displacement and migration. Warda said minorities in IraqAssyrian Christians, Chaldean Catholics, Shabaks, Yezidis, Turkmen and othersdo not want a divided Iraq. We would like to organize a democratic and federalist Iraq, she said. Michael Youash, project director of the Iraqi Sustainability Democracy Project, said the administrative region with local jurisdiction would encompass the Nineveh plain and minority lands in the western part of the Dahuk region. All minorities, without exclusion, could live in the region, they said. Youash said the administrative region, or governorate, is guaranteed under a constitutional provision allowing creation of such areas for minorities. Youash and Warda spoke Oct. 18 in Washington, D.C.

Muslim Threat Closes Philippine Schools

All Claretian schools in the Basilan Province of the Philippine Islands were closed after Muslim parents warned a group of Catholic nuns and teachers of a possible attack from Abu Sayyaf guerrilla recruits. Sister Felipa Javen, of the Daughters of Charity, a teacher at Claret High School in the town of Maluso in Basilan, said her school and all other Claretian schools in the province were closed indefinitely Oct. 16. Muslim parents warned her and three other nuns at a school meeting Oct. 15 that the Abu Sayyaf separatist group had targeted Claret High School and its faculty for an attack. They advised the nuns and teachers to cancel classes and the nuns not to leave their convent. Sister Teresa Mueda, the congregation’s superior in Manila, told UCA News that about half of the school’s students are Muslim. She said the nuns have always had good relations with Muslims in the area.

Catholic Hospitals Fight for Tax-Exempt Status

As a Catholic hospital in Illinois continued its fight to retain its tax-exempt status, other Catholic and nonprofit hospitals are working to find new ways to report what they give back to the community. In an action that nonprofits throughout the country are watching closely, the head of the Illinois Department of Revenue recently ruled that under Illinois law, Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana did not carry out enough charitable activity in 2002 to warrant its exemption from local property taxes. "Given the very limited amount of charitable care offered, I cannot conclude that Provena’s primary purpose is the provision of charity," said the opinion written by Brian Hamer, the department director. Much of the difficulty adding up what nonprofit hospitals provide to the community has been due to the use of differing accounting methods, even in hospitals of the same chain, and not knowing what to include and what to exclude in a community benefit assessment, said Julie Trocchio, senior director for continuing care ministries at the Catholic Health Association.

Conference May Appeal N.Y. Court Decision

The New York State Catholic Conference may petition the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the state’s highest court that would require religious employers to provide contraceptive and abortifacient coverage as part of prescription-drug coverage in their employee health plans. The ruling to uphold the state-mandated coverage was issued Oct. 19 by the New York Court of Appeals. We are very disappointed with the Court of Appeals decision and firmly believe that it is in error, said a statement from Richard E. Barnes, executive director of the conference, which represents the state’s bishops on public policy matters. Any religious organization must have the right in American society to uphold its own teachings, even if those teachings are unpopular or countercultural.

Charity Group Describes Daily Nightmare’ in Iraq

The war in Iraq has made day-to-day living a nightmare, with violence, poverty and malnutrition on the rise since the start of the U.S.-led invasion, said an official of the Catholic Church’s charity network. The head of Caritas Internationalis’s Middle East desk, Sebastien Dechamps, said the needs are immense for the people living in Iraq and for the thousands who have fled to neighboring countries. Run by local staff for the past 15 years, Caritas Iraq has reported that the humanitarian situation has visibly worsened since 2003, Dechamps said in written responses Oct. 19 to questions by Catholic News Service. Daily life has become a nightmare. You hardly have one hour of electricity per day; access to food, water, health, education has deteriorated. But most of all, the lack of peace, the violence and the anarchy are everywhere and give a sense of hopelessness, he wrote.

Migrant Commission Condemns Trafficking

The increase in human trafficking is connected to poverty and an increase in women migrating under dangerous circumstances, said participants at an international conference. Torsten Moritz, project secretary for the Commission for Migrants in Europe of the Conference of European Churches, said that more and more people are migrating under increasingly dangerous circumstances because more and more rich countries are closing their borders. More women are migrating nowadays, and we know that for a variety of reasons women are those often most desperately affected by poverty and those most in danger when they migrate, becoming an easy target of the traffickers, said Moritz.

Laity Barred From Cleansing Vessels, Says Vatican

Extraordinary ministers of Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States. In a letter dated Oct. 23, Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked his fellow bishops to inform all pastors of the change, which was prompted by a letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The U.S. bishops had asked the Vatican to extend an indult, or church permission, in effect since 2002 allowing extraordinary ministers of Communion to help cleanse the Communion cups and plates when there were not enough priests or deacons to do so. Bishop Skylstad, who heads the Diocese of Spokane, Wash., said Cardinal Arinze asked Pope Benedict about the matter during a June 9 audience, and received a response in the negative.

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11 years 11 months ago
The article is an excellent example of America's professionalism and ability to get the facts straight. But may I suggest an alternate headline: "Vatican to make the clergy work harder." Or another one: "Vatican think the laity should be served by their servants."

11 years 7 months ago
Have we, and the media in general, completely forgotten that one of the last great peace efforts by the dying Pope John Paul II was to send Cardinal Pio Laghi, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington (Signs of the Times, 11/6), to try to talk President Bush and his advisers out of their ill-advised rush to war? I am sure that today, in his deep heart’s core, our president really wishes he had heeded the pope’s voice.

Cardinal Laghi tried in vain to point out to him the difficulty of the language, the serious conflicts among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and that while America’s formidable war machine would make quick work of Hussein’s inferior defenses, unmanageable human problems would certainly follow.

“I have come from Rome not only to hear you, Mr. President, but also to be heard,” Laghi complained at one point in their conversation. “I had the impression that they had already made their decision,” Laghi said in a remarkable speech in Camaldoli (Arezzo, Italy) on Oct. 4, 2003.

President Bush had been offered the best intelligence available on Iraq. The bishops in Iraq are in touch with the apostolic nuncio in Baghdad, and he with the Vatican. They speak the people’s language and have their hand on the pulse of the nation. Their knowledge of Iraq was more reliable than that of our highly paid intelligence agencies who cost us billions but whose information has been repeatedly proven embarrassingly wrong and misleading.

It was President Reagan in 1984 who urged the Senate to confirm William A. Wilson, his personal “envoy” to the pope, as the first U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. His reason was his oft-repeated conviction that “the Vatican is the world’s greatest listening post.”

I spoke at length with Cardinal Laghi last September in Rome. He recalled his sense of failure when President Bush tried to end their meeting on a positive note: at least they held common positions on the defense of human life and opposition to human cloning. The cardinal replied that those issues were not the purpose of his mission to Washington.

11 years 7 months ago
I think I need someone to explain the logic of the recent directive to pastors to prevent eucharistic ministers from cleansing the sacred vessels after Communion (Signs of the Times, 11/6).

When I consider the tremendous service the ministers render when they take the ciborium and the chalice into the midst of the people and present the body of Christ and the blood of Christ to them and so handle the sacred species for extended periods of time, I think of the charge bishops make to the priests they ordain, “Become what you handle.” The ministers do a mighty work and, with God’s help, sanctify themselves by contact with the eucharistic Lord.

Why then, when their service to the people ends, are the ministers dismissed from the last step, the comparatively minor chore of cleansing the vessels? The ministers have just handled the Lord; why can’t they wash the vessels that held him?

One thing I hope is that the suspension of permission to do this is not an attempt to make the laypersons become aware of their status in our hierarchical church. They do not need that kind of put-down; they know their work is a service, just as the presidential role of the celebrant is a service and just as the role of bishop is a service. After all, aren’t we clerics supposed to be servants of the servants of God?

11 years 11 months ago
The article is an excellent example of America's professionalism and ability to get the facts straight. But may I suggest an alternate headline: "Vatican to make the clergy work harder." Or another one: "Vatican think the laity should be served by their servants."


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