Signs of the Times

Relief Efforts in Darfur Fail to Reach the Needy

Despite the efforts of Caritas Internationalis and other agencies in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan, a large percentage of the people who need aid do not receive it, according to the president of Caritas Internationalis, Denis Vienot. The Paris-born Vienot, 60, estimated that about 40 percent of the people who ought to receive aid cannot get it. It’s impossible to reach all the I.D.P.’s (internally displaced persons), Vienot told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from New York on Dec. 8, shortly after meeting with U.N. officials to discuss relief efforts. Most of the [charitable] activities that are supported by the U.N. and Caritas...are congregated around the city. In many, many remote areas we are not able to be in touch with the people. Vienot put the figure of those without access to aid at half of what he called the African population. The fighting in Darfur has pitted the Arab-led Sudanese government and janjaweed militias suspected of receiving government assistance against black Africans, the indigenous residents of Darfur. Catholic Relief Services, an agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops, is part of Caritas.

St. Paul’s Tomb Found Beneath Roman Basilica

After years of archaeological work, Vatican officials announced that they have identified the tomb of St. Paul beneath the Roman basilica dedicated to the apostle. Authorities said Dec. 11 that a roughly cut marble sarcophagus was found beneath a historic inscription that reads: Paul Apostle Martyr. The tomb lies several feet below the main altar of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Only one end of the sarcophagus has been opened to view, and the rest is buried beneath building material. If Pope Benedict XVI gives permission, the experts may attempt to open the sarcophagus and find out whether the saint’s relics are inside. We can be certain that this is the tomb of St. Paul, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the basilica, told a Vatican press conference. No one ever had any doubt that the basilica was built on the site of the tomb. Now we can see it through a small window we have created, the cardinal said.


New Mass Prayers May Be Approved This Year

The Vatican could approve the new English translation of the main Mass prayers as early as mid-2007, if the work of its advisory committee proceeds as planned. The Vox Clara Committee, which includes a dozen bishops from eight English-speaking countries, met Dec. 4-5 at the Vatican. Over the past year, most of the world’s English-speaking bishops’ conferences have approved a new translation of the Order of the Mass, which includes all the prayerssuch as the Gloria, Creed and eucharistic prayersused regularly in daily and Sunday Masses. The Latin-rite bishops of India, among the last to consider the new translation, are expected to vote on it during their plenary meeting in January. The Vox Clara Committee has been reviewing the translations approved by the bishops’ conferences at the request of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, which must give its permission, or recognitio, for the translations to be used.

Pope Offers Message for World Day of Peace

Even when faced with a potential terrorist attack or in the midst of war, basic human rights must be respected, Pope Benedict XVI said in his message for the World Day of Peace 2007. Peace is based on respect for the rights of all, the pope said in his message for the Jan. 1 commemoration. The message, The Human Person, the Heart of Peace, was sent to heads of state around the world and was released Dec. 12 at a Vatican press conference. The pope’s message included prayers for peace in such war-torn countries as Lebanon, special concern for child victims of violence, a condemnation of continued nuclear proliferation and concern over the potential for violent conflicts over energy resources. The basis of any hope for peace, the pope said, is the recognition that each human person is created in the image and likeness of God and is therefore endowed with a dignity and with rights that cannot be usurped by anyone.

Pope Points Out Problems of Christians in Holy Land

Meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Pope Benedict XVI raised questions regarding the situation of the dwindling Catholic population in the Holy Land, including Bethlehem, the Vatican said. The Vatican said the pope voiced his concerns particularly in light of the approaching celebration of Christmas. The pope and prime minister met for 26 minutes on Dec. 13 in a small meeting room in the rear of the Vatican’s audience hall. Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh told a press conference Dec. 11 that a serious drop in Christian tourism to his town, emigration and Israel’s erection of a security fence that cuts many Bethlehem residents off from jobs in nearby Jerusalem were having a disastrous impact on Bethlehem and its residents. Oded Ben-Hur, the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, told Catholic News Service that the pope spoke about the difficult situation of the Christian community in Bethlehem. The prime minister promised to do everything possible to alleviate the community’s suffering and to ease Christians’ access to Bethlehem over the Christmas holidays, the ambassador said.

Benedict XVI Meets Greek Orthodox Primate at Vatican

After centuries of allowing themselves to grow apart, Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox must seek forgiveness and learn to work together for the good of the world, said Pope Benedict XVI and Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and all Greece. The pope formally welcomed the primate of the Orthodox Church of Greece to the Vatican Dec. 14, solemnly signing with him a commitment to preach the Gospel together and to work for full communion. We want to live more intensely our mission of giving an apostolic witness, of transmitting the faith to those who are near and those who are far, said the joint declaration, written in Greek and in French on a large piece of parchment. In their speeches to each other and in their declaration, the pope and the archbishop acknowledged how far apart their communities had grown over the centuries and how difficult their relations were, even as late as the 1990’s.

Religious Rights Neglected in Iraq Report

The Iraq Study Group neglected the issue of religious freedom and rights in its much-publicized report, said a statement from Felice D. Gaer, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Every Iraqi, including individual Muslims, should have the freedom not only to worship and to practice his or her faith, but also the right to debate and dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy on issues related to religion, Gaer said in her Dec. 13 statement. Gaer noted that one of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations dealt with the rights of women and ethnic minorities in Iraq, but it failed to present a strategic vision of human rights promotion and religious freedom advocacy that the commission believes is critical to securing durable stability in Iraq. She added, In its 160-page report, the Iraq Study Group fails to mention the term human rights’ or its significance to Iraq even once.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, whose report was released Dec. 6, made recommendations on phasing out the U.S. military presence in Iraq, which the United States invaded in 2003.

Pope to Diplomats: Solidarity With Poor

Addressing ambassadors from wealthy and developing nations, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized international solidarity with the poor and the moral character of all economic activity. The pope also spoke about the AIDS crisis in Africa, pledging the church’s continuing support for those affected by the disease and endorsing a prevention policy based on sexual responsibility. The pope spoke on Dec. 14 directly to ambassadors from six countries, as he accepted their credentials. In a group talk, he said that economic and social injustices around the globe cannot help but provoke disorders and an escalation of violence. In a speech to Lesotho’s new ambassador to the Vatican, the pope noted that the southern African country was facing the challenges of poverty and food shortages.

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