Signs of the Times

Abbé Pierre, Helper of Poor, Dead at 94

Abbé Pierre, the founder of the Emmaus Community in France, dedicated his life to fighting poverty and serving the poor, Pope Benedict XVI said. The 94-year-old priest, repeatedly voted the most respected person in France, died Jan. 22 in Paris. Informed of the death of Abbé Pierre, the Holy Father gave thanks for his action on behalf of the poorest through which he witnessed to the love that comes to us from Christ, said the condolence message signed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., the Vatican secretary of state. When France was still recovering from the destruction of World War II, the winter of 1954 was particularly harsh, and many people were living on the streets or in inadequate shelter. Over the radio, Abbé Pierre launched an appeal for help and started his insurrection of kindness. What began as an emergency assistance project turned into the Emmaus Community. Born Henri-Antoine Groues to a wealthy family in Lyon in 1912, he joined the Franciscans at 17 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1938.

Holy Land Leaders Warn of Approaching Civil War

Christian leaders in the Holy Land have warned that the increasing violence between Hamas and Fatah factions is moving Palestinians closer to a civil war. The threatening language of the last few days by representatives of both movements is both unprecedented and very aggressive. Such occurrences can only bring a civil war nearer by the hour, they said in the message released to the press Jan. 12. The leaders added that they felt anxiety for all Palestinians and expressed fear that soon it would be too late to stop the large-scale fighting that has erupted between the two movements and that the violence would push pressing issues aside. The outcome would be so drastic that it will obscure the real priorities of the whole Palestinian issue, they said. The leaders offered to help as mediators or in any other role needed to put an end to the tense situation as quickly as possible. Among prominent Catholic leaders who signed the statement were Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem; Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Franciscan priest in charge of Christian sites in the Holy Land; and Maronite Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayah of Haifa.


Dialogue Requires True Witness of Faith

One thing the three Abrahamic religions can agree on is that the buzzword dialogue lacks substance without the true witness of faith. At a Jan. 17 panel discussion at the United Nations on Peoples and Religions, representatives of Catholicism, Islam and Judaism cautioned against interreligious relationships in which differences are papered over in the name of tolerance. Not only is peace between religions a prerequisite for peace between peoples, said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, but religion must actually remain religious for any peace to come about, that is, if each religion is able to preserve something of its absoluteness, of its permanence. He said, We cannot relativize our path to God. At the same time, we have to accept the possibility of other ways to God. The Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, sponsored the panel to mark the American launch of the biannual journal Oasis. Other panelists were Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, Italy; Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the policy council of the World Jewish Congress; and Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

Pope Asks Turkey to Recognize Church

Pope Benedict XVI asked the government of Turkey to grant full legal recognition to the Catholic Church and to establish a formal dialogue with the nation’s Catholic bishops to work out concrete problems. Welcoming Muammer Dogan Akdur as Turkey’s new ambassador to the Vatican Jan. 19, the pope said that while Turkish Catholics enjoy religious freedom in the country the church as a whole would like to have a recognized juridical status under Turkish law. I have no doubt that your government will do everything in its power to advance in this direction, the pope told the new ambassador. The lack of legal status sometimes has made it difficult for the Catholic Church and other Christian communities to own and buy property officially and to build or operate churches, schools and hospitals. Much of the pope’s speech to the ambassador and the ambassador’s speech to the pope focused on the success of the pope’s Nov. 28-Dec. 1 visit to Turkey and on Catholic-Muslim relations.

Cardinal Rigali Speaks at Annual Pro-Life Mass

Despite the fact that abortion has been legal throughout the United States for 34 years, there are reasons for rejoicing, primarily because of lower abortion rates and increased public opposition to abortion, said Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. Cardinal Rigali, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was principal celebrant and homilist at a Jan. 21 Mass on the eve of the annual March for Life. The Mass was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The rate and number of abortions in the United States continue to decline, most notably among teens, he said to applause during the homily. He said many teens are wisely choosing to abstain from sexual activity because of religious and moral values and also to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. To be free of disease, to be free of the fear of an ill-timed pregnancy, to be free of a broken heartthis is the freedom that we want for our young people, and we rejoice that it is unfolding, he added to further applause.

Dioceses Urged to Improve Accounting

A national advisory Accounting Practices Committee has urged the U.S. bishops to institute tighter internal controls over finances in the nation’s 19,000 parishes. Its recommendations included establishing clear diocesan policies about conflict of interest, protection of whistle-blowers and a fraud policy that would include prosecution in all cases. It also called for each diocese to require every parish to submit an annual report to the bishop on the names and professional titles of the members of the parish finance council, dates the council met, when it approved the parish budget and what budget information was given to parishioners and when. The report should include a copy of the parish’s published financial statement, it said. The committee, a lay group of certified public accountants convened to advise the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, met in Washington Jan. 11-12. Its recommendations were released by the U.S.C.C.B. the following week.

PBS Documentary on Nuns’ Role in Civil Rights

A one-hour documentary featuring religious sisters who participated in the 1965 civil rights marches in Selma, Ala., will air on PBS in February as part of Black History Month programming. The documentary, Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change, highlights the involvement of Midwestern sisters who joined the marches. It also features the Sisters of St. Joseph from Rochester, N.Y., based in Selma, who provided housing for visiting protesters and treated marchers at Selma’s Good Samaritan Hospital. Many of these sisters are now retired or working in various parts of the country. The independent filmmaker Jayasri Hart, who served as the film’s director and producer, reunited them to show them previously unused news footage of themselves and the events of 1965.

The comments they made while watching the film serve as a large part of the film’s narrative. Sisters of Selma is a co-production of Hartfilms and Alabama Public Television. For broadcast times, viewers should consult their local listings or visit the Alabama Public Television Web site,, for a broadcast schedule link.

Pope to Write to Chinese Catholics

At the end of a two-day meeting to discuss the status of the Catholic community in mainland China and the problems it faces, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI would write a letter to the country’s Catholics. Despite continuing instances of persecution and pressure, the number of Catholics in China is growing and the vast majority of bishops and priests have recognized the authority of the pope, said the statement issued at the end of the Jan. 19-20 meeting chaired by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., the Vatican secretary of state. In the light of the troubled history of the church in China and the main events of the past few years, there was an examination of the most serious and urgent church problems, which need adequate solutions related to the basic principles of the divine constitution of the church and of religious liberty, the statement said. The Vatican did not say when Pope Benedict’s letter to the Catholics of China would be written or released.

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