Signs of the Times

U.S. Urged to Follow Church Example on Cuba

The U.S. government should emulate the Catholic Church and look for a dramatic way to improve relations with Cuba, said a U.S. lawmaker after returning from a fact-finding trip to the Caribbean island. Representative James McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, cited the 1998 trip to Cuba by Pope John Paul II and said it had a dramatic impact on improving the church’s situation in the communist-ruled country. The pope’s visit opened things up for the church, said McGovern at a Jan. 23 panel discussion in Washington on U.S.-Cuban relations. We should learn by that example, he said. McGovern was part of a bipartisan delegation of House members that visited Cuba in December to check out the political situation caused by the lengthy hospitalization of Cuban leader Fidel Castro after intestinal surgery. Because of his illness, Castro temporarily transferred the presidency last July to his brother, Raul Castro, and has yet to return to power. The panel discussion was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think tank based in New York.

Christian Infighting Escalates in Lebanon

When clashes broke out during a nationwide strike in Lebanon, some of the worst fighting rocked Christian areas, where rival factions live cheek by jowl. Some Lebanese Christians support the Syrian-backed Hezbollah movement and its Shiite Muslim allies, whose strike aimed to topple the country’s U.S.-supported cabinet. Others have aligned themselves with the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni Muslim. On Jan. 23, the day of the strike, thick plumes of smoke hung over the capital and the stench of scorched rubber and gasoline filled the air as all main arteries into the capital and its airport were blocked by piles of rubble, burned-out cars and burning tires. Scores of Hezbollah-allied protesters milled around each blockade, the Christians among them easily identifiable by their bright orange scarves and hats that signify the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by former Gen. Michel Aoun, a Maronite Catholic. Free Patriotic Movement supporters said they were exercising their democratic right to protest against a cabinet that lost its legitimacy when all five of its Shiite ministers resigned in November.


Drinan Dies at 86

Robert F. Drinan, S.J., died on Jan. 28, 2007, in Washington, D.C., at age 86. A Jesuit for 64 years and a priest for 53 years, he had been ill with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. A renowned professor at Georgetown University and a former congressman, Father Drinan was known for his dedication to human rights and social justice issues.

In 1970 Father Drinan became the first Roman Catholic priest to win election to the U.S. House of Representatives and was re-elected four times. He served in that capacity from 1971 until 1981, when, complying with the directive of Pope John Paul II that priests withdraw from electoral politics, he did not seek re-election but returned to the classroom at the Georgetown University Law Center.

He was a much cherished member of our community, admired for his simplicity of life and his dedication to the cause of justice and enjoyed for his energy and his gift of friendship, said John Langan, S.J., rector of the Georgetown University Jesuit Community.

We are deeply saddened by the loss of Father Robert Drinan, said John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University. Father Drinan’s commitment to human rights and justice will have a lasting legacy here at Georgetown University and across the globe.

Throughout his life, Father Drinan was one of America’s most faithful contributors. During six decades, beginning in 1945, he authored more than 160 articles.

Research on Collaboration Difficult, Files Closed

Many Eastern European church officials said they lack procedures for handling claims of clergy collaborating with Communist secret police nearly 20 years after the collapse of Communism. The Rev. Laszlo Nemeth, secretary general of the Hungarian bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service that although Hungarian bishops had debated the issue in the early 1990’s, the Communist police archives are still closed to researchers. We’d like to see government legislation on the use and interpretation of communist regime archives, but our M.P.’s [members of Parliament] appear unready to pass a law which would allow objective research in this complex area, Father Nemeth said Jan. 25. Some files and documents were destroyed and some fabricated. If we can’t establish the truth from them, how can we properly screen our clergy? The priest said most bishops consecrated under Communist rule had now retired, and younger Catholic clergy were uninvolved.

Iraqi Refugees Seek Out Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is the first point of reference for Christian Iraqi refugees when they arrive in Jordan, said the director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Usually the first thing they do is come to the church. It is the first contact they have with other people and with relatives, said Ra’ed Bahou. Then they learn about the projects we are doing. About 5 percent of the estimated one million Iraqis who have sought refuge in Jordan over the past two years are Christian, he said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service. Between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqis have crossed the border into Jordan over the past six months, he added. The Pontifical Mission is an emergency relief agency under the direction of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a New York-based humanitarian and support group founded by Pope Pius XI.

Chinese and Catholics Welcome Vatican Meeting

The Chinese government said it appreciates the Vatican’s willingness to have constructive dialogue with China, as expressed in a statement issued after a Vatican meeting to discuss the status of the Catholic community in mainland China. Catholics in China also welcomed the idea of a Vatican commission to monitor the church on the mainland. Responding to reporters’ questions on the Jan. 19-20 Vatican meeting and subsequent statement, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said China always has regarded improvement of ties with the Vatican as important and has made unremitting efforts in this regard. In a regular press conference Jan. 23, he said China appreciates the Vatican’s willingness to dialogue so as to normalize bilateral relations, according to UCA News, an Asian church news agency.

Catholic Leaders Urge End to Death Penalty

The Maryland Catholic Conference and Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., have called for an end to the death penalty in their states, which currently face a de facto moratorium on executions because of legal difficulties over the use of lethal injections. The executive director of the Maryland conference, Richard J. Dowling, on Jan. 25 urged the state’s General Assembly to adopt legislation that would substitute life imprisonment without parole for all crimes currently punishable by death in Maryland. The conference is the public policy agency of the bishops of Maryland. Most Marylanders are ready for repeal of capital punishment, Dowling said in a statement, which noted the Catholic Church has long been a leader on this issue. Bishop Cupich appealed for the abolition of the death penalty in South Dakota in an article in America (Jan. 29), in which he linked the issue to the state’s efforts last year to ban abortion except to save the mother’s life.

Religious Leaders Meet With Rice on Mideast

After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Jan. 29, a delegation of U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders said they think the United States should take a more vigorous leadership role in promoting a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, said the group met with Rice to reiterate our strong commitment to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to discuss the urgent need for United States leadership to restart and successfully conclude negotiations for a lasting and just peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. Cardinal McCarrick, who led off a press briefing afterward outside the Department of State, said the meeting was substantive and excellent. But the real measure of the success of our meeting can only be taken in the coming weeks and months as actions and events unfold. The religious leaders belong to the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, a coalition of 35 leaders of national religious bodies or organizations that was formed in 2003 to press for a more constructive and comprehensive U.S. approach to Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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