Signs of the Times

China’s Catholics Hope Pope Will Clarify Relations

Underground Catholics in China say they hope a letter Pope Benedict XVI plans to send them will not only strengthen their faith but also clearly explain how their fractured community in the mainland can be healed. The Holy See wants us to reconcile but does not tell us how to proceed or give us any clear instructions, underground Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar told UCA News, an Asian church news agency. The bishop noted that past Vatican directives instructed Catholics to avoid sacramental Communion with the government-approved or open church community, but now we need clarification on where those directives stand, so as to eliminate mistrust and misunderstanding among Catholics in both groups. On Jan. 20, at the end of a high-level meeting at the Vatican to discuss the church in China, a Vatican statement said Pope Benedict would write to Catholics in China. According to AsiaNews, Hong Kong’s Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun anticipates publication of the letter around Easter. China’s Catholic Church has been split into underground and open communities for decades, although in recent years there has been increasing interaction between the two.

Sisters of Mercy Communities to Merge

Six regional communities of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas will be combined next year. As of July 1, 2008, the Sisters of Mercy will form one West Midwest community, which will include nearly 900 sisters and more than 500 Mercy associates and Companions in Mercy. The administrative offices will be at the Mercy Sisters’ Omaha headquarters.


While Omaha has been selected as the primary administrative site, sisters in the six regional communities will continue their ministries in their respective geographical areas. Decisions about the governing structure and where other functions of the new community are to be located will be made in the months ahead.

Maryland’s Governor Hosts Catholic Educators

Standing in the governor’s mansion, Maryland’s newly inaugurated Gov. Martin J. O’Malley told a group of Catholic educators he never would have pursued a career in public service were it not for his own Catholic education. Glancing at some 30 Catholic schoolteachers and administrators, who included Sister Columbkill O’Connor, his Franciscan sixth-grade teacher from Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda, O’Malley expressed his gratitude for their service. I was lucky to have holy women like Sister Columbkill, who were terrific to me and to my family and who helped me learn some of the most important lessons in lifethe corporal works of mercy, the spiritual works of mercy, the things you remember to try to live every day of life more fully, said O’Malley, who hosted the guests Feb. 1 to honor national Catholic Schools Week Jan. 28-Feb. 3.

Pope Urges Middle East Christians to Be Steadfast

Pope Benedict XVI prayed that the Christians of the Middle East would draw strength from the example of their churches’ martyrs and would continue to live in the region. The difficult situation which individuals and Christian communities face in the region is a cause of deep concern for all of us, the pope told representatives of the Oriental Orthodox churches Feb. 1. The representatives were in Rome for a meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Participants in the dialogue come from the Armenian Apostolic Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church. Pope Benedict told the representatives he understood why so many Christians find it difficult to remain in the Middle East, which has been plagued by violence, rather than emigrate, but they should be courageous and steadfast to ensure a continued Christian witness in the region.

Vatican: Close Economic Gaps, End Conflicts

Achieving peace implies closing the gap between the rich and poor as well as stopping terrorism and armed conflict, said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, C.S., Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva. It also implies stopping a revived arms race and the proliferation of a variety of weapons [and] rejecting the glorification of violence in the media, said the Vatican official. The archbishop spoke to representatives of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist faiths at an interreligious prayer service in Geneva Jan. 30. The archbishop reminded participants that millions of people are affected by current wars and, in many cases, a total disregard for humanitarian law. He said there should be no surrender to the culture of conflict or acceptance of the idea that clashes are unavoidable and war is natural. Archbishop Tomasi said the search for peace is an orderly process that starts with tolerance, moves toward respect and justice, and culminates in the discovery that the highest vocation of every person is love.

Russian Catholic-Orthodox Relations Improve

A Catholic representative to Catholic-Orthodox talks in Russia said the atmosphere between the two churches is improving. The improved atmosphere allows members to face the problems and seek solutions, said Jean-François Thiry, a Catholic representative at the Jan. 26 talks in Moscow. We agreed we should go to see the situation of churches in other cities and regions, while encouraging people at the local level to follow our example. The Belgian theologian was part of the working group for problems between the Moscow Patriarchate and Catholic Church, set up in February 2004 by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. A Jan. 26 joint statement said the working group, which convened in the Moscow Patriarchate’s Pilgrim Center, had discussed Catholic-Orthodox mixed marriages, the education of children at Catholic-run orphanages and the role of Catholic vicarial and social structures in Russia.

Paulists Open New Reconciliation Office

The Paulist Office for Reconciliation was recently established by the Paulist Fathers at the North American Paulist Center in Washington, D.C., where the first board meeting took place Jan. 23. Reconciliation involves healing people’s woundswhether caused by abuse, disagreement with the church’s stand on an issue or anything that led someone to feel alienated or rejectedand welcoming people back to the church. The Paulists are devoting $1.2 million over the next five years to reconciliation awareness, training and programming, according to John E. Hurley, C.S.P., director of the new office.

One new board member is J-Glenn Murray, S.J., who has seen both sides of the hurt. In the wake of the church sexual abuse scandal, Father Murray encountered a young man who had been abused by four priests. How do you know what to say to this young man? he said. I didn’t know where to begin. On the other end of the spectrum, Father Murray has seen the devastation caused when a fellow priest was falsely accused of abuse. He was just assumed guilty, he said. These experiences reinforced the need for reconciliation within the church in Father Murray’s mind.

Catholic Alumni Value College Experience

Alumni of Catholic colleges and universities rank their education and the values they learned in those institutions far more highly than alumni of major public universities do, Jim Day, an education researcher, told a national gathering of Catholic college and university presidents Feb. 4. The alumni of Catholic schools were considerably more likely than their public university counterparts to say they benefited from opportunities for spiritual development in their college years, experienced an integration of values and ethics in classroom discussions and were helped to develop moral principles that can guide actions, he reported. Day presented findings of his study, based on extensive telephone surveys over the past several years of more than 2,000 alumni of Catholic colleges and universities, flagship public universities, and church-affiliated and non-church-affiliated private institutions of higher learning, at the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Vietnam Will Guarantee Free Belief and Religion

In a white paper on its religious policies, the Vietnamese government said it will guarantee its citizens’ right to freedom of belief and religion. Nguyen The Doanh, deputy head of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, released the paper, Religion and Policies Regarding Religion in Vietnam, at a Feb. 1 press conference in the capital, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency. Doanh said the government consistently has implemented a policy of national unity without any discrimination on the basis of belief or religion. Followers of religions and faiths make up an integral part of the entire nation, and the government has worked out relevant policies to meet their spiritual needs, he said. But the government’s religious policies had not been observed fully in the past, he said, because of a lack of uniformity, and local authorities have had an improper understanding of religious activities.

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11 years 11 months ago
To the Editor:

Good to see Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland recognize Catholic schools and education for the unique contribution that they do make to American life! Indeed, if there was greater emphasis in our national life on the corporal and spritual works of mercy, how much more true would this nation be to the ideals on which this it was founded.

Vincent Gaglione Yonkers, NY


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