Signs of the Times

Commuter Bus Bombed in Lebanese Christian Area

Twin bus blasts tore through Lebanon’s Christian heartland Feb. 13, killing three people and wounding dozens more on the eve of the anniversary of former prime minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination.

The first blast struck a bus packed with predominantly Christian commuters traveling through the mountain village of Ein Alak, 15 miles north of Beirut, shortly after 9:00 a.m. Minutes later, as locals rushed to help the injured, another explosion tore the roof off a minibus 50 yards away, littering the rain-soaked road with bloody debris.


For once Lebanon’s rival leaders were united in their condemnation of the attacksthe first large-scale targeting of civilians since Lebanon’s bitter 15-year civil war. The blasts have heightened tensions between supporters of the country’s Western-backed government and an opposition alliance led by the Syrian-backed Hezbollah party. The coordinated explosions came on the eve of a rally planned to mark the assassination on Feb. 14, 2005, of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

By Wednesday, Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square had been divided by a wire fence to avoid a repetition of clashes between rival factions that left nine dead in January.

Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s governing coalition and son of the late prime minister, said the explosions were a clear attempt to discourage people from taking part in the commemoration ceremony. Many of those planning to attend the event would have been transported in minibuses similar to those that were attacked.

Young Catholics: Strong Identity, Weak Commitment

Young adult Catholics have a strong Catholic identity but do not feel much of a commitment to the institutional church or its moral teachings, two sociologists said Feb. 6 in Washington, D.C. The paradoxical assessment came from James A. Davidson of Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind., and Dean R. Hoge of The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., at a forum sponsored by the Woodstock Theological Center on the campus of Georgetown University. The researchers found that Catholics born after 1979, in what they call the millennial generation, have deep differences from previous generations of Catholicsdifferences that are unlikely to disappear when they marry and have children. There’s a disconnect between them and the institutional church, said Davidson. And when they get older, they are not going to be like the Catholics of previous generations. They are going to be the Catholics they are now.

Vatican: Death Penalty Affront to Human Dignity

The death penalty is not only a refusal of the right to life, but it also is an affront to human dignity, the Vatican said in a position paper prepared for the Feb. 1-3 World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Paris and released Feb. 7 by the Vatican press office. The Holy See takes this occasion to welcome and affirm again its support for all initiatives aimed at defending the inherent and inviolable value of all human life from conception to natural death, it said. The paper recognized the obligation of governments to protect their citizens, but it also said that today it truly is difficult to justify using the death penalty when other means of protecting society, including life imprisonment for murderers, are possible.

Polish Nuns Withstood Secret Police Pressure

Polish nuns withstood pressure from Communist secret police better than members of the clergy, according to research by the country’s women religious orders. Nuns who researched Interior Ministry files found that no more than 30 people associated with women religious had been recruited by the secret police during the 1980’s, when collaborators were most active, said Mother Jolanta Olech, a member of the Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of the Agonized Jesus and president of Poland’s Conference of Superiors of Female Religious Orders. Even the 30 informers we know about could include lay people who worked in convents, as well as priests who came as chaplains and are noted as agents, Mother Jolanta told Catholic News Service.

Former Dominican Master General Discusses Hope

If the church is going to express hope in the face of terrorism and climate change, its leaders must be seen as people who are not enslaved by fear of the future, said the former head of the world’s Dominican friars. We live in a society which is quite afraid of the futureand with some good reason, said Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., who was in Lima, Peru, in early February to lead a retreat for Dominican provincial superiors from Latin America and the Caribbean. The challenge for the church is to face the future with courage, he told Catholic News Service. A challenge for the Dominican order, Father Radcliffe said, is to show young people that Christian doctrine and religious life are liberating, rather than restrictive.

Little Sisters of the Poor Still Waiting for FEMA

Almost 18 months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Little Sisters of the Poor still have not received a $1.4 million reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for first responders’ emergency use of Mary Joseph Residence for the Elderly in New Orleans after the hurricane. FEMA announced Jan. 17 that it had allocated the money to reimburse the nuns, but clearance to release the funds had to go through local government channels, a time-consuming bureaucratic process. The nursing home’s 80 residents had been evacuated before the hurricane hit. Before they could return, New Orleans firefighters commandeered the facility, which escaped flooding. Sister Paul Wilson, former superior of the sisters’ New Orleans community, told Catholic News Service Feb. 8 that after signing five contracts required by New Orleans officials as part of the process, she expected it might still take a couple of weeks for the nuns to receive the money.

Social Ministry Remains Basic Church Mission

The church’s social justice mission is an integral part of its life, and this is a time for mission, John Carr, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ secretary for social development and world peace, told a national gathering of Catholic social ministry leaders Feb. 12. Carr noted that several national figures in Catholic social ministry will be leaving the U.S.C.C.B. staff in coming months as a result of the bishops’ recent decision to downsize their national offices. Among them are Timothy Collins, executive director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; Thomas Quigley, veteran head of the Latin America desk of the Office for International Justice and Peace; and Walter Grazer, head of environmental justice programs and the desk for Europe of the Office for International Justice and Peace. The U.S.C.C.B. is not broken, but frankly it is a little shaken, Carr said. But, he added, The question is not who occupies the boxes, the question is how the mission gets done.

Catholic Numbers Shift to Africa and Asia

The latest Vatican statistics confirm that the church’s population and ministerial workforce are continuing to shift to developing countries, especially those in Africa and Asia. Figures released Feb. 12 showed that the overall number of Catholics increased to nearly 1.12 billion at the end of 2005, an increase of 1.5 percent from the previous year. The Catholic growth rate was slightly higher than the rate of overall population increase, which was 1.2 percent. Catholics now represent 17.2 percent of the global population, the Vatican said. The church’s population grew fastest in Africa, where the number of Catholics increased 3.1 percent in 2005, about half a percentage point higher than the overall population growth rate on the continent. In Asia, the number of Catholics was up 2.7 percent, and in the Americas up 1.2 percent. In Europe, there was a very slight increase in the number of Catholics, the Vatican said.

Higher Profile for Church in Nepal

Pope Benedict XVI has elevated the church’s organizational structure in Nepal, home to a tiny but active Catholic community. The Vatican said Feb. 10 that the pope had established the apostolic vicariate of Nepal. The pope appointed Anthony Sharma, a Jesuit priest, as its first apostolic vicar and named him a bishop. Bishop-designate Sharma, 69, is a native of Katmandu, the Nepalese capital. The move raises the profile of the Catholic Church in Nepal, a Himalayan country bordered by China and India. The Catholic mission was established in Nepal in 1983 and had been organized as an apostolic prefecture since 1996. Nepal has only 6,681 Catholics in a total population of 23.7 million; most Nepalese are Hindus, with Buddhism and Islam the two biggest minority religions. The Catholic Church, however, maintains an active presence in society, operating 44 educational institutes and 16 charity organizations.

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