Signs of the Times

Papal Visit to Conference in Brazil Begins May 9

Pope Benedict XVI is making his first trip to the Western Hemisphere in mid-May, traveling to Brazil to open a strategizing session with Latin American bishops. The May 9-13 visit begins with a string of pastoral events in São Paulo, where the pope will meet with young people and canonize the first Brazilian-born saint. Then he moves to the basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida, where he will inaugurate the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, celebrating Mass and delivering a major speech to participants of the May 13-31 meeting. The trip turns a spotlight on Latin America, a geographical area that has had little attention from this pope to date, but where 43 percent of the world’s Catholics live. It also broadens the horizons of the pope’s two-year pontificate, taking him outside Europe, where four of his previous five trips have occurred.

Zimbabwean Bishops Support Dialogue

The Zimbabwean bishops’ Easter letter, which strongly criticizes President Robert Mugabe’s government and calls for free elections, does not diminish the bishops’ support for national dialogue, said the president of the bishops’ conference. Mugabe’s government, as a key stakeholder, cannot be ignored in the process of seeking change in the country, Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare, the capital, told a two-day meeting of regional church and civil society leaders in Harare. But engaging a stakeholder does not mean that you endorse its policies, he said in an April 27 statement issued by the bishops’ conference after the meeting. In response to questions on what actions would follow the bishops’ letter, titled God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed, Archbishop Ndlovu said people need to pray, reflect and try to understand the letter, which urged those responsible for the country’s crisis to repent and listen to the cry of their citizens. Zimbabwe is crippled by the highest rate of inflation in the world, an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent, and shortages of foreign currency and fuel. The government has attempted to stop the distribution of the bishops’ letter in the local languages of the country.


World Synod of Bishops Will Focus on Bible

The Bible is a source of Christian unity and is evidence of Christianity’s special bond with the Jewish people, said the outline for the next meeting of the World Synod of Bishops. The theme of the synod, scheduled for Oct. 5 to 26, 2008, will be: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. While focusing specifically on the Bible, the synod’s outline emphasized Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the fullest expression of the word of God and that the entire Bible can be understood only in reference to Jesus. The lineamenta, or outline, of the synod’s theme was released at an April 27 Vatican press conference. The document contains dozens of questions about what Catholics know and understand about the Bible and its relationship to the teaching of the church. Bishops’ conferences and other groups were asked to respond to the questions by November. The responses will form the basis of the synod’s working document.

Different Levels of Reading the Bible

Pope Benedict XVI said that in his new book he tried to highlight what the Bible says about Jesus, what the moral implications of his teachings are and how reading the Scriptures can lead to a real relationship with Jesus. At his April 25 weekly general audience, the pope said his three-pronged approach to the Bible’s words were inspired by Origen of Alexandria, a third-century theologian. The pope’s book Jesus of Nazareth went on sale April 16 in Italian, German and Polish; the English edition is set for release May 15. During his general audience, Pope Benedict called Origen one of the greatest teachers of the Christian faith, particularly because of the way he combined scholarship, preaching and teaching with exemplary moral conduct. The pope said one of Origen’s most important contributions to Christianity was the way he combined theological and biblical studies.

Papal Trip to U.N. Unlikely This Year

Pope Benedict XVI accepted an invitation to visit U.N. headquarters in New York City, but Vatican sources said the trip looked unlikely for this year. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters April 26 that during their recent meeting at the Vatican he asked the pope to come at a mutually convenient time. Ban said, I am very happy that he accepted my invitation to visit. Attention had focused on a possible papal visit in September for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Vatican sources said that date now looked improbable, and that no steps were being taken for a U.N. visit this year.

Bishops, Religious Groups Call for Farm Bill Reforms

The U.S. bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, are joining more than a dozen other religious groups in advocating reforms in federal farm policy that could be implemented through the farm bill now working its way through Congress. The organizations have coalesced into a body called the Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill to propose changes in the legislation that they say would benefit farmers, rural communities and Americans’ nutritional needs. Passing a new farm bill is an important opportunity to reshape our agricultural policies to build a more just framework that better serves rural communities and vulnerable farmers in the U.S., overcomes hunger here and abroad, and helps poor farmers and their families in developing countries, said an April 20 statement by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Policy. We join together to support policies that promote economic justice, strengthen rural communities at home and around the world, care for the land as God’s creation, foster right relations among nations and achieve an end to hunger, said the statement of the Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, also issued April 20.

Origins Honored for Scholarly Excellence

The Catholic Library Association honored Origins, a Catholic documentary service, with its Jerome Award for outstanding contribution and commitment to excellence in scholarship. David Gibson, founding editor, accepted the award April 12 at the Jerome Award luncheon during the association’s annual convention in Baltimore, Md. Origins, established in 1971, is a publication of Catholic News Service in Washington. It publishes major official documents of the pope, the Vatican, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other church entities as well as a variety of other religious documentation, ranging from ecumenical and interreligious statements to papers by church officials, theologians and other thinkers on current church issues and trends. It is published 47 times a year and often carries important new texts the same week they are issued. Origins is also available online, including issues back to the 1970’s, at

Charismatic Churches Draw U.S. Hispanics

The church familiar to and preferred by Hispanic Catholics in the United States is a livelier, more charismatic place than the one most American Catholics are used to, finds a new survey on Latinos and religion. A detailed survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released April 25 says about a third of U.S. Catholics are Latinos and that they are bringing a more evangelical style of faith into the broader church as their numbers grow. Despite an overall drop in the percentage of U.S. Hispanics who are Catholicdue largely to the departure of those who joined evangelical and Pentecostal churchesLatinos will continue to represent an ever larger share of the U.S. Catholic population because of immigration and high birthrates, it said. About 68 percent of U.S. Hispanics say they are Catholics. The study is titled Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion.

One-Third of New U.S. Priests From Overseas

Results of a survey released April 30 show that the average age of the 475 priests expected to be ordained in the United States this year is 35 and that one-third of this year’s new priests were born in another country, primarily Vietnam, Mexico, Poland or the Philippines. The national study of the ordination class of 2007 also shows that the men are well educated. More than six in 10 completed college before entering the seminary, and some have advanced degrees in law, medicine or education. The annual survey of new priests was initially developed in 1998 by the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation. Last year, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University began conducting it for the U.S. bishops. For this year’s analysis, CARA researchers contacted the 475 ordinands by e-mail, telephone and fax. A total of 282 ordinands responded, roughly 60 percent. The group includes 221 who will be ordained for dioceses and 60 for religious orders. (One respondent did not specify.) Respondents represent 98 archdioceses, dioceses and eparchies and 33 religious orders.

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