Signs of the Times

Pope in Brazil Speaks on Discipleship and Mission

Speaking at the opening session at Aparecida, Brazil, on May 13 of a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean bishops, Pope Benedict XVI said the faith has serious challenges to address, because the harmonious development of society and the Catholic identity of [the region’s] peoples are in jeopardy.

In calling for a renewal and revitalization of faith in Latin America and the Caribbean, Pope Benedict XVI warned against a revival of indigenous religions, said the church should work for justice but not become directly involved in politics and criticized both Marxism and capitalism for their detachment from the decisive reality which is God.


Looking back at the more than 500 years since Catholic missionaries first arrived in the Americas, the pontiff said early evangelization was not the imposition of a foreign culture on the region’s indigenous peoples, but a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith. In recent years there has been renewed interest in traditional indigenous religions, particularly in Andean and Central American countries; an Indian theology movement of indigenous Catholic theologians also has arisen. In an apparent reference to more radical movements that promote a revival of indigenous religions, the pope warned that the utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbus religions... would be a step back.

He underscored the rich and profound popular religiousness that grew out of the melding of indigenous and Christian beliefs and that is one of the most obvious outward expressions of Catholicism in Latin America.

Describing the social situation that the bishops must address, Pope Benedict said globalization brings people together but is accompanied by the risk of vast monopolies and of treating profit as the supreme value.

Saying there has been notable progress toward democracy, the pope expressed concern about authoritarian forms of government and regimes wedded to certain ideologies that we thought had been superseded, an apparent reference to the election of left-leaning governments in countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia.

At the same time, he noted that in countries with liberal economies, increasing sectors of society are op-pressed by immense poverty or even despoiled of their own natural resources.

While praising the efforts of catechists and lay movements and the church’s educational and charitable works, the pontiff said there has been a certain weakening of Christian life in society overall and in the church due to secularism, hedonism, indifferentism and proselytism by numerous sects, animist religions and new pseudoreligious phenomena.

Noting that the church has the great task of guarding and nourishing the faith of the people of God and reminding the faithful that...they are called to be disciples and missionaries, the pope emphasized that catechesis and Sunday Mass must be the foundations of church life. It is necessary to intensify the catechesis and the faith formation not only of children, but also of young people and adults, he said. That formation, he added, must include the church’s social doctrine.

Calling Sunday Mass an effective way of teaching the faith, the pope urged families to participate together in the weekly Eucharist. He made no mention of the particular challenge this poses in Latin America, which is home to 43 percent of the world’s Catholics but has about 7,000 laypeople per priest, the highest ratio in the world. In some rural areas, like the Andes, a priest visits villages only once a year. Those communities depend on lay leaders for catechesis and liturgies. In many areas the shortage of priests has been a factor in the rise of evangelical churches.

While saying the church must contribute to bringing justice to society, the pope warned against direct church involvement in politics. The church is the advocate of justice and of the poor precisely because she does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests, he said. Lay Catholics, meanwhile, have as their responsibility and their mission the task of bringing the light of the Gospel into public life, into culture, economics and politics. Nevertheless, the pope called attention to the notable absence of strong Catholic voices in politics, the media and academia.

In a region in which youths make up the majority of the population, the pope said that young people are not afraid of sacrifice, but of a meaningless life. He called for them to oppose the facile illusions of instant happiness and every form of violence, but offered no guidance on how to keep young people in the church. While 71 percent of Latin Americans consider themselves Catholic, according to a survey by the Latinobarometro polling firm in 2005, when the pope was elected, the figure was highest76 percentamong people over age 60, and only 66 percent among those between ages 16 and 25. That decline in the adherence of young people was expected to come up for discussion among the bishops over the next two and a half weeks.

The Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean brings together 266 church people from throughout the hemisphere; of those, 162 are bishops, who may vote. The pope chose the theme of discipleship and mission, and the meeting is expected to end with a call for a renewed missionary effort in the church in the region.

California Suicide Bill Implicitly Anti-Catholic’

Calling proposed California physician-assisted suicide legislation strongly and implicitly anti-Catholic and accusing its advocates of trying to bend the Catholic Church’s moral teaching to the will of the culture of death agenda, an international expert on bioethics, Wesley J. Smith, urged listeners at a lecture on May 7 to do everything in their power to help defeat the controversial bill. Titled the California Compassionate Choices Act, Assembly Bill 374 would allow physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to people diagnosed with a terminal illness, given less than six months to live and declared mentally competent. Mr. Smith, keynote speaker at the annual public policy breakfast sponsored by the San Francisco Archdiocese’s Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns and held at St. Mary’s Cathedral, said the measure seeks to establish ending life as an appropriate way to relieve suffering. Once that premise has been established, he said, it becomes logical to extend what would be seen as a legitimate medical treatment to the chronically ill, the terminally ill at any stage, individuals in intractable pain and even those who are depressed.

Rancher Convicted of Murdering Nun in Brazil

A Brazilian rancher was convicted May 15 of ordering the assassination in February 2005 of U.S. Sister Dorothy Stang and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura said in court he did not know Sister Dorothy, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and only had contact with her two assassins after she was dead. He denied accusations that he paid the two men found guilty of killing the nun $25,000 to murder her. They were convicted of the crime in 2005. De Moura’s trial took place in the northern city of Belem, in the State of Para. Sister Dorothy, a native of Dayton, Ohio, was 73 when she was murdered on an isolated road near the town of Anapu. She had lived in Brazil for nearly four decades and was known in the region as a fierce defender of a sustainable development project for the Amazon forest.

Proposed New York Laws Called Radical

The New York State Catholic Conference has sharply attacked Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposals to make it illegal to place any restrictions on abortion in the state and to legalize same-sex marriages. The two bills, announced by the governor’s office in late April, mark a very troubling, radical turn for this new administration, said Catholic conference executive director, Richard E. Barnes.

Spitzer’s own press release announcing the proposed abortion legislation quoted leaders of several major abortion-rights organizations in the state, advocating the governor’s bill as a necessary response to what they called the dangerous recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Spitzer said his proposed marriage legislation would create equal legal protection and responsibilities for all individuals who seek to marry regardless of the gender of the partners. Barnes said, Marriage is not some political term of art that can be reimagined or redefined according to the whims of the popular culture.

Feast Days in the Roman Calendar

Pope Benedict XVI has approved stricter guidelines for determining which saints will be remembered with mandatory feast days. The General Roman Calendar, the universal schedule of holy days and feast days for the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, is so packed that more selectivity is needed, according to new norms and a commentary published in the official bulletin of the Congrega-tion for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The pope determines who appears in the universal calendar, guided by recommendations from the congregation, the commentary said. A saint can be inserted in the general calendar because of the significant and universal importance of his or her spiritual message and effectiveness as an example for a broad category of members of the church, said the norms.

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