Signs of the Times

Pope Discusses Exodus of Christians From Iraq

Pope Benedict XVI met with Syria’s vice president to discuss the exodus of Christian and other refugees from Iraq, many of whom have fled to Syria. Syria is now home to an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, and Syrian officials have said the international community has not helped the country to deal with the influx. During a private audience Sept. 5, Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa gave the pope a personal message from Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, the Vatican said. Later, the Syrian vice president met for separate talks with Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s top foreign affairs expert. The Vatican said the discussions focused on Syria’s efforts to host Iraqi refugees and on Syria’s requests for aid from international agencies. Also on the agenda were the problems and conditions of Christians in Syria and what the Vatican termed the “decisive contribution that Syria can give in order to overcome the serious crises that afflict many populations of the Middle East.”

Pope Voices Hope for Just Settlement in Mideast

Pope Benedict XVI met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and expressed hope that new diplomatic moves can bring peace in the Middle East. After 60 years of suffering endured by the peoples of the region, it is imperative to make “every effort” to find a just settlement, the Vatican said after the Sept. 6 meeting. Following his 35-minute private audience with the pope, Peres held separate talks with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s top foreign affairs official, to discuss the Middle East and church-state relations in Israel. The encounters came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were preparing to renew negotiations. Meanwhile, diplomats were setting the stage for a U.S.-sponsored international conference on the Middle East in November. The Vatican statement said the prospect of an international conference raised new hopes and created a “particularly favorable context” for progress.


Pope Stresses Christian Values for Europe

Before an audience of Austrian political leaders and international diplomats, Pope Benedict XVI urged Europe not to jettison its Christian values, especially when it comes to the rights of the unborn and the dying. The pope made the remarks Sept. 7 in an ornate reception hall of Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, which was packed with government officials, legislators, ambassadors and representatives to U.N. and other agencies. After being welcomed warmly by Austria’s president, Heinz Fischer, the pope stood at a podium on a red carpet and declared: “Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots. These represent a dynamic component of our civilization as we move forward into the third millennium.”

The pope then quickly turned to two pro-life issues, abortion and euthanasia, which he said were not merely church concerns but represented threats to the most basic human right, that of life itself.


Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the most outspoken critic of the country’s leadership, who is facing allegations of adultery. In an undated letter written by the archbishop and released by the Vatican press office Sept. 11, the archbishop wrote that he offered his resignation to Vatican officials in July to spare sullying the image of the church. The Vatican announced that the pope accepted the archbishop’s resignation under Canon 401.2, which covers resignations for illness or some other grave reason. Archbishop Ncube, 60, is being sued for adultery, and his case is before the High Court of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. The lawsuit was made public in July, and state-run newspapers published photos they said were of Archbishop Ncube and a woman, taken with a concealed camera placed in the archbishop’s bedroom. Archbishop Ncube’s resignation “is not to be seen as an admission of guilt” to the adultery charges and it “shouldn’t have any bearing on the court case,” said the Rev. Frederick Chiromba, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Ordination of Chinese Bishop Part of Transition

The ordination of Coadjutor Bishop Paul Xiao Zejiang of Guizhou, China, was seen as part of a smooth transition in the diocesan leadership. More than 3,000 Catholics attended the ordination of the 40-year-old priest Sept. 8 at the cathedral, or North Church, in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency.

The ordination, performed with the approval of both the Holy See and the Chinese government, marked the first ordination of a bishop since Pope Benedict XVI issued his open letter to mainland Chinese Catholics June 30. The Rev. Long Chengzhong, Guizhou’s vicar general, told UCA News Sept. 10 that all the diocese’s priests are glad to have a young bishop.

As coadjutor, Bishop Xiao will automatically succeed 89-year-old Bishop Anicetus Wang Chongyi, who is still active, upon the elderly prelate’s death or retirement.

Bishops Seek Exemption on Sex-Change Records

English and Welsh bishops have expressed concern that they would not be able to stop transsexuals from becoming nuns or priests under new equality legislation proposed by the British government.

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said it feared that proposals to ban “indirect discrimination” against people who have had sex-change operations would take away the church’s right to check vital records, like baptismal and confirmation certificates, that would reveal whether candidates for the priesthood, religious life or marriage were transsexuals.

The bishops expressed their concerns in a Sept. 10 submission to the British government, which has proposed that vital records be altered when a person has a sex-change operation. A copy of the submission, prepared on behalf of the bishops by Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, Wales, was obtained by Catholic News Service.

$198.1 Million Settlement in California Lawsuits

The Diocese of San Diego and the Diocese of San Bernardino, which broke off from its southern neighbor in 1978, agreed Sept. 7 to pay $198.1 million to settle lawsuits with 144 victims of sexual abuse by priests between 1938 and 1993. The dioceses had originally offered $95 million to settle the claims. The plaintiffs sought $200 million. Earlier in the year, the San Diego Diocese filed for bankruptcy protection hours before a trial was to begin in one of the first lawsuits alleging that the church was responsible for sexual abuse by priests. The judge in the bankruptcy case had recently threatened to throw out that case if the church did not reach an agreement with the plaintiffs.

The settlement is one of the largest in the country. Under the agreement, the San Bernardino Diocese and its insurer, Catholic Mutual, will pay $15.1 million for 11 cases. The San Diego Diocese will pay $77 million and Catholic Mutual will cover another $75.7 million for a total of 111 cases. San Diego will pay another $30.2 million for 22 cases involving members of religious orders. A statement from the San Diego Diocese said it hoped at least part of that amount could be recovered from the religious orders.

New Missal Translation Expected by 2009

An international liturgical committee that advises the Vatican reported progress in its work on the new English translation of the Mass. After meeting at the Vatican Sept. 2-6, the Vox Clara Committee said it hoped the English translation of the Roman Missal would be completed and approved by the end of 2009. It was the first time a specific date had been anticipated for the completion of the lengthy project. The third edition of the Roman Missal was promulgated in Latin by Pope John Paul II in 2002, and work on the English translation began soon afterward. A Vox Clara statement said its meeting reviewed the most recent draft translations of the Roman Missal.

Spiritual Enthusiasm Marks Scout Anniversary

As a priest for 52 years and a member of the Boy Scouts for 65, Msgr. John B. Brady, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., says he has never experienced the “youthful spiritual enthusiasm” he witnessed this summer as a chaplain at the Goshen Scout Reservation in Goshen, Va. “Scouts of every faith attended religious services in record numbers,” Msgr. Brady said in a report on his experiences with the more than 7,000 scouts and leaders who attended the six camps at Goshen this summer. “Jewish and Islamic services, Buddhist meditations...nondenominational Christian services and daily Catholic Masses reported significant increases in attendance,” he added.

The summer of 2007 marked the 100th camping season for the scouts since Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world scouting movement, oversaw the raising of the flags at the world’s first scout encampment at Brown Sea Island off the coast of Southampton, England, Aug. 1, 1907.

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