Signs of the Times

Catholics, Orthodox Complete Text on Church Authority

Despite the absence of Russian Orthodox representatives, the international Catholic-Orthodox theological commission finished work on a document about church structure and authority. In a statement issued at the end of the Oct. 8-14 meeting in Ravenna, the commission said it had completed work on its document, The Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church. The document is expected to be published before the end of 2007, a participant told Catholic News Service. It examines the biblical foundations for seeing the church as a sacramental presence in the world and how responsibility and authority are exercised on the local, regional and universal levels. The commissions Oct. 14 statement said the next phase of the dialogue would focus on the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of the church in the first millennium.

Muslim Leaders See Theological Similarities

More than 100 senior Muslim leaders from around the world sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders proposing theological similarities as a basis for peace and understanding. Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders, said the letter from 138 Muslim leaders, released Oct. 11 in Washington, D.C. Christians and Muslims make up more than 55 percent of the worlds population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world, they said. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against themso long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes, they said.


Pope Names New Cardinals

Pope Benedict XVI named 23 new cardinals, including U.S. Archbishop John P. Foley, pro-grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, and U.S. Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the first cardinal from a Texas diocese. The pope announced the names at the end of his weekly general audience Oct. 17 and said he would formally install the cardinals during a special consistory at the Vatican on Nov. 24. Cardinal-designate Foley was in St. Peters Square when the announcement was made; he told Catholic News Service he had gone into the square, wading into the midst of the crowd, after going to a doctors appointment. After the new cardinals are installed, there will be 121 potential papal electors. The nomination of cardinals-designate Foley and DiNardo brings to 17 the number of U.S. cardinals. Also among those named was Urbano Navarrete, S.J., 87, a distinguished professor of Canon Law and former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

French Bishops Denounce Immigration Law Changes

Frances Catholic bishops have denounced proposed immigration amendments that would allow the collection of ethnic data and introduce DNA testing for migrants seeking to join family members in the country. Christians should refuse in principle to choose between those migrants living illegally, or in secret, and those in the open, or between citizens who carry papers and those without, the bishops said in a statement. Whoever they are, they are our brothers and sisters in humanity. The Oct. 1 statement was published as lawmakers debated controversial amendments to Frances 2006 immigration law. The bishops welcomed parliamentary opposition to the proposed use of genetic tests, saying they risked a grave disregard for the sense of the person and the dignity of the family. During talks with church leaders in April 2006, now-President Nicolas Sarkozy, who campaigned for tighter curbs on immigration before his May election, promised to listen to the churchs viewpoint, the bishops added.

Regret Over World Military Spending, Health Care

Funneling resources toward military spending instead of providing basic health care to all citizens is making an already sad landscape even bleaker, a top Vatican official told the U.N. General Assembly. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, said Oct. 9 that the world community seems to have been losing focus on the need to ensure the right to basic health care for all, although studies have shown even simple medical prevention can effectively and successfully improve the health and stability of society. The Vatican released a copy of his text Oct. 10. Archbishop Migliore said that primary care is often neglected or replaced by more selective and even culturally divisive methods of health care. He said that a saner health policy would cover basic health care needs for all members of society and would help nations achieve some of the Millennium Development Goals, which include setting targets for reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating deadly diseases worldwide by 2015.

Former Superior General of Christian Brothers Dies

John Johnston, F.S.C., who was superior general of the De La Salle Christian Brothers from 1986 to 2000, died Oct. 11 at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. He was 73. Brother Johnston, a Memphis native, worked around the world in various assignments but returned to his hometown to stay in 2003. After he was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, he continued to participate in activities of the Christian Brothers.

In a letter to the Christian Brothers community, Brother álvaro Rodríguez Echeverría, current superior general, said Brother Johnston had a profound influence on brothers and lay Lasallians all over the world. He cited Brother Johnstons closeness to young people, his spiritual depth and profound interior life and his extraordinary capacity for leadership. For the last decade, much of Johnstons work involved the shift from the Christian Brothers school model to the Lasallian school model, emphasizing the partnership between the brothers and laypeople in fostering the life and mission of the orders schools, especially as the number of brothers has decreased and lay involvement has increased. The change of language is important, he once said. A Lasallian school is a school that is animated, not by the brothers with lay men and women in a supportive role, but by the entire educative community, in which the brothers participate.

Brother Johnston reflected on his own declining health in an April 2007 column posted on the orders Web site as the monthly reflection. In it he discussed the philosophy of drinking the cup that Jesus did. To be a disciple of Jesus is to live with arms outstretched, in an attitude of yes to whatever God wills, he wrote. It is to stand before the Father as Jesus did and to cry out, My Father, if this cup cannot pass by, but I must drink it, your will be done.

Southern U.S. the Most Charitable Region

Households in the south of the United States contributed a far greater portion of their income to charity than those in the Northeast in 2005, according to a new book on church giving. When the calculations of charitable giving are limited to those made to churches and religious organizations, the average annual expenditures by Southern households in 2005 were nearly twice that of households in the Northeast. The State of Church Giving Through 2005, which was published on Oct. 15, is the latest in a series of analyses produced by Empty Tomb, an Illinois church stewardship research and consulting company. The husband and wife research team of John and Sylvia Ronsvalle analyzed data on charitable giving from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey 2005, which put total charitable giving by Americans that year at $114.86 billion. Looking at charitable contributions as a percentage of after-tax income, the researchers found that Southerners gave 2.1 percent of their available income to charity, those in the Midwest 2 percent, those in the West 1.5 percent and those in the Northeast 1.2 percent.

Catholic Educators Praise New Legislation

The federal government hopes to make college more affordable through the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, effective Oct. 1. Catholic higher education officials interviewed by Catholic News Service gave high marks to the legislation because it is aimed at helping more students pay for college and graduate with less debt. It will reduce the interest rates on federal student loans to 3.4 percent from the current 6.6 percent. It also guarantees that loan recipients will not spend more than 15 percent of their annual income repaying loans and that loans will be forgiven after 25 years10 years for those in public service.

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