Signs of the Times

Vatican Diplomat Questions Relations With Israel

With new problems over visas for foreign priests and the long, ongoing negotiations needed to resolve the tax status of Catholic institutions in Israel, the Vaticans former ambassador to that country said, To be frank, relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel were better when there were no diplomatic relations.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi served as the Vatican nuncio to Israel for seven years before being named nuncio to the United States in 2005. The archbishop made his statement during an interview that was published Nov. 16 in the online edition of Terra Santa magazine, a publication of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.


Although issues related to the juridical and financial status of the Catholic Church had not been fully clarified, the Vatican went ahead and launched full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994 as an act of trust, certain that Israel would act quickly to finalize agreements on the legal and financial issues, Archbishop Sambi said, offering his personal opinion on the matter.

Bishops Approve Text on Conscience and Citizenship

In what several bishops called a watershed moment for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the full body of bishops overwhelmingly approved a document intended to help Catholic voters form their consciences on a variety of issues before the 2008 elections. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility From the Catholic Bishops of the United States was approved by a 221-to-4 vote Nov. 14, the last public day of the Nov. 12-15 U.S.C.C.B. general assembly in Baltimore. The bishops also endorsed a shorter document, designed as a parish bulletin insert, by a vote of 221 to 1. Prepared by a task force made up of the chairmen of seven U.S.C.C.B. committees, the document underwent more than a dozen drafts and was still heavily amended during the meeting and immediately before the Nov. 14 vote. The longer document rejects politics based on powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites and media hype and calls instead for a different kind of political engagement.

Chinese Change Stance on Religion

Some church leaders praised the inclusion of the word religion in the Communist Partys constitution as a small step forward, but a recent commentary in a Hong Kong daily identified the Vatican as a foreign force meddling in the affairs of Hong Kong and Macau. The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing in mid-October has been called a breakthrough for religion in China, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. The latest revision to the party constitution uses the word religion for the first time since the constitution was drafted in 1921. The 19th paragraph of the constitutions General Program now includes this sentence: The party strives to fully implement its basic principle for its work related to religious affairs and rallies religious believers in making contributions to economic and social development. The paragraph originally contained only calls for Communists promotion of relations with ethnic minorities based on equality, solidarity, mutual harmony, training of cadres from these groups, and empowering these groups to work for prosperity and development.

Over 100,000 Changes to Italian Mass Readings

Italians listening to the Scriptures at Mass will no longer hear that it is impossible to serve God and mammon, but rather that no one can serve both God and wealth. On the feast of the Annunciation, the Gospel reading no longer will have the angel Gabriel greeting Mary with the words Hail, full of grace, but rather with Rejoice, full of grace. After five years of work and 15 drafts, the first volumes of Scripture readings for Masses in Italian have been approved by the Vatican and may be used in parishes beginning in December. The new lectionaries for Sundays and holy daysone for each year of the three-year cycle of readingswere presented Nov. 12 at a Vatican press conference. The bishops expect to complete the collection of readings for other Masses by the end of 2008, and use of the new translations will be obligatory beginning with Advent 2010.

Human Trafficking Victims Need More Help

Although the United States has made progress in addressing human trafficking, more needs to be done to help victims, particularly children, said a Catholic official in testimony before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. From the Catholic perspective, human trafficking represents a scourge on the earth which must be eradicated, said Anastasia Brown, director of refugee programs for the Committee on Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She applauded the efforts already made to stop human trafficking, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which Congress reauthorized in 2003 and 2005. But in her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Oct. 31, she stressed that trafficking victims need access to a continuum of services in order to attain self-sufficiency and restored mental and physical health. Most victims of trafficking are commonly linked by poverty and lack of opportunity and are sold into bondage as prostitutes, domestic workers and child laborers, she said.

Papal Visit to Lourdes to Mark Marian Apparitions

Officials confirmed Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France to mark the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there, but said the exact time period of the papal visit was not yet known. Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes, who is in charge of the preparations for the jubilee celebrations, said the papal journey was a sure thing. The bishop and others spoke to journalists during a Nov. 13 Vatican press conference, unveiling details of the yearlong jubilee celebrations. Federico Lombardi, S.J., head of the Vatican press office, said the papal trip most probably would have Lourdes as its sole destination and for now would not include stops in other cities. Bishop Perrier said he is often asked if the pope will arrive at Lourdes at one of the significant moments for the church, such as Feb. 11, the day the apparitions began and also the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, or Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption. Bishop Perrier said whatever date the pope decides for his visit would be a significant moment for them.

D.C. School System to Be Reconfigured

The Archdiocese of Washington has finalized its decision to reconfigure its current 12-school center-city consortium. Four schools will make up a new smaller consortium. Seven schools will be converted into charter schools and one will become a parish-run school. The Center City Consortium was established in 1997 to help schools facing decreasing enrollment, budget deficits, deteriorating buildings and the threat of closure. Through the consortium, schools pooled their resources and have been assisted by consortium staff with development, fundraising and purchasing.

The final plan for Washingtons urban schools, announced Nov. 5, was developed in response to several crises facing the consortium, including a $7 million shortfall this school year, a projected $56 million deficit over the next five years, a 19 percent decline in enrollment and an increase in the number of the citys tuition-free public charter schools. An archdiocesan statement noted that a conversion [to charter schools] will allow faculty and students to be grandfathered in and to continue at the school they already attend, although the school would no longer be Catholic.

Knights Donate Wheelchairs to Veterans

In ceremonies on Nov. 9 and 10 in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and Bonham, Tex., which is near Dallas, the Knights of Columbus distributed 2,000 wheelchairs to military veterans. As our nation pauses to honor these men and women on Veterans Day, we are honored to be able to reach out to help veterans in need, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson said. Veterans Day was Nov. 11. This wheelchair distribution continues our longstanding tradition of service to our service men and women, both those who are on active duty and those who are retired, he said in a statement in Washington, D.C. The Knights of Columbus formed a partnership with the Wheelchair Foundation to distribute the chairs. Five hundred were distributed in each of the four cities in ceremonies that drew hundreds of people. A press release from the Knights said the Chicago ceremony began with Boy Scouts wheeling veterans into the auditorium of the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital in new Ferrari red wheelchairs, escorted by an honor guard of 76 fourth-degree Knights.

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