Signs of the Times

Theater Founder Says Disability Is a Gift

The life of the imagination has no physical boundaries, and people with physical disabilities can use their imagination to face lifes difficulties. That is the enduring message of Rick Curry, a Jesuit brother, and the organization he founded 30 years ago in New York, the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped. The message is taught in classes and demonstrated by the example of Brother Curry and those who work with him. About 15,000 people have participated in the groups programs since its 1977 debut. The New York-based nonprofit organization provides theatrical training and seeks to create a safe haven in which artists with physical disabilities qualify for and obtain work in the performing and baking arts. Brother Curry, 64, a native Philadelphian, was born with one arm. He joined the Jesuits in 1961, and is taking a break from the day-to-day leadership of the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped to study for ordination to the priesthood at Washington Theological Union. He lives with Georgetown Universitys Jesuit community. No one is more surprised than I am, he said. I never wanted to be a priest. It grew from the outside in, not the inside out.

New Jersey Lawmakers Abolish Death Penalty

Bishop John M. Smith of Trenton, N.J., said Dec. 14 he was pleased that New Jersey legislators voted to abolish the death penalty, but said he would not have a triumphalist attitude about it because capital punishment is such a sensitive issue. Members of the General Assembly voted Dec. 13 to end the death penalty in their state, four days after the measure was approved by the state Senate. Gov. Jon Corzine signed it into law Dec. 17. In remarks at the state capitol, Corzine said the decision to abolish the death penalty in the state demonstrated that New Jersey is truly evolving. He said a fundamental argument against the death penalty is for society to determine if its endorsement of violence begets violence, and if violence undermines our commitment to the sanctity of life. The governor also issued an order to commute the sentences of the eight men on the states death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He thanked advocacy groups, naming the New Jersey Catholic Conference and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, for their efforts that put pressure on those of us in public service to stand up and do the right thing.


Priests Stabbing Called Attack on Christians

The recent stabbing of an Italian Capuchin friar in Turkey marks yet another act of violence targeting the minority Christian community in the country, said Bishop Luigi Padovese of Anatolia. Father Adriano Franchini was attacked Dec. 16 after a Mass in a church in Izmir. The 65-year-old priest underwent surgery soon after and was declared out of danger, because the attacker had missed hitting any vital organs, Bishop Padovese told the Rome-based missionary news service AsiaNews. What must be underlined is that, once again, an act of violence has targeted a Catholic priest in Turkey, he said in a Dec. 16 interview with AsiaNews before police had captured the suspected attacker.

AsiaNews reported Dec. 17 that police identified 19-year-old Ramazan Bay as the primary suspect. It said the teenager reportedly confessed to the crime, saying he had stabbed the priest because of Christian proselytism, which he read about on the Internet and saw depicted on a popular Turkish television series, Valley of the Wolves.

Catholic Duty and Right to Share the Gospel

When Catholics fulfill their right and duty to share their faith with others, they are not engaging in proselytism or showing contempt for the beliefs of others, said a new document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Sharing the Christian faith with the hope that another may accept it is a command given by Christ to his followers and is a natural result of wanting others to share something special, said the Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the doctrinal congregation, presented the document at a Dec. 14 Vatican press conference. In addition to reminding Catholics of their obligation to share the Gospel with others, the document criticized Catholics who believe that every religion offers salvation, and it defended Catholics in some Orthodox countries from charges of proselytism when they welcome into the Catholic Church people who freely ask to join.

Cardinal Levada said the document, which already was being prepared when Pope Benedict XVI was still prefect of the congregation, was the result of a growing confusion about whether Catholics should give testimony about their faith in Christ, particularly to people who already had another religion.

Holy Family in Josephs Carpenter Shop

Sheltered under a tree and concealed by burlap and scaffolding, the Nativity scene in St. Peters Squarestill under constructionwas designed to place the Holy Family in Josephs carpentry workshop. The Vatican office in charge of the crèches construction took its inspiration from Matthews Gospel account of the birth of Jesus: When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son and he named him Jesus. The central scene was designed to be Josephs dwelling and his carpentry workshop with angels hovering above from a small balcony, according to a Dec. 13 written statement by the office for technical services for Vatican City. The scene was to be flanked by another carpentry shop and an inn. Joseph lived and worked in Nazareth, while Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, as Matthews account also confirms. The Vatican Nativity scene is by tradition unveiled officially on Dec. 24 and remains in the square until the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.

Dioceses Downsize to Pay Abuse Settlements

The scandal of sexual abuse by members of the clergy continued to have a major financial impact on U.S. Catholic dioceses in 2007 as multimillion-dollar settlements were reached with abuse victims and dioceses funded their share by selling church property, reducing staff and, in at least one case, soliciting contributions from priests and lay Catholics. In California alone, financial settlements from decades-old abuse cases exceeded $1.8 billion after the statute of limitations was lifted for one year. The Diocese of San Diego began bankruptcy proceedings early in 2007 just as the Diocese of Spokane, Wash., and the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., emerged from bankruptcy brought on by costly abuse settlements. In early December, the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, agreed to an abuse settlement of $37 million. The agreement, which required the approval of the bankruptcy judge to take effect, will allow the diocese to come out of bankruptcy, which it filed last year in anticipation of the sex abuse lawsuits. Two years before filing, the diocese had reached settlements with abuse victims totaling more than $10.5 million. This fall, the San Diego Diocese and the San Bernardino Diocese agreed to pay $198.1 million to settle lawsuits brought by 144 people who claimed they were abused by church personnel between 1938 and 1993.

Lebanese Catholics Mourn Slain Leader

Catholic leaders in Lebanon denounced a car bomb explosion that killed a top Maronite Catholic military official in a neighborhood of Beirut. The war in Lebanon is not finished, Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut told Catholic News Service from the bishops residence, which is located near where the bomb exploded Dec. 12. The big problem is for Christians in Lebanon. We are afraid we will not have the possibility to elect a president because of the interference of Syria and Iran, and also Saudi Arabia, France and the United States, he said. Everyone has an interest in Lebanon, and thats not good for our country, Bishop Kassarji said. We are Lebanese and we want to govern our own country by ourselves. Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj was killed in the blast in Beiruts Baabda neighborhood near the presidential palace. Hajj was slated to succeed Gen. Michel Suleiman as head of the military if Suleiman is elected president.

Bloodshed Desecrates the Holy Land

While the political implications of saying the Holy Land is holy can be debated, a Catholic priest and a Jewish and a Muslim scholar agreed that the land is being desecrated by bloodshed, fighting and claims of exclusivity. The three speakers, who have worked together in Jerusalem, spoke about their religions teachings about the land during a Dec. 11 conference sponsored by the Cardinal Bea Center for Judaic Studies at Romes Pontifical Gregorian University. Yehezkel Landau, who directs a program at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut called Building Abrahamic Partnerships, said he believes the holy land of Israel-Palestine is Gods primary laboratory on earth for the practice of justice and loving kindness. Michael McGarry, a Paulist priest who is director of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, emphasized the importance of Christians reflecting on the place of the land of Israel and its meaning for the Jewish people. Mustafa Abu-Sway, director of the Islamic Research Center at Jerusalems Al-Quds University, said that while most Muslims believe the Holy Land was given to them in a perpetual endowment in the seventh century, the only way he sees to resolve the competing claims over the territory is to emphasize the primacy of human life over that of land.

Pope Praises Kuwaits Efforts for Human Rights

Children must be educated in moral values, in their own religious and cultural heritage and in respect for the religious beliefs of others, Pope Benedict XVI said. Welcoming Suhail Khalil Shuhaiber as Kuwaits new ambassador to the Vatican Dec. 13, the pope praised Kuwait for its efforts to promote democracy, human rights and dialogue within its borders and throughout the Middle East. After the countrys invasion in 1990 by Iraq and a seven-month occupation, Kuwait has continued to play an important role in the delicate process of reconciliation which offers the only sure hope for a resolution of the many complex problems affecting the Middle East, the pope said. Interreligious and intercultural dialogue for the promotion of peace, especially between Christians and Muslims, is essential for overcoming misunderstandings and forging solid relations marked by mutual respect and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good of the whole human family, the pope said.

Report Analyzes Church Response to Abuse Crisis

Although the church has taken positive steps in its response to the sexual abuse crisis, more needs to be done, according to a five-year report on the crisis released Dec. 13 by the National Review Board, the lay group that oversees the U.S. Catholic bishops compliance with child protection policies. The report, addressed to U.S. Catholics on the fifth anniversary of the boards establishment, called the churchs response to the crisis impressive but also noted that its work is only beginning. It said church officials must do a better job providing victims with the help they need and should also help Catholics at the parish level understand how best to respond to victims and their families. It also recommended that church leaders provide protection and restoration for priests accused of abuse who are later found innocent and called for greater speed in investigating and responding to abuse allegations. The full report is available online at:

Violence Against Venezuelan Cardinal

Pope Benedict XVI expressed his concern over the recent violence aimed at Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, Venezuela. The cardinal announced he had been verbally assaulted and that the vehicle he and his driver were in was violently attacked by a group of people in downtown Caracas, the capital. In a brief letter dated Dec. 9, the pope said the news of the a violent group Dec. 7 caused him concern. I am urgently expressing my sincere closeness and solidarity in these regrettable circumstances, the pope wrote in a letter published on the Web site of the Venezuelan bishops conference. He said he was keeping the cardinal in his prayers, encouraging him to stay true [to] the fulfillment of your pastoral mission. Cardinal Urosa said in a statement that he was not physically harmed in the attack.

Interfaith Gathering to Light Historic Menorah

The Rev. David Garcia, rector of San Fernando Cathedral, said the annual Catholic-Jewish Hanukkah commemoration in San Antonio, Tex., was an opportunity to illustrate how people of various faith traditions have worked with one another over the years. Each one, he said, has added a wonderful richness that only their tradition could give. Good relationships among different faiths in San Antonio is what distinguishes it as a premier city, he added.

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