Signs of the Times

Pope Addresses Diplomats

Addressing diplomats from around the world, Pope Benedict XVI warned that numerous armed conflicts and social disorders have left global stability in a fragile situation. The pope said Jan. 7, that the latest attack on Christian churches in Iraq reflects a continuing climate of terrorism and violence in the country and illustrates the need for constitutional reform to safeguard the rights of minorities. On nuclear weapons, he urged the international community to undertake a joint effort to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. The pope also condemned “continually perpetrated attacks” against human life, in areas ranging from the death penalty to biotechnology, and criticized efforts to weaken the traditional family and the institution of marriage. The world’s problems illustrate that real solutions must be “solidly anchored in natural law, given by the Creator,” he said. “This is another reason why God can never be excluded from the horizon of man or of history. God’s name is a name of justice; it represents an urgent appeal for peace,” he said.

U.N. Calls for Moratorium on Executions

A Dec. 18 vote by the U.N. General Assembly to ratify a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions “with a view to abolishing the death penalty” was hailed as a “victory for the culture of life” by a Catholic activist opposed to capital punishment. Although the resolution is not binding on U.N. member states, the vote has strong implications, according to Mario Marazziti, spokesman for the Rome-based Sant’Egidio Community and head of its campaign against the death penalty.


The resolution—approved 104 to 54, with 29 abstentions—affirms that “there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty’s deterrent value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty’s implementation is irreversible and irreparable.” Marazziti, who was in New York for the vote, spoke to Catholic News Service the day before U.N. members voted but predicted the measure would be approved. He said a vote in favor of the moratorium would signify that capital punishment is not just a judicial matter for individual countries but a public issue that “concerns human rights.” The Vatican said it was a “sign of hope” that the United Nations had voted for a moratorium on the death penalty. The United States was among the countries opposing the resolution.

Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Vatican spokesman, said the vote was “a very positive event.” “It shows that despite the persistence of so much violence in the world, there is a growing awareness in the human family of the value of life, of the dignity of every person and of the concept of a nonvindictive punishment,” Father Lombardi said. He said it showed that people increasingly favor justice that respects human rights and refuses “every violent solution.” “Therefore, this vote should be interpreted as a sign of hope and a step forward on the way of peace.”

Father Lombardi expressed the Vatican’s appreciation for those who worked hard to support passage of the resolution, an accomplishment that seemed difficult to achieve not too long ago.

New Vatican Dialogue With Muslims Expected

The Vatican official in charge of interreligious dialogue said he is confident a new level of dialogue with Muslims will take place in 2008. “There is good will on both sides,” said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. After 138 Muslim scholars sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in October outlining a proposal for a new dialogue and greater understanding, the pope invited a representative group of the scholars to meet with him at the Vatican. At the same time, the pope suggested the scholars hold a working session with officials from Cardinal Tauran’s office, the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Pontifical Gregorian University. Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, the architect of the Muslim scholars’ project, wrote back to the Vatican in December suggesting that representatives meet in February or March to work out the details of the dialogue.

“I am very confident in the outcome of this meeting,” Cardinal Tauran told Vatican Radio.

Bishops Appeal for Peace in Kenya

Following days of violence and death after the announcement of disputed election results, Kenya’s Catholic bishops appealed to political leaders to make every effort to engage in dialogue to resolve the crisis. A church official also said a bishop in one of the areas with the worst violence had appealed for help for the local humanitarian crisis. “We appeal specifically to the political reach out to one another through dialogue in order to seek a solution to the present situation, “said a Jan. 2 statement signed by 24 Kenyan bishops, including Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, chairman of the Kenya Episcopal Conference. The four-page statement, My Peace I Give You, emphasized that Kenya needs peace based on justice and true brotherhood. The bishops offered to mediate the crisis and proposed a review of the election results. “We make an appeal to all responsible to seek ways like establishing a commission to audit and specifically review the tallying of the parliamentary and presidential polls, “said the bishops, noting allegations of electoral irregularities.

Shanghai Bishop Stresses Evangelization

Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, S.J., of Shanghai has asked his flock to intensify evangelization efforts to mark this year’s 400th anniversary of the introduction of Catholicism to Shanghai. The Asian church news agency UCA News reported Jan. 3 that in a pastoral letter released Dec. 24, Bishop Jin also urged Catholics to renew themselves spiritually in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s call for prayers to Our Lady of Sheshan May 24. The pope made the call in his letter to Catholics in China, released June 30. Noting that May 24 is “dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady Help of Christians, who is the Marian shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai, “he urged the church throughout the world to pray with Catholics in China on that date. Bishop Jin, 91, a Shanghai native and a Jesuit, started his letter by recounting the story of Catholicism’s arrival in Shanghai in 1608. Bishop Jin told Catholics “not to forget the missioners, “including the Italian Jesuits Matteo Ricci and Julius Aleni and the German Jesuit Adam Schall, who contributed to local arts and sciences.

More Than 20 Church Workers Killed in 2007

From the war-torn lands of Iraq and Sri Lanka to violence-ridden neighborhoods around the world, at least 20 Catholic Church workers were murdered or sacrificed their lives for others in 2007, the Vatican’s Fides agency said. Each year Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, publishes a list of pastoral workers who died violently. The 2007 list was released Dec. 29. While Fides does not refer to the missionaries as martyrs—technically a term reserved for those the church formally recognizes as having given their lives for the faith—it said it was important to remember their sacrifices and to recognize that “each one of them, in a different way, contributed to the growth of the church in various parts of the world. “Besides the four killed in Iraq, two died in Mexico, three in the Philippines, two in Colombia, two in Spain, two in South Africa and one each in Brazil, Guatemala, Kenya, Rwanda and Sri Lanka.

Jesuits to Choose New Leader

Before the tomb of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, 225 Jesuits prayed that God would be present with them and make his will known as they elect a new superior general. The Jesuits’ 35th general congregation opened Jan. 7 with Mass in Rome’s Church of the Gesù, which houses the tomb of St. Ignatius. At the end of the Mass, the current superior, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., 79, lighted an oil lamp before the founder’s tomb and led his confreres in reciting St. Ignatius’ prayer know as the Suscipe: “Take, Lord, and receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess; you have given it all to me, I now give it back to you, O Lord. All of it is yours now, dispose of it according to your will; give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me. “Father Kolvenbach convoked the general congregation to consider his request to retire, to elect a new superior and to discuss major issues facing the Society of Jesus and its more than 19,000 members.

Poland’s ‘Best Cook’ Releases DVD

A Polish nun who thought up her best cake recipe in a dream has released a DVD with tips on her culinary masterpieces. “When I first joined my order, I asked to work in the kitchen," said Sister Anastazja Pustelnik, a member of the Daughters of Divine Love. “I spent years cooking for the Jesuit fathers in Krakow, and they liked my recipes so much they proposed publishing them. I thought they meant some kind of brochure. I never suspected it would lead to several books," she said at a specially convened press conference at the Polish bishops’ conference headquarters in mid-December. The nun, whose four recipe books already have sold 850,000 copies, spoke at the release of “Sister Anastazja’s Cookery School," which shows her preparing some of her tastiest delights. She said she had inherited some recipes from her parents and others from older nuns, but had thought up most herself, including the very best, “A Nun’s Secret," which came to her in a dream.

Hibernians to Expand Pro-Life Efforts

Jack Meehan, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, has urged fellow members to “fight the scourge of abortion “by increasing their support of pro-life efforts. Meehan, who resides in Quincy, Mass., sent a letter to members of the Irish-American lay Catholic group Dec. 28 asking them to “stand up and speak out as never before in defense of human life. “He suggested that the Hibernians expand their pro-life activism with “practical and material support “by continuing to help expectant mothers seeking aid from pregnancy crisis centers and Birthright, an international organization with local chapters that assists women experiencing crisis pregnancies. Meehan also said group members should continue to support Priests for Life and purchase educational pro-life materials for schools and families. They were also advised to add the Sisters of Life to their Hibernian Charity program donations. Founded in 1991, the Sisters of Life are known nationally for their pro-life work and for giving pro-life retreats in their New York-area convents.

Pope to Visit Historic German Parish

Pope Benedict XVI will lead an ecumenical prayer service for national and local Christian leaders April 18 at St. Joseph’s Church, a historic German parish in the Yorkville section of Manhattan. The German-born pope will conduct the late afternoon service at St. Joseph’s on the first day of his April 18-20 visit to the archdiocese, after a speech at the United Nations in the morning. The pope also will celebrate a Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the morning of April 19 for priests, deacons and religious, becoming the first pope to celebrate a Mass in St. Patrick’s. In New York, the pope also will celebrate a Mass at Yankee Stadium April 20, after a morning visit to ground zero where he will attend a ceremony with responders to the 2001 terrorist attack and victims’ family members. On April 19 he will meet with disabled children in the chapel of St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, and then address a large gathering of young people and seminarians on the seminary grounds.

India’s Bishops Demand Investigation Into Violence Against Christians

India’s Catholic bishops have demanded a federal investigation into the Hindu violence against Christians in Orissa state and are seeking compensation for damages Christians suffered. The bishops also urged that paramilitary forces under the central government’s control be deployed at all the “affected and sensitive places “to prevent any further recurrences, “as the local police have not been able to control the situation, “reported the Asian churchnews agency UCA News.The violence, which has claimed five lives, began on Christmas Eve and has caused damage costing about $700,000, said church officials at a press conference Dec. 31 at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India center in New Delhi. The violence began after about 500 Hindu radicals attacked a tent displaying the Nativity scene that Christians of various denominations put up in Bamunigam, a small town in the Kandhamal district. The district is about 210 miles southwest of Bhubaneswar, the state capital.

Extremists attacked and burned five parish churches, at least 50 village churches, six convents, three presbyteries, six hostels, two seminaries and a vocational training center, a bishops’ statement said.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, in Orissa state, said they also desecrated churches and burned documents, vehicles and furniture.

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