Signs of the Times

Rector of Seminary in Kenya Murdered

A Catholic priest of the Diocese of Nakuru, Kenya, was killed on Jan. 26 as vicious interethnic violence claimed more lives in the Rift Valley. The Rev. Michael Kamau Ithondeka, 41, was killed at an illegal roadblock set up by armed youths on the Nakuru–Eldama Ravine Road. He was vice rector at St. Mathias Mulumba Senior Seminary in Tindinyo.

According to the Rev. Simon Githara, parish priest of Eldama Ravine, Father Kamau was accosted by youths who claimed they were on a revenge mission after one of their own was killed in Nakuru. His pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears as the youths descended on him with crude weapons, killing him on the spot. The Rev. John Mbaraka, a local priest, said Father Kamau knew his attackers because he used to pay their children’s school fees when he was a parish priest in the Diocese of Eldoret.


The news comes as other reports indicate that public mortuaries in Nakuru have received at least 51 bodies, and police are still collecting more from around the town. The violence appears to be revenge against members of the Kalenjin, Luo and Luhyia communities following the recent killing of members of the Kikuyu community in the Rift Valley. The death of Father Kamau comes in the wake of threats to Kikuyu Catholic personnel working in the Rift Valley Province. In Eldoret, two priests based at Moi University escaped death narrowly last week when armed men attacked their house at night.

Zimbabwe Elections Under a Cloud

Church officials said it is unlikely Zimbabwe will hold a free and fair presidential election this year, since Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has refused demands for a new constitution to be implemented before the poll. “Mugabe knows he can play games and get away with it,” said Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa. The 83-year-old president of Zimbabwe “has the security forces on his side, and his opposition has no protection under the law, so he doesn’t need to make any concessions,” Bishop Dowling told Catholic News Service. Mugabe has rejected the opposition’s requests that the election, scheduled for March, be postponed until June to allow for a new constitution to be put in place.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence from Great Britain in 1980, “is untrustworthy and does not intend to make significant changes to bring stability to the country,” said the bishop, noting that until a new constitution that protects human rights is in place “there can be no free and fair elections.”

Turkish Officials Silent on St. Paul Anniversary

A church official in Turkey said the country’s authorities are failing to consult him about plans for the 2,000th anniversary year of St. Paul’s birth in the southern city of Tarsus. “Although government representatives from Ankara have been here, they haven’t spoken to me,” said Bishop Luigi Padovese of Anatolia, Turkey. “Our own preparations are well advanced, so they need to know about our plans. But they haven’t announced any decisions, so everything still looks uncertain.” Bishop Padovese told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview on Jan. 25 that he had asked the mayor of Tarsus to provide facilities for pilgrims and rooms for priests to prepare for services. “But I said we need a church above all, since people will be coming here not just as tourists, but also to pray,” the bishop said. The city’s 12th-century St. Paul Church currently is a state-owned museum. “I think the central Turkish government is well disposed toward us. But we must know what they’re doing,” he said. Pope Benedict XVI designated 2008-9 a special Pauline year and said the celebrations should have a special ecumenical character.

Catholic-Mennonite Peace Proposals

A convocation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Mennonite World Conference have submitted a joint proposal to the World Council of Churches for consideration in planning the concluding international ecumenical peace convocation of the W.C.C.’s Decade to Overcome Violence in 2011. The text presents a brief shared theology of peace, treating creation, Christology, ecclesiology and discipleship. The discipleship section stresses nonviolence, forgiveness, truthfulness, prayer and active peacemaking. The statement sees the ecumenical movement itself as a contribution to peace and recommends further healing of memories to advance common Christian witness for peace.

The statement affirms that “nonviolence is normative for Christians” but acknowledges a range of Christian attitudes toward serious conflict—from just war to active nonviolence and pacifism. It urges the convocation to “work toward the goal of achieving an ecumenical consensus on ways Christians might advocate together to replace violence as a means to resolve serious conflict in society.” It suggests exploring ways to build consensus around conscientious objection, selective conscientious objection, the responsibility to protect (more commonly called international humanitarian intervention) and just policing as an alternative to just war.

The statement is an outgrowth of the International Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue, which concluded in 2003, and it drew on the dialogue’s five-year report Called Together to Be Peacemakers. The communication was prepared by the consultation at the Centro pro Unione held in Rome from Oct. 23 to 25, 2007. The Mennonite team was headed by Larry Miller, general secretary of the Mennonite World Conference. Msgr. John Radano of the pontifical council led the Catholic participants.

Sainthood Cause Opened for Paulist Isaac Hecker

Isaac Thomas Hecker was “a real-life saint like you and me,” Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York said Jan. 27, describing the founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, known as the Paulist Fathers. “He was a person who suffered, who made his way through life bearing crosses and who taught that sanctity can be captured in many different ways,” the cardinal added. He made the comments during a Mass that marked the opening of the cause for Father Hecker’s canonization and the 150th anniversary of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, the parish he established on Columbus Avenue in New York City. More than 1,000 people attended the bilingual Mass, concelebrated by several priests. Before the Mass began, Cardinal Egan blessed the tomb of Father Hecker, which is inside the church at the northeast corner. In his homily, Cardinal Egan traced the “troubles and tribulations” that led Father Hecker to found the Paulists to pursue a distinctly “American approach to announcing the Gospel.”

More Productive Discussion on Immigration

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network called on presidential candidates and elected officials to have a more productive discussion of immigration. It also decried delays that it said will keep many new citizens from voting this year. In the 2007 fiscal year, 1.4 million people applied for U.S. citizenship, double the previous year’s applications, said Don Kerwin, director of the U.S. Catholic Church’s umbrella organization for immigration services, known by its acronym, Clinic. It now takes 18 months to process a naturalization application, up from seven months before the latest surge, said Emilio Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, at a Jan. 17 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. That means many people who filed for citizenship before the cost went up last year have little chance of being able to vote this year, Kerwin told Catholic News Service. “Instead of building on the momentum created by this massive influx of naturalization applications,” said a Jan. 16 statement from Clinic, “many members of Congress and...presidential candidates have supported the denial of citizenship—which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment—to children born in the United States to parents without legal status.”

Catholic Schools and State Support

While officials in Illinois hailed a victory that will allow Catholic schools there to use state funds for health and safety improvements, others in Maryland and New York decried decisions by their governors that would reduce the assistance available to Catholic schools and their students. The Illinois measure, included in the budget implementation bill signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in early January, allows nonpublic schools to spend their share of the $75 million Educational Improvement and School Safety Block Grant on mandated teacher background checks, fire safety, automatic defibrillators and other items designed to protect the well-being of students. “This victory is huge,” said Zachary Wichmann, associate director for education at the Catholic Conference of Illinois. In Maryland, meanwhile, Catholic school leaders criticized Gov. Martin J. O’Malley’s decision to cut $400,000 from a state program providing nonreligious textbooks and technology to nonpublic school students. In New York, an official of the state Catholic Conference expressed disappointment that Gov. Eliot Spitzer failed to follow through on a public pledge made last October to include a tax deduction for tuition expenses at independent and religious schools in his budget proposal, which was released Jan. 22.

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