Signs of the Times

Glendon Arrives as New U.S. Ambassador in Rome

The new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, arrived in Rome Feb. 15 and said she looked forward to working with the Vatican on issues of religious freedom and religious tolerance. Glendon, a Harvard University law professor, has served with Vatican agencies and diplomatic missions in the past. She said she hoped that experience would help her advance U.S.-Vatican relations in her new post. The United States and the Vatican have a common commitment to the human dignity of every man, woman and child, she told reporters. Both the United States and the Holy See have a long history in which faith and reason are inseparably united in that quest, she said. Glendon said the United States works for human dignity by vigorously promoting human rights and religious freedom and by striving to foster dialogue and tolerance among persons of different faiths and cultures. As ambassador, she said, she expects to work with the Vatican to advance those lofty goals.

Desire for Clarification On Good Friday Prayer

The Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism has asked for clarification from the Vatican as to whether a revised Good Friday prayer for the Jews in Latin calls for the conversion of Jews. The new prayer replaces the one contained in the 1962 Roman Missal, sometimes called the Tridentine Mass, which is no longer generally used by Catholics but which may be used by some church communities under recently revised norms. Pope Benedict XVI has reformulated the Good Friday prayer for the Jews, removing language about the blindness of the Jews, but it asks for prayers for the Jews and that with the fullness of peoples entering your church, all Israel may be saved. Some Jewish leaders criticized the phrasing as a call for Jews to accept Christianity. A Feb. 14 resolution by the Rabbinical Assembly said that it is dismayed and deeply disturbed to learn of reports that Pope Benedict XVI has revised the 1962 text of the Latin liturgy. It said, Be it resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly seeks clarification from the Vatican of the meaning and status of the new text for the Latin liturgy.


Castros Stormy Relations With Cuban Church

During nearly 50 years of rule, Fidel Castro had an often stormy relationship with the Catholic Church in Cuba. The Jesuit-educated Castro was as comfortable countering the Cuban church as an institutional force during the early years of his revolution in the 1960s as he was bantering casually with Pope John Paul II during the papal visit to Cuba in 1998. The 81-year-old Cuban leader announced Feb. 19 that he was retiring as head of the island nation. He had temporarily ceded power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, in July 2006, after undergoing surgery because of intestinal bleedingbut he never returned to office, ending more than 49 years of continuous rule. He came to power on the Caribbean island Jan. 1, 1959 after leading a successful guerrilla rebellion against the unpopular dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Saints Causes Need More Careful Study

In a new set of rules encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican is requiring dioceses to be more meticulous and objective when they prepare local sainthood causes. The new norms do not introduce revolutionary changes in the existing process, but they reduce the possibility of error and require better documentation in order to avoid carelessness or even, in the Vaticans words, fraud or deception. The rules are contained in a 45-page instruction made public in February by the Congregation for Saints Causes. The instruction revises the procedures used by dioceses to recognize and investigate potential saints before forwarding their causes to Rome. The instruction covers everything from the medical investigation of miraculous cures to the interrogation of favorable and unfavorable witnesses. Above all, it urges those investigating the life of a would-be saint to act with utmost impartiality and avoid whitewashing any personal faults or negative aspects that might emerge.

Iraqi Christians Seek Political Voice

Christians in northern Iraq have been setting up a 30-member council to give themselves a political voice, said Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq. He said the plan for the council was in its final stages and had the backing of Iraqs President Jalal Talabani. For too long, the Christians have struggled to get their views heard in the main debates of the day because so often they dont speak with one voice, the archbishop told Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity helping persecuted Christians. The main purpose is that Christians should have a united front, he said from Kirkuk in a Feb. 18 telephone interview. If we have demands, we should present them together. We should not be separated and thereby enfeebled. The archbishop, who will be the first president of the council, added that in early February he had discussed the plans with Talabani, who responded favorably.

Kentucky Bishops On Faithful Citizenship

The bishops of Kentuckys four Catholic dioceses urged the states Catholics to take a close look at life issues when voting. All human laws must be measured against the natural law engraved in our hearts by the Creator, said the bishops in a pastoral letter, Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship. Our religious beliefs affirm basic human rights and obligations that are essential to the fabric of our social life. In particular, respect for human life is numbered among those basic values that underpin the very foundation of civilization, they said. What we profess in defense of the sacredness of unborn human life harmonizes with our historic legal tradition founded on the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they said. Abortion on demand does not. Reverence for Life was issued Jan. 22, the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion.

Bishops Criticize Federal Raid Policies

Homeland Security workplace raids to detain illegal immigrants should not take place near churches, schools, health centers or other places providing charitable social services, said the U.S. bishops. An environment of fear and distrust is fostered that may prevent immigrants and their family members from practicing their faith, taking their children to school or accessing needed medical and social services, they said in a letter to Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security. The Feb. 11 letter was signed by Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the bishops Committee on Migration, and Coadjutor Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., chairman of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

Renowned Jesuit Theologian Dies

Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., long regarded as one of the U.S. Catholic Churchs top theologians and preachers, died Feb. 16 at the Jesuit infirmary on the campus of St. Josephs University in Philadelphia. He was 93 years old. A funeral Mass was celebrated Feb. 20 at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C. Interment was at the Jesuit cemetery in Woodstock, Md., where his longtime teaching colleagues John Courtney Murray, S.J., and Gustave Weigel, S.J., are also buried.

Using as a base his 45-year tenure as managing editor and then editor in chief of the journal Theological Studies, Father Burghardt wrote and preached on a wide variety of church issues. After retiring from Theological Studies, he began a new initiative called Preaching the Just Word. In a 1994 address Father Burghardt said he planned to spend just about every hour that remains to me on the project, leading Ignatian-style retreats around the nation to revivify Catholic preaching. Our homilies must be set aflame, he said, and that can come only with a conversion that turns the preacher inside out.

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10 years 9 months ago
I met Fr. Burghardt only once, in 1991 when he received a prestigious award here in Dallas for being a noted Christian preacher. While listening to him discuss homiletics and then preach I was impressed with his grace, style and humility. I was ordained to the permanent diaconate shortly after having seen him and became a devotee of his books on preaching. His most memorable homily for me was one he called "I Do". It was a kind of theology on death and fit perfectly with the Fifth Sunday in Lent, the Raising of Lazarus. Near the end of the homily he wrote a few sentences that were so meaningful to me that I memorized them and use them often. "Death is that point between time and timelessness, when the spirit of Christ, the spirit of Life, can finally take complete possession of me, without all my earthbound resistance, reluctance, and reticence. Death is that extraordianry experience when the Christ, who is Life, can finally mold me into his own image." He states in that homily, ever so boldly, for that gospel writer, Christ never really dies because in John's vision a person dies "only if and when the spirit of Life leaves him." I don't suspect Fr. Burghardt will ever die.


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