Signs of the Times

Pope Meets With Jesuit Delegates

Pope Benedict XVI asked the Jesuits to continue to be pioneers in dialogue, theological research and work for justice, but insisted that they also must make clear their faith and their acceptance of the teachings of the Catholic Church. “The church needs you, counts on you and continues to turn to you with trust,” the pope said on Feb. 21 to more than 200 Jesuits, chosen to represent the almost 20,000 members of the Society of Jesus, at the order’s 35th General Congregation in Rome. Adolfo Nicolás, the Spanish Jesuit who was elected superior general of the order Jan. 19, responded: “In communion with the church and guided by the magisterium, we are seeking to dedicate ourselves deeply to service, discernment and research.” The members of the general congregation are aware of their responsibility to the church as a whole, he said, but they also are aware of the need for humility, “recognizing that the mystery of God and of the human person is much greater than our ability to understand.”

Pope’s Concern for Families of the Dying

Society and labor laws should give concrete support to family members so they can attend to terminally ill loved ones, Pope Benedict XVI said. While guarantees must be made for all people to receive necessary medical care, special provisions also must be put into place for the patient’s family members, he said. The pope made his comments during an audience Feb. 25 with more than 300 participants in a Vatican-sponsored congress on the pastoral needs of and ethical obligations toward the terminally ill. Titled “Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects,” the two-day congress brought together caregivers, medical specialists and scholars in the fields of theology, law and bioethics. The international congress was organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life and was held to coincide with the Lourdes jubilee year.


Religious Literacy Helps Dialogue

Catholics and Muslims must learn more about each other’s religions if they want to get along better, said Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the Vatican ambassador to Egypt and former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. “Rather than just knowing persons, we must know their religion more deeply in order to understand the people,” he told Vatican Radio. The archbishop was interviewed Feb. 24, the evening before the annual Catholic-Muslim dialogue meeting of Vatican representatives with representatives of Cairo’s al-Azhar University. “We know that among Muslims and Christians there are common points, although certainly not a common faith in Christ,” Archbishop Fitzgerald said. “We must respect the differences while trying to find spheres in which it would be possible to collaborate and help one another.” The dialogue with the university, a point of reference for many Muslims around the world, was marking its 10th annual session.

Vatican Seeks Signs of Reconciliation From Cuba

The Vatican’s secretary of state said he had asked Cuban leaders for “gestures of reconciliation” and confirmed he would be the first foreign official to be received by the island nation’s new president, Raúl Castro. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who arrived Feb. 20 for an official and pastoral visit, met Feb. 25 with Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque. After that meeting he said he hoped his encounter with Castro would be one of “clarity, sincerity and sharing of ideas.” Raúl Castro was chosen Feb. 24 to lead the country after his brother, Fidel Castro, resigned. Cardinal Bertone also called the U.S. embargo against Cuba “ethically unacceptable” and said the Vatican is trying “to push the United States to eliminate it.” “It is a violation of the independence of the people,” the cardinal said. “The Vatican confirms this position.” The cardinal also said he personally had asked “the United States government to facilitate the reunification of families” with members in Cuba and in the United States. “It is a humanitarian instrument. We will do everything possible in this direction,” he said.

Philippine Bishops Address Political Crisis

Fifty-five Catholic bishops in the Philippines agreed to issue a statement on the crisis in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s government amid allegations of corruption in a national communications cable deal. Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Kalookan, chairman of the public affairs committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, told reporters the conference president, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro, invited interested bishops to a special meeting Feb. 26 in Manila. The focus of their discussion was recent events in the country in connection with the alleged overpricing of the broadband contract to pay off commissions, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. Arroyo’s husband has been implicated in the deal. Bishop Iniguez, who had celebrated Mass Feb. 25 to mark the anniversary of the 1986 “people power” uprising that deposed President Ferdinand Marcos, said the bishops’ meeting was “extraordinary” because bishops meet in plenary session only twice a year.

China and VaticanTalks Continue

News organizations in Europe have reported further talks between the Vatican and China. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican nuncio to the United States met with Ye Xiaowen, China’s minister of state administration of religious affairs, on Feb. 19 in Washington, D.C. Ye did not give any details of the meeting, because both parties have agreed that neither will reveal the content of the discussions. Normalization of relations depends on two Chinese demands: recognition that China and Taiwan are one country and that the administration of the Catholic Church in China is an internal state matter. Ye indicated that channels for discussion of both matters do exist. Ye also discounted rumors that the pope would visit China in the immediate future. He added, “Based on the common knowledge that I have, I believe that it is not possible for the pope to visit China before the normalization of relations.”

New Study of American Religious Affiliation

According to a new study on the religious affiliation of U.S. adults, 28 percent of Americans have either changed religious affiliations or claim no formal religion at all. The study also shows the Catholic Church has been hardest hit by these shifts, but that the influx of Catholic immigrants has offset the loss. Hence the percentage of the adult population that identifies itself as Catholic has held fairly steady at around 25 percent, it says. The 148-page study, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, was conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and based on interviews with 35,000 adults last year. Its findings, released Feb. 25, show that roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics. Almost half of these former Catholics joined Protestant denominations, while about half do not have a religious affiliation and a small percentage chose other faiths.

Progress in Interfaith Effort to End Poverty

Eliminating much of the world’s worst poverty within a decade would become a principle of U.S. foreign policy for the first time under a Catholic-led legislative push now gathering force with a growing interfaith alliance. Nearly 40 representatives from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths as well as the Shinto and Wiccan religions, met at the University of San Francisco Feb. 20 in an effort to broaden the ranks of members of faith communities involved in the campaign. Leaders said they are trying to build the campaign to full strength by May to push the U.S. Senate to pass the Global Poverty Act this summer. The U.S. House passed the bill Sept. 25. The bill calls for the U.S. president to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to promote the elimination of global poverty as a foreign policy goal.

The meeting was organized by the Lane Center for Catholic Studies and Social Thought at the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco. It was hosted by Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco; Stephen Privett, S.J., the university’s president; and Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus of California.

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