Signs of the Times

Chaldean Archbishop Kidnapped in Mosul

Kidnappers abducted Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq on Feb. 29, and killed the three people who were traveling with him. Chaldean Bishop Rabban al Qas of Arbil told the Rome-based missionary news service AsiaNews that Mosul’s archbishop was kidnapped after he finished leading the Way of the Cross. Archbishop Rahho had just left the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul and was in his car with three other men when the kidnappers attacked. “The bishop is in the hands of terrorists,” Bishop Qas told AsiaNews. “But we don’t know what physical condition [the archbishop is in]; the three men who were with him in the car, including his driver, were killed,” he explained. “It’s a terrible time for our church; pray for us,” he said. The kidnappers have reportedly communicated their demands, which were not made public.

Analyst Criticizes U.S. Role in Middle East

A Catholic political analyst, Wadie Abunasser, said the current U.S. administration is part of the problem in the Middle East, not the solution. “Unfortunately [President George W.] Bush’s administration is a failure in the...Middle East, starting in Afghanistan, stretching through to Iraq and moving on to Lebanon and Israel-Palestine,” said Abunasser, an Arab who is the director of the International Center for Consultations in Haifa, Israel. “There is a lack of good American understanding of the reality and mentality of the region.” Abunasser added that the situation continues to deteriorate because of a lack of sufficient international intervention, specifically by the United States. Despite the numerous visits to the region by members of the U.S. administration, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Ramallah, West Bank, March 4, Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular do not feel they have benefited, he said. People were not optimistic about Rice’s visit, Abunasser added.


Implementation of ‘Great Continental Mission’

The idea of a “great continental mission,” which proved elusive when the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean met in Aparecida, Brazil, last year, is slowly taking shape, said the prelate responsible for its implementation. Archbishop Hector Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, who heads the Peruvian bishops’ conference and serves as coordinator of mission and spirituality for the Latin American Bishops’ Council, or Celam, sees the mission as an ongoing effort that signifies a shift in the way parishes reach out to the faithful. “The idea is that the mission not have a beginning and an end, but that it involve preparation and intensive action over time, along with evaluation,” he said. The archbishop foresees a long-term effort spanning at least 10 or 15 years. “The idea is that it be a permanent mission,” he said. Referring to Celam, the Latin American Bishop’s Conference, he explained, “All of Celam’s pastoral programs are oriented toward the continental mission.” At the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean last May, leaders expressed concern that Catholics were drifting away from the church. According to a survey by the Chilean polling firm Latino-barometro in 2005, while three-quarters of the people surveyed in the region said they considered themselves Catholic, only 40 percent said they practiced their faith. What did not emerge from Aparecida, however, was a clear plan for addressing the problem, although the final document mentions the need for renewal of church structures and a greater emphasis on community.

Chávez Supporters Storm Archdiocesan Offices

About 15 hooded supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez invaded the offices of the Archdiocese of Caracas, Venezuela, and held a news conference criticizing government opponents, including the church. The protesters entered the offices in central Caracas just before 9 a.m. Feb. 27, demanding that the media publish a statement of their views on the church and other issues. They threw pamphlets out the building’s windows, made announcements with a loudspeaker and did not permit employees to leave the building, Auxiliary Bishop Jesús González de Zarate Salas of Caracas told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview. Bishop González said the protesters were not armed or violent and did not threaten employees or damage property. “We just let time run, so that whatever happened, happened,” he said.

Bill Targeting Church in Maryland Withdrawn

A Maryland lawmaker has withdrawn a bill that would have lifted the statute of limitations on civil cases involving sexual abuse of children. Catholic leaders feared that had it become law, the financial toll of such cases would have devastated parishes, schools and ministries. The bill, sponsored by Eric Bromwell, a Democrat, would have created a one-year window during which individuals claiming they were sexually abused as children could file civil suits against the perpetrator and private institutions such as dioceses, parishes and schools regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said he was “very gratified” by Bromwell’s decision. The conference is the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops. “Eric Bromwell is one of those delegates who really cares about what his constituents think,” said Dowling. “Here, a substantial number of his Catholic constituents made clear their belief that his legislation targeted the Catholic Church in an unfair way and did nothing to protect children from abuse.”

Vatican Clarifies Formula for Baptisms

A baptism administered “in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier” is not a baptism at all, said the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Asked whether a baptism performed with that formula—or a similar one referring to the “Creator, Liberator and Sustainer”—would be valid, the congregation answered “Negative.” Asked whether people who were initiated with a rite using these formulas would now need to be baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the congregation answered “Affirmative.” The congregation said Pope Benedict XVI “approved these responses” and ordered their publication. If either formula—initiated in North America to avoid referring to the Trinity with masculine names—was used, the person is not yet formally a Christian and any subsequent sacraments the person received also are invalid, said Cardinal Urbano Navarrete in a commentary commissioned by the doctrinal congregation. The congregation’s statement was published Feb. 29 as a brief response to questions regarding the validity of baptisms using that formula.

Moral Medical Issues Around Dying

Many Catholics still need to learn about the church’s teachings on end-of-life issues, such as when it might be morally acceptable to reject or terminate life-prolonging treatments, said some participants at a Vatican-sponsored congress. The church teaches that while euthanasia and assisted suicide are always wrong, in some situations the terminally ill or dying can withdraw or refuse treatment and still be in line with church teaching. To help people make informed and ethical decisions, “much work needs to be done in elaborating on the church’s tradition of reasoning about forgoing life-prolonging treatments to make it practical for health care providers and persons who are dying,” said William Sullivan, M.D., director of the Toronto-based International Association of Catholic Bioethicists. Sullivan was one of hundreds of scholars, theologians, religious and health care professionals who turned out for the international congress of the Pontifical Academy for Life on Feb. 25-26, which looked at the scientific and ethical aspects of caring for the terminally ill and dying.

Priest Shortage in Ireland

New figures on vocations published in the 2008 Irish Catholic Directory indicate how quickly the country is headed toward a major shortage of priests. According to the directory, the country lost 160 priests last year—mostly because of death in old age—and had only nine new ordinations. Currently there are about 4,750 priests in Ireland; but if current trends continue, by 2028 Ireland will have fewer than 1,500 priests. “It’s a trend that priests would have known about for some time,” said the Rev. Eamonn Bourke, Dublin diocesan vocations director. “But many laypeople are only beginning to become aware of the implications and the dramatic effect that the fall in vocations will have. It will mean parish amalgamations; it will mean some parishes not having daily Masses; and it will probably mean some parishes not having a Mass every Sunday,” he told Catholic News Service. “Couples will not be able to get married on their own—it’s more likely that they will make their wedding vows with at least another couple sharing the ceremony. The same will apply to funeral Masses.”

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