Signs of the Times

Bishops Urge Bill to Protect Farm Workers

Expressing “deep concern for the men and women” who labor in the fields of southwestern Arizona and northern Mexico, the bishops of Tucson, Ariz., and Mexicali, Mexico, have issued a joint statement calling for legislation to end “exploitation of the undocumented farm worker.” Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson and Bishop José Isidro Guerrero Macias of Mexicali urged passage of the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Congress known as Agjobs, which they said would be “a very positive step toward reversing discrimination.” The bill, they said, enjoys broad support from both employers and workers’ organizations and would streamline and improve the H-2A agricultural guest-worker immigration program, giving workers the right to appeal in federal court for enforcement of their rights and to receive higher wages. The bishops said their March 28 statement “was inspired by our experiences in September of last year, when we visited a farm worker project sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, and our two dioceses in Yuma, Ariz., and San Luis Río Colorado,[in the Mexican state of] Sonora.”

“We visited the workers in the fields,” the statement said. “We saw the communities in Mexico in which they live. We listened to farm workers and employers share their needs and their dreams.” Known as the nation’s “winter salad bowl,” the Yuma area supplies more than 90 percent of the lettuce sold in the United States from November through February, and this “requires a huge pool of readily available labor,” the bishops said.


Pope to Bring Message of Hope to U.S., U.N.

In a videotaped message, Pope Benedict XVI said he wants to bring a message of Christian hope to all Americans and to the United Nations when he visits in mid-April. “I shall come to the United States as pope for the first time to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture and social condition,” the pope said. He said he intends to reach out to U.S. Catholics and show fraternity and friendship to other Christians, to followers of other religions and to all people of good will. The text of the papal message, released at the Vatican April 8, was designed to set the thematic stage for the pope’s visit to Washington, D.C., and New York on April 15-20. The pope read the text mostly in English, but with a short section in Spanish.

Congress Acts on H.I.V./AIDS Bill

Federal lawmakers must maintain their bipartisan commitment in the global fight against H.I.V./AIDS, Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.The archbishop’s letter came before the House voted April 2 to pass President George W. Bush’s $50 billion, five-year President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, known as Pepfar. The program has provided $19 billion since it was inaugurated in 2003; it must be reauthorized this year. Archbishop Niederauer noted that while “the Catholic community would like to see” improvements in the measure, he had urged Pelosi to “ensure a swift and clean consideration of the bill.”

In an April 3 statement, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, welcomed the “bipartisan spirit” of the vote on “our nation’s flagship program to combat H.I.V./AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.” The House action “sends two messages to anyone wondering about our nation’s commitment to the world’s poor and vulnerable: The United States will continue its solidarity with those affected by these terrible diseases, and such programs must continue to support morally appropriate evidence-based prevention and treatment activities that have been shown to save lives,” Bishop Wenski said.

The House approved the measure by a 308-to-116 vote. The Senate’s version of the bill was passed out of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in March and is waiting to be considered on the floor of the chamber.

Pope Adds Visits With Jewish Leaders to Trip

When Pope Benedict XVI visits the United States, he will meet with Jewish representatives as they prepare for the Jewish feast of Passover, which begins April 19. After the pope’s meeting with 200 interreligious leaders April 17 at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., he will meet with Jewish leaders briefly to extend “cordial greetings for the imminent feast of Passover,” said Msgr. David Malloy, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. On Pope Benedict’s way to the ecumenical prayer service in New York City April 18, he will also make a 20-minute visit to the Park East Synagogue. The synagogue is near the residence of the Vatican’s ambassador to the United Nations, where the pope will be residing. “By this personal and informal visit, which is not part of his official program, His Holiness wishes to express his good will toward the local Jewish community as they prepare for Passover,” Monsignor Malloy said.

Vatican: Prayer for the Jews Not a Step Back

Pope Benedict XVI’s revised prayer for the Jews for use in the Tridentine-rite Good Friday liturgy does not indicate any form of stepping back from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the Vatican said. “The Holy See wishes to reassure that the new formulation of the prayer, which modifies certain expressions of the 1962 Missal, in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church’s regard for the Jews, which has evolved from the basis of the Second Vatican Council,” said an April 4 statement from the Vatican press office.

The revised prayer removed language referring to the “blindness” of the Jews, but it prays that Jews will recognize Jesus, the savior, and that “all Israel may be saved.” The April 4 statement said some members of the Jewish community felt the new prayer was “not in harmony with the official declarations and statements of the Holy See regarding the Jewish people and their faith which have marked the progress of friendly relations between the Jews and the Catholic Church over the last 40 years.” In particular, some Jews, as well as some Catholics, felt the prayer contained an explicit call to attempt to convert Jews to Christianity.

In early February, the Vatican published Pope Benedict’s revision of the Good Friday prayer, which is used only in the liturgy celebrated according to the 1962 Roman Missal, or Tridentine rite. The rite is no longer widely used by Catholics but may be used by some church communities under recently revised norms.

Blair Says Faith Can Transform Humanity

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken of his “passionate” conviction that religious faith can transform humanity for the better. Blair, 54, a former Anglican who was received into the Catholic Church just days before Christmas, said he wanted to promote the “idea of faith itself as something dynamic, modern and full of present relevance.” He told 1,600 people gathered in London’s Westminster Cathedral April 3 that faith had a “major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world and can and should be a force for progress.... But it has to be rescued on the one hand from the extremist and exclusionary tendency within religion today and on the other from the danger that religious faith is seen as an interesting part of history and tradition, but with nothing to say about the contemporary human condition.”

“I see faith and reason, faith and progress, as in alliance, not contention,” he said. His remarks were made during a lecture entitled “Faith and Globalization,” the first in a series of six speeches hosted by the Archdiocese of Westminster on faith and life in Britain.

New Co-Cathedral Dedicated in Houston

As the 23 bells of the campanile at the new Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston summoned the faithful for its Mass of dedication, the special choir gathered for the occasion sang “The Church’s One Foundation.” The dedication on April 2 marked the birth of a new central place of worship for the 1.3 million faithful within the borders of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Following a procession of deacons, priests and nearly two dozen bishops from the United States, Honduras and Canada, Deacon Gerald DuPont carried a box containing the relics of 11 saints as well as a sizable fragment of the true cross that St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, brought back to Rome from Jerusalem. Among the relics were those of the first American-born saint, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Leo the Great, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was the main celebrant of the three-hour Mass.

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