Signs of the Times

U.S. Urged to Share Iraqi Refugee Burden

The ambassadors of Syria and Jordan called on the United States to share the burden of the unprecedented Iraqi refugee crisis. “The situation is terrible, and the burden on Syria’s resources and population is horrendous,” said Imad Moustapha, Syrian ambassador to the United States. The “United States is categorically refusing to help” solve the refugee crisis, “the largest exodus in the Middle East,” he said. Moustapha stressed the economic and security problems that 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria have caused the already strained government, which subsidizes social programs such as health care and education for Syrians. Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Jordan’s ambassador to the U.S., said the “volume of people [in Jordan] in such a short space of time is staggering to the mind.” Moustapha made his remarks at a forum titled The Iraqi Refugee Crisis: Law, Policy and Practice, in Washington, D.C., on April 4. The forum, sponsored by the Villanova University School of Law, in Pennsylvania, gathered advocates, aid workers and lawyers involved with Iraqi refugees.

Archbishop Calls for Action on Zimbabwe

A South African archbishop has urged African leaders to move quickly to defuse the crisis in Zimbabwe, a country facing the threat of political violence after disputed elections March 29. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg called on “the leaders of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union to act swiftly to defuse this tension by mandating a mediator of sufficient international repute, such as Kofi Annan, to ensure a solution that is acceptable to all Zimbabweans.” “I urge [South African] President [Thabo] Mbeki, the leaders of the Southern African Development Community and African Union leaders to use all of their influence and skill to intervene for the release of the Zimbabwean election results,” said the archbishop, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference in an April 10 statement. He noted that “the situation in Zimbabwe is of regional, continental and international concern.”


Support Needed for Holy Land Education

Christianity could vanish from Israel and the Palestinian territories within two generations unless more is done to support Catholic schools, said the head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., whose order maintains most of the Christian biblical sites in the Holy Land, said the religious identity of Christians had grown extremely fragile as more of them migrated abroad for a better life. He told an April 11 press conference in London that the main challenge for Christians, who form 1 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories, was how to remain united. He urged British Catholics to support Holy Land Christians through pilgrimages and initiatives such as the twinning of schools in the United Kingdom and in the Palestinian territories. Father Pizzaballa was in London to address the Terra Sancta Education Trust, a U.K.-based charity for the advancement of education and relief of the poverty of Holy Land Christian families.

Peacebuilding Network Plans for Future

The Catholic Peacebuilding Network closed its annual conference at the University of Notre Dame April 15, sending writers to complete their work on a book about Catholic theology and peace. The Conference on the Future of Catholic Peacebuilding brought together people on the front lines in conflict zones with one another and with academics who want to build a systematic theology of peace-building in the Catholic tradition. Coming 25 years after the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter in 1983, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, A Pastoral Letter of War and Peace, the project builds on the call to develop a theology and ethics of peace while facing the new challenges and opportunities that have arisen in the intervening years. Since the first conference, a small gathering at Notre Dame in 2004, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, a loose affiliation of like-minded institutions, has held its annual conference in the Philippines, Burundi and Colombia.

Catholics’ Beliefs Differ Across Generations

As the U.S. Catholic Church prepared to welcome Pope Benedict XVI, a new survey found big differences among Catholics of different generations about the importance of the sacraments in their lives. Asked which sacrament was most meaningful in their lives, 39 percent of respondents named baptism, 26 percent said marriage and 25 percent named the Eucharist. Among those who said they attended Mass weekly or more often, 52 percent said the Eucharist was most meaningful in their lives. The study also divided respondents into four generations in relation to the Second Vatican Council: pre-Vatican II, comprising those born before 1943; Vatican II, born between 1943 and 1960; post-Vatican II, born 1961 to 1981; and millennial Catholics, born after 1981. While those of the first three generations chose the Eucharist as their most meaningful sacrament, 43 percent of the millennial Catholics said marriage was the sacrament most meaningful to them. The survey was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Grim Statistics on Uninsured Americans

Living without health insurance is bad for your health. That simple truth was affirmed once again in Dying for Coverage, a new report from Families USA that estimates how many people between the ages of 25 and 64 are likely to die in each U.S. state because of a lack of health coverage. The Washington-based national organization for health care consumers issued reports for each state and the District of Columbia, analyzing how mortality rates for that population were affected in 2006 by a lack of health insurance. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said in an April 8 teleconference that the report “highlights how our inadequate system of health coverage condemns a great number of people to an early death simply because they don’t have the same access to health care as their insured neighbors.” The worst news was in Texas and California. It was estimated that each day more than seven Texans of working age and more than eight Californians of working age die be-cause they do not have health insurance.

Olympics Should Foster Peace, Not Conflict

The Olympic Games and sports in general should be activities that foster peace and dialogue, not political wrangling and conflict, said Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He expressed his disappointment over calls to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing this summer. Activists and some political leaders are calling upon high-profile figures to skip the ceremonies as a way to protest China’s human rights record. The Italian cardinal told reporters at the Vatican April 11, “I am very saddened that [people] want to link a peaceful competition with politics, wrangling, discrimination....”

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