Signs of the Times

Paraguayans Elect Retired Bishop Lugo as President

Retired Bishop Fernando Lugo was elected president of Paraguay April 20, ending the six-decade rule of the Colorado Party. Bishop Lugo took an early lead in the pre-election polls despite official disapproval from the Vatican and, initially, from the Paraguayan bishops’ conference. As support for Bishop Lugo remained strong in the largely Catholic country, the conference refrained from further comment. Named a bishop in 1994, Bishop Lugo, 58, retired from the Diocese of San Pedro in 2005. The Vatican suspended him from exercising his priestly ministry when he decided to run for president but rejected his request for laicization after more than 30 years as a bishop and priest. The Paraguayan bishops’ conference made no official statement after the elections, but the Paraguayan newspaper ABC quoted Bishop Adalberto Martínez Flores of San Pedro, secretary of the Paraguayan bishops’ conference, as saying that the conference “accepts and acknowledges the victory of [Bishop] Lugo as president-elect of Paraguay.”

Pope Returns to Rome ‘Strengthened’ by U.S. Visit

The pope began his general audience in Rome on April 30 by publicly thanking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and President George W. Bush for inviting him, and all those who greeted him with affection and offered prayers for the success of his recent visit to the United States. Of celebrating his third anniversary as pope on April 19 with a Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, he said, “It was a moving moment, in which I experienced in a tangible way all of the support of the church for my ministry.” Addressing the 20,000 people who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the audience, the pope said he set out on the trip “to confirm Catholics in the faith, to renew and increase brotherhood with all Christians and to proclaim to all the message of Christ our hope.”


Speaking in German without a prepared text, the pope said that everywhere he went in the United States, “I was able to experience the fact that the faith is alive, that Christ is there today among the people, that he shows them the way and helps them to build the present as well as the future.” The pope told his German-speaking listeners that God gave him an opportunity to try to strengthen the faith of others, “but at the same time, I was strengthened and came back strengthened.”

In his main talk, Pope Benedict said that the United States, from its founding, was built “on the foundation of a felicitous joining of religious, ethical and political principles, which still today constitutes a valid example of healthy secularity.” The United States, he said, is a place “where the religious dimension in all its variety is not only tolerated, but is valued as the spirit of the nation and as the fundamental guarantee of human rights and responsibilities.” Modern life and global realities continue to challenge the country, he said, and the Catholic Church has an obligation to offer its voice in order to help citizens build a society worthy of the human person and one that uses its resources to help others.

A Plea for the Hungry in Haiti

Haiti’s bishops and a group of Jesuits in the country called on the government to put in place short- and medium-term plans to address the hunger crisis driven by an increase in the cost of world food staples. In an April 12 statement, the Jesuits also urged the international community to “keep its promises and help the country rise out of the quagmire it has sunk into.” Describing themselves as “deeply united with this suffering people and sincerely in solidarity with the victims,” the Jesuits urged Haiti’s President René Préval to carry out an in-depth reform of public institutions to allow development. They also called on parliament to put in place a plan to provide relief to people who cannot afford the food they need to survive.

On the same day, Haiti’s bishops also expressed their compassion for the poor and offered solidarity to the families of victims of violent unrest. “The bishops’ conference condemns violence, whatever its form, because violence brings conflict and it can in no way resolve our problems,” they said in a statement signed by Bishop Louis Kébreau, S.D.B., of Hinche, president of the bishops’ conference. They reminded Haitians that “if the right to demonstrate is sacred, this does not authorize anyone to take lives or attack property belonging to others. Those responsible for public order must protect lives and property and punish those who break the law.”

Bishops Urge End to Zimbabwe Arms Traffic

Catholic bishops in southern Africa have urged the South African government to stop all shipments of armaments to Zimbabwe, which is in political and economic crisis. “On behalf of the Catholic community in southern Africa, I call on the South Africa government not to allow any more arms and munitions to enter Zimbabwe through South Africa until an acceptable solution is found to the present situation,” Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban said April 18 in a statement issued on behalf of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Zimbabwe’s parliamentary and presidential elections, held March 29, prompted tensions between the government and opposition groups in Zimbabwe. While Zimbabwe’s electoral commission has failed to issue final results, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, says he won the presidential poll, and his party took a majority of parliamentary seats. President Robert Mugabe, 84, and his supporters have prepared for a runoff and have challenged some of the parliamentary results.

A Chinese ship carrying arms to Zimbabwe was turned away from the South African port of Durban April 18 after the South African High Court refused to allow the weapons to be transported across the country.

States Consider Immigration Bills

States have considered more than 1,100 bills that deal with aspects of immigration this year. The National Conference of State Legislatures, in a report released April 24, said that as of the end of March, 26 states had enacted 44 laws and adopted 38 resolutions on immigration topics. In 35 states, 198 pieces of legislation were introduced dealing with law enforcement.

Meanwhile, the House passed a bill to extend a visa program for religious workers, and the governors in three border states asked Congress to extend an operation that has placed National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Catholic organizations and religious orders joined with other church groups in signing a letter protesting a bill introduced in Congress that would force immigrant families to live in a detention center until their immigration cases are resolved. A member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on April 23 called the Democratic leadership “spineless” for not taking up comprehensive immigration reform.

Christians, Buddhists Should Work Together

Christians and Buddhists should work together to promote respect for the earth and a safe, clean environment, said the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In a message for the Buddhist feast of Vesakh on May 12 to 18, a commemoration of the major events in the life of the Buddha, the Vatican agency urged Christians and Buddhists to work together to contribute to the public debate concerning climate change and sustainable development.

The Vatican message, signed by the council’s president, Cardinal Jean-Louis Taurán, and its secretary, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, said Christian and Buddhist traditions respect creation and “have a common concern to promote care for the environment which we all share.” All people should be concerned with the future of the planet including “matters of grave concern,” like climate change, environmental preservation and sustainable development, it said.

Newman Sainthood Cause Advances

The sainthood cause of a 19th-century English cardinal has taken a step forward after the Vatican’s medical commission ruled that there was no natural explanation for the healing of a U.S. deacon who prayed for the cardinal’s intercession. The progress of the cause of Cardinal John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest who shocked English society by becoming Catholic, was announced April 24 by Peter Jennings, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England. The case of Deacon Jack Sullivan from Marshfield near Boston, Mass., was discussed and voted on by the medical commission of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, Jennings said in a statement. “The opinion of the doctors is positive,” he said. The case will now be passed on to a theological commission. The theologians’ task is to certify whether the alleged miracle took place after prayers for the sainthood candidate’s intercession. A miracle attributed to Cardinal Newman’s intercession is required before his beatification—a step toward sainthood—can occur.

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