Signs of the Times

Deep Sadness Over Destruction in Myanmar

Pope Benedict XVI expressed deep sadness and offered “heartfelt sympathy” after hearing news of “the tragic aftermath” of Cyclone Nargis, which killed tens of thousands in Myanmar. News agencies reported May 6 that more than 22,000 people had been killed and 41,000 were missing after the cyclone’s heavy rains and winds of up to 120 miles per hour swept over southern Myanmar on May 3. The cyclone damaged at least three major cities, including Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar and its largest city. In a telegram, Pope Benedict said he was praying for the victims and their families and called for “divine strength and comfort upon the homeless and all who are suffering.” The pope said he was “confident that the international community will respond with generous and effective relief to the needs” of cyclone victims.

Cardinal Rigali Criticizes Misuse of Technology

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, praised legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in late April that would ban the creation of human-animal embryos for research. The cardinal said he welcomed the ban as “an opportunity to rein in an egregious and disturbing misuse of technology to undermine human dignity.” The Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act was introduced in the House April 24 by Rep. Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey. Identical legislation was introduced in the Senate last fall by Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas. “I commend Senator Brownback and Representative Smith for their leadership in seeking to prohibit the creation of human-animal hybrids,” said Cardinal Rigali in an April 30 statement. “While this subject may seem like science fiction to many, the threat is all too real,” he added, noting that the British government is preparing to authorize the production of cloned human embryos using human DNA and animal eggs, which will set the stage for the creation of embryos that are half-human and half-animal.


Catholic Worker Celebrates 75th Year

Seventy-fifth anniversary or not, lunch still must be served at the New York Catholic Worker’s Maryhouse. Hungry people will be waiting, as they are every day. Jane Sammon knows the routine: hospitality, meals, conversation, responding in whatever way possible to people in need. She’s been at Maryhouse for nearly 36 years, arriving in the summer of 1972 from Cleveland to live a life of voluntary poverty and personal sacrifice with a deep commitment to the works of mercy. It’s a way of life many admire but few venture to try. Maryhouse is a place where the world is made better for people “little by little,” as Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, used to say, recalling the example of St. Thérèse, the Little Flower of Jesus. It’s a place where people are readily welcomed and their human dignity is uplifted. Day wanted a place where Christ would feel at home. “It’s an amazing thing that really has very little to do with us,” said Sammon, 60. “It’s the grace of God that keeps us going.”

Plaintiff Awards Threaten Viability

Multimillion-dollar awards in civil lawsuits place a burden on the free exercise of religion and undermine the Catholic Church’s ability to continue its charitable works, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Chicago told the National Diocesan Attorneys Association on April 27 in Arlington, Va. He said balance must be achieved between providing adequate compensation to plaintiffs in cases of wrongdoing and “preserving charitable viability” for the church. “My point is that the pendulum has swung from the complete protection of charitable immunity to the complete exposure of charitable liability, and, in some cases, all the way to charitable bankruptcy,” Bishop Paprocki said. The Chicago auxiliary bishop is chairman-elect of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance and will begin his three-year term in November.

Chinese Catholics Pray for Tranquil Olympics

Catholics in China prayed for God’s blessing on the Olympic Games as the Olympic torch arrived in Hong Kong en route to Beijing. In the capital city itself, where the games are scheduled to begin Aug. 8, Catholics marked the 100-day countdown with a Mass April 30 at Immaculate Conception Cathedral, also known as Nantang or South Church. Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing and about 20 priests concelebrated the Mass, a Beijing diocesan source told UCA News the same day. The estimated 1,000 people at the Mass included a dozen seminarians and about 20 nuns. The diocese also invited officials from the municipal government and the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games to attend the liturgy. Earlier, the Rev. Zhao Qinglong of the Diocese of Beijing, the leader of the Catholic volunteer team established to serve in the Olympic Village, told UCA News the diocese would pray at the Mass that the games would proceed smoothly and successfully.

Zimbabwe Voters Face Intimidation

Zimbabweans will be afraid to return to the polls unless runoff elections are internationally monitored, a church official said after disputed official results showed opposition leader Morgan Tsvan-girai had won the most votes in the presidential election, but not enough to avoid a runoff election with President Robert Mugabe. In a telephone interview May 4, Alouis Chaumba, head of Zimbabwe’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said, “People are scared” to vote in a runoff because they fear for their lives. With “polling agents being accused of being enemies of the state who want to sell out the country,” few will want to be involved in monitoring the runoff, “which leaves the process open to cheating,” he said. “People voted for change and now feel utter disbelief” as they are told they need to vote again in a runoff. Those who voted in Zimbabwe’s March 29 presidential and parliamentary elections “feel like it was a futile exercise and have lost faith in the process,” Chaumba said. Election officials said May 2 that Tsvangirai, 56, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, received 47.9 percent of the vote while Mugabe, 84, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, took 43.2 percent. Zimbabwe election law requires 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

Polish Clergy Face Payment Controversy

A Polish church official has defended the current methods of financing Catholic clergy in his country after a former priest warned that some priests violated canon law by “selling sacraments” to stave off poverty. Instead of receiving regular salaries, Polish priests traditionally rely on Mass collections and parish donations, as well as on charges for baptisms, weddings, funerals and special Masses. Consequently, the level of compensation for priests varies widely. “It’s hard to say if other methods would work in Poland,” said the Rev. Robert Neczek, spokesman for Poland’s Krakow Archdiocese. “The faithful are accustomed to voluntary offerings and to dealing with clergy face to face. Making direct donations shows how they evaluate the clergy’s work,” he said. In an April 25 article in the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, a former Dominican priest, Tadeusz Bartosz, said the lack of regular pay had forced parish rectors to look for other income sources, making some vulnerable to the sin of simony by seeking profits from dispensing sacraments.

University Head Vincent Malham Dies in Accident

The president of Christian Brothers University in Memphis died in an automobile accident in Louisiana on May 2. Vincent Malham, F.S.C., 73, also worked for nearly a decade at Bethlehem University in the Middle East and was its president and vice chancellor for seven years. Brother Malham entered the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in 1955. He held several teaching and leadership positions throughout his career. In 1996, Brother Malham began teaching English and music at Bethlehem University. He was named vice chancellor of Bethlehem University in 1997 and became president in 1998, serving until July 1, 2005. He was known as a strong voice for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. Last June he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal from Cardinal Moussa Daoud, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches, for his service at Bethlehem University. The award is the highest honor given to laypeople and clergy for exemplary service to the Catholic Church.

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