Signs of the Times

Few Iraqi Refugees Resettled in U.S.

More than 1,000 refugees from Iraq arrived in the United States in May, the most in recent months, bringing the fiscal-year total to 4,742 so far, the State Department reported June 3. But with just four months left in the fiscal year, the administration’s objective of resettling 12,000 Iraqis in the U.S. by October is far from being reached, said Anastasia Brown, director of refugee programs for Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She added that even that goal is an inadequate fraction of the estimated 4.9 million Iraqis who have been forced to leave their homes by the war. At a press briefing June 3, Ambassador James Foley, senior coordinator for Iraqi refugees and former ambassador to Haiti, said systems are finally in place to process the applications of would-be refugees within Iraq. Processing systems in adjacent countries are working more smoothly than before, he said, though there are still problems, particularly in Syria, where as many as 1.4 million Iraqis have sought temporary protection.

Zimbabweans Fear for Their Lives

Zimbabweans in rural areas “fear for their lives,” a church official said after a report warned that Zimbabwe is headed toward civil war. Postelection attacks have been “most severe” in rural areas, and many Zimbabweans in these areas may be too afraid to vote for the opposition in the runoff presidential election June 27, said Alouis Chaumba, head of Zimbabwe’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. However, many people in the country’s towns and cities “are motivated to vote again to ensure an end to the present system. Many communities feel that voting will be an act of solidarity with their friends who have been killed or wounded in the violence, so that they did not die in vain,” Chaumba said.


A report on postelection violence in Zimbabwe by the Solidarity Peace Trust, an ecumenical group of church organizations from Zimbabwe and South Africa, said, “There needs to be a general recognition that Zimbabwe is sinking fast into the conditions of a civil war, propelled largely by the increasing reliance on violence by the ruling party to stay in power, and the rapidly shrinking spaces for any form of peaceful political intervention.” The report, released in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 21, contained about 50 eyewitness accounts of orchestrated beatings, torture and the destruction of homes and shops.

Vatican Security Adds Antiterrorism Units

The Vatican has set up two new antiterrorism units that will work closely with international police experts to prevent possible attacks, the Vatican’s director of security announced. A “rapid-intervention group” and an “antisabotage department” were recently established as subunits of the Vatican’s gendarme corps, Domenico Giani, corps director, told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano June 7. He said the Vatican also has begun closer collaboration with Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization. The Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI have been named as potential targets by extremist groups in recent years. Earlier this year, an Al Qaeda leader accused the pope of leading an anti-Islam campaign. Although the Vatican has downplayed the threats, it also has beefed up security, adding metal detectors for all visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica and attendees at papal events. The gendarme corps also has been deployed at Vatican territories outside Vatican City, in particular at Rome’s patriarchal basilicas.

Nun Describes Life in War-Torn Iraq

Sister Diana, of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, described life in Iraq, her war-torn country, as one of suffering, violence and fear of kidnappings and attacks on civilians. Nonetheless, she said: “We can only have faith and hope. I pray and hope that things get better, or else I won’t be able to continue my life and my vocation.” She spoke on June 5 at a briefing at the New York headquarters of the pontifical agency Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which publishes ONE magazine. She did not use her surname for fear of reprisals against family members in Iraq. Sister Diana’s brother and six cousins have been killed there since the war began in 2003. Before the war, life under sanctions was difficult, she said, but there was little violence; and she and others were free to pursue their education and worship openly. Now violence is rampant and random, medicine and medical care are in short supply, electricity is limited to several hours each day, travel is difficult and students attend school only sporadically. “People thought [the war] would change Iraq, but it didn’t turn out the way they thought,” she said. Sister Diana has been living with a group of Dominicans in Michigan since 2006.

Jerusalem Patriarch Speaks on Peace

People are capable of achieving peace and loving one another just as God loves each of them, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem told about 160 worshipers gathered to emphasize the need for peace in the Holy Land. “We have come here to pray because each one of us believes in God, in his goodness and the good in each one of us,” the patriarch said at a June 4 ecumenical prayer service at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, part of the Dominican-run French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem. The service marked the opening of the third International Church Action Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, which concluded on June 10. “We pray so all of us can be effective peacemakers in our societies,” the patriarch said. The week of activities is sponsored by the World Council of Churches. Pax Christi International and World Vision also were involved in the planning this year.

Kasper Meets With Russian Orthodox Leaders

The Vatican’s top ecumenist gave an upbeat report on his recent meetings with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, saying historic tensions have been replaced by an eagerness to cooperate. “We are at the beginning of a new situation and a new reality, in which the confrontation of the past seems to have vanished,” Cardinal Walter Kasper said after his 10-day visit to Russia at the end of May. “Everything seems to point in the direction of a possible meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Alexy II [of Moscow]. There is not a concrete agenda, but there are many signs of reconciliation,” the cardinal said in an interview June 3 with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. Cardinal Kasper traveled to Russia at the invitation of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, president of the Russian Orthodox Church’s office for ecumenical relations. The trip featured a meeting with Patriarch Alexy and visits to Orthodox centers in four major cities. Cardinal Kasper said he received a warm welcome that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Nepal Bishop Applauds New Constitution

The bishop of Nepal described the recent abolition of Nepal’s 239-year-old Hindu monarchy as “truly a great achievement.” Catholics, “as citizens of the country, deserve to be proud, and we rejoice with the nation and our brothers and sisters. We thank God for his blessings,” Bishop Anthony Sharma, S.J., of Nepal told the Asian church news agency UCA News May 29. Nepal’s Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly to abolish the monarchy May 28, a day after assembly members were sworn in at the capital, Katmandu. The assembly gave the king 15 days to leave office. The announcement that assembly members had voted to support the proposal for the implementation of a republic was not made until close to midnight. Despite the late hour, people thronged the streets of the capital, singing, dancing and waving the flags of various political parties to welcome the republic.

Pope Appeals for More Myanmar Relief

Pope Benedict XVI said he hoped all victims of the deadly cyclone in Myanmar will receive the aid and relief they need. He also urged Myanmar’s military government to let humanitarian workers have access to the hardest hit areas. “May God open the hearts of all so that a concerted effort may be made to facilitate and coordinate the ongoing endeavor to bring relief to the suffering and rebuild the country’s infrastructure,” the pope said in a May 30 audience with Catholic bishops from Myanmar. The bishops were on their ad limina visits to the Vatican, a series of consultative meetings made approximately every five years. Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar May 3 and devastated the Irrawaddy River delta and the capital Yangon. According to the United Nations, as many as 134,000 people have died or are missing and at least 2.4 million people are in need of food, clean water, shelter and clothing.

Media Urged to Highlight the Positive Message

The Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, S.J., urged members of the Catholic media to highlight the positive and beautiful in life, while not shirking their responsibility to recognize and denounce evil. “It is always necessary to have a criterion, a hierarchy in expressing the Christian proposition,” Father Lombardi told several hundred communications professionals at a plenary session of the international Catholic Media Convention in Toronto on May 29. “That which is positive takes first place.” He pointed out it was “no accident” that Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical was on love and his second on hope, nor that his first book was “on Jesus who shows us the face of God.” “Benedict XVI insists that ours is not a religion of prohibitions, of nos,” he said, while noting that Pope Benedict has been realistic and uncompromising in his critiques of relativism, subjectivism, individualism, materialism and hedonism. “We have to know how to recognize and denounce the evils, the risks and the dead ends present in contemporary culture,” he said.

Iowa Community Rallies to Help Families

As the people arrested in an immigration raid in Iowa on May 12 were processed and sent off to prison or deported, church leaders, pastoral ministers and community organizers in northeast Iowa struggled with what they called the tragic and devastating effects of the enforcement action. After nearly 400 people were arrested at Agriprocessors, a meat processing plant in Postville, the faith community responded the following Sunday with a prayer service, a conference on how the community could help affected families and a march to the cattle fairgrounds where the arrested workers were held initially. The Rev. Jose Comparan, pastoral administrator of Queen of Peace Catholic Church and director of Hispanic ministry in Waterloo, said the events were intended to create awareness of what was happening and how people are being affected. “We also wanted the government to know that we do not approve of their actions,” he said. Pastoral leaders and parishioners of St. Bridget Catholic Parish in Postville, which was on the front lines of efforts to assist arrested workers and their families, were joined in Waterloo by representatives of other churches.

Thérèse’s Parents Move Toward Sainthood

The remains of the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, in France, have been exhumed as French Catholics await the couple’s expected beatification. “This beatification will be important not only for the church in France, but for families everywhere who’ve prayed for the intercession of this married couple, who lived in a different epoch but experienced the same strains as all parents,” said Dominique Monvielle, director of Lisieux’s pilgrimage center, June 4. The bodies of Louis and Zelie Martin were disinterred May 27 from graves outside St. Thérèse Basilica in Lisieux and will be reburied after preservation work in the basilica crypt in September. Monvielle told Catholic News Service that Pietro Schillero, a 6-year-old Italian boy whose cure from a fatal lung condition at 13 months was recognized as a miracle by the church in June 2003, attended the exhumation ceremony with his parents, who had invoked the intercession of the Martins for a cure.

C.R.S. Honors Journalists

Seven journalists have been chosen winners of the Eileen Egan Award for journalistic excellence in reporting on humanitarian and social justice issues. Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency and sponsor of the awards, announced the winners May 29 at the Catholic Media Convention in Toronto.

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10 years 6 months ago
In "Iowa Community Rallies to Help Families," (6/23), I was appalled to read that these misguided people were aiding and abbetting criminals. They were concerned with the "tragic and devastating effects of enforcement action." Are they just stupid or misinformed? These illegals are breaking the law, plain and simple. They brought the consequences upon themselves. They suck off the system, contribute nothing, send the money back to drug-infested Mexico and drive down wages in whatever industry they are involved. If I were the bishop, I would have Reverend Jose Comparan arrested for aiding and abetting criminals. Did he ever hear Christ saying "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's?" That means "obey the law." Why doesn't he worry about law-abiding citizens who are having financial problems? The article says that he doesn't approve of the government's actions, so I guess he'll only obey the laws of which he approves. America Magazine should have excoriated his actions not silently approved them.


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