Signs of the Times

Washington Funeral Mass for Tim Russert

The presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees were among the scores of mourners at the private funeral Mass on June 18 for the NBC News Washington bureau chief and “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert, who died suddenly June 13 at the age of 58. In his homily, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, said the presence of both Democratic Senator Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain was not only a special tribute to Russert, but to the United States, speaking to the country’s “values of respect and to those fundamental virtues which ultimately are more important even than politics and the shifting sands of public life.” The funeral Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown section of Washington—Russert’s parish—was private, but speakers were set up outside for listeners to hear the proceedings. A memorial service for Russert was held later the same day at the Kennedy Center in Washington and broadcast live on MSNBC; it featured tributes from fellow journalists Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams; his former teacher Lucille Socciarelli, of the Sisters of Mercy; his son, Luke Russert; and others.

Brazilian Bishops Organize Against Slave Labor

Brazil’s Catholic bishops have joined a 21st-century abolitionist movement called the National Front Against Slave Labor. The front, which includes congressional leaders and representatives of unions and social movements, was launched June 4. Its immediate goal is to push a constitutional amendment through Brazil’s National Congress before the July recess. “Slavery is an abominable practice that the church in Brazil, through the voice of some bishops and the Pastoral Land Commission, has denounced since the 1970s in a systematic and documented way,” said a bishops’ conference statement read by the Rev. José Ernanne Pinheiro, political adviser to the bishops, during the campaign launch. Slavery was abolished in Brazil 120 years ago, but special teams in Brazil’s Ministry of Labor have rescued nearly 29,000 people from forced labor since 1995. Many of them were poor peasant workers on farms.


Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah Retires

Retired Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem officially handed over his pastor’s staff to Archbishop Fouad Twal during a Mass of thanksgiving, ending 20 years as head of the church in the Holy Land. Patriarch Sabbah turned 75 in March and submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI as required by canon law. He chose to celebrate his final Mass June 21 at the Church of Gethsemane. Archbishop Twal, who has been coadjutor to the Latin patriarchate for nearly three years, replaced Patriarch Sabbah during his installation Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher the following day. As he entered the Church of Gethsemane, Patriarch Sabbah was greeted with a standing ovation. Patriarch Sabbah urged the Christian community to take action by praying, reading Scripture, going to Mass and living lives ruled by love. The community must see the image of God in all people, live in communion with others and be able to forgive while still demanding their God-given rights, he said.

Lambeth Conference: Time of Reckoning

This summer’s once-a-decade Lambeth Conference marks a potentially defining moment for the worldwide Anglican Communion and a time of reckoning for ecumenical dialogue. The Vatican, which is sending representatives to the gathering of the world’s Anglican leadership on July 16-Aug. 4, will be closely following its deliberations to see what direction it takes on such crucial questions as internal unity, authority, the role of the bishop and Anglican identity. What has pushed these questions to the forefront is the ordination of openly gay clerics, the blessing of gay unions and the ordination of women bishops in some Anglican provinces, particularly in the United States. Those developments have threatened to split the Anglican Communion. For the Vatican, they have raised new questions about the future of the 40-year-old dialogue with the Anglican Church. “It’s very important for Anglicans to understand the depth of the change in our relationship that, in a sense, is being forced on us by the positions they are taking,” said one Vatican official, who asked not to be named.

Romanian Catholics Defend Intercommunion

The Romanian Catholic Church, an Eastern rite, has defended an Orthodox archbishop who faces sanctions for receiving Communion at an Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy. “This man of humanism, dignity and dialogue has helped create excellent Catholic-Orthodox ties in our region,” Bishop Alexandru Mesian of Lugoj, Romania, said in an interview with Catholic News Service on June 11. “He wishes to be in communion with other Christians and we have welcomed his unprecedented, progressive gesture with great joy. We are sad he is now being attacked with such ferocity for it.” Bishop Mesian said Orthodox laypeople regularly go to confession and receive Communion at Eastern Catholic churches in Romania. Orthodox Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu of Banat, a region of Eastern Europe partly in Romania, will appear before Romanian Orthodox leaders in July to explain why he received Communion during the dedication of an Eastern Catholic church in late May. Father Constantin Stoica, spokesman for the Orthodox church’s Bucharest Patriarchate in Romania, said Metropolitan Corneanu’s action would be “analyzed and dealt with” when his church’s governing synod meets July 8-9.

Fundamental Moral Line on Stem Cells

The U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a statement June 13 calling the use of human embryos in stem cell research “gravely immoral” and unnecessary. They also declared that stem cell research does not in itself present a conflict between science and religion. In the last vote of the public session of their spring general assembly in Orlando on June 12-14, the bishops voted 191 to 1 in favor of the document, titled On Embryonic Stem-Cell Research: A Statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It now seems undeniable that once we cross the fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point,” the document said. “The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path.” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., introduced the document on behalf of Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, who was not at the Orlando meeting.

Limits Set for Legionaries in Baltimore

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore has established a set of requirements under which the Legionaries of Christ and its lay branch, Regnum Christi, must operate in the archdiocese. Saying pastors in recent years have raised concerns “regarding a lack of pastoral transparency at times and a tendency to conduct parallel programs within our parishes without the knowledge of local pastors,” Archbishop O’Brien outlined the requirements under which the Legionaries must operate in his column in the June 12 issue of The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper. The detailed requirements were finalized during an early June meeting between the archbishop’s staff and Father álvaro Corcuera, the order’s Rome-based superior general. In the column, Archbishop O’Brien said that while the Legionaries have “operated with the blessing of the Holy See,” the order’s activities “have not been without certain tension” in the United States and the archdiocese. His column was not specific except to say that “undue pressure was placed on individuals to conform to the rule of Regnum Christi and in a context of secrecy.”

Independent-Minded Laity Here to Stay

The days of Catholics who “pay, pray and obey” are gone and likely never coming back, according to a sociologist who has studied the beliefs and practices of American Catholics for more than two decades. As a result, the church must find ways to reach new generations of Catholics who “don’t think church leaders are any wiser or any holier than they are,” said James Davidson of Purdue University, who spoke at the opening session of the annual gathering of the Catholic Theological Society of America. Davidson has conducted research on four generations of American Catholics, divided in relation to the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965: pre-Vatican II, those born in 1940 or earlier; Vatican II, born 1941-60; post-Vatican II, born 1961-82; and millennial, born since 1983. His findings set the tone for the conference on June 5-8, the theme of which was “Generations.” Today’s Catholics are generally better off financially, better educated and more integrated into mainstream American culture than their pre-Vatican II counterparts, Davidson said. They are no longer outsiders or victims of discrimination for whom the church was a refuge. They also grew up in a church where the emphasis shifted from the hierarchy to the people of God, from the ordained to the baptized. “These formative experiences have lasting effects on the way Catholics think and act,” he said.

Nationwide Walk for the Poor

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, one of the oldest lay service organizations in the United States, will mark its 175th anniversary by doing what it has been doing for all those years: serving the poor. The organization has planned a special event to highlight its work and raise money for the poor. A nationwide event called Friends of the Poor Walk will take place Sept. 27, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul. Diocesan councils, district councils and parish-based conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have all been invited to participate; walks will be organized locally. As of June 17, 61 walks had been scheduled across the country. Among the walk sites are large cities like New Orleans, Philadelphia, Washington, St. Louis and New York. Individuals and groups can register for the event on the walk’s Web site, “The number is growing every day. There has been a massive outpouring of support,” Chris Desloge, the walk administrator, told Catholic News Service.

Fauci, AIDS Researcher, Given Medal of Freedom

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., an award-winning physician and AIDS researcher, was among six recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom June 19 in the East Room of the White House. “Three decades ago, a mysterious and terrifying plague began to take the lives of people across the world. Before this malady even had a name, it had a fierce opponent in Dr. Anthony Fauci,” said President George W. Bush at the ceremony. Fauci and two other Catholics—former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and Gen. Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—were among the six receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor. The other honorees were pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin S. Carson Sr.; Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; and the late Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor and Democratic congressman. Lantos’s widow, Annette, received the medal in his honor.

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