Signs of the Times

Will World Youth Day Be a Wake-up Call?

In what is often seen as one of the most intensely secular nations in the world, Australia received a wake-up call: the faith of the church on public display over the weeklong celebrations of World Youth Day. For young Catholics used to seeing a steady annual decline in figures such as Mass attendance—now estimated at approximately 13 percent of Catholics nationally—and feeling like the only young person in the local parish, the sight of hundreds of thousands of other young pilgrims may well have provided a much-needed shot in the arm. The Australian theologian Tracey Rowland, dean of studies at the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia, said the visit of Pope Benedict XVI will not fix Australia overnight. “But Pope Benedict’s weeklong ‘Christianity 101’ intensive course for a couple of hundred thousand pilgrims will certainly improve the situation, especially for Generation Y,” she said, referring to the young people. She noted that for many young pilgrims, World Youth Day was their first experience of solemn liturgy, adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and catechesis with deep intellectual and spiritual content.

U.N. Agreement Helps Curb Arms Trade

Religious and peace groups heralded a nonbinding U.N. agreement on small arms that they said helps incremental efforts to curb the trade of illicit weapons. Disarmament advocates said the action is part of a wider effort to curtail a serious international problem that is being fought by faith communities, such as parishes in Brazil. Referring to the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England, who attended a U.N. conference on July 14-18, said: “The parish priest in the Rio favelas is part of the same network as those involved in negotiations at the United Nations.... You need to do this work at different levels.” “We’re not expecting to change things overnight,” he told Catholic News Service. The U.N. conference ended with 134 nations agreeing to a set of recommendations that includes the marking of small arms at the point of manufacture to assist tracing efforts. The United States did not cast a vote and kept a low profile during the conference, advocates said. The conference also recommended efforts to boost controls and management of state-run weapons arsenals, which are often targets of smugglers and thieves.


Holy See Reports Deficit for 2007

After three years in the black, the Holy See reported a $14 million deficit for 2007, due mainly to the continued fall in the value of the U.S. dollar and the poor performance of the stock markets. While Vatican City State itself did not report a deficit, this was not enough to offset losses in other areas of the Holy See’s global operations, which include the Vatican Secretariat of State and its diplomatic missions around the world, Vatican congregations and pontifical councils, the Holy See’s investment portfolio and properties as well as the Vatican’s newspaper, radio station, publishing house and television production center.

The investment portfolio ended 2007 with an income of $2.2 million, compared with the $21.5 million it returned to Vatican coffers at the end of 2006.

Life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati Extolled

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati’s simple, holy life gives today’s youths a needed example, said Tom Rosica, a Brasilian priest who is the former national director and chief operating officer of World Youth Day 2002. “Every crisis that the church faces, every crisis that the world faces is a crisis of holiness and a crisis of saints,” said Father Rosica, now the chief operating officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Toronto. “If there was ever an age when young men and women needed authentic heroes, it is our age,” he said on July 14 at a prayer vigil that included adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and veneration of the body of Blessed Pier Giorgio in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. More than 900 youths participated in the prayer service and listened to the story of the young Italian on the eve of the opening of World Youth Day in Sydney. Blessed Pier Giorgio “was simply a young man who was in love with his family and friends, in love with the mountains and the sea, but especially in love with God,” said the priest. “Pier Giorgio dealt with some of our own contemporary problems and struggles,” he said. “His love of God and his tremendous sense of human solidarity bonded him with the poor, the needy, the sick, the hungry and the homeless.”

Mandela Letter to Catholic Bishops Released

The South African human rights activist Nelson Mandela was inspired by the Catholic Church’s involvement in social justice concerns during his many years of incarceration, he wrote in a letter from prison to the country’s first black Catholic archbishop. Mandela, who eventually was freed and elected president in South Africa’s first fully democratic election, in 1994, also wrote to the late Archbishop Stephen Naidoo of Cape Town that he was uplifted by the pastoral care provided by clergy on Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 18 years. The content of Mandela’s letter, dated November 1984, was published for the first time in the July 9 issue of The Southern Cross, South Africa’s Catholic weekly, to mark Mandela’s 90th birthday on July 18. Archbishop Naidoo, who under apartheid laws was classified as “Indian,” and Mandela had become friends before Naidoo’s appointment to Cape Town. Then-Auxiliary Bishop Naidoo regularly made pastoral visits to the arid and tightly guarded Robben Island, where the former president was incarcerated from 1964 to 1982.

Benedict Prays for Lambeth Conference

Pope Benedict XVI has assured Anglicans meeting for their once-a-decade worldwide conference that he and other Catholics are praying for them. In a message to Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said the pope was “mindful that a primary objective” of the meeting was “the spiritual renewal that comes from prayer and contemplation.” The letter noted the internal divisions that trouble the Anglican Communion and said some of those issues “pose a further and grave challenge to the hope for full and visible unity that has been the long-standing goal of our joint ecumenical endeavor.” The letter was released in Canterbury on July 21, as the conference started its regular working sessions, which run through Aug. 3. The Anglican bishops face controversies involving the ordination of openly gay clerics, the blessing of gay unions and the ordination of women bishops in some Anglican provinces.

Rigali Defends Conscience Rights of Health Workers

Protecting the conscience rights of health care providers should be an issue on which both supporters and opponents of abortion can agree, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia said in a letter to members of Congress. The cardinal, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, said his July 18 letter was prompted by reports that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is preparing regulations that will require hospitals, clinics, medical schools and other health care institutions to certify they will not discriminate against people who oppose abortion based on their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The proposed regulations have not been made public officially but were apparently leaked to The New York Times and some members of Congress in mid-July. “I am not writing to comment publicly on the details of an unpublished draft allegedly leaked from a government agency,” Cardinal Rigali said. “The Catholic bishops’ conference will be glad to provide public comment on a proposed rule if and when it is published.” But he said the issue “provides self-described ‘pro-choice’ advocates with an opportunity to demonstrate their true convictions.”

End Urged for Federal Abortion Funding

Representative Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, led other pro-life lawmakers in the House in calling for the U.S. Congress to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning organizations that provide abortions. “Most Americans, I suspect, probably have no idea whatsoever that our tax dollars have enabled abortionists to establish and to run hundreds and hundreds of abortion mills throughout America,” said Smith, a Catholic. “America’s biggest abortion chain is Planned Parenthood,” he said. “Each year, approximately 290,000 children are aborted in Planned Parenthood clinics. Each year, Planned Parenthood gets more than $335 million in taxpayer funds, including huge amounts from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Title X program.” The amount is about one-third of its $926.4 million budget. The federal grants and contracts included Title X family planning funds for low-income people. Federal regulations require that abortion services be kept separate from Title X-funded family planning services, but critics of Planned Parenthood say that receiving funding for nonabortion services frees up its resources for providing abortions.

Catholic Worker Celebrates 75 Years

Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933 with its first newspaper and house of hospitality. Seventy-five years later the movement, centered on the works of mercy, a green revolution and nonviolent peacemaking, continues to flourish. There are over 185 Catholic Worker communities worldwide.

More than 500 Catholic Workers gathered July 9 to 12 in Worcester, Mass., to celebrate this history and to look toward the future. Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, opened the conference; and Robert Ellsberg, editor of the recently published diaries of Dorothy Day, The Duty of Delight, delivered the keynote address. “Dorothy believed that our response to the poor was a test of the authenticity of our worship,” said Ellsberg, explaining the synthesis made by Day of traditional Catholic piety and radical social activism. The gathering included panels on peacemaking and Catholic Worker history, several workshops and a closing Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester. In a statement approved in assembly, Catholic Workers called on the church and nation to join them “in repenting our affronts to God,” which include “unending war” and a widening gap between rich and poor.

Philadelphia Meeting Promotes ‘Common Good’

More than 800 delegates met in Philadelphia from July 11 to 13 and approved a “Platform for the Common Good” that will be sent to both presidential candidates and their political parties. The platform blends language from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution—most notably, “We the People”—with principles of Catholic social teaching. It attempts to transcend partisan politics by expanding the pro-life ethic to include those who suffer from poverty, lack of health care, unjust immigration policies, ecological destruction, violence and war. Catholics and all Americans “are hungry for a new vision of governance that is rooted in a moral commitment to human dignity and social justice,” said Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which co-sponsored the event with Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby. Other featured speakers included Helen Prejean, C.S.J., Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., Democrat of Pennsylvania, John Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and retired Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Va. Former Representative Charles Dougherty, Republican of Pennsylvania, challenged Catholics to “change the atmosphere in Washington by beginning to talk with each other” across partisan lines.

Pope: Recovering Addicts Are Choosing Life

Pope Benedict XVI told a group of young Australians recovering from drug and alcohol abuse that he considers them “ambassadors of hope.” Those who have struggled to overcome addiction and get their lives back on a positive track are the best ones to help others who are lost and suffering, the pope said July 18 while traveling in Australia for World Youth Day. During a visit by the pope to a rehabilitation community and support program run by the Archdiocese of Sydney’s social service agency, a young man and a young woman publicly shared their stories with the pope, struggling with emotion to speak of their difficult pasts and their joy in finding the program that helps disadvantaged youths, including the homeless and refugees as well as those trying to overcome substance abuse. The pope said the participants, like the people following Moses, had been given the stark choice of choosing life or death. “They had to turn away from other gods and worship the true God,” the pope said.

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robin HANDY
10 years 7 months ago
Pope Benedict XVI has a clear understanding of the challanges we face in our day. Please pray for our Holy Father, through the efforts of the See all things will be restored in Christ.


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