Signs of the Times

Catholics Worldwide Reach Out to Haiti

Catholic relief agencies and parishes worldwide are responding to the devastation in Haiti, which has been battered by four severe hurricanes. Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization for 162 national Catholic charity organizations, is seeking $4.3 million in donations for relief aid to the poorest country in the Americas. “The series of natural disasters affecting Haiti comes at a critical time, as the vast majority of the population is already struggling with rising living costs,” said Patrick Nicholson, a Caritas spokesman in Vatican City. “Caritas has already begun helping the worst-affected people despite it being difficult to reach cut-off communities.” Officials with the U.S. bishops’ development and aid agency, Catholic Relief Services, said they are mobilizing workers in Haiti, where more than a million residents have been displaced by the storms.

Bishop Calls for End to Immigration Raids

If federal immigration officials cannot create more “humane” conditions when making enforcement raids against undocumented immigrants, then “these enforcement raids should be abandoned,” said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration. The raids, conducted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security, “reveal, sadly, the failure of a seriously flawed immigration system,” Bishop Wester said Sept. 10. “The humanitarian costs of these raids are immeasurable and unacceptable in a civilized society,” he added. “Our current policies do little to solve the problem of illegal immigration to this country—they simply appear to do so, often at the cost of family integrity and human dignity.” Bishop Wester noted that after Congress failed to pass a comprehensive immigration bill last year, Homeland Security started conducting mass raids, mostly at workplaces.


Faith-Based Investors Raise New Concerns

Members of a coalition of faith-based investors said Sept. 10 they had warned of a potential mortgage crisis 15 years ago, long before it became headline news. Now they question why more was not done to avert the crisis and have issued a whole new set of warnings on other issues that they say put not only individual investors at risk but communities as well. During a teleconference, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in New York highlighted practices they said are “just below the radar” that need to be addressed, including the use of sweatshop workers for major U.S. brands and retailers, continued pollution of the nation’s waterways from factory-farm waste, and human trafficking. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility is a 38-year-old international coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors. Among them are religious communities, pension funds, health care corporations and dioceses.

“Time and time again, the prophetic voice of faith has allowed our members to anticipate emerging areas of corporate responsibility in investment policy as well as in social, economic and environmental policy,” said Laura Berry, the center’s executive director.

‘Growing Hostility’ to Rights of Conscience

Proposed regulations protecting the conscience rights of individuals and health care institutions are especially needed in light of the “growing hostility on the part of some professional organizations and advocacy groups” to those rights, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in public comments to the Department of Health and Human Services. The comments came in a six-page letter Sept. 12 to Brenda Destro in the H.H.S. Office of Public Health and Service from Anthony R. Picarello, U.S.C.C.B. general counsel, and Michael F. Moses, associate general counsel. Expressing “strong support for the proposed rule,” the U.S.C.C.B. letter noted that an earlier leaked version of the H.H.S. proposal had prompted “negative public pro-abortion groups and some editorial writers.” It said, “The adverse reaction demonstrates, at best, a deplorable lack of understanding about the federal legislative rights of conscience on which the proposed regulations are based, at worst outright hostility to those statutory rights.”

Pius XII and World War II

Pope Pius XII has been demonized and his legacy of helping Jews during World War II has been poisoned by inaccurate and incomplete historical accounts, said the Jewish founder and president of Pave the Way Foundation. “We have to change history” and tell the world the truth about this wartime pope “who saved so many lives,” Gary Krupp, foundation president, told Catholic News Service. He spoke at the start of a Sept. 15-17 symposium that studied the papacy of Pope Pius XII and unveiled new evidence of the pope’s hidden acts aimed at saving Jews from the Nazis. The symposium, sponsored by the U.S.-based foundation, featured Catholic and Jewish speakers and video footage of interviews with people who were saved from the Holocaust through the church’s intervention. Krupp said scholars and historians “have failed, they’ve simply failed” over the last 45 years to retrieve and present firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses.

Honored Sociologist of Religion Dies

Dean Hoge, who in the 34 years since he first joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., became one of the country’s experts in the sociology of religion, died Sept. 13 at age 71 after a long struggle with cancer. Though not himself a Catholic, Hoge was a leading scholar of the American Catholic Church.

A memorial service was scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church in Takoma Park, Md., a Washington suburb. Hoge was a professor in the department of sociology at Catholic University from 1974 until his recent retirement. From 1999 until 2004, he was director of the university’s Life Cycle Institute. He wrote over 20 books on American religious life and was also a frequent and valued contributor to America.

Cautious Optimism Over Deal in Zimbabwe

The power-sharing deal signed by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is a “most welcome development,” a church official said. The deal, by which Mugabe and the opposition will wield equal power in a unity government aimed at ending the southern African country’s political and economic crisis, “provides a structure for service delivery that we desperately need,” said the Rev. Frederick Chiromba, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, in a Sept. 16 telephone interview. “It also puts a structure in place to begin the constitution-making process that the bishops have called for,” said Father Chiromba, who watched the Sept. 15 signing of the agreement at Harare’s convention center.

Forced Conversions of Christians in Orissa

Suresh Nayak, a Catholic from the Kandhamal district of the state of Orissa in India, cannot overcome the experience of being forced, under threat of death, to convert to Hinduism. “We lost everything, but the humiliating ceremony to disown our Christian faith still haunts me,” Nayak said at a refugee camp in Cuttack, about 20 miles from Bhubaneswar, Orissa’s capital. Thousands of Christians in the region have been subjected to conversion ceremonies under threat of violence and death, said the Rev. Mrutyunjay Digal, secretary to the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. In many places Christians are required to burn Bibles and join in torching churches or the houses of other Christians to prove they have forsaken Christianity. Church activists have confirmed that 28 Christians, most of them Catholics, have been killed by Hindu mobs in Kandhamal after a prominent Hindu leader was murdered Aug. 23. Maoists have claimed responsibility for the killings, but Hindu radical groups continue to blame Christians.

Pope at Lourdes: Mary Leads to Christ

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for 150,000 international pilgrims at the Marian sanctuaries of Lourdes and told them that humble prayer to Mary was a true path to Christ. The pope said Mary had appeared at Lourdes to invite everyone who suffers, physically or spiritually, to “raise their eyes toward the cross of Jesus” and recognize a love that is stronger than death or sin. “The power of love is stronger than the evil that threatens us,” he said Sept. 14. The pope traveled to Lourdes, a town in the French Pyrenees, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl. After days of rain and cool weather, sunshine broke through the clouds over the pilgrims who filled a grassy field near the sanctuaries. They applauded as the pontiff processed to an altar covered with a sail-shaped canopy. In his sermon, the pope placed himself among the pilgrim population, saying he, too, had come to pray at the feet of Mary, “eager to learn from her alongside little Bernadette.”

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