Signs of the Times

Church Officials Charge: Conspiracy Behind Violence

Church officials and others say there is a “clear conspiracy behind the sudden upsurge in the atrocities committed against Christian targets in different parts of India.” “We are really distressed to see that atrocities on Christians are being reported from different parts of the country on a daily basis,” Babu Joseph, of the Society of the Divine Word, who is spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Catholic News Service.

Though some of the attacks look sporadic, with incidents reported from different areas, Father Joseph pointed out that “there is a clear conspiracy to terrorize the Christian community.” Dozens of attacks have been reported since Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, leader of Hindu nationalist groups in Orissa, was shot dead by Maoist rebels Aug. 23.

“I publicly say we are deeply hurt. The church in Karnataka is wounded,” Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, chairman of the Karnataka Catholic Bishops’ Council, told the state’s chief minister, B. S. Yeddyurappa, Sept. 22. “There is surely a conspiracy to terrorize the Christians.”

Israeli Rabbi to Address Bishops’ Synod on Word

The Vatican invitation to participate in the upcoming World Synod of Bishops on the Bible is a “signal of hope,” said Israeli Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, who will lead a one-day discussion on the Jewish interpretation of the Scriptures. Rabbi Cohen, co-chairman of the Israeli-Vatican dialogue commission and chief rabbi of Haifa, is the first non-Christian ever invited to address the Synod of Bishops. He will speak the second day of the Oct. 5-26 synod at the Vatican. The invitation “brings with it a message of love, coexistence and peace for generations,” Rabbi Cohen told Catholic News Service in an interview in his Jerusalem office in late September. “We see in [the] invitation a kind of declaration that [the church] intends to continue with the policy and doctrine established by Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, and we appreciate very deeply this declaration.”

New Tensions for Vietnam Catholics

Government authorities in Vietnam have started a construction project for a park and library at the former apostolic nunciature, a building Catholics have been trying to have returned to them. Local church sources told the Asian church news agency UCA News that beginning early on the morning of Sept. 19 hundreds of local police, mobile units and plainclothes security officials erected iron barriers blocking off the street from the former nunciature. Two trucks and a crane were taken into the compound, they said, and workers toppled the iron fence in front of the building in the morning and moved some furniture out of it. State-run media reported that district government authorities announced their construction plan at the nunciature on Sept. 18, saying they would develop a flower garden on the 1,370-square-yard compound. The nunciature building will be repaired and renovated for use as a library, the report said. Authorities confiscated the building in 1959, after which the Vatican’s delegate to Vietnam shifted to Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, in what was then South Vietnam.

Cardinal Urges Congress to Reject Abortion Bill

Declaring that “we can’t reduce abortions by promoting abortion,” the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities has urged members of Congress to reject the proposed Freedom of Choice Act. In a Sept. 19 letter, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia said the legislation “would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government to reduce abortions in our country,” force all Americans to subsidize abortion with their tax dollars and overturn “modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry” in all 50 states. The Freedom of Choice Act was introduced in both the House and Senate April 19, 2007, the day after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in Gonzales v. Carhart. Although no action has been taken in either house of Congress since then, “the Catholic bishops of the United States are gravely concerned about any possible consideration” of the legislation in the final weeks of the 110th Congress, Cardinal Rigali said.

Donations Fall for Storm Relief

Destruction from the hurricanes and tropical storms that have devastated U.S. communities and Caribbean nations in the past few months has exceeded the damage Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans in 2005, but donations for relief efforts this time are drastically less. “I believe a combination of the recent economic crisis and the media attention, or lack thereof, have presented challenges to us,” said Patricia Hvidston, senior director of development for Catholic Charities USA. “We have gotten donations, and we’re grateful to everyone who has made donations, but it’s significantly lower than the response to Katrina.” Donations to Catholic Charities in response to Katrina averaged $890 each from more than 180,000 contributors, but donations in response to the series of storms that have crippled communities along the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and elsewhere have averaged only $159 each from fewer than 1,000 supporters, Hvidston reported. Meanwhile, Catholic Relief Services has raised around $1 million for emergency aid for Cubans and Haitians affected during this hurricane season, but have fallen $1.5 million short of the agency’s fundraising goal for those Caribbean nations, said Mark Melia, deputy vice president for charitable giving for the international relief agency.

Bishops Issue Ritual Book for Quinceañeras

“Quinceañera,” the coming-of-age celebration for girls turning 15 years old, has long been a tradition in Latino families in the United States and a number of Spanish-speaking countries as a rite of passage from childhood to adolescence. The custom expresses thanksgiving to God for the gift of life and asks for a blessing for the years ahead. On Sept. 19 the U.S. bishops published the bilingual “Order of the Blessing on the Fifteenth Birthday,” designed to help U.S. communities celebrate this ritual within and outside Mass, according to a press release.

In a statement, Allan Figueroa Deck, S.J., executive director of the U.S.C.C.B.’s Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, emphasized the importance of developing a ritual that “helps Latino Catholics celebrate their cultural heritage and build new bridges to other Catholics in their communities.” The “quinceañera” ritual book may be ordered online at www.usccbpublishing.org.

Candidates to Address Al Smith Dinner

The Democratic and Republican presidential nominees both have agreed to be guest speakers at the Al Smith dinner Oct. 16 in New York, the Archdiocese of New York announced Sept. 17. The archdiocese said Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain would “share nonpartisan good humor before an audience of civic, business and social leaders.” The joint appearance three weeks before the Nov. 4 election would continue a longtime tradition of presidential candidates addressing the annual fundraising dinner, a tradition that has been followed off and on in recent years. Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, who will preside at the dinner, called it “a splendid opportunity to recall the spirit of ‘the happy warrior,’ Gov. Al Smith.” The annual dinner, now in its 63rd year, and the Smith Foundation have raised millions to provide support for the sick, poor and underprivileged in the New York area. In statements released by the New York Archdiocese, both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama said they looked forward to the event.

Feuerherd Named Publisher of N.C.R.

Joe Feuerherd, who during the past 24 years has filled a variety of roles at The National Catholic Reporter, ranging from intern to Washington correspondent, has been appointed publisher and editor in chief of the paper. The appointment was announced Sept. 15 by Patrick Waide Jr., chairman of the N.C.R. board of directors. N.C.R. is an independent Catholic newspaper based in Kansas City, Mo. Feuerherd succeeds Rita Larivee, S.S.A., who was elected in August as general superior of her religious order, the Sisters of St. Ann. Sister Rita had been publisher for four years. Prior to that, she was associate publisher for seven years. “The board is pleased to have attracted to the publisher position an experienced journalist who is well versed in the publishing options available today via the Internet,” said Mr. Waide in announcing Mr. Feuerherd’s appointment. “We are also impressed with Joe’s strong commitment throughout his adult life to peace and justice issues, as well as to the documents and spirit of Vatican II.”

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