Signs of the Times

U.N. Panel Calls Religion a Force for Freedom

The same unwavering, absolute commitment to faith that can make religion a source of conflict and division can also make it a powerful force for freedom, justice and liberation, panelists said at an Oct. 7 forum at the United Nations. They also said the Catholic Church, because of its social teaching and transnational nature, is particularly well positioned to prevent conflicts from breaking out and to mediate those that are ongoing. The forum on “Peace-building: A Role for Religion” drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people. It was co-sponsored by the permanent observer mission of the Holy See, the Path to Peace Foundation and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio to the United Nations, said the Holy See delegation helped draft guidelines used by the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission to acknowledge the role of faith-based organizations at the forefront “in fostering dialogue, in peacemaking and in post-conflict resolution.”

Iraqi Church Leaders Risk Lives for Ministry

Iraq’s leading churchman said the situation in parts of his country remained “disastrous and tragic,” and he said church leaders were risking their lives daily to proclaim the Gospel. Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, made his comments Oct. 14 at the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. His speech received a huge round of applause from the more than 200 bishops present. Cardinal Delly said life in Iraq is like a Way of the Cross for many people. “Peace and security are lacking, just as the basic elements for daily life are lacking,” he said. “There continue to be shortages of electricity, water and gasoline, telephone communication is increasingly difficult, roads are blocked, the schools are closed or endangered, hospitals run on a reduced staff and people fear for their safety,” he said. He said everyone fears kidnapping and intimidation, including church workers. He noted that 16 priests and two bishops in Iraq have been abducted and released after payment of ransom.


Zimbabweans Suffer While Leaders Play Politics

With Zimbabwe’s power-sharing deal in jeopardy, the country’s leaders are playing politics at the expense of the suffering majority, a church official said. “Life here is extremely difficult,” especially in rural areas where some people are said to be surviving on wild fruit, said Alouis Chaumba, who heads the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe. The hope of ordinary Zimbabweans that the power-sharing deal would improve their lives “has been dashed,” he told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 13 telephone interview from the capital, Harare. The “greatest blunder” in the power-sharing deal, which aimed to give President Robert Mugabe and the opposition equal power in a unity government, was that “cabinet posts were not sorted out as part of the agreement,” Chaumba said. The deal, signed in September by Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, said the opposition would hold 16 cabinet seats and the ruling party 15. The rivals have yet to work out details of the new government, including which side will control which ministries.

Four Saints Give Examples of Holiness

Pope Benedict XVI canonized four new saints, including the first native-born saint of India, during a two-hour liturgy in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 12. The new Indian saint is St. Alphonsa Muttathupadathu, a nun from southwestern India who was known for her holiness during a lifetime of suffering. “She wrote, ‘I consider a day without suffering as a day lost.’ May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise,” the pope said. The others canonized were: St. Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Moran, a 19th-century Ecuadoran laywoman known for her deep prayer and penitence; St. Gaetano Errico, an Italian priest who founded the Congregation of Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in the 19th century; and St. Maria Bernarda Butler, a Swiss nun who founded the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary, Help of Sinners. The four saints together, the pope said, offer a beautiful example of holiness and deserve the attention of the universal church.

Conn. Bishops Criticize ‘Judicial Activism’

The Connecticut Supreme Court’s Oct. 10 decision permitting same-sex marriage in the state was “a terribly regrettable exercise in judicial activism,” the state’s Catholic bishops said. The court “has chosen to ignore the wisdom of our elected officials, the will of the people, and historical, social and religious traditions spanning thousands of years by imposing a social experiment upon the people of our state,” the bishops added. In a 4-to-3 decision in Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, the court majority ruled that “the state’s bar against same-sex marriage infringes on a fundamental right in violation of due process and discriminates on the basis of sex in violation of equal protection.” Eight same-sex couples sued after they applied for marriage licenses in 2004 in the town of Madison and were denied the licenses. In 2005 the Connecticut Legislature said same-sex couples in the state could enter into civil unions, with the “same rights and privileges” as spouses in a marriage,” but continued to define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.”

Knights’ Survey Outlines Catholic Views

American Catholic voters in 2008 tend to be more moderate than U.S. voters as a whole, according to a survey commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and released Oct. 14. “A plurality of Catholic voters, 39 percent, are Democrats, and 45 percent describe themselves as moderate. Only 19 percent say they are liberal,” the survey said. The survey was conducted by telephone with 813 self-identified Catholics Sept. 24-Oct. 3 by Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion. Those who identified themselves as practicing Catholics outnumbered nonpracticing Catholics by close to a 2-to-1 ratio. Interviewers polled 1,733 Americans in all, Catholics and non-Catholics. On the subject of abortion, 48 percent of all Catholics surveyed said they were “pro-life,” while 47 percent said they were “pro-choice,” and 5 percent said they were unsure. But twice as many practicing as nonpracticing Catholics—59 percent to 29 percent—called themselves “pro-life,” while 65 percent of nonpracticing Catholics said they were “pro-choice,” compared with 36 percent of practicing Catholics.

Tiny Alaskan Radio Station Honored

KNOM, an AM radio station in Nome, Alaska, is not only the little station that could. It’s the little station that does—over and over again. Owned by the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, with a broadcast day that includes news, music, and educational and public service programming for listeners in western Alaska—one of North America’s most remote regions—KNOM was named radio station of the year for the 16th time by the Gabriel Awards, sponsored by the Catholic Academy of Communication Arts Professionals. The awards, which honor movies, television and radio, “recognize outstanding artistic achievement in a television or radio program or series which entertains and enriches with a true vision of humanity and a true vision of life,” according to the Catholic Academy in a statement announcing the awards.

106-Year-Old Absentee Voter

Sister Cecilia Gaudette, a 106-year-old American member of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, will vote for the first time in 56 years and will cast her ballot for president for Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois. The nun, a retired music and art teacher, has lived in Rome for 50 years and only recently found out that she could register for an absentee ballot without returning to the United States. But after giving interviews to CBS News, BBC Radio and Italian television, the New Hampshire native is not taking any more phone calls, not doing any more interviews and not posing for any more photographs, said a spokeswoman at the motherhouse of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. “Sister Cecilia is very tired,” the spokeswoman told Catholic News Service Oct. 13. In the interviews, Sister Cecilia said she was sure Obama would win, just like the last U.S. presidential candidate she voted for—Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952. “I always said, ‘I voted once and I won the election,’” she told CBS News.

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