Signs of the Times

Security Stepped Up for Christians in Mosul

Increased security aimed at preventing further attacks on Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul might have come too late to halt an exodus of refugees, said an Iraqi archbishop. The Iraqi government has deployed extra police on the streets of the northern city to try to end a wave of violence in which at least 15 Christians were murdered in the first two weeks of October. But Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, said the force of 2,500 police officers might not be enough to stop Christians from fleeing their homes or to persuade refugees to return. “We are extremely worried about the situation,” the archbishop told the British branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity that helps persecuted Christians, in an interview on Oct. 14. “It is absolutely crucial that the government send more security and police to the area and maybe—just maybe—it will encourage the Christians who have fled Mosul to go back,” he said.

Traditional Chinese Wisdom and Christianity

For the good of Chinese society and the defense of people, the Catholic Church must engage in dialogue and work with those who defend the traditional values found in Confucianism, said Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong. Cardinal Zen told the Synod of Bishops in Rome on Oct. 15 that before being written as the Scriptures and incarnated in the person of Jesus, the word of God was the force that created beauty, the universe and the human person. And, he said, the traditional Chinese wisdom founded in and fostered by Confucianism contains the “seeds of the word” of God that the Second Vatican Council said are present in all religions and cultures. Cardinal Zen said the church in Hong Kong has developed a healthy dialogue with followers of Confucianism, aimed particularly at “trying to preserve the precious heritage of Chinese wisdom.”


60th Anniversary of Rights Declaration

Sixty years after the creation of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these rights are under threat, several speakers said at a conference celebrating its anniversary. The false presumption that this landmark list of fundamental principles is a Western, Judeo-Christian invention and therefore would be inapplicable to Eastern, especially Islamic, cultures seems to be on the rise, they said. The U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, with support from the Knights of Columbus, sponsored a conference on Oct. 16 titled “For Everyone, Everywhere: Universal Human Rights and the Challenge of Diversity.” It was one of three conferences the embassy is organizing this year to mark the 60th anniversary of the U.N. declaration. Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, said the U.N. commission charged with drawing up a sort of “international bill of rights” asked philosophers to identify rights or values that people from different cultures, religions and political bents could agree on as universal.

Palestine a Testing Ground for Tolerance

Though Palestinians would like to serve as role models for Christian-Muslim tolerance and brotherhood, they have not yet reached that stage, said the retired Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. “Our society is made up of freedom and despotism, and we are trying to chart a path toward freedom. In Palestinian society there are Palestinians of different faces but on one single path,” said Patriarch Michel Sabbah, who retired in June. “If we stumble on that path, we can fall to despotism.” Religion for some of the faithful “can become a sort of despotism when it does not take into consideration respect for the other believer,” he said at the opening of a conference at Bethlehem University on Oct. 15. Though Patriarch Sabbah said kinship among Palestinian Muslims and Christians does exist, he blamed “developments abroad” for “shaking that affinity.” The two-day conference brought together about 100 European and Palestinian experts to discuss the role of the media and education in Christian-Muslim relations.

Patriarch Speaks at Synod on the Word of God

Sitting below Michelangelo’s massive fresco “The Last Judgment,” the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople said divided Christians must be changed by God’s word and must work harder to bring the joy of the Resurrection to all creation. “We must experience radical ‘metanoia’—a conversion of attitudes, habits and practices—for ways that we have misused or abused God’s word, God’s gifts and God’s creation,” Patriarch Bartholomew told the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. After the celebration of evening prayer Oct. 18 in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Benedict XVI invited the patriarch, who is the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, to address the synod. When Patriarch Bartholomew, the first ecumenical patriarch to address a session of the world Synod of Bishops, had finished his 25-minute speech, the pope noted that the church fathers quoted by the patriarch are recognized as great theologians in both the East and the West. “If we have fathers in common, how can we not be brothers?” Pope Benedict said. “This was a joyful experience of unity—perhaps not full, but true and deep.”

Racial Disparity in Abortion Rates

A leading black Catholic bishop called on African-Americans to “defend our community” against an abortion industry that he said is performing abortions on minority women at a disproportionate rate. Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley of Washington, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on African-American Affairs and serves on their Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was commenting on a report by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute on abortion trends between 1974 and 2004. The report found that although abortion rates for all racial and ethnic groups had declined between 1989 and 2004, the rates now range from 11 per 1,000 non-Hispanic women to 28 per 1,000 Hispanic women and 50 per 1,000 black women. In 2004, 37 percent of all abortions performed in the United States were obtained by black women, 34 percent by non-Hispanic white women, 22 percent by Hispanic women and 8 percent by women of races other than white or black, the report said. “As an African-American I am saddened by evidence that black women continue to be targeted by the abortion industry,” Bishop Holley said in an Oct. 15 statement. “The loss of any child from abortion is a tragedy, but we must ask: Why are minority children being aborted at such disproportionate rates?”

Bishops Urge Dual Approach to Life Issues

Catholics are required to oppose abortion on demand and to provide help to mothers facing challenging pregnancies, the chairmen of two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in an Oct. 21 statement. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also urged Catholics to study church teaching on matters pertaining to abortion rather than rely on statements and materials from outside organizations.

The prelates’ statement was released in response to two arguments that have surfaced in the abortion debate during the run-up to the Nov. 4 election. The first maintains that the Catholic Church should accept the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case as a “permanent fixture of constitutional law” and that the only way to reduce abortions is through broader government support for social programs for pregnant women. The second holds that the church should focus solely on restoring recognition for unborn children’s human rights and that proposals to provide life-affirming support for pregnant women distract from that effort.

“We want to be clear that neither argument is consistent with Catholic teaching,” the prelates wrote. “Our faith requires us to oppose abortion on demand and to provide help to mothers facing challenging pregnancies.”

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