Signs of the Times

Pope Congratulates President-Elect Barack Obama

Pope Benedict XVI sent a personal message to President-elect Barack Obama on Nov. 5, congratulating him and offering his prayers for Obama and for all the people of the United States.

Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Vatican spokesman, said that because the message was addressed personally to Obama, the Vatican did not plan to publish it. However, he said, the papal message opened by referring to the “historic occasion” of the election, marking the first time a black man has been elected president of the United States. The pope congratulated Obama, his wife and family, Father Lombardi said. “He assured him of his prayers that God would help him with his high responsibilities for his country and for the international community.”


Asked if the pope mentioned any specific issues he was concerned about, Father Lombardi responded, “peace, solidarity and justice.” The pope prayed that “the blessing of God would sustain him and the American people so that with all people of good will they could build a world of peace, solidarity and justice,” the spokesman said. The message to Obama was sent through the office of Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, also sent a message. Father Lombardi said it is likely a formal message also will be sent on the occasion of Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20. In past years, the Vatican custom has been that the pope congratulates a new U.S. president only when he formally takes office.

Martini: ‘Serious Damage’ After Humanae Vitae

Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) has cut off the church from many of the people who most need its advice about human sexuality. The encyclical, which taught that artificial birth control was morally wrong, caused a large number of people to stop taking the church’s views into serious consideration, Cardinal Martini said. “Many have distanced themselves from the church, and the church from the people. Serious damage was done,” he said. Cardinal Martini, an 81-year-old Jesuit and the former archbishop of Milan, made the comments in a book-length interview titled Nighttime Conversations in Jerusalem. The cardinal did not address specifically the issue of the morality of contraception. He suggested, however, that the whole question might be better approached from a more pastoral perspective. “Today we have a broader horizon in which to confront the questions of sexuality. The needs of confessors and young people, too, need much more attention. We cannot abandon these people,” he said.

Greater Number of Refugee Admissions

The number of refugees admitted to the United States in the fiscal year ending in September increased substantially over the previous two years, though it still falls far short of resettlements before the terrorist attacks in 2001 brought changes to admissions requirements. Of the more than 60,000 refugees admitted between October 2007 and September 2008, nearly 30 percent—17,283 people—were resettled through Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2007, the U.S. admitted just 48,281 refugees, compared with 94,222 who arrived in 2000. Since then, the annual admissions number has dipped to as low as 39,201 in 2003. M.R.S. on its own processed tens of thousands of refugees each year in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980 alone, M.R.S. handled the entry of 132,000 of the 207,000 admitted nationwide. Most of them came from Vietnam.

Psychological Testing for Seminarians

A Vatican document said seminary candidates should undergo psychological evaluations whenever there is a suspicion of personality disturbances or serious doubts about their ability to live a celibate life. The document, released at the Vatican on Oct. 30, was prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education and approved by Pope Benedict XVI, with the title Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.

In assessing the capacity for celibacy, the document said, the church needs to evaluate a seminarian’s sexual orientation and make sure that uncertain sexual identity or “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are not present. It said the use of psychological consultation and testing was appropriate in “exceptional cases that present particular difficulties” in seminary admission and formation. It said psychological evaluation could never be imposed on seminarians or candidates but that church authorities have the right to turn away candidates if they are not convinced of their suitability.

‘Sacred Duty’ of Dialogue to Build a Better World

Dialogue among those who believe in God is a “sacred duty” for all those committed to building a better world, Pope Benedict XVI told members of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The pope met Oct. 30 with 23 members of the committee, who represent the main branches of Judaism and the world’s largest Jewish organizations. The members of the committee said they came to the Vatican to discuss “issues of mutual concern and interest,” including opening the Vatican archives relating to Pope Pius XII, as well as to finalize plans for the 20th meeting of the official International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee. That meeting is to be held in Budapest, Hungary, on Nov. 9-13 and will focus on “The Role of Religion in Secular Society” and “Christian-Jewish Relations in Eastern Europe.”

In Financial Crisis, A Reminder to Help Poor

Public reaction to the current financial crisis should not be limited to criticisms of what went wrong or expressions of sympathy to those most affected, said Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations. Instead, world leaders need to “come up with the ways and means to avoid similar crises in the future,” he said.

In an address on Oct. 30 to the U.N. General Assembly as part of a panel discussion on the global financial crisis, the archbishop urged delegates not to forget those “at the edges of the financial system” such as retirees, small family businesses, cottage industries and those who rely on their savings as an essential means of support. “Above all,” he said, “there is a need to invest in people. Once the inevitable financial salvage operations are over, governments and the international community should invest their money in aid to the poorest populations.”

Displacement of Iraqi Christians Intentional

The recent wave of violence against Iraqi Christians in Mosul is intentional and part of a political plan to create discord among Iraq’s different communities, said Iraq’s Catholic bishops. “The displacement of Christians from Mosul, in the tragic way it was done, is intentional and very dangerous. Apparently it falls under division and fragmentation of the country,” said the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Iraq in a statement following their meeting Oct. 29. The violence and intimidation by extremists, which began in early October, has claimed about 15 lives and forced more than 13,000 Christians to flee; that is more than half of Mosul’s Christian population. “After coming into contact with the supreme authorities of the [Iraqi] state and hearing the testimonies of the displaced themselves, the bishops have been frightened by what happened to Christians in Mosul [and view it] as part of a political plan aimed at creating discord between the different Iraqi communities,” they said.

Violence Increases in Eastern Congo Conflict

Although two Catholic Relief Services workers in eastern Congo have been evacuated to neighboring Rwanda amid the escalating conflict, they are planning to return to another part of the country as soon as possible to help with relief efforts, said a C.R.S. official. “This was not a formal evacuation,” said Paul Miller, Africa policy adviser for C.R.S., the U.S. bishops’ aid and development agency. He said the two workers, who were evacuated Oct. 30, were in the violence-torn region after working on a nearby water-assessment project. C.R.S. officials decided on Oct. 29 that the workers should leave the area when the “situation became quite tense,” said Miller, referring to incidents of government soldiers shooting civilians that night in Goma. The next morning, the workers walked across the border into Rwanda, where they were picked up by a C.R.S. vehicle. Eastern Congo’s proximity to Rwanda and the region’s mineral wealth have contributed to the ongoing violence in the region. The 1994 ethnic genocide of Tutsi by Hutu in Rwanda spilled over into Congo, and since then Rwandan rebels and ethnic Tutsi militants have been fighting the Congolese army, despite a cease-fire signed in January.

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