Signs of the Times

New Relief Effort on U.S./Mexico Border

When Leoba Marcos crossed the Sonoran desert in northern Mexico earlier this year, she did not know what to expect. She made her way in early January with a group of about 20 people, including her husband, 13-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. It was the second time Marcos had attempted to enter the United States. This time the migrants, led by a smuggler, had walked about six hours before U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended them near Lukeville, Ariz.

“We didn’t say anything and we didn’t run,” Marcos said, shaking her head, “They just took us to a detention center.” Marcos and her children were deported to Nogales, Mexico, but her husband was deported to Mexicali—more than a five-hour drive away. While she waited for her husband to reach them, Marcos and her children found refuge in a shelter for deported women and children run by the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist.


“The women who have come to stay here have been abandoned; they’re hungry and thirsty and they have blisters on their feet,” said Araceli Wedington, a former immigrant and guest of the shelter. “When the women arrive, they don’t know what to do. They don’t have any money; they don’t have any food and our families don’t know what’s become of us.”

The sisters who manage the shelter are part of the Kino Border Initiative, a binational effort that began on Jan. 18, spearheaded by a coalition of religious orders, Catholic dioceses and social service organizations.

“A lot of people are suffering,” said Sean Carroll, S.J., executive director of the initiative. He noted an increased number of deportees finding their way to a care center where deported migrants can get a hot meal and help with medical needs. “We’re serving a lot of people,” he said. “We want to respond to them and relieve that suffering, and through that we hope to also be transformed.”

In the coming months, the initiative will begin staffing a care center for deported migrants, serve as a contact point for humanitarian organizations working on the border and begin efforts to educate the broader community on immigration issues. “The Kino Border Initiative is an important step in responding to the deportation of those who have been asked to leave the country—to make sure that their departure is safe, that they are cared for,” said Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., during a press conference on Jan. 18 that launched the program. The initiative will work closely with the Diocese of Tucson and Mexico’s Archdiocese of Hermosillo, as well as with the Jesuit Refugee Service. John McGarry, S.J., head of the California Province of the Jesuits, one of the initiative’s principal sponsors, said the effort takes on the spirit of the man for whom it is named, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a 17th-century Jesuit missionary who served in the Sonoran desert.

“Jesuits are committed to the poor, the immigrant, the disenfranchised,” Father McGarry said. “The beginning of this new ministry and service to the church and to people in need is a concrete sign of that commitment.” The initiative will also bring academic resources to bear on the immigration debate by studying movements on the border and documenting migrants’ stories—from their journey to the border to their capture by the Border Patrol. “The complex issue of immigration is first and foremost about people—God’s people and their lives, their dignity and their livelihood,” McGarry said.

Rome Responds to St. Pius X Uproar

VATICAN CITY--The Vatican has said that a traditionalist bishop who minimized the full extent of the Holocaust must disavow his positions before he will be accepted into full communion with the church. The Vatican statement also said that Pope Benedict XVI did not know about the controversial statements by British-born Bishop Richard Williamson when he lifted the excommunications of him and three other traditionalist bishops who were ordained illicitly in 1988 and are members of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.

“The positions of Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust are absolutely unacceptable and are strongly rejected by the Holy Father,” the statement said. In order to function as a bishop, Bishop Williamson must distance himself from his previous statements in “an absolutely unequivocal and public manner,” the Vatican said.

The Feb. 4 statement was meant to deflect an increasingly vociferous public outcry over the papal decree lifting the excommunication, which included rare public statements of concern from secular leaders and church officials alike. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Feb. 3 that the pope and the Vatican needed to make clear there could be no denial of the Holocaust. At a news conference in Berlin, Merkel said she normally did not comment on church matters, “but we are talking about fundamental questions.”

Meanwhile, in Rome on Feb. 2, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who coordinates the Vatican’s dialogue with the Jews, said the controversy was fueled in part by a lack of communication within the Vatican and by “management errors in the Curia.” He said that in lifting the excommunications the pope “wanted to open the discussion because he wanted unity inside and outside” the church. But “up to now people in the Vatican have spoken too little with each other and have not checked where problems might arise…. Explaining something after the fact is always much more difficult than if one did it right away,” Kasper said.

On Jan. 21, the same day the pope lifted the excommunication, a Swedish television station aired a November interview with Bishop Williamson in which he repeated his position that the Holocaust had been exaggerated. The papal decree lifting the excommunication was made public Jan. 24, and Jewish groups—especially in Germany, the United States and Israel—expressed shock that the Vatican would lift the excommunication against Bishop Williamson even after his comments had been televised.

The Vatican also emphasized on Feb. 4 that even after the removal of the excommunications, remaining problems need to be resolved before full communion can be established. The Society of St. Pius X has not accepted the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council nor its concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism. The statement from the secretariat of state said the society would have to recognize the teachings of Vatican II and of postconciliar popes to be in full communion, and it stressed that the four bishops do not now have a canonical function in the church and “do not licitly exercise a ministry in the church.”

Sri Lankan Officials Plead for Truce

Catholic officials in the Diocese of Jaffna appealed to the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels Feb. 3 to stop attacks on civilians and churches and appealed to the international community for assistance. The Rev. Christopher George Jayakumar, local director of Caritas Internationalis, said the Jan. 29 attack on his center southeast of Jaffna had destroyed $526,000 worth of relief items and that 60 church workers who were distributing aid narrowly avoided injury. Church sources estimate that 490,000 people are trapped and unable to move in or out of the country and that hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured by the fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tamil rebels launched their armed struggle in 1983 to create an independent state for minority Tamils. The conflict has claimed 80,000 lives.

Spanish Court Rules on School Controversy

The Spanish Supreme Court has rejected the right of parents to keep their children out of a public school civics course that includes lessons on gender and sexuality. José Ignacio Munilla Aguirre, bishop of Palencia said the Jan. 28 court ruling showed that “the principle of conscientious objection can be acknowledged or rejected depending on whether or not the material in question is politically correct. If parents are denied this discernment, their right to conscientious objection is not truly respected,” he said. The four-year mandatory curriculum for students ages 12 to 16, called Education for Citizenship, covers human and citizens’ rights, gender equality and political systems. It also includes lessons about homosexuality, discrimination and family issues. More than 50,000 objections to the course have been filed in court.

N.P.L.C. at 25

The National Pastoral Life Center will celebrate its 25th anniversary March 26 in New York with a Mass, gala dinner, and symposium featuring Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, president of Caritas Internationalis. Cardinal Rodríguez’s address will focus on St. Paul’s legacy of inculturation and its challenge to be attentive to the signs of the times. Other participants include the Rev. Robert Schreiter, professor of theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago; Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, founding co-director of the Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture; and Thomas T. Beaudoin, associate professor of practical theology at Fordham University. Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore will be the homilist at the celebratory Mass. N.P.L.C. offers continuing education for pastors, parish life coordinators and parish teams, with a focus on collaborative ministry and sharing best practices for vibrant parishes at a time when the number of active priests is declining. The center, founded in 1983 by the late Msgr. Philip Murnion, also publishes Church magazine.

News Briefs

The number of undernourished people in the world rose to 963 million in 2008 (more than the combined populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union), up 40 million from 2007, according to the United Nations. • Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, India, has said that thousands of Christians still live in refugee camps, afraid of returning to their homes in the Indian state of Orissa for fear of death. He added that he had only recently made his first visits to some of the camps because of death threats lodged against him. • Nairobi’s Cardinal John Njue expressed concern over the whereabouts of two Italian nuns who were seized by armed men Nov. 10 in northeastern Kenya. • About a third of Americans back President Obama’s decision to allow funding for overseas family planning groups that provide abortions, according to a new poll by USA Today/Gallup.• Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams has awarded Msgr. Donald Bolen, a Canadian, the Cross of St. Augustine in recognition of his work in the field of Anglican-Catholic relations. • The Vatican Library and National Library of Israel have published a detailed descriptive catalogue of more than 800 Hebrew manuscripts and books held in the Vatican Library, a project that has taken more than 10 years.

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