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BY Jim Cosgrove
VITA TRENTINA, Aug. 1-The Italian Diocese of Trent has a remarkable missionary presence, according to the diocesan weekly newspaper.
The paper recently published a report that includes the names of Trent priests, religious and lay people who are working as missionaries in Asia, Africa, America, Eastern Europe and Oceania.
The missionaries' destinations include difficult assignments like the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Algeria, but also wealthy countries such as the United States and Japan. As an official of the diocesan Missionary Center said, “No community can be closed in on itself, concerned with its own needs, no matter how important and numerous.”
The missions are also supported by those who never leave Trent. The people of the diocese donate almost $1 million dollars annually to the cause. Half a million dollars raised from the Lenten collection “Bread for the Love of God,” was offered to three bishops and 469 missionaries. The remainder was given to missionaries working with lepers and to alleviate emergencies in Sudan, Bolivia, Central America and Kosovo.
Catholic Schools Attacked in India
INDIA NEWS, Aug. 2-Members of Shiv Sena, a nationalist group known for its violent protests, have attacked Church-run institutions in India, according to the Christian Internet news service.
The attackers broke furniture at the Sacred Heart Convent in Worli, just north of Bombay, and slapped a nun, according to India News. A similar confrontation was thwarted at the Infant Jesus Convent in Jogeshwari in the western state of Maharashtra. The group says Catholic schools are denying admission to “Maharashtrian” students, which justifies their attacks, they say.
India's education minister has been unresponsive to appeals for help, the Catholic Board of Education said. They say the government's lack of action is a means of retaliation for the board's refusal to cooperate with the government on a proposed legislative bill that would give the government control of half of the admissions at the pre-primary level in religious schools. Protestant workers in Orrissa have also been attacked, India News said.
Orthodox Churches Suffer Albanian Retribution
REUTERS, Aug. 2-Orthodox Church leaders claim the July 31 bomb that exploded in a new cathedral now under construction in Pristina, Kosovo, was part of an ongoing attack on the Serbian Church, the wire service reported.
The blast, which rocked surrounding buildings but did little damage to the church, is the latest in a series of more than 30 attacks on Orthodox monasteries and churches in the province, Reuters said. “I think there are people who want to destroy, symbolically, Orthodox churches,” Bernard Kouchner, United Nations administrator in Kosovo, said.
Orthodox leaders say ethnic Albanians are behind the violence. “At the moment, the Albanian extremists are organizing a systematic campaign of destruction of Orthodox churches with the intention to blot out all traces of Serbian existence in Kosovo,” Father Sava, a senior member of the church, said.
Kosovar Albanians consider the cathedral, under construction for three years, as a provocation and a sign of Serb encroachment in the province, he said.
Excerpts from select publications
BY Jim Cosgrove
Lech Walesa on Clinton, America, and the Law
WALL STREET JOURNAL, October 22-"Lech Walesa was inspired by American ideals to found the solidarity trade movement that toppled Polish Communism and made him the country's president for a term,” wrote the Wall Street Journal editorial staff. “On a recent trip to the U.S. he had advice on how to keep American democracy vibrant.
“He said President Clinton was his friend, but that he must be removed from office if it's found he broke the law.”
The paper quoted Walesa's words from the Cedar Rapids Gazette in Iowa: “There is no democracy if even the least of the laws is broken…. People will begin to ask, ‘Why should I pay taxes? Why should I obey the speed limit if he doesn't have to obey the law?’”
Assumption-Day Arrests Reported
AGENCE FRANCE, Oct. 14-Chinese authorities interrupted Assumption day Mass Aug. 15 to arrest Father Wei Jingkum in Nansong, said a news report by the U.S.-based Qingyuan group, according to a French wire report. The group monitors Chinese efforts to suppress Chinese Catholics who remain faithful to the Vatican rather than join the state-approved Patriotic Church.
Qingyuan says that six other priests were fined or questioned by police, while in another Beijing-area village, 100 people — mostly women — were stopped on their way to secret Assumption day Masses and detained for as many as 15 hours, interrogated, and fined, according to the news service. Zhang Yanzhi was reportedly held for 15 days for teaching the catechism to children. The woman who owns the house where Yanzhi's students met has been arrested.
“The freedom in religious belief is clearly stipulated in the Chinese constitution and various other relevant laws,” countered Li Ruihuan, the communist state's fourth most senior official, after the Oct. 14th news report was published.
“The Chinese government continues to sincerely implement that policy,” he said. His quotes come from an official Chinese government news agency, according to a follow-up report by the French news service.
Cardinal Accepted Martyrdom, Hoped for Help
BERGEN RECORD, Oct. 16-Progress was finally being reported with President Slobodan Milosevic in the most recent attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo when Sarajevo's Archbishop was quoted wondering what took the world so long to notice the dire situation there, according to the Bergen Record.
At 53 the Church's youngest cardinal, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, the Catholic archbishop of Sarajevo, is a survivor of Serbian aggression in Bosnia. Catholics in his diocese have been reduced by more than half by war. He sees the Serbian minority's aggression toward the Kosovar majority as following the same pattern, said the report.
“I believe that the action, or international intervention, should have taken place earlier,” he told a New Jersey press conference recently after touring the United States. “It is more efficient to prevent than to treat” a crisis, he said, adding that, “If the political decision-makers had done something sooner we would not have had this situation. The conscience of humankind requests it should be stopped.”
After surviving an assassination attempt in April, the cardinal was quoted saying “The fact that I may die is an integral part of my vocation…. One does not stand up for peace without realizing that he may be killed.”
At the news conference, a reporter asked if Cardinal Puljic trusted Milosevic and the concessions he has made. Puljic laughed. “I can fully trust only in God,” he said.
Excerpts from select publications
BY Jim Cosgrove
Mexico Rethinking Death Penalty Ban
SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, September. 8—Mexicans have a long history of abhorring capital punishment, said a report in the San Francisco Examiner, but that may be changing.
The Examiner quoted Mexico City pollster Rafael Gimenez of the daily Reforma saying, “[In 1990] it was very clear, the opposition to the death penalty. … Today, many people are fed up with being daily victims of crime. This was reflected in the poll.
More than half of Mexicans in one Gimenez poll now support capital punishment. Another factor in the changing attitude may be the capture of the notorious kidnapper Daniel Arizmendi, who did horrible things to his victims to scare their relatives into paying, and who continues to show a flippant attitude toward his crimes “kidnapper” as his profession on prison forms.
The Catholic Church has excommunicated him and called on him to repent, said the report.
Said the Examiner, “The Mexican Constitution provides the possibility of the death penalty for crimes including treason, murder, and kidnapping, but no state penal code allows it. Fifty years in prison is currently the maximum punishment.”
Pregnant Spice Girls: Bad Role Models?
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, September 9—Two members of the British pop band the Spice Girls are pregnant, and an English schoolteachers' association fears that they will glamorize pregnancy outside of marriage.
The pregnancies of Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown and Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams, have started a debate in Britain. One public official was quoted saying that the two are “in loving, caring relationships.” The only fear is that their pregnancies could trigger “a generation of Spice babies born to teenage mothers.”
Both public officials and the teachers' association agree that, at any rate, contraceptives must be vigorously promoted.
Many observers, however, point out that contraceptives fail to slow teen-pregnancy rates. Statistics show that unwed pregnancies have risen from rarities to epidemic levels wherever contraceptives have become popular.
One Catholic activist in the United States, Catholic League president William Donohue, underlined another problem. Donohue called the message of the Spice Girls “invidious and pernicious” not because they are pregnant, but because of their erotic contribution to our culture. He is quoted saying, “You cannot have an eroticized culture and have a society which is absent the social pathology that accompanies it. The problem is… people who think the greatest badge of virtue in society is to be tolerant. … The willingness to turn one's head at moral outrage will only pave the way to even greater problems.”
Huge Evangelization Ad Campaign Hits Britain
THE SCOTSMAN, September 8—Catholics and Protestants are uniting in Great Britain to attract Brits back to church.
“More than 4,000 churches of all denominations started a £1 million advertising campaign yesterday to get more people interested in Christianity,” said a report in the Scotsman.
In the largest interdenominational campaign of its kind in Britain's history, the report said 5,500 billboards and more than 100 newspapers will carry provocative slogans.
It quoted one: “You're born. You live. You die. End of story?”
Churches around Britain will encourage non-believers or those curious about Christianity to attend a ten week course for one evening a week called the “Alpha course.” It is a “light hearted” approach developed at Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, London, nearly 20 years ago that has been presented in over 6,000 congregations, including Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Anglican, said the report.
Excerpts from select publications
BY Jim Cosgrove
The Wonder Worker or Father Christmas?
WALL STREET JOURNAL, August 31, 1998-An unlikely dispute has arisen between Demre in Turkey and Bari in Italy over the bones of St. Nicholas.
The Santa Claus Foundation in Demre wants the bones of St. Nicholas to reside in its city, which was called Myra when the saint lived there. The Greek Orthodox Church, which descends from the Byzantine-era Catholic Church in Constantinople, has the bones and wants to keep the former bishop's remains to venerate as relics.
The Santa Claus Foundation is made up almost entirely of Moslems, who claim that St. Nicholas is now the property of all faiths because he is “Father Christmas.” Their annual December 6 ceremonies revere the “jolly old elf” and award “The Father Christmas Peace Prize.”
The Greek Christians call him “St. Nicholas, the Wonder Worker” and pray for his intercession, celebrating his example of faith and God's grace working in men on December 6, his feast day.
“Santa Claus is supra religious, universal,” said Muammer Karabulut, the Santa Claus Foundation's chairman. The report said that even the Dalai Lama sends an emissary to the Father Christmas ceremonies.
But “What about his sainthood?", answered Metropolitan Chrisostomos, St. Nicholas's current successor in the see of Myra. “People should believe in something, after all.”
He complained that the “Father Christmas” ceremonies exist only as “a means to get money.” The bones were moved (“stolen” according to the Foundation) in 1087 from Myra to Bari. Some believe they were moved with the express purpose of keeping them out of the hands of advancing Turkish armies.
“Unity and Faith” in Nigeria
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE, Aug. 28-Nigeria's motto, “Unity and Faith,” is sometimes hard to live up to in a country made up of devout Christians and Muslims, said the news service about the African nation which is seeing a new growth in Catholicism and Protestant sects.
“Of all the fissures in this country, which was thrown together on the whim of a British colonial governor in 1914, those based on religion may be the most treacherous. But it is still not clear whether religion will ultimately push Nigerians toward fracture or reconcile them,” said the report.
“Of the three main ethnic groups, the northern Hausas are Muslim, the southeastern Ibos are overwhelmingly Christian, and the southwestern Yorubas mixed.”
The article quoted religion scholar Onaolapo Soleye, saying that the southern Christian faith is buoyant and hopeful. “But in the north, religion is different: more fatalistic and more all-encompassing. Everything there is Allah's work. Well, we do not think it's Allah's work that more and more people are poor.”
Much of the difference has theological roots. For Muslims, God's will is a direct force moving events, good and bad. Christians praise Muslims for their simple religion of abandonment to God's will. For Christians, God's Providence is also in control. But evil is the result of man's fall: God allows it but does not directly cause it.
Diana is Not a Saint, Says British Cardinal
BRITISH BROADCASTING CORP., August 27-The one-year anniversary of her death saw another wide-scale demonstration of public fascination with Lady Diana, and with her tragic death. But Basil Cardinal Hume warned that Diana was no saint, calling her “flawed, but much loved” in a British radio interview.
But while maintaining that she was “by no means a saint” the Primate of England and Wales defended Diana more than other Churchmen, such as former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Coggan, who has described the princess as “a false goddess of loose morals.”
He also clarified the Catholic position after two evangelical Sunday school teachers told their young students that Diana had gone to hell. Diana “did a great deal of good,” he said, pointing out that her life was no worse than most people's.
Cardinal Hume refused to respond to Lord Coggan's comments, saying merely that the former Archbishop was “very wise and very experienced.” However, he did say that the Sunday school teacher's words were “upsetting to us all” and that he would be praying for Diana's soul.
Said the BBC report, the Cardinal “doubted that, one year on from the princess's death, the country had been changed by it.”
BY Jim Cosgrove
Irish Prelate Raises Multi-Denominational Eyebrows
Archbishop Desmond Connell, archbishop of Dublin, Ireland surprised fellow clergy—and angered reporters—by preaching about the Real Presence.
A June 1 Irish Times article reported that Archbishop Connell, dedicating a multi-denominational chapel along with Irish leaders of several Protestant denominations, reportedly said, “the body and blood of the Lord remain really and truly present in the Sacrament [of the Eucharist].”
He continued: “The tabernacle is thus the sanctuary of this abiding presence of the Lord, a center of adoration and prayer.”
The archbishop called his listeners' attention to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and said, “Because Christ himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honored with the worship of adoration. To visit the Blessed Sacrament is … proof of gratitude, an expression of love, and a duty of adoration towards Christ our Lord.”
The archbishop's words at the event attended by so many Protestant clergy may have been prompted by the continuing controversies regarding inter-denominational Communion in Ireland, a practice that the Church does not allow because of the implications of the Catholic sacrament for the issue of unity.
The Protestant leaders were “surprised” at his choice of words on the occasion of the dedication of a multi-denominational chapel, said the article. It also noted that the chapel features a wooden cross with no depiction of Christ, in the Protestant style.
Poland's Catholic Talk Radio Under Fire
In Poland, said a Reuters News Service report June 2, controversial but popular Radio Maryja “brings solace to millions of Catholics” with its devotion to the faith and vigorous defense of pro-life and other positions. But is the station too concerned with politics and ideology?
The Catholic Voice in the Polish Home features daily prayers and catechetical instruction, along with wary commentary on the threats of communists and their sympathizers in a country which has seen devastation at the hands of Marxist ideologues.
An audience of 4 million hears the station's pro-Solidarity sentiments. The Solidarity movement, along with Pope John Paul II, is given credit for the demise of Polish communism in 1989.
But Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, a Pole who was recently appointed to work in the Vatican, is quoted saying that the station is over-concerned with political enemies. “I think the Church's biggest enemy is human weakness and sin,” not “communists” and “Freemasons,” he said.
At the same time, he admitted that he likes the station. “This is a difficult problem for the Church because this radio has much that is good. But mixing this good with any kind of politics simply harms the Church,” Bishop Pieronek said.
According to the report, Pope John Paul II last year called on the radio station to cooperate with the bishops and “speak with the same voice.”