In Rare Instance, Church Condones Looting

A massive drought has left 10 million people at risk of going hungry in the world's largest Catholic country, and the Church has tacitly condoned looting by starving families.

A CBS report on Brazil's disastrous weather conditions featured a man reduced to capturing a rabbit amidst his devastated cornfields in order to feed his family.

“At least tonight, my family will have something to eat,” Sebastao da Silva is quoted saying in the May 1 program, which relied on Associated Press reporting.

The droughts, which are being blamed on weather conditions resulting from the El Nino weather phenomenon in the Pacific, have led to such desperate conditions that Brazilians have resorted to stealing food. The report said that last month, a storehouse run by the government was looted by 700 men, women, and children, who took away 13 tons of rice, beans, flour, manioc meal, corn, and pasta.

“Most of the looters were honest, hard-working people who had nothing to eat,” one official is quoted saying.

“It is not a crime to resort to this kind of action when in extreme need,” said Bishop Francisco de Mesquita Filho of Afogados da Ingazeira.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church backs him up. In discussing the seventh commandment not to steal, the Catechism says that taking possession of others goods is not theft if each of three conditions is met: (1) consent by the owner “can be presumed” or if his refusal is unjust; (2) if it is a case of “obvious and urgent necessity”; and (3) If the goods in question are for “immediate, essential needs [food, shelter, clothing…].”

Pope was Target of Failed 1997 Attack

One of the most spectacular of many acts of terrorism in 1997 was an attempt to blow up a bridge the Holy Father was crossing in Bosnia, said the State Department's annual report on international terrorism, released April 30.

Attacks in 15 European countries mostly targeted buildings, often in protest of the international community's response to local issues. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union were the hardest hit, said the State Department document, according to a May 1 Radio Free Europe report.

Pope John Paul II was the target of the most serious incident. In Bosnia, an unidentified assailant placed 23 remote controlled land mines beneath a bridge that was part of the Pope's intended motorcade, said the report. The land mines were diffused, however, after a suspicious person was seen near the bridge. No one was hurt, and no one claimed responsibility.

The document tallied more than 300 terrorist attacks last year, which is more than in 1996, but still part of a downward trend that has seen fewer attacks since such incidents began to become more common in the 1970s and ‘80s. Two hundred twenty-one deaths by terrorism were reported, down from 314 in 1996, but more than 690 people were reported injured by terrorists throughout the year.

How Europe Became Christian

Pope John Paul II has called the Church to a new evangelization. Surprisingly, however, little is known in common history about the methods employed in the first evangelization of Europe.

A new book covers that territory, says a Boston Globe book review (May 6). The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity by Richard Fletcher of the University of York stretches from the baptism of Constantine in 337 to the conversion of Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila, in 1388.

By beginning and ending with the rulers, the book suggests one answer to questions about how missionaries worked to maximize their effectiveness as God's messengers. Who were targeted as potential converts? The review notes that early sources say the answer is two-fold: the common man and leaders.

In Lithuania, for example, it was necessary to convert the aristocracy, whose Christianity could then transform the whole country. That job was made easier because aristocrats had been raised by Christian wet-nurses and nannies, who had laid a foundation. Similar situations prevailed in St. Patrick's Ireland and elsewhere, where society's leaders were singled out for conversion by the tireless efforts of the Christian faithful.