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The Church Around the World

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 Contents - Feb 1999AD2000 February 1999 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Tackling the Church's problem areas - Michael Gilchrist
John Paul II throws down the gauntlet to Australia's bishops - AD2000 Report
News: The Church Around the World
'Absolute Truth': another media 'job' on the Catholic Church - Michael Gilchrist
Liturgy: Cardinal Ratzinger on the old and the new Mass - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Brompton Oratory: London's liturgical oasis - Joanna Bogle
Bob Billings (1915-1999): outstanding Catholic layman - Peter Westmore
Reflection: Catholic identity and 'reading the signs of the times' - John Kelly

Padre Pio to be beatified

Miraculously cured woman to attend St Peter's ceremony

Padre Pio will be beatified by Pope John Paul II on Sunday, 2 May 1999, in a celebration in Saint Peter's Square. The announcement was made public on 21 December, after the approval of the decree recognising "a miracle attributed to the intercession of the venerable servant of God, Pio of Pietrelcina, professed priest of the Capuchin Minor Friars, born on 25 May 1887 in Pietrelcina and died on September 23, 1968 in San Giovanni Rotondo."

The decree was promulgated in the Consistory Hall in the presence of many Capuchin religious, both men and women, as well as devotees of Padre Pio. The decree was the last step in Padre Pio's beatification process, initiated in 1983. One person noticeably absent was Consiglia De Martino, the woman from Salerno who was cured of leukemia in 1995 after praying to the friar and asking for his intercession before undergoing surgery.

To journalists who interviewed her in her home, Mrs De Martino, who is 45 years old, said she will attend the ceremony on 2 May, but requested privacy.

During the seven years of the diocesan process, promoted by the Archbishop of Manfredonia, 69 testimonies were heard and 104 volumes of documentation collected. On 13 June 1997, the "consultant theologians" of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints agreed by unanimity on the "heroic virtues" of the Capuchin friar.

On 30 April 1998, the Vatican medical council gave its favorable judgment "super miro," that is, on the miracle: the cure of Mrs De Martino was recognised as "extraordinary" and inexplicable, given the present level of medical knowledge.

The fifteen years of the cause are relatively brief, given the opposition Padre Pio experienced in his lifetime in ecclesiastical circles. There were those who were concerned about the quantity of people attracted by him, and the fear the movement might be tainted with superstition, or that Padre Pio might have great powers of influence over others, as has often been the case with other charismatic figures. The friar was in fact subjected to repeated questioning by the Superiors of the Capuchin Order and by the Holy See. Even his works of charity were minutely scrutinised. The approval of the miracle should serve to clear up these doubts.

Zenit News Agency

New President of US Bishops' Conference

First African-American vice-president

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has elected a new president and vice-president, choosing an African-American bishop from Illinois to become the first black vice-president of the body.

Customarily, the vice-president of the NCCB is elected president at the expiration of the current president's term, putting Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Illinois, in line to head the group. The bishop is a Catholic convert and only the fifth black bishop to head a US diocese. "I'm sure for African-American Catholics this is a great moment, not because of me, but because of us," Bishop Gregory said. "I can represent our presence in a very symbolic but real way."

Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Houston was elected president of the NCCB. The new president is known for his strong pro-life positions and traditional views on Church doctrines and disciplines. "In terms of doctrine, I believe what the Catholic Church believes and teaches," Bishop Fiorenza said. "Politically, I'm more progressive on social issues affecting life in the United States. I believe that involves the Church helping poor people and giving them an opportunity to help themselves."

New Catholic missionaries for Cuba

Positive aftermath of the Papal visit

The Cuban authorities late last November gave permission for forty priests and religious men and women to enter the country and carry out pastoral work in different Cuban dioceses. According to the agency EFE, the group includes 19 priests, two of them Cubans who have been living abroad, eight Colombians, three Spaniards, two Italians, one Argentine, one Maltese, one Mexican and one Canadian. There are also one Colombian religious and 20 nuns.

The press office of the Cuban Conference of Bishops said that these priests and religious were part of a larger group who will come to the country in the near future. Ecclesiastical sources attribute this change in the régime's attitude to John Paul II's visit to Cuba in January of this year.

A year ago, the Cuban government allowed 40 religious men and women to come to Cuba just a few days after the Holy Father and Fidel Castro met in the Vatican. Almost half of the priests and religious who have requested permission to enter Cuba are now on their way there.

Throughout the past year the authorities have allowed some religious to enter Cuba, but only temporarily. In the past, the Government has been very restrictive in granting visas to foreign religious. One of the claims made by the Cuban Catholic Church refers, specifically, to the increase of priests coming to the country where, according to the Conference of Bishops, there is only one priest for every 56,000 inhabitants, one of the poorest ratios in Latin America.

The president of the Bishops Conference, Bishop Adolfo Rodriguez Herrera said, during a press meeting, that the situation "is urgent" at present because for ten years "we have been living the drama of sheep without a pastor, with few priests to serve the whole country."

Zenit News Agency

'No religion' fastest growing category

Religious denominations' declining memberships in Australia

One of the fastest growing religious categories in Australia is that of "no religion." Between 1991 and 1996, the numbers of Australians describing themselves as having "no religion" jumped by nearly three-quarters of a million to nearly three million people. While the overall population grew by 5.4% over that period, the "no religion" group grew by 35%.

According to the Christian Research Association Bulletin (December 1998), a 1993 survey asked in what religious denomination did the respondents grow up. Then it asked what was their religious denomination now. The proportion of those who were brought up in a religious denomination, but who described themselves in 1993 as having "no religion," was over 20% for all Churches. For Baptists and Catholics, the figure was just over 20%, for Anglicans, 27% and the Uniting Church, almost 40%.

US Bishops' strong stance against abortion

Pro-choice politicians cannot call themselves Catholics

"No public official, especially if he calls himself a serious and faithful Catholic, can responsibly defend, or actively support, direct attacks against innocent human life." This was the clear statement emanating from the annual plenary session of the US Bishops' Conference late last November.

In the document, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops points out that Catholic politicians who say they are opposed to abortion, but who refuse to defend their beliefs before their constituents are "seriously mistaken." This is the first time the bishops have launched such a clear message to politicians on this matter.

The document does not denounce publicly and by name such politicians. It goes far deeper, by making "a private call to Conversion," which must always be "the first step in dealing with these leaders."

Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, who has just been elected president of the Committee of Pro-Life Activities, explained that the new document "gives us some guidelines for our dialogue" with the legislators who support abortion. "But we are not looking for a public challenge. The first thing he recommends is private discussion."

Cardinal Bernard Law, who up until now was president of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, said that the document is a teaching tool and not a "witch hunt" against mistaken politicians. "People who are looking for sanctions in this document will be disappointed." Cardinal Law pointed out that the novelty of the document resides in the new forceful and united way that the Episcopal Conference has handled this matter.

The document also condemns violence perpetrated against clinics where abortions are practised and against the doctors who carry them out.

Zenit News Agency

India's Christians the target of mob violence

Calls for Government intervention

Recent atrocities against Christians in India prompted an unprecedented show of Christian solidarity on 4 December 1998 when hundreds of thousands took to the streets in various parts of the country. About 20,000 rallied outside the Indian parliament house in New Delhi to demand government action. Most Christian institutions in the country closed to join in the national protest called by the United Christian Forum for Human Rights. Some 500,000 Christians wore black badges at work, inscribed "Stop communal violence."

The Forum's press release said that India had witnessed some 90 incidents of violence against Christians since January 1998, "almost half of them in Gujarat." The horrific gang rape of Indian Catholic nuns by a rampaging mob near the village of Navapaga last November was not, as the authorities claimed, an isolated incident.

Since March 1998, when the coalition led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, the Catholic and Protestant Churches have recorded a series of instances of violence or harassment of Christian institutions or personnel, including: the descecration of a convent at Baghpat, the burning of Bibles at a Protestant school at Rajkot, the digging up of a newly buried man in a Methodist cemetery, and the razing of a Catholic church at Naroda.

At least 27 attacks are known to have taken place in the state of Gujarat, about an hour's drive from the spot where the nuns were raped. Gujarat is a stronghold of the World Hindu Council which along with other extremist Hindu organisations describes Christianity and Islam as alien. Local authorities have remained inactive in the face of the violence, dismissing them as isolated incidents not connected with religion.

Most of the attacks on the Christian Churches have come in the eastern half of Gujarat where the Adivasis, the original tribal inhabitants of India, live. Some suggest that it is the efforts of Christians to improve the lot of these people that have made them a target. They are an obstacle to the "moneylenders and the merchants and the other people who come to the jungle areas to exploit the Adivasis," says Father Bereciartua, a local Catholic priest.

New independent US Catholic schools

Rapidly growing numbers

Though the number of pupils in a new breed of independent Catholic schools is still a miniscule percentage of the total Catholic school population in the US, at about 5-10,000, their numbers are growing rapidly, according to a feature article in the National Catholic Reporter.

The number of such schools registered with their national association has risen from under 30 to 106 in the past three years alone. Without much fanfare these "private Catholic independent" schools have opened across the country, most within the last decade. Founded by lay people, they receive no funding or official recognition from the diocese in which they are located. Most are not "Catholic" in the sense of being approved by the Church hierarchy under the terms of canon law.

Supporters of these schools are unified in their deep dissatisfaction at the poor standards of religious and secular teaching in many diocesan schools. On the other hand the Catholic ethos of the 'independent' schools is emphasised, with recitations of morning prayers, the Rosary and the noon Angelus each day. There are strong doctrinal offerings along with solid grounding in such areas as Latin, Maths, history and grammar.

The official tally of these schools represents only those schools that have registered with the National Association of Private Catholic Independent Schools - a step many are unwilling to take for fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention, either from civil authorities or from the diocesan bureaucracies.

At the level of individual schools, the central problem has been how to cope with enrolments that double or triple every year. And there is every indication that the rapid growth will continue.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 12 No 1 (February 1999), p. 6

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