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No Insurmountable Problems to Diplomatic Relations With China, Says Vatican

A top Vatican official said there were no insurmountable problems to establishing diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China. Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, said on June 22 that he was confident that with good will and a spirit of friendship on both sides, diplomatic ties would eventually be reached. The archbishop made the comments to Vatican Radio after returning from a trip through Southeast Asia for talks with church and civil leaders.

Asked about relations with China, Archbishop Lajolo said the Vatican has been studying the possibility of diplomatic relations with China for some time. In my view, there are no insurmountable problems. But we need to move forward with prudence and make sure some necessary conditions are met on both sides, he said. I am certain that with good will and a spirit of friendship, with which I’m sure both sides wanted to be inspired, we can reach a positive result. In the past, church officials have said the Vatican’s two main conditions for diplomatic relations were the free appointment of bishops in China and freedom for Chinese Catholics to maintain religious links to Rome without government control. An informed Vatican official said on June 23 that those remain the minimum requirements for diplomatic ties. He said that while there have been recent signs of openness from China and increased contacts, no substantial progress has been made on these main points.

Braxton Installed as Servant Leader’

More than 1,200 people gathered on June 22 at St. Peter Cathedral in Belleville to witness the installation of Bishop Edward K. Braxton as Belleville’s eighth bishop. Among those who participated in the liturgical procession were 121 priests and 28 bishops and archbishops from neighboring dioceses and across the country. The installation began with a traditional service of Evening Prayer on June 21 at the cathedral. Father James Buerster, rector, met Bishop Braxton at the entrance to the cathedral to welcome him to the diocese as a servant leader to God’s people in southern Illinois. The following day Bishop Braxton entered the cathedral to be formally installed as bishop. Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago told those gathered that Bishop Braxton is a man of great talents, many diverse talents, all of which are at your service, at the service of the diocese. Bishop Braxton has written frequently for America.

New U.S. Directory Shows Decline in Practice

The number of U.S. Catholics rose last year, but the church registered declines in sacramental practice, according to figures in the 2005 Official Catholic Directory. The 2,050-page directory, also known as the Kenedy directory after its publisher’s imprint, lists all parishes, missions, schools, hospitals and other Catholic institutions in the United States and its possessions. It also lists all ordained clergy and gives statistical data on the church by diocese and nationally. At the start of 2005, there were 67,820,833 Catholics, an increase of about 560,000 over the previous year, according to the directory.

However, fewer infant baptisms, first Communions, confirmations and church-recognized marriages were recorded last year than the year before. In the case of marriage, the decline continues a long-term downward trend that began in the early 1970’s but appears to have accelerated in recent years. The 1971 directory, which reported a little more than 48 million Catholics in the country, said there had been more than 426,000 Catholic marriages the previous year.

This year’s directory records a Catholic population more than 40 percent higher, but the number of marriages recorded in the past year has dropped nearly 50 percent, to 223,862. More than half of that 34-year decline has occurred in the last 12 years, starting in 1992, when, according to the 1993 directory, there were just under 326,000 Catholic marriages.

The rate of decrease in other sacramental practices recorded in the directory was slower. Infant baptisms dropped from 985,141 in 2003 to 977,578 last year. First Communions dropped from 896,670 to 872,132. Confirmations dropped very slightly, from 645,426 to 645,379. The new directory reports 43,422 religious and diocesan priests at the start of 2005, about 800 fewer than a year earlier, and reports a slight increase in permanent deacons, from 14,693 to 15,027.

The number of women religious declined by about 1,500, to 69,963, but the number of religious brothers rose slightly, from 5,504 to 5,517. The number of students in Catholic elementary schools fell, but the numbers in Catholic high schools and colleges rose. At the elementary level enrollment dropped from 1.89 million to about 1.85 million. High schools, however, rose from about 680,000 students to 693,000, and colleges reported an enrollment of nearly 773,000, almost 26,000 more than last year.

The number of priests, brothers and nuns teaching in Catholic elementary and secondary schools fell, while the number of lay teachers rose. For the first time in many decades the number of priests and religious in teaching positions dropped below 10,000. The number of lay teachers grew slightly, from just under 170,000 to a little over that number.

Lawyers’ Group Honors Late Governor Casey

This year the St. Thomas More Society of central Pennsylvania, made up of about 125 Catholics who are canon or civil lawyers, gave its annual Fidelis Award to the late Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania. The award is presented to a lawmaker or public official in memory of St. Thomas More, the chancellor of England who in 1535 was executed by King Henry VIII for standing firm in his Catholic beliefs.

The former first lady of Pennsylvania, Ellen Casey, said her late husband never wavered in his Catholic convictions about serving the common good by such works as assisting the needy and protecting the unborn. Because of his stand against abortion and for the right to life, the Democratic Party, his party, denied his request to address the 1992 Democratic convention. Although the governor died five years ago, his life of public service rooted in Catholic teachings continues to have influence in the public square, Ellen Casey said. I think things are changing and I think they will change because...[more] people realize the importance of life, she said. She made the comments in an interview with The Catholic Witness, the diocesan newspaper, after the society’s annual Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg.

The homily at the Mass was given by Msgr. Joseph G. Quinn, pastor of St. Rose in Carbondale, Pa., and a longtime friend and spiritual director to the governor. During the inaugural ceremonies at the state capitol, Monsigor Quinn administered the oath of office to Governor Casey. Monsignor Quinn described the governor, who died in 2000 at the age of 68, as a faithful servant of God and a modern-day Thomas More.

He noted that Governor Casey was a prophetic voice speaking out about the tragedy of abortion on demand. He quoted a speech that the governor gave in the 1990’s: Twenty-one years ago, it was sold to America as a kind of social cure, a resolution, the governor had said about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Roe v. Wade case in 1973 that legalized abortion virtually on demand.

Instead, the governor continued, it has left us wounded and divided. We were promised it would broaden the circle of freedom; instead it has narrowed the circle of humanity. We were told the whole matter was settled and would soon pass from our minds; 20 years later it tears at our souls.... How can we justify writing off the unborn child in a country that prides itself on leaving no one out and no one behind?

The award for Governor Casey was presented by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Harrisburg at a separate formal ceremony. The bishop also gave Ellen Casey a portrait of St. Thomas More. Governor Casey and St. Thomas More provide inspirational lessons for the members of the St. Thomas More Society and all other Catholic lawyers, lawmakers and public leaders, said Jerry Mackarevich, the society’s president.

We can learn that when you go into the public arena you don’t have to leave your faith behind, he said. And Governor Casey did not leave his faith behind. He proclaimed his Catholic faith in everything he did. That is really what the Fidelis Award is all about.

Dialogue Studies Primacy, Conciliarity

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation continued discussions about authority and governance in the church at a three-day session in Crestwood, N.Y., in June. Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh and Catholic Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati co-chaired the meeting on June 6-8 at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. In addition to their theological discussions, focusing on questions of primacy and conciliarity, the theologians and church leaders exchanged information on recent major events in the lives of their churches.

Among topics discussed at the June session were the definitions of the primacy of the bishop of Rome by the First Vatican Council in 1870, a statement in 1875 by the German bishops on episcopal powers and Orthodox encyclicals of 1848 and 1895 expressing Orthodox views on the actions and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church during that period.

Zimbabwe Archbishop Ready to Become Martyr

Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, said he would rather die than stay silent in the face of widespread human rights abuses in his country. I am ready to stand before a gun and be shot, Archbishop Ncube told Britain’s Channel 4 News in an interview from Vatican City. The archbishop, a longtime critic of President Robert Mugabe, said the president should be arrested and tried before an international court for destroying shantytowns and leaving some 275,000 poor Zimbabweans homeless in an attempt to force the residents to return to rural areas. Mugabe’s Operation Drive Out Trash has been widely condemned by Zimbabwean church leaders and the international community. Archbishop Ncube’s interview with the television station came after the African Union rejected calls from Britain and the United States to intervene in the crisis.

Free Prayerbook for Military Personnel

A Boston College Jesuit, Daniel R. Sweeney, has compiled a pocket-size book of prayers and catechism lessons specifically for men and women serving in the military. The 64-page waterproof booklet is designed to fit in the pocket of a battle dress uniform. Now in its third edition, it is being distributed free of charge by the Knights of Columbus in conjunction with the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. In a news release about the prayer book, titled Armed With the Faith: A Catholic Handbook for Military Personnel, Father Sweeney said he hoped the book will meet demand among military personnel to understand better the teachings and traditions of the Catholic faith in a manner that directly addresses the realities of military life. The book includes prayers, devotions, sacramental theology, catechetical information and hymns, along with a brief outline of just war theory in the Catholic tradition.

New Auxiliary Ordained for Shanghai

A 42-year-old Chinese priest who has studied in the United States was ordained auxiliary bishop of Shanghai on June 28. A statement from the New York-based Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, whose superior general attended the ordination, said Bishop Joseph Xing Wenzhi was ordained with the approval of the Holy See and is duly recognized by the local government authorities responsible for religious affairs in China. It said Bishop Xing was in line to succeed Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai, the government-approved bishop of Shanghai, and Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, head of Shanghai’s underground Catholic community. Bishop Jin, 89, presided at the liturgy until the episcopal ordination was over, then Bishop Xing carried on as presider, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. Bishop Jin appeared at the end of the liturgy to be unwell; he was led away in a wheelchair and did not join the subsequent banquet.

German Cardinal Hails Pope’s Synagogue Visit

Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to visit a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, during his visit for World Youth Day is an important gesture for a German-born pope to make, said Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne. During a press conference at Vatican Radio on July 5, the cardinal confirmed that Pope Benedict would visit the synagogue during his stay in Germany on Aug. 18-21.

With a German pope visiting his homeland for the first time and during the year marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, which has left its traces, the pope’s decision to accept the invitation of the Cologne Jewish community was important, the cardinal said. The Holocaust is still a bleeding wound in Germany. This is a very important gesture, Cardinal Meisner said.

The gathering for World Youth Day in Cologne is intended to be a great moment, especially for the church in Germany: an expression of joy and hope, remembering the past but looking to the future.

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