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Founder of Focolare Movement Dies at 88

Chiara Lubich, the 88-year-old founder and perpetually smiling symbol of the Focolare movement, died early March 14 after what Pope Benedict XVI said was “a long and fruitful life” marked by her love for Jesus. Lubich died in her room near the Focolare headquarters in Rocca di Papa, south of Rome. In a telegram, Pope Benedict offered his condolences to her family, members of the Focolare movement and all those “who appreciated her constant commitment for communion in the church, for ecumenical dialogue and for brotherhood among all peoples.” The pope also expressed his thanks to God “for the witness of her life spent in listening to the needs of contemporary people in full fidelity to the church and to the pope.” Pope Benedict asked that all those who admired “the marvels that God worked through her” would follow in her footsteps, keeping her vision alive. Lubich’s funeral was scheduled for March 18 at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., the Vatican secretary of state, presiding.

Knights of Malta Elect New Grand Master

In a secret and swift election, the Knights of Malta elected an Englishman as their 79th grand master. Matthew Festing, who had been the Knights’ grand prior of England, was chosen March 11 to replace Andrew W. N. Bertie, who died in February. Festing, 59, will head the world’s oldest chivalric order, founded in the 11th century. Known officially as the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the organization was established to care for pilgrims during the Crusades. It lives on today as a lay Catholic religious order and a worldwide humanitarian network. The order is also a sovereign state, holding observer status at the United Nations and maintaining diplomatic relations with 100 countries. Festing, an expert in art and history, joined the Knights in 1977 and in 1991 became a “professed” knight, taking religious vows. He is a descendent of Blessed Adrian Fortescue, a Knight of Malta who was martyred in the 16th century.

CARA Surveys Catholic Lenten Practices

While a majority of U.S. Catholics say they abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, slightly less than half follow other customary Lenten practices. Sixty percent said they do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but only 45 percent said they typically receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. A slightly smaller percentage, 44 percent, said that besides giving up something, they do something positive during Lent, like giving money to the needy or trying to be a better person. Only 38 percent said that besides meat on Fridays, they give up or abstain from something else during Lent. Stronger adherence to those Lenten practices was seen in 9 out of 10 Catholic adults who said they attend Mass at least weekly.

The findings, released March 11, come from a survey of 1,007 randomly selected, self-identified Catholics ages 18 or older conducted between Feb. 1-20 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington, D.C. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Chaldean Bishop Decries Murder in Mosul

A Chaldean bishop said the United States must be held accountable for the death of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq. Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim of the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based in Southfield, Mich., said that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush in particular is responsible for the terrorism and killing of Christians in Iraq. He said the administration is ignoring the problem. “No one is defending us,” he said March 13, the day the archbishop’s body was recovered after kidnappers revealed where they had buried him. “They are killing Christians because they are Christians.” Bishop Ibrahim said the kidnapping on Feb. 29 and the subsequent death of the archbishop threw into question the destiny of Christians in Iraq. Three of the archbishop’s companions were also killed.

First Catholic Church Opens in Qatar

The March 14 inauguration of the first Catholic church built in predominantly Muslim Qatar “is a sign of great hope for the church” in the region, said the new church’s pastor, Tomasito Veneracion, a Filipino Capuchin priest who is the new pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church. He told Aid to the Church in Need that the construction and opening of the new church was a “historic event.”

For decades, Christians in Qatar had to practice their faith in cramped garages, private homes and, most recently, in foreign schools and prefabricated halls. In April 2003 the government of this tiny Persian Gulf nation overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that guarantees freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association; and the status of local mission parishes went from being underground but tolerated to being legally recognized. Aid to the Church in Need is a Catholic organization that funds religious projects worldwide, including the construction of the church in Qatar.

Rabbi Expects Statement on Good Friday Prayer

Jewish leaders have been assured that the Vatican secretary of state will issue a statement in March saying that the pope’s revised prayer for Good Friday for the Tridentine rite is not a call for Catholics to try to convert Jews. Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, said March 13 that the statement would “allow the vast majority of Jews involved in dialogues with Catholics to re-engage as before.” Representatives of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel had been scheduled to be in Rome March 9-12 for their regular dialogue with the Vatican. However, the rabbis asked for a clarification from the Vatican about the prayer and postponed their trip. Pope Benedict XVI’s revision of the Good Friday prayer applies only to the liturgy celebrated according to the 1962 Roman Missal, the so-called Tridentine rite. The new prayer removed 1962 language referring to the “blindness” of the Jews, but it prays that Jews will recognize Jesus, the savior, and that “all Israel may be saved.”

Sainthood Cause for McGivney Progresses

The sainthood cause of the founder of the Knights of Columbus has taken a major step forward. On March 15 Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree of “heroic virtues” for the Rev. Michael McGivney, a U.S. priest who, after establishing the Knights of Columbus, worked as a pastor until his death at age 38. Father McGivney can be beatified if a miracle is attributed to his intercession. Canonization, the declaration of sainthood, requires an additional miracle. Supporters of Father McGivney’s cause are hoping he will be the first U.S.-born priest to be canonized. Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., in 1882. The fraternal order of Catholic men has become the largest lay Catholic organization in the world, with more than 1.7 million members. It sponsors a wide range of educational, charitable and religious activities.

Retiring Patriarch Affirms Holy Land’s Vocation

Michel Sabbah, the retiring Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, in a farewell pastoral letter March 1, declared that God “wanted to manifest himself [in the Holy Land] not just to one people, but to the whole of humanity.” Though small in number, he said, Christians are not condemned to “a diminished life on the margins.” They share in the mystery of Christ and “remain with him on Calvary;” yet they are called to take an active part in the troubled life of their society and “bring a vision of faith to all events.” Along with the unrelenting Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and East Jerusalem, Patriarch Sabbah cited several challenges facing the Holy Land’s Christians: the temptation to emigrate, failure to update the Status Quo (the agreement governing use of the Holy Places), extremist religious movements (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) and the promotion of interfaith dialogue.

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