Christians Flee Sectarian Violence in Iraq
Half of all Iraqi Christians have fled their country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, said the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad. Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad, a Chaldean Catholic, said that before the invasion there were about 1.2 million Christians in the predominantly Shiite Muslim state. Since then the overall number has dropped to about 600,000, he said. What we are hearing now is the alarm bell for Christianity in Iraq, the bishop said. When so many are leaving from a small community like ours, you know that it is dangerousdangerous for the future of the church in Iraq. The bishop said 75 percent of Christians from Baghdad had fled the capital to escape the almost daily outbreaks of sectarian violence. Since the beginning of the war, the number of Chaldean Catholics, who make up the country’s most numerous Christian denomination, had dropped below half a million from 800,000, he said. Many sought new lives mostly in the neighboring countries of Syria, Jordan and Turkey, he added. Bishop Abouna thought it unlikely that many of those who had emigrated would return. The bishop spoke from Iraq on Aug. 1 with Aid to the Church in Need UK, a Catholic charity that supports the Chaldean Catholic community in Iraq. About 97 percent of the country’s total 27 million Iraqis are Shiite and Sunni Muslims; Christians make up the majority of the remaining 3 percent. The Chaldean Catholics speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
Japan’s Catholic Bishops on Peace
Japan’s Catholic bishops strongly oppose efforts under way to change their nation’s constitutional renunciation of warfare, the president of the bishops’ Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace said during a visit to Washington. In an interview on Aug. 2 with Catholic News Service, the council head, Auxiliary Bishop Michael Goro Matsuura of Osaka, said North Korean saber-rattling and pressures from the Bush administration were contributing to the erosion of the commitment to nonbelligerency that Japan has upheld as part of its constitution for the past 60 years. More people are beginning to think we should not have Article 9, he said, referring to the antiwar provision in the Japanese constitution. It says in part that the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.... The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. Bishop Matsuura said the closer collaboration of U.S. armed forces in Japan with the Japanese Self-Defense Force and other measures established by a U.S.-Japanese agreement last October threaten to draw the Self-Defense Force out of its traditional limited posturein which not a single Japanese soldier has killed or been killed in combat for more than 60 yearsinto a new posture as combatants in the global war on terrorism.
War Disrupts Schools in Lebanon
Instead of getting ready for a new school year, the head of the Jesuit-run College of Notre Dame in Jamhour, Lebanon, is sending students and alumni to help feed displaced people and filling out the papers parents need to enroll many of the students in schools abroad. Salim Daccache, S.J., rector of Notre Dame, said 200 students and alumni are in Beirut helping students and alumni at St. Joseph University, also conducted by the Jesuits, prepare and serve 1,000 hot meals each day for the displaced. In a telephone interview on Aug. 4, he said he would not be sending any students that day because overnight some bridges were bombed, so our links with Beirut have been destroyed. Notre Dame is located less than 10 miles southeast of Beirut. But the real problem is that it is less than a mile from a Lebanese army garrison, which also has attracted Israeli bombardment. No one has been injured at Notre Dame, he said, but many of the classrooms no longer have glass in the windows, and dozens of doors need to be repaired or replaced.
Volatility of Middle East Will Probably Continue
A cease-fire may stop the immediate destruction in Lebanon, but new wars are bound to erupt in the region as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, said a church expert on the Middle East. Samir Khalil Samir, S.J., an Egyptian-born expert on Islam who teaches in Beirut, Lebanon, said a long-term solution to the region’s problems must include Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state, Arab recognition of the state of Israel and the disarming of all militias, including the Lebanese-based Hezbollah. What is needed is the courage to find a definitive solution. This problem has been going on for decades, and it’s like a cancer that keeps changing forms, Father Samir wrote in a commentary published on Aug. 5 by AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency. Father Samir said Hezbollah should have been disarmed years ago, in line with U.N. resolutions, but the organization has gained popular support largely because of the expansionist policies of Israel.
Closeness to Death Makes Orphans Tough
One thing the 186 students at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School in Nairobi have in common is that they’ve all watched at least one person dietheir mother, their father or both. Dying of AIDS is a variable processAIDS patients get different series of opportunistic infections, and no two people in a slum like Nairobi’s Kibera have exactly the same access to medical care. Still, losing parents, suffering through their family’s impoverishment, along with the fear and stigma associated with AIDS, is a powerful bonding experience for the orphans at St. Aloysius. It makes them tough. In Kibera, most children are really suffering, said Vincent Odiambo, a St. Aloysius student who wants to become a journalist. Once you lose your parents, you don’t know where to go. If he were writing for a newspaper, Odiambo said, he would want to tell delegates to the XVI International AIDS Conference on Aug.13-18 in Toronto about stigma and discrimination.
Exhibit Highlights Women Religious as Pioneers
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is putting together an exhibit titled Pioneers, Poets and Prophets to tell the story of the impact that more than 220,000 women religious have had on the United States since before it was an independent nation. In 1727, the first missionaries, nine Ursuline sisters, arrived in New Orleans from France. Sister Carole Shinnick, a School Sister of Notre Dame and L.C.W.R.’s executive director, said the exhibit will educate and celebrate and also refute stereotypes some people have about nuns. She said it will educate people, for example, about the brave missionaries who helped shape the United States, the sisters who have been leaders in the women’s rights movement and those who are advocates for the poor. Fewer and fewer persons have direct experiences with religious. When you don’t know the information, stereotypes arise. We hope to address stereotypes about sisters, Sister Carole said in an interview with Catholic News Service.
Still Something to Sing About
Music ministers should focus on building bridges and creating unity, speakers said at the western regional convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in Sacramento, Calilf., on Aug. 1-4. The principle that all are one in the body of the Lord is more important than cultural, ideological, musical or liturgical differences, they said. We need to resist going down the black hole of anger regarding how we translate our texts, what we will sing or which musical styles are most appropriate for our Masses, said the liturgical composer David Haas in an opening keynote address on Aug. 1. We still have something wonderful to sing about: God is still here, calling all of us to receive what we have been given from God as gift and give it back lavishly in service to the Lord and one another, he added.
Catholic Charities Shifts Focus of Adoption Activities
Catholic Charities of San Francisco, Calif., announced on Aug. 2 that it would no longer be involved in the child adoption activities of home studies, family and child matching, adoptive placements or finalizations, the last formal step of the adoption process. Instead, it said, its adoption-related efforts and resources will shift to education, outreach, information-sharing and linking prospective adoptive parents to county and private adoption agencies. The shift allows the agency to continue promoting adoption without entering areas of conflict between the church’s teaching against adoption by same-sex couples and civil laws requiring adoption agencies not to discriminate against such couples when placing adoptive children. San Francisco’s Archbishop George H. Niederauer, chairman of Catholic Charities, said in media interviews that he told board members in March that the agency could not be involved in direct adoptions, but he wished to find ways to serve the adoption community that were compatible with both Catholic moral teaching and the requirements of civil law.
African Priests Told to Stop Traditional Healing
Southern African bishops have told priests they can no longer act as traditional African healers. Priests must desist from ubuNgoma’ (traditional healing) practices involving spirits and channel their ministries of healing through the sacraments and sacramentals of the church, said the bishops of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which represents South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland. In a pastoral letter dated Aug. 11, the bishops expressed concern that many African Christians, during difficult moments in their lives, resort to practices of the traditional religion: the intervention of ancestral spirits, the engagement of spirit-mediums, spirit-possession, consulting diviners about lost items and about the future, magical practices and identifying one’s enemies. Fear of the spirit world is intensified instead of the love of the ever merciful God definitively revealed by Christ through his death and resurrection, they said. More disturbing is the fact that some priests, religious and lay Catholics have resorted to becoming diviner-healers and call on the ancestors for healing.
Willebrands, Ecumenical Leader, Dies at 96
Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, a driving force behind improved Catholic relations with other Christians and with Jews, died in Denekamp, Netherlands, on Aug. 2 at the age of 96. Pope Benedict XVI offered his prayers for the late cardinal, saying he humbly served Christ and worked tirelessly to fulfill Christ’s will that all his followers would be one. I give thanks to the Lord for all the work accomplished by the cardinal in ecumenical relations, of which he was an ardent promoter from the beginning of his priesthood and in an eminent way following the Second Vatican Council, the pope said in a telegram on Aug. 2 to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Attracted to the topic of ecumenism while still a seminarian in the 1920’s, Cardinal Willebrands was named the first secretary of the Vatican’s office for promoting Christian unity in 1960 and served as president of that office from 1969 to 1989. Before, during and after the Second Vatican Council, he also was instrumental in fostering improved relations with Jewish leaders. When the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews was established in 1974, he was appointed president. Simultaneously, Cardinal Willebrands served as archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands, from 1975 to 1983.
Grace Transformed Oklahoma City Bomber
When he ministered to Timothy McVeigh, known as the Oklahoma City bomber, Charles Smith, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, found that his faith, instilled in him by loving parents despite the childhood pain of discrimination, enabled him to be Christ’s representative even as the inmate verbally assaulted him. "When I first came in [to see him] I thought God is the owner of my life,’ and I went to him and he threw his feces on me and called me all types of names and said, You can’t be a priest because I’ve never seen a you-know-what as a priest,’" Father Smith said on Aug. 5. The devil was messin’ with me. He made the comments in a workshop he led during the 2006 Interregional African-American Catholic Evangelization Conference, which was held on Aug. 4-6 in Atlanta, Ga. Other priests and Southern Baptist ministers had previously worked - unsuccessfully - with the man found guilty of bombing the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 and murdering the 168 people who died from the blast. But Father Smith persevered in his ministry to McVeigh, and the convicted murderer, who was a baptized Catholic, began to repent. "He did a lot of things, but in the end we had confession, reconciliation. In the end he asked me a question a lot of people ask me. He asked, 'Father Charles, can I still get to heaven?’"