When Pope Benedict XVI welcomed into the Catholic Church a Muslim-born journalist who has often been critical of Islam, it was not a sign that the pope accepts everything the journalist believes, said the Vatican spokesman. The Italian journalist, Magdi Allam, “has the right to express his own ideas. They remain his personal opinions without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the pope or the Holy See,” said Federico Lombardi, S.J. Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, made his comments March 27 in response to a statement from Aref Ali Nayed, a spokesman for the 138 Muslim scholars who initiated the Common Word  dialogue project in October and who established the Catholic-Muslim Forum to promote dialogue with the Vatican in early March. Father Lombardi said baptism is a recognition that the person entering the church “has freely and sincerely accepted the Christian faith in its fundamental articles,” as expressed in the Creed.Iraqi Christians ‘Undergoing Calvary’
An English bishop asked Catholics in England and Wales to mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by praying for the Iraqi Christian community, which is “undergoing its own Calvary.” “In the midst of continuing conflict and instability, we should all reflect on the lessons that need to be learned and ask how we can contribute to creating a better future for Iraq,” said Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, England, chairman of the Department of International Affairs  of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales . “Above all, we need to remember the people of Iraq as they struggle to rebuild their country,” he said March 18. “In particular, we ask you to hold in your prayers the Christian community.” He said the plight of Iraqi Christians had been “brought home with terrible force” by the Feb. 29 abduction and murder of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq. “British military personnel, and the chaplains who accompany them, continue to serve with distinction, and they and their families are also in our prayers at this time,” he said.Russian Church Leaders Work for Better Relations
A working group of Russia’s Catholic and Orthodox churches has pledged to counter “media provocations” that could damage mutual relations. “Group members stressed the importance of exchanging information—they also noted an improvement of the climate, as shown by mutually friendly statements made about the faithful on each side,” said Catholic and Orthodox representatives in a March 28 statement. “The information climate can and should improve even further if unfriendly statements are avoided and if both sides oppose the provocations of certain media which seek to aggravate Orthodox-Catholic ties.” The group, chaired by the Rev. Igor Kovalevsky, secretary general of the Russian Catholic bishops’ conference, and the Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, the Russian Orthodox vice chairman of the external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, released the statement after the meeting in the city of Vladimir. It said Catholic and Orthodox representatives would ensure “maximum openness and interaction” in joint youth work, as well as “constant monitoring” of Catholic orphanages, which previously have been accused of “converting” Russian Orthodox children. The statement added that the six-member working group—launched in 2004 during a visit by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity —had acknowledged the “kind mutual relations” existing in Vladimir, where Catholic and Orthodox clergy cooperate on charitable and cultural projects. Interchurch ties have been strained in Russia since a demand was made in early December by Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s office for external relations, to downgrade the Catholic Church’s four dioceses in Russia.
Saudi King Explores Interreligious Dialogue
The importance of marriage, the family and the values needed to sustain family life can be an appropriate starting point for interreligious dialogue, said Gianfranco Grieco, a Franciscan priest who is an official of the Pontifical Council for the Family . He described as “interesting” the idea of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Aziz to initiate a dialogue with Muslims, Christians and Jews to defend the family, moral values and the importance of religion.
While Saudi Arabia is a strictly Islamic country in which the public practice of any other faith is illegal, King Abdullah announced March 24 that he had been consulting Muslim religious leaders about the possibility of inviting “all religions to sit together with their brothers, faithfully and sincerely, as we all believe in the same God” to discuss “the crisis all humanity is suffering in the current time.” The institution of the family has been “weakened and dismantled,” a lack of faith and religious practice has spread and “there is a lack of ethics, loyalty and sincerity,” he said.Health Care Reformers Face Competition
Health care reform must compete for attention from Congress along with the economic recession and the ongoing war in Iraq, said a Catholic Health Association  official. “It will be a battle” to keep health care needs for all Americans on the front burner, said Jeff Tieman, director of C.H.A.’s “Covering a Nation ” initiative. Tieman spoke March 13 to a group of editors of U.S. and Canadian Catholic publications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  headquarters in Washington, D.C. He said C.H.A.’s efforts to reform the health care system in the United States are defined in its newly released reform initiative, “Our Vision for U.S. Health Care .” The document establishes principles for reform and proposes that a reformed system should be “available and accessible to everyone” and should pay “special attention to the poor and vulnerable”; be oriented toward health and prevention “with the goal of enhancing the health status of communities”; be “sufficiently and fairly financed”; allocate resources in ways that are “transparent and consensus-driven”; put patients at the center of care, addressing “health needs at all stages of life from conception to natural death”; and deliver care safely and effectively and with the “greatest possible quality.”Hard to Connect Careers and Church Ministry
Although many young adult Catholics are interested in church ministry, they find it difficult to connect their career plans or talents with available ministries, according to a survey released this year. The survey, “Young Adult Catholics and Their Future in Ministry,” was commissioned by the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project , a joint project involving six national Catholic organizations and funded by the Lilly Endowment . A preliminary report on the survey of young adult Catholics will be the topic of an upcoming National Ministry Summit April 20-23 in Orlando, Fla. The summit, initially planned for 1,000 participants, recently was expanded to accommodate all who wish to attend. “The waiting list kept growing,” said Christopher Atkins, executive director for the National Association for Lay Ministry , one of the sponsoring groups of the project. He said the interest in discussing the survey’s results shows that it “struck a chord with the people who minister and those who plan for future ministry in the Catholic Church.”Maryland Legislature to Study Death Penalty
Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference , praised the Maryland General Assembly  for passing legislation to establish a commission that will study the death penalty in Maryland. The Catholic conference is the legislative lobbying arm of Maryland’s Catholic bishops. The House of Delegates passed its version of the bill March 21 by a vote of 89 to 48, and the Senate passed its version a day later 32 to 15. The two versions are expected to be reconciled soon, and Gov. Martin J. O’Malley is likely to sign the measure into law, Dowling said. The commission will be made up of people from both sides of the issue, and it is expected to include representatives from the state’s religious community. “We’re hopeful this commission will help remove the residual doubts about whether our justice system can be best served by repeal of the death penalty,” said Dowling. The commission is expected to hold regional hearings, and Dowling said he is “confident people and interests throughout the state will have their say.”Bishop Encourages Catholic Educators
Helping today’s youths grow more deeply in their faith is a key role for Catholic educators, Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., told participants at the annual National Catholic Educational Association  convention March 26 in Indianapolis. “How can we pass on the faith in a way that gives the children and grandchildren of today and tomorrow the same experience of God and of Christ and of the church that shapes our hearts?” he asked. The bishop cited a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life  that said 33 percent of all Catholic Americans have left the church. According to the study, 10 percent of all Americans identify themselves as former Catholics while 25 percent of all Americans between 18 and 29 have no religious affiliation. The study showed that those who left the church did so mainly from an apathy “that stems from a lack of knowledge about the faith,” Bishop Cupich said. He said this lack is due to the “collapse of the catechetical infrastructure.”Novelist Jon Hassler Dies at 74
A funeral Mass was celebrated March 27 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis for Jon Hassler , an award-winning novelist and emeritus professor of fiction at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. Hassler died at Methodist Hospital in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park on March 20, 10 days shy of his 75th birthday. He had suffered for more than a decade from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurological disorder that causes serious and permanent problems with control of gait and balance. Hassler had graduated from St. John’s in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He was writer in residence at the university from 1980 until his retirement in 1997. In a statement, Dietrich Reinhart, O.S.B., president of St. John’s, said Hassler was one of the nation’s “great storytellers,” and his themes were “about our struggles with choices between good and evil in their everyday manifestations.”
Professor Hassler had been notified in the week before his death that he had been named the recipient of The Catholic Book Club’s Campion Award for 2008 by the editors of America .Salesians to Increase Outreach to Families
In focusing on the education and evangelization of young people, the Salesians must also increase their outreach to families, Pope Benedict XVI said. “Caring for families will not take energy from your work on behalf of the young, but rather will make it more lasting and effective,” the pope said March 31 in a meeting with the 233 delegates to the Salesian general chapter. The chapter of the order, which has almost 16,000 members working in 129 countries, opened in Rome March 3 and was scheduled to conclude April 12. Pascual Chávez Villanueva, S.D.B., a Mexican Salesian priest elected March 25 to a second six-year term as superior of the order, told the pope the chapter members had been focusing on ways to strengthen their commitment to the vision of their founder, St. John Bosco, to serve God through educating the young, particularly the poor. The chapter delegates recognize the rapid changes in the world, he said, and know the order must learn to listen to young people and respond to their worries and hopes for the future. Thirty years ago, a Salesian general chapter launched Project Africa to pool worldwide Salesian resources to strengthen the order’s presence in Africa; Salesians now work in 42 African countries and have more than 1,200 members, mostly Africans, working on the continent, he said.Building Altar for Papal Mass an ‘Awesome’ Job
For Deacon Dave Cahoon, working at his St. Joseph’s Carpentry Shop on a quiet country road in Poolesville, Md., this year’s Holy Week was one like no other. “How awesome is this? It’s Holy Thursday, and I’m working on the altar for the Eucharist, for the papal Mass. How awesome is that?” he said, smiling. With a hammer and chisel, the carpenter worked on a long maple board for the base of the altar that Pope Benedict XVI will use for his April 17 Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Deacon Cahoon, who has worked as a carpenter for nearly three decades, has fashioned many church and home furnishings over the years at his shop, which includes a sawmill.