NEWS:  March 15, 2000

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

THE POPE'S VENGEANCE - It seems that John Paul II has managed to score a victory over the wing of Cardinals opposed to the pan-religious millennium festivities. The position of this wing, more prudent with regard to ecumenism, would explain why the inter-confessional meeting in Rome (October 24-29, 1999) did not have the hoped-for success and publicity, a fact already noted in this column (January 31). However, on January 18 of this year, the Pope seems to have taken his vengeance, with a solemn "opening of the doors," this time at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, at which many representatives of the so-called Christian religions were present. Looking very energetic and healthy, despite the rumors circulating days before to the contrary, he closed his homily crying "Unity! Unity!" which was echoed back by those present. These were his words: "'Unity, Unity!' That cry, which I heard in Bucharest during my visit, comes back strongly to me now like an echo - 'Unity, Unity!' - in the cries of the people gathered for this ceremony: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Evangelicals, all together crying: 'Unity!'" After this somewhat theatrical scene (Wojtyla was defined by his friend André Frossard as principally a man of theater), he suggested "Perhaps we can now leave this basilica shouting [again], 'Unity! Unity!'"

A dispatch of Catholic World News (January 18, 2000, Internet site) reports that the Pontiff "was assisted by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and by the Orthodox Metropolitan Athanasius of Heliopolis, the representative of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, as he pushed open the Holy Door. More than 50 representatives of other Christian churches assisted in the ceremony. After opening the door, Pope John Paul entered the basilica alone, carrying the book of the Gospel. He was soon followed by representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the World Lutheran Federation."

After the Pope's homily, the representatives of the religions exchanged the "kiss of peace." The ceremony concluded with a "profession of common faith," which was recited in Greek, Latin and German by the representatives of the Greek Schismatic Patriarch of Alexandria, the Schismatic Patriarch of Romania, and the President of the Protestant Union of Utrecht.

The expression "profession of common faith" is perplexing, since it is known that the 50 representatives of the false religions who were present deny a large part of Catholic dogma. It is also disconcerting to see the increasing frequency of interconfessional ceremonies. Until 1983, the year when the new Code of Canon Law was promulgated, those who participated in sacred ceremonies with schismatics, heretics, Jews or pagans were automatically considered "suspect of heresy." The canons that regulated this sentence reflected the dogmatic past of the Church and her centuries-old jurisprudence in punishing transgressors. What should one think about events like these today, when we see a Pope doing exactly what had always been condemned? Who is wrong? The perennial teaching of the Church which condemned the communicatio in sacris [communication with heretics in religious ceremonies]? Or the present day Pontiff who is acting in an opposite way?

CHINESE UNDERGROUND CATHOLICS DELIVERED TO THE WOLVES - The periodical Adista (Rome, January 8, p. 8) reported: "'I realized with joy that you wanted to offer, as a precious gift for the celebration of the Grand Jubilee, unity between you and the Successor of Peter. Such a proposal can only be the fruit of the Spirit, which is leading your Church over the difficult roads of reconciliation and unity.' With this affirmation, contained in his Letter to the Catholics of China, John Paul II implicitly announced the establishment of diplomatic relations with China." This report, which the Vatican Press Office did not deny, also appeared in Chinese newspapers. According to the South China Morning Post (December 15), the Vatican would be disposed to send a representative sometime early in the year 2000. In exchange for this acknowledgment, the Vatican would end relations with Taiwan, which would be reduced to a simple Chinese diocese.

In addition to stimulating the West to deliver Taiwan, an anti-Communist stronghold, into the mouth of the wolf, there is the shameful position of the Holy See in face of the heroic Chinese "Church of the Catacombs," which counts millions of Catholics faithful to the Pope. The core of discord of true Catholics with Chinese Communism is that the "Church of the Catacombs" will not accept the regime or the "Catholic Patriotic Association" made up of false bishops and priests who collaborate with Communism. The underground Church has remained faithful to traditional Catholic doctrine and has been persecuted for precisely this reason.

The Vatican ordered the Bishop of Macao, the Portuguese possession that was delivered to China last December 20, to enter into contact with the Chinese "Church of the Catacombs" to convince Catholics to accept the agreement with the Communist regime. There has been no news about the reaction of Catholics to the visit. The members of the underground Church understandably fear that the establishment of diplomatic relations will increase the persecutions.

The irony of the situation is that after everything was prepared in the Vatican for the handing over of the underground Church, the abandonment of Taiwan and the establishment of diplomatic relations, the Chinese government ordered the "consecration" of new "bishops" of the Patriotic Association in China on precisely the same day (January 6) on which John Paul II consecrated new bishops in the Vatican. In addition to this, the government apprehended Archbishop John Yang Shudao of the underground Catholic Church, as had been feared, increasing to eight the number of imprisoned prelates (ABC News, February 14, Internet site).

SIGN OF THE FUTURE? - For two days last December, the Monastery of the Annunciation in Goiás (Brazil) hosted participants of the third national conference of the Assembly of the People of God. The conference brought together Catholics as well as representatives of two so-called Christian religions, an indigenous cult, two Afro-Brazilian fetishist cults (Umbanda and Candomblé - animist cults that adore the devil) and Kardecist spiritism. On the first morning, those present, accompanying a tribal dance led by an Indian chief, invoked the "Da-ê-nitê," the "spirit of love that governs the universe, so that it might cure the wounded land threatened by destruction." That evening, the Umbanda representative guided the assembly in a session to invoke "protector spirits." Later, all participated in a Cadomblé celebration, a dance that invoked the divine energy of the entire universe. Finally, on Sunday morning, those present participated in a eucharistic celebration "presided over" by Friar Marcelo, Prior of the Monastery, with the poor of the region present. The Assembly voted to protest the ceremonies scheduled to take place April 22 commemorating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese. The participants saw in the Portuguese presence in Brazil not a benefit to civilize the people, but an act of "exploitation." It also expressed the conviction that "God reveals Himself in a diversity of cults, beliefs, cultures and traditions." The meeting counted upon the support of Bishops Eugenio Rixen (present), Pedro Casaldáliga and José Maria Pires (by letter) (Adista, January 8, p. 11). The conference of Goiás is an interesting example of the direction ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue is heading.

URGENCY - "We cannot afford to wait for theological and liturgical unity to join with each other with renewed fervor in addressing the injustices that so deeply wound so many in our society," Cardinal Mahony said at a January 23 ecumenical service at the First African Methodist Episcopal church in Los Angeles. He also affirmed that achieving Christian unity should be approached with a sense of urgency, "The Gospel itself compels us; the spirit of Christ impels us." (The Tidings, January 28, 2000) It remains to be known what exactly it is that is pressuring Mahony to demand this rush. Would it be love for ecumenism? Or some obstacle that is growing and threatens to thwart the process?

"CATHOLIC DIVORCE" - Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, MI, commanded the priests of all 109 parishes of the diocese to play a taped message at the end of each Mass in December. In it, the Bishop referred to brochures available in every parish that describe the steps the diocese has taken to simplify the procedure to obtain a decree of nullity of marriage. The brochures also explain how people can initiate the process. Last July 1, the tribunal eliminated the $300 requested fee for the process. Further, the diocese has done away with a lengthy questionnaire by establishing a team of nearly 40 lay people to personally interview and walk through the process with those seeking a decree of nullity. One source close to the bishop said it is hoped that the changes will decrease the time for getting annulments (National Catholic Reporter, January 14, p. 9). These kinds of measures are being taken everywhere in the world by the initiative of ecclesiastic authorities and with the complaisance of Rome. It is tantamount to introducing divorce, while in theory divorce is still condemned. The Italian press is already calling this practice "Catholic divorce."

FORGOTTEN - Bishop Paride Taban of Torit (Sudan) feels as though the world has forgotten his country. He has seen the United States, NATO and the United Nations respond to conflicts in Kuwait and Kosovo, but not to his northeast African nation that is suffering from a drawn-out civil war. Civilian population are bombed, Catholics are enslaved and forced to adopt Islam, and the Church is persecuted, yet hardly anyone pays attention. "Without the efforts of the international community," he pointed out, "communism would still dominate the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. But there are few efforts in regard to Sudan." (The Tidings, February 11, 2000).



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