Pope's tribute to Cardinal Van Thuan
"Heroic herald of the Gospel of Christ"
Pope John Paul II presided on 20 September in St Peter's Basilica at the funeral of Vietnamese Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who died on 17 September at age 74 after a long struggle with cancer. The Requiem Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, together with other cardinals.
A delegation from the Church in Vietnam, headed by the president of the Espicopal Conference, Bishop Paul Nguyen Van Hoa, also participated in the Mass.
In his homily the Holy Father recalled that when the Cardinal preached spiritual exercises to the Roman Curia in 2000, he recounted that, during the 13 years he spent in prison, "he understood that the foundation of Christian life is 'to choose God alone,' abandoning oneself completely into His fatherly hands. We are called, he added in light of his personal experience, to announce to everyone the 'Gospel of hope.' And he specified that only with the radicalness of sacrifice can this vocation be fulfilled, even in the midst of harsher trials."
John Paul II said that "while we say goodbye for the last time to this heroic herald of the Gospel of Christ, we give thanks to the Lord for having given us in him a brilliant example of Christian coherence to the point of martyrdom ...".
Vatican Information Service
Increasing numbers of US seminarians
Trend towards younger candidates
More than 3,400 men are studying for the diocesan priesthood in the United States this academic year, the bishops' conference says.
The number includes students in college-level seminaries and postgraduate studies. But it does not include men studying for religious congregations, which account for almost a third of the priests in the country.
Reports indicate that after a recent history of older seminarians, the average age of those entering now appears to be lower.
In the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, which has 22 seminarians, the five new men entering the college-level seminary are either 18 or 19 years old. The Diocese of Boise, Idaho, welcomed ten new men, six of whom just finished high school.
The Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, also notices a shift toward the younger candidate. Two years ago the diocese had one traditional college-age seminarian in its formation program. This year it has eight.
Many dioceses note an increasing number of men studying for the priesthood.
The Indianapolis Archdiocese, with 24 seminarians, has the largest number of men studying since 1998. It recently ordained eight men, its largest group since 1974. The Diocese of Orlando, Florida, has 19 men studying for the priesthood, the largest number since 1995.
The total number studying for the priesthood in the United States, including religious, was estimated at 5,109. India leads the world with 10,537 diocesan and religious students of philosophy and theology for a Catholic population less than one- third of that in the United States.
Zenit News Agency
Anglican split likely over 'gay' issue
Warning from Archbishop of Canterbury
The Church of England is on the brink of a split over the issue of homosexuality, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has warned.
Liberal bishops, he said, were undermining the Anglican community flouting the agreed position of the Church. These divisions had reached "crisis proportions" and there was a "serious possibility" of two or more distinct Anglican bodies emerging.
In his final address in September as president of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Archbishop said the issue of unity was his "greatest worry." He said, "my concern is that our Communion is being steadily undermined by dioceses and individual bishops taking unilateral action, usually - but not always - in matters to do with sexuality."
The adoption of "local options", had been "going for some 30 years but in my opinion is reaching crisis proportions today" with "scarcely a week" going by "without some report reaching me of clergy teetering on the brink of leaving the Anglican Communion ...".
The Rev David Banting, the national chairman of Reform, the conservative evangelical network of 1,600 lay and clergy members in the Church of England, praised the Archbishop for "finally saying what we have been saying for 10 years."
Rev Banting told the BBC there was deep concern about the views of Archbishop Rowan Williams - Carey's appointed successor - on homosexuality and the growing number of other bishops who are sympathetic towards gay Christian groups. "We are saying that enough is enough. In this battle for the soul of the Anglican Church, there is going to be a very significant realignment between orthodox believers and liberals."
Catholic World News
Restorations to Shroud of Turin completed
Dossier of digital information sent to Vatican
The figure of the crucified man imprinted on the Shroud of Turin can now be more clearly seen, following its restoration by experts.
At the official presentation of the restored shroud on 21 September, Cardinal Severino Poletto, Archbishop of Turin, explained that the purpose of the work was to guarantee the conservation of the cloth. The work involved the removal of patches sewn on the shroud 470 years ago.
The restoration of the shroud, in which according to tradition the body of Christ was wrapped after the crucifixion, was carried out last June and July in the sacristy of the Turin cathedral. Work was done by a team headed by Swiss expert Mechtild Flury- Lemberg, former director of the Abegg Museum in Berne.
Thirty triangular patches, sewn by nuns of Chambery, France, in 1534, after a fire damaged the relic in 1532, were removed from the shroud.
Also removed was the "Holland cloth" sewn on the reverse of the shroud 450 years ago to preserve it. The work also enabled the removal of dust and debris that had accumulated on the cloth over the centuries. All the material removed has been catalogued and placed in safekeeping.
The restoration resulted in a lot of digital information. For the first time, both sides of the Shroud of Turin have been reproduced on computers. Cardinal Poletto said a dossier will be sent to the Vatican, which could then call for further scientific studies of the shroud.
A 1988 carbon-14 study, carried out in laboratories of Oxford (England), Tucson (Arizona) and Zurich (Switzerland), concluded that the shroud was made in the Middle Ages. Numerous scientists, however, challenged this view.
The Catholic Church has made no pronouncements on its origin. When John Paul II visited the relic in May 1998, he said: "As it is not a matter of faith, the Church has no specific competence to pronounce itself on these questions. It entrusts the task of research to scientists, to arrive at appropriate answers for questions related to this cloth ...".
Zenit News Agency
Neocatechumenal Way members meet Pope
"A providential response to an urgent need"
On 21 September, John Paul II received catechists and priests of the Neocatechumenal Way, headed by its founders Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez.
"How can we not thank the Lord for the fruits brought about by the Neocatechumenal Way in its more than 30 years of existence," said the Pope at the beginning of his speech. "In a secularised society ... where religious indifference is pronounced ... there are so many who need to discover once again the sacraments of Christian initiation, especially baptism. The Way is without a doubt a providential response to this urgent need."
He referred to the recent approval of the statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way: "I want to emphasise the importance of these statutes ... for the present and future life of the Neocatechumenal Way" which "must be 'a clear and secure rule of life' ... so that this process of formation, the goal of which is to bring the faithful to a mature faith, is carried out adequately with the doctrine and discipline of the Church."
"The approval of the statutes," he said, "opens up a new chapter in the life of the Way. The Church now expects from you an even stronger and more generous dedication to the new evangelisation and in service to the local Church and parishes."
Vatican Information Service
World Council of Churches in crisis
Orthodox Churches call for reforms
At its latest meeting, ending on 3 September, the World Council of Churches' Central Committee looked for ways to put an end to two crises, one dealing with finances and the other dealing with the role of the member Orthodox churches.
The WCC, founded in 1948, is a fellowship of denominations, now numbering 342, from virtually all Christian traditions. The Catholic Church is not a member, though it maintains relations of dialogue and cooperation.
A WCC economic report revealed a deficit of about 4 million Euro in 2001, due to the lack of financial support by more than half its member institutions. From the start, almost 96 per cent of the WCC budget has been covered by 13 Protestant denominations of Northern Europe.
The financial crisis is a symptom of much deeper problems.
On the one hand, many Protestant denominations are now tending toward fundamentalism. They do not participate in the WCC and show no interest in ecumenism.
On the other, Orthodox churches, citing their theological and ecclesiological differences with Protestant denominations, have threatened to leave the WCC if no changes are forthcoming.
In this connection, an important step was taken on 2 September when the Central Committee announced the renewal of the WCC's "structure, style and ethos," to respond to Orthodox requests.
Zenit News Service
Moscow Patriarch on meeting the Pope
Demands certain conditions to be met first
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II has once again stated that he is willing to meet with Pope John Paul II - provided that Vatican agrees to his long-standing conditions.
Father Vsevolod Chapline, the spokesman for the Patriarchate of Moscow, made the formal statement: "Alexei II is ready to meet John Paul II in a neutral country, on the condition that the current problems between the two churches are resolved."
In his statement - made during an interview with Russian reporters in September - Father Chapline did not respond to Rome's urgent demands for a halt to the expulsion of Catholic priests from Russia. His Vatican counterpart, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, had said that Catholics face "veritable persecution" in that country, after five priests were forced to leave.
Father Chapline said that Slovenia would be one excellent example of a "neutral" country in which a meeting between Patriarch Alexei and Pope John Paul could take place. Slovenia, he observed, enjoys warm relations with both Moscow and Rome.
However, he insisted that no "summit meeting" could take place until the Moscow patriarchate receives satisfactory responses to its demands that Catholics cease "proselytism" in Russia and other traditionally Orthodox countries.
Catholic World News
African bishops reject homosexual adoption
"Violently contradicts the African sensibility and scale of values"
The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar rejected the adoption of minors by homosexual couples, a move recently authorised by a judge in South Africa.
The African bishops said the judge's ruling was "contrary to natural law and to the universal view of marriage."
The decision "not only violently contradicts the African sensibility and scale of values" but also implied "evident contempt for the faith of the greater part of Africans: belonging to traditional religions, Christians of all confessions, and Muslims."
The bishops pointed out that "conjugal love, unity and complementarity in the diversity of the sexes are natural instruments of a healthy and balanced education of a child."
While there should be no discrimination against homosexuals, this did not imply they should be entrusted with the formation of children.
Zenit News Agency