MAY 11, 2008, Vol 58, No 10

Pope Benedict went to America to heal and to unify

THE ENDURING IMPRESSION Pope Benedict XVI left with most Americans following his recent visit to Washington, D.C., and New York was of a pastor ministering to his flock. In repeated gestures, from meeting with the victims of sexual abuse to blessing the disabled and speaking with the survivors of the terrorist attacks of Sep 11, 2001, he showed his desire to heal those who are wounded and broken.

His numerous comments on sexual abuse by members of the clergy demonstrated awareness of the depth of the hurt to victims and their families as well as to the American Catholic Church as a whole. From his confession of shame to reporters during the flight to the United States to his spontaneous acknowledgment of his own human weakness at the Mass at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he signaled that like Peter, he is an ordinary Christian who struggles to be a disciple.

Though commentators have often depicted his German heritage as a source of rigidity and heavyhandedness, Benedict’s Bavarian "Gemütlichkeit" revealed itself with a relaxed smile, and it projected warm joy throughout his public appearances. His natural graciousness enabled him to look those he encountered in the eyes and to listen to them attentively. Though he is known to prefer more traditional liturgical styles himself, he appeared to relish the multilingual, multiethnic liturgical events prepared for him, which are so characteristic of the United States today. His prayer at ground zero was a gem of quiet commemoration, and the visit to the Park East Synagogue on the eve of Passover was a gesture of undiminished goodwill toward the Jewish community.

Just as he came to heal, Pope Benedict also came to unify. His homilies and addresses allowed no gloating by one church faction over another. In addressing the bishops, for instance, he balanced pro-life issues with social justice concerns. "Is it consistent," he asked, "to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practising Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and marginalized, to promote sexual behaviour contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of the human being from conception to natural death?" Though Pope Benedict’s critique of American culture – of individualism, secularism, materialism and the cult of untrammeled freedom – was clear, his reproof was consistently gentle: questioning rather than condemning, edifying rather than hectoring.

With his gentle voice and peaceful demeanor, Benedict did not fail to offer a prophetic word to the world. At the United Nations General Assembly, he upheld the necessity of the organization for the defense of human rights and gave new prominence to "the duty to protect", that is, the responsibility of the international community to intervene when a government either fails to protect its own people or is itself guilty of violating their rights. He made clear that the United Nations serves human solidarity by making the strong responsible for defending the weak.

Pope Benedict also extrapolated a seldom discussed teaching of Pope John XXIII in the encyclical Pacem in Terris – that the legitimacy of governments depends on their respect for and defense of the rights of their people. It is not "intervention", he argued, that should be interpreted as "a limitation on sovereignty", but rather "nonintervention" that causes harm out of indifference to the victims of oppression. With international missions foundering in long-lasting conflicts like those in Congo and Sudan, however, the pope’s remarks place the burden on the international community to build the capacity to deal with major humanitarian emergencies.

While Pope Benedict showed appreciation for American culture, especially for the flowering of liberty, and for U.S. Catholics, he also laid bare our temptations and failings. He spoke to young people about the "callousness of heart" that leads to "drug and substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, racism, violence and degradation – especially of girls and women". He also warned against relativism, "which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false and wrong", leading to "addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair...."

This portrait is unflattering. Americans may find it hard to look in the mirror Benedict held up to us. We may want to avert our eyes. But the challenge of the visit is to learn from Pope Benedict’s criticism as well as his praise, take it to heart and find new ways to redeem the shadow side of our American character. For, as he reminded us, with our eyes fixed on the saints whose lives enable us to "soar freely along the limitless expanse of the horizon of Christian discipleship", we too can live the Gospel life in 21st-century America. - America, Jesuit Magazine

 
LOOKING FOR SOME suggestions for what to get Mom this Mother’s Day? (It’s Sunday, May 11!) Here are a few ideas:

Anything the children make themselves. Except a mess.

An end to whatever battles siblings have been waging recently. Or even a truce.

Getting to sleep in. At least until 7.00am.

A nice family meal. That someone else prepares. And cleans up after. (Which certainly explains why taking Mom out to dinner is such a popular choice for many dads and children.)

Something Dad and the children really picked out together. Anything.

Someone doing a few loads of laundry. Keeping white and coloured clothes separate.

Her teen and adult children attending Mass with her. Oh, this warms a mama’s heart!

A phone call from a child who lives far away.

Any gift that isn’t expensive but has some thought behind it.

A smile, a hug, a kiss, a "thank you!" No, that’s not four items. It’s one, big, beautiful gift!

M is for the mornings she told me to get up and get ready for school because, despite my complaints, she just "knew" I wasn’t really sick. And I wasn’t.

 

O is for other children; she didn’t care what they had or did. "I" wasn’t going to get it or be allowed to do it. (As she often pointed out, "If all your friends jumped off a bridge ...")

 

T is for the times she kissed my "owies" and bandaged my scrapes, calmed my fears, gave me encouragement, built up my confidence and made snickerdoodles for the school bake sale.

 

H is for the hat she made me wear when the weather was bad even though it made me look so uncool.

 

E is for everything else she did for me. A long, long list known only to God.

 

R is for the reward she so richly deserves. One that’s so big it can’t possibly fit on this side of heaven.

Put them all together and they spell "love".

Lord, bless all mothers. Thank you for teaching us about divine love through a mother’s gentle kiss, about heavenly grace through a mother’s sure hands, about divine mercy through a mother’s forgiving tears. Bless all the women of faith, of hope and of love who have been a part of our lives. Amen. - By Bill and Monica Dodds

 

Bill and Monica Dodds are the editors of "My Daily Visitor" magazine. Monica’s latest book is "Praying in the Presence of Our Lord With St. Therese of Lisieux" (Our Sunday Visitor). Her website for Catholic caregivers is www.YourAgingParent.com.

SINGAPORE – "It’s not that easy," Archbishop Nicholas Chia said a number of times to an audience of about 30 young adults. The archbishop’s response was understandable given that many of the questions, suggestions and requests from the participants have no clear "yes" or "no" answer.

Archbishop Chia was engaged in a two-hour dialogue session titled "Face To Face With The Archbishop" held on Apr 24. It is the second in an ongoing series of dialogue sessions organized by CANA – The Catholic Centre.

The first session between Archbishop Chia and 40 Catholics from the diocese took place at CANA last November. Organizers kept the number small in order to make the session more personal.

"These sessions are held for him to be in touch with his people, and for his people to meet him in a nice, informal setting," explained Janet Lim, a full-time CANA volunteer. "We invited the youths and young adults because we kept hearing about them, but not from them."

Among the issues raised by participants prior to the session, chief among these focused on the lack of official Catholic response to the number of abortions conducted in Singapore, the state of the liturgy in parishes here, and the employment of more full-time workers in the diocese with market-rate salaries.

 

 

 

During the session itself however, the issue of employment of more lay workers, particularly full-time counsellors, dominated.

Adrian Lim, a counselling psychologist first raised the matter on the lack of Catholic counselling centres in Singapore.

"There are 170,000 Catholics in Singapore, based on the official Singapore statistics, which amounts to about 30,000 families in Singapore. But there is only one Catholic Family Service Centre (Marine Parade Family Service Centre) out of the 37 Family Service Centres," he claimed.

(A check by CatholicNews reveals that there are five centres in Singapore which offer counselling services by Catholics. These are Marine Parade Family Service Centre, Family Life Society, Beyond Social Services, and two branches of Morning Star Community Services.)

"Catholic couples are seeking help from non-Catholic/Christian counsellors who guide them to work out solutions that may not be in line with our Catholic teachings and values, such as divorce, abortion, and contraception," continued Mr Lim. He suggested that every parish should be transformed into a Family Service Centre with full-time counsellors employed.

Mr Lim also highlighted the lack of avenues for Catholics who are social workers, trained counsellors and professional psychologists to work in the diocese, citing examples of Catholics having to find employment in welfare organizations run by non-Catholic Christians such as the Methodist and Anglican dioceses, and by other religious organizations such as the Buddhist societies.

He challenged the Catholic archdiocese to change its mindset and start employing Catholic lay workers at market-rate salaries, rather than to rely too much on volunteers, dedicated as they may be.

"There are 60 lay counselling volunteers who have undergone five months’ basic lay counselling training, with 100 new students for this year," said Archbishop Chia. These counsellors are sent to 12 parishes in Singapore where counselling sessions are available free of charge to all.

In addition, there are four full-time therapists working in Family Life Society who are "adequately paid", revealed Archbishop Chia.

(CatholicNews later conducted its own check and learnt that when a person calls Family Life Society for counselling, an appointment can be made within a day or two on average. This confirmed that lay people were seeking counselling from non-Catholic counsellors not for the lack of Catholic counsellors working in the diocese.)

During the session, Archbishop Chia had offered a possible explanation. When it came to those who are seeking help, "it is a matter of faith", he said. "If you have the faith, you will want to seek help from the church. But if not, you will seek help elsewhere."

"In general, if they are Catholics, they should know that they can approach the priests for help," added Archbishop Chia.

According to Family Life Society’s Marketing Executive Nick Chui, the services of the volunteer counsellors in the 12 parishes are under-utilized, but not for the lack of publicity.

"Banners have been put up in every of the 12 parishes with lay counsellors. Each of the 30 churches in Singapore has received two or three posters that have been put up, and the services are frequently publicized in church bulletins, and on our website," he told CatholicNews.

When asked about the apparent lack of marketing of counselling services, Mr Chui offered this explanation: "People who are not in need of counselling will not notice the availability of counselling services, until they realize their need and would suddenly be more observant."

 

 

 

Lawrence Nonis, a parishioner from Church of the Holy Trinity, the archdiocese’s largest parish, pointed out that without sufficient full-time workers in the diocese, parishes have to rely largely on singles and those without families to care for, due to the lack of time and energy to volunteer in church after work and on weekends.

Archbishop Chia acknowledged that while there were a few parishes with full-time workers, the majority of parishes rely on volunteers. He said that this was a matter that needed to be looked into further. He added that each parish has a Parish Pastoral Council that needs to look at the good of the parish, decide if there is a need to employ staff, and determine their job scopes.

On higher salaries for church workers, Archbishop Chia said that it is more important to find people who are truly dedicated to the cause, than to find people who want to work in the church for the money.

John Sim, from the parish of the Holy Spirit, highlighted the importance of having "one or two permstaff" working in the area of liturgy and catechetics in every parish. They should be given proper formation and training.

This will ensure that what is carried out is in line with the church’s documents, so that "they do what ought to be done, not what they think should be done" as in the case of volunteer catechists and liturgists who have not received proper formation, he explained.

Archbishop Chia’s response was that volunteer catechists are required to undergo formation by the Catechetical Commission, and that it was the role of the parish priest (as Teacher of the Word) to ensure that what is being taught in catechism is in line with the teachings of the church. It is also his role (as Minister of the Sacraments) to ensure that proper liturgy is carried out in his parish.

 

 

 

Other suggestions raised by participants included:

Raising the age of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation from 15 years to 18 years;

Guiding young adults in their discernment of vocation (single, married, or religious) thereby helping them to find their vocation in life and in the church;

Increasing the number of venues for youth group retreats to be held;

Providing more avenues and opportunities for young adults to be involved in the church.

Mr Sim also raised the issue of the ambiguity of abstinence of meat on Fridays. He claimed that several priests in the diocese had spoken over the pulpit that Archbishop Chia has abolished the need for abstinence of meat on Fridays. He asked that the archbishop clarify this matter.

Archbishop Chia explained that Friday is a day of penance. This penance usually takes the form of abstinence of meat. But where this is not appropriate, such as when it inconveniences non-Catholic members of the family, some other form of penance may be substituted for it.

Archbishop Chia placed greater emphasis on the spirit of the law rather than on the letter of the law, giving the example that a person who abstains from meat on Friday but chooses to dine at a seafood restaurant instead is missing the point of the practice, which is about penance.

In his closing address, Archbishop Chia thanked the participants for their contribution and said that while some issues needed to be looked into further, "some have no immediate solutions". -By Daniel Tay

POPE BENEDICT SPENT three hours Apr 18 at the United Nations, addressing the General Assembly and U.N. staffers separately and holding private meetings with the organization’s top officials.

The visit to the United Nations helped to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The pope told the General Assembly that fundamental human rights "cannot be applied piecemeal" and cannot be denied or diminished because of "different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks".

And, he said, when human rights are violated it creates a breeding ground for violence.

"Indeed," he said, "the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace."

Pope Benedict visited the former World Trade Center towers in New York, where (left) he met family members of victims from the 2001 terrorist attacks and with those who were first responders to the disaster. He also prayed: "God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth.

"Turn to your way of love, those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred." n CNS photo

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI remembered Sister Maria Laura Mainetti, who was stabbed to death in 2000 by three young girls during a Satanic ritual in Italy.

After delivering the general audience in St. Peter’s Square Apr 9, the pope greeted the Daughters of the Cross and the laity that share the charism, "united today in the memory of Sister Maria Laura", who was murdered at the hands of three teenage girls in the small Italian town of Chiavenna.

The girls, two aged 17 and one 16, called Sister Maria Laura late Jun 6, 2000 telling her that one of them was pregnant and needed help. The sister responded positively. Upon arriving at the agreed location, the three grabbed her, stabbed her 19 times and stoned her.

Sister Maria Laura’s last words were that of a prayer to God asking for pardon for the three youth.

The Italian sister, said Pope Benedict XVI, "faithful to the total surrender of herself, sacrificed her life, praying for those who were beating her".

The Congregation for Saints’ Causes recognized the murder of the religious in March as martyrdom, thus advancing the cause for her beatification.

Teresina Mainetti was born in Colico, Italy, in 1939. She taught in the schools of her congregation, and at the moment of her death she was the superior of the community of the Daughters of the Cross at the Institute of Mary Immaculate in Chiavenna.

The girls, who at first said the murder was "a game", confessed later that it was a Satanic ritual.

Officials investigating the murder learned that the trio initially wanted to sacrifice a priest, Monsignor Ambrogio Balatti, archpriest of Chiavenna San Lorenzo, in their Satanic rite.

At that time, interest in Satanism and occultism had become a fad. Even dress, music and some books contributed to the spread of such a tendency.

Many young people followed more than anything out of a desire to call attention, to defy the rules. It found fertile ground in some because they were angry with God, perhaps because of personal problems.  Zenit

HONG KONG – According to official records compiled by Hong Kong diocese, the Catholic population of the special administrative region sat at about 248,000 at the end of 2007. However, this figure excludes the 100,000 or so Catholics among the migrant worker and expatriate population.

The vicar general of the diocese, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, said after adjustments including baptisms and deaths and the fact that about 20,000 have probably left Hong Kong, the real figure should be closer to 350,000.

Father Chan also noted that the last 20 years has seen a big increase in the numbers of baptisms each year in the diocese. The average numbers currently sits at around 4,000 and Amelia Kwan, the executive secretary of the Hong Kong Central Council of Catholic Laity, said in March that there has been a strengthening in the willingness of Catholics to publicly witness to their faith. n SUNDAY EXAMINER

THE SISTERS OF the Institute of the Canossian Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor have elected a new General Council which is representative of the global nature and outreach of the Canossian family. The council will serve the congregation throughout the world for the next six years.

The new Superior General, Sister Margaret Peter, is originally from India and was formerly the Provincial Superior in India South and Africa. She has been a General Councillor in Rome for the last six years. The Vicar General is Sister Anna Maria Babbini, originally from Italy, who has been the Provincial Superior of the Argentina-Paraguay Province.

There are three Councillors, one of whom is Sister Anne Tan, a Chinese Singaporean who has been the Provincial Superior in Singapore since 2003.

MAGDALENE WAS BORN in 1774 of a noble family in Verona, Italy. At the age of five, she lost her father. When she was seven, her mother remarried, leaving her to the care of a governess.

On May 8, 1808 she and a few companions began their ministry.

Magdalene died in 1835. She was beatified in 1941 and canonized in 1988.

THE CANOSSIAN SISTERS first arrived in Singapore in 1894.

They have been blessed with many local vocations. Today there are 56 Canossian sisters serving the Archdiocese of Singapore and two postulants training to be Sisters – by far the largest religious congregation in the country.

Their large numbers enable them to be engaged in various ministries. They serve in education (including a Hearing Impaired Learning Centre), adult faith formation, pastoral care of the sick and elderly, counselling, retreat and spiritual direction. The sisters in Singapore also conduct mission outreach and respond to contemporary needs including interreligious affairs, ecumenical concerns, and the AIDS, migrants, and prison ministries.

At the heart of their different ministries is the aspiration of their founder, St. Magdalene, "to make God known and loved". In the spirit of Christ crucified and risen, the sisters conduct their mission through a prophetic witness of a simple, humble and joyful life in community and service, with special attention to the poorest.

The sisters have touched and changed the lived of countless Singaporeans. If you are one of those fortunate persons and have a story that you would like to share, please email CatholicNews at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

SINGAPORE – The parishioners of Church of St. Stephen welcomed Father Joseph Kanappilly, 57, as its new assistant priest in a reception held in the parish canteen after the 10.00am Mass on Sunday Apr 20.

"He’s not very young," quipped parish priest Father John Khoo as he introduced the India-born Father Joseph to his parishioners. Born in 1951 and ordained in 1977 in the Diocese of Alwaye, Father Kanappilly is a pioneer in introducing Small Christian Communities in the dioceses that he has worked in, most notably the Diocese of Vijayapuram-Kottayam, which he now belongs to.

Father Joseph will also serve as chaplain to the Singapore Malayalam Catholic Community. He will be in Singapore for two years, subject to extension by his bishop.

The position of assistant priest has been vacant since former assistant priest Father Peter Lu passed away in March 2007.

The parish, which completed its renovation of the church building in October last year, has seen a return of parishioners who have previously been attending Mass at other nearby parishes. The spike in church attendance has Father Khoo considering a second Mass in English on Sunday mornings to meet the growing number of his parishioners. -By Daniel Tay

Total number of Catholics in 2008: 324,000 (including foreigners)

Local seminarians in formation: 8 (5 in the seminary and 3 on regency in the parishes)

There will be no ordination to the diocesan priesthood in the next 5 years.

Diocesan priests: 60

Priests from religious orders: 70

Total number of priests in active service: 130

Average age of priests: 55 years

Current ratio of priest to Catholics: 1:2500

To maintain the current ratio, we need 150 priests by 2018. But we might have only 80 in active service then.

SINGAPORE – This year’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations on Apr 12 started out on a serious note. Father Andrew Wong, parish priest of Church of the holy Spirit where the service was held, highlighted the shortage of priestly vocations. He provided statistics to drive home the point that priests seem to be an endangered species.

Father William Goh, Rector of St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary, thanked the 200 faithful who turned up this year for the service. He said that their presence showed that they cared, which was an encouragement as the priests at the seminary and the various vocation promotion teams often feel like lonely prophets trying to convince the archdiocese of the urgent need to promote vocations.

He gave two reasons why there appears to be a false sense of security among Catholics in the Archdiocese of Singapore – one, there are a number of Masses every Sunday with two to three priests serving each parish; two, the Catholic church seems vibrant.

He warned those present at the service not to be fooled and spoke about the consequences. One of these is that priests will be reduced to just being Ministers of the Sacraments as they will have no time to be teachers of the Word and leaders of the community; these roles will have to be outsourced to lay people.

Father William commented that Catholics are leaving the church once they are confirmed. The church is not as vibrant as it seems; out of the 324,000 Catholics in Singapore, about 174,000 are foreigners including the migrant workers. Take them away, and the church will be half-empty, he continued. The effects will only be seen in two generations’ time and by then, it will be difficult to reverse the trend, he said.

Following this homily, youths of the parish led the congregation in praise and worship, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for adoration, intercessory prayers were led by the Serra Club of Singapore and Vespers by seminarians; and Benediction was held.

Archbishop Nicolas Chia celebrated the sunset Mass and, in his homily, he advisd the youths to focus on what God wants them to do and not what they want or what their parents want for them. He encouraged families to create an atmosphere of faith as this will play a part to foster more vocations. He urged the faithful to continue to pray for more vocations and to serve in the parish vocation teams or in Serra Club.

A vocation prayer was then said to implore the Lord to conquer with the Holy Spirit the resistance and delays in indecisive hearts (of those called) and arouse in them the courage of love’s answer: "Here I am, send me!"

SINGAPORE – Events leading to St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary’s 25th Anniversary Celebrations on Dec 1 has begun.

At the end of Mass for the Apr 12 World Day of Prayer for Vocations at Church of the Holy Spirit, Archbishop Nicholas Chia unveiled and blessed the anniversary logo whose central figure is a priest in a white cassock and red stole with his hands raised to heaven in the posture of a cross. The priest represents Jesus, crucified on the Cross for all of us.

The priest evokes imagery of a Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community.

The red stole and the cross resemble the Major Seminary’s iconic tower, symbolizing the institution’s central role in forming and training priests for the Archdiocese of Singapore.

In the background, the stylized number ‘25’ marks the silver jubilee of the Seminary. The overall colour scheme is festive and reflects the liturgical colours of white, red and purple. Finally yellow signifies the Light of Christ radiating from the Cross.

The coming months will see a number of roadshows in various parishes with the celebratons climaxing on Dec 1 when Mass and dinner will be held. For more details on the roadshows visit
www.sfxms.org.sg/SFX25.html.

A second Day of Prayer for Vocations will be held on Sep 6 at Church of Sts. Peter & Paul.