MARCH 13, 2011, Vol 61, No 5

A Muslim man holding the Qur’an and a Coptic Christian man holding a cross are carried through demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo during demonstrations last month.

ROME – The political changes spreading across North Africa and the Middle East show the people’s desire for democracy and equality, said Christian and Muslim leaders, including several from Egypt where popular demonstrations toppled the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

Speaking on Feb 23 at the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, Catholic bishops and Muslim leaders from around the region admitted they did not know exactly what the future would hold, but the grassroots democracy movements seemed to indicate a growing recognition that when one religious or ethnic group suffers systematic discrimination, true democracy does not exist for anyone in the country.

The Egyptian protests, which saw Muslims and Christians standing side by side calling for democracy and constitutional reforms, demonstrated that “the more democracy and freedom there is, the more the freedom of each individual is respected and guaranteed”, said Mr Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister.

Mr Mohammed Esslimani, a Muslim theologian, was in Cairo during the protests and read from the diary he kept at the end of January and beginning of February. The diary was filled with stories of Christians and Muslims standing together in Tahrir Square and helping one another.

“I was able to live the most beautiful days of my life,” he said.
People will be able to pray before his remains in St Peter’s Basilica

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has released a three-day schedule of events for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and warned against people selling counterfeit tickets to the beatification liturgy, which is free and open to all.

Pope Benedict XVI will preside over the beatification Mass at 10 am on May 1 in St Peter’s Square, the Vatican said. Immediately after Mass, the faithful can pray before the late pope’s mortal remains, which will be set in front of the main altar in St Peter’s Basilica.

The veneration “will continue until the flow of faithful ends”, the Vatican said.

Distributing the programme on Feb 18, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi said the deceased pope’s remains will be in the casket in which he originally was buried in 2005 and will not be visible.

The casket will be reinterred in the Chapel of St Sebastian on the main level of St Peter’s Basilica in a “private” ceremony, which will occur only after the large crowds have stopped coming to pay their respects, Father Lombardi said.

The night before the beatification, a prayer vigil will be held in the grassy open space that was the ancient Circus Maximus in Rome, according to the Vatican.
It was with great joy and pride as a Catholic that I read the interview with Joshua Goh (CN, Jan 30), one of the winners of the prestigious 2010 President’s Scholarship.

From the interview, what stood out among the many things he said was his main reason for choosing CJC to further his education – “because I’m Catholic”.

For me, that statement was his most outstanding remark. With an L1R5 score of six points, he could easily have entered any of the top five JCs but he chose CJC, whose ranking would probably be much lower.

How many Catholic teenagers with that kind of score would choose to continue their A Level studies in CJC?

Many Catholic parents would possibly have discouraged them from doing so because CJC is nowhere near the top. But Goh’s parents encouraged him and his twin sister instead.
Ms Mel Phua-Carroll has raised concerns and painted a negative scenario about the shortage of priests for the Mandarin-speaking community in our parishes (CN, Feb 27).

I, on the other hand, would like to offer a different perspective.

It is a fact that our priests are ageing and vocations in Singapore are dwindling. As such the archdiocese has empowered the laity to play an active role in serving the faithful.

While priests minister to the sacramental and spiritual needs of the people, lay leaders are commissioned to play an active role in all the ministries and groups.

In this respect, all the parishes have done very well for their Mandarin- and English-speaking communities.

Ms Phua-Carroll pointed out that in some parishes there are “relatively large, vibrant and active Chinese groups”.
VATICAN CITY – The head of a group of traditionalist Catholics said reconciliation talks with the Vatican would soon come to an end with little progress made.

Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St Pius X, made these remarks in an interview published on his society’s website.

Pope Benedict XVI launched the talks in late 2009 to repair the Catholic Church’s 21-year break with the society. The group, among other things, rejects the decisions made at the Second Vatican Council.

“Is Vatican II really a stumbling block? For us, no doubt whatsoever, yes!” said Bishop Fellay.

Asked whether the Vatican participants have changed their thinking in light of the talks, he answered: “I don’t think that you can say that.” He added that recent events at the Vatican have, in fact, dispelled any “illusions” of progress.