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

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