National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 9, 2003



Los Angeles priest among protesters serving jail terms

Catholics and others, including a priest, who engaged in civil disobedience in Los Angeles to protest the war in Iraq are now serving jail sentences. “International law is the appropriate place to resolve conflicts,” said Fr. Christopher Ponnet, who began serving a 45-day jail sentence April 23.

He was in the group arrested Ash Wednesday, March 5, for praying and singing in the street and blocking traffic at an intersection in downtown Los Angeles. Ponnet is head Catholic chaplain at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and director of St. Camillus de Lellis Center for Pastoral Care. He also co-directs the Los Angeles chapter of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi.

The 46-year-old priest said his decision to lead antiwar vigils, fast and engage in civil disobedience reflected his commitment as a Catholic priest to oppose an unjust war. He said he was joined on Ash Wednesday by members of Pax Christi, the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. Members of the Catholic Worker arrested in Los Angeles include Jeff Dietrich, director of the Los Angeles group, who has been in jail since mid-March, and Catherine Morris, his wife, arrested on Ash Wednesday. She was to begin her 45-day sentence May 1.

Vatican affirms decision against alleged visions

The Vatican has confirmed Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler’s September 2000 decision to prohibit prayer services at a Maryland church in which a woman claimed to receive messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Gianna Talone-Sullivan said she received messages from Mary during Thursday evening prayer services at St. Joseph Church in Emmitsburg from 1993 until the archdiocesan ban.

In an April 2 letter to Vincentian Fr. William O’Brien, pastor of St. Joseph, Keeler reported the Feb. 15 ruling of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that Baltimore’s archbishop is in a position to conclude the matter with a decree that the alleged apparitions are clearly not miraculous. Ratzinger said his opinion on the decree was made after consideration of the report of a three-member theological Commission of Inquiry appointed by Keeler. The commission concluded there was nothing supernatural going on.

In response, Talone-Sullivan said in a statement that she is “grateful for the time, devotion and commitment which the commission undertook in reviewing and studying the alleged experiences and events.” However, she maintained that her apparitions are real.

Vietnamese-born priest named auxiliary for Orange, Calif.

A Vietnamese-born priest from New Orleans has been named auxiliary bishop of Orange, Calif. He will be the nation’s second Asian-American bishop and the first of Vietnamese origin. He is to be ordained June 11 in a ceremony at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove, Calif.

Bishop-designate Dominic Dinh Mai Luong, 62, currently is pastor of Mary, Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans and serves as director of the National Center for the Vietnamese Apostolate. He was born Dec. 20, 1940, in Minh Cuong, Vietnam, and attended elementary and secondary school in Vietnam before moving to the United States.

He was ordained in Buffalo on May 21, 1966, for the Da Nang diocese in what was then South Vietnam. Luong worked in the Buffalo diocese until 1976, when he was appointed director of the Vietnamese apostolate in New Orleans. After circumstances prevented his return to Vietnam, he was incardinated into the New Orleans archdiocese in 1986. He has been director of the National Center for the Vietnamese Apostolate since its founding in 1989.

Virus leads shrine to ask Canadians to stay home

The National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., asked pilgrims from Canada not to come to this year’s April 27 celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday because of concerns about severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS. About 20,000 people were expected at the shrine for the annual celebration that follows a week after Easter.

Shrine spokeswoman Kathleen Ervin said organizers did not expect that number to decrease significantly because of the SARS fears. The decision to ask pilgrims from Ontario not to come was made after consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, she said.

The ban on groups from Canada affected 11 busloads of pilgrims, all from the region around Toronto that was included in the World Health Organization’s advisory against travel there, she said. No bus groups from other parts of Canada had made plans to come to Stockbridge, but they would not have been affected by the restriction, according to Ervin.

Shortage of Catholic chaplains reflects low number of priests

Deployment of Catholic priests as military chaplains for the war in Iraq has put further strain on the number of priests available to serve in U.S. parishes. But the military chaplaincy is still short Catholic priests. Of the military’s 3,035 chaplains, only 367 are Catholic, though there are more than 1.5 million Catholics in the populations chaplains serve: members of the armed forces, military families, veterans’ medical centers and overseas federal agencies.

Except for evangelicals, most traditional faiths are experiencing “severe shortages in the military chaplaincy for the first time in many years,” according to Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of the U.S. archdiocese for the military services. “The larger cultural question is ‘What is happening in traditional churches?’ Our culture doesn’t reach permanent commitments too easily, quickly ... or early,” especially with regard to vocations, he said.

State law mandates women be informed of risks of abortion

After nine years of legislative battles, the Woman’s Right to Know Act became law in Minnesota April 14. Once it takes effect this summer, it will require that women in Minnesota be given information and wait 24 hours before having an abortion. The legislation also mandates that a woman be informed about the risks and alternatives to abortion, as well as the probable gestational age of the unborn child and the medical and financial assistance that may be available to the mother. The legislation also enables women to sue abortionists who fail to provide this information.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the bill just hours after the Minnesota Senate passed the legislation by a 41-24 margin after a nine-hour debate. The House previously approved the measure. The 24-hour wait will go into effect July 1, but it could take another 90 days for the Minnesota Department of Health to prepare the mandatory information.

New citizens
Frs. Joseph Anthony Andrade and George Kolath take the oath of U.S. citizenship during a ceremony at Bethel College in Arden Hills, Minn., April 16. The priests from India serve parishes in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese.
-- CNS/Dave Hrbacek
Grief after explosion
An Iraqi woman grieves as five coffins are brought into a home in the Baghdad suburb of Zaafaraniya after the explosion of a nearby arms dump April 26. At least 12 people died after rockets flew into houses over a wide area. The U.S. military blamed the blast on unidentified attackers who fire a flare or incendiary device into the old Iraqi arms. depot. Local residents blamed U.S. forces for bringing confiscated Iraqi weapons to the site.
-- CNS/ Reuters


Parishes observe Holy Week for the first time in 40 years

VIETNAM: Signaling a greater tolerance by the nation’s government for religious practices, Catholics in four remote northern Vietnam parishes celebrated Holy Week and Easter liturgies for the first time in 40 years. Joseph Tran Thai Phong, head of the Vinh Quang parish council, said thousands of Catholics from three neighboring parishes flocked to his parish for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses.

The 50-year-old lay leader said April 20 that many Catholics including members of the Hmong ethnic minority group even stopped working for Holy Week to attend these Masses and other ceremonies. Vinh Quang is in Van Chan district, Yen Bai province, northwest of Ha Noi. The other parishes are Nghia Lo, Dong Lu and Phinh Ho.

According to Dominique Tran Van Tri, 65, the parishes in the area had been priestless since 1963, when the last priest serving the area was arrested and imprisoned by the local government. In recent years, however, the government allowed priests from other areas to come for pastoral activities two or three times a year, he said. He expressed hope the authorities will soon approve their new parish priest, Fr. Michael Le Van Hong, who was ordained last year. According to diocesan statistics, the four parishes combined have 8,500 Catholics.

Fearing attacks, aid groups leave long-term missions

AFGHANISTAN: Aid organizations, facing attacks and threats from resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, are retreating from areas of Afghanistan where some have worked for 16 years. Mercy Corps, a Portland, Ore.-based relief-and-development agency that earlier this month disclosed that one of its Afghan staff members was shot to death in November, is pulling workers out of the Taliban’s heartland in southern Afghanistan. Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and others are also pulling out of some areas.

As an escalating guerrilla war threatens President Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-backed government, Mercy Corps managers say Taliban and al-Qaeda forces are targeting Western aid workers. “They’ve extended this conflict that they have with the coalition and with the Karzai government to include international organizations, which is a new and disturbing twist,” said Jim White, Mercy Corps’ South Asia regional director.

The retreat by aid organizations exposes Afghanistan to a vicious cycle as the Taliban, warlords and al-Qaeda move into the void, turning more Afghans against the Karzai government, the United States and the United Nations. White and other relief managers say the violence underscores the importance of security in Iraq as humanitarian work begins there. “Providing security has yet to be achieved in Afghanistan, and that’s the issue we’re struggling with in Iraq,” said Michael Delaney, Oxfam America humanitarian-response director.

Muslim students sue over prayer space

CANADA: A group of Muslim students is seeking more than $1 million in damages from a major engineering school here in a dispute over the university’s refusal to grant the students space for their prayers. The estimated 300 Muslim students at Montreal’s École de Technologie Supérieure -- the sixth-largest engineering school in Canada -- have been left to pray in the school’s fire escape stairwell.

The students are also upset that the school has posted signs in its bathrooms forbidding students to wash their feet, which is required before Muslim prayers. University officials say the practice is dangerous because of water spilled on counters and floors.

The Muslim students have filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission seeking $10,000 each in punitive and moral damages for more than 100 Muslims at the school, according to the Montreal Gazette. The university says it will go to the Supreme Court to ensure its right to remain secular. Officials point out that a Catholic student group requested prayer space a few years ago and was turned down.

Catholic Workers arrested at airport during protest

IRELAND: Two members of the Catholic Worker movement were arrested at Shannon Airport April 18 during an antiwar protest and charged with damaging the airport’s perimeter fence. As part of their protest, Jenny Hannon, 20, of Dublin, and Martin McGowan, 42, of Sligo, constructed a shrine to Iraqis killed in the U.S.-led war, prayed and planted potatoes. The pair were protesting the use of the airport by U.S. troops in transit to Iraq.

“Our airports have been complicit in the decade-long enforcement of genocidal sanctions and now the past month of intensified bombing in Iraqi towns and villages,” Hannon said in an April 17 statement. The Irish Indymedia Web site said the pair wanted to recognize on Good Friday “the ongoing crucifixion of the people of Iraq.” The two entered the airport shortly after 3 a.m. and were arrested more than two hours later.

In early February, five members of the Catholic Worker Movement were arrested during an attempt to damage a U.S. Navy aircraft at Shannon. Following that incident, the Irish government ordered security increased at the airport. Hannon and McGowan were expected to appear in Shannon District Court May 8.

Church granted full legal status, despite 2002 law

BELARUS: Just five months after the adoption of one of the toughest religion laws in the former Soviet Union, officials in Belarus have granted the minority Catholic church full legal status. “They’ve registered the church and the dioceses of Minsk, Pinsk, Grodno and Vitebsk,” said Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, referring to the country’s four dioceses. “Now, we’ve got to work on getting every parish re-registered.”

When the new religion bill was signed into law Oct. 31 by President Alexander Lukashenko, human rights monitors and Western governments warned that the legislation could pave the way for a harsh crackdown on minority faiths in the mostly Russian Orthodox country.

One provision of the new law that was particularly worrisome for the country’s 1 million Catholics is the requirement that all foreign religious workers go through an annual government review for approval to continue working in Belarus. By some estimates, about half of the Catholic priests are foreigners, with the majority from neighboring Poland. So far, those fears have not been realized. All the foreign Catholic priests who requested permission to work in Belarus were approved in January.

Briefs, gathered from news services, correspondents and staff, are compiled and edited by Gill Donovan.

National Catholic Reporter, May 9, 2003

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