MONDAY    January 17, 2000   vol. 11, no. 11   SECTION THREE

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WORLDWIDE NEWS & VIEWS with a Catholic slant


MOST IMPORTANT ECUMENICAL MEETING SINCE VATICAN COUNCIL II
Opening of Holy Door of St. Paul Outside the Walls

    VATICAN CITY, JAN 14 (ZENIT).- Today Cardinal Roger Etchegaray presented the details of the opening of the Holy Door in St. Paul Outside the Walls. "It will be the most characteristic event of this Jubilee," stated the president of the Central Committee for the Jubilee. The ceremony will take place on January 18, the first day of Christian Unity Week.

    The most significant characteristic of this event, the Cardinal explained, is the fact that "the Pope will not be the only one to symbolically push open the Holy Door, but will do so along with a representative of the Eastern Churches and one from the Reformed Churches."

    For Cardinal Etchegaray, ecumenism is a "crucial" challenge, "for evangelical witness in the world... The ecumenical door can only be crossed on one's knees, because only prayer can open and support the way toward visible unity in the Church."

    Bishop Crescenzio Sepe, secretary of the Vatican Committee for the Jubilee, disclosed that the meeting at St. Paul Outside-the-Walls "will be the greatest concentration of Christian Churches since the one that took place during the Vatican II Ecumenical Council." There will be 22 delegations of Christian Churches participating in the opening of the Holy Door, in addition to the World Council of Churches, which embraces 337 Churches, from over 100 countries throughout the world and the greater part of Christian traditions.

    The choice of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, is not accidental. On January 25, 1959, John XXIII convoked Vatican Council II in this Basilica, as Bishop Piero Marini, Pontifical Master of Ceremonies, recalled in his meeting with the international press.

    The only significant absence will be that of the World Reformed Alliance, which differs with the Church on the matter of indulgences. But, according to German Bishop Walter Kasper, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the absence does not mean a rupture, as the Reformed Alliance itself collaborated with the Catholic Church in the preparation of a guide for the Jubilee pilgrim, as well as in other projects. "We must respect the convictions and difficulties of our brothers and they must respect ours; respect is the basis of ecumenism," Bishop Kasper said.

    The ecumenical meeting includes a meditation on Biblical readings, as well as passages from Protestant and Orthodox authors, among whom is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, killed by the Nazis in 1945.

    Although the meeting is for prayer, at the end, all the representatives of the different Churches will be invited by John Paul II to a festive dinner. Bishop Kasper said that over the last few months progress has been made at the heart of the different Christian Churches in reflecting on the Petrine primacy, in other words, on the Pope's role as Peter's successor, which at times has been an element of division among the Christian denominations. Bishop Kasper clarified that, following the proposal made by John Paul II in the encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" on ecumenism, "a dialogue began with Lutherans and Anglicans. There have been several congresses and conferences, including at the academic level, in which the matter is being studied."

    In fact, the German Bishop added, "the January 18 ceremony is a new form of ecumenical exercise of the Pope's authority."

    Cardinal Etchegaray recalled that the Pope is "obstinately and realistically determined" to pursue ecumenism, "one of the strongest demands of the Jubilee." Indeed, this meeting could be the moment to prepare for the much desired pan-Christian meeting that the Holy Father mentions in "Tertio Millennio Adveniente."

    Two additional very important Jubilee ecumenical meetings were confirmed during the press conference: a commemoration in the Colosseum of the witnesses to the faith in this century (on May 7) and an ecumenical prayer vigil of prayer at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, in keeping with the intentions of Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople (on August 5). ZE00011405

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EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES PAPAL VISIT TO SINAI IN FEBRUARY
Holy Father Will Visit Mount of Ten Commandments

    CAIRO, JAN 16 (ZENIT).- Nabil Osman, chief of Egypt's State Information Service, announced yesterday that John Paul II will visit the country February 25-26. Detailed plans for the visit are still in preparation. The news has yet to be confirmed by the Vatican Press Office, whose Vice-Director, Fr. Ciro Benedettini, limited himself to the statement, "The trip is being planned."

    This will be the first visit of a Pope to Egypt, a country which is 82.5% Muslim, 11% underground Christian, 4.8% Orthodox and 1.7% "non-religious."

    The purpose of the papal trip to Egypt is to visit Mount Sinai, where the Bible locates the episode of Moses' reception of the Ten Commandments from God, during the journey of the Chosen People from Egypt to Canaan. Today, the location is called Jebel Musa.

    "Along the length of the road in the desert, Mount Sinai was also a place were Yahweh made a Covenant with his people. The Mount remained identified with the handing of the Decalogue, the 'ten words' that committed Israel to a life of full adherence to God's will. In fact, these 'words' express the basic content of the moral law of universal character imprinted on the heart of every man," the Pontiff said in his letter, written last June, expressing his desire to undertake this Jubilee pilgrimage.

    According to Nabil Osman, the Pope's stay in Egypt includes a visit to the Church of St. Catherine, a historic Orthodox monastery. In addition, as is customary in all his international trips, the Holy Father will meet President Hosni Mubarak and political and religious personalities.

    Originally, the Pope's trip to Egypt was planned in conjunction with his visit to Ur of the Chaldeans in Iraq, where he wished to see Abraham's birthplace. This trip was planned for last December, but the Iraqi stage of the trip has been temporarily cancelled by the Baghdad regime. Because of U.N. bombings in the no-fly zone, Saddam Hussein feels he does not have the means to guarantee the Pope's safety.

    The trip to Egypt will take place one month before the historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which Peter's successor will undertake from March 20-26. ZE00011603

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ADVICE FOR JUBILEE PILGRIMS' SAFETY IN ROME
Pope meets with public security forces

    VATICAN CITY, JAN 16 (ZENIT).- The Italian Police have prepared a pamphlet entitled "Safe Rome" to help pilgrims prepare for their stay in the Eternal City. Included in the advice given to Jubilee pilgrims arriving from all over the world are the suggestions not to carry unnecessary or excessive amounts of money, to make photocopies of personal documents, not to leave suitcases or bags in unguarded places, and to mistrust impromptu street vendors. Four million copies of the pamphlet have been published, an initiative of the Roman Agency for Preparation for the Jubilee. Originally written in Italian, the pamphlet has been translated into English, French, and German, and is being distributed through Tourist Information Centers of the City of Rome and the Police Office.

    The pamphlet also has useful telephone numbers in case of emergencies and a map of the city, highlighting the police stations nearest the basilicas and monuments.

    In a related story, Pope John Paul II asked the General Inspection of Public Security at the Vatican to make "a greater effort so that the celebrations and events related to the Jubilee will take place normally and fruitfully."

    During his meeting with the police, the Pope said that "external order, over which you guard with care, will foster interior order, filled with serenity and peace." And he added: "I hope you will feel within yourselves that peace that the angels announced to men of good will at Bethlehem." ZE00011602 and ZE000011408

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MIXED SIGNALS FROM RWANDA WAR-CRIMES TRIALS

    VATICAN (FIDES/CWNews.com) -- The Vatican's FIDES news agency has observed "contradictory signals" from the government of Rwanda regarding the legal prosecution of individuals charged with war crimes in connection with the 1994 massacres there.

    In Rwanda today, FIDES observes, 9 out of 10 people in prison are facing charges connected with the 1994 massacres. The number of minor children facing trial has increased dramatically, suggesting a new vigor among the prosecutors. But at the same time, the judges involved in the cases seem to be showing greater leniency toward those who are accused.

    Citing a report by the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, FIDES reports that in the first six months of 1999, the number of children facing genocide accusations soared from 2,674 to 4,454. But during the same period, the number of death sentences handed down to convicted criminals dropped by 10 percent, while the number of life sentences fell by 30 percent. Acquittals rose by a bit more than 20 percent.

    According to the Rwandan League, the country's courts have now convicted 1,908 defendants, of whom 296 were given the death penalty, another 600 were sentenced to life imprisonment, and the remainder received prison terms of varying duration.

    But the trials continue to proceed very slowly, leaving many defendants in prison for months before they can face the court. A total 130,000 people are awaiting trial for crimes connected with the genocide.

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PREPARATIONS UNDERWAY FOR WORLD YOUTH DAY
Meeting in Rome with Delegates from All over the World

    ROME, JAN 14 (ZENIT).- Although it is still seven months away, preparations for World Youth Day are well underway. Delegates from around the world have gathered in Rome to plan the August event.

    According to Bishop Renato Boccardo, director of the Youth Office of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, "the meeting is especially intended to inform those responsible for Youth Pastoral Care, and the movements and associations about the state of preparation for the World Day."

    There are 300 participants who are both expressing their concerns and expectations as well as offering their suggestions. "This is a meeting to exchange experiences and to study the best way to refine the fundamental aspects of the Day," stressed Bishop Boccardo.

    "The World Day exacts great technical and organizational effort: suffice it to think of hospitality, transport, food, accommodation... But it requires even greater interior effort so that this important event may be a time of grace for each youth, a spiritual experience of encounter with Christ." ZE00011406

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IN YUGOSLAVIA, REFUGEES ARE "PLAYTHINGS IN THE HANDS OF THE POWERFUL"
Rampant Unemployment and Low Wages Combine to Make Life Miserable

    NOVI SAD, JAN 14 (ZENIT-FIDES).- After the bombing stopped, the West forgot about the people of Serbia, according to Fransiscan Fr. Karoly Harmath. "The majority of the refugees are innocent victims, playthings in the hands of the powerful," he told "Fides."

    According to the priest, unemployment has risen to 50%-60%. "Even those who do work find life difficult: half the labor force is paid a set minimum wage and public servants' salaries are delayed for months. Pensions are low and paid 6 months late. Daily life is a struggle, the black market flourishes and the cost of living skyrockets in response to galloping inflation. After virtually 10 years of war and constant defeat, people are unmotivated. Fear of civil war has closed them in on themselves -- all struggle to survive."

    Fr. Harmath is a native of Vojvodina in Hungary. At present, he is Superior of a Franciscan convent in Novi Sad. He founded and runs AGAPE, the only Catholic publishing house in Serbia. He is also director of the Theological-Catechetical Institute of the diocese of Subotica, where he is a professor of theology.

    Questioned by "Fides" on the state of the Kosovar refugees, Fr. Harmath replied: "Most of the Serbs who fled Kosovo have settled in central or southern Serbia. However, the regime is pressuring them to return to Kosovo. For example, schools in the towns where they are at present have been told not to accept the refugees' children. A few Kosovar refugees went to Vojvodina. They are mostly Romany -- Gypsies -- who receive assistance from the Red Cross, Caritas, and the Ecumenical Humanitarian Fund. The majority have been taken in by local people, family or friends. Their status is that of refugees 'non grata,' and hard to bear."

    "Nothing is ever solved by violence; the problems have only increased," asserted the Franciscan, "The NATO bombings did not lead to expected political changes. At first the people hoped NATO's measures might bring a change for the better. But today they are all deeply disappointed. There is political apathy and a daily struggle to survive. Many people have lost their jobs because the factories were bombed. I often wonder how families manage when the parents are out of work, children must be sent to school, and the cost of living is similar to that elsewhere in Europe."

    "The Western media try to separate the Serb people from their political leaders, but this is impossible. There are nations, such as Serbia, which cannot exist without a 'leader.' This strong tie between the people and the leader has historical roots," explained Fr. Harmath. "During the Ottoman occupation, the Vozd were the people's heroes: they led them to freedom and organized resistance. The Serbs cannot do without their Vozd, this must be understood and accepted. Peoples must be respected as they are. Only sincere and patient dialogue can bring results. But, in order to dialogue, we must know one another: from a distance things are not clearly seen."

    As to the future, the publisher sees the need for social change. "Nationality and religion have gone hand in hand for centuries in the Balkans. Here a Serb can only be an Orthodox -- Catholicism is the prerogative of the Croats, etc. In the Balkans, even Serbs who are atheists are considered Orthodox, without being baptized. Ecumenism is extremely arduous. Here Orthodox Christianity is identified with nationality, and the other religions are only 'second class.' " ZE00011403

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CARDINAL BEVILACQUA CONCERNED FOR POSSIBLE LEGALIZATION OF EMBRYO STEM CELL RESEARCH

    PHILADELPHIA, 14 (NE) Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia sent letters to federal lawmakers and the National Institutes for Health asking them not to approve guidelines that would legalize embryo stem cell research.

    The month dedicated to the investigation of these norms will finish the 31st of January, deadline for the Congress to intervene before the guidelines become finalized. The draft guidelines published last December by the National Institutes for Health aim to a legalization of embryo stem cell research.

    "These guidelines disregard the sanctity of life by sanctioning the killing of unborn human embryos to obtain stem cells for research," wrote Cardinal Bevilacqua. "This assault on life must not happen. Scientific research should be guided by a fundamental moral norm: respect for the dignity of life from conception (fertilization) to natural death," he added.

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CALLS FOR RENEWED INVESTIGATION OF BISHOP GERARDI'S DEATH

    GUATEMALA, JAN 16 (ZENIT).- On January 14, Alfonso Portillo, Guatemala's new President, ordered a thorough investigation into the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi and the dissolution of the Presidential General Staff, which is implicated in the crime.

    In his inaugural address, Portillo committed himself to the implementation of the 11 peace agreements, signed 3 years ago, that supposedly put an end to 36 years of civil war, which caused over 200,000 victims, counting the dead and missing.

    The new President stated that the results of the investigation into the Bishop's death, which occurred on April 26, 1998, will be sent as soon as possible to the Public Ministry, to settle possible criminal responsibilities.

    Reiterating that he would respect the recommendations of the Commission for Historical Enlightenment, he declared April 26 "National Day for the Dignity of Victims of Violence."

    Portillo promised to reconstruct the army and subordinate it to civil power, in keeping with plans for the country's modernization and democratization. ZE00011607

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January 17, 2000     volume 11, no. 11
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