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WEDNESDAY      February 24, 1999      SECTION TWO       vol 10, no. 38

To print out entire text of Today's issue, print this section as well as SECTION ONE


Events Today in Church History

     It was on this date in 1208 that Jesus, in private revelation, communicated to Saint Francis of Assisi at Portiuncula - below Assisi - that God wanted him to devote his life to Him when he told Francis "Rebuild My Church". For more, see CATHOLIC CANVAS below. For other pertinent events throughout the centuries that are memorable in Church history today, click on MILLENNIUM MILESTONES AND MEMORIES

Historical Events in Church Annals for February 24:


CATHOLIC CANVAS

Daily Dose of curious contents of the Church

Portiuncula

      Today is the 791st anniversary of the revelation to Saint Francis of Assisi for this Friar-to-be to "Rebuild My Church" - the day known in Franciscan annals as the hour Francis realized his vocation. He didn't necessarily realize his mission for Francis mistook the directive and literally set about building with his own hands a little church from the shell of four walls which is still preserved today inside the vast, cavernous St. Mary of the Angels Basilica in the town of the same name Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi and San Damiano. The etymology of the name Portiuncula or Porziuncola can be based on two hypotheses; the first, that it derives from the "small portion" of land upon which the church was built, pertaining as it did to the then vast patrimony of land belonging to the Benedictines; the second, as a long pious tradition would have it, of a "small portion" of stone, from the tomb of the Our Lady, brought by four pilgrims returning from the Holy Land and inserted, as a relic, in the walls. The outer walls of the building itself date back to the 4th century and was passed to the Benedictines in the sixth century. They gave it to Francis but because of the holy friar's penchant for observing the strict principles of absolute poverty, they agreed to "rent" it to him for a basket of fish from the Tescio once a year. This is where the first Franciscan gathering was in 1211 after he had finished the rough hewn chapel, transforming it into a sanctuary of beauty, reverence and awe. It became the center of gathering for prayer in common and for singing the Psalms and other praises to the Lord. For more we recommend you check out Portiuncula from the Encyclopedia at the New Advent Catholic Supersite. (source: Assisi, Art and History in the Centuries, Edizoni Plurigraf)

WORLDWIDE NEWS & VIEWS
with a Catholic slant

provided by
Catholic World News Service
and Noticias Eclesiales Church News

HEADLINES:

RUSSIAN PATRIARCH WARNS KOSOVO COULD SPARK WORLD WAR AS VATICAN PRESSES FOR PEACE WHILE BELGRADE PRELATE SKEPTICAL ON PEACE TALKS

      MOSCOW (CWNews.com) - The Russian Orthodox Patriarch warned on Tuesday that the threatened use of force by NATO against Serbia over the rebellious Kosovo region could ignite a third world war.

      Patriarch Aleksei II told reporters, "World War One began in the Balkans as the result of an insignificant conflict. God forbid that a third world war should break out in the same region." The Russian government has strongly condemned NATO plans to attack Serbian targets if the former Yugoslav republic does not sign peace accords being negotiated in France. Russian has traditionally maintained close ties to the Balkan state, mainly through the common adherence to the Orthodox Church.

      The patriarch said the Orthodox Church would continue to press for a peaceful solution to the conflict. "We are categorically against any use of force to resolve disputes .. If one side takes on itself the functions of an international policeman then peaceful people will be killed as a consequence," he said. "We all remember how much suffering and grief the Second World War brought to Europe, how many losses. What happened then must not be repeated."

      The Vatican has also expressed opposition to the planned use of force to end the conflict in Kosovo.

      The Holy See issued a new statement on Kosovo, expressing "lively appreciation" for international efforts to find "a peaceful and lasting solution" to the crisis there.

      In a communiqué issued late on February 22-- the eve of an American- imposed deadline for peace talks-- the Vatican also expressed keen concern for the plight of the people of Kosovo. The statement pointed out that "Pope John Paul II has intervened publicly several times, asking the parties involved to engage in sincere dialogue, and encouraging the leaders of the international community to help find a solution which responds to their legitimate aspirations."

      Pope John Paul has addressed the Kosovo crisis several times during the first weeks of 1999. He mentioned the conflict during his first Sunday audience of the year, on January 3, and again in his annual address to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, on January 11.

      The new Vatican statement praises the international leaders who convened peace talks in the Rambouillet chateau in France this week, and urges them "to push further in an effort to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the disputes." The statement also reminds all parties that "recourse to armed force always entails grave risks, and profound suffering for the civilian population."

      In addition, the Archbishop of Belgrade has voiced skepticism about the durability of any last-minute agreement to curb fighting in Kosovo.

      Archbishop Frank Perko, the Catholic leader in the Serbian capital, told the Italian daily Avvenire that he hopes to hear news that a peace agreement has been struck in the Rambouillet chateau talks, but "I have to ask whether an agreement on paper would be confirmed by the facts."

      The archbishop, who is also president of the Yugoslavian bishops' conference, pointed to the "great complexities" caused by the fact that Serbs and ethnic Albanians have taken positions which are "diametrically opposed" regarding the future of Kosovo. The Albanians seek independence from the Belgrade government, while Serbs insist that Kosovo is not only a part of Yugoslavia, but actually a province of "Greater Serbia."

      "Anything is possible," Archbishop Perko admitted. But he said that if a peace pact is signed-- and even if a NATO peacekeeping force is put in place- - "there is a risk that the signatures will have no value."

      The Belgrade archbishop also pointed out that Serbian leaders know that if Kosovo gains independence, it can never again be recaptured by Yugoslavia. And he suggested that the international community would not favor complete independence, because if Kosovo gains such autonomy, there will soon be demands for independence in Macedonia, Montenegro, and elsewhere. He observed that others seeking independence might include "the 2 million ethnic Hungarian residents of Romania," as well as "Corsicans, Basques... and why not 'Padania' in Italy?"


"CATASTROPHE IS IMMINENT" IN SUDAN, FIDES REPORTS

      If nothing is done to stop the fighting and famine, 2.5 million Africans in southern Sudan are bound to die.

      Fides sources report that since May 1998, when yet another attempt to start dialogue between Sudanese rebels and the government army failed, the situation in Southern Sudan has become steadily worse. To add to the distress of war, a poor harvest has left the people-- many of them already homeless-- now in danger of starving to death.

      Many fields were left uncultivated because the seed supplied by relief groups was eaten by the hungry people. Some even dug up seed which had already sown, for want of something to eat.

      A catastrophe is imminent and will involve the whole of southern Sudan, both the part controlled by the militant Islam government and the part "liberated" by the Sudan People's Liberation Army.

      This natural calamity is aggravated by human violence. The worst struck area is Bahr El Ghazal, and Wau, the main city, home for most of the Dinka people, the ethnic group which supplies most of the soldiers for the SPLA. (A more thorough report on the crisis in Wau follows.)

      The Khartoum government incites primitive and militant Islam Baggara tribes (of non-Sudanese origin), to raid the Dinka area. Since the raiders are equipped with modern arms, the Dinka victims are powerless to stop these groups from raiding livestock, destroying villages, and killing people. The Baggara tribesmen effectively form a part of the militant Islamic force fighting rebels in southwestern Sudan. They are also responsible for human trafficking: selling boys and girls to merchants from the north and the Middle East as servants or prostitutes.

      There is another "too human" factor in the catastrophe: the fact that the government waited so long before allowing relief agencies to assist the suffering people of southern Sudan. Only when news of the ongoing tragedy leaked abroad did the government decide to accept humanitarian aid for the region.

      On February 21, Sudanese President Omar El Bashir voiced his determination to end the conflict-- even allowing secession in the south-- but his proposal, like others before it, was received with skepticism. For 17 years the Khartoum government has waged a jihad in the quest to make all Sudan a militant Islamic nation. War and violence have impoverished the country: the economy has collapsed, 80 percent of the industries have closed down.

      Fides sources report: "Talks for a cessation of hostilities and negotiations for peace are all face-saving expedients while the Islamization machine goes ahead undisturbed. Those who resist are exterminated, girls are kidnapped and sold as concubines to Muslims, street children, and orphans are interned in special re-education camps and 'Islamized.'"

      Every evening the national media controlled by the Sudanese government exalts the war with pictures of young soldiers. To the cry "Allah is great!" people dance in delirium and even the president dances on a military van making its way among the crowds, shouting: "One Sudan, one religion, Islam, one language, Arabic!" These demonstrations are all being orchestrated by the government, at a time when millions of ordinary people go hungry and even the members of the middle classes see their businesses collapse.

      In recent weeks there has been some disputes within the Khartoum government: an even more militant Islamic group, formed around Saduq abd-el-Majid of the Islamic Brotherhood-- has criticized the strongman of the regime, Hassan Al Tourabi, calling him a "revisionist." At the same time, an internal opposition group has weighed in, asking for "full democratization" of the country. But Islam seems to be the one aspect of the government's program which cannot be reconsidered. Unless the international community makes a united call for a political solution in Sudan, there is not much hope for an end to the war.

      In the southern Sudanese city of Wau alone, every month at least 1,500 people die of starvation. In the whole Bahr El Ghazal region it is estimated that 700 die every day. Through Fides, eyewitnesses are launching an urgent appeal for food, clothing, medicine, and medical personnel. They are also looking for people who can take care of numerous orphaned children, mostly Christians or animists, who risk otherwise being interned in Islam re-education camps.

      A year ago the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) led by John Garang, which fighting for autonomy in the south, took Wau. But their victory there lasted only for a few days, until Islamic troops and Baggara raiders returned and started a door-to-door hunt for Dinka people, the ethnic group which supplies most of the soldiers for the SPLA. Countless summary executions of women, men, and children were carried out.

      The people fled Wau, but now hunger is pushing them back toward the city where there are two Catholic dispensaries run by missionaries. According to Fides sources, in the last few months tens of thousands of people have come pouring back into Wau from the surrounding areas. "They come in exhausted," Fides sources report; "particularly the women and children, seeking some sort of shelter in ruined or abandoned buildings in which to rest and often in which to die."

      "Along the road," says one eyewitness, "I saw children crying beside their dead mother's body. A little further on a small boy was trying with his bare hands to dig a pit to bury his dead father." A volunteer who works in one of the Catholic mission dispensaries tells how a family-- mother, father, and two children-- arrived "totally exhausted and the woman with acute dysentery. They asked for some soap to wash before eating the food we offered them." The family was directed to a nearby well, and headed off in that direction, but failed to return. "I learned later," said the volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous, "that the mother had died, the father had been captured and killed, and the children abandoned in the road."

      Another eyewitness tells of a man who arrived in Wau with his five nephews, looking for help. The man was shot at a road block and the terrified children ran away. No one has seen the boys since that time; they may have been put in one of the government education camps where orphans and abandoned children are "Islamized."

      There are so many dead around Wau that nobody bothers to bury the bodies. Father M., one of the missionary priests, has helped to assemble a group of volunteers, who have begun digging graves.

      The appeal sent by the missionaries to Fides warns that the number of hungry people continues to rise, and although at the moment there are some relief agencies in the area, such as Irish Goal, Medecins San Frontières and the Save the Children Fund, the sanitary structures are inadequate and hunger and disease are decimating the population.

      One eyewitness says it is dangerous even to receive aid; at night, Baggara raiders armed with rifles break into the camps to steal even the bits of food and clothing which have been supplied to the evacuees. Aside from calling for food, clothing, medical, and educational personnel, the appeal stresses the need for a "plan for the future"-- "a political solution to the conflict must be found and imposed by the international community. We must eliminate the idea that Allah wants all this. What use to God is an Islam which triumphs, heedless of suffering and violation of human rights?"


OPPOSITION AGAINST GREATER USE OF GUNS IN MISSOURI

      Saint Louis, 23 (NE) The Missouri Catholic Conference, public policy agency of the state's bishops, issued a statement opposing expansion of laws allowing the carrying of concealed weapons in the state. The declaration, presented by the Public Policy Committee of the MCC, stated that, "the increased carrying of concealed weapons will promote more fear and violence in the State of Missouri."

      The statement faces the problem arisen by the State's April election, when policies on this matter will be decided. The measure, called Proposition B, seeks to expand laws authorizing concealed weapons. "Shootings in our homes, schools, workplaces and our communities have resulted in tremendous pain, suffering and death. In our judgment, Proposition B will increase the number of guns in society and increase the potential for misuse and violence," says the document.

      Recalling the diverse exhortations on the matter by Missouri and U.S. Bishops in the last 20 years, the statement points out that the, "increased carrying of guns returns us to a 'wild West' mentality which undermines community consensus to use peaceful means to resolve disputes and community commitment to focus sufficient resources to attack the root causes of violent crime."

      "Rather than increasing weapons to address our fears," says the statement, "we support more effective crime prevention strategies such as education and training in nonviolence techniques, community policing and projects geared for at-risk families and youth."


CATHOLIC FAMILIES SUE NEW YORK SCHOOL DISTRICT

      WHITE PLAINS, New York (CWNews.com) - A federal trial began on Monday in a lawsuit filed by three Catholic families against their New York state school district, claiming their children are being educated in New Age and Eastern religions and the occult.

      Among the lessons to which the parents objected were Earth Day celebrations, study of Hinduism, drug counseling, and the use of fourth-grade vocabulary words that refer to demons and the undead. The families also objected to the use of a card game -- "Magic: The Gathering" -- which the plaintiffs called worse than witchcraft.

      Six of the children of the families testified how they attended an assembly with a yoga teacher, were taught about the mystical properties of crystals by a mineralogist, and other activities they characterized as being contrary to their Catholic faith. School district lawyer Warren Richmond said the plaintiffs had mischaracterized and wildly misrepresented the programs which are not an endorsement of religion and are standard curricula throughout the country.

      "There are two standards," replied James Bendell, the families' attorney. "Any trace of Christianity must be banished, but teachers are free to smuggle in Eastern religions and any other forms (of belief)."


For more headlines and articles, we suggest you go to the Catholic World News site at the CWN home page and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales. Both CWN and NE are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provides this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

SITE OF THE DAY

      Today, in an effort to acquaint our readers with more Catholic mega-sites, we present what many believe is the pioneer of Catholic internet communications. It is the CATHOLIC INFORMATION NETWORK which first went on line back in 1987 when cyberspace was more of an experimental risk before the mass rush to get on the web. Especially helpful at this time of the liturgical season is the site's comprehensive compendium of Lenten devotions and meditations.


Click here to return to SECTION ONE or click here to return to the graphics front page of this issue.


February 24, 1999 volume 10, no. 38   DAILY CATHOLIC