First, when 300 bishops from North and South America met in Rome for the Synod of the Americas in November and December of 1997, one major theme of their discussions was the fundamental unity between North and South America. The Synod-- at the Pope's prompting-- consistently treated the Western hemisphere as a single continent, with closely related needs and challenges. Msgr. Dolan believes that the Holy Father "wanted to emphasize that point by passing through the United States, thus creating a sort of bridge between the two parts of the continent."
St. Louis itself plays an important role in the Church, said Msgr. Dolan, and thus provides an apt site for a papal visit. As the historic "gateway to the West," St. Louis was the point of departure for missionaries and Catholic migrants in earlier years. Thus Msgr. Dolan observed that the St. Louis archdiocese is "at the heart of the Church in the United States, in that this diocese gave birth to many other ecclesiastical provinces."
Finally, Msgr. Dolan pointed out that in his earlier trips to the United States, the Pope has visited cities on the coastlines and borders of the country, rather than penetrating into the center of the United States, where St. Louis is located. In 1979 the Pope's pastoral voyage to America took him to the cities of the East coast: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington-- with just a short swing inland to Chicago. After short visits in remote Alaska in 1981 and 1984, the Pontiff came for another extended tour in 1987, but again his itinerary took him along the outskirts of the country, beginning on the southeastern coast and swinging across the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific coast, with visits to Miami, Columbia, New Orleans, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; again he made one stop in a north- central city, Detroit. In 1993 the Pope visited Denver for World Youth Day, but in 1995 his US voyage again emphasized the East coast, with stops in New York and Baltimore.
Msgr. Dolan mentioned one other factor that might have affected the Pope's decision to choose St. Louis as his US destination. Archbishop Justin Rigali worked for 20 years in the Roman Curia-- in the Secretariat of State, the Pontifical Ecclesial Academy, and finally the Congregation for Bishops-- before his appointment to head the Archdiocese of St. Louis. During his years in Rome, the archbishop became a close friend of the Pope.
The fundamental reason for the trip is the official promulgation of the Holy Father's apostolic exhortation concluding the work of the Synod of the Americas. That Synod met in Rome from November 16 to December 12, 1997, with 300 bishops and other experts from North and South America participating.
The Synod had strongly recommended Mexico as the site for the official signing of the apostolic exhortation, and Pope John Paul enthusiastically accepted that recommendation. The signing ceremony will take place on January 22-- the day of the Pope's arrival in Mexico-- at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. On the following day the Holy Father will preside there at a Mass marking the official conclusion of the Synod.
One of the themes of the Synod discussion-- a theme which is expected to figure prominently in the new papal document-- is the fundamental unity between North and South America. That theme may also have contributed to the Pope's decision to visit the United States before returning to Rome; he is expected to urge greater solidarity between North and South, and a new evangelization of the entire American hemisphere, on the eve of the third Christian millennium.
Other themes which figured prominently in the Synod discussions included the need to combat poverty and drug traffic, to ease the difficulties of Indian tribes, and to curb political corruption and violence. The Pope is also likely to address the needs of the people in Central America whose homes were devastated by Hurricane Mitch.
The Pope's trip to Mexico will take place exactly 20 years after his first pastoral voyage there, which began on January 25, 1979. At the time he spoke about the difficulties posed by liberation theology. He also traveled to Mexico in May 1990, for the beatification of Juan Diego, the Indian to whom the Virgin Mary appeared at Guadalupe in 1531. And he stopped in Mexico again in 1993 as he traveled to Denver for the World Youth Day celebrations.
During that span of years, relations between Mexico and the Holy See have improved markedly. In 1979 the Pontiff encountered a deeply anti-clerical government-- the successor of the Mexican regime which had hunted and jailed Catholic priests earlier in this century. But that official anti-Catholicism has waned in Mexico, to the extent that the government began exchanging envoys with the Holy See in 1990, and since 1993 these envoys have enjoyed the status of fully accredited ambassadors. In 1992 Mexican law was altered to recognize the juridical status of the Catholic Church. An estimated 92 percent of Mexico's 96 million people are Catholics.
Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda, 66, was abducted from his residence on Tuesday or Wednesday, MISNA reported. Bishop Giorgio Biguzzi, president of the bishop's conference, said that Archbishop Ganda was being kept in the same place as Father Mario Guerra, an abducted missionary. Earlier on Wednesday, Vatican Radio reported that two other missionary priests, Fathers Maurizio Boa and Giuliano Pini, had been abducted and released by rebels last week.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday that it was pulling its foreign staff out of Freetown at the request of the government as street fighting worsened. The UN had pulled its staff out several weeks ago.
Speaking on Vatican Radio, the bishop of Makeni, Sierra Leone, has explained the reasons behind the kidnapping and release of two Italian missionaries in that war-torn African country.
The two missionaries were captured in Freetown, the nation's capital, on January 10, by rebels of the United Revolutionary Front. They were released two days later. Bishop Giorgio Biguzzi told his radio audience that the rebels "probably hoped to obtain some concessions and attract some international attention." But he said that the Church had always followed the same policy: "to accept absolutely no conditions for the release of missionaries."
Forced to leave his diocese to escape the civil war raging around him, Bishop Biguzzi has made repeated helicopter trips from Guinea, where he is now staying, back to the region of Freetown, to keep in touch with the priests who remain there. He is now leading an effort to gain international assistance for the people of Sierra Leone and especially for the missionaries working there.
The first step toward peace and security for the country's people, the bishop said, must be "an end to the traffic in arms."
The Family Research Council characterized the adoption by Human Rights Campaign leader Elizabeth Birch and Hilary Rosen, a lobbyist for the Recording Industry Association of America, of twins Jacob and Anna born on January 7 as the latest example of the disturbing trend.
"A mountain of social science, the world's major religions, common sense, and observation tell us that children have the best chance to thrive in married, mother-and-father-based families," said Robert Knight, FRC's Director of Cultural Studies. "... Placing babies in a lesbian household deliberately deprives these children of a father's love." Knight added that studies have shown that children raised in homosexual households are four times as likely to eventually identify themselves as homosexual or to experiment with homosexual behavior.
He said that more than a million married couples in the US are awaiting the opportunity to adopt children and urged states to pass legislation favoring adoption of children by father-and-mother households over homosexual or lesbian couples or single adults.