Death of Pope Stephen IX, 154th successor of Peter. Born in Lorraine, this first Belgian Pontiff was elected on August 2, 1057. Known for raising the moral standards of the clergy and laity, his pontificate lasted less than a year. He surrounded himself with learned and renowned counsellors who assisted him in all political matters and forbade matrimony between blood relations.
Death of English-born Saint Stephen Harding, abbott and reformer of the Cistercians. He is also remembered as tutor of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.
Pope Innocent II greets returning Knights of the Templar from the Holy Lands during the crusades and declares they are an official independent unit within Holy Mother Church. Over the years this privilege would be abused and the Templars would be condemned.
The Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus founded by Father Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Connecticutt to fulfill the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, especially for widows and poor families, receives its charter.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the head of the Vatican press office, said that Archbishop Abril y Castello Santos, the Pope's representative in Belgrade, remains there as "an open channel with the authorities" in the Serbian government. He added that the Vatican is actively pursuing diplomatic contacts with ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, including the envoys from the Yugoslavian republic and from Russia.
Meanwhile, In a March 25 meeting with young people from Rome, Pope John Paul II called for prayers for peace in Kosovo.
Speaking at a meeting held in preparation for the observance of World Youth Day on Palm Sunday, the Holy Father responded to participants' questions about the warfare in Kosovo, and how it should be seen in light of God's love for mankind. "Why ask where we can find the love of God," the Pontiff replied; "rather than recognize the responsibilities that derive from man's sins?" He continued: "How can we hold God responsible, when it is the decisions of free human beings that are the cause?" Sin is not merely an abstract concept, the Pope explained; it results in real human suffering. In fact, he added, the world's suffering and evil are caused by "sin and the refusal to live according to God's teachings."
Nearly 20,000 young people had gathered at the Vatican for the meeting, the 8th such annual event. While the Pope spoke in the Paul VI meeting hall, thousands of youngsters who could not gain entry to that hall watched the Pope on a video screen in St. Peter's Square.
Meanwhile in Moscow, through a personal message conveyed to both UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and US President Bill Clinton, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II has described the NATO air strikes on Kosovo as "unlawful and unjust."
Patriarch Alexei appealed to the world leaders to stop the attacks, saying that "the future of Europe and all humanity largely depend on the outcome of these dramatic days." His March 26 statement added: "The suppression of the will of a whole nation will never bring a lasting peace, but, on the contrary, will create the danger of multiple escalation and continuation of the conflict.
Earlier this week, a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church had postponed plans for a visit to the Vatican, citing the bombing of Serbian forces by planes based in Italy. While pointing out that the Vatican is not responsible for Italian foreign policy, the Holy See agreed to postpone the meeting.
Seventy non-governmental organizations (NGO), led by the US-based Catholics for a Free Choice, called on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to review the Vatican's permanent observer status, particularly because of the Church's opposition to abortion and artificial contraception as promoted in UN population conferences.
"Why should an entity that is in essence 100 square acres of office space and tourist attractions in the middle of Rome with a citizenry that excludes women and children have a place at the table where governments set policies affecting the very survival of women and children?" asked Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice. "Vatican positions on issues in the United Nations [conferences] and in countries across the world have had the effect of increasing the suffering of the world's poorest nations."
Other NGOs complained that Vatican has been effective in blocking consensus at several recent conferences including the Rio de Janeiro environment conference (1992), the Cairo population conference (1994) and the Beijing women's conference (1995).
Judie Brown of the American Life League defended the Holy See's position at the United Nations, noting that the demand came from groups seeking the unfettered ability to promote and even force abortion and contraception on developing nations. She said, "As the major voice in defense of the natural law, the Vatican not only deserves to retain its status at the UN, it should be applauded for bringing attention to facts that save the lives of women and their children at every stage of their biological development."
Speaking at the Vatican on March 25, as he presented the Pope's Holy Thursday letter to the world's priests, Cardinal Castrillon emphasized the "spiritual paternity" of the ministerial priesthood. His comment on the prospect of female deacons may have been an indirect response to an article published earlier in the month by the prestigious Jesuit review Civilta Cattolica, which had suggested that a female diaconate might be possible.
Cardinal Castrillon also observed that the vocational crisis of the 1970s and 1980s has abated. He added that the sources of priestly vocations have changed, and that today more seminarians are being drawn "from the professional world and people who have begun university studies." These vocations, he said, could prove more durable.
Noticias Eclesiales also reported in Church News that Cardinal Castrillon explained that the Pope's Letter is focussed on the theme of divine fatherhood. Among other things, he emphasized that it began with the words "Abba Father." And says, "Priests are invited to be permeated by this fatherhood, but they are also called to give it to the whole world, which is in such urgent need of it." The Cardinal Prefect also affirmed the importance of the Eucharist for the priest's life. This sacrament is "the inexhaustible mystery of Christ and from his prayer is the summit and source of all good. The Holy Sacrifice is the absolute center of the life and day of the priest. Priesthood and the Eucharist are indissolubly united," commented the Vatican Cardinal.
In his letter, the Pope urges all priests to "carry out with confidence and courage their duty of guiding the community to authentic Christian prayer. This is a duty which no priest may ever forsake, even though the difficulties caused by today's secularized mentality can at times make it extremely demanding for him."
Defense Minister Gen. Hector Barrios was questioned by opposition party members regarding conflicting army statements on the murder of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera on April 26, 1998. The bishop was killed two days after releasing report that blamed the military and allied paramilitary groups for most of the deaths in the country's 36-year civil war that ended in 1995.
Barrios told legislators that agents of the elite Presidential General Staff had appeared at the Guatemala City parish where Bishop Gerardi lived and his body was found. For months, military officers had denied their presence at the crime scene. But Barrios said he learned of the murder only after he received a telephone call the morning after.
Church leaders and human rights groups have accused the military or paramilitaries of being involved in the murder, although a priest who lived with the bishop has been formally accused. Father Mario Orantes Najera, who remains an official suspect, has been released on bail while the investigation continues.