The papal visit to the Portuguese shrine will take place on the occasion of the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who died at 9 and 11 years of age respectively. The third visionary, Lucia, is a Carmelite nun in her 90s who lives in Portugal. The date chosen for the beatification, of course, is May 13, 2000, the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, and the anniversary of the 1981 attempt against the Pope's life in St. Peter's Square by Turk Ali Agca. The Bishop of Rome has attributed his life after the attack to the intercession of Our Lady. The bullet from the attack will be encrusted in the crown of the Virgin of Fatima at the Holy Father's request.
Although there is not much time left for the preparations necessary for the trip to Fatima, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, spokesman for the Vatican, said the Virgin has achieved far more difficult miracles in the past. The trip is yet to be confirmed officially, however.
Navarro-Valls highlighted the extraordinary tie that unites John Paul II to the Virgin of Fatima. On October 8, 2000 her statue will be taken to Rome. On the occasion of the Bishops' Jubilee, the Pope and his brother bishops will solemnly consecrate the Church and the world to Our Lady.
Fatima will be the exception in the Pope's travels next year. He is scheduled for four "biblical" pilgrimages outside of Rome: Iraq, where he will visit Ur of the Chaldeans, Abraham's birthplace; Egypt, to go to Sinai, scene of the dialogue between God and Moses -- a trip that should take place before April, to avoid the excessive heat of this peninsula in summer; the Holy Land -- including Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, at the end of March, as already confirmed officially; and Syria, to visit Damascus and follow in St. Paul's footsteps. These plans will be announced officially about one or two months before each takes place, Navarro-Valls said. ZE99112807
Christian leaders in the Holy Land and around the world have sharply criticized the Israeli decision to allow construction of a huge mosque on land that sits directly adjacent to the historic Christian basilica. The Christian leaders point out that the impulse to build a mosque came from a small, militant minority of the Muslims in the city where Jesus lived. In fact, there were apparently no plans for a mosque until Christians unveiled plans to use the same space as a plaza, to accommodate the pilgrims who were expected to visit Nazareth during the Jubilee Year.
In reaction against those plans, a group of Islamic militants lodged the claim that the land was Muslim property, and announced that they would build a large mosque on the site. (There are already several other mosques in the city.) When passions flamed over the issue-- producing riots that marred the Easter celebration in 1999-- the Israeli government stepped in, declaring that the contested land was government property. However, after a lengthy debate, the government then approved construction of a mosque on part of that parcel of land.
FIDES spoke to Father David Jaeger, a Franciscan friar who had recently returned to Rome from Jerusalem. A Jew who converted to Catholicism, Father Jaeger had been in the Holy Land for the past few months. He is also one of the individuals involved in the delicate negotiations that finally produced full relations between Israel and the Vatican.
"All the top Israeli officials I have spoken to in recent months," disapprove of the decision to authorize construction of the mosque, Father Jaeger reported. He added that these officials are "charged with relations with the Christian churches by various ministries" within the government, and added that "even high-ranking security force members were all absolutely against the initiative." The Franciscan priest said that the decision was ultimately made by the National Security Minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, who is "now isolated by the rest of the cabinet, which looks at the decision with disbelief and horror."
In the days after the Israeli government announced its controversial decision, a number of ranking police and army officers criticized Ben Ami for being "too hasty." A few generals have even handed in their resignation. Ehud Barak's cabinet is divided, and the split is now a matter of public record. Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen, the government's Religious Affairs Minister, emphatically denounced the authorization of the mosque building.
"The decision to allow the building of the mosque," Father Jaeger said, "is bad judgement on the part of a minister who has no experience of government whatsoever. Ben Ami is in fact only a beginner in this field."
"But there is hope," he continues, "because Prime Minister Barak obviously realizes the seriousness of the false step taken. Now he and his government should re-think the situation and take measures to annul the unhappy initiative."
The government's decision appears to be unpopular among Israeli citizens, who see it as a needless concession to the Islamic fundamentalists who are generally regarded as implacable enemies of the Jewish people.
Father Jaeger, for his part, believes that the Israeli government could use the occasion to build better relations with more moderate Muslims. Speaking to FIDES, he offered this advice:
"The Israeli government could take appropriate steps in favor of the Muslim community as a whole, and not only for its fundamentalist fringes. It could, for example, return Muslim property which Israel confiscated after the 1948 war. It could restore abandoned mosques and burial grounds, and build new mosques in appropriate places-- not on the doorstep of the Basilica of the Annunciation, so dear and unique for Christians world wide, because there the Word was made flesh."
However, in a November 26 briefing for journalists in Rome, the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican gave no evidence that his government is ready to reconsider its decision. Aharon Lopez said that the approval of mosque construction was "a compromise designed to restore harmony among the communities" in Nazareth. And he criticized Christians for their "excessive dramatization" of the problem.
The essence of the compromise, the ambassador explained, was the decision to approve only a relatively small mosque, rather than the large edifice the Islamic group had sought to build. Rather than filling the available space, the construction project would allow some room for a plaza to accommodate Christian pilgrims, he said.
Lopez declined to make any direct response to a November 23 statement in which the Vatican said that the Israeli decision would "foment divisions" between Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. But he implied that critics were themselves inflaming the situation by condemning the Israeli government.
Ambassador Lopez said that the government's decision was "not a provocation, either in substance or in spirit." He explained that approval of the mosque construction was more likely to bring harmony to Nazareth than the use of force. And he pointed out that after the decision was announced, the Islamic militants who had erected a tent in the disputed square, as a means of demonstrating their claim on the land, had now taken down that tent.
"It is a question of compromise; that is why it is impossible to please everyone," the Israeli diplomat said. "But we hope that time will prove that this compromise was the best solution to adopt."
Lopez said that the Israeli government is firmly committed to ensure the security of Christian pilgrims who come to the Holy Land during the Jubilee Year. He added that this determination influenced the government decision, since a compromise was deemed more likely to prevent confrontations in Nazareth.
Lopez concluded his briefing by insisting that relations between the Holy See and Israel remained "excellent" in spite of the latest flare- up.
"God is 'He Who comes': He came to be among us in the person of Jesus Christ; and He continues to come in the Church's sacraments and in every human being who asks us for help; and He will come in glory, at the end of the centuries. Because of this, Advent is characterized by a vigilant and active waiting, nourished by love and hope, that is expressed in praise and supplication and is translated into concrete works of fraternal charity," the Holy Father said.
Millenarianism is an old theological error that believes Christ will reign for a thousand years on earth at the end of times, after the resurrection of the just and before the Last Judgment. The millenarists interpret the text of the Apocalypse literally (Apoc.20:1-6), they believe in a number of different factors, such as the persecution of the Church, and the triumph of the forces of evil: the fulfillment of the Kingdom, which was believed imminent, receded in time.
Combated by Origen and abandoned during the 4th and 5th centuries, millenarianism reappeared in various expressions of Catholicism and during the Reformation. In the 19th century, it also inspired some currents of utopian socialism. At present, it has significant impact on followers of some New Age groups and in certain fundamentalist Christian groups, which go so far as to mix theological arguments with the famous Y2K problem, or Millennium Bug, which will affect computers throughout the world. Essentially, the situation exists because of a shortcut employed for many years in which most programmers used the abbreviated two-digit form to register all dates in an effort to save space, unaware that when the year 2000 arrives, many computers may confuse the year 2000 for 1900, with the undesired consequences of making all their calculations on this erroneous basis.
As usual, this Marian Pope ended his reflection this Sunday by entrusting to the Virgin the real living of the Jubilee message, which is none other than what Karol Wojtyla has preached from the first day of his pontificate: "to open wide the doors of your heart to Christ."
But for the computer buffs and the curious, in a recent press conference the Vatican assured the world that, from a technological perspective, it is 100% Y2K compliant. Experts advised that all the internal computer systems, including those used at Vatican Radio, the web site, bank, telephone system, newspaper and publishing house, are all ready for the new millenium. On the other hand, the U.S. Department of State has listed Italy as one of those countries seriously "at risk" of Y2K problems because of getting such a late start trying to resolve their problems. Italian Y2K officials admit they are way behind schedule but estimate they will get by with only minor glitches. One anonymous member of the Italian Y2K panel confessed that they're open to suggestions and even asked the Vatican for their help. When asked how the Vatican might contribute to solving Italy's enormous Y2K problems, he answered matter-of-factly: "We're hoping for a miracle!" ZE99112806
The three priests were killed in the village of Suai, reportedly along with dozens of others, by pro-Jakarta militias upset with a popular vote for independence from mainly Muslim Indonesia. The bodies of Fathers Hilario Madeira, 42, Francisco Soares, 34, and Tarcisius Dewanto, 34, were uncovered with 23 others at a location just inside West Timor earlier in the week.
Meanwhile, an Indonesian inquiry team said they were following up on other reports of mass graves in the other half of the island, Indonesian-controlled West Timor. The investigators said evidence from the site of the mass grave where the priests' bodies were found corroborated evidence from eyewitnesses. "After we checked the bodies we had the same information as from the testimony," Munir, coordinator of the independent Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS). "Most of them were killed by shots and cutting. They killed them in Suai but then the military and militia moved the bodies with trucks to West Timor."
Munir said his team would be traveling to the West Timor town of Atambua, where militias made their headquarters after international peacekeepers arrived in East Timor, to follow up on reports of mass graves there. "I think in many places like this we will find bodies," Munir said.
Many Timorese also expect other mass graves to be uncovered soon. Father Joseph Marwata Ageng, the senior Jesuit priest in Dili, said he personally believed there are many mass graves yet to be uncovered in West Timor. "On August 17, Father Hilario told me that in Suai alone in the church, there were around 2,700 people who took refuge ... so if we could only find 26 where are the others?" said Father Ageng.
Meanwhile out of Rome confirmation has been made that a Congolese priest was shot and killed by rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week, according to the MISNA Catholic missionary news agency.
Father Georges Kakuja was shot at 5:00 am last Monday at his parish in Kalonge in the eastern part of the country. MISNA said a group of Interahamwe rebels were responsible. Interahamwe are blamed for the genocide of 800,000 people in 1994 in Rwanda.
MISNA said its sources had reported that the priest was killed because he refused to cooperate with the rebels. Another priest in the parish managed to escape.
While in Colombo, Sri Lanka over 10,000 refugees of Sri Lanka's civil war have streamed into the compound of the Madhu Church shrine where, during a November 20 military attack, 44 of the sheltering people were killed.
The refugees are in urgent need of shelter as the monsoons have started. "Many of them are living under the trees," said Father Xavier Cruz, chairman of the Citizens Committee. The city of Mannar, already hosting refugees from Vavuniya, is also seeing a new influx of displaced persons, fleeing from Vinkali and surroundings. Some 4,000 people have found refuge in St. Sebastian's cathedral as the Citizens Committee appeals for food and shelter.
Non-governmental organizations and Church authorities have been finding it difficult to meet the needs and have asked government authorities to provide shelter materials and dry rations. Transportation has also come to a standstill, further affecting food supplies. Observers said that food supplies are sufficient only for a week, and unless arrangements are made to urgently transport food, a severe food shortage could occur.
The Liberation Tiger Tamil Eelam rebels advised villagers in the Wanni area, caught in cross-fire between government and insurgent Tamil troops, to leave their homes, even as the country's Catholic bishops once again appealed to both sides to avoid any confrontation in the proximity of Madhu Church compound.
Finally, in London eleven people were Monday being treated in a hospital for wounds suffered during a frenzied sword attack in a London Catholic church.
A naked man, brandishing a sword, charged into St. Andrew's Church, Thornton Heath, Sunday during the 10 o'clock Mass and began swinging indiscriminately at worshippers.
Paul Chilton, 50, was reported to have suffered life-threatening injuries to his hand and neck. Only the quick-thinking of an off-duty policeman prevented further tragedy.
Officer Tom Tracey was singing a psalm with the choir when the incident occurred. He ripped a pipe from the church organ and used it to fend off the man until four other members of the congregation were able to restrain the attacker.
Tracey, 40, was Monday being hailed as a hero, but he said he acted without thinking: "One minute I was singing the psalm and the next thing I was fighting with a sword-wielding assailant. I was very scared but one feels obliged to try to prevent people being hurt and limit the damage as much as one can. Thankfully there were some other members of the parish who showed great bravery and backed me up."
Father John Lennon, 78, who continued the Mass after the attack, said: "I am not trying to be brave but I wasn't a bit terrified. It was such a unique experience. I came to the center of the altar to continue the Mass. I looked down the church and much to my surprise the doors opened and a naked man came rushing towards me."
Parishioners returned to St. Andrew's Monday morning to pray for those injured in the attack. Parish priest Father John O'Toole said all the Church could offer at the moment was "silence and prayers."
"With all the tragedy there have also been stories of courage and great caring and goodness on display as well," he added. Prayers were also said for the alleged attacker and his family.
The attacker, Eden Strang, 26, was charged by police attempted murder against Chilton and the other victims. Doctors said the 3-foot sword cut through Chilton's jawbone, slicing three front teeth off at the root, severing his jugular vein, and also cutting off a thumb and finger. 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 and the features, dossiers and Daily Dispatches at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.