Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid said that, despite indications of "trouble" between the Vatican and the Iraqi government, the visit by Pope John Paul II will still take place. "Up until now we are assured His Holiness will come to Iraq. There is no change to his agenda or program," he said in London.
The Vatican reportedly suspended preparations for the visit temporarily this week because of mixed signals from Iraq. Although the Holy Father has stressed that trip will be purely religious, the travel arrangements require him to first stop in Baghdad, where some elements of the regime want to make the papal visit a political event.
Last month, a group of Islamic scholars connected to a government faction insisted that the Holy Father condemn "American-Zionist aggression" if he comes. Vatican sources said that since the statement appeared to reflect the thinking of some government leaders, preparations had been suspended pending clarification.
Patriarch Raphael told the Royal Institute for International Affairs that he has not received any indication that the trip is in jeopardy and added the visit will have no political overtones. He also said protocol indicated that the Pope should meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "I think the president will meet him. There is nothing strange in that," he said. "It is my conviction the Holy Father will not discuss anything political."
He repeated his call in Baucau, the second-largest city of East Timor, where he went a short while later. After being received like a hero, he met the other Bishop of Timor, Basilio Do Nascimento. The first stage of reconstruction will be the establishment of a temporary U.N. administration, but "the second (stage) must allow Timor's National Council of Resistance to organize civil society on the basis of law," Bishop Belo said.
"We, members of the Church, are ready to collaborate, but the only priority for me today is to be here with the people, to talk and pray with them." Bishop Belo said he would ask the people "not to look to the past but to the future. With prayer and confidence we shall recover hope and begin to reconstruct."
Outside Dili, however, the situation continues to be uncertain. Yesterday there was a clash between the international peace force and the militias. The problem of the refugees continues to be a burning issue as is the possibility of those in Western Timor returning to their homes.
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees has denounced the way in which Indonesian authorities are registering the refugees. They are conducting a "poll" on their willingness to return to East Timor. According to the international agency "Fides," in the West Timor refugee camps red-colored cards have been distributed to those who wish to return to East Timor, and blue ones to those who do not. Those who have red cards have had their food rations cut.
Sadako Ogata, the U.N. Commission's president, deplored the absence of international personnel in the refugee camps. "The Commission should have unlimited access to the evacuated to confirm that their choice has been expressed freely," Ogata said in a note published in Geneva. ZE99100705
During his stay in Europe last week, Bishop Belo spoke out against the inhumane conditions that refugees are being forced to live in and denounced Indonesia's failure to adequately respond to their needs.
In a visit to the International Catholic charity "Aid to the Church in Need" in Königstein, Germany, last Thursday, Bishop Belo said there is a an acute shortage of everything -- accommodation, food, drinking water, clothing and medical supplies. There is a danger that the provisions of the refugee camps in East and West Timor will break down. All the hastily erected refugee camps of the local parishes are close to the limits of their capacity, he explained. Despite this, there is no sign of the flood of refugees abating. The bishop has appealed to Church aid agencies to provide rapid help. The situation is so desperate, he said, that there is a real danger of famine.
Ever since the escalation of the violence against the civilian population in early September, the Catholic Church has been caring for thousands of refugees in camps in its parishes in both the Eastern and Western parts of the island. Thousands have fled from East Timor to the western half of the island in order to escape death at the hands of the militia and sections of the Indonesian army, while others have been forcibly abducted there.
The situation of the refugees is "desperate" says Bishop Belo, since even here they are not safe from attack. Their fate is "altogether uncertain", since many of the camps have been hermetically sealed by the army.
Bishop Belo stressed that he was not a political spokesman for his country abroad but wished simply to draw attention to the plight of the people.
Nevertheless, he welcomed the fact that politicians in Western Europe have expressed their readiness to support East Timor. In his view there is a great danger from the nationalist opposition in Jakarta, which has gained a growing number of supporters in recent weeks and is seeking to present a combined front in opposition to the independence of East Timor from Indonesia. On November 1st the Indonesian parliament will decide on the independence, or otherwise, of East Timor.
Since 1994, "Aid to the Church in Need" has supported projects in East Timor for a total of $150,000, and since the beginning of September it has given $60,000 for the support of the refugees in West Timor, in the dioceses of Kapaong and Atambua. Further support is planned for the rebuilding of the vast number of churches and parish centers that have been destroyed. ZE99100720
While state Democrats contend the law is designed to benefit seniors who would lose Social Security benefits if they were to marry, Republicans countered that Social Security benefits are a federal problem that doesn't require the dilution of the understanding of family.
The California GOP, in a statement, said that while the intent of the program is obviously to advance the radical homosexual agenda, their greatest concern was its provision for heterosexual couples. They pointed to studies showing that marriage is the building block of a healthy society, and central to the nurturing and raising of children. But they noted that the marriage rate has dropped 43 percent in the last 50 years and the new law will only further discourage people from marrying.
"The recognition and support of unmarried cohabitation unfortunately casts marriage as merely one of several alternative lifestyle choices," according to a study by Rutgers University's National Marriage Project. "As the alternatives are strengthened, the institution of marriage is bound to weaken."
The new law came after Davis signed into law two other controversial bills that would require health plans to cover contraception, even if employers funding those plans for their employees have legitimate faith-based objections to contraception.