"From the social point of view," explained the Relator General in the press conference, "the objective is to ensure that all people receive a better education. In this way they´ll be able to use the technological means necessary to reach the level of development needed to escape from the situation of extreme poverty."
Cardinal Sandoval also explained what the principal challenges the Church must face in the path of evangelization: "Problems exist within the Church, which we must add to our considerations, but our primary goal is that of re-launching evangelization. Among the greatest challenges are religious indifference, moral problems and the aggression with which some sects attack the Catholic Church.
"Debt is one of the fundamental questions which the Synod will face." affirmed Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, during the opening session of the Synod for America, which began this morning in the Vatican. "It´s a great injustice" explained Cardinal Mahony, "that the money loaned never reached the people. It is an injustice that the money has only fed corruption instead of favoring the construction of schools, factories, and hospitals. The people have not received the benefits of these loans but instead they are compelled to pay with their sacrifices the debts and their interest."
The Archbishop of Los Angeles declared: "We are committed to finding a solution to this problem. We met with the president of the World Bank in Los Angeles, to ask for the canceling of the debt. But the problem also involves commercial banks which retain the greater part of the debt. We want to reduce the weight of these debts and possibly get some to cancel parts of the overall debt. It is sad to see how some governments continue to receive loans in order to buy armaments. Our objective is to begin the third millennium without debts."
Archbishop Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the president of the Latin American bishops' conference CELAM, declared: "We ought to seek to have the external debt canceled. CELAM has already met with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the InterAmerican Bank for Development, in the Vatican, in order to begin a dialogue and cancel part of the debt. The Club of Paris-- the group of the most powerful creditor nations-- seems to be more open now. Nevertheless problems exist with the commercial banks due to the stipulations of their bilateral accords. On our part we have insisted that Latin America take tough measures in the fight against corruption, since most of the debt is due to corruption in the governments."
Archbishop Andres Rodriguez, who is also president of the Commission for Synod Information, addressed the problem of Cuba in these words: "The best thing the Church can offer to those countries which have still no religious liberty is manifested by the visit of the Holy Father. For this reason the visit of John Paul II to Cuba takes on particular importance. We´re dealing with the only country of Latin America which he hasn´t visited."
Archbishop Andres Rodriguez also offered an overview of one of the pressing problems of Catholicism in the Americas: a shortage of priests in several countries: "There are a few countries where these figures are alarmingly disparate," he said This is the case in Cuba (17,411 Catholics per priest), Dominican Republic (11,121), and Haiti (11,332). On the other hand, in the Northern Hemisphere, the United States boasts 1,117 Catholics per priest and Canada 1,176.
The evidence of the numbers is even more dumbfounding when the situation of pastoral centers is analyzed. Here the scarcity is alarming. In Africa, there is one pastoral center for every 1,292 faithful; in Asia, for every 1,749; in continental Central America, for every 7,338; in the Central American islands, for every 4,610 and in South America, for every 4,121. In Mexico, one of the countries with the greatest number of Catholics in the world, there are almost 9,000 Catholics for each church, chapel, or meeting place. This figure is worse than those in Cuba (7,016), Columbia (7,594) and Bolivia (8,519). In Canada, on the other hand, there are 2,087 Catholics for each pastoral center, and in the United States, 2,667.
Looking at the numbers, it is impressive that the sects have not converted more of the faithful in what may cease to be called the "Continent of Hope," since occasionally Catholics in remote communities must walk several miles to attend Mass and have never received a catechetical lesson in their lives.
Nonetheless, at the present time, we are seeing an interesting inversion of the tendency: the time is ripe for a surge in vocations. As of January 1, 1986, in continental Central America, there were 6,220 candidates for the priesthood; in insular Central America, 886 and in South America 14,535. In January 1996, these numbers increased to 8,601 (continental Central America), 1,045 (insular Central America), and 18,433 (South America). This represents an average increase of over 20%. On the other hand, in this sense, the situation in the United States and Canada is becoming dramatic: as of January 1, 1986, these two countries together had 8,090 seminarians, while by 1996, the number had plummeted to 5,464.
Although the spiritual realm is difficult to encapsulate in numbers, there are undeniable indications in these data, which will serve for reflection in the American Synod.
In what was seen as among the most influential talks of the first day, the Spanish-born Bishop Calderon said that "the Church, and all Christians, but especially the evangelists have to realize that the Gospel is not an ideology, not even a divine message, but a living person: Christ present among us."
Bishop Calderon was highly critical of what he saw as an excess of organizations and structures within the Church, and said that "in this decisive moment, at the Synod, we have to examine with courage, sincerity, and realism how much we are accomplishing in the task of evangelization." "
Bishop Calderon synthesized his position in six practical proposals:
1- a clear announcement that "Jesus Christ is and must always be" the center of the Church's mission.
2- development of new pastoral strategies that may be simple, direct and "capable of solving the challenges posed to us."
3- listening to the needs of the poor and minorities-- including Hispanics in the US-- in order to "respond to their needs, certainly social, but especially spiritual."
4- fostering "a deep Church reformation, keeping in mind that reformation does not mean simple change."
5- a dedication to the proposition that the synod assembly in itself will become a moment of evangelization.
6- a suggested title for the apostolic exhortation that will come out of the American synod: "Christus in America".
The Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights said that 27 advertisers have agreed to not to sponsor the show after tens of thousands of Catholic viewers promised to boycott any sponsors. The show has also suffered low ratings during its run, ranking 94th in the Nielsen ratings system. Only four other shows on ABC, NBC, or CBS ranked lower and those have all been canceled.
Meanwhile, 117 priests and nuns signed their names to an ad on Monday in the trade magazine Advertising Age supporting the show. "If you want your religion to be fantasy, then you can go watch 'Touched By an Angel,'" said Sister Maureen Fiedler of Hyattsville, Maryland, head of the organization Catholics Speak Out. "If you want your religion to deal with the nitty-gritty issues of life, then you should watch 'Nothing Sacred.'" Four bishops were among those who signed onto the ad: Bishop Raymond Lucker of New Ulm, Minnesota, Auxiliary Bishop P. Francis Murphy of Baltimore, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, and Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of New Haven, Connecticut.
The group told reporters at a news conference that the programs would only increase sexual activity among teens, not decrease it. "(Sex) education will lead not only to sexual promiscuity and sexual excesses, but it will also lead to a tremendous growth of psychological pathologies and spur drug addiction and alcoholism," children's psychiatrist Boris Drapkin said. While the country has seen an explosion of prostitution and pornography since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992, the country continues to resist outside attempts to indoctrinate children in Western ideas of sexuality. "The introduction into our mentality of .. American views is a violation of the ecology of the soul -- and the dangers of mindless intervention into ecology are well known," psychiatrist Yuri Shevchenko said.
An experimental sex education program, sponsored by the United Nations, was launched last year, but quickly suspended following an uproar of protests over its explicit texts. The course, covering a wide range of topics, was taught to children aged 12-14 in 16 schools throughout Russia. Text books offered explicit sexual information, stressed health risks of teen-age pregnancies and abortion, called for "tolerance for sexual minorities" including homosexuals, and advocated the use of contraceptives.
In a related story, Russian police arrested eight Americans suspected of smuggling hundreds of religious icons and other relics into Finland, the Russian news agency Interfax reported on Monday.
Twenty-nine bags containing more than 1,000 icons were discovered in the cargo compartment of bus at a border checkpoint, Interfax said. Icons, considered part of Russia's cultural heritage, are not allowed out of the country.
Andrei Trakhanov, deputy chief of the Vyborg customs department, described it as the largest attempt to smuggle antiques over the Russian-Finnish border in the past eight years. The report did not identify the US citizens or say when the incident occurred. It also did not say whether any charges have been filed.