Pope headed to Africa next spring

It’s official — Pope Benedict XVI plans to make his first trip to Africa next March, visiting Cameroon and Angola.

The pope announced the trip at Sunday’s closing Mass for the Synod of Bishops on the Bible. He also confirmed plans to hold the second special Synod of Bishops for Africa at the Vatican in October 2009.

The pope said he will hand-deliver the African synod’s Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, when he travels to Cameroon in March to meet with representatives from African bishops’ conferences.

The 2009 synod theme will be “The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”  The first African synod took place at the Vatican in 1994. Ten years later, Pope John Paul II said another synod would be held to allow church leaders to address the continent’s changing religious, demographic, social and political scenes.

Pope Benedict said he would go from Cameroon to Angola, where he will celebrate the 500th anniversary of that country’s evangelization.

For months, rumors have been percolating around the Vatican of a papal trip to Africa, a continent that has not hosted a pope since 1998.  In October, the Vatican’s advance team traveled to Africa to firm up plans, according to sources.

At present, it’s the only foreign trip on the pope’s calendar next year. With the synod to follow, it looks like 2009 with be a year of Africa for the church.

An opening on women lectors?

VATICAN CITY — Probably the most newsy — and somewhat unexpected — item in the final propositions of the Synod of Bishops on the Bible was a proposal to allow women to be officially installed in the ministry of lector.

The issue was raised in Proposition 17 on “The ministry of the word and women,” and on Saturday morning it passed with 191 votes in favor, 45 opposed and three abstentions, according to our sources.

“It is hoped that the ministry of lector be opened also to women, so that their role as proclaimers of the word may be recognized in the Christian community,” the proposition states in its final sentence.

What Pope Benedict XVI will do with that proposal is unclear, according to Vatican people I spoke with shortly after the synod vote.

The issue, of course, is not whether women can act as lectors, or Scripture readers, in Catholic liturgies. They already do so all over the world, including at papal Masses.

The question is whether women can be officially installed in such a ministry. Until now, the Vatican has said no: canon law states that only qualified lay men can be “installed on a stable basis in the ministries of lector and acolyte.” At the same time, canon law does allow for “temporary deputation” as lector to both men and women, which is why women routinely appear as lectors.

The reasoning behind church law’s exclusion of women from these official ministries has long been questioned. For centuries, the office of lector was one of the “minor orders,” generally reserved to seminarians approaching ordination. While seminarians still are installed formally as “acolyte” and then as “lector”  before being ordained deacons, since the 1970s service at the altar and proclaiming the readings at Mass have been seen primarily as ministries stemming from baptism and not specifically as steps toward ordination.

“It’s important to emphasize that any proposition for women lectors would simply arise from their baptism and not from any presumptive opening for orders,” said one Vatican source.

The synod took up the question because some have suggested that in promoting greater scriptural preparation and presentation, the church designate “ministers of the word.” Lectors were seen as natural candidates.

It’s interesting that this proposal, while passing overwhemlingly, drew the greatest number of “no” votes than any of the other 54 propositions, most of which passed with fewer than five opposing votes.

Poll shows how young Catholics say they’ll vote in 2008 election

A recent survey on the political views of young Catholic voters found that they have similar views to their peers on many issues in this election.

The “Faith and Politics of Young Adults in the 2008 Election” survey, sponsored by Faith in Public Life and conducted by Public Religion Research, polled young adults ages 18-34 on issues such as the economy, immigration, the environment, torture, same-sex marriage, abortion, employment nondiscrimination, religious liberty, and the role and size of government.

“As we go forward, expect to see young people across faiths focusing more and more on issues that reflect a concern for America’s image in the world and how our government treats the least of these at home and abroad. Expect to see the dividing lines of the culture wars continue to fade,” said Katie Paris, director of communications strategy at Faith in Public Life.

You can access the entire report, including statistics on the so-called “God gap,” views of candidate “friendliness” to religion, and the candidate preference of different religious groups.

After the synod, how will you use your Bible?

Now that the world Synod of Bishops has said that Catholics should each own — and use — a Bible, what ideas can you give for all of us to accomplish that in our busy lives? Just open and fill out the comments form below. (Comments are moderated for spam, etc., but, if you stay on topic, yours will eventually show up.)

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

P.S.: Hope you’re following our Bible Blog in conjunction with the synod. And if you’re not, make sure you come back here next week. (Though the synod will be over, the Bible Blog will continue.) Our next guest blogger will be Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who has been associated with the Vatican Observatory since 1993. He’ll write about how stars are mentioned in the Bible and other questions about our universe and God’s creation. Don’t miss it!

More on the alternative dismissals at Mass

Our friend Rocco over at “Whispers in the Loggia” just this morning highlighted our story on the Vatican’s preparation of three alternative endings for dismissal at Mass. But what he didn’t know was that we were also preparing a second story on the practical implications of the proposal, including the fact that you’re not likely to hear the new endings until 2012. You can read that story here.

CNS Bible Blog: How will we recognize him? (Luke 24)

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

Has your boss ever said to you, “Go to the airport and pick up John Doe, who is coming in for a business meeting.”? Your response is immediate and automatic: “How will I recognize him?” And you hope that your boss will name several easily recognizable characteristics, such as his height and the color of his suit coat.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were not able to identify the stranger that walked into their midst. They did not recognize Jesus. They did not recognize his physical appearance or the sound of his voice. They did not recognize him on human terms.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who has been briefing English-speaking journalists on synod speeches at the Vatican, commissioned Benedictine Sister Marie-Paul of the Mount of Olives Monastery to paint this icon of the Emmaus story’s two main scenes. (CNS photo by Father Thomas Rosica. Used with permission)

So when did they recognize him? When he gave himself to them. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Lk 24:30). They recognized him when he gave himself to them in the Eucharist. In other words, they recognized him when he gave himself to them on divine terms in the sacrament of his body and blood. At the beginning of the journey they did not recognize him on human terms, but at the end of the journey they recognized him in his divinity before he vanished from their sight (Lk 24:31).

The story of the road to Emmaus has many lessons for us and we wish to focus on only one: The active agent in revelation is Christ himself. We can’t recognize our savior on human terms while using our human skills. We don’t recognize Christ just by walking down the road and discussing “the things that have taken place in these days” (Lk 24:18). Rather, we recognize him when he opens the Scriptures for us and breaks the bread for us. We are actors on the stage when Revelation takes place but we never have the lead role. The main actor is always Christ, our savior. He reveals himself on the road to Emmaus, on the road to Damascus, and on the road of life.

Synod note: The Emmaus story has surfaced several times in the course of the synod. Don Pascual, superior general of the Society of Don Bosco — men dedicated to youth work — told the synod, “It is both a story of what happened and a programmatic itinerary for evangelization.” The story tells where we are going and how to get there. Where: to Jesus. How: walking together.

Like many youths whose hopes have been dashed, the two men on the road were deeply disappointed in the community they left behind back in Jerusalem. They were walking out on it. Everything about “the things that have taken place back there in these days gone by” had gone wrong.

Jesus walks together with them, on the way. Between the community they left and the community to which they return in the end, there is Jesus.

Evangelization outside the context of community is dangerous and false, Don Pascual insisted. Connecting with community, at a new depth, heals and restores hope. Jesus connects with community. Jesus restores hope.

Voting and being a faithful citizen

The U.S. presidential race is being hotly debated on the campaign trail, by the water coolers in the workplace, and probably before and after church.

In an Oct. 16 column “Voting as a Faithful Citizen” in The West Tennessee Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Memphis, Bishop J. Terry Steib discusses why it’s important to study the issues, why it’s important to vote and why he won’t reveal for whom he will cast his ballot.

He also addresses why he believes clergy should not endorse candidates from the pulpit and discusses the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2007 letter “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, Mich., writes about the duty to vote and the formation of conscience, and Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu has issued a pastoral letter on the virtues of voting. In his Monthly Message, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., tells Catholic voters they should focus “more on the needs of the weak than on the benefits to the strong.”

In a homily delivered Oct. 19 at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Fargo, N.D., Bishop Samuel J. Aquila told worshippers that above loyalty to candidates and political parties, Catholics must “place the God-given alienable rights first, bginning with the right to life.”

These are just a few of the U.S. Catholic bishops who have issued statements or written columns for their diocesan newspapers or Web sites. Catholic News Service reported on a number of them in an Oct. 22 roundup story.