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Rome Notes: Fatima's New Church Moves Ahead; Critiquing the U.S. on Iraq

5/14/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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Controversy at Shrine Hasn't Affected Construction

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, MAY 14, 2004 (Zenit) - Today is the anniversary of the first of the Blessed Virgin Mary's apparitions at Fatima, in 1917.

In recent months, the sanctuary at Fatima was the focus of controversy because of comments by its rector, Monsignor Luciano Gomes Paulo Guerra, that a new Church being built near the shrine would be used for interreligious purposes (see Rome Notes Jan. 1).

I spoke to Bishop Serafim de Sousa Ferreira e Silva, of the Leiria-Fatima Diocese, to find out the latest on the situation.

Plans for the new church are going ahead, he said. The church will be a Catholic one, much like the Pius X Church in Lourdes, built near the shrine to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who come to Fatima each month.

As with any Catholic church, it will be open to all, but the services held there will be Catholic.

The bishop told me he had just been to visit Fatima and will be returning for today's celebrations. The controversy of several months ago has not affected either the work on the church nor the number of pilgrims who visit the shrine in Portugal.

"The pilgrims who come here are not concerned by a controversy caused by a few foreigners. People come here to pray, and they continue to come in the thousands," he said.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, expressed the hope that those devoted to Fatima remember that "the figure of Mary should be one that brings people together rather than divides them."

"The best witness we can give," Archbishop Fitzgerald said, "is to take our example from the words of the Acts of the Apostles, 'See how they love one another.'"

* * *

Losing the High Road?

The war in Iraq has put into high relief questions about the Catholic Church's position on the conflict.

The Holy See's opposition to the war has caused some Catholic thinkers, such as Americans George Weigel and Michael Novak, to question whether the Vatican promotes a "functional pacifism" which, according to Weigel, "retains the intellectual apparatus of the just war tradition of moral reasoning but always comes down, at the bottom line, in opposition to the use of armed force."

They also question the Vatican's insistence on the authority of the United Nations given that the latter is sometimes ineffective and in opposition to some Church teachings, for example, on the family.

These Catholic American intellectuals have been frequent guests at Vatican conferences arguing for renewed thinking of the Church's position on war.

A European critique of this American position was provided recently by a professor of social ethics at the Gregorian University during an April 29 conference on Catholic thought and world politics, in the presence of a number of Americans, including Weigel and the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Jim Nicholson.

Professor Antonio Baggio opened his talk quoting U.S. President George Bush speaking in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"They hate our freedom," the president said, "and they used it to attack us."

What is this freedom on which America is based? Baggio asked.

Since the founding of the United States, he suggested, freedom has been intimately connected to fraternity.

He quotes Thomas Jefferson's 1823 letter to James Monroe criticizing Europe as "nations in eternal war."

Jefferson wrote: "On our part never had a people so favorable a chance of trying the opposite system of peace and fraternity with mankind and the direction of all our means and faculties to the purposes of improvement instead of destruction."

Baggio noted that the Declaration of Independence states that, "out of decent respect for the opinions of mankind," the 18th-century Americans hastened to explain to the world the reasons for their actions.

"The Declaration," said Baggio, "confers on mankind an enormous weight: invoking it as witness to the rights it declares, accepting mankind as judge of its duties. The decisions taken by the people must be shared by that humanity that the people themselves call to stand in judgment of its motives."

Baggio quoted Thomas Paine, in "Common Sense": "The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise which are not local but universal and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected and in the Event of which their Affections are interested."

Such a history, Baggio claims, is at once an opportunity and a danger for America.

"The danger is that of maintaining that the United ...

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