Catholic churches throughout the United States welcomed new members as catechumens (pictured at a church in Huntington Station, New York) and candidates were received into the faith at the Easter Vigil. The numbers reflect changing demographics within the Church in the US. Cities attracting large numbers of immigrants continue to receive a correspondingly large number of new Catholics.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles welcomed 1,700 catechumens and 1,127 candidates, while the Archdiocese of Seattle baptised 664 catechumens and received 424 candidates into full communion. Some of the older bastions of Catholicism posted smaller numbers.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia welcomed only 253 catechumens and 236 candidates into the Church. The greater numbers in the South and West demonstrate the shift of gravity within US Catholicism away from the Northeast and Midwest towards the centre.
The Vatican’s nuncio to Ukraine has confirmed that the Pope hopes to visit, and could take part in international negotiations to end the war in its eastern Donbas region.
Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti said: “The condition for his visit will be that it helps promote unity, love and mutual understanding, rather than deepening division and confrontation. In this context, the ecumenical aspect would be very important.”
The Italian nuncio made his comments to Ukraine’s Ohladach magazine, as an Easter ceasefire was declared between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in Donbas. He said that the Pope was especially concerned about prisoners of war and about the profits made by those selling arms to both sides. He added that Francis was ready to join with the “Normandy Four” group of diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, who have attempted through meetings and exchanges since June 2014 to secure a lasting peace deal.
Teachers in pensions battle
A group of retired teachers from a Puerto Rican parochial school are battling the Archdiocese of San Juan in court, claiming the archdiocese owes them US$4.7 million in pensions. The Archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves, said that the pensions were an act of charity, and the Church is not obliged to pay them. On 27 March, an appeals court temporarily halted a judge’s ruling that ordered the authorities to embargo the accounts of the country’s Catholic Church to ensure the payment of the disputed teacher pensions. The Church eliminated the pension plan for the 66 retired teachers from the Perpetuo Socorro academy in the capital, San Juan, starting from 2016, because the payouts were greater than payments into the pension fund.
The pension system was created in 1979, when there were 80 Catholic schools participating. More than half have since closed. The island of Puerto Rico, a US territory, has been suffering a financial crisis, and the public pension system has come under scrutiny.
A fire has killed 68 people in Valencia, Venezuela, at the Carabobo police station, known as Policarabobo, which was being used as a jail. The Archbishop of Caracas, Jorge Urosa, said the tragedy demonstrated the need for reform of the Venezuelan penal system. A gang within Carabobo had hosted a party on the night of 27 March, which led to a fight with the guards. Local witnesses say that prison guards started the fire, not the prisoners, as the authorities have stated. Venezuela’s prisons are seriously overcrowded. In 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, 49,644 people were held in prisons that have a capacity for 19,000 inmates.
Meanwhile, a flour shortage in Venezuela has led to a lack of hosts. The neighbouring diocese of Cúcuta in Colombia donated 250,000 hosts for border dioceses to celebrate liturgies during the Easter Triduum. Venezuela is facing severe food and medicine shortages amid an economic crisis under President Nicolás Maduro. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country as necessities become increasingly scarce.
Alvarado elected president
Voters in Costa Rica elected Carlos Alvarado from the ruling Citizen Action Party (PAC) as their new president on 1 April. The centre-left candidate, who has promised to allow gay marriage, secured 61 per cent of the vote. He edged out a neo-Pentecostal preacher and previous MP, Fabricio Alvarado, of the evangelical National Restoration Party (PRN), who vowed to restore what he called traditional values by preventing gay marriage and restricting access to abortions.
The president of Germany’s Bishops’ Conference has urged Catholics to forge closer ties with Muslims in countering a current trend that he sees to be reasserting “hard power”. Preaching in Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said Catholics should join with Muslims, adherents of other faiths and non-believers on a mutual “path of non-violence”.
Lay-led Catholic bodies in education, health and welfare services in Australia have much to teach the rest of the Church as it responds to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the chief executive of the Church’s liaison body with the Commission said in his last public address in the role.
Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, told the reform group Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn on 22 March that the Royal Commission “went out of its way” to affirm those Church structures that had deployed the best practices in education, health and welfare. “One glaring feature of these structures is their lay leadership,” he said.
Swiss update Lord’s Prayer
Like France and other French-speaking countries, francophone Switzerland has now updated the Lord’s Prayer. Catholic, Reformed and Protestant Churches in French-speaking parts of Switzerland introduced the new wording, “Do not let us enter into temptation” (“Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation”), instead of “Do not submit us to temptation”, on Easter Sunday. German-speaking Switzerland, like other German-speaking countries, has retained the older translation of the original Greek text: “And lead us not into temptation” (“Und führe uns nicht in Versuchung”).