Politicos' Papal Appeal; Young at 60

3 Europeans Echo "Centesimus Annus"

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, MAY 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Three European political figures recently came together in the Italian Parliament's Sala delle Colonne to offer their counterparts advice that Pope John Paul II would have appreciated: "Be not afraid."

The voices of the three, in fact, were united under the banner of John Paul II's social encyclical "Centesimus Annus."

They made their appeal May 4 at a conference that focused on what political leaders need to do in order to promote a free and virtuous society. The conference is just one in a series presented by the Acton Institute to mark the encyclical's 15th anniversary.

This U.S.-based think tank invited former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar to show how the guidelines of "Centesimus Annus" can help decision makers to implement the Church's social teaching by encouraging an economy that puts people first.

"To have individual and social opportunities is the most important question for me," Aznar said. "During my time as prime minister, 6 million people got a new job in Spain. It was a social revolution, a market economy based on Christian values."

The conference highlighted how the encyclical could work for non-Western countries, too.

Mart Laar, a two-term prime minister of Estonia, told how the document's guidelines play a large part in assisting ex-Communist countries to avoid economic marginalization during periods of transition.

"When we look closely at 'Centesimus Annus,' we find guidelines that hold the body of the reforms we have seen work in such countries as ours," Laar said. "These positive transitional situations actually prove how well-written the encyclical is and how right and how precise it has been, and continues to be, especially when implemented well."

Laar's accomplishments have won him esteem in secular circles. On Wednesday, he was in Chicago to receive the 2006 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. When leading Estonia in the immediate post-Soviet period, Laar, a historian who had read only one book on economics, sparked the flat-tax revolution that helped save his nation.

His advice to other political leaders echoes the thought of John Paul II.

"Have courage to make decisions and really empower your people," the 46-year-old told his audience.

"The task of the government," Laar added, "is not to be popular or to stay in power forever. The task of the government is to make the reforms which are moving the power to the hand of people in all areas including the economical activity, the political, social activity and so on.

"Too many of us politicians are afraid to make the decisions that everyone knows need to be made … it doesn't allow for a very workable democracy."

For his part, Italian Senator Marcello Pera pointed out the difficulty of implementing in the public arena anything that suggests religious values. Pera, who co-authored two books with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, underlined the need for renewed action on behalf of Catholic politicians in Europe.

"It is true," said the senator, "that if you wish to say anything from a religious angle or introduce some religious elements in your legislation or even defend religious values against secularized legislation, then you are condemned and accused."

"However," he added, "it is time for those who belong to any of the parties, who have a genuine interest in saving our traditional European identity, to react to the secularization of legislation in our societies today."

How? Pera recommended maintaining a good, active network. He used the example of how his team in Italy recently launched a successful manifesto "signed by thousands committing themselves to taking certain pro-active measures."

"We must inform ourselves on various reforms and the Church's angle and share ideas in forums such as this one," he told the conference. "Otherwise we'll fail in our policies."

Aznar of Spain agreed. "Silence is the accomplice of relativism," the 52-year-old told our ZENIT team privately at the event. "By talking and defending our values we have a possibility of defeating moral relativism. This is my goal for the future.

"I agree with Pope Benedict XVI when he talks about the problems of Europe in this moment: about fundamentalism, terrorism, relativism. We must fight in the public square against these tendencies every day … and feel the responsibility to defend our society. I lecture, give speeches, emphasize individual responsibility, defend family values, defend human rights, free expression and true democracy."

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Gearing Up for Uganda

The International Young Catholic Students movement is turning 60, but not growing old.

The international coordination, established in September 1946, is celebrating what its members see as its ever increasing relevance. The organizers directing this 85-country-strong movement were in Rome this week to prepare for some of their 60th-anniversary events.

They told me that a lot of their meetings with Vatican dicasteries were focused beyond this year and on preparations for their World Council to be held in Kampala, Uganda, in August 2007.

The international coordinator of the IYCS, Margareta Brosnan, said that the organizers' time in Rome is vital when it comes to inviting particular members of the various pontifical councils to participate in their gathering.

"The presence of these Church leaders will be very important to the 200 select world student representatives coming with their chaplains from across the globe," she said.

It will be the first World Council the network has held in 16 years. The chaplain for the group, Dominican Father Mike Deeb, said there is a sense of urgency surrounding this upcoming event.

"The value of having the World Council lies in our world's need to constantly develop a sense of global solidarity," the South African priest explained. "It's great that here the young leaders of the future can taste, see and go past their own nationalistic consciousness and work to understand others at this real and active level ... a vital step in achieving peace."

This is why the choice of Uganda as the host country was natural.

Vincent Bagire, chairman of the Ugandan organizing committee, said that "as the World Council will be focusing on formation, exchange and solidarity, many of the delegates will be able to witness the importance of this through direct observation of our experience."

Simon Opoka, national Young Catholic Students coordinator of Uganda, elaborated on that idea.

"When we talk of such global educational campaigns of the Young Catholic Students like fighting poverty and building peace," he said, "[...] we want participants to observe what some of the most important issues concerning our young people are, what poverty and peace building really mean, and demonstrate how following Catholic social teaching can make a difference."

The two-week World Council will include workshops, sessions, reflections on Benedict XVI's encyclical and collective prayer times.

"It's all about empowering younger students to be in service of their fellow peers," said Brosnan. "We'll hear from all the participants as we exchange how our faith manifests in our subregional activities."

The secretary-general of IYCS, Manoj Mathew, clarified that "in order to achieve the optimum results in our program, we are developing new pedagogies and methodologies to help students find creative ways to best interact over these days; to have a more enriched dialogue and understanding of different ways of formation; different ways of understanding faith and the learning process ..."

This is why the Rome trip is so important.

"It's the sharing of experiences that counts," said Vincent Bagire, the Ugandan organizer. "It's great to discuss with and feel the Church at this high a level in order to take that renewed energy back home with us."

Alternately, Opoka compared being in Rome with being home and informing parents of what exciting things the students have been up to.

"Back in Uganda we have seen the wonderful effects of the YCS on our culture especially by following the motto of 'see, judge and act,'" said the 28-year-old. "It is an honor to be able to host and encourage involvement in an event that will undoubtedly change the future lives of many for the better."

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Catherine Smibert can be reached at catherine@zenit.org.