OCTOBEH WAS a month of special significance to Pope John Paul II, who chose it as his moment to consecrate the third millennium to Our Lady of Fatima, whom he believes saved his life from an assassin's bullet on May 13 1981.
The statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought from Portugal to St Peter's Basilica, Rome. The Holy Father addressed an audience of 1,500 bishops, including Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, declaring: "Today as never before in the past, humanity stands at a crossroads. And once again, 0 Virgin Most Holy, salvation lies fully and uniquely in your Jesus, your Son."
He then entrusted "all people" to Our Lady, beginning with the unborn and ending with the elderly and "all who are alone and without hope".
It was also the month in which the Queen met the Pope at a private audience at the Vatican, their first encounter since 1982. The pair exchanged gifts and chatted cordially for about 20 minutes before Queen Elizabeth departed to visit Rome's Anglican Centre.
CATHOLIC HUMAN rights activist James Mawdsley, held in solitary confinement in a Burmese jail for over a year, was finally released.
James, 27, from Lancashire, was wrongly imprisoned for 17 years within 10 hours of entering Burma legally and handing out leaflets in support of democracy and in protest at the genocide of the Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic minorities. Earlier in the month, he had been badly beaten up over a period of three days by 15 guards at Kengtung Prison, suffering a broken nose.
When Foreign Office Minister Baroness Scotland confronted Dr Kyaw Win, the Burmese Ambassador, over the treatment ofJames, she was told that he had inflicted the injuries himself.
The junta finally released James after Jared Genser, his representative to the United Nations, working with the Jubilee Campaign, made a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which discovered ten separate violations of international law and recommended that he should he released immediately. Lord Alton of Liverpool, who had campaigned relentlessly for his release, said James could now speak on behalf of the persecuted ethnic minorities "with colossal moral authority". Lord Alton said: "I know he will be committing himself to campaign for genocide charges against the Burmese military."
During the same week, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham attempted to rally the Catholics of his diocese to the pro-life cause by urging them to put pressure on their MPs to vote against any proposals to legalise the cloning of human embryos for "therapeutic" purposes, a practice he condemned as "a grave abuse of human life in its most vulnerable form".
In his pastoral letter, Archbishop Nichols said: "The Catholic position is clear. We cannot agree to the generation and use of human life through cloning for the sole purpose of experimentation and the generation of new cells or organs, since this involves the direct and deliberate destruction of human life.
"Your parliamentary representative must take your views into account. But he or she can do so only if you make your views known."
The month ended on a sour note with the onset of a media campaign to force Archbishop John Ward of Cardiff from office following the conviction of a priest in his diocese for child abuse. Fr Joseph Jordan, who was sent to jail for a total of eight years, had been ordained by the archbishop some 18 months earlier. BBC's Panorama was approached by Catholics within his own diocese with the idea of a programme critical of Archbishop Ward, who had made mistakes in his handling of Jordan. The programme, Power to Abuse, was shown the following month and the next day Archbishop Ward was admitted to St Joseph's Hospital, Newport, suffering from a deep-vein thrombosis, brought on by "excessive stress". Because of his ill health and a stroke he had suffered two years earlier, Archbishop Ward asked the Pope to appoint his successor as a coadjutor bishop until he was due to retire in three years' time. The week before, the archbishop's sister, Margaret Waugh, also suffered a stroke.
rrIHE BISHOPS ofEngland and Wales 1 announced a long-awaited overhaul of the directory of official Catholic organisations — amid pressure to exclude groups which allegedly condone abortion and gay sex. Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Malone of Liverpool would head a team in drawing up criteria for entry into the annual Catholic Directory of England and Wales. All groups who currently appear "with ecclesiastical approval" are likely to be made to reapply in a newly-constituted directory, ready by 2003. The move was largely prompted by complaints at the inclusion of the Catholic Women's Network, a supporter of such dissenting groups as the pro-abortion Catholics for a Free
Choice, which the American bishops recently declared had no right to call itself "Catholic".
This month also saw the appointment of two new bishops, both drawn [ruin the religious orders. The Pope appointed Fr Malcolm McMahon, the former Dominican Provincial, as Bishop of Nottingham, and Fr Mark Jabal& Benedictine Abbot of Belmont Abbey, as coadjutor Bishop of Menevia, Fr McMahon, — at 51 the country's youngest bishop — becomes the first Dominican bishop in England and Wales since 1740. Fr Mark Jabal. 67, who was born in Alexandria. Egypt, becomes the first ever African bishop of England and Wales. Both men promised to place care for young people among their main priorities.
ARCHBISHOP Murphy-O'Connor expressed sadness this month over the operation that separated the Siamese twins, Mary and Jodie, killing Mary. He called the legal precedent the operation set "disturbing" and offered prayers for the surviving twin and her parents.
The biggest shake-up in the history of the Catholic Union began this month with the election of a new team to bring Britain's oldest Catholic parliamentary lobby group into the 21st century. The Union, founded in 1872 to promote the Catholic voice in politics, is preparing a major new drive in early 2001 to increase interest among parliamentarians and the wider community. The body, which has 2,000 members, lost sonic influence in Parliament following the abolition of hereditary peers.
Meanwhile in Rome, the Pope declared St Thomas More the "heavenly patron" of statesmen and politicians. John Paul II called the saint "a great English statesman" who died rather than accept an arrangement that led to "uncontrolled despotism". He said: "St Thomas More distinguished himself in his constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions precisely in his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice. His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue".
DOPE JOHN PAUL II began the month by 1 proclaiming that "the hour of the laity has struck". During a Mass in St Peter's Square, the 80-year-old Pontiff urged lay Catholics to be "holy men and women". He said: "To be Christians has never been easy and it isn't easy today either. To follow Christ means having the courage to make radical choices that often go against the current."
At the World Congress of Catholic Laity, held in the Vatican a day earlier, the Pope acknowledged that "in the widespread atmosphere of secularisation, many believers feel the temptation to distance themselves from the Church and unfortunately allow themselves to be contaminated by indifference or make compromises with the dominant culture".
In London, meanwhile, a 50ft millennium cross, designed by Alan Dodd, was erected outside Westminster Cathe
dral in memory of the late Cardinal Basil Hume and to celebrate 2,000 years of Christianity. The Duke of York, Princess Michael of Kent and the Duchess of Kent joined a 3,000-strong crowd, which included many leading political dignitaries, for the outdoor dedication service.
The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia. It was also the month when the British Government decided to permit the sale of the morning-after pill without prescription to teenage girls, and embraced controversial legislation on human cloning. Both measures were condemned by the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and in Scotland. In a statement issued through The Catholic Herald, Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said: "To make the morning-after pill available to teenagers over the counter encourages sexual promiscuity, and increasingly isolates young people in difficulty from the help and advice they need. It is futile to address the problem of teenage pregnancies, which are so numerous in this country, without references to clear moral principles. To continue the pretence that each person can decide for themselves what is right and wrong just compounds the problem. Merely providing ever easier access to early forms of abortion will not work. It is crucial for the moral health of our society that we rediscover the true place of sex in human relationships."
DEcEmBER 31 was later designated a nationwide day of life by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and a chapel in Westminster Cathedral was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron of the unborn, for the season of Advent. In his Christmas message to the readers and staff of The Catholic Herald, Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor asked for prayers "that the gift of life we celebrate will be treasured and respected throughout the world".
Both the Pope and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, severely criticised the non-binding European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights as a "godless document" which rejected the family as the building block of civil society and also the transcendental nature of human beings. Cardinal Ratzinger said the charter departed from the "beaten track followed by the moral history of humanity", adding: "What we are experiencing now is the destruction of the image which man has always had of himself." The Pope later said that he was disappointed the charter failed to refer to God, "who is the supreme source of human dignity and its fundamental rights". He said: "It must not be forgotten that it was the denial of God and his commandments that created the tyranny of idols in the last century, expressed in the glorification of a race, class, state, nation, party, instead of the living and true God."