Monday, March 31, 2008

Religious Landscape Survey

A good look at the Catholic community Pope Benedict XVI will be visiting this month.

A Portrait of American Catholics on the Eve of Pope Benedict's Visit to the U.S.
March 27, 2008

When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States on April 15, he will find a Catholic Church that is undergoing rapid ethnic and demographic changes, and whose flock is quite diverse both in their religious practices and levels of commitment, as well as in their social and political views. And, as this portrait of American Catholics underscores, the pontiff will also find a church that again is likely to play a key role in the outcome of a U.S. presidential election.

I. Demographic Portrait of U.S. Catholics

According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Catholics account for nearly one-quarter of U.S. adults. By comparison, more than half (51.3%) of the adult population is Protestant and almost one-in-six (16.1%) are unaffiliated with any particular religion. The proportion of the U.S. population that identifies itself as Catholic has remained relatively stable in recent decades, but this apparent stability obscures the major changes that are taking place within American Catholicism.

No other major faith in the U.S. has experienced greater net losses over the last few decades as a result of changes in religious affiliation than the Catholic Church. Nearly one-third (31.4%) of U.S. adults say they were raised Catholic. Today, however, only 23.9% of adults say they are affiliated with the Catholic Church, a net loss of 7.5 percentage points. Overall, roughly one-third of those who were raised Catholic have left the church, and approximately one-in-ten American adults are former Catholics.

At the same time, findings from the General Social Survey, conducted between 1972 and 2006 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, have shown that the proportion of the population identifying as Catholic has remained relatively stable, at around 25%, over the last 30 years. During the same period, the Protestant share of the population has steadily declined, and the proportion of the population that is religiously unaffiliated has increased significantly. Why has the Catholic share of the U.S. population held steady even though so many people have left the Catholic Church?

Part of the answer is that the Catholic Church continues to attract a fair number of converts. The Landscape Survey finds that 2.6% of U.S. adults have switched their affiliation to Catholicism after being raised in another faith or in no faith at all. Nevertheless, former Catholics outnumber converts to Catholicism by roughly four-to-one, so other factors must account for the relative stability of the Catholic population. One obvious factor is immigration: The Landscape Survey finds that nearly half of all immigrants to the U.S. (46%) are Catholic, compared with just 21% of the native-born population.

The vast majority (82%) of Catholic immigrants to the U.S. were born in Latin America, and most Catholic immigrants from Latin America (52% of all Catholic immigrants to the U.S.) come from just one country - Mexico. Catholics are also well represented among immigrants coming to the U.S. from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and East Asia; more than one-in-four of all immigrants from these regions are Catholic.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Catholic World News Announcement

US, Vatican share goals in Iraq, American ambassador says

Rome, Mar. 26, 2008 ( - The new US ambassador to the Holy See says that Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush will explore their common goals-- including the pursuit of religious freedom, human rights, and a stable democracy in Iraq-- when they meet during the Pontiff's visit to Washington in April.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon said that the Pope and the President had found ample common ground in previous discussions. "They hit it off, so to speak," she reported.

Questioned about the war in Iraq, and the Vatican calls for further efforts to safeguard the Christian minority there, the US envoy observed that after the death of Archbishop Paul Faraj Raho, the US and the Vatican issued statements that were "very much in the same vein-- condemning the violence, condemning terrorism, and especially condemning religion as a pretext for terrorism." The situation in Iraq is difficult, however, she said, because "there are elements in society that are determined to defeat the common aim of the United States and the Holy See."

Acknowledging that there was "some initial disagreement" between the Vatican and the US regarding the war in Iraq, Glendon said that today the two parties share a common goal there: "to promote the building of a free and democratic and stable society where persons of all religious faiths will be protected."

Friday, March 28, 2008

Catholic Convert From Islam

It is still punishable by death in many locales, but this brave Muslim become a convert to the Catholic Church this Easter, personally baptized by the Pope, and his statement is a testament to his courage and calls each of us to witness.

ZE08032309 - 2008-03-23
Benedict XVI Baptized the Journalist at Easter Vigil

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2008 ( Here is a translation of Magdi Allam’s account of his conversion to Catholicism. The Muslim journalist was baptized by Benedict XVI at Saturday's Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Dear Friends,

I am particularly happy to share with you my immense joy for this Easter of Resurrection that has brought me the gift of the Christian faith. I gladly propose the letter that I sent to the director of the Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mieli, in which I tell the story of the interior journey that brought me to the choice of conversion to Catholicism. This is the complete version of the letter, which was published by the Corriere della Sera only in part.

* * *
An abbreviated form of this account appeared as a letter to Paolo Mieli, the director of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Allam is the paper’s deputy director. The Italian version of the complete text is available at

Dear Director,

That which I am about to relate to you concerns my choice of religious faith and personal life in which I do not wish to involve in any way the Corriere della Sera, which it has been an honor to be a part of as deputy director “ad personam” since 2003. I write you thus as protagonist of the event, as private citizen.

Yesterday evening I converted to the Christian Catholic religion, renouncing my previous Islamic faith. Thus, I finally saw the light, by divine grace -- the healthy fruit of a long, matured gestation, lived in suffering and joy, together with intimate reflection and conscious and manifest expression. I am especially grateful to his holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who imparted the sacraments of Christian initiation to me, baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, in the Basilica of St. Peter’s during the course of the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil. And I took the simplest and most explicit Christian name: “Cristiano.” Since yesterday evening therefore my name is Magdi Crisitano Allam.

For me it is the most beautiful day of [my] life. To acquire the gift of the Christian faith during the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection by the hand of the Holy Father is, for a believer, an incomparable and inestimable privilege. At almost 56 […], it is a historical, exceptional and unforgettable event, which marks a radical and definitive turn with respect to the past. The miracle of Christ’s resurrection reverberated through my soul, liberating it from the darkness in which the preaching of hatred and intolerance in the face of the “different,” uncritically condemned as “enemy,” were privileged over love and respect of “neighbor,” who is always, an in every case, “person”; thus, as my mind was freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimates lies and deception, violent death that leads to murder and suicide, the blind submission to tyranny, I was able to adhere to the authentic religion of truth, of life and of freedom.

On my first Easter as a Christian I not only discovered Jesus, I discovered for the first time the face of the true and only God, who is the God of faith and reason. My conversion to Catholicism is the touching down of a gradual and profound interior meditation from which I could not pull myself away, given that for five years I have been confined to a life under guard, with permanent surveillance at home and a police escort for my every movement, because of death threats and death sentences from Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those in and outside of Italy.

I had to ask myself about the attitude of those who publicly declared fatwas, Islamic juridical verdicts, against me -- I who was a Muslim -- as an “enemy of Islam,” “hypocrite because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim to do damage to Islam,” “liar and vilifier of Islam,” legitimating my death sentence in this way. I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a “moderate Islam,” assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.

At the same time providence brought me to meet practicing Catholics of good will who, in virtue of their witness and friendship, gradually became a point of reference in regard to the certainty of truth and the solidity of values. To begin with, among so many friends from Communion and Liberation, I will mention Father Juliàn Carròn; and then there were simple religious such as Father Gabriele Mangiarotti, Sister Maria Gloria Riva, Father Carlo Maurizi and Father Yohannis Lahzi Gaid; there was rediscovery of the Salesians thanks to Father Angelo Tengattini and Father Maurizio Verlezza, which culminated in a renewed friendship with major rector Father Pascual Chavez Villanueva; there was the embrace of top prelates of great humanity like Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Monsignor Luigi Negri, Giancarlo Vecerrica, Gino Romanazzi and, above all, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who personally accompanied me in the journey of spiritual acceptance of the Christian faith.

But undoubtedly the most extraordinary and important encounter in my decision to convert was that with Pope Benedict XVI, whom I admired and defended as a Muslim for his mastery in setting down the indissoluble link between faith and reason as a basis for authentic religion and human civilization, and to whom I fully adhere as a Christian to inspire me with new light in the fulfillment of the mission God has reserved for me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Iraq War, A Just War

A new report, commented on at National Review Online, reveals the direct threat—a pre-condition to just war—Saddam Hussein posed to the United States, through his support for global terrorism.

Chilling Confirmation
Yes, Saddam Hussein was an Islamofascist threat.
By Deroy Murdock

As Operation Iraqi Freedom is now five years old, a new study confirms that ousting Saddam Hussein was justified and vital to U.S. national security. Though war critics hate to admit it, the Baathist dictator was up to his mustache in aid for Islamofascist terrorism.

As a report from the Institute for Defense Analyses explains, “captured Iraqi documents uncovered strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism.” IDA’s review of some 600,000 documents discovered in Iraq since Coalition forces liberated Baghdad indicates that “from 1991through 2003, the Saddam regime regarded inspiring, sponsoring, directing, and executing acts of terrorism as an element of state power.”

IDA presents chilling details:

A May 1999 memorandum to Fedayeen Saddam leader Uday Hussein — the despot’s elder son — outlined a bombing and assassination campaign called BLESSED JULY. Among “50 Fedayeen martyrs,” selected from an elite terrorist-training camp, “The top ten will work in the European field — London.” The memo continues: “After passing the final test the Fedayeen will be sent as undercover passengers, each one according to his work site.”

A July 2002 weapons inventory of 12 Iraqi embassies, written just eight months before the American-led invasion of Iraq, found them far better armed than diplomatic security requires: “Vienna — Explosive charges, rifles with silencers, hand grenades, and Kalashnikov rifles. Pakistan — Explosive materials of TNT. . . . Thailand — Plastic explosive charges and booby-trapped suitcases. . . . Turkey — Missile launcher, missile, and pistols with silencers.” This document adds: “Between the year [sic] 2000 and 2002 . . . explosive materials were transported to the embassies outside Iraq for special work, upon the approval of the Director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service [IIS].”

Building car bombs became a bureaucratized task, as a summarized September 4, 1999, document illustrates.

“An approval memorandum from IIS Directorate 4 to Section 27 to load a vehicle with 50 to 75 kilograms [110 to 165 pounds] of explosive material and provide to the At Ta’mim Intelligence Branch [M52] for a ‘special duty.’” Further, an “Inspection Certificate Form” should verify the car bomb’s compliance with chemical, electrical, and mechanical standards. It also recommends using a Duracell battery given “the importance of the duty.”

A September 2001 Iraqi military-intelligence letter says “the Division Commands should launch a campaign among their members, supporters, and backers of the Party encouraging them to volunteer in suicide operations, and have them write volunteer statements, preferably in their blood.” It lists 43 such “suicide volunteers.”

The Fedayeen Saddam forwarded Uday Hussein a letter from Nazah, a widow requesting assistance with her husband’s pension. She recalls that “he carried out a suicide mission on 19 July 2000, and exploded himself at the [apparently Kurdistani] Ibn Sina Hotel during the presence of US and UK citizens. . . . ” She also mentions that he “Detonated a car [bomb] during the convoy of [former French first lady] Danielle Mitterrand in Halsabajah City, which killed forty enemies.”

A March 18, 1993 IIS memo to Saddam Hussein reads, “We list herein the organizations that our agency cooperates with. . . . ” Among nine terrorist groups, it cites Egyptian Islamic Jihad (“It carried out numerous successful operations, including the assassination of Sadat”), Abu Nidal’s Fatah — which killed at least 407 innocents, including 10 Americans — (“We have been in contact with the organization since 1973 and have provided financial and logistical support, such as vehicles” ), and the Palestine Liberation Front, whose terrorists murdered wheelchair-bound American retiree Leon Klinghoffer aboard the hijacked Achille Lauro ocean liner in October 1985. “Currently has an office in Baghdad,” the memo states. “They were assigned and carried out commando operations for us against American interests in the [1991] war.”

A July 28, 1998 letter specified three such missions:

-“Burning the American Airlines office in the Philippines.”
-“Placing an explosive device near an American base in Izmir [Turkey].”
-“Placing an explosive device on the pipe lines that carry oil to an American base in southern Spain.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal (Part 2)

Interview With Father David Toups

By Annamarie Adkins

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 19, 2008 ( Prayer and a deep spiritual life are necessary elements for priests facing the challenges of being overworked, discouraged or alone, says Father David Toups.

Father Toups, the associate director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. episcopal conference, is the author of "Reclaiming Our Priestly Character."

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Toups comments on the challenges of the priesthood, along with the six principles of priestly renewal.

Q: "Reclaiming Our Priestly Character" lays out six principles for renewing the priesthood in general, as well as the life of each priest. Can you briefly describe each principle?

Father Toups: The first principle is the permanence of the priesthood, namely the reminder that the priest has entered into a permanent relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church by virtue of ordination.

He receives, in ordination, an ontological character that cannot be removed or erased. This reality affects the way he prepares for the priesthood in the seminary, the way he understands himself as a chaste spouse of the Church and spiritual father of the faithful.

The second principle is that the priest acts "in persona Christi," assuring both himself and the faithful that the sacraments are efficacious "ex opere operato."

The flip side of this is that, although he has received the sacerdotal character, he is obliged to keep working on his own personal character development as a man striving for holiness in his daily life.

The third principle is a reminder that the priest is not his own, but rather he belongs to and represents the Church "in persona Ecclesiae." Thus, he prays the Liturgy of the Hours, as he promised at ordination, for the needs of the whole Church.

Likewise, he embraces and hands on the teachings of the Church as the steward, not the master, of her truths. He is also proud -- in the best sense -- to be visibly recognizable as a priest, knowing he is called to courageously be a sign and symbol pointing beyond himself to Christ.

The fourth principle is priestly presence, namely that everything the priest does is priestly and has immense value, as Christ desires to work through him at all times. This happens in a particular way when preaching, shepherding, and healing God’s people as their spiritual father.

The fifth principle is the caution for priests to avoid the trap of functionalism or activism. The priest can get so busy that he can forget who he is or for whom he is doing the work.

He must be supernaturally sensitive, grounding himself by being a man of prayer who encounters God through daily, silent meditation, desiring an ever more intimate relationship with him.

Finally, the sixth principle, which has already been discussed, is ongoing formation. These principles all find their basis in the priestly character and serve as a foundation for a priestly life lived joyfully, bearing abundant fruit.

Q: Do your recommendations apply equally to diocesan priests and those priests in religious orders?

Father Toups: Absolutely. In fact, the studies done by Dean Hoge of Catholic University reveal that a larger percentage of religious have greater confusion regarding the exact nature of the ontological character of the priesthood. For all priests, diocesan or religious, a proper understanding of the character of orders grounds them in an ever more fruitful life of ministry and service.

The studies mentioned above confirm that priests who have a clear understanding of this doctrine are more likely to be content in their ministry and joyful in their vocation.

The Thomistic axiom, "agere sequitur esse" -- doing follows being -- is true for all priests; the more they understand their priestly identity, the more they will be able to act and serve in the manner Christ has called them. This proper understanding does not guarantee fidelity or holiness, but it certainly is a strong foundation to build upon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Catholic Priests

This is an excerpt from an excellent interview about the current situation with our priests, in two parts, part one today and part two tomorrow.

Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal (Part 1)

Interview With Father David Toups

By Annamarie Adkins

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 19, 2008 ( A general crisis of authentic masculinity in society has also affected the priesthood as only "real men" can adequately fulfill the role of priest and pastor, says Father David Toups.

Father Toups, the associate director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. episcopal conference, is the author of "Reclaiming Our Priestly Character."

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Toups comments on the identity and character of the priesthood, and the various challenges it faces today.

Q: Your book focuses on recovering what you call the “doctrine of the priestly character.” Can you describe this “doctrine” in a nutshell?

Father Toups: The “doctrine of the priestly character” is about the permanent relationship the priest enters into with Christ the High Priest on the day of his ordination.

The priest is always a priest; he is not a simple functionary who performs ritual actions, but rather he is configured to Christ in the depths of his being by what is called an ontological change.

Christ is working through him at the altar, “This is my Body,” and in the confessional, “I absolve you of your sins,” but also in his daily actions outside the sanctuary.

The character that the priest receives is a comfort to the faithful inasmuch as they realize that their faith is not based in the personality of the priest, but rather the Person of Christ working through the priest.

On the other hand, the priest is called, like all of the faithful, to a life of holiness. The character received at ordination is actually a dynamism for priestly holiness. The more he can assimilate his life to Christ and submit to the gift he received at ordination, the more he will be a credible witness to the faithful and edify the Body of Christ.

Q: Is it your view that the nature of the priesthood is unknown or misunderstood by many priests? Is mandatory “continuing priestly education” the answer?

Father Toups: Studies show that there has been confusion regarding the exact nature of the priesthood among priests themselves depending on the timing of their seminary training.

Immediately following the Second Vatican Council, there was confusion among priests and laity alike about the difference between the priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood.

Vatican II’s intention was not to suppress one in order to highlight the other, but rather to recognize the universal call to holiness and the dignity of both.

The ministerial priesthood is a specific vocation within the Church in which a man is called by Christ in the apostolic line to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Priests are different by virtue of ordination, as confirmed by the council itself in paragraph 10 of “Lumen Gentium,” which emphasized that the baptized and the ordained share in the one and the same priesthood of Christ, but in a way that differs “in essence and not only in degree.”

This difference certainly does not mean better or even holier -- that would be a major error -- but it does mean that there is a distinction.

Cardinal Avery Dulles points out that, if anything, the priesthood of the faithful is more exalted because the ministerial priesthood is ordered to its service. Hence, a recovery from the confusion lies in the need to understand the balance a priest is to find; he is both a servant and one who has been set aside by Christ and the Church to stand "in persona Christi" -- not as a personal honor, but as “one who has come to serve and not be served.”

The priest need not be embarrassed about this high calling, but should boldly live it out in the midst of the world. Pope John Paul the Great regularly reminded priests: “Do not be afraid to be who you are!”

This brings us to the second part of your question, namely, is mandatory “continuing priestly education” the answer?

In the book, I use the term “formation,” not education -- though learning is an important, component part.

Ongoing formation is essential for every Christian vocation. In the midst of full liturgical schedules, parish councils, leaking roofs and hospital visits, the priest must continually open his heart and mind to Christ in prayer and study, annual retreats and seminars, as well as times of recreation and vacation, if he is to thrive as an individual and as a man of faith.

Ongoing formation is about deepening one’s interiority and fostering a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is about an ongoing conversion that reminds the priest who he is as a minister of the Gospel and whose he is as a son of God.

So is ongoing formation the answer? It is certainly a part of the solution to a happier, healthier presbyterate. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Ongoing formation helps the priest to be and act as a priest in the spirit and style of Jesus the Good Shepherd” ("Pastores Dabo Vobis," 73).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Iraq, A Just War

An excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article which offers a very good analysis, five years out, of the war in Iraq, which I feel meets the qualifications of a Just War as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"Avoiding war

"2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.

"2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.

"However, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed."

"2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

"- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

"- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

"- there must be serious prospects of success;

"- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

"These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.

"The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

"2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.

"Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace."

Wall Street Journal
America and Iraq
March 20, 2008

Five years after U.S. and coalition forces began rolling into Iraq on their way to Baghdad, it's easy to lament the war's mistakes.

The Bush Administration underestimated the war's cost -- in treasure, and most painfully in lives. The CIA and every other Western intelligence agency was wrong about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. failed to anticipate the insurgency and was almost fatally late in implementing a counterinsurgency. It allowed the U.N. to design a system of proportional electoral representation that has encouraged its sectarian political divisions. And so on.

These columns have often discussed these and other blunders. But we have always done so while supporting the larger war effort and with a goal of victory that would be worthy of the sacrifice. Five years on, and thanks to the troop "surge" and strategy change of the last year, many of the goals that motivated the original invasion are once again within reach if we see the effort through.

No one should forget that the invasion toppled a dictator who had already terrorized the region and would sooner or later have threatened American interests. This by itself was no small achievement. Saddam's trial was a teaching moment for that part of the Arab world that used to cheer him; his hanging, however crudely carried out, was a warning to dictators everywhere.

Iraq may not have had WMD, but Saddam admitted to American interrogators that he planned to reconstitute his WMD effort once U.N. sanctions collapsed. The capture of Saddam persuaded Libya's Moammar Gadhafi to abandon his nuclear program and seek a reconciliation with the U.S. This in turn led to the rolling up of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's proliferation network, whose arms extended to Iran and North Korea.

Strategically, Iraq has gone from being one of America's two principal enemies (with Iran) in the region to one of its two principal allies (with Israel). Iraq's government, for all of its shortcomings, demonstrates that a Shiite-led government need not be a theocracy. The invasion did prompt thousands of jihadis to emerge from places like Saudi Arabia and Morocco to fight the "crusaders and infidels."

Thousands of them are now dead or in prison, however, and the radical corners of the Arab world have learned that America cannot be defeated by a strategy of car bombs and assassination.

The strategic case for toppling Saddam also rested in part on the idea that a free Iraq would provide a strategic counterweight to Iran and Syria, as well as an ideological counterexample for a region where autocracy is the norm. The potency of that combination has been demonstrated by Sunni Arab hostility to the new Iraqi government; by Iran, Syria and al Qaeda efforts to destabilize it; and by those in the West who have sought to denigrate the effort as a way to diminish U.S. power.

Today, those efforts have largely failed. A new generation of European leaders has no interest in humiliating the U.S. and understands the danger of a chaotic Iraq. Al Qaeda has been nearly destroyed as a fighting force in Iraq and has lost support in the Arab Street with its brutality against Iraq's Sunni Arabs. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Sunni states are belatedly coming to terms with the new Iraq as they conclude that the U.S. won't leave in defeat.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Great Sunday

The Pope & Islam

The ongoing interaction between Islam and Catholics, begun and carried out in this latest format by the work of Pope Benedict XVI, (dialogue between the Vatican and Islam has been going on regularly since Vatican II) promises to be—even with the serious conflicts involved—one of the most important discussions around theology that will bleed into public policy, we will see in our lifetimes.

As this update excerpt from Sandro Magister at Chiesa tells us, we now learn that the discussion forums have been annualized, wonderful news!

The Via Crucis of the Archbishop of Mosul of the Chaldeans
Paulos Faraj Rahho is the latest of the Christian victims in Iraq. His martyrdom is part of the background to the dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran comments on his recent meetings with Muslim representatives
by Sandro Magister

ROMA, March 19, 2008 – At the end of the Mass for Palm Sunday, with the reading of the Gospel of the Passion in St. Peter's Square, Benedict XVI recalled the latest Christian martyr in Iraq, the archbishop of Mosul of the Chaldeans, Paulos Faraj Rahho (in the photo), who was kidnapped on February 29 while leaving the Church of the Holy Spirit, where he had celebrated the Stations of the Cross, and then barbarously killed.

With even more emotion, the pope recalled the killing of the Iraqi archbishop while celebrating Mass for him on the morning of Monday, March 17, in "Redemptoris Mater" chapel:

"He took up his cross and followed the Lord Jesus even to the agony of death. And so, as the Servant of the Lord, he contributed to 'bringing justice' to his devastated country and to the whole world, by bearing witness to the truth."

It is calculated that 47 Christians were killed in Iraq last year, 13 of them in Mosul.

Many Iraqi Muslims have also joined in mourning for archbishop Rahho, who was widely admired, the promoter of joint initiatives between Christians and Muslims, like the "Fraternity of charity and joy" to assist people with handicaps. From the holy city of the Shiites, Karbala, the grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for the capture of the guilty parties, unanimously thought to be members of al Qaeda or other radical Islamist groups.

Christians in Iraq and in other Muslim countries are increasingly surrounded and under attack, and "they are in danger of disappearing," as cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the congregation for the Oriental Churches, warned on March 15. Those who do resist emigrating literally risk their lives in some places.

It is against this dramatic background that dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam is proceeding. An important step was made in this with the meeting that took place in Rome on March 4 and 5 between the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue and a delegation of the 138 Muslim scholars who signed the open letter "A Common Word" addressed to the pope and to other Christian leaders.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

US Papal Visit

The visit includes a follow up visit with President Bush and the comments about the war in Iraq are instructive.

Though often used as indicating the Vatican’s opposition to this war, they actually express an ancient Church position of opposition to all war, and only see war justified after all other options have been taken, which most Americans believe was done prior to beginning the war with Iraq.

Nuncio says pope comes to strengthen faith, hope, love of U.S. church
By Julie Asher
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Pope Benedict XVI celebrates his first papal Mass in the United States, it will be a "familial" gathering at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, said the Vatican ambassador to the United States, Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi.

The pontiff also will celebrate his 81st birthday that day, April 16.

Archbishop Sambi said the approximately 30 staff members at the nunciature are "all excited to have this morning" with the pope.

He also said he hopes the message U.S. Catholics get from the papal visit is "one of the things that the pope pronounced the first day after being elected pope: Don't be afraid. Jesus Christ takes away nothing from you, but he will enrich you."

Pope Benedict will visit Washington April 15-17 and New York April 18-20.

Aside from a meeting with President George W. Bush and a major U.N. address the pope will deliver April 18, the papal trip is first and foremost "a pastoral journey," said Archbishop Sambi.

… A Feb. 15 statement from the White House press secretary's office said the two leaders will continue discussions begun during Bush's 2007 visit to the Vatican, including "advancing peace throughout the Middle East and other troubled regions, promoting interfaith understanding and strengthening human rights and freedom, especially religious liberty, around the world."

Asked about diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the U.S. in light of the church's criticism of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, Archbishop Sambi replied that "the deep conviction of the Holy See is that war must be always the last option. All other options have to be tried before starting a war. A war is always a sign of human failure in reaching an agreement.

"Peace is not a defeat for anybody but is a victory for the future," he added.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Catholic Church in Qatar

A wonderful development!

Middle East - Africa
Catholics consecrate new church in Qatar

Doha, Mar 18, 2008 / 10:15 pm (CNA).- Despite threats from Islamic radicals, thousands of Christians on Saturday took part in the first Mass to be held at the Muslim nation of Qatar’s only church, Agence France Presse reports.

Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Evangelization of the Peoples and the envoy sent by the Vatican, presided over the Mass, which was attended by around 15,000 worshippers. Cardinal Dias thanked “God and Qatar for this great gift.”

The Roman Catholic church, named Our Lady of the Rosary, accommodates around 5,000 worshippers. The $20 million building has no bell or crosses on its exterior, similar to other nondescript churches in some Muslim states. It is the first of five churches to be built in Qatar.

Catholics began arriving at the church early on Saturday morning. Big screens were erected on the church grounds so that those outside could follow the consecration rite.

The Mass was conducted in English, but prayers were also said in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Tagalog, Spanish, and French for the many nationalities of the worshippers.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mind of God

Science reveals it, as Einstein & Leibniz discovered, in this excerpt from a recent article in "First Things".

Deciphering the Mind of God
By Michael Heller
Monday, March 17, 2008, 6:20 AM

The seventeenth-century German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is my philosophical hero. I am proud (but not quite happy) that I share with this great philosopher at least one feature. He was a master in spreading, not to say dissipating, his genius into too many fields of interest. If he had a greater ability to concentrate on fewer problems, he would have become not only a precursor but also a real creator of several momentous scientific achievements. But in such a case, the history of philosophy would be poorer by one of its greatest thinkers. This is not to say that in my case the history of philosophy would lose anything. This is only to stress the fact that I am interested in too many things.

Amongst my numerous fascinations, two have most imposed themselves and proven more time resistant than others: science and religion. I also am too ambitious. I always wanted to do the most important things, and what can be more important than science and religion? Science gives us Knowledge, and religion gives us Meaning. Both are prerequisites of a decent existence. The paradox is that these two great values seem often to be in conflict. I am frequently asked how I could reconcile them with each other. When such a question is posed by a scientist or a philosopher, I invariably wonder how educated people could be so blind as not to see that science does nothing else but explore God’s creation. To see what I mean, let us go to Leibniz.

In a copy of his Dialogus, in the margin we find a short sentence written in his own hand. It reads: “When God calculates and thinks things through, the world is made.”

Everybody has some experience in dealing with numbers, and everybody, at least sometimes, experiences a feeling of necessity involved in the process of calculating. We can easily be led astray when thinking about everyday matters or pondering all pros and cons when facing an important decision, but when we have to add or multiply even big numbers everything goes almost mechanically. This is a routine task, and if we are cautious enough there is no doubt as far as the final result is concerned. However, the true mathematical thinking begins when one has to solve a real problem, that is to say, to identify a mathematical structure that would match the conditions of the problem, to understand principles of its functioning, to grasp connections with other mathematical structures, and to deduce the consequences implied by the logic of the problem. Such manipulations of structures are always immersed into various calculations, since calculations form a natural language of mathematical structures.

It is more or less such an image that we should associate with Leibniz’s metaphor of calculating God. Things thought through by God should be identified with mathematical structures interpreted as structures of the world. Since for God to plan is the same as to implement the plan, when “God calculates and thinks things through,” the world is created.

We have mastered a lot of calculation techniques. We are able to think things through in our human way. Can we imitate God in His creating activity?

In 1915, Albert Einstein wrote down his famous equations of the gravitational field. The road leading to them was painful and laborious—a combination of deep thinking and the tedious work of doing calculations. From the beginning, Einstein saw an inadequacy of Newton’s time-honored theory of gravity: It did not fit into the spatio-temporal pattern of special relativity, which was a synthesis of classical mechanics and Maxwell’s electrodynamical theory. He was hunting for some empirical clues that would narrow the field of possibilities. He found some in the question, Why is inertial mass equal to gravitational mass in spite of the fact that, in Newton’s theory, they are completely independent concepts? He tried to implement his ideas into a mathematical model. Several attempts failed. At a certain stage, he understood that he could not go further without studying tensorial calculus and Riemannian geometry. It is the matter distribution that generates space-time geometry, and the space-time geometry that determines the motions of matter. How to express this illuminating idea in the form of mathematical equations? When finally, after many weeks of exhausting work, the equations emerged before his astonished eyes, a new world had been created.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Catholic Church in Saudi Arabia

This wonderful advancement on the allowed presence of Christianity within Islamic countries could easily be connected to the Pope’s talk at Regensburg, and his discussions with the Islamic world through its theological leaders.

Saudis to allow construction of a Catholic church?
Rome, Mar. 17, 2008 (

- The Vatican is negotiating with the government of Saudi Arabia to allow construction of a Catholic church in that country, Vatican Radio reports.

Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia. The government has not allowed the construction of any non-Muslim place of worship. No religion other than Islam is allowed to schedule public services, and even the possession of Bibles, rosaries, and crucifixes is forbidden.

While it is home to 800,000 Catholics-- virtually all of them foreign workers-- Saudi Arabia is the only country on the Arabian Peninsula without a Catholic church. However King Abdullah has now given his support to the drive for construction of a Catholic church.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Religious Left

This is an excerpt from a very important talk regarding those in the Catholic community who twist the teachings of the Church for ends inimical to it.

A longer article about the Religious Left’s influence on business can be found at "City Journal".

Rise of Religious Left

Rev. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, began by pointing to a “series of signs” that often characterize the Religious Left today:

1) A tendency to believe that the Kingdom of God is not something essentially eschatological; it is a state of being that can and should be achieved on earth through human effort.

2) A loathing of the economically successful rooted in the assumption that wealth is generally unjustly acquired even and especially if it has been accumulated through market means.

3) A conviction that the cause of material inequality is due to injustice that must be rectified, usually by a forced redistribution of the wealth.

4) A reliable bias against commerce and the merchant classes, their products, their marketing, and their cultural presence.

5) A fixation on government programs that purport to do good for others and a pronounced preference for public policy (that is political) solutions instead of voluntary individual or communal efforts.

6) A judgment that unless physical states of social well being are realized, issues such as faith and morals are somehow invalidated.

7) An attachment to the idea that the natural environment represents a source of moral light in the world that is darkened by the activities of human beings.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Non-negotiable Values

Within Catholic social doctrine there are things that cannot be negotiated in relation to voting for politicians, and when there are choices that conflict with some aspect of the teaching, we are, I believe, called to choose that politician who best reflects those nonnegotiable aspects of the teaching, noted in the excerpt from this article from Zenit.

ZE08031307 - 2008-03-13
Italian Cardinal Warns Against Bad Political Choices
By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, MARCH 13, 2008 ( Non-negotiable values, like the dignity of human life and the protection of marriage, should be the criteria for discernment in political arenas, says the president of the Italian bishops' conference.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco affirmed these criteria during his inaugural address Monday at the meeting of the episcopal conference's permanent council meeting.

The cardinal challenged the notion that elections are not "a field that is relevant to the Church as such," saying that bishops have the task of contributing "to a peaceful climate, to less hasty considerations, and to the harmony between people."

The archbishop of Genoa confirmed the "the policy of the Church, clergy and Church organizations to not be involved in any way with the selection of political sides or parties."

At the same time, he cited Benedict XVI's speech at the bishops' conference in Verona in order to specify that "the risk of political and legislative choices that contradict the fundamental values and anthropological principles and ethical roots of the nature of human beings" should be countered with determination and clear intentions.

…Vatican II values

Cardinal Bagnasco affirmed that the defense of the person, the family, education and freedom of religion are all values that were very clear in the Second Vatican Council.

The prelate referred to "Gaudium et Spes" to recall that "the holy synod called attention to a number of, what we would today call, non-negotiable risks, inasmuch as they undermine what constitutes the good of the person" -- in other words, "everything that is apposed to life itself, such as every type of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, even voluntary suicide."

The cardinal continued: "Along this same line, the council spoke often of the fundamental and incomparable good of the family founded on the marriage between a man and a woman.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Catholic Thought & Global Politics

This excerpt from an article in the Denver Archdiocese news is a good look at the tendency of many in the world to blame everything on the evils of the US, while forgetting the truths of the world, and who is the lord of it.

Global citizens’ and U.S. politics
George Weigel

A Canadian friend recently alerted me to an international petition being organized by, a “community of global citizens who take action on the major issues facing the world today.”

(According to the organization’s polyglots, “‘avaaz’...means ‘voice’ or ‘song’ in...Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, Nepalese, Dari, Turkish, and Bosnian.”) The petition asks “global citizens” around the world to participate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election by signing a petition to the remaining American presidential candidates, urging them to repudiate recent American foreign policy, which has “devastated the world’s respect for the United States as a global leader.”

Truth to tell, casting the U.S. as the Evil Empire of the early 21st century (with George W. Bush as wicked Emperor Palpatine) has been made easier by American incompetence in public diplomacy: explaining what it is America is doing, and why, to people around the world who must otherwise depend on the distortions of the BBC and CNN for international news. This incompetence has had a cumulative effect since 9/11; the most lurid (and false) tales of American beastliness are now taken-as-read around the world, as are the most draconian analyses of American intentions. Yet the problem is not simply media-driven; it’s worse.

…Classic Catholic thought on world politics was resolutely realistic: it asked statesmen to see things as they are, even as it insisted that things need not remain what they are. Indeed, a classic Catholic optic on world politics would insist that the only way to move the world in a more humane direction is to describe the obstacles to that progress accurately. The 20th century ought to have reinforced this basic truth of international public life; Nazism and communism, after all, were not defeated because some people hid behind the soothingly therapeutic notion that Hitler and Stalin could be appeased.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Illegal Immigration

This article (second down) on the US Bishops call to end illegal immigrant raids reminds me of a column in "First Things" last year, which noted:

Men for Some Seasons
By James Kerian
Tuesday, May 8, 2007, 8:19 AM

In early April, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, announced his intention to bring immigration legislation to the Senate floor for debate during the last two weeks of May. This was a curious announcement, since there was no pending legislation at the time regarding immigration. Regardless of the prescriptions that one might believe necessary to resolve the current immigration crisis, the eagerness with which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) welcomed this announcement provides an opportunity for American Catholics to examine the remarkable development of the relationship between our ecclesial leaders and the rule of law.

In January 2003, the USCCB released a pastoral letter concerning immigration: “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.” The document is more than eleven thousand words long and thus is uncommonly specific (for a USCCB document) in the instructions it issues for changes to federal and state laws. A prominent place in the wish list is given to “a broad legalization program of the undocumented.” Over the past four years, as the immigration debate has become increasingly politicized, the American episcopate has been exceptionally willing to step into the fray in what we are told are heroic stands for immigrants’ rights. The most striking example was Cardinal Mahony’s threat last spring to defy federal law if Congress seeks to restrain the Church from aiding those who have already defied federal law by entering the country illegally. On January 25, 2007, the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, Bishop Barnes of San Bernardino, issued a statement again calling for a “legalization program which allows undocumented persons to earn permanent residency.”

Now, to be fair, there is some justification for the bishops’ concern in this matter. The immigration reform movement contains elements of anti-Catholicism, over-population alarmism, and simple racism. It is both unfortunate and striking, however, that completely absent from both statements from the USCCB (and Cardinal Mahoney’s reasoning) is any reference to or acknowledgment of the moral importance of civil law. There is, for example, no reference to paragraph 2238 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (“Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God”), or to 1 Pet. 2:13 (“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”), or to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus (“The rule of law is the necessary condition for establishing true democracy”). And it goes without saying that there is no reference made to paragraph 2241 of the CCC: “Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.”

Perhaps the omission of this portion of church teaching should not come as a surprise. The position of our clergy is, as my local pastor has argued, that “the law is simply not practical.” Bishop Wenski of Orlando put it more forcefully: “Human beings are not problems. The problem is antiquated laws.” Indeed, both Sacred Scripture and tradition teach that “The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel” (CCC § 2242).

Nevertheless, to disregard civil law in the name of defending fundamental human rights is an interesting change of position for an episcopate that has shown such respect for the rule of law in the past. In January 1995, the late bishop James McHugh of Camden, New Jersey, issued a letter to pro-life demonstrators saying that their activities must “always reflect gospel values and be law-abiding.” In December 1994, Cardinal Mahony wrote, in a condemnation of violence against abortionists, that “life is to be protected according to the scrutiny of the law.” He was joined in 2001 by the USCCB in their “Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities”: “We abhor and condemn such violence unequivocally.” In such warnings, the bishops are of course undoubtedly correct. But one might be excused in wondering why the bishops, so zealous in upholding the rule of law in the case of abortion, have suddenly begun to sing a different tune when it comes to immigration policy.

U.S. Bishops’ immigration committee asks ICE to decrease raids
Washington DC, Mar 13, 2008 / 02:08 am (CNA).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration met with a high-ranking ICE official on Monday to discuss the impact of immigration raids around the country. The committee’s bishops encouraged a decrease or elimination of immigration raids and asked that churches, hospitals, and charities not be targeted for enforcement actions.

The committee discussed immigration enforcement policy with Assistant Secretary Julie Meyers of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Assistant Secretary Meyers, who heads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division within DHS, oversees the enforcement of immigration law within the country.

Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, the committee chairman, said that the tone of the meeting was cooperative, not confrontational. According to Bishop Wester, the committee acknowledged the right of the government to enforce the law, but told Assistant Secretary Meyers that the use of raids should be minimized, if not abandoned altogether.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Catholic Bikers

Having once thrown two leather clad legs over a Harley, reduced to one after a car making an illegal left turn took the other, this story resonates very nicely with me, and I hope, with you.

Couple starts leather-goods store with a Catholic twist
Dan England, (Bio)
March 11, 2008

Four years after they got married, Laura and Tom Hodge were traveling down a winding road with no real destination.

The marriage was a bit unconventional -- Laura was 20 and Tom was 40 when they met -- but it was like so many others, too. When their day started, Laura went down one path, and Tom went down the other, and it wasn't until the end of the day that they would meet again.

Four years after they got married, in 1988, they decided they wanted to spend more time together. They thought about a restaurant. They met in a restaurant, after all. She was a hostess, and he was a baker.

"But that's a good way to lose a lot of money," Tom said, "and there wasn't a lot to lose."

Then one day, they were out with some friends enjoying the weekend from the back of a motorbike when Laura noticed a tattered leather jacket.

"I'll bet I could fix that," Laura told her friend.

She did. So well, in fact, that their other friends began asking if she could fix their favorite leather jackets as well. Many of them were bikers who had a lot of miles and memories and life in those jackets and couldn't bear to simply buy a new one.

Twenty years later, Tom and Laura spend their days in Real Leather Goods, 330 18th St. in Greeley, bringing old leather goods back to life, adding some spice to others and spending their days laughing with the dozens of characters who walk through their door.

…It was a long, strange trip, but the journey wasn't over, and it's why you might do a double-take when you walk into the store and notice the Catholic goods in the corner also for sale. A Catholic biker store?

The combination isn't as unusual as you might think. Several Christian biker groups are thriving across the country.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

American Catholic Reflections

French born Catholics who have visited America have left us some of the most astute reflections on our culture and those of the magnificent spiritual warrior couple—Jacques and Raissa Maritain—are among the greatest, so well expressed in this excerpt from a review of Maritain’s writings on America from "First Things".

Maritain’s America
by Thomas Albert Howard
Copyright (c) 2007 First Things (January 2007).

Since its founding, the United States has elicited much curiosity and commentary from European intellectuals. Oscillating between paternal interest and fraternal rivalry, Europe’s ambitious scribes have braved the Atlantic, written sprawling books, instructed us in manners and morals, and measured our development against Old World benchmarks. Sometimes this interest has been positive, sometimes ambivalent; often, especially in recent years, it has been negative and condescending.

The French, in particular, have commented prodigiously on America. From Talleyrand and Tocqueville to Jean Baudrillard and Bernard-Henri Lvy, French thinkers have left lasting guideposts of interpretation, if not always on the actual America of Iowa City and Cleveland then at least on the symbolic America, that golem of soulless modernity.

… Unlike many commentators, Maritain and his wife Rassa actually lived in the United States. He fled war-torn Europe in 1940 for what was to be a brief exile. As things turned out, he accepted academic appointments in New York and Princeton and wound up living in the United States until 1960 (punctuated by three years as French ambassador to the Vatican after the war).

In Reflections on America, European elite criticism of the United States is never far from Maritain’s mind. When unwarranted, he contravenes it; when justified, he presents it shorn of the more general antipathy toward America. Throughout, he speaks in a transatlantic voice, neither American nor European. Still, he exhibits the affection of a grateful refugee and divines in the American constitutional order elements of what he sought to articulate theoretically in Things That Are Not Caesar’s, Integral Humanism, Man and the State, and other works of political philosophy.

That Americans lack any sense of history was a refrain among European critics. Maritain did not categorically dispute this charge, but he gave it a more nuanced valuation. He saw "openness to the future" as a salutary consequence of America’s historical conditions. In Europe, recent calamities amounted to an "overwhelming historical heredity," a "sclerosis," and openness to the future did not necessarily mean that Americans lacked historical awareness.

Maritain was struck by the ongoing vitality of America’s founding era. A living past, instead of an exhausted one, and a palpable sense of a future amenable to human initiative appeared to him to have inoculated Americans from continental ideologies claiming "historical necessity." Accordingly, he posited a "root incompatibility" between the American people and Marxism. "For Marx," he elaborated, "history is- ...[a] set of concatenated necessities, in the bosom of which man slaves toward his final emancipation. When he becomes at last, through communism, master of his own history, then he will drive the chariot of the Juggernaut which had previously crushed him. But for the American people it is quite another story. They are not interested in driving the chariot of the Juggernaut. They have gotten rid of the Juggernaut. It is mastering the necessities of history, it is in man’s present freedom that they are interested."

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Great Heresies

In what many consider Hilaire Belloc’s greatest book, "The Great Heresies", the past reemerges:

“Today [Belloc was writing in 1938] we are accustomed to think of the Mohammedan world as something backward and stagnant, in all material affairs at least. We cannot imagine a great Mohammedan fleet made up of modern ironclads and submarines, or a great modern Mohammedan army fully equipped with modern artillery, flying power and the rest. But not so very long ago, less than a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence, the Mohammedan Government centered at Constantinople had better artillery and better army equipment of every kind than had we Christians in the West. The last effort they made to destroy Christendom was contemporary with the end of the reign of Charles II in England and of his brother James and of the usurper William III. It failed during the last years of the seventeenth century, only just over two hundred years ago. Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history—September 11, 1683. But the peril remained, Islam was still immensely powerful within a few marches of Austria and it was not until the great victory of Prince Eugene at Zenta in 1697 and the capture of Belgrade that the tide really turned—and by that time we were at the end of the seventeenth century.”

(Belloc H. 1938, reprinted 1991, Rockford, IL, Tan Books, pp 70-71, italics in original)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Roman Road Widens

While the recent Pew Research Report on faith shows Catholics still only 24% of the population of the United States compared to 51% for Protestants, the 26% of the Protestants who are evangelicals may be moving closer to Rome.

Several evangelical leaders have become Catholic in the recent past and one of the routes they have taken which led to Rome, was the study of the early Church fathers, a trend becoming evident as the excerpt from this article notes.

Feeling Renewed By Ancient Traditions
Evangelicals Putting New Twist on Lent, Confession and Communion
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 8, 2008; B09

Evangelicals observing Lent?

Fasting, and giving up chocolate and favorite pastimes like watching TV during the 40days before Easter are practices many evangelical Protestants have long rejected as too Catholic and unbiblical.

But Lent -- a time of inner cleansing and reflection upon Jesus Christ's sufferings before his resurrection -- is one of many ancient church practices being embraced by an increasing number of evangelicals, sometimes with a modern twist. The National Community Church, which has three locations in the District and one in Arlington County, updated the Lenten fast by adding a Web component: a 40-day blog, where participants from as far away as Australia, Korea and Mexico discuss their spiritual cleansing.

This increasing connection with Christianity's classical traditions goes beyond Lent. Some evangelical churches offer confession and weekly communion. They distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday and light Advent calendars at Christmastime.

Others have formed monastic communities, such as Casa Chirilagua in Alexandria, modeled on the monasteries that arose in Christianity's early years.

This represents a "major sea change in evangelical life," according to D.H. Williams, professor of patristics and historical theology at Baylor University. "Evangelicalism is coming to point where the early church has become the newest staple of its diet."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sexual Abuse in the Church

The vital role the Catholic Church has been able to play in the culture and public policy of the United States has been severely harmed by the sexual abuse scandal.

The annual sexual abuse audit report was released March 7, 2008 by the US Catholic Bishops and comments last month by the author of "The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture", a collapse directly attributed to the sexual scandal and the failure of Church leadership to address it, are pertinent, Lawler (February 2008) comments

"The programs that the US bishops put in place after their memorable meeting in Dallas in June 2002 were designed to curb sexual abuse by Catholic clerics. But the programs did not address the other fundamental problem raised by the sex-abuse scandal: the devastating loss of confidence in the American bishops.

"Only a small minority of Catholic priests were engaged in sexual misconduct with young people, and now programs are in place to identify those predator-priests and remove them from active ministry. But a large majority of the American bishops were implicated in the effort to cover up clerical misconduct, and most of those delinquent bishops remain in office today, with their credibility in shreds.

"Nothing could be more damaging to Church authority than the suspicion that bishops would mislead their own people. Ultimately, we all received the faith from someone else, whose witness we must consider trustworthy if we are to maintain that faith.

"We profess the faith "that comes to us from the apostles" and still speaks authoritatively today through the successors to the apostles, our bishops. A bishop who lies to his people undermines the basis for our faith in Catholic authority, and thus undermines his own position.

"A generation or two ago, Catholics formed a solid, cohesive force in American public life, particularly in the eastern cities like Boston, where the Catholic population was most heavily concentrated. The undeniable political power of the Church reflected the solidarity among the Catholic faithful, who were united in their beliefs, their practices, and their acceptance of Church authority. Catholics tended to think alike, behave alike, and so naturally to vote alike.

"From the perspective of the hierarchy, this unity among the faithful had obvious practical advantages. A Catholic bishop was a figure of considerable importance in the public life of society; even if he had no particular interest in politics, he commanded the respect of politicians who recognized that the bishop could sway thousands of votes whenever he chose to do so.

"Notice here that the bishop's prestige was not derived from his political acumen nor from the force of his rhetoric. He was acknowledged first and foremost as a religious authority, and his public clout reflected the understanding that lay Catholics would follow his lead on practical matters because they were accustomed to accepting his authority on questions of faith and morals.

"To protect that authority, the bishop had to ensure first that the Catholic faithful continued to accept the doctrinal and moral authority of the Church magisterium, and second that they acknowledged him personally as a reliable witness for the Church. With the doctrinal and disciplinary breakdown that followed Vatican II, American bishops began to lose the first of these necessary bases for their authority. With their dishonest response to the sex-abuse scandal, they sacrificed the second. So now the American Catholic hierarchy must restore the authority that was once taken for granted by bishops and laity alike." (n.p.)

Lawler, P.F. (February 2008). A shrewd move: Catholic World Report. Retrieved March 5, 2008

Friday, March 7, 2008

Peter & Islam

The secular press realizes how important this is, as this excerpt from a recent Times article notes.

March 6, 2008
Pope approves permanent Catholic-Muslim forum
Richard Owen of The Times in Rome

In a ground breaking move Pope Benedict XVI has approved the setting up of a permanent Catholic-Muslim Forum - the first of its kind - which is to hold its inaugural summit meeting in the Vatican in November.

The historic move follows three days of talks in Rome between Vatican officials and a Muslim delegation representing 138 Muslim scholars who last year wrote an open letter to the Pope and other Christian leaders calling for dialogue, a move inspired by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammed bin Talal of Jordan.

The Muslim initiative was a reponse to the Pope's controversial speech at Regensburg University in his native Germany in 2006, where he appeared to describe Islam as inherently violent and irrational by quoting a Byzantine Emperor. He later said he had been misunderstood, and prayed alongside an imam at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul during a visit to Turkey.

The first summit of the Catholic-Muslim Forum will take place on 4-6 November, the Vatican said, with nearly fifty delegates, and will be addressed by the pontiff. The chosen theme is "Love of God, Love of Neighbour."

A follow up conference is to be held in a Muslim country yet to be decided, according to Ali Aref Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman. He said the response to the Group of 138's call for dialogue had been "incredibly positive". The aim was to "return to the roots of faith and what we have in common".

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Vatican & Islam

One of the most important meetings of the year is this one, announced in this Vatican Press Release, and the possible benefits emerging from it are potentially extraordinary.

This is easily the most important scheduled meetings between Christianity and Islam in our lifetime.

The Vatican, March 5th 2008

In the light of the Open Letter "A Common Word" signed by 138 Muslim scholars, and the response of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, through the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a Delegation of the Signatories of the Open Letter met with a Delegation representing the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (Vatican City) in the offices of the same Pontifical Council on Tuesday, March 4th and on Wednesday, March 5th 2008. Five participants from each side participated in the meeting.

The participants were:

Catholic Participants:

1. His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis TAURAN, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
2. His Excellency Archbishop Pier Luigi CELATA, Titular Archbishop of Doclea, Secretary, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
3. Msgr. Khaled AKASHEH, Head Officer for Islam, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
4. Fr. Miguel Ángel AYUSO GUIXOT, M.C.C.J., President, Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies.
5. Prof. Dr. Christian W. TROLL, S.J., Visiting Professor, Pontifical Gregorian University.

Muslim Participants:

1. Sheikh Professor Abdal Hakim MURAD, President, Muslim Academic Trust, UK.
2. Prof. Dr. Aref Ali NAYED, Director, Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, Amman, Jordan.
3. Dr. Ibrahim KALIN, SETA Foundation, Ankara, Turkey.
4. Imam Yahya PALLAVICINI, Vice-President, CO.RE.IS. (Comunità Religiosa Islamica), Italy.
5. Mr. Sohail NAKHOODA, Editor-in-Chief, Islamica Magazine, Amman, Jordan.

In order to further develop Catholic-Muslim dialogue, the participants agreed to establish "The Catholic-Muslim Forum" and to organize the first Seminar of the Forum in Rome from 4 to 6 November 2008. Twenty-four religious leaders and scholars from each side will participate. The theme of the Seminar will be "Love of God, Love of Neighbor". The sub-themes will be "Theological and Spiritual Foundations" (1st day) and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect" (2nd day). The Seminar will conclude with a public session on the 3rd day. The seminar participants will be received by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Jean-Louis TAURAN
Sheikh Prof. Abdal Hakim MURAD

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Catholic Social Teaching, Part Six

The writer I rely on for the most solid presentation of the social teaching is Rodger Charles S. J. and this excerpt from the Action Institute’s book review of his major work (available online from England), "Christian Social Witness and Teaching: The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus", explains why his work is the definitive work in the field.

Book Review:
Christian Social Witness and Teaching:
The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus
Rodger Charles, S.J.
Leominster, England: Gracewing/Folwer Wright Boooks, 1998
Volume 1: 472 pp. + xiv
Volume 2: 407 pp. + xvii
Review by Raymond J. de Souza
Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario
Pontifical North American College, Rome

Commentators on Roman Catholic social teaching often say the tradition began in 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s pioneering encyclical on the condition of workers, Rerum Novarum (“new things”). This contention is partially true, as witness Rodger Charles’s two volumes on the Catholic tradition of social doctrine, which uses a twofold division: the Old Testament to the late-nineteenth century and the modern period from Rerum Novarum to the present day. The main contribution of these volumes consists in showing that the Catholic tradition of social doctrine stretches back to the Book of Genesis, and that it develops in response to the Church’s lived experience. Both points are frequently neglected in treatments of Catholic social doctrine.

Charles’s contribution is accessible to lay readers, while remaining thorough and–more shall be said about this later–scrupulously fair-minded. A course on Catholic social teaching–which these volumes are intended to accompany–would be well-served by using them as principal textbooks. The author’s literary and rhetorical skill saves the study from being dull, for he manages to impart a great amount of historical detail without losing sight of overarching themes. Books on Catholic social doctrine are generally not page-turners, but Charles’s treatment demonstrates that they need not be boring.

Careful attention ought to be paid to the title, Christian Social Witness and Teaching. These volumes are a corrective to the tendency–pronounced among specialists in Catholic social doctrine whose focus typically centers on 1891 to the present–to see the Church’s social teaching as a mere intellectual exercise in which the principal task is the study of magisterial texts. Charles reminds us that the Church develops her social teaching not in the manner of a speculative seminar but as a witness to the concrete historical situations she faces. Rerum Novarum concerns developments that were new in its day, yet the same could be applied to the whole corpus of Catholic social doctrine. The Church first lives, then teaches. The historical content of these volumes provides ample testimony to this reality.

Rodger Charles, an Oxford Jesuit who has been teaching Catholic social doctrine for several decades, set himself an ambitious task in these volumes: nothing less than a thorough presentation of the development of the Church’s social doctrine from its beginning in Genesis until the present day. Convinced that the part cannot be separated from the whole, these volumes aim to provide a survey of a broad range, for Charles does not limit “the social question” to the concerns of economics alone but takes up the whole gamut of issues that touch upon the temporal order, including the historical development of Church-state relations and slavery. The result is a study that could have been titled, “The Church and the World: From the Beginning Until The Present Day.” To an admirable degree he succeeds in doing what could reasonably be expected of a thousand-page work.

Of the two volumes, the second covers material that will be quite familiar to students of the tradition of Catholic social teaching and presumably to readers of this journal. Charles divides the corpus of teaching since Rerum Novarum into various periods, usually determined by pontificate, although more recent decades are subdivided even further. He provides the context for each period by way of marvelously written historical sketches, which taken together provide a serviceable introduction to twentieth-century political and economic history. He can be disarmingly but devastatingly direct: “The majority of Germans, Catholics included, accepted Hitler with enthusiasm, though in a totalitarian state it is difficult to judge how genuine such enthusiasm was” (II, 122); or, “In France the intellectual scene had been set by left-wing intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre whose social influence was almost entirely negative …” (II, 190).

Summaries of the texts themselves follow, usually on a section by section basis, including plentiful quotations from the originals. Charles cautions that the temptation in presenting Catholic social doctrine is “that it is too easy for those presenting it, consciously or unconsciously, to superimpose their own social, political, and economic agenda on it” (I, xiv). Charles avoids that temptation altogether in his summaries, each of which is faithful to the original documents (usually papal encyclicals). While it is necessary to read the originals themselves in some important instances, non-specialists have no need to read, say, Benedict XV’s encyclical on peace, Ad Beatissimi–the Charles summary will more than suffice.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Vatican Ambassador

The appointment of Mary Ann Glendon as the new US ambassador to the Vatican is a wonderful appointment and further strengthens public policy development between the Catholic Church and our country, a welcome development this excerpt from a recent news article notes.

Pope welcomes Glendon, urges Americans to let values guide choices
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
February 29, 2008

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Welcoming Mary Ann Glendon as the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI praised those working to defend human life and urged Americans to let moral values influence their political choices.

"The American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion" in making policy decisions that take ethical and moral values into account, the pope said, "is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God's gift of life, from conception to natural death."

The pope said the same commitment to moral values is seen in efforts to safeguard "the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family."

With members of her family looking on Feb. 29, Glendon and the pope exchanged speeches focused on protecting human dignity, eliminating poverty and promoting peace.

And both of them mentioned Pope Benedict's planned April 15-20 trip to Washington and New York.

"I look forward to my pastoral visit to the United States in April," the pope told Glendon.

"On your first visit to the U.S. as pontiff, you will find a warm welcome from a nation that understands the important contribution offered by people of faith in our society," the ambassador assured him.

"You will be among friends," she said.

Glendon, 69, is no stranger to the Vatican. The Harvard law professor has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences since 1994 and served as president of the body for almost four years before being sworn in as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Monday, March 3, 2008

An American Saint

The list of those who life’s work brought them sainthood often reveals the tragedy in our culture that brought about their sacrifice and sainthood, and one who is quite memorable is honored today, Sister Katherine Drexel, the woman from a very wealthy family who gave her life to the marginalized, dying just 53 years ago.

This excerpt from her brief biography from Saint of the Day reminds us of the path of the saints.

March 3, 2008
St. Katharine Drexel

If your father is an international banker and you ride in a private railroad car, you are not likely to be drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. But if your mother opens your home to the poor three days each week and your father spends half an hour each evening in prayer, it is not impossible that you will devote your life to the poor and give away millions of dollars. Katharine Drexel did that.

She was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn.

She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by reading Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.

Back home, she visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions.

She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!”

After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

William F. Buckley, Rest in Peace

I watched Firing Line on and off for many years, admiring the wit and ferocious intellectuality its host was able to bring to argument, but it wasn’t until sometime after my own conversion I learned William Buckley was a devout Catholic.

This repeated itself several times, as the admiration of many others among my friends, once I began revealing my conversion, I came to learn were Catholic

There is something about the work in the world of devout Catholics that often cause admiration from those who know them, which I have discovered is part of the often quiet work of the cross and of trying to live by the revealed truth of the faith.

There are many remembrances of him, but this 1997 interview, excerpted here, regarding Buckley’s book about his faith, "Nearer, My God", is among the best

Buckley on Belief
By Michael Cromartie
Posted: Saturday, November 1, 1997
Books & Culture
Publication Date: November 1, 1997

William F. Buckley says he has never been tentative about his faith. But then, he's never been talkative about it either.

Buried in the middle of this interview with William F. Buckley, Jr., is an extraordinary statement. Buckley, who has given hundreds of addresses on college and university campuses, remarks that "I've never been invited in my life to give a college speech or a seminar about which the subject of religion was discussed. It's like a subtle sequestration that religion is something that you do on your own, and it's disruptive to bring it up."

That datum, which at first strikes the reader as incredible, confirms the diagnosis offered in George Marsden's The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief and Stephen Carter's The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion. But it also says something about Buckley himself. As an editor, columnist, tv host, novelist, and the pre-eminent spokesman for conservatism in his generation, Buckley has never made a secret of his strong Christian faith, yet he confesses to a temperamental reticence. "I am not trained in the devotional mode, nor disposed to it," he writes--nor, one might add, the evangelical mode.

That is precisely what makes his new book, Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith (Doubleday, 313 pp.; $24.95), unique: Here, for the first time, Buckley writes at length about his faith, about some of the principal obstacles to Christian belief (despite self-deprecating comments concerning his lack of theological training, he displays considerable powers as an apologist), and about the distinctive experience of a Roman Catholic in the twentieth century.

In September, Michael Cromartie met with Buckley in New York at the offices of National Review to talk about his book and to get his sense of the state of Christendom at the end of the millennium.

Q. Many years ago Garry Wills said this of you: "Being Catholic always mattered more to him than being conservative." Is he right?

A. If he meant he has a higher loyalty to God than to civil society, then the answer is obvious: God has to be pre-eminent.

Q.Why did you write this book?

A. It was the idea of a publisher. I undertook it, and after a year or so despaired of doing the reading I thought necessary to consummate it, so I gave it up. Then two years later, I got that little itchy feeling that one ought not give up the occasional challenge to do service to one's Maker, so I undertook to return to it. Three or four years later, that is what materialized.

Q. You say in your book, "I grew up in a large family of Catholics without even a decent ration of tentativeness among the lot of us about our religious faith." Were you really never tentative about your faith? Never?

A. No, I never was. I know one brother who was, but he lay down and got over it.

Q. How do you explain your own steadfastness?

Grace. I understand the nature of temptation, and I understand that the reach of temptation gets to almost everybody. But to the extent that one anticipates that possibility, in my case one has to reaffirm the postulates. And I never found any problem or conflict with these postulates and Christian doctrine. Which is a subject that I touch in this book. Therefore, I was never won over to skepticism, though skepticism can be very alluring. The Devil can be very alluring.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Illegal Immigration

A contentious issue that calls us to confirm our right as a nation to establish laws and see they are obeyed, and our duties as human beings to love our fellow human beings, especially those who are poor and struggling to support their families by immigrating to find work.

The Catechism says

2241 The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

2242 The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mt. 22:21) "We must obey God rather than men": (Acts 5:29)

"When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel." (Gaudium Et Spes # 74, para. 5)