Wednesday, May 31, 2006


So while Googling cycle-rickshaws for the post below, I came across this totally awesome India travel site. neoncarrot India travelog If you're ever planning a trip to the subcontinent, this would rock. Heck, it rocks even otherwise!

They're called cycle-rickshaw's over here ...

[Picture Credit.]

(Ok --- that's obviously not in SC ... )

[Hattip to Dogwood who's diligently sending an email full of news from back in SC every morning. Much appreciated!] The State | 05/31/2006 | Pedicabs to roll into Vista ... will be interesting to see how they take off in Columbia. They're pretty popular with the tourists in Charleston --- Cola-town doesn't have that kind of tourist traffic, though.

The bar-hoppers maybe? "Dinner at the Blue Marlin and then pedicab over to the Blue Martini?" ... hmmm.

Commonweal: Judas and Jesus ...

An interesting piece by Jack Miles ("Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God") in the latest Commonweal, on just what Gnosticism was, and how the Gospel of Judas might (or might not) fit into the mix. The main thrust seems to be here,
And yet, just as cultural faux pas invariably teach us something about deep cultural differences, so the ways in which Jewish and Christian ideas were ripped out of context and put to use eccentrically in gnostic polytheism teach us something about those original ideas and their first expression. Thus, for example (and examples are easily multiplied), the canonical Gospels do not infer that God was Jesus’ enemy from the fact that God, in some sense, put Jesus to death on the cross (“not my will but thine be done”). But take a step back from the canon, and that inference cannot be called exactly illogical, can it? It is what we call an understandable mistake, what Harold Bloom would describe as a creative “misprision.” Similarly, although Jesus was God incarnate, and although, therefore, God in some sense put himself to death, the canonical Gospels do not infer that God simply wanted out of his human body. But, again: Would that inference be illogical? Finally, though, the idea whose native strangeness we can most clearly see afresh by the light of the Gospel of Judas is that of the immolation of God by God-an act so radically out of character for Yahweh Elohim that it cannot fail to bring his very identity as God into crisis.
Basically, the canonical texts can (and were) be interpreted in a variety of different ways, including the interpretations that found their way into the Nag Hammadi documents. I guess this just builds on Miles assertion that Yahweh and Jesus' Father are so radically different "characterologically" (is that a word?) that in that difference, which orhtodox Christianity resolves by the doctrine of the Trinity, a variety of interepretations could be made.

On first, hurried, perusal, I'm not sure what to make of this. The other point is quite clear -- that the Gnostics never aimed to be an alternate canon, and form a material (as well as a spiritual) union the way the orthodox Christianity did. In that sense, we're really not talking about "diverse Christianities" duking it out in those early days.

Yup. Agreed. :)

U.N. says India now has most AIDS cases - Yahoo! News

U.N. says India now has most AIDS cases - Yahoo! News Not good, not good at all.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More on Benedict at Auschwitz

Great round up of articles at Chris Blosser's Against the Grain. As was to be expected, perhaps, the Pope was criticized for what he didn't say at Auschwitz. Joseph Bottum's rejoinder at the First Things blog is helpful:
As a result, the Holocaust can seem too big to learn any particular lesson from. As a metaphor, it trivializes anything it is used to describe—or, worse, it gets trivialized itself. “Holocaust on Your Plate,” proclaims the pro-animal group PETA, juxtaposing pictures of the Nazi death camps with photos of modern farming. “The Jewish Holocaust Was Then, The Palestinian Holocaust Is Now,” explains the Arab Al-Jazeerah.

It’s as though nearly everyone wants to use the Holocaust for something: to advance some modern political purpose or thicken some contemporary moral claim. The temptation is almost overwhelming—and understandably so, for Auschwitz truly is a lesson, and it seems to demand that we apply that lesson, here and now. It seems to demand that we change our lives, here and now.

In itself, that ought to be a warning. The examples are endless: A few decades ago, the anti-Western Soviets declared that the Nazi death camps demonstrated Communism’s superiority to the bourgeois West; a few years ago, a popular anti-Christian historian wrote a book claiming that the Holocaust proved that organized Christianity must dissolve itself. If the Holocaust merely confirms you in the stands you already have, then you haven’t learned the lesson of the Holocaust.

Pope Benedict XVI visited Auschwitz on Saturday, and many of the initial news reports concentrated on his cry, “Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?” In some ways, that revealed the inability of the press to grasp the heart of the pope’s speech “not to join in hate but to join in love.” But, in other ways, the press reports were exactly right, for Benedict has just given one of the great pontifical speeches—and he did it by refusing to use the Holocaust for any purpose except itself.
In this week's newsletter, Italian Vaticanista Sandro Magister picks up on one phrase in Benedict's speech at Auschwitz, calling it startling, and an interpretation that "no pope had ever made before him."
By annihilating that people – Benedict XVI asserted – the architects of the slaughter “wanted to kill God.” The God of Abraham, and of Jesus Christ. The God of the Jews and of the Christians, but also of all humanity, for whose sake “on Sinai he laid down principles to serve as a guide, principles that are eternally valid.” By destroying Israel, the authors of this extermination “ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.”

This is the key passage of the address given by Benedict XVI on Sunday, May 28, at Auschwitz and Birkenau.

It is to these words, and not his silences, that the most attention and reflection, including critical reflection, should be dedicated.

But the address delivered by Benedict XVI at Auschwitz and Birkenau contained other passages that are innovative with respect to the canons of political correctness.

For example, pope Ratzinger did not evoke the solidarity of Jews and Christians in terms of the latter asking forgiveness from the former, but as sharing the lot of the victims, as sharing the will to resist evil, as being brought close together through prayer. In doing this, the pope was not afraid to touch upon controversial questions. Among the “lights shining in a dark night,” he recalled the Hebrew Christian Edith Stein, who was also killed in the Holocaust but is disliked by many Jews because she converted and was beatified. He expressed admiration for the Carmelite convent built near Auschwitz, which is criticized by many Jews as an undue appropriation of the place’s memory.
As always, Pope Benedict is profound, and deeply thought-provoking. To interpret the Holocaust as an indirect attack on Christianity is bold, and can easily be misconstrued. But the truth that he is highlighting is a deep one, one that really needs to take root in the minds of Christians (and is, perhaps, one of the surest guards against anti-Semitism). It goes back to the New Testament itself; a reality that St. Paul evokes as he wrestles with the whole question of Israel's unbelief in those celebrated passages in his letter to the Romans. The reality that Israel and the Church, the olive tree and the wild branch, are so closely tied together, so intimately bound up, that the fate and destiny of one, so to speak, cannot be separated from that of the other. For the Jewish people we (Christians) might be an annoying heresy, or, a frightening oppressor, or a majority to be dismissed, or to be wary of. For Christians however, Judaism is not something that is extrinsic to us, something that is foreign, another religion, even. We cannot understand ourselves without Israel.

[And while the likes of Radio Mariya crop up in the West, and extremist holocaust deniers and neo-Nazio ideologues are certainly not unknown, it is perhaps wise to recall that the locus of vociferous, officially backed and widespread anti-Semitism now seems to lie in the Muslim world. Just think of the various Saudi manuals that export extremist Wahabism. Or that most eminent of Holocaust deniers -- the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.]

Monday, May 29, 2006

Honoring those who've fallen ...

(Image from the Citadel website)

It's nearing midnight in the subcontinent, but it's still Memorial Day stateside.

Via Bill Cork, here's a CNS story on the canonization cause of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, military chaplain killed in Vietnam.

White House Commission on Remembrance. (And though I won't be awake at 3 pm EDT, I'll be saying prayers for all who've paid the ultimate sacrifice for the nation, particularly for graduates of South Carolina colleges.)

Thoughts on X-Men 3

Well, I caught X-Men 3: The Last Stand at the 10:00 am matinee (hordes of loud, rowdy teens. But definitely liked the Rs. 60 [$1.30] admission. Beats paying eight bucks at Sandhills any day!). I'm with the 53% of critics and 72% of viewers at Rottentomatoes who liked it. I've never read the comic series (my teenage comics of choice were the British Commando Comics, and, of course, Asterix. And Tintin!) so I don't bring that background (baggage?) to the movies. I've liked the series -- neat stories, ok characters (way too many to really develop, granted. Patrick Stewart ROCKS!), nice action and thrills, eye candy, and (not too deeply, of course, this is Hollywood!) some delving into substantive issues. Nice entertainment, in other words.

No spoilers here, except to say that they like killing off main characters! And yes, as every other website on this says, do stay to watch the end of the credits.

After watching X2 a friend pointed out the parallels between "mutation" and homosexuality -- something that's certainly been talked about a lot (for e.g. here and here), and the whole "mutant cure" thing makes that connection a lot less nebulous. Eve Tushnet disagrees that the "cure" = "ex-gay therapy" ... I don't know. It seems to follow. She develops her thoughts in another, thought provoking direction:
But there is a real parallel between the line outside Worthington Labs and the (botched, but don't get me started) Dark Phoenix plotline. In both cases, mutants voluntarily submit to vulnerability. For some reason, they choose weakness over what the series' rhetoric constantly describes as "power."
Of course, anyone who's at all felt as an outsider can identify with the whole "mutation" meme --- which is why, it seems, this seems to have been the comic book of choice of so many geeky teenage boys. As the Christianity Today review points out
However, it can also be viewed as a metaphor for hot topics like stem cell research and gay rights. It might even be seen as a movie about the right to choose, which can lead to ethical discussions both constructive and sticky—again, depending on whom you talk to. Perhaps the ultimate message is how differing perspectives need to learn how to coexist in tolerance rather than battling for superiority.

The movie generates discussion with a lot of grey answers, but that's surely part of the reason for the series' enduring popularity. Anyone who's ever felt persecuted or oppressed for anything can relate to the mutants of the story. Much like Star Trek, it means all things to all people, and you can take from it what you want to.
CT also carried a piece last week (mentioned below) comparing "mutation" to being Christian, but that seemed to simply take-off on the idea of "mutation" as "serious difference that will get you into trouble" rather than the movie per se.

My thoughts went in these directions (yes, I think multiple thoughts. Even during movies. I can't help it :)). One, why on earth had someone not formed a mutant gang/terrorist-organization/army until now? With all these powers, surely the original-sin ridden power-hungry human nature would have started a war a long time back? Quite obviously, homo sapiens superior hadn't evolved out of original sin ...

The theme of individual choice runs through the movie (like in the scene were Wolverine tells Rogue, "I'm your friend, not your father. Do what you think is best for you." Lord, how on earth do I know what's best for me? Do I even know myself? Really? I'm deceiving myself and spinning facades all the time ... Anway. While, as Christians, we all struggle against that dominant view of our culture -- it's all about me, my choice, my decision, what's good for me -- at one level, our God is like a friend, not a (dominant, abusive) father. He does give us freedom. True freedom. A real choice. Where He does not impose Himself, or His will on us (and, oh, sometimes, how we wish He did!). He wants us to love Him, freely.

And when we do (and even before. He's not above pushing us, so to speak, with His grace), that's when the mutation takes a hold. And starts transforming us. Not into homo sapiens superior. But into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

"Why was God silent?"

Pope Benedict at Auschwitz.
"In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence which is a heartfelt cry to God -- Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?"

"Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?"

Benedict, one of the Church's leading theologians, said humans could not "peer into God's mysterious plan" to understand such evil, but only "cry out humbly yet insistently to God -- 'rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature!"

Da Vinci fallout: lots of press?

Well, both the big English language dailies had coverage of the Catholic Church in the Sunday papers. The Indian Express carried a front page (bottom) story on Opus Dei in India. At Opus Dei center in Mumbai, no one's afraid of Dan Brown.
The place doesn’t look as if anyone there whips themselves to frenzy over anything. Sorry Dan Brown, but Opus Dei, at least as The Sunday Express saw in its Mumbai centres, is a picture of the humdrum.
Brown’s fictional Opus Dei, as almost everyone seems to know, is a secretive, self-flagellating, Catholic group ready to kill to protect the “secret” that threatened the church. At the Mumbai Opus Dei the big secret is this—the airconditioned library at the men’s centre is a refuge from Mumbai’s sweltering summer to some student members.

The Times of India had a full page special report inside the Sunday supplement on Catholicism with a variety of articles. One delved into the whole issue of the constitutionality of anti-conversion laws, the debate on religious freedom in the Constituent Assembly, and said that Pope Benedict had done his homework in saying that such laws are against the "highest ideals of India's founding fathers."
But the pope can't be faulted for alleging all the same that anti-conversion laws were "contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers".

This is because, contrary to the SC verdict in the Rev Stanislaus case, the Constituent Assembly saw the right to convert others to one's own religion as a logical extension of two fundamental rights: the right to 'propagate' religion (Article 25) and the larger freedom of speech and expression (Article 19).

The intention of the founding fathers is evident from the extensive debates they had before incorporating the term 'propagate' in Article 25.
Another highlighted, quite positively I thought, one story of a Hindu converting to (non-denominational) Christianity.
My parents lost all their money, I couldn't go to college. My mother sold everything and sent me to Delhi to get a job. I got involved with a guy, we started doing drugs. My father was dying.

Then, my cousin died in a car crash. I was on the point of suicide. Then I found the love of Jesus and was saved."
This is the story of Shilpa, 23, a Hindu who converted to Christianity. Why? It gave her hope in a hopeless life.
The personal story, however, serves as a bookend for a sociological analysis of (especially lower-caste) conversion in India. A third suggests that Africa, not Asia, is where the action is, when it comes to the growth of Christianity, using Philip Jenkin's well regarded The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, as a springboard (Neat review in First Things). And a quote from the editor of The Examiner (the Archdiocesan magazine out of Bombay) which suggests that evangelization and conversion (understood narrowly as making new church members) are not the same at all.
"What he actually said was that in the past the gospel has been preached from Europe, in the future it should be preached from Asia. This means the Church should reach out to more people in Asia, not convert them."
Finally, columnist Jug Suraiya dishes up a nice sentimental "why-can't-we-just-get-along" relativism. Not either/or but both/and.
Born into Hinduism, I now call myself a practising atheist. But that does not preclude me from being "Little bit Muslim, yes?". Or little bit Christian, or Buddhist, or Sikh, or Hindu. On occasion I have been, and will be, all these.

If I wasn't, I couldn't be moved by a maulvi's call to prayer, or the soaring spire of a cathedral, or a stupa painted with the turquoise eyes of the Buddha, or the Gurbani being sung in the Har Mandir, or the recitation of the Gayatri Mantra. If I were to believe in just one faith, instead of in the faith of all faiths (including the faith of atheism), I would only be impoverishing myself. I'd be limiting both myself and the boundaryless domain of spirit.

This is what bothers me about the conversion controversy. How, in the name of faith, can zealots, of whatever denomination, seek to limit faith? To imprison it in an either/or mutually exclusive equation, instead of liberating it in an eclectic and elective both/and openness of multiple choice, multiple affirmation.
Sounds nice, doesn't it? Except "faith" is not just an aesthetic appreciation of other's cultures, to be enjoyed in the comfort of one's living room, or while visiting exotic destinations. I would say that being a truly faithful Christian, say, does not in fact preclude one from the kind of aesthetic (or even spiritual) appreciation of different cultures and religions that he talks about. (As Nostra Aetate put it, the Church doesn't reject anything that is true or good in other religions.) Not only that, this kind of appreciation is not just a nice thing, but a good in of itself, one that is sorely needed in today's world. But surely, "multiple affirmations" can mean that I also affirm, say, the need for human sacrifice (as practiced by the ancient Aztecs), or, sati, or extermination of a particular race? Why not? Didn't these stem from "faith"? Why should I discriminate against these aspects of "faith">

"Faith" is closely tied to the question of truth. And praxis. Catholics are all about "both/and." But not always. Sorry Jug, sometimes one has to take an either/or stand. And I suspect, for most people, their faith involves a lot more than just a little bit of this and that tossed together to make a pleasing cocktail to be served up when one feels the need for something exotic and multicultural.

Benedict in Poland: Mass in Krakow ...

Nearly 1 million participate.

From the homily (for the Ascension)
“Stand firm in your faith!” This appeal is directed to us all as members of the community of Christ’s disciples, to each and every one of us. Faith is a deeply personal and human act, an act which has two aspects. To believe means first to accept as true what our mind cannot fully comprehend. We have to accept what God reveals to us about himself, about ourselves, about everything around us, including the things that are invisible, inexpressible and beyond our imagination. This act of accepting revealed truth broadens the horizon of our knowledge and draws us to the mystery in which our lives are immersed. Letting our reason be limited in this way is not something easy to do. Here we see the second aspect of faith: it is trust in a person, no ordinary person, but Jesus Christ himself. What we believe is important, but even more important is the One in whom we believe.
Strengthened by faith in God, devote yourselves fervently to consolidating his Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of goodness, justice, solidarity and mercy. I ask you to bear courageous witness to the Gospel before today’s world, bringing hope to the poor, the suffering, the lost and abandoned, the desperate and those yearning for freedom, truth and peace. By doing good to your neighbour and showing your concern for the common good, you bear witness that God is love.
As John Allen noted in one of yesterday's dispatches, this is basic stuff. But, spiritually nourishing, as he says as well. No wonder journalists are waiting for the Auschwitz visit later today, when they will get some good soundbites. I, for one, find his homilies inspiring. And definitely nourishing.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Augustine of Canterbury ...

Today is his feast. The one sent to evangelize the Angles after Pope St. Gregory saw some fair blond slaves in the market in Rome. "Angeli non Anglii" he is supposed to have remarked, according to the Venerable Bede. (Incidentally, one of the earliest works of church history I ever read. Not to be confused with the Venemous Bede of 1066 and All That :-)). Blog-by-the-Sea has an interesting post on the evangelization, Cardinal Ratzinger and St. Augustine.

Here's a prayer for St. Augustine, from titusonenine (a conservative Anglican blog):
O Lord our God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst call thine apostles and send them forth to preach the Gospel to the nations: We bless thy holy name for thy servant Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, whose labors in propagating thy Church among the English people we commemorate today; and we pray that all whom thou dost call and send may do thy will, and bide thy time, and see thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
And definitely pray for the current occupant of the Chair of St. Augustine, and for unity with our Anglican brothers and sisters.

Finally, on this feast day, it is worth reading Archbishop Rowan Williams masterful talk on Christian basics, given at the Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, in November 2005.

Prayers for Indonesia ...

Yahoo's full coverage
Indonesian Red Cross (site not yet updated)

Religious freedom under siege in India

Article by Fr. Babu Joseph, Director of Media Office, CBCI, in today's Indian Catholic. [Hat tip to Konkani Catholics, in the comments below]

Heroin doesn't hook people ...

rather people hook heroin ... yet another thought provoking, anti-conventional piece from Theodore Dalrymple: Article | Poppycock
Heroin doesn't hook people; rather, people hook heroin. It is quite untrue that withdrawal from heroin or other opiates is a serious business, so serious that it would justify or at least mitigate the commission of crimes such as mugging. Withdrawal effects from opiates are trivial, medically speaking (unlike those from alcohol, barbiturates or even, on occasion, benzodiazepines such as valium), and experiment demonstrates that they are largely, though not entirely, psychological in origin. Lurid descriptions in books and depictions in films exaggerate them à la De Quincey (and also Coleridge, who was a chronic self-dramatizer).

I have witnessed thousands of addicts withdraw; and, notwithstanding the histrionic displays of suffering, provoked by the presence of someone in a position to prescribe substitute opiates, and which cease when that person is no longer present, I have never had any reason to fear for their safety from the effects of withdrawal. It is well known that addicts present themselves differently according to whether they are speaking to doctors or fellow addicts. In front of doctors, they will emphasize their suffering; but among themselves, they will talk about where to get the best and cheapest heroin.

When, unbeknown to them, I have observed addicts before they entered my office, they were cheerful; in my office, they doubled up in pain and claimed never to have experienced suffering like it, threatening suicide unless I gave them what they wanted. When refused, they often turned abusive, but a few laughed and confessed that it had been worth a try. Somehow, doctors—most of whom have had similar experiences— never draw the appropriate conclusion from all of this. Insofar as there is a causative relation between criminality and opiate addiction, it is more likely that a criminal tendency causes addiction than that addiction causes criminality.

An average hollywood thriller, the book is more dangerous

Op-ed piece by Fr. Donald De Souza in today's Indian Express. Fr. De Souza was one of the delegation that watched the film before it was released by the Censors.
The informed among the Christian community, however, will be able to see the movie just as a cinematic experience and not let it affect their faith. But Christians not so conversant with the tenets of their faith face the likelihood of having their faith a bit shaken after watching the movie.

For the millions of others outside the Christian fold, the impact can be of two different kinds. Those who have followed the extensive media reports, both in print and on TV, about the church protests that are based on genuine reasons will be able to dub the movie a work of fiction.

And those who haven’t read or seen the in-depth explanation the church has given, may end up believing the movie as true.

That’s the precise reason why the church has pulled out all stops to educate the masses through the campaigns against the movie. And I believe that the book is a greater threat than the movie. The book needs to be read more critically than watching a film, which people still see as a form of fiction and entertainment. But both are aimed at distorting truth and attack the fundamentals of Christian faith.

Address to seminarians and those in consecrated life ...

ViaZenit Here's the bit for seminarians:
Dear candidates to the priesthood! So much can be gained by reflecting on the way Mary learned from Jesus! From her very first "fiat," through the long, ordinary years of the hidden life, as she brought up Jesus, or when at Cana in Galilee she asked for the first sign, or when finally on Calvary, by the cross, she looked on Jesus, she "learned" him moment by moment. Firstly in faith and then in her womb, she received the Body of Jesus and then gave birth to him. Day after day, enraptured, she adored him. She served him with solicitous love, singing the Magnificat in her heart.

On your journey of preparation, and in your future priestly ministry, let Mary guide you as you "learn" Jesus. Keep your eyes fixed on him. Let him form you, so that in your ministry you will be able to show him to all who approach you. When you take into your hands the Eucharistic Body of Jesus so as to nourish his people, and when you assume responsibility for that part of the Mystical Body which will be entrusted to you, remember the attitude of wonder and adoration which characterized Mary's faith.

As she in her solicitous, maternal love for Jesus, preserved her virginal love filled with wonder, so also you, as you genuflect at the moment of consecration, preserve in your soul the ability to wonder and to adore. Know how to recognize in the People of God entrusted to you the signs of Christ's presence. Be mindful and attentive to the signs of holiness which God will show you among the faithful. Do not fear future duties or the unknown! Do not fear that words will fail you or that you will encounter rejection! The world and the Church need priests, holy priests.

Friday, May 26, 2006

[Temporary] Consecrated lay women?

That's what it sounds like. A new ministry for women in the Diocese of Broken Bay, Australia (via the Tablet).
A PLAN for celibate women to work full time in an Australian diocese and be answerable to the bishop was not a “back door” to women’s ordination, according to the cleric proposing the ministry.
Bishop David Walker of Broken Bay said the “ecclesial women” would not be Religious, like nuns, as they would not take a vow of poverty. But they would be celibate, though they need not live in community or make a lifelong commitment.

He announced the plan in the May edition of Broken Bay News, saying the project was well grounded in the current teaching of the Church and was a way to recognise and include what Pope John Paul II called the “feminine genius” in the life and leadership of the Catholic community.

“I would hope this vocation would attract single women, who are practising their faith, feel a need to be more involved in their local Church, and want to embody it in a consecrated way of life,” the bishop wrote. “It is a vocation that could attract young women finishing school or their professional studies. It may also attract older women who see it as a way to live out their commitment to the Lord.”

He stressed that this vocation ought not be interpreted in the light of other vocations, such as religious life, diaconate or priesthood, but defined on its own terms, even though aspects of it may relate to things present in other religious vocations. As this was a new vocation in the Church, those involved in it in its early stages would contribute significantly to how it unfolded.

“What I’m trying to do is to establish a group of ministers who will serve within the local Church, and be part of the ministry of the bishop,” Bishop Walker told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Religion Report” on 17 May. Broken Bay diocese, which takes in the northern suburbs of Sydney and the rapidly growing New South Wales Central Coast to the north of Australia’s biggest city, was formed 20 years ago when the Archdiocese of Sydney was split.

Asked why a new group was needed, Bishop Walker said he had to acknowledge that many young people were not moving in the direction of traditional vocations, such as religious sisters, and other areas of apostolic life. “So I think we constantly need to be offering new ways of life which may attract young people.”

Bishop Walker said that, as committed people, the women would be able to fit into many of the works of the diocese, its agencies, schools and parishes in a number of pastoral areas.
(Emphasis added.) "Ecclesial women" just doesn't have the same ring. And no, church lady doesn't quite cut it either. :-) Jimmy Akin had carried this last week. The comments there are a bit negative. I agree this sounds a little strange, but that isn't reason to diss it. And maybe they're not consecrated virgins because, well, like it or not, unmarried Catholic women [and men] these days might not all be virgins? Could almost be a diocean institute of consecrated life, like the Apostles of the Interior Life, except for the temporary promise of celibacy. So, temporary consecration. Why not?

Decoding with the family ...

So mom and bro went to see the Da Vinci Code movie today. Apparently, Baroda's INOX Multiplex (which had six screenings, 3 in English and 3 in Hindi) was quite packed, though around the country the reponse has been a little mixed.

"Oh, pretty decent!" was the general verdict. "So, why is the church getting so upset by this? This is a godsend --- everyone will be talking about Christianity now!"

Um. Except thhat's not Christianity.

So, a nice discussion follows about history, ("well, one can never really know, can one?), fiction ("it's just fiction!"), and so on. "I see why the stakes are so high. The church, like an advertiser, is into mind control --- and this challenges their mind control."

:: sigh ::

My bottom line(s):
-- yes there are different interpretations of history, but acknowledging this doesn't mean that anything can be considered genuine history. History has to have some connection with reality, with "what happened." One can come up with a movie, say, that portrays Gandhi as being a puppet of the British and the independence movement as being really a Nazi plot, but one cannot say that this is history. That's the level of "history" of DVC.
-- and yes, tons of people believe this as having some positive correlation with reality and history. And Dan Brown isn't so disingenuous about that either. The way it's taken off, one simply cannot just say "this is fiction" and hope it goes away, or ignore it.
-- the churches have to have a robust response. Boycotts and bans, in my opinion, are counterproductive.

A little later, though, there was a "fact from fiction" Q&A session. Did Mary Magdalene exist? (Yes). What about Opus Dei? (Yes. It exists. But to believe what Dan Bown says about would be akin to believing that the BJP is a Christian organization that promotes conversion) What are the sources for knowing about Jesus? (The Gospels, and NT for one. Which Brown just ignores.) And when did Roman Catholicism start? (With Jesus, not with Constantine.) When was the first church built? (Huh? Hmm. No idea. Isn't there that second century dig from Dura Europos? ... They met in homes you know. Public churches? fourth century) ... etc. etc.

So much easier doing this with people one isn't related to! Especially when the constant undercurrent is, "well, you're Christian. You're biased."

New look ...

... been playing around with Blogger's template. (No, the design isn't mine. I got it from here). Feedback welcome!

S. Filipo Neri ...

Argent by the Tiber has a nice write up on today's saint. Also check out Fr. Nicholas' homily for the feast at Roman Miscellany.

Win some, lose some ...

Via Asianews. Tamil Nadu's draconian anti-conversion law to be repealed ... and the CBCI notes that the Chhatisgarh law is to be made more stringent.
The BJP government in Chattisgarh intends to pass a Bill to penalize people who change their faith without informing the state.

Those wishing to change their religion must inform the concerned district magistrate (DM) a month in advance before the change. The penalty for violation of this law could be between Rs 50,000 and a lakh and imprisonment up to 5 years.
Oh yes, this is simply to prevent "forced" conversions.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Da Vinci Code in India

So, guess what the sweet white-haired Indian auntie and the middle-aged Nepalese lady in my row on the flight over were talking about? Yep. The Da Vinci Code. Neither had seen it. "I've heard it's boring." "Yes, apparently you have to have read the book to follow along." "And it's upset some people." "Well that's understandable, if it's attacking their religion." I pretended to be asleep. And while waiting for the flight to Baroda on Wednesday, I saw at least three people engrossed in DVC paperbacks in the chaotic waiting room (Delhi airport's domestic terminal is a zoo! It makes an Indian railway station look organized!). And of course, the family wants my "take" on it. "Is it blasphemy?" the brother asks.

:: sigh ::

After some controversy, the movie opens tomorrow in India, with a 15 second disclaimer tacked on by the Censor Board after protests by Christians (and Muslims!). Not bad. Better than being banned. It really does make the religious objectors come across as thin-skinned firebrands who cannot take criticism, do not value free speech and just confirm the secular elite's suspicions that religion is, on the whole, "backward."

[Aside on the Muslim protest: if Muslims are offended that a Koranic prophet is being insulted, what to make of the Koranic claim that the Crucifixion was fictitious? :) And, apparently, a few Middle Eastern countries have banned the movie.]

The CBCI homepage has a prominent link to, the DVC site of the US Bishops, with a neat slogan: "The fact is the film is fiction and is business!"

[A little ironic that Ad-sense, or whatever other service is placing ads on the site of the Catholic Bishops of India would have an ad to these folks!]

Konkani Catholics (a neat blog maintained by a group of Goan Catholics) has a link to the statement of Archbishop Moras of Bangalore on the movie (as well as links to prior coverage).
1. The film Da Vinci Code is based on a novel and it is not based on history. The true life of Jesus Christ is depicted in the Gospels.

2. People must not become gullible and believe whatever they see in the film as media create false realities and have the power to 'make believe facts'.

3. To clarify people's doubt, a study group in the parish should be formed. A few learned persons who have made a through study of the film could guide the people, especially the youth in the parish.

4. Special prayers to be offered for media personnel that they may not exploit the simple faith of the common people and that people who view this movie may not be misguided and/or lose faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

5. The faithful should be helped to foster their personal relationship with Jesus by conducting regularly the Bible Classes with special focus on the Gospels, and by the screening of the movies: Jesus of Nazareth, the Passion of the Christ etc.
(I especially like the last one :)).

The fact remains, as Amy Welborn never ceases to repeat: This is not "just" fiction. It's obviously got the whole Christian world on the defensive. And it is pernicious and deceptive.

Should it be banned? Heck no. Bring it on, I say!

Cardinal Dias: anti conversion attempts interfere with God's competence

Indian Catholic (the news site of the CBCI) has the full text of Cardinal Dias' statement in response ot the recent contretemps over the Pope's remarks to the new Indian Ambassador to the Holy See. Here's point number one:
Conversion from one religious belief to another is a strictly personal matter between God and the individual concerned. The freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate one’s religion have been enshrined in the Constitution of India. This is but an affirmation of the human rights to which every man, woman and child is entitled. Conversions, however, should never be induced by force, fraud or allurement: the Catholic Church considers all such conversions as invalid. But, any opposition by law or de facto to a genuine conversion, besides being a grave violation of the code of human rights and of the spirit of the Indian Constitution, is, above all, an unwarranted interference in God’s unique competence in the matter.
(Emphasis added.) In futher points: Christians are a small minority, but their influence in society (especially in work with the poor, education, health-care) is completely disproportionate to their numbers. Other communities should ask themselves why this is so, and whether it is not unreasonable that some might be attracted to Christianity because of this witness? Why do so many wish to enroll their children in Christian educational institutions? Despite two millenia of presence in Indian society, Christians are still a tiny minority (Catholics making 1.8% of the population): conversion as a mass-phenomenon simply isn't a reality.

[Aside: while I completely agree with the Cardinal that conversion is an individual and personal issue, one must add that there are social ramifications, serious social ramifications. Especially when it comes to issues of caste. Which may indicate why there is such virulent opposition to the work of the Church among the poor.]

Solemnity of the Ascension

Here's a sermon of St. Augustine, from today's Office of Readings. [I'm assuming that the Church in India celebrates the Solemnity on its traditional day, the Thursday of the sixth week of Easter. I also pray that jet-lag is a valid excuse for having missed a day of obligation! I slept all day. Except for being woken up for soup in the afternoon. Ugh! Anyway, the CBCI website was not very useful in clarifying this matter (guess most Catholics in India aren't using the Net for this purpose), and when I woke up, no one answered the phone at the local Cathedral. As the last words of the Te Deum put it: in te Domine speravi, no confundar in aeternum!]
Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.
Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.
Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.
He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.
These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are the sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.
Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace. Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.

Stand firm in faith: Benedict in Poland

American Papist has links to full coverage, and here's an English language site that's reporting on the visit. (And here's an amusing story: seems like the local media is having a temporary fit of modesty!) I just read the text of the two speeches the Pope gave, one on arrival and one to the clergy at Warsaw Cathedral.

On arrival, apart from recognizing the various dignitaries, ecumenical representatives, leaders of other faiths (Jews and Muslims) and the faithful, he also mentioned non-believers.
And for those who do not have the gift of faith, but whose hearts are full of good will, may my visit be a time of fraternity, goodness and hope. May these enduring values of humanity lay a firm foundation for building a better world, one in which everyone can enjoy material prosperity and spiritual joy.
I think it's always good to remember that faith is, indeed, a gift.

And two snippets in his address to the priests at the Cathedral:
The greatness of Christ’s priesthood can make us tremble. We can be tempted to cry out with Peter: "Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man" (Lk 5:8), because we find it hard to believe that Christ called us specifically. Could he not have chosen someone else, more capable, more holy? But Jesus has looked lovingly upon each one of us, and in this gaze of his we may have confidence. Let us not be consumed with haste, as if time dedicated to Christ in silent prayer were time wasted. On the contrary, it is precisely then that the most wonderful fruits of pastoral service come to birth. There is no need to be discouraged on account of the fact that prayer requires effort, or because of the impression that Jesus remains silent. He is indeed silent, but he is at work.
The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life. With this end in view, when a young priest takes his first steps, he needs to be able to refer to an experienced teacher who will help him not to lose his way among the many ideas put forward by the culture of the moment. In the face of the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for the priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought; what the faithful expect from him is that he be a witness to the eternal wisdom contained in the revealed word. Solicitude for the quality of personal prayer and for good theological formation bear fruit in life. ... In reality, we grow in affective maturity when our hearts adhere to God. Christ needs priests who are mature, virile, capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity. For this to happen, priests need to be honest with themselves, open with their spiritual director and trusting in divine mercy.
(Emphasis added.) Once again, I think it is useful to listen to the Holy Father in his continual call for a deep prayer life and interior conversion of priests (and, I'd say, by extension, all the faithful!).

::added:: John Allen will be giving daily dispatches on the Papal journey to Poland. In today's dispatch he gives some context to the Pope's remarks to the priests:
At the same time, however, Benedict along with the Polish bishops is also concerned that the Polish church not be seen as a lobby on behalf of the country's new government.

"The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics," the pope said to the Polish clergy. "He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life."

It was an especially pointed remark in light of continuing controversy over Radio Maria, a popular Catholic radio service seen by some as tightly linked to the new Polish ruling coalition.
And on the plane, this remark, which every nationalist of every nation should take to heart:
"I am above all Catholic, and I would say that this point is important," he said. "We must always learn that we are Catholic, and thus that one's nationality is inserted, relativized, and also carefully located in the great unity of the Catholic communion."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

India gets huffy with the Pope

BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | India protests over Pope comments
"India is a secular and democratic country, in which adherents of all religious faiths enjoy equal rights," said Junior Foreign Minister Anand Sharma.
Seems like a move designed to appease the BJP opposition, really. In general though, the Indian government always reacts huffily to any foreign criticism. In a letter earlier this week the BJP said
"My interference in your religious domain within the Vatican will be unwelcome, uncalled for and will be treated as interference in your religious management and administration," the letter said.
Indeed, it would be, if the Pope weren't talkin about matters of fundamental human rights -- the freedom to practice and propogate one's religion peacefully, wihtout coercion, and without interference from the State.

CT on X-Men

The movie opens this week in the US. Not sure when it will get to the subcontinent. Soon, one hopes. Commentaries: X-Men: In the World, Not of It - Christianity Today Movies
Being a mutant carries a heavy cost. Threading through years of individual stories is a larger saga about how mutants find different strategies for coming to terms with society. Mutants exist in this world, yet they exist apart from the prevailing culture. The mutant population must confront one fundamental and inescapable reality: They are in the world, but they are not of the world.

The church has often described Christian experience in precisely the same manner: We are in the world but not of it.

Scripture describes us as foreigners far from our true home. Paul writes, "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20).

The church should issue a green card to the newly baptized, because Christians are definitely resident aliens. We have one foot in each world—earth and heaven—balanced precariously between living in the present and belonging to a world that awaits our homecoming.

Jesus never sugarcoated this tension: "If you belonged to the world," he said, "it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:19).
Always a good reminder, methinks, to a complacent church!

Capital city landings ...

So, I'm in New Delhi. After an uneventful, if long, and mostly comfortable flight. I had extra-leg room. The flight was packed though (they accomodated all the carry-over from Sunday night's cancellation), and business first was, I'd say, 80% full. I must say that this is a very convenient way to get to the subcontinent. One overnighter, and you're there. No changes in the middle of sleep in Europe. And I slept quite a lot.

I must say that I always have this sense of the triumph of the empirical, when some 500,000lb+ of fuel, aluminum, wire, cargo and humans, launches itself into the air. Yes, one is always guarding against the overreaching exaggerations of scientism and empiricism. Yet, to me, every take-off is proof, in a solid, incontrovertible way, of the power of the scientific method and scientific reasoning. It is an awe inspiring sight, seeing a trans-continental airliner take to the air (and, of course, for a flight-lover like me, much more fun actually being inside). But it's no miracle. It's a carefully calculated balance of forces that results in this seemingly nature-defying event. Thousands of times. Each day.

So, some 13+ hours and 8000 miles later we land at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. I'm through with immigration and customs in 30 minutes, and another 40 minutes in the 93F heat (at 930 pm) later am at my brother's house. Off tomorrow by the afternoon flight, to Baroda, where the folks live.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Duc in altum ...

[I wrote this yesterday but it didn't post. I believe the wirless connection at Newark airport hiccupped and then they started boarding the plane ... ]


So I ended up at 59th and Columbus in mid-town Manhattan, at St. Paul the Apostle Church, the mother church of the Paulist Fathers. It seemed fitting. I spent some time in prayer there, in the tranquil quiet, away from the traffic and noise outside.

A little earlier my friend Paolo called from Italy. It is the feast of St. Rita today, the patron of "mirabilia", miraculous cures. Apparently, the custom is to have a rose blessed for one's intention. He'd gone to Mass at the Cathedral and had a rose blessed for my father. It was a very touching message to receive, greatly appreciated, especially today.

Yesterday was such an emotional day, saying farewell to home. In between Masses, while praying Lauds, I found myself pointing accusingly at the Blessed Sacrament: "This is your fault!" :) In a way, the flight cancellation and the extra day was great -- spent the day at the lake with friends and visited several others. There was a small dinner organized for John and Marie, also pillars of the community, who too are moving away very soon. That was just wonderful -- a deep sense of gratitude for the time we've had together, and a sense of just what a great thing we've had the privilege of being a part of. John said that he'd found himself coming back to this passage in Luke, where Jesus asks his disciples to put out into the deep. It resonated with him.

As it does for me.
And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; [Luke 5:4-9, RSV]
In prayer in the lovely church dedicated to St. Paul, I had this sense of deep peace, of things moving in God's time, according to His plan, in His own way.

Duc in altum. Put out into the deep. Amen. Posted by Picasa

So, is this suspicious?

A brown guy taking photographs on public transportation? :)

Anyway, on the NJ Transit back from the City, the conductor told me in no uncertain terms, "It is not permitted to take pictures of equipment on this train." I had my camera pointed out the window at a particularly picturesque (for urban New Jersey) bridge in the lowering sun ... "You need a permit." "Can I take pictures out of the window?" "You need a permit." I demurred. Wrong color, international flight to catch, don't want no trouble. :: sigh ::

I did snap this picture of "equipment" at Seacaucus station ...

And no one has, to date, asked me to not take pictures at the airport. Of course, it's illegal in India ... but we all know this. In the US? Go to and search for back issues of Patrick Smith's "Ask the Pilot" column -- he had a great piece a few months back about being asked to refrain from taking pictures at various airports. He checked with TSA and apparently, it's not illegal at all. But then, he can talk back. He's white. :) Posted by Picasa

Off to the City ...

... well I'm not going to spend the rest of the day blogging from Newark Airport. So, off to take the train into New York. No lockers at the airport, but Penn Station has a place I can dump the backpack ... the flight to India leaves tonight.


The Teaching

A neat piece on the Didache. What the Teaching Can Teach Us - Christianity Today Magazine.
The Teaching also can guide us regarding false teachers, and it does so in a surprising way. While it commends strongly the ministry of hospitality, it uses equally strong language for those teachers who prey upon the kindness of believers. It sets the limit on traveling teachers' stays in believers' homes at one or two nights. Also, in accord with Jesus' teaching, such traveling itinerants were to be compensated by meeting their physical needs. With a refreshing straightforwardness, however, the Didachist admonishes concerning guest teachers: "But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet." One wonders what the Didachist would say today if he could witness the tearful requests for monetary gifts that come from some of our modern day "prophets." And what would early Christians think of preachers today who demand a certain fee for preaching at a church or conference?
The author's locus standi reveals itself subtly, however:
Many writers have noticed a "primitive simplicity" in the way that the Teaching describes the pastoral ministry in local assemblies. One finds in it no elaborate hierarchy of "bishops, priests, and deacons" such as developed in the second century.
Umm, that "elaborate hierarchy" is found in the New Testament itself. And even if one goes with those who would consign 1 Timothy and Titus to pseudonymity (claims that rest on very slender evidence, I'd say), the Letter to the Philippians mentions bishops. And, no matter, these are all canonical, authoritative scripture.

Quibbles aside, a neat piece!

Inter-religious dialogue guidelines

From the WCC, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and others. World Council of Churches - 16-05-06: Report from Inter-Religious Consultation on. A bit anodyne, and somewhat naive (just how are all "faiths" supposed to evolve a "code of conduct" on conversion? Oh, yes, more bureaucracy? Conversion by committee? Geez!), but nothing too terrible. Some suggestions are pretty decent:
Freedom of religion is a fundamental, inviolable and non-negotiable right of every human being in every country in the world. Freedom of religion connotes the freedom, without any obstruction, to practice one’s own faith, freedom to propagate the teachings of one’s faith to people of one’s own and other faiths, and also the freedom to embrace another faith out of one’s own free choice.
While deeply appreciating humanitarian work by faith communities, we feel that it should be conducted without any ulterior motives. In the area of humanitarian service in times of need, what we can do together, we should not do separately.
. But, as the folks at Christianity Today note, very opaque. "Unethical" is in quotes in the document itself. Whose ethics? And just what is an "obsession of converting others?" The Great Commission?

On the road ...

... well, the highways in the sky. After a day's delay (thunderstorms cancelling flights and so on), I'm off to the airport for the flight to Newark and thence (non-stop) to New Delhi.

Right in the middle of the summer. And the mango season. :)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ivan Dias to head Propaganda Fide ...

[Via Whispers] --- Ivan Cardinal Dias, until now Archbishop of Bombay, will be heading to Rome to head the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Whispers understands this as part of "Lo Tsunami," Benedict's reorginzation of the Curia. Cardinal Dias incidentally was somewhat papabile in the last interrgnum. Benedict continues the "internationalization" of the curia begun by Paul VI, and accelerated by John Paul II.
In tandem with Sri Lankan Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary for the Congregation of Divine Worship, the selection of Dias to head the Propaganda Fide is the second of Benedict XVI's three major dicasterial appointees to date to have been called from the Indian subcontinent.
[The third, his first appointment, of course, is William Cardinal Levada, erstwhile Archbishop of San Francisco, to head the CDF.]

Here's the story from Indian Catholic and the Hindustan Times.

An Indian "red pope!" :)

Ni de aca ni de alla ...

So I was on the phone with AOL customer service changing my AOL pricing plan. (Having disconnected Time Warner, I don't get AOL free anymore). I was talking to a Christine ... who had some pretty decent American-accent training. However, I know Indian inflection pretty well. Besides, the fact that they pronounce my name (the real one) flawlessly, is a dead giveaway :) Anyway, turns out she was in Bangalore ... "Oh --- you're coming to India in a couple of days! Great! Welcome back!" and then ... "How long have you been away? Your accent has completely changed?"

I couldn't help but laugh. And continued the rest of the conversation in proper Indian English.

[Now as to the real question, why I insist on paying for AOL, that's another matter. Addiction maybe?]

Sandro Magister on the Maciel case

His newsletter has the official texts of the Vatican declaration restricting Fr. Maciel's ministry, the Legion's response, and links to prior articles that follow this sad case. This one, about similar charges against Fr. Gino Buressi of the Congregation of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which resulted in a similar penalty. This was the first sentence handed down by Cardinal Levada, the new head of the CDF. The story is very troubling, and shows, yet again, just how reputation, piety and other factors blind church leaders to the seriousness of sexual abuse.
The Burresi case teaches a lesson. It seemed to have been definitively filed away after the favorable sentence handed down on May 10, 2002. But it was reopened, and a much more severe conclusion was reached – with the presiding judge being Ratzinger, who has since become pope.
So, it seems that Pope Benedict will be tougher than his predecessor ... Magister also links to Jason Berry's and Gerald Renner's book, Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, nothing that the Italian edition will be out soon.

American Papist has a great roundup of blog and MSM coverage.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Pope to Indian Ambassador: religious freedom is paramount!

Via Zenit, the Holy Father's speech to the new Indian Ambassador to the Holy See.
I very much appreciate your reference to India's rich spiritual heritage and commitment to religious tolerance and respect. In view of this commitment, no citizen of India, especially the weak and the underprivileged, should ever have to experience discrimination for any reason, especially based on ethnic or religious background or social position. The recent re-establishment of the National Integration Council and the creation this year of the Ministry for Minority Affairs offer practical means of upholding constitutionally guaranteed equality of all religions and social groups.

While protecting the right of each citizen to profess and practice his or her faith, they also facilitate efforts to build bridges between minority communities and Indian society as a whole, and thus foster national integration and the participation of all in the country's development. The disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of the nation, including the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom, must be firmly rejected as not only unconstitutional, but also as contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers, who believed in a nation of peaceful coexistence and mutual tolerance between different religions and ethnic groups.
(Emphasis Added). A clear reference to the various attempts to pass so-called "anti-conversion" laws in various Indian states. And then, to conclude:
Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved Indian people, I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.
Thank you, Holy Father! :)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Woah: this is big!

Breaking News: Vatican restricts ministry of Legionaries priest founder (NCR/John Allen)
Capping a decade-long on-again, off-again investigation of accusations of sexual abuse, the Vatican has asked Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, to observe a series of restrictions on his ministry.

In effect, Vatican sources told NCR this week, the action amounts to a finding that at least some of the accusations against the charismatic 86-year-old Mexican priest are well-founded.

Maciel has not been laicized, but the restrictions issued shortly before Easter by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith limit Maciel's public activity, such as his capacity to celebrate public Masses, to give lectures or other public presentations, and to give interviews for print or broadcast.

The restrictions have been approved by Pope Benedict XVI, and the Vatican is expected to issue a brief statement shortly.

Vatican sources stressed that the action against Maciel should not be read as an indictment of the Legionaries of Christ or its lay branch, Regnum Christi.
One cardinal who serves on the congregation told NCR that, in his view, the material left little doubt as to the validity of the charges, though he said he was less clear how Maciel understood what he had done. Under canon law, intent and state of mind are sometimes taken into consideration in meting out punishment.

Within the Vatican, the Maciel case has long been seen as particularly sensitive, in part because it could tarnish the reputation of the late John Paul II, who warmly praised and repeatedly honored Maciel. The case could also call into question the action of Benedict XVI, who as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stopped the case against Maciel in 1999. However, he reactivated the case in 2004 and ultimately approved the disciplining of Maciel.

A senior Vatican official told NCR that the decisive break came only in late 2004, when a number of additional accusers came forward. Prior to that, he said, both John Paul and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, were operating on the assumption that the charges were not justified.
This is so sad, and I certianly hope the many detractors of the Legion do not debase themselves by indulging in schadenfreude. It is a bit heartening to see that this Pontificate will take all claims of sexual abuse seriously, no matter how high-profile and well loved the accused. Prayers all around, especially for the victims.

Biggest Passenger Plane Lands at Heathrow - Yahoo! News

Can't wait to fly on her! [Thanks to Peter for this link] Biggest Passenger Plane Lands at Heathrow - Yahoo! News

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Benedict the abbot

[Hat tip to Jaime for pointing me to this article] Christopher Ruddy has a marvelous piece in the latest America on Pope Benedict (Reprinted in full online at Catholic Online). He identifies three emerging themes in this young papacy: Love for the person of Christ, leadership as listening and an interpretation of Vatican II that emphasize its continuity with the past, all firmly ruted in the celebrated Rule of St. Benedict, which this Pope seems to have taken to heart.

Right now it's the first part that has me really excited, with its emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ, lectio divina, and the sacramental life of the Church. Reminds me of these folks ... :-)
Here's some great quotes:
The Rule calls the monks to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ,” a phrase that Pope Benedict quoted in his very first general audience. The key to his pontificate, indeed to his life, is found in this personalism. As both a theologian and a bishop, he has warned against a reduction of Christianity to morality, social activism or an intellectual system. The kingdom of God, he said in a homily delivered in February at St. Anne’s Parish in the Vatican, is not a program, but the presence of God, above all in the person of Christ.

Jesus is defined by his prayerful encounter with the father, and we in turn are defined by our encounter with Jesus, who “takes us by the hand” in the gift of his word and sacraments and thereby shares his life with us. Thus, as the pope said in a weekly audience in February, Jesus’ disciples are called not to be “heralds of an idea, but witnesses of a person. Before being sent to evangelize, they would have to ‘be’ with Jesus (cf. Mk 3:14), establishing a personal relationship with him.”
On the interpretation of Vatican II, Ruddy, like many others, seems to see in the emphasis on a hermeneutic of continuity, only "business as usual." I seriously doubt that this is what either Pope John Paul II or Benedict mean, howsoever much both of them have strived to "reign in" the direction of much of the reform. I do think they both acknowledge the discontinuity of the council ... though not as this great rupture from the past that has become a kind of orthodoxy of its own in some sectors of the church.
Benedict’s depiction of the two competing hermeneutics needs to take fuller account of this genuinely discontinuous dimension of the council, he is nonetheless right that any such development can be properly understood only from within a broader matrix of continuity. Aggiornamento and ressourcement need each other.
I don't think the other excellent article in the latest America is online in full yet (except to subscribers). However, Mark Mossa has a brief write up on both, and Amy has a larger quote from the second article.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Carnitas for the Pope

Izzy passes on this email a friend of his got from Amazon:
Amazon needs a Latin proof-reader.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: 14 May 2006 13:59:30 -0700
Subject: Save 35% on "God Is Love: Deus Carnitas Est" by Pope Benedict XVI at

[Long URL deleted]

Dear Customer,

As someone who has purchased books by Pope Benedict XVI, you might like to know that God Is Love: Deus Carnitas Est will be released soon. You can pre-order your copy at a savings of 35% by following the link below.
Well. God is a Carnita. Missed that the first time! ¡Chow down! :)

New bishop for Washington DC

The Pope has accepted Cardinal McCarrick's resignation and has appointed Pittsburgh's Donald Wuerl to replace him. Vatican accepts Cardinal McCarrick's resignation - Well, for once the rumors have been true. Here's the NYT story. Lots of tidbits over at Whispers.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A unique academic department ...

in the Muslim world. Sandro Magister relays an interview with Prof. Kazi Nurul Islam, "the creator and director of a department at the University of Dhaka (Bangladesh) that is dedicated to world religions. The major religions are taught by instructors who profess the same faith that they teach." [Christianity is taught by a Catholic priest.] Here's one interesting bit:
Q: One might say that your understanding of religion is essentially academic.

A: That’s not the case. My approach to the religions has never been simply based upon books: I have always wanted to encounter a concrete community living out the faith in question, visiting their temples and participating in their rituals and prayers. For me, the encounter with a religion is primarily a living and existential experience.

Q: Can you give an example?

A: In Varanasi, I was able to enter a temple where Muslims are forbidden access. I don’t have the religion to which I belong written across my forehead! This seems very important to me: it is only by participating in a community’s religious life that I can know that community from within and understand its faith. Following this, I spent some time in China in order to study Taoism and Confucianism. I also learned the rudiments of Mandarin Chinese.
Wow! Read on.

Reciprocity ...

... seems to be the new buzzword in the Vatican when it comes to dealing with Muslim nations. Here is the Zenit story on the Pope's address to the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.
Benedict XVI, noting the growing phenomenon of migrations into and out of predominantly Islamic countries, insisted on the importance of the principle of reciprocity.

Such reciprocity consists of "a relationship founded in reciprocal respect and, above all, of an attitude of heart and spirit," the Pope said.

According to this principle, Christians are called to welcome immigrants of Islamic religion "with open arms" and they expect that "Christians who emigrate to countries of Islamic majority will find hospitality and respect for their religious identity," the Holy Father added.

He addressed this issue today in an address to participants in the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, which is reflecting on the topic of migration and Islamic countries.

Benedict XVI acknowledged that "the mobility that affects Muslim countries merits a specific reflection, not only because of the quantitative importance of the phenomenon, but above all because the Islamic is an identity characteristic both from the religious as well as the cultural point of view."

In this context, the Pope "highlighted the Catholic Church's awareness of the fact that 'interreligious dialogue is part of her commitment to serve humanity in the modern world.'"

"We are living at a time when Christians are called to cultivate a form of open dialogue on religious problems, not renouncing the presentation … of the Christian message in keeping with their own identity," he said.

Attitude of heart

Explaining the principle of reciprocity, the Pontiff quoted the pontifical council's 2004 instruction "Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi."

The document defines reciprocity "not merely as an attitude for making claims but as a relationship based on mutual respect and on justice in juridical and religious matters."

"Reciprocity is also an attitude of heart and spirit that enables us to live together everywhere with equal rights and duties," states the instruction.

"Healthy reciprocity will urge each one to become an 'advocate' for the rights of minorities when his or her own religious community is in the majority," states No. 64 of the text.

In this context, the Pope reminded Christians of the commandment of love that Christ left them, according to which "believers are called to open their arms and hearts to everyone, whatever their country of origin, leaving the task of formulating appropriate laws for promoting healthy coexistence to those responsible for public life."

"Christians must particularly open their hearts to the lowliest and the poorest, in whom Christ himself is especially present," continued the Holy Father.

In virtue of reciprocity, he added, "it is to be hoped that Christians emigrating to countries with Muslim majorities, find there welcome and respect for their religious identity."

Amy in USA Today

A great op-ed! - Where's the passion over 'Da Vinci Code'? And a neat comparison of attitudes and coverage with "The Passion of the Christ."

So, who's wanting to go see "Over the Hedge" this Friday? :)


She's back in Parliament. India's Gandhi returns to parliament after huge poll win - Yahoo! News. The Gandhi family and India ... what a tale, what a tale. [And, just to be clear, this family is not related to Mahatma Gandhi.]

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Remain in me

What an unsettled time this is. My father's illness (he was diagnosed with lung cancer recently). The fires in the parish. Packing up to spend the next three months in India. Leaving home, the city where I've lived a third of my life, the longest I've lived in any place. Before a huge life change this fall.

I've felt rudderless. Without mooring. Not sure at times, what exactly is going on, what I should feel, what's in my heart. The frenetic activity of the past few months has eclipsed that. Now however, sitting in an almost empty apartment (the bed and the broadband will be last to go ... ), everything seems raw. Old memories obscured in a corner emerge, to be regarded with fondness (or not), and then discarded, as books and papers and letters and all the accretions of time are gathered up and sorted and thrown away and boxed and moved.

It's so empty!

Two lines from today's Liturgy of the Word have bounced around in my head all day.

" ... for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything ... " (1 John 3:20)


"Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

That and the powerful, evangelical, preaching of our deacon. Oh the Holy Spirit was speaking through him! And the warmth and the love of the people as we weather a crisis in the parish ... I realized with a start just how much I'm going to miss being away from a Christian community in the next three months. At least there'll be Mass near where my folks live.

If anything, I pray, that in this upcoming season, with all its uncertainty and fear, I can remain rooted in the Vine.

For without Him, I can do nothing.


So, I was out at Harbison (yes, on a Sunday. Ugh. Traffic.) and it sounded like rocks falling on the car. Hailstorm. Mothball size or more. Scary! I've seen hailstorms, but I've never actually been out (well, covered, in a car) in one [There was that one time we took shelter from a tornado off I-70 in Kansas, but that's another story ...]. I pulled over to the Walmart, and the sun came out, and there was a huge, bright rainbow right over the "Always Low Prices" sign. Hmm. Why didn't I have my camera handy? [And why didn't I remember that my cellphone actually takes pictures? :)]. Oh well. WIS reports that the severe weather was, well severe. Pictures too. Columbia, SC: Storms leave at least 1,000 in the dark

Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan RIP

Just got this in the inbox from MM (aka Izzy).
Christ is risen!

It has just come to my attention that the eminent church historian Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan fell asleep in the Lord on Saturday, May 13, 2006.

His books have enriched contemporary Christian understanding of church history and the development of Christian theology. He will be greatly missed.

Give rest, O Christ, to Your servant Jaroslav with Your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal,
the creator and maker of mankind,
and we are mortal, formed of the earth,
and unto earth shall we return.
For so You did ordain when You created me, saying:
"You are dust, and unto dust shall you return."
All we go down to the dust,
yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Give rest, O Christ, to Your servant Jaroslav with Your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting!


Prof. J. Michael Thompson
Byzantine Catholic Seminary
Pittsburgh, PA

If you want to read more about this great scholar and Christian:
Requiescat in pace. I missed hearing him when he gave the NT talk at USC a couple of years back. Tapes of the talk are available at the Religious Studies department.

Strangely, nothing on the newswires yet, but here's the link to the official announcement at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, and Google's blog search results. An interesting anecdoate about his journey to the Orthodox Church over in the comments at Pontifications. Good links at Mike Aquilina's blog.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Folks: between getting packed up for the move and the fire at the parish, things are going to be pretty hectic over the next couple of days. Blog's on hiatus for a few.

Updates at parish blog

St. Thomas More Center, USC

The State | 05/11/2006 | Fires doused at USC ministry center

The State | 05/11/2006 | Fires doused at USC ministry center

Prophetic sign?

On the way back from Greenwood we spotted a little country Baptist church which had the following sign:
Call 911. The Church is on Fire!
We laughed at silly Baptist church signage. I'd barely gotten home when I got a call that our parish center was on fire. Thankfully the fire didn't spread too much beyond the attic, and no one was hurt, but the building is pretty much unusable with some structural damage and lots and lots of water damage. Prayers for our little univ. parish would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Confederate Memorial Day

On this State holiday I drove up to Greenwood, SC to visit the folks of a dear friend (who're kinda like my adoptive family here). On the way, just beyond Saluda, we passed this historic marker.

Nice to be taking a picture of this on this concocted holiday! (Part of a legislative compromise to make MLK Day a holiday in the state!) Posted by Picasa

The Kumars get an OBE ....

Or at least the star of the show does. BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Queen hands OBE to comic Bhaskar [Hat tip to St. Eliz.]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Doom and Demography

Sub-replacement populations are here to stay. Article in the Winter 2006 Wilson Quarterly. Doom and Demography
Alarmist assessments of the portending impact of the tremendous surge in humanity’s numbers have been issued from all sorts of authoritative quarters: the United Nations, the World Bank, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even the Central Intelligence Agency. Differing mainly in their presentation of details, the members of this grim chorus commonly asserted that the burgeoning number of mouths on the planet meant that more scarcity, poverty, and hunger were just around the corner—with the most severe suffering predicted for the rapidly reproducing Third World. In these predictions, in tandem with the ascending schedule of total human numbers, the human condition (at least in material terms) was always envisioned to decline. Food and everything else would become more dear, malnutrition more acute, desperate poverty more difficult to escape.

Yet these data-brandishing studies not only got their own numerical projections wrong, they even missed the basic direction of change. Troubled as the world may be today, it is incontestably less poor, less unhealthy, and less hungry than it was 30 years ago. And this positive association between world population growth and material advance goes back at least as far as the beginning of the 20th century.
Despite the tremendous expansion of the international grain trade over the past century, for example, the inflation-adjusted, dollar-denominated international price of each of the major cereals—corn, wheat, and rice—fell by more than 70 percent between 1900 and 1998. By the same token, The Economist magazine’s industrials price index—a weighted composite for 14 internationally traded metals and non-food agricultural commodities—registered a decline, in inflation-adjusted dollars, of almost 80 percent between 1900 and 1999.

This 20th-century paradox—exploding demand for resources paralleled by pronounced declines in real resource prices—must not only be recognized as a basic phenomenon defining life in that era, but understood for what it tells us about how our modern world system actually works. After all, price data are meant to convey information about scarcity. These data would seem to indicate that the resources that humanity makes economic use of grew less scarce over the course of the 20th century.
The degree to which sub-replacement fertility has become the norm today in low-income areas may still surprise the unprepared reader. According to national or international estimates, virtually all of East Asia is sub-replacement now, and most of South America. So, too, are impoverished Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma). In India, incredible as it may seem, Calcutta, Mumbai (Bombay), and New Delhi (a visit to which city initially prompted a shocked Paul Ehrlich to write The Population Bomb) are all areas where child-bearing rates are below replacement levels. And in the Islamic expanse, sub-replacement fertility already prevails in such places as Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Iran.

How low can fertility rates go? We simply don’t know. Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore all have birth patterns today that, if sustained, would imply barely one child per woman per lifetime. In northern Italy and other parts of Europe, fertility levels consonant with less than one child per woman are now evident. Some sociobiological theorists confidently assert that there is a lower limit to human fertility—that a majority of women will want to nurture and raise at least one offspring. But even if correct, that formulation would leave open the possibility of a world with an average of just over one half of one birth per woman per lifetime. On that schedule—barring the manufacture of human beings—the global population would decline by nearly 75 percent each successive generation.

Summer reading?

So, with a three month trip to the Subcontinent coming up fast, I figured I'd take some good reading along. Here's what's on the list. There's tons, of course, in my dad's library as well.

(Amazon links will be added anon)
1) The Sparrow. Mary Doria Russell

Non Fiction:
1) The life you save may be your own. Paul Elie
2) The Middle East. Bernard Lewis
3) The New Concise History of the Crusades. Thomas Madden
4) Sinners Welcome. Mary Karr

I think some 10 books seems reasonable. These are books that I'll buy -- checking stuff out of RCPL for 3 months is not feasible, I'm afraid. :-( Suggestions welcome.

[Yes yes I'm supposed to be getting rid of books. :sigh:]

Killing in combat

Story in Christianity Today Magazine
The returning soldier often, though not always, feels a sense of estrangement, of being different, even when welcomed home. Medals and speeches about duty, honor, country, courage, and heroism all ring hollow and feel disconnected from the images of death, both of friends and foes, that are the reality of combat. No justification ultimately satisfies the soldier who has killed or witnessed killing.

Last year, while I was working as a congressional fellow in the U.S. Senate, advising on veterans and military mental health matters, I spoke with a senior Army officer who had recently returned from a month-long visit to Iraq. His convoy had been attacked and some enemy combatants had been killed. It was his first brush with combat, and he said it was changing him, though he could not articulate how.

As Christians greet and welcome home the men and women who have served in Iraq, we should not be naive about what they have seen and done. Many are committed Christians who will spend the remainder of their lives trying to make sense of the events they have endured. It is work they must labor on with God. Jingoistic, rehearsed responses will only put would-be comforters in the same league as Job's friends. Listen to their stories, and let your life be challenged and changed as God's way is revealed in their lives.