Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sts. Peter and Paul

The Feast of Rome as Whispers puts it. I was in Rome for this feast in 2003, and attended the Solemn Vespers, held in the Basilica. A truly memorable occasion. It was one of the times that I saw Pope John Paul II, and the first time I saw then Cardinal Ratzinger. I'd gotten there early, and several prelates walked up the central aisle, without eliciting much from the assembled crowd. Except Ratzinger. A rustle as he walked up, smiling. "Guardi Ratzinger!" several people next to me exclaimed. I truly regret that in a fit of piety I decied not to take my camera with me. No one else, apparently, was that pious. The other memory is that of the famous statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio, decked out in red for the Feast. It looked spectacular.

I missed the Mass the next day, out in the Piazza. It turned out to be an extra-hot day in Rome, and I ended up at an extended lunch (in an air-conditioned place!) with a friend, and gave the Mass a pass.

From today's Office of Readings, from St. Augustine:
The blessed Peter, the first of the Apostles, the ardent lover of Christ, who was found worthy to hear, And I say to you, that you are Peter. He himself, you see, had just said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Christ said to him, And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. Upon this rock I will build the faith you have just confessed. Upon your words, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church; because you are Peter. Peter comes from petra, meaning a rock. Peter, “Rocky”, from “rock”; not “rock” from “Rocky”. Peter comes from the word for a rock in exactly the same way as the name Christian comes from Christ.
Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. After all, it is not just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged pre-eminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, To you I am entrusting, what has in fact been entrusted to all. To show you that it is the Church which has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, listen to what the Lord says in another place to all his apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit; and immediately afterwards, Whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven them; whose sins you retain, they will be retained.
[Also check out the reflections from New Advent on the main page at Universalis.]

St. Thomas Cathedral III

[This is India. A sacred cow lounges at the back of the Cathedral :)]

St. Thomas Cathedral II

The beautiful baptismal font

Memorial of an officer who served, and was killed, in Egypt.

Henry Curwen, former editor of the Times of India

St. Thomas Cathedral, Bombay

Tuesday afternoon, I had a couple of hours in downtown Bombay, which I spent wandering around St. Thomas (Anglican) Cathedral, the oldest church in the city, built in 1718, dedicated to the apostle who brought Christianity to these shores.

St. Thomas is in a leafy green enclave right next to Horniman Circle in the heart of the Fort district, the commercial and financial hub of Bombay (Yes, there was a Fort here. Until 1864. The name stuck). The Bombay Stock Exchange is a short walk away. It's an oasis of calm and quiet in the middle of all this pecuniary activity. I've often been past, but had never actually been inside the church. It seems to have always been under renovation, and I recall a time in college when a friend and I were shooed off the grounds by an overzealous warden.

This time, no one stopped me. There was a small stream of people going in and coming out of the church. Inside, one is struck immediately by the silence. Even the fans don't seem to squeak. A dozen or so people are scattered about praying in silence. One woman is reading. Another comes in, crosses herself and goes up to a seat (no pews!) and sits down. Obviously there are Catholics present. I'd suspect that people of all religions find this some escape from the bustle of the day in this tranquil location.

The church itself is gothic, with some beautiful stained glass in the apse area, but otherwise a very simple white stone, and windows through which the afternoon light poured in. This being a Protestant church, there are no statues to the saints or to the Virgin (though, no doubt, some higher Anglican churches would not shy away from such Popery :)). The walls however are fascinating. They are lined with memorial slabs and inscriptions commemorating the former rulers of India. Soldiers, officers, devoted husbands, loyal wives. In Memory of so and so, lovingly given by his brothers in this regiment. A former editor of the Times of India. Even one in Latin. Walking down the side of the nave is like getting a glimpse of India's colonial past, punctuated by the various wars Britain fought to wrest (and then maintain control) over the Jewel in the Crown and her far flung Empire. Kirkee (agains the Peshwa). Afghanistan. The Great War. Even Egypt. And, in several places the events of 1857 cast their shadow: the Great Mutiny. Which we were taught as the First War for Independence (and most recently glamorized in the Bollywood blockbuster Mangal Pandey, starring Aamrir Khan as the legendary sepoy whose revolt set the tinderbox alight). The latest date I noticed was 1967, twenty years after Independence.

Emerging back out into the crowded streets, vendors crying, taxi horns blaring, and a babel of voices in a dozen tongues filling the air is a jarring experience, as if walking back out of a time machine.

More pictures coming up!

400 Jewish families rule America

Last week I happened to take the suburban train back to the Andherin from Churchgate (downtown). I was at the window and dozing off to the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails (Yes, I got on at the first stop. And I was in First Class. That's why I had a seat). The two guys squeezed against me (A seat for 3 normally seats 4, sometimes 5. The latter really only in Second Class :)) were chattering animatedly. One had a long black beard and a Muslim skull cap. Suddenly this snippet floats across and grabs my attention. "Yes, there are only 400 families that rule America. All Jewish." More about how the Jews rule the world. How Israel is desperate for stability but will never actually get it. How Americans are really dumb, especially since they let 400 Jewish family rule over them, and pull the wool over their eyes. It wasn't really a conversation but a monologue. His friend didn't say much other than, "Oh yeah? Really?"

They got off at Bandra.

The much talked about anti-semitism of the Muslim world. First hand.

[Though, the "Americans are dumb" trope is quite commonplace, and certainly not restricted to Indian Muslims.]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Imitating St. Francis

(Via Konkani Catholics)
Two years ago, when Reagan D'Souza resigned his lucrative software job to work in a Catholic center for destitutes, his friends and relatives were surprised.

The 25-year-old Indian Catholic youth still springs surprises as he tries to imitate his role model, Saint Francis of Assisi. Four months ago, he donned a long jute garment, which he wears even during hot summer days. He keeps only one change of clothing and goes around barefoot.

Cardinal Dias' talk

... which I missed.

This from Asianews:
Cardinal Dias said three evils threatened the country: “Ethnic chauvinism, the caste system and corruption”. He expressed hope that India’s many parties and politicians would show themselves to be above all statesmen of moral integrity, committed to working for the poor and outcast. The cardinal reiterated that the work of the Church in India in the fields of education, social welfare and health does not have, and never did have, the aims of proselytism and conversions.
... Here's the inter-faith dialogue bit that I did catch,
Kala Archarya of the Inter-Religious Centre at Somaiya College in Mumbai described Dias as a “light in India, who set inter-faith dialogue aflame, following in the footsteps of John Paul II”. She expressed hope that “the whole world may find its path in the route he has traced”.

The Archdiocesan webpage has a whole series of tributes (many of which I noticed were published in the latest issue of the Archdiocesan magazin, The Examiner) and some "I have a dream" excerpts from the Cardinal's speech.

Incidentally, the See is officially vacant, and Bishop Bosco Penha has been elected the Apostolic Administrator.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Spotted outside St. Peter's Bandra

  Posted by Picasa

Some more pictures from the farewell celebration for Cardinal Dias

All lined up

It's a big tent!

The altar area

 Posted by Picasa

Farewell to Cardinal Dias

I was planning on going to the 6pm Mass at St. Peter's in Bandra today. On the way a friend called to warn me, "They're having some ceremony for the Cardinal. It'll take hours! Maybe you can go the 6pm at St. Andrew's?" The Cardinal? Why, I'd want to be there! Turned out it was a gala celebration honoring Ivan Cardinal Dias as he leaves the Archdiocese of Bombay to take up his new post as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

The event was held in the grounds behind St. Stanislaus High School, adjoining St. Peter's, in a covered tent (hey, we're in the middle of the monsoons after all!) with seating for about 5000 people. As I parked the car, rivers of people were streaming to the church, some emerging from large buses that were causing the already haywire traffic on Hill Road to go completely nuts.


I walked to the grounds in the front of the church to meet a friend who lives right next to the high school. "Come, all the Bishops are in that area over there" (pointing to a curtained off enclosure on the other side of the grounds, on the lower floor of the high school). We peek in to see a gaggle of Bishops vesting. The Cardinal was outside, a little distance away, listening to a prelate talking animatedly to him. We walk. "Maybe we can get a blessing and a picture!" No luck. His minder (and the master of ceremonies for the liturgy) shooed us off as soon as the prelate had finished talking. "Mass starts in 5 minutes! Please understand, there's 4000 people wanting pictures with him!" Never one to be aggressive in these situations (I don't think I'd have been as bold as to even walk up to him had it not been for my friend! She's a bold one!), I beat a hasty retreat. However, we stuck around outside the enclsoure as the various Bishops (and one Eparch, I'm guessing of the Eparchy of Kalyan. Oh ya, and another Cardinal. I think the retired Archbishop, Simon Cardinal Pimenta passed away recently. Maybe it's Cardinal Telesphore?) lined up. So, I did manage to get a few shots of the Cardinal.

Mass didn't start in a few minutes. Apparently, there was some "prayer dance" going on in the tent, which was supposed to be a prelude to the Mass. The assembled prelates milled around in the waiting area. The altar servers looked bored, until a young Jesuit scholastic showed up (in the trademark kurtaand jeans and started chatting with him. "Oh, that's Br. ----. He's in charge of the atlar boys and girls"). The MC bustled about looking hassled. A few stragglers appeared and took some pictures as well.

From the grounds where the main celebration was going to take place, the congregation was singing gustily. At about 5:45 pm the MC got everyone lined up.

I took a side path to the tent. It was quite full ... sturdy beams holding up the vast canopy, and dozens of ceiling fans whirring away. Since it had just rained, it was not unpleasant and not too humid (which means it wasn't 98% put probably 80%). The altar seemed a mile away. A large "resurrected Christ" in the center, with a huge photo of the Cardinal on one side, and "Go out into the world and proclaim the good news" in large letters curving across the back.

As I stood at the back taking pictures during the entrance procession a sweet old lady next to me asks, "So, which press you are?" Uh. What do I say? St. Blog's Parish? :) "Just a private citizen, m'am." A reminder. I'm not here as a spectator. This is also fulfilling my Sunday obligation and I better find a seat and get a little prayerful.


The liturgy proceeded. The first reading was in Marathi, the second in Konkani, the Gospel in English. [India is, of course, quite the multicultural place. And most urban parishes have Masses in several different languages.] No translation provided. However, I understand Marathi, and Konkani isn't too different (think Spanish and Italian). The short homily, reminding those assembled to trust in the Lord as the Archdiocese loses Cardinal Dias to Rome (I thought it was to the universal church, but hey, let's not quibble), was given by Bishop Bosco Penha, one of the Archdiocesan Auxilliaries. The prayers of the faithful were for the Pope, the Cardinal (the gentleman proclaiming them choked up and broke down. Obviously, someone quite attached to his Bishop!), for a safe and bountiful monsoon (everyone remembers last year's horrific floods in the city) and victims of violence. The music was standard Bombay fare (with one Marathi communion hymn) including two of my favorites that I quite miss in the US. The offertory hymn, "Blessed are you lord" (with a very simple chant-like melody) and the recessional Marian hymn, "Be with us Mary." The Cardinal has quite a strong baritone and a nice chanting voice. At Communion a very succinct and clear announcement was made. "People of other faiths, please stay in your seats and join in the singing." Communion was distributed most efficiently and prayerfully.

After Mass, I went back to the prelates' vestibule. A large crowd surrounded the Cardinal, including the (real) press and one TV station (Doordarshan). So, nope, didn't get a chance to hobnob with the Red Pope.


After Mass, I went back to the prelates' vestibule. A large crowd surrounded the Cardinal, including the (real) press and one TV station (Doordarshan). So, nope, didn't get a chance to hobnob with the Red Pope.

After Mass there was a ceremony with songs, dances, speeches and the like. I stayed for a bit -- a Hindu scholar, who'd been involved in local Hindu-Christian dialogues, lauded the Cardinals efforts at promoting dialogue, occasionally interrupted by loud applause when she lavished praise on the chief guest. Unfortunately, I had to leave, so I didn't get to stay till the Cardinal spoke (which would have been at the end of the program). I'm sure the papers will carry something on the morrow.

Overall, a huge sense of pride that a Mumbaikar and a son of India is taking up a position of such high respect in the Church, and also, a seemingly genuine sense of sorrow at saying farewell to a beloved pastor.


[More pictures from the Mass coming up ... ] Posted by Picasa

10 things I hate about India

10 things I hate about India [Via Coray]. Oh I'll agree to all 10. Especially numbers 2, 7, 9 and 10. (And, I too face the same "foreigner" price jump now -- since I'm an NRI. If the airlines find that out, the fares I pay jump two-fold or more! Until then, I can "pass" -- as long as they don't ask for proof of residence in India.)

Then there's Swaminathan Iyer's op-ed in today's TOI. "The West's discovery of India." This is the crucial part,
But unless the state is transformed from a callous exploiter into one that actually serves citizens, unless we get a half-satisfactory police-judicial system, unless we create incentives that reward desirable behaviour of officials and politicians and penalise undesirable behaviour, I doubt if India can become an economic superpower.
That first-part, the state as exploiter, is the real key. [This was the topic of conversation at lunch yesterday at the President hotel's swanky Konkan Cafe with a friend from school. "This is the difference between a developed and developing country."]

Not to pick on my des. But we in the urban elite tend to forget quite easily of the "other" India. Even when it's right around the corner in the shanty, or in the face of the kid begging on the street on the other side of air-conditioned cocoon.

Anyway, all Indians are proud that India's image in the world is changing. Just check out last week's issue of Time.

[And oh I'm having net withdrawals with limited dialup time at my Uncle's in Bombay! :-| It'll be worse this coming week, I think, when I'll be in Pune on family business.]

Friday, June 23, 2006

Feast of the Sacred Heart in Bombay

I ended up for the 7:15 pm solemn Mass at St. Peter's in the suburb of Bandra (with a large Catholic population). This is the parish where I was baptized, and where I go for Mass when in the city.

The church was crowded, like a Sunday. Eight concelebrants (including four elderly Spanish Jesuits, who've had a huge role as missionaries in Western India. St. Peter's is a Jesuit parish. The principal celebran was a priest of the Society of St. Paul, however.). Procession. Incense. The works. Simple choir with a single guitar accompanying. Hearty singing by the congregation.

I love St. Peter's -- a beautiful Italianate neoclassical thing. Not sure how old. Small graveyeard in the front, right next to a large dusty open field, the playground for St. Stanislaus' boys' school next door. It's so familiar. After a minute, I even forget about the loud traffic bustling right next to the church on Hill Road. Just noticed for the first time that there seems to be something under a glass display under the old high altar. Could it be a saint? Will have to check that out. [Probably tomorrow when I'll be back in Bandra. Visiting my friend Sandra. Yes, I actually know a Sandra from Bandra.] During the Eucharistic Prayer, we prayed for "Benedict our Pope and all the bishops and priests." I know that Cardinal Dias has been appointed to Propaganda Fide. Has he already left? Is the See here vacant?

And after Mass --- Benediction. In all my years (well, about 4 of them) of going to Mass in Bombay in the early 90s, I'd never come across Benediction. With the Salutaris Hostia and Pange Lingua (in English), but without the Divine Praises. And a prayer concecrating the parish to the Sacred Heart. [This was Benediction with the ciborium, however. Not a monstrance. Again, that's new to me.]

Anyway, very grateful to have made Mass, in a spirit of thanksgiving especially for the good news with respect to my father's health.

[Sadly, any sense of piety disappeared as I got in the car to drive back to my uncle's place. Oh lord, why the heck do I try driving in this city? :: sigh :: :)]

I wonder what they talked about?

BUDDHIST MASTER VISITS POPE BENEDICT XVI IN VATICAN [Surely not that infamous "Buddhism is a kind of spiritual autoerotism" comment that has been so taken out of context from [then] Cardinal Ratzinger's writings. Or was it one of the interviews? I can't remember.

Trying really hard to like India

No, not me. Reader Assiniboine sends out the following link from Slate: Trying really hard to like India. By Seth Stevenson. [Again, I've limited time online so won't have too much commentary. Or, none in this case. :) Yet. :)] He asks what my reaction to India is. Well, that's interesting. I've never seriously thought about it, in a comprehensive sort of way. So, that'll be a post for when I have time.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher

Have to acknowledge the feast of St. Thomas More (and his martyred co-religionist, John Fisher) today, the patron of my beloved parish back in SC.

So -- here's a link from Rich Leonardi (via Amy, of course! On limited time, where else does one go? :)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Blogging from Bombay ...

Well. That wasn't much of a hiatus. However, blogging will be lighter only because I'll be so much busier in Bombay.

And while I'm at it, revisting a favorite pet peeve. The level of service on US airlines compared to Indian. On a 40 minute Jet Airways flight from Baroda to Bombay one gets: a bottle of fresh lime soda, hard candy, a hot meal and a beverage. In economy class. On a ticket that costs less than $100. And such courteous, smiling service! Try to find that in the US!

Why are US flight attendants so surly? Courtesy, especially on international flights serving the subcontinent, is an exception (at least in coach class). They're haughty, abrupt, and downright rude most of the time. It's almost as if, and one hates to put it this way, they don't like serving brown folk.

My brother, who travels frequently overseas (in business class, I must add!), puts it this way. "We're all waiting for Jet Airways to start service to the US. I won't fly anything else." [The reason they haven't yet? Apparently, and I don't have the time to Google this to verify, Jet Blue has launched a trademark infringment lawsuit. 'Cause you know, Jet Blue and Jet Airways are the same thing.]

The Episcopal Church: Inclusive as hell

I'm trying to not post about the debacles facing our sisters and brothers in The Episcopal Church. But, while acknowledging that I'm clearly an outsider, I feel somewhat of a connection, if a distant one, through friends who are Anglican and Episcopalian (one, very clearly on the "other side" of things from me, especially over the current contretemps). And certainly watch with interest what our "separated brethren" are up to.

Anyway, Bishop Schori's homily at the closing of GC showed up in my mailbox. :: sigh :: There's not even an attempt to acknowledge the present troubled reality of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, or to mention reconciliation in any realistic way. No. It's sallying forth bravely, daring all to come join in the new truth that God(ess?) is revealing.

It sounds nice. But has a bite. A serious bite. That casts the "troubles" squarely with the "other side."

"Theological frameworks" must be given up. Including the theological framework that says that theological frameworks must be given up? Giving up fear means giving up our "theological framework?" What does that mean? Oh yes -- you hidebound people, who are so stuck in the past -- come join the brave new world! Why don't some people give up their theological framework that accepts the philosphical presumptions of modernity as its First Principles uncritically?

Serious theological differences are merely the squabbling between children. And if we're not willing to overlook these squabbles (well, because some consider them to be more than squabbles), then, well, it's the fault of those who're squabbling. We're not. We know what God wants. A big bear hug for the whole wide word. Don't worry. I affirm everything you do.

Love the child with AIDS and our rhetorical opponents. But of course! We should! But what does it mean to love our "rhetorical oppnoents?" .... (as if the differences are mere rhetoric). To ignore serious differences? And if we don't, we're not really loving?

Or really -- that the reason the Anglican Communion is in such a tizzy it's because those other people -- you know, those poor bigoted Third World natives who really don't have our nice sophisticated sophistries, or those silly people who haven't yet gotten with the program about what the Bible really says -- they're just afraid. Yep. That's it.

That's what I hear when I read that. And I'm not even Anglican. I suspect conservative Anglicans might read this in a same vein.

Love one another. Absolutely. But, in the same Letter that says "God is love" and "Perfect love drives out fear" --- it also says, "And in this is love revealed, that you obey my commandments."

Woah. What does that mean?

Because without that, "love" is simply an empty container which can be filled by -- anything.

[The first time I read her homily, I didn't even catch the "our mother Jesus" reference. Maybe my eyes had glazed over by then.]

Here's Ruth Gledhill's thoughts. ("I just wish the Episcopal Church were not so predictable!" And also notes on a mug that was circulating GC. "The Episcopal Church. Inclusive as hell!" Does one laugh? Or cry?)

And when I first read it, I thought that Damien Thompson of the Telegraph was perhaps being a little too extreme. Anglicans should welcome schism. Maybe not. Maybe not.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cattle ... and a hiatus?

Westerners love the menagerie that Indian roads are.


I'd just taken this one and as the camera was resetting, we passed by a guy milking a buffalo. Oh durn.


So, one has to ask, in that silly Hindi nonsense question. Akal badi ya bhens? Is the mind bigger, or a buffalo?


[Will be heading to Bombay tomorrow. Much to do (with tests for dad). And I know way too many people in the metropolis. Which means I'll have a life. So, blogging will likely be light.] Posted by Picasa

You must read this ...

Ruining a celebration. [Via Amy]

I have goosebumps reading that. Wow.

Blogging the Bible ...

... or what happens when an ignoramus reads the Good Book. Over at Slate.
So, the tale of Dinah unsettled me, to say the least. If this story was strutting cheerfully through the back half of Genesis, what else had I forgotten or never learned? I decided I would, for the first time as an adult, read the Bible. And I would blog about it as I went along. For the millions of Jews and Christians who know the Bible intimately, this may seem obscene: Why should an ignoramus write about the stories and lessons that you know by heart and understand well? I don't intend any kind of insult. My goal is not to find contradictions, mock impossible events, or scoff at hypocrisy.
[Well, that's good! A rather hilarious (and at the same time quite depressing) example of what this could entail is given by comedienne Julia Sweeney on an episode of This American Life.] [snip]
So, what can I possibly do? My goal is pretty simple. I want to find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based. I think I'm in the same position as many other lazy but faithful people (Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus). I love Judaism; I love (most of) the lessons it has taught me about how to live in the world; and yet I realized I am fundamentally ignorant about its foundation, its essential document. So, what will happen if I approach my Bible empty, unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents? What will delight and horrify me? How will the Bible relate to the religion I practice, and the lessons I thought I learned in synagogue and Hebrew School?
Well. That should be interesting to follow. Anyway, so far he's gone through Genesis and is now in Exodus. I wonder what will happen when he flounders on the shoals of Leviticus, the nemesis (or so it would seem) of anyone who tries to read the Book cover to cover?

So, at random, here's Mr. Plotz' take on Genesis 19 (Yep. Sodom & Gomorrah!)
But the chapter's not over. After the attempted mass gay rape, the father pimping, the urban devastation, uxorious saline murder, it looks like Lot and his daughters are finally safe. They're living alone in a cave in the mountains. But then the two daughters—think of them as Judea's Hilton sisters—complain that cave life is no fun because there aren't enough men around. So, one night they get Lot falling-down drunk and have sex with him. Chapter 19 poses what I would call the Sunday School Problem—as in, how do you teach this in Sunday school? What exactly is the moral lesson here?
Uxorious saline murder? ROFL! [Does every bit of the Bible have to have a clear and discernible "moral lesson?" (Of course, there's been reams of moral lessons that have been drawn from Gen. 19, but that's a separate point.) I find that this is often the first thing that students of the Book discover. That it's not one long computer printout of Rules from God. It's many things. Some mind-numbingly obscure to us moderns. But that it's not.]

I think I'll be checking in regularly on Mr. Plotz to see how he's doing.

More on Battlestar ...

From Chuck Colson's prison fellowship newsletter, Breakpoint, suggesting that BSG throws up a mirror to the modern western culture, specifically abortion and declining populations. [Via Dom Bettinelli] My thoughts were on similar lines when I saw this episode, without all the other analysis in this article, however. One thing I hadn't thought of was the analogy of the Cylons as Islamic jihadists (a point the author made in a separate column). I always interpreted the Cylons' monotheism as a Judeo-Christian one, exclusive, opposed to the polytheistic humans, though, the jihadist hypothesis is an interesting (and plausible). [And though I'm into the show, I don't troll BSG bulletin boards to find out what fans are talking about.]

Anyway --- a few more months till Season 3 in October. Hoo boy. This whets my appetite ... : )

More technology is not the answer

This BBC story continues to miss the point. I didn't think that the problem was that Europeans were trying to conceive but infertility was getting in the way. No. Europeans simply are not reproducing. It's not infertility. It's contraception.

Head out of sand. That would be helpful.

Gladys Staines returns to India

Widow of Australian missionary, Graham Staines, who was burnt alive (along with his two sons) by a mob in 1999, is returning to India to continue his work among the poor.
Officials at the Hospital said that widow of slain Australian missionary is keeping alive his mission of helping leprosy patients in Orissa.

Staines met her husband while she was serving on a youth mission in Orissa back in the early 1980s. They were married in 1983. Sixteen years later, the Reverend Staines and their two young sons, Philip and Timothy, were burnt to death by a mob allegedly comprising Bajrang Dal activists while they were asleep in their vehicle at Manoharpur village in neighbouring Keonjhar district.

Asked if she isn't scared to work in the same area where her husband and sons were brutally murdered, Staines said, "Why should I be afraid? Here people support us and I do not want to disappoint them. After all, they need to be taken care of."

Even her sole surviving child Esther, who is currently studying medicine, wants to serve the poor and has not been disheartened or embittered by the fate that met her father and younger brothers, she said.
[Via the Indian Catholic.] Truly inspiring!

IT and human life in India ...

The Telegraph's (UK) New Delhi correspondent, Peter Foster (who just returned from a trip to the Maldives. Yeah, he blogs. :)), writes about being a firang in Delhi, navigating bureaucracy (not Indian, this time), and the various ways in which the IT revolution can help India's vast masses. Including this:
Even the unborn stand to benefit. Scientists have estimated that the age-old preference for sons over daughters leads to 500,000 female foetuses being aborted every year. However, new software being developed for India's 28,565 ultra-sound clinics will record every woman's scan and the sex of her child.

By cross-referencing this data with birth records, those responsible for India's "lost" girls will be exposed at the click of a mouse.
¡Ojala! Though, this being India, I'm sure a few hundred rupee notes could convince an ultra-sound technician to "delete" an inconvenient file, even as the inconvenient child is "deleted."

Donate to Peter's Pence: Online!

Zenit has a neat story on the Vatican accepting donations for Peter's Pence online.

Here's the website. One can mail donations in. Or fax a credit-card number over. Or give online. [Or, oh how dreary and mundane, give to the second collection whenever it is taken up.]

The neat thing? The server on which this page resides is called "" [Isn't that your patron, Izzy?]

Though, frankly, putting a check in the mail and addressing it to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has a certain thrill about it ...

Monday, June 19, 2006

A puja, a slap, and questions

[The little brown betelnuts surrounding the coconut represent the various planets. Or so the Brahmin explained at some point. "Pour some water over Saturn. No no, Saturn is here!"]

Last week, there was a puja (in honor of the god Ganesh) held at my aunt's, to celebrate the impending arrival of my cousin's first child. A "baby shower" was how it was mentioned to me, though, it wasn't about bringing baby-gifts to the mom. A Ganeshpuja, followed by a meal for the family in attendance.

The night before, I was informed that as the diyar ("dee-year"), i.e. husband's younger brother, I had a role to play. [Yes brother. Indian languages don't have a word for "cousin." In the Hindu joint family, it's all brother or sister. Since my cousin is an only child, I filled in as diyar. The (to Westerners) bewildering nomenclature for relationships in the joint-family is the subject of another post]. "Aney laafo marvo padshey." You'll need to slap her. [my cousin's wife]. Do what? Yep, you heard correctly. N, cousin's wife looked alarmed. My folks had never heard of this. But the collection of assembled aunts (the bearers of all religious knowledge) concurred. Ok, there were only two aunts, but that's a collection. And a third aunt was consulted on the phone in Bombay. Yes yes, the laafa (slap) is part of it. With a glint in the eye, I promised N that I'd practice well overnight.

The puja started at 11 am the next day, so of course we showed up at around 11:20. Amazingly, the priest (pujari, or in Gujarati, maharaj [a term that can mean king. Or cook. Or temple priest. Apparently it's used for Brahmins. Except kings aren't Brahmins. I give up.] showed up on time. "Arrey diyar, hurry up!" as I rush into my aunt's house, all decked up in a fancy silk kurta and churidars. (Thankfully I packed one set!)

Like most Hindu rituals, things were a little chaotic. The living room was the puja room. My cousin and wife, with tikas on their foreheads and a variety of threads and twines on their wrists sitting in front of the shrine, with the maharaj to one side, dressed in saffron, the color of the Brahmins (and angry Sangh Parivar activists). The idol in the center in front of them, and coconuts with a variety of accoutrements (rice, ghee, milk, nuts, fruit) on either side. Apart from my cousin, I was the only guy there. The room was a riot of colorful saris and salwars. The men were outside on the porch, chatting away.

I stood in a corner and took photographs. At one point I shushed my mother, 'cause she was talking to someone. Then I remembered. This ain't church. Folk just gab away as the boy from the caterers circulates with glasses of cold sherbet. The maharaj intones the slokas in super-fast Sanskrit. And, occasionally, in the same chanting monotone, a monition to the assembled camera operators. "Photographers, pay attention!" and periodically, without skipping a beat, instructions in Gujarati to the couple. Add this much ghee to the plate. Put these many grains of rice on the idol. Pour milk on it. 5 spoons of water. Etc. "And what is the name of the kuldevi? (The family goddess?)" Looks of confusion. A few names emerge from the gathered matrons. A conensus emerges. Bhavani. Her name is then invoked in the continuing ritual. [Me, to myself. We have a kuldevi? Live and learn!]

Finally, the aarti dish is elaborately prepared, and everyone quiets down. The ritual is coming to a close.

[Notice the little swastikas on the dish. Nope, nothing to do with neofascism. An ancient Hindu symbol, it's used all over the place in India.]

As the aarti went around the room, people extending their hands over the flame, and bringing them to their faces and heads in a fluid gesture, a sign of reverence and respect, I froze. Should I do that? It's been years since I've participated in any Hindu ritual. It happens but on special occasions in the family, and I've been away in the US for years. How do I honor the First Commandment?

The last time I had any serious role in a Hindu ritual was ... well, I don't know. [A Satyanarayan katha that was done to celebrate my brother's admission to IIT. When I was 10. We both sat for hours with the pujari and the part that I recall with painful clarity was that I had to throw one single grain of rice on the coconut for each of the 1001 names of Vishnu.] Since then, I've been to Hindu temples and been present at rituals, without participating.

Of course, to some, (the same set that went into apoplectic fits at Pope John Paul receiving a tika on his arrival in India), my very presence in this room contaminates me, and is a participation in idolatry.

Well, no. It's a family thing. I'm the only Christian in the family. So no, I don't worship any God but God, and I won't bow to idols. And I probably will not do the aarti thing. But I can respect my family's religious beliefs and be present at family fuctions. And yes, I do eat prasad. And of course I'll say a prayer for my cousin and his wife and the baby.

Oh yeah. What about that laafa? I had to cover my palms in kanku and then gave two light pats on cousin's wife's cheeks. And then the maharaj handed a saffron cloth, twisted together to make a whip-like-thing, and I had to slap her back. Five times. Lightly. Woah! "Arrey diyar bahu dayalu che!" (This diyar is very kind!)

The part that I wasn't told about was that she got to return the slaps.

Boy, it took a lot of scrubbing to get all that red color out!

And why does the diyar have to do this to his bhabhi? No one had a clue. I asked the maharaj as he was leaving. He misunderstood me, and told me that diyars are kinder than jeths (elder brother of the husband). "Diyar jeththi vahlo" But why a slap, he didn't say.

Umm. Don't tell anyone. But I'm actually older than my cousin. I'm not a diyar but a jeth Whoops! Posted by Picasa

IAF Lacks Planes: BBC

Nearly 20% of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots are doing desk jobs because of a shortage of planes, the BBC has learnt.

Classified documents seen by the BBC show that in all about a third of the IAF's 2,500 pilots have been assigned ground and administrative duties.
Growing up, we always thought of the IAF as one of the best in the world. Up there with the US, UK, USSR and China. And certainly better than Pakistan. [The joke used to be that Pakistan might have the latest F-16s from the US but didn't know how to operate them.] The IAF's reputation has suffered, especially with the spate of MiG crashes, giving the ancient MiG-21 the unflattering moniker "The Flying Coffin."

The MiG crashes even inspired a popular Bollywood movie, Rang de Basanti (over-the-top [does one even need to say that?] but enjoyable. I've been wanting to blog on it for a while and just may ... ).

The IAF, of course, has no comment on the BBC story. But with the controversy surrounding the suicide of a woman officer in the Indian Army, and the Army Vice-Chief's comments, this hasn't been a good week for India's military.

Incidentally, one cherished childhood memory, from around when I was 10 or 11, was actually getting to sit in a MiG-21 cockpit. My mom was high-up in the Gujarat IAS cadre, and took me along on a visit to the IAF base near Bhuj. And, to my utter delight, one of the pilots took me out on the tarmac to a parked MiG and let me sit in the cockpit.

So, yeah, that pilot-thing goes back a while. The closest I ever came to it, was a copule of years in the Air Wing of the NCC in school. However, the only thing I got from that was malaria, at an NCC camp at Deolali near Nasik. [Seems the other P took-over at some time :)]

Bishop Schori is the new PB

Incidentally, I've met Bishop Schori. A good friend used to work in the Nevada Episcopal Diocese, and on one my visits there he took me to meet his boss.

As a Catholic it takes somewhat of an adjustment to get used to a lady in a Roman collar. [And no doubt, many Catholics are thrilled at the prospect of a woman bishop, period.] Of cousre, it was a pleasant meeting. My friend describes her as an able pastor (a quite firm) administrator. So, yes, congratulations, Madam Bishop!

Now what the fallout of having a woman Primate is, given that many provinces do not ordain women to the episcopate, will be interesting to see. Indeed, as Ruth Gledhill of the Times (UK) writes, Bishop Schori is known for her revistionist and progressive theological views, and has spoken out in favor of same-sex unions and the like.

And of course, traditionalist Episcopalians won't be happy. Gledhill quotes one traditionalist site:
"To change the metaphor and to look back thirty or forty years, we need to bear in mind that the trajectory of the Episcopal Church was established by the General Convention in the 1970s, and it was profoundly shaped by the revolutionary social and cultural changes brought into American life at the end of the 1960s. That trajectory has been consistently confirmed and strengthened, tuned and fine tuned since then, as innovation upon innovation in worship, doctrine, morality and polity have been introduced into the Episcopal Church. In real and practical terms, this 75th Convention of 2006 has acted like its predecessors since 1970, and has effectively and publicly made a renewed commitment to the trajectory."
More reactions at titusonenine (a conservative Episcopalian site, run by Canon Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina). Dean Phil Linder of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (Upper South Carolina) is happy about the election of Bishop Schori. He writes, "I believe Bishop Jefferts Schori will work to hold our denomination together and within the Anglican Communion." Now, I certainl hope he is correct in his belief. From what I gather, and from what many conservative Episcopalians are writing, this is just anothe step towards a break with the Anglican communion. Schism is in the air. In slow motion. And almost a reality on the ground. But, in my opinion, inevitable.

And, I suspect, like each successive decision in the past decades that has moved the Episcopal church away from traditional Christianity, this will cause many conservativ Episcopalians to swim the Tiber. (Or go East.)

And any real chances of unity, of serious, substantive dialogue with Rome, or the Orthdox, just recede away into the mists.

More on the Atlanta Eucharistic Congress ...

Over at Amy's. Same comment about the altar that I had. :) [I didn't say anything about LA, though! :)]. Fr. Roderick is featured prominently in the AJC coverage. Am downloading some podcasts right now. His "sound-seeing tour" of Conyers from a couple of days ago was delightful. Made me really miss the South. Especially the Southern accents. :)

So, what would happen if Roe v. Wade were to go?

I know so many thoughtful people, including Catholics, who are quite pro-life, and oppose abortion, but feel that overturning Roe v. Wade automatically equals "back alley abortions with hangars" and therefore would not like to see the current legal regime change. In my opinion, that is a rather successful piece of rhetoric that has pervaded the public mind.

The June 2006 issue of the Atlantic Monthly had a fascinating article by Jeffrey Rosen. "The Day After Roe" analyses (from a pro-choice perspective) what the landscape would look like if Roe were to go. The conclusion? It will galvanize both sides, dominate American politics, and in a decade or so, result in a kind of uneven democratic consensus that reflects the general public opinion: that abortion should be restricted, but should be available in the case where a mother's health is in danger, or in the so-called "hard cases" (rape/incest) and perhaps in the early stages of pregnancy.
The results might not be what you expect. The day after Roe fell, of course, abortion would be neither legal nor illegal throughout the United States. Instead, the states and Congress would be free to ban, protect, or regulate abortion as they saw fit. But in many of the fifty states, and ultimately in Congress, the overturning of Roe would probably ignite one of the most explosive political battles since the civil-rights movement, if not the Civil War. A careful look at how the pieces of the Rubik’s Cube might begin to turn the day after Roe suggests that access to abortion wouldn’t necessarily become less widely available than it is now; that the Democrats could gain politically, perhaps even seizing the White House and both chambers of Congress; and that, when the dust settles, in five or ten or thirty years, early-term abortions would be protected and late-term ones restricted.
I'm not politically savvy enough to critique the article, especially its projections of the political fallout of such a decision, but it seems plausible. What seems clear that overturning Roe v. Wade does not equal "back-alley abortions" (a rhetorical red-herring, IMO.) [The full-text is avialble to subscribers only. Email me if you'd like me to send you a copy.]

The Catholic legal scholars at Mirror of Justice have this to say (about this article).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Louisiana signs anti-abortion law

Of all places, this was the scrolling banner headline on NDTV during the 9pm news. "Louisiana governer Blanco signs law banning abortion." [Right after "Thousands march in gay pride parade in Sao Paolo" Heh.]. I searched all over, but no one seems to be carrying this story in the US. Yes, lots of talk about it being expected to be signed. But no one has carried a story about it actually being signed yesterday. Not CNN. Not NYT. Not any pro-life groups. Or even local LA papers. And nothing really on Technorati at all. I got this from Office of the Governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, State of Louisiana Guess the folks at NDTV didn't realize that the law is a dead-letter?

Atlanta Eucharistic Congress Photos

Afbeelding 055
Originally uploaded by Daily Breakfast.
I'm waiting eagerly to read about the Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta. [No, I wasn't there. I'm ~10,000 miles away, in India]. Fr. Roderick of Daily Breakfast fame has put up 100+ pictures from the Congress at his Flickr. account (just click on the photo or go to SQPN). Of course, he's podcast about it too.

Nothing yet at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, or really, that I could find, in the Catholic blogosphere.

However, looking at Fr. Roderick's photos, and from this one description at Open Book, it seems like it was a fantastic event. Had I been back home, I'd have surely attended.

Looking through Fr. Roderic's photos, I was struck by the photos of the altar area. They really tried to, and, I think, succeeded, in making it resemble a sanctuary, a sacred space where the Holy Sacrifice was going to be offered. I've been to many a Catholic convention in a large hall, and I think (going, of course, only from photographs!) that this serves as a great model for trying to make the best of a space that isn't normally designed for worship.

Adoro te devote ...

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi! (Being celebrated today in the US and India and several other parts of the world, I suspect.)

As always, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa provides much food for thought.
I believe that the most necessary thing to do on the feast of Corpus Christi is not to explain some aspect of the Eucharist, but to revive wonder and marvel before the mystery.

The feast was born in Belgium, in the early 13th century; Benedictine monasteries were the first to adopt it. Urban IV extended it to the whole Church in 1264; it seems that he was also influenced by the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena, venerated today in Orvieto.

Why was it necessary to institute a new feast? Doesn't the Church recall the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday? Doesn't she celebrate it every Sunday and, more than that, every day of the year?

In fact, Corpus Christi is the first feast whose object is not an event of the life of Christ, but a truth of faith: His real presence in the Eucharist. It responds to a need: to solemnly proclaim such faith.

It is needed to avoid the danger of getting used to such a presence and no longer pay attention to it, thus meriting the reproach that St. John the Baptist made to his contemporaries: "In your midst stands one whom you do not know!"
[snip] And here's some salutary words for (especially American) a people that has gotten so habituated, that receiving Communion is simply one of the things "one does" at Mass. Like standing or kneeling. Routine.
If the feast of Corpus Christi did not exist, it would have to be invented. If there is a danger that believers face at present in regard to the Eucharist, it is to trivialize it.

There was a time when it was not received so frequently, and fasting and confession had to precede it. Today virtually everyone approaches it. Let us understand one another. It is progress; it is normal that participation in Mass also implies Communion; that is why it exists. But all this entails a mortal risk.

St. Paul says: Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Let each one examine himself and then eat the bread and drink the cup, because he who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment unto himself.

I believe it is a salutary grace for a Christian to go through a period in which he fears to approach Communion, that he tremble before the thought of what is about to occur and not cease to repeat, as John the Baptist: "And you come to me?" (Matthew 3:14).

We cannot receive God except as "God," that is, respecting all his holiness and majesty. We cannot domesticate God!

The preaching of the Church should not fear -- now that communion has become something so habitual and "easy" -- to use every now and then the language of the letter to the Hebrews and to tell the faithful: "But you have come ... to a judge who is God of all ... and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:22-24).

In the early times of the Church, at the moment of communion a cry resounded in the assembly: "Let him who is holy approach, let him who is not repent!"
Mike Aquilina has some great history and reflections as well. I especially like his concluding advice. Celebrate this Feast with lots of chocolate!

And of course, adore the hidden Godhead. Adoro Te Devote.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


You know --- a non-blogger. Someone who has no idea what a blog is. I.e. (as this hilarious post mentions in passing) someone with a life. Why people have clocks/watches on their blogs?

[Sad but true. I have a clock on the blog set to IST. And since I don't wear a watch, and since the room with the broadband modem has no clock, and since my laptop is set to Eastern Daylight Time, I often have to load the blog to know what time it is here! Easier than doing the 'rithmetic. Darn, that's sad!]

[Hmm a Technorati search on "bluggle" reveals only two blogs, including the one linked here, using "bluggle" in the sense of non-blogger. This must change!]

You're not married yet?

Well, most of the family (both sides. By family, one means what folks in the US call "extended family." It's all family here. And how.) knows of my crazy black-sheepness. Anyway, until word got out, there were these regular squirm times on visits. Like last August, when my dad's elder sister took me aside, and gave me a long lecture on the need to get married. "You need companionship! You don't want to grow old alone!" [Squirm, squirm. Lord, I'll die if she say anything about sex! Nod nod. Yes I hear you. No I'm not getting married. Let them (the 'rents) tell you why! You haven't heard yet?]. Now that the word has spread, the topic doesn't come up. The youngest cousin was married a couple of years back (and is soon to be a proud father. A ceremony celebrating impending baby-arrival was held earlier in the week. Blog post coming up soon!). There's talk of the older cousin's children getting married. You know, at gatherings the womenfolk start whispering about so-and-so's cousin's father-in-law's uncle's son/daughter who's so eligible. As for me, at most there's this eye-roll and head-shake, "oof, now that you've decided not to get married" and the conversation moves on.

I ain't complainin'! It's rather difficult for my non-desi friends to grasp this whole marriage pressure idea.

Here's a hilarious blog entry (via the wonderful folks at Desipundit) The woes of a 30 something bachelor.
Being the shrewd military strategist that I am, dealing with sundry cousins, aunts and uncles has been easy. Much in the manner of Napoleon and his military victories, I tackled them on a one-on-one basis and never once did I allow them to gang up against me. This strategy held me in good stead, but then Napoleon too had his Waterloo didn't he?

This happened a few months ago when all of us met in Hyderabad. I, for once, let my guard down and there I was amidst a cacophony of dear cousins, dearer uncles and dearest aunts.

First came an assault from the Left Flank by a cousin. Let's call him M. M wondered why I was mudiri poyina bendakaya laga unnavu (resembling an over-ripe, withered Okra/Ladies' Finger) and that it was high time for me to get married. It was now or never.
I had to do something about this and fast. I said, "Look guys I am that. Just that I am asexual.”

The guffaws/snickers stopped as though they had run into a solid wall.

The family went into a huddle. As it always does in moments of extreme crises.

What is asexual?!?!?
Does it does it mean? Does it, you know....

Read the rest! :-)

Of course. One can always say: Hey, I converted to Catholicism. And I want to become a priest. That kinda stops the whole thing in its tracks.
Driving in India -- II

And here's a front seat view (from Patna, in Bihar, apparently). Not very different in Baroda. Except for the cycle rickshaws :)
Driving in india

Courtesy of You Tube --- see the traffic flow pattern in India. Completely different rules! And, I must say, I'm quite happy with myself. Pretty much straight off the plane, I can get in the driver's seat and navigate this [guess it helps that I learned how to drive here!]. The different sets of rules just "clicks on" :) [There are rules. Keep moving. Unless there's something in front of you. In which case move around it. And always stop for the bigger guy. And, the horn is an essential device. It's like periodically announcing to the world that you exist ...

Crazy drunk for Jesus ...

A Hard Core, Hip-Hop Spiritual Journey - New York Times -[Via Amy] -- fascinating piece on Fr. Ricardo Bailey, a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, with a hip talk show on radio.
Sandwiched between songs by the likes of Trick Daddy and the Pussycat Dolls, Father Bailey has a weekly gig on one of the most popular morning shows in Atlanta, "The Bert Show," where he has been introduced to listeners as "Father Crunk."

That an ordained Catholic priest might call himself "Crunk," a hip-hop fusion of the words "crazy" and "drunk," might seem outrageous enough, but what is really making Atlantans choke on their morning coffee are his radio riffs, which take their cues as much from the pages of People magazine as the Book of Proverbs.
He insists that he is for real and that his street-smart sermonizing is not for show.

"That's just who I am," he said. "It's not an act. The parishioners are used to it."

Apparently so. He has become so sought out that the Archdiocese of Atlanta had to give him a dedicated link on its Web site.

His popularity is a great relief to Catholic leaders here, who were not sure that having one of their priests on a radio show that made a name for itself with a gag that outed cheating spouses was such a good idea.

"We were very, very reluctant," said Gareth N. Genner, president of Holy Spirit Preparatory School, the school associated with Father Bailey's church. "There was so much about the show that wasn't a good fit with our mission in terms of the content."

(The school, in fact, does not let students listen to the whole show. Instead, they get a digital copy of the program and play the 10-minutes of Father Bailey's segment over the loudspeaker on Monday mornings.)
Well. All power to him. [And, let the heads start exploding.]

Friday, June 16, 2006

Homeschooling a crime in Belgium?

The editors of the Brussels Journal on being dragged to court for the abominable crime of ... schooling their children at home.

Ugh. Darn nosey states. Makes me want to go completely libertarian. [Which, of course I won't. But I have lots of tendencies in that direction ... ]

Disliking Muslims without knowing why

A piece in Christianity today tackles some of the evangelical Christian books that try to "unveil" the "true face of Islam" Unveiling the Truth About Islam - Christianity Today Magazine.
Unfortunately, too many of these evangelical polemics are historically inaccurate, theologically misinformed, and missiologically misguided. Apparently, a lot of us simply dislike Muslims (usually without knowing any).

When we critique Islam, we need to be fair and accurate. Those of us who make Muslim-Christian comparisons must do so from a position of informed engagement, as those who have worked with Muslims. When we review historical tensions between the two faiths, we must apply rigorous historical analysis. When we write about Islam, we must remember that love is the greatest apologetic.
It's a short piece, and covers a lot of books. So definitely no detailed refutations. Overall, sure. No need to demonize and only point out the wrong. Or (as is the wont of one of my email correspondents) take the worst violence and call it the "true face of Islam."

Incidentally, the author of this piece is a prof. at CIU in Columbia.

[In general -- and reducing everything to one's "take" on something is, well, reductive -- I tend to be bi-polar on Islam].

San Clemente ...

dotCommonweal has a neat post by Robert Imbelli on the Church of S. Clemente in Rome (one of my favorite spots in the Eternal City!). He also quotes a couple of paragraphs from Eamon Duffy's fantastic Faith of Our Fathers (heartily recommended) on the Church.

Here's some pictures of S. Clemente, from the last trip to Rome, in March. [Incidentally, it was in the courtyard of S. Clemente that I ran into Michael Dubruiel and Amy Welborn, quite by coincidence!]

  Posted by Picasa

Magister: Orthodoxy and Islam ...

In this week's newsletter Sandro Magister looks at recent locutions of Pope Benedict that seem to look forward to his trip to Turkey later this year, where he will encounter not only Eastern Orthodoxy (particulary in the person of the Patriarch of Constantinople) but also, and far more overwhelmingly Islam. Magister gives the full text of Benedict's catechesis at the General Audience this week, on St. Andrew, the prother of St. Peter (and the patron of the Church of Constantinople). Magister also notes these remarks, relayed to the press by a recent visitor at the Apostolic Palace, the president of the German region of North-Rhine Westphalia, on the education of Muslims in Europe.
Jürgen Rüttgers said that Benedict XVI “holds that it is very important for Muslim children to have the opportunity to attend in our schools an hour of instruction, in German, in the Muslim religion, with teachers who have been trained in Germany and under school supervision.”

And not only that: “The Holy Father vigorously called attention back to the necessity for every society to live on the basis of values. These are the same values found in the German constitution, which are founded on the Jewish-Christian West and the Enlightenment.” A positive integration of the new Muslim generations “presupposes the recognition of the rules of the federal Republic.”
It is well known that pope Ratzinger sees in this instruction a decisive vehicle for the integration of Muslims into Western society. He said so in no uncertain terms on August 20, 2006, while meeting with German representatives of Islam in Cologne:
Interesting that a prominent Italian Muslim, and now member of parliament, has similar thoughts
By coincidence, in recent days in Italy an authoritative Muslim thinker of Algerian origin recently elected to the Italian parliament, professor Khaled Fouad Allam, advanced a proposal that has much in common with the hopes of Benedict XVI.

In a June 14 interview with the daily “il Foglio,” Allam said:

“We must think of a future cycle of education for Italian and European Muslim students that has their faith at heart. And not an exported faith, but one that has been reformulated, because living in Rome or Venice is not the same thing as living in their countries of origin. I am thinking of an Islamic faith that has internalized the principles of humanism and the modern West: the theology that intellectuals like Abdennour Bidar have been reflecting on for years in Turkey, a country that looks toward Europe. One can imagine the creation of a three-year cycle of studies in Italy and Europe, and a two-year cycle of specialization in one of the Muslim countries that adhere to the initiative.”
So much for the excoriation one sees on much of the right (Catholic or otherwise) at anything that would treat Europe's Muslims in a positive way. Yes there are huge issues -- not the least of which is the way (non-Muslim) Europeans are simply not reproducing -- when talking about Muslims and integration into Europe. And yes, multicultural appeasement is nuts. However, I see lots of excoriation, lots of anger and not much in the way of concrete suggestions. Here's one. Let's hope it is tried.

Forget about those buggy whips ... !

Seems like everyone is talking about "global Christianity." John Allen returns to the theme in this week's Word from Rome. I loved this awesome analogy:
"Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic" has passed into the cultural idiom as a synonym for blithe indifference to an underlying crisis. I would suggest that much conversation in Western Catholicism these days is more akin to arguing over which buggy whips are best, while ignoring the emergence of the car; that is, a completely new world is taking shape, one destined to render many of this era's debates obsolete.
Things like how to deal with the priest shortage, or issues of sexuality, ordaining women and so on. This just isn't what's at the center of things. However, also a wanring to conservatives who would like to hitch the Christianity of the global South to their own battles.
Yet if the expansion of Catholicism in the South contradicts leftist predictions of demise, the corollary does not follow, i.e., that it is an endorsement of conservative Catholicism in its Western form. In fact, experts such as Sanneh say the growth of Christianity in the developing world has precious little to do with Western ideological debates, and is far more connected with the way Christianity interacts with indigenous cultures and their concerns.
[Quoting Lamin Sanneh. Yours truly compiled some stuff on this awesome scholar of world Christianity, just the other week.] And an event to look forward to:
On June 19, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice will convene a summit in Cairo of Catholic bishops and other leading figures from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe to discuss human rights and democracy in Christianity and Islam. The idea is to explore the potential Christian contribution to fostering peace and stability in the developing world, and to confront radical currents within Islam.
[Just a small quibble. I think "upside down church" is a little old now. Yah, you put quotes around it. Just drop it, John! :)]

Hawking: John Paul weighed in on universe - Yahoo! News

Hawking: John Paul weighed in on universe - Yahoo! News
Hawking, author of the best-seller "A Brief History of Time," said John Paul made the comments at a cosmology conference at the Vatican. He did not say when the meeting was held.

Hawking quoted the pope as saying, "It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God."
Do what? Like science can reveal these kinds of things? I seriously doubt that's what the late Pope said. Oh well.

Does racial profiling work?

Maybe this will surprise some, but, in principle, I'm not opposed to racial/ethnic profiling at airports. If it actually does any good. Which, argues Patrick Smith, in this weeks Ask the pilot column from Salon, it doesn't.
Yes, the Sept. 11 skyjackers -- along with many around the globe who, we assume, desire to emulate them -- were, without exception, young Arab males. But that, however illogical it first seems, in no way suggests that obsessing over dark skin and Saudi passports is an efficient way to root out saboteurs. On the contrary.

The 19 skyjackers succeeded not because we failed to flag them -- in fact several of the cabal, including Mohammed Atta, were singled out by the CAPPS-1 (for computer-assisted passenger prescreening system) program then in place -- but because they knowingly anticipated what levels of resistance they would face, from previously gathered intelligence available to check-in staff, and, most important, physical resistance (or lack thereof) from passengers and crew aboard the four doomed Boeings. The attackers took advantage of the skyjack paradigm as it existed at the time. They did not exploit a loophole in airport security; they exploited a loophole in our mind-set and expectations. And whatever can be said of terrorists, they're generally not stupid; the more narrowly we profile, the easier the system becomes to skirt. Routine, as any security or antiterror expert will tell you, is weakness. The trouble with profiling isn't necessarily that it's racist or discriminatory. The trouble is that it doesn't work.

Which data points are we supposed to use? Formulating some religious-ethnic template becomes extremely unreliable. Most of the world's Muslims aren't Arabs. Not all Arabs are Muslims. Nearly half of Lebanon is Christian. Iranians aren't Arabs. Neither are Turks. Plenty of Syrians have red hair and green eyes. The Bali bombers weren't Middle Eastern, they were Asian. And the blabbermouth reactionaries who scream for ethnic profiling were mum when USA Today reported that al-Qaida was actively recruiting white Chechens.
[I found the "change in skyjacking paradigm article" to be convincing as well.

So, to be nicely un-PC, what about religious profiling? I mean today, aren't all the serious threats from Muslims? So, give all Muslims an extra once-over.

But, how do we know someone is a Muslim? By their name? What about American converts to Islam (caucasian or black)? What about converts from Islam? What about those whose name just "sounds" "Muslim"?

Not that easy. Nor desirable, IMO.

Behaviourial profiling. Now that sounds more promising. I just hope it's not a stupid bureaucracy like TSA that will try and implement that. Else, hopping about in the line 'cause you've got to go to the bathroom real bad will land you in the slammer ... :)

Swami visits Columbia

Swami visits Columbia (Columbia Star) Imparts wisdom from the East.
Upon meeting the Swami, one is immediately struck by the rich orange glow radiating from his robe. There is a kindness flowing from his deep brown eyes that seems to penetrate the soul. The experience is a lasting and unexpected one that lingers long after he's gone.

During a private consultation, Swami Parmanand was asked how to decipher truth from illusion. He replied, "We need money. That is a necessity. A house and clothing are necessities as well. But if a person believes he will be happy because of these things, this is an illusion."

He continued his discourse by saying, "When one uses material goods to define happiness, he will try to increase possessions and as a result will become more and more bound by them."
A recent Busted Halo Podcast had some rules of etiquette for Catholics attending non-Catholic weddings in the summer. They should have added something about Catholics attending non-Christian weddings as well. The world is in the US, more and more. {And, overall, IMO, a good thing too! :)).

Keeping coffee in the cup

Amy links to the talk of Bishop Arthur Roach of Leeds (UK), chairman of ICEL, given to the USCCB. It is a fantastic address! I just read it over twice -- there's so much packed in there! [Incidentally, Bishop Roach gave one of our catecheses during WYD 2002 in Toronto. He was simply fantastic, and connected really well with the young people, while, in my recollection, getting them excited about following Christ. He rocks!] Some things that struck me. 1) The English translations have an importance that transcends their use in English speaking countries.
Also in many countries where English is not much spoken, the English version of liturgical texts plays an important function, because it is used as a guide to translating the Latin. There are, of course, some languages with speakers or scholars fluent in Latin. For instance, in New Zealand earlier this year I met a scholar who is translating the Mass from Latin directly into Fijian. In Maynooth, Ireland, a team is at work translating Latin texts directly into Gaelic. But in Norway and many parts of Africa and Asia, for instance, the translators rely heavily on the English version.
2) Dynamic equivalence is dead.
Dynamic equivalence has become an outmoded idea: even its originator, Eugene Nida, ceased to use it in his later writings. Over the last thirty years specialists in language have become more aware that the form we choose for an utterance is itself expressive of our purpose in speaking.
And finally, keeping coffee in the cup.
There was an urgent feeling in the early 1970s that the liturgy should be made available to the people as soon as possible, and the work was rushed. The revisiting of this was delayed for practical reasons, but also for ideological ones that caused many bishops grave concern, and that is sometimes forgotten. The chief preoccupation in many minds was, of course, that the liturgy be brought closer to the people. This aim could, and sometimes did, obscure the other aim, which was to preserve and transmit our inherited liturgical tradition and bring our people closer to that. During the initial stages of consultation on the third edition of the Missale Romanum, two theologians wrote to me, quite independently, and shared with me their belief that the Mass texts we currently use had severely diminished our appreciation of the richness of Eucharistic theology. This is clearly something to which we, as bishops, should be sensitive. The Holy Father said something similar during the course of last year’s Synod of Bishops. Of course, if you try to carry a cup of coffee across a room too quickly, much of the contents may spill. This time, we have tried to keep the coffee in the cup.
Thank you Bishop Roach!

Anyway. The new translations have been approved. I'm waiting to see a full consolidated list of these. (Here's a partial list. Rocco also has a more detailed story with background. More background on ICEL and the whole translation stuff here as well.) The implementation will occur after the final approval of the Holy See.

:: UPDATE :: Rocco links to an interview with Bp. Trautman that we won't see any of these changes for at least two years. Talk about glacial paces ... he's been quite pugnaciously opposed to any of this. But, his fellow Bishops elected him as the head of the Liturgy committee ... plus ça change ... ?
So, in the spirit of things.

The Lord be with you. And with your spirit! :-D

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Watching the Pope ... with some unexpected graces.

... live at the Corpus Christi Mass, via the Vatican TV feed. The Gloria just got over ... not sure I'll be able to stay awake till the Mass ends and the procession starts. ::sigh:: Darn, wish I were Stateside right now!

[Oh I just love that Italian with that strong German lilt! It's soooo ... oh lord, how else to say it ... cute! You know, I absolutely loved John Paul. But I never had this kind of reaction to him! And that first time I saw Benedict -- at an Angelus in Rome -- I was just grinning from ear to ear. No wonder Rocco calls him His Fluffiness! I love Papa Bene! Che viva il Papa! Ok I'll stop.]

[Not that you needed it: previous Pope Benedict gush.]

OMG! They're chanting the Sequence! Lauda Sion salvatorem! It's just a totally awesome poem! [Had I stayed on y'all in the parish would have heard this this coming Sunday ... :-)]

[They're panning the assembled prelates ... all but one had their heads down following the program. One was chanting the Latin looking straight ahead. Ah, at least one had it memorized! :) And no, they didn't do the entire text. It's long]

Hmm --- this will also be the first time that I've heard the Pope give a homily. Live.

Allora ... basta! :)

:: Update :: I tried simultaneously translating his homily. More difficult typing it into English than speaking it ... and then decided I should really just listen. The text will be online soon enough. A few things that struck me:

The bread, this bit of wheat, is the food of the poor. ... the bread isn't simply our product however. It's the fruit of the earth. It is a gift. ... it's not our merit. Only the creator could give this fertility.

[This reminded me of Amy's recent beautiful reflection on life as gift.]

In adoration --- in looking at Him, we are transformed. He transforms us. [I def. need to get to adoration here!]

He quoted the Didache, that famous image of bread sown in different valleys coming together in one. The Eucharist uniting us.

And the concluding prayer, said with such deep sincerity.
Look on suffering humanity ... look upon the psychological and physical hunger that torments us. ... Give them work. Give them light. ... Makes us understand that it is only be means of the Passion, by the Yes to Crucifixion, by this purifcation imposed on our lives ... [that we can find life]. ... Give us your salvation. Amen.
"By this purification imposed on our lives ... " Sitting here in the dark, in India. Far from friends and the place that I call home. This is such a difficult visit, with my father's cancer. And he's doing so well so far! And I cannot even imagine what he's going through. What my mother is. It's like I need some sign, daily. Gosh, we're so weak! We need so much help!

Daci la tua salvezza. Give us your salvation!

[Ok. I guess this is called liveblogging! Anyway, the Pange Lingua has started. With the host on the altar I have a strong urge to kneel ...! It's nearly midnight, and now I'm going to stay awake for as much as I can ... ]

And now they're singing the Tantum Ergo. Not the traditional chant -- a different melody. All kneeling before the Sacrament in the Piazza in front of S. Maria Maggiore. A prayer in Latin ... and ... Benediction.

Now the Divine Praises. And now the Salve Regina ... which the Pope is singing too.

The crowd up V. Merulana is huge!

There was this moment a little while back when the camera was behind the truck carrying the Host and the Pope, heading down the V. Merulana I think to S. Maria Maggiore (I think!). It was a beautiful image of the Church. Christ at the head. Peter, in his ministry of sustaining the brothers. And this throng following the Bread of Life on the journey.

[That's it! I'm off to bed. Buona notte tutti ... ]

Canon, Creed and Council ...

... the three Cs that govern the Church. Seems like it's Council time. The US Catholic Bishops are meeting in LA. One of the main items on the agenda: the new liturgical translations for the Mass. Rocco is covering it closely. Of course, one could follow the secular papers too ... but why? :-)

Then there's the other council. The Episcopal General Convention in Columbus. [Which really isn't a Council in the sense of a council of bishops alone. They have lay delegates too.] I really wasn't going to bring it up. It's a little sad to see a communion rupture itself so painfully. I am more and more convinced that schism is inevitable. Perhaps, at this juncture, when the two "sides" barely speak the same language, it's perhaps best to walk away. Anyway, I won't say too much more. I'm an outsider. Let charity prevail.

For local flavor on GC2006 [umm. local SC. not local India. Sheesh. My head spins at times :)], Dean Phil Linder of Trinity Cathedral downtown is liveblogging from the convention.

I will add this much, from David Hartline (of the Catholic Report, who's also at GC. Guess it was more interesting than the USCCB meet in LA?), via Amy (who has lots of other links, of course).
Dave Hartline: The traditional side says 2,000 years of Christian tradition is being altered. How do you respond?

Herschel Hartford: Who are we to tell someone how to live and think?

Dave Hartline: Do you think there is any black and white in the Episcopal Church?

Herschel Hartford: Yes, we are against poverty, racism, sexism and bias against sexual orientation.

Dave Hartline: Is abortion black and white

Herschel Hartford: No, it is in the eye of the beholder. It is a very complicated issue.

Dave Hartline: Is human life black and white?

Hershel Hartford Again, human life and its beginnings are a very complicated issue.
(There's also a very brief chat later on with Bishop Robinsion as well) :: sigh :: Of course, it's not entirely fair, to be pigeonholed by a reporter, I guess. But, then, poverty, racism, sexism and bias against sexual orientation aren't complicated issues, while abortion and human life are?

As I said. Not the same language. It's really sad.

[And, not that any regular readers of this blog would have any doubts, when it comes to the divisions that are threatening the Episcopal Church, I am on the traditional side of things.]

Time to pray!

Oh don't tell me they're serious ...

[From The Indian Catholic] Lay Catholic group wants India to enact a law against blasphemy.
It noted that in recent times, almost every religious group has had reason to protest against media work or art forms that hurt their feelings.

As a result, the nation “faces an imminent danger of a communal conflagration or an even more serious threat and accusations that India is no more secular or a respecter of basic human or minority rights,” the release noted.
So the answer is to draft a blasphemy law? Are they serious? Can any Christian group talk seriously about blasphemy laws given how such laws are used in the only part of the world that they really have any teeth, i.e. in the Muslim world, to persecute and even kill, Christians?

And no, the US does not have a blasphemy law. Thank God.