Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Don't Ask Don't Tell Culture of Catholicism

Intentional Disciples: The Spiral of Silence
As those of you who have read ID for a while know, I have often written about the "don't ask, don't tell" culture of Catholicism. We don't ask where people are in their lived relationship with God and we don't tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.
The more I read, the more I'm digging what the good folk at ID have to say. The post goes on to talk about the "spiral of silence" --
Neuman's idea is that most people have an intuitive awareness of the majority sentiment within a group, and most are less likely to speak up when they find themselves in the minority. The silencing effect thus reinforces itself: if a 40% minority does only 20% of the talking, they perceive themselves to be even more outnumbered than they truly are and are thus even less inclined to speak. Hence, the spiral into silence.

Neuman found that individuals avoid speaking out on controversial issues due to an innate fear of social isolation.

Because of this fear of isolation, people continuously scan their environment to try to assess the climate of opinion at all times. This would includes current and future distribution of opinion. If we think that our opinion is shared by the majority or that it is gaining ground in our culture/group, we are much more likely to talk about it openly.
Worth a read!

Pope appeals for peace in Myanmar


S.C. pioneers in single-gender classes - Yahoo! News

I'd heard that single-gender education was making somewhat of a comeback. Who'd have thunk that it was the Palmetto State that's blazing a trail? I don't know what the experts thing: I am product of single-gender education (many Catholic schools in India are sex-segregated), and I don't think it was all that bad. S.C. pioneers in single-gender classes - Yahoo! News

Back in DC

The Novice Road Trip Part II is over.

For some reason, I'm tired.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Adirondacks in the Fall

Drove around the Adirondacks today, the mountainsides ablaze with color. What a beautiful day, and what an amazingly beautiful place! (Izzy, we also saw several dozen bikers. Must be a big biking weekend.)


Friday, September 28, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lake George

We're at the community lake house (built by Fr. Hecker himself) overlooking Lake George, NY, an hour or so north of Albany.

A long drive from Toronto. We stopped at the Falls (one of my Novice brothers had never been there before). It was a cloudy and grey day, which adds a certain atmosphere to the Falls. We had lunch at a restaurant where a friend of my other novice brother is one of the managers. It was one of the best burgers I've ever eaten, and they comped half our meal!

An uneventful drive east on the NY Thruway. Around Rome we started encountering thunderstorms and brilliant lightning displays. After Albany, it started pouring cats and dogs. It hasn't let up since. And the lightning over the lake is just beautiful.

Matt and I sat out on the porch smoking the cigars we picked up in Niagara (no, not Cubans. Didn't want to risk that!) and talking about life the universe and everything, as the rain poured down on the lake, and lightning lit everything up for a few bright milliseconds.

Inside, the fireplace is blazing in the hearth with the Latin inscription: "His throne a flame of fire. Bless the Lord of the fire and summer!"

Life is good! (A post about Lake George from last year. Flickr set.)

Niagara Falls on a cloudy, grey day.

A 30-second exposure at about 10 pm., Lake George

Not the ones we brought over.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cricket on Red Bull

A NYT piece analyzes the latest evolution in the genteel game of the Raj: Twenty20 cricket: twenty overs, the game over in a few hours, rather than a whole day (the "shorter" version, a One Day match) or the traditional five-day Test Match.

Alas, the purist in me laments and rends his garments. Not that I've really had the time to follow a test match in ages. But, I am my father's son, and a traditionalist in such matters.

Would I watch a Twenty20? Probably. And force myself not to enjoy it either. :)

And of course, I'm delighted that we beat Pakistan.


Over at ID, a YouTube video of a celebration of the Ethiopian (and Eritrean) Ge'ez Rite . Check it out!

(This reminds me of Confirmation a few years ago, when Bishop Baker showed up at the parish with a visiting Ethiopian priest, based in the UK, who traveled around the world visiting the Ethiopian diaspora. He regaled us with stories of his country, and one thing I remember was that he was born Orthodox, and had to keep his conversion to Catholicism secret from his father, else he'd have been ostracized from his family!)

[Abu Daoud has a brief overview of the state of Christianity in Ethiopia at his blog.]

52 questions Meme

Surely I have better things to do on my last evening in Toronto? Nah. I'll be back. I can sense it. Whatever that means.

Saw this at St. Lizzy's.

So, here goes. (After the jump, for those readers who find such self-disclosure to be silly.)

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? Most people were named before I was. (rim shot) {That's lifted directly from Izzy! Imitation is the best form of flattery!}. By Hindu custom I should have had a name beginning with R (some complicated astrological thing), but because my brother's name started with G, so did mine. I didn't have a vote. :)

2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? Hmm. I seem to cry nowadays only when I seriously miss my father. I think the last time was on August 29, seven months to the day he died.



5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Nope. Holy Mother Church might have some issues if I did.


7. DO YOU USE SARCASM? Yeah right.


9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? No. Fear of heights. Big time.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? I don't really care.


12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Physically, no.



15. RED OR PINK? Red. Da zdravstvuyet revolyutsiya!


17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My father.

18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? Nope. Follow the meme if you wish though.


20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Pizza at Pizza Pizza.

21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? LOTR - Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack.

22. IF YOU WHERE (sic) A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Perrywinkle! (I have no idea what that is even!)

23. FAVORITE SMELLS? The wet earth after the first monsoon rains. Red onions frying. The sea breeze. I have a very poor sense of smell.

24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? The friend I was having dinner with earlier.



27. HAIR COLOR? Black. Flecks of grey!!!!!

28. EYE COLOR? Dark brown.


30. FAVORITE FOOD? Thai. South Indian.

31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Anything that's real.

32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? 3:10 to Yuma


34. SUMMER OR WINTER? Winter. Well, winters in the South at least.


36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Tiramisu. Jalebi.



39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? The Undercover Economist. A History of Christianity in India. Truth and Tolerance: Christianity and the Religions of the World.



42. FAVORITE SOUND? The deep roar of a turbine sucking in air and thrusting it out as the aircraft hurtles down the runway. The deep roar of the thrust reversers engaging after touchdown. Church bells in a distance. The drone of a tanpura.


44. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Australia? (Assuming home = US)








52. WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LOVE ABOUT YOURSELF? Geez. Like I need to feed my ego any more.

40 Days for Life

40 Days for Life

Pray. Fast. Raise Awareness.

New "explicitly" Catholic colleges

An interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about the new brand of conservative Catholic colleges committed to the teaching of the magisterium and an explicit Catholic identity. These include Wyoming Catholic College, Southern Catholic College (near Atlanta) as well as the better known Ave Maria University.

Environmental protection is a moral imperative

Speech by Msgr. Pietro Parolin, under-secretary of the Secretariat for Relations with States, at the United Nations. Zenit has the story.

American Papist, ever the enviro-skeptic, fisks the speech. Do read the comments there as well.

I'm trying to place a finger on what about the Vatican's advocacy of green issues that bothers me. It's not the fact that they're green -- stewardship and protection of creation, and avoiding destructive exploitation are moral imperatives. What can individuals do is, of course, the rub of the matter, as well as questions of what kinds of policies are best when it comes to climate change.

I guess it's a suspicion of the green agenda as it plays out in the secular world, especially in Europe. The way in which "going green" is now all the rage, the way in which this tends to skew the whole concept of both virtue and ethics, and the way in which this might impact development in poorer countries. I guess it's the fadishness and politically-correctness of all this that rankles, especially when it basically translates to a form of secular moralizing.

Which doesn't of course mean that it's necessarily untrue. It just makes me suspicious. Which is, I guess, another way of saying that my skepticism is ideological.

The rational thing to do is to study the science, because, frankly, I know very little, and I don't want to become another true believer because he watched a slick video produced by Al Gore, or, just react against that because he's convinced that Al Gore is whacko.

Christianity is truly pro-choice

Mark Shea at his usual brilliant self, and a good disciple of Chesterton. Read the whole thing. It's worth it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A few more T.O. shots

We went to daily Mass at St. Basil's parish, which is part of St. Michael's College at the University. A beautiful church, and a simple and powerful liturgy.

At night I visited a friend who is studying at the Archdiocesan seminary, St. Augustine's, in Scarborough. The seminary is on sprawling grounds atop the Scarborough Bluff, and on a clear day, apparently, one can see across Lake Ontario to Rochester NY. I was there after dark, and though we could see the lake in the moonlight that peeped through the clouds, there wasn't enough light for a shot.

Magna Carta Is Going on Auction Block - AOL News

Magna Carta Is Going on Auction Block - AOL News A rare copy of the original, which has been on display at the National Archives, on loan from the Ross Perot Foundation, which has decided to sell it via Sotheby's.


I really do love this city. Last night novice bro Matt and I went out for a walk (same route pretty much as last year) around the UofT area -- Matt went to St. Michael's college, so he was showing me around his old stomping grounds. (And Mac, yes, this time I did spot the Bata Shoe Museum.]

Here are some photos from the walk.

[Last year: photos of St. Michael's Cathedral, St. Peter's parish, and one random chalk graffito on the sidewalk.]

A corridor at University College

University College

The ROM-tumor. The less said the better.


Honest Ed's, an institution at Bloor and Bathurst.

Relics of Pope John Paul II available at the Vatican

For free. They're cutting up a cassock of his and giving the relics out for free. (Sale of relics is a sacrilege, remember). Given the demand -- hundreds of thousands -- I suspect it might be a few cassocks.

Religious freedom?

The State of New Jersey has revoked the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-owned boardwalk in Ocean Grove NJ, while its equality commission is investigating whether the camp violated the state's equal rights law when it denied a lesbian couple a civil-union ceremony on its property. (Via the CT weblog) Commentary by Maggie Gallagher.

One giant midrash on the New York Times front page

Ted Olso at CT analyzes the life -- and death -- of the Blogosphere.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A steepled city

Cathedral of St. Andrew

Grand Rapids MI is in the heart of the Bible Belt of the north. It's the headquarters of the Christian Reformed Church, and as one drives into town from the west and the city comes into view from the top of a bluff on I-196, one sees steeples everywhere.

Catholics comprise 25% of the See county, and about 9 or 10% of the population elsewhere, for a total of about 175,000 out of a total population of about 12 million. The Diocese is made up of 11 counties in the western part of Michigan. This is not unlike the South at all! (More photos after the jump)

Last year, the new Bishop moved out of his palatial early-20th century residence, and invited the Paulist community to take up residence in the rectory right next to the Cathedral, which is situated in a sort of Catholic enclave just south of downtown, and just a block or so from the CRC Headquarters known as La Grave (after the street it's on). This Catholic Centeral includes the Cathedral, a middle school and a high school, and a large hospital, as well as a couple of social-outreach agencies that work with the indigent who populate this somewhat depressed part of town.

We got a walking tour on Saturday morning, from the Paulist residence, north to the downtown Cathollic Information Center. We passed a modest Greek Orthodox Church, the CRC headquarters, a Sevent Day Adventist Church, a Congregationalist Church, an independent Unitarian-leaning church called Fountain Street Church, a Tudor-looking Episcopal Church (St. Mark's) with a huge rainbow flag flying from the front, and just behind the Information Center, on a hill, a massive Lutheran Church.

Did you notice anything missing in that list? No Baptists! (There are a few American Baptist congregations in town.)

The Paulists have also recently taken on responsibility for heading the campus ministry at Grand Valley State University, and are building a new parish near the University Campus, St. Luke's ... we attended the Sunday afternoon student Mass at the beautiful campus at Allendale, some 15 miles from Grand Rapids. GVSU is a pretty large school, with some 23,000 students enrolled, at least 20-25% of which are assumed to be Catholic.

Here are some photos of the Cathedral of St. Andrew. Last year we visited some old ethnic Catholic parishes across the Grand river.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The subversive religion

The absolutely superb Fr. Robert Barron has a couple of YouTube videos up on the symbolism of the Lord of the Rings.

He rocks!

Dogwood has embedded them on his blog.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

How to talk to evangelicals

I've only recently come across this interesting blog maintained by a Christian (Catholic?) in the Middle East, who writes under the pseudonymn of Abu Daoud. It's called Islam and Christianity, and focuses largely on issues at the intersection of the two religions. It's now on my blogroll. In this post, Abu Daoud gives some great advice on how to respond to an evangelical who thinks that traditional Christians in the Middle East (Catholics and Orthodox) aren't truly Christian. Go have a look!

Confession makes a comeback

[Hat tip to Dogwood for sending me the full text of this article.] A piece in the WSJ talks about the resurgence of a dying rite -- and not just among Catholics (including some Capuchins who hear confessions in a Mall -- good for them!), but among mainline Protestants and evangelicals too! The article is subscriber only. The full text is below, after the jump. [Incidentally, the priests at the Catholic Information Center here in Grand Rapids hear confessions twice a day on weekdays.]

Confession Makes a Comeback
Churches are encouraging sinners to repent by modernizing an ancient rite. Alexandra Alter reports.
September 21, 2007; Page W1

Sin never goes out of style, but confession is undergoing a revival.

This February at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI instructed priests to make confession a top priority. U.S. bishops have begun promoting it in diocesan newspapers, mass mailings and even billboard ads. And in a dramatic turnaround, some Protestant churches are following suit. This summer, the second-largest North American branch of the Lutheran Church passed a resolution supporting the rite, which it had all but ignored for more than 100 years.

To make confession less intimidating, Protestant churches have urged believers to shred their sins in paper shredders or write them on rocks and cast them into a "desert" symbolized by a giant sand pile in the sanctuary. Three Catholic priests from the Capuchin order now hear confessions at a mall in Colorado Springs., Colo.

Worshippers are answering the call. During a "Reconciliation Weekend" at churches in the diocese of Orlando, Fla., this March, more than 5,000 people turned out to confess. When five parishes in Chicago joined forces last year for "24 Hours of Grace," where priests welcomed penitents from 9 a.m. on a Friday to 9 a.m. the next morning, about 2,500 people showed up.

Several factors are feeding the resurgence. Aggressive marketing by churches has helped reinvent confession as a form of self-improvement rather than a punitive rite. Technology is also creating new avenues for redemption. Some Protestants now air their sins on videos that are shared on YouTube and iTunes or are played to entire congregations. And the appetite for introspection has been buoyed by the broad acceptance of psychotherapy and the emphasis on self-analysis typified by daytime talk television.

"Every day on Jerry Springer we see people confessing their sins in public, and certainly the confessional is a lot healthier than Jerry Springer," says Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, who last March sent out 190,000 pamphlets calling on Catholics to confess.

Scholars also say the return to confession is part of a larger theological shift in which some Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals are returning to a traditional view of churches as moral enforcers. Catholic leaders have sought to make the tradition less onerous to keep it from dying, while Protestants are embracing it as a way to offer discipline to their flocks. Several Protestant pastors said they felt their churches had become too soft on sinners, citing the rise of suburban megachurches that seek converts with feel-good sermons, Starbucks coffee and rock-concert-like services, but rarely issue calls to repent.

"I never want to be accused of the namby-pamby, milquetoast, 'Jesus is my boyfriend' kind of worship," says John Voelz, a pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Mich. "People want to come face to face with what's going on inside them."

Redemption Online

Confession is no longer strictly a private matter between a sinner, a priest and God. More than 7,700 people have posted their sins on, a confession Web site launched by Flamingo Road Church, an evangelical congregation in Cooper City, Fla. Last year, several members of Life Church in Edmond, Okla., appeared in a video sermon titled "My Secret," in which they spoke openly about having an abortion or taking methamphetamine. The video was shown to about 21,000 people. The XXX Church, a Christian antipornography ministry, has videotaped people confessing their addictions to X-rated material and posted the video on YouTube, where it has been viewed nearly 15,000 times. "There's a reason why they talk about confession in the Bible -- you're not supposed to keep it inside you," says Jordy Acklin, 21, an Oklahoma college student who appeared in the video. "The weight just goes off your shoulders."

Confession has been in steep decline for several decades. In 2005, just 26% of American Catholics said they went to confession at least once a year, down from 74% in the early 1980s, according to researchers at two Catholic universities. After the Vatican softened some of its doctrine on sin in the 1960s, the rite "went into a tailspin," says Prof. William D'Antonio, a sociologist at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

There is only so far the Vatican will go to revive confession -- the church has taken a hard stance against technology, declaring in 2002 that "there are no sacraments on the Internet." Some conservative Protestants have also criticized public forms of atonement, arguing they owe more to exhibitionism than contrition.

Confession hasn't always been a forgiving ritual. In Christianity's early centuries, worshippers confessed publicly before the priest and the entire congregation. Penalties were severe. Sinners had to prostrate themselves, fast and wear sackcloths and ashes. Adulterers were sentenced to a lifetime of celibacy and thieves were ordered to give their belongings to the poor. Repeat offenders were banished, says Notre Dame theology professor Randall Zachman.

Private confession, which arose in monasteries in the seventh century, became mandatory for Christians in 1215. Centuries later during the Reformation, theologian Martin Luther took issue with the "acts of satisfaction" that priests required of sinners, arguing that faith alone absolved them. Luther was especially critical of the practice of selling indulgences, which allowed people to pay to limit their time in purgatory. Following the split, most Protestant churches instructed followers to confess to God directly or simply to each other.

In their attempt to revive the rite, Catholic leaders have portrayed it as a healing sacrament. In February, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., bought ads on radio stations, buses, subway cars and a billboard inviting Catholics to come to confession during Lent. The response was strong enough that 10 parishes decided to extend the hours for confession.

Amanda Fangmeyer, 39, a stay-at-home mother, attends St. Patrick's in Rockville, Md., one of the parishes that took part in the campaign. She says she was stunned to see more than 100 people lined up for confession two weeks before Easter. "Sometimes when you go for penance the church is just dark and quiet," she says.
Father Matthew Gross walks through the Citadel mall in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Kathleen Taylor, 43, a substitute teacher in Daytona Beach, Fla., hadn't been to confession in some time when she received a mailer from her bishop this March urging Catholics to atone for their sins. She packed her husband and two sons, then 9 and 16, into the car and drove to a nearby church where a priest was waiting in the confessional booth.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been two years since my last confession," she said. Mrs. Taylor confessed to impatience and anger with her sons. She talked about her marriage. She expressed feelings of guilt over fighting with her first husband, who died two years ago of a failed organ transplant. "It was hard at first. It was scary, the room gets kind of hot. But once you open up it's better."

People are confessing in unlikely places. On a recent Saturday morning in Colorado Springs, seven people lined up outside an office next to a Burlington Coat Factory at the Citadel mall. At the appointed hour, Father Matthew Gross, 72, strode up wearing his brown friar's habit. "Three minutes each, that's all you get," he joked to two women waiting in line.

Since 2001, the Rev. Gross and two other Capuchin friars have come to the mall to hear confessions 11 hours a day, six days a week in a small office with a box of Kleenex and a laminated copy of the Ten Commandments. They now hear about 8,000 confessions a year.
Christians gather for group confession in California.

Protestant theologians are also rethinking the rite. This past summer, the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, a 2.5 million-member branch whose members are spread across North America, voted to revive private confession with a priest. Some theologians have pointed to the writings of Martin Luther and argued that the Protestant reformer, while criticizing the way the rite was administered, never advocated abolishing it. "Some of us were saying, 'Why in the world did we let that die out?'" says the Rev. Bruce Keseman, a Lutheran pastor in Freeburg, Ill.

The Rev. Keseman has sought to revive confession in his congregation by bringing it into pastoral counseling, giving demonstrations to youth groups and preaching about its benefits. Leslie Sramek, 48, a lifelong Lutheran and financial manager who lives near St. Louis, says she never heard about private confession and absolution in church when she was growing up. But two years ago, when the Rev. Keseman announced he would be taking confession privately, she decided to give it a try. At these sessions, the pastor wears vestments and stands near the altar while she kneels and recounts her sins. "I won't say that looking at my sins is pleasant, but they have to be dealt with," says Mrs. Sramek.

Peace Is Restored

Some evangelicals don't need any prompting. Joshua Wilshusen, 29, a respiratory care student from Lomita, Calif., started meeting two other Christian men for a weekly group confession two years ago. They gather at a park or coffee shop to ask questions such as "Have you coveted this week?" "Have you been sexually pure?" "Have you just lied to me?" Confessing helps him resist temptations. "There've been times when a sin has hurt me all week, when I've lusted after a woman or lost my temper at work, and then I confess it and the peace is restored."

Restoring confession to its heyday won't be easy. Most Catholic parishes set aside one hour or less on Saturdays for the rite. And while the U.S. Catholic population has grown by 20 million in the last 40 years, the number of priests has fallen to 41,000, a 29% decline over the same period. Group absolution, while allowed in some circumstances, is discouraged, and bishops have banned Internet and text-message confessions, which had been popular in the Philippines. Says Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of the school of theology at Catholic University, "We don't do drive-by confessions."

Write to Alexandra Alter at

Churches are not bound by the First Amendment

John Allen gives a summary of a provocative talk given by Bishop Thomas Curry (an Auxiliary of Los Angeles) on the results of the misconception that Constitution provides for a "wall" between Church and State. I believe the Bishop's main point was that the First Amendment binds the State not the Church. His other point is also quite salient: that the State ought not to be in the business of guaranteeing individual religious freedom. Obviously, this can go in many different directions -- but the examples he gives are very illuminating.

[Allen also mentions the continuing discrimination against Dalits -- both within Indian society and the Church -- in response to a question about racism within the Church. It's very important, I think, that the discrimination that Dalits feel be identified as a kind of racism, slavery, even.]

I think I'll blog a bit ...

... am in the common room at the Paulist residence in Grand Rapids MI (the Paulists moved into the old Bishop's residence right next to the Cathedral last year), and am watching what is turning out to be a rather depressing game as LSU demolishes the Gamecocks' defense.

Still .... GO GAMECOCKS! FIGHT!!!!!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hundreds witness miracle of St. Januarius in Naples

St. Januarius (whose feast was yesterday) does not fail to disappoint this year either. Hundreds witness miracle of St. Januarius in Naples (CNA).

The Korean Martyrs

Go over to Intentional Disciples to read about the remarkable history of the birth of the Church in Korea, and the important role played by lay missionaries and catechists in evangelization.

Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago

All these visits to the Windy City, and I'd never been to the Cathedral. So, this morning after Mass, the novices drove down to Chicago and State, to visit the Bishop's See. It's a beautiful late 19th century Gothic revival Cathedral, with some interesting, and actually quite stunning, modern art incorporated in the interior in a way that actually works. (Notice in the third photo below, with the modern Resurrection Cross, the red galeros of former Cardinal Archbishops hanging from the ceiling, above the Cathedra.) Here are some photos. The rest at Flickr.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ambedkar on religion

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the head of India's constituent assembly, and, in many ways, the father of modern India's democratic Constitution, was a Dalit and an outspoke critic of the oppression faced by his people in Indian society. The following comes from a pamphlet (written in his native Marathi in 1936), Kon Pathe Mukti (Which path freedom?), which is a blistering denunciation of religion (Hinduism in this case) that denies human dignity to such a vast number of people. It may give some insight as to why so many Dalits -- despite the obstacles, and often a very mixed response by "higher castes" and worried religious authorities of the religion they convert to -- continue to seek out liberation in Christianity (and to a lesser extent, in Islam).

Ambedkar himself considered both Islam and Christianity as alternate religions for Dalits, but rejected both because they had both adopted caste and practiced caste discrimination. He ultimately chose Buddhism -- one main reason was that it was Indian in origin, egalitarian, and did not survive in India, so, in a sense, avoided getting co-opted by caste. Many Dalits are neo-Buddhists, and the Constitution provides for legal protection of converts to Buddhism, but does not to converts to Islam or Christianity.
Religion is for man; man is not for religion.

If you want to gain self-respect, change your religion.
If you want to create a cooperating society, change your religion.
If you want power, change your religion.
If you want equality, change your religion.
If you want independence, change your religion.
If you want to make the world in which you live happy, change your religion.

Why should you remain in a religion that does not value your manhood?
Why should you remain in a religion that does not let you enter its temples?
Why should you remain in a religion that does not give you water to drink?
Why should you remain in a religion that does not let you become educated?
Why should you remain in a religion that bars you from good jobs?
Why should you remain in a religion that dishonours you at every step?

That religion which forbids humanitarian behaviour between man and man is not a religion but a reckless penalty.
That religion which regards the recognition of man's self-respect as sin is not a religion but a sickness.
That religion which allows one to touch a foul animal but not a man is not a religion but a madness.
That religion which says that one class may not gain knowledge, may not acquire wealth, may not take up arms, is not a religion but a mockery of man's life.
That religion which teaches that the unlearned should remain unlearned, that the poor should remain poor, is not a religion but a punishment.

Do not say that men who treat animals with more respect than humans and who respects all Brahmans as Gods are religious.
Do not say that men who feed ants with sugar and let men go hungry religious.
Do not say that men who embrace another religion and push their own far from them hate society.
Quoted in Heradia, Rudolf. Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India. Penguin India, 2007, 235-236.

In India "Untouchables" Convert to Christianity -- and face extra bias

[:: Update: Sherry W at Intentional Disciples has posted some statistics on the number of Christians in various categories in India, from the World Christian Databse. ::)

A story in today's Wall Street Journal about the conversion of Dalits to Christianity (and Islam), the harassment that they face, the secret lives they often lead, the movement to get affirmative-action protection for Dalits who convert out of Hinduism (and Sikhism and Buddhism, the only Constitutionally protected categories of Dalits), and the interesting alliance between Christians and Muslims.

It's well written, and thrusts into the spotlight yet again the harsh realities of Dalits all over India, a reality that the Western-educated urban elites are, I feel, completely clueless about (For instance, read this impassioned crie de coeur of Babasaheb Ambedkar and his denunciation of false religion that oppresses). The article itself is available to subscribers only. I'm going to paste it in its entirety here. One thing that leaped out at me was the assertion that the number of "secret Christians" in India number about 25 million, which is huge and which is about the total number of "official" Christians. (The author uses the term "officially registered" which is a bit misleading, implying an official register of religions, say, as in China, which doesn't exist in India. ::UPDATE:: In response to an email query he said he'd gotten the number from both "Christian sources" and the "likes of the RSS.")
MEDIPALLY, India -- Every Sunday, women and children gather to pray in a tiny, whitewashed church on the edge of this southern Indian village, sitting cross-legged on blue plastic sheets as they sing Christian hymns.

The men don't dare to come. "If they are seen in the church, the officials will be informed," says Vatipally Aharon, Medipally's Baptist pastor.

Almost all the Christians here -- and the overwhelming majority across India -- hail from the so-called Dalit community, the former "untouchables" relegated to the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy. Under India's constitution, Dalits are entitled to affirmative-action benefits, including 15% of all federal government jobs and admissions in government-funded universities. That provides the country's most downtrodden with a way to escape their traditional occupations such as emptying village latrines, burying cow carcasses, and tanning animal hides.

But there is a catch: Any Dalit caught abandoning Hinduism for Christianity or Islam loses these privileges, and can be fired from jobs gained under the quota. The rules are enforced by vigilant local officials who keep a close eye on villagers' comings and goings.

The plight of India's secret converts, ignored for decades, is now at the forefront of national politics. Partly driving the change is Indian Christians' new partnership with Islam, a religion frequently at odds with Christianity elsewhere in the world.
Rest of the article after the jump.
Representatives of the two religions have turned to the courts to restore benefits to converted Dalits. India's Supreme Court is currently reviewing several challenges filed by Christian and Muslim Dalits that could result in an overturning of the affirmative-action exclusion. A separate bill to remove the restriction is pending in Parliament. Government members, influenced by India's 150-million-strong Muslim community, have indicated their cautious support.

For decades, backers of the existing legislation have argued that since Christianity and Islam have no caste, Dalits who abandon Hinduism find equality amid their new co-religionists and therefore no longer need special protection.

Scrapping the Ban

But the movement to end official discrimination against these converts is gaining momentum in the world's largest democracy. This year, a special government-appointed commission, headed by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ranganath Mishra, concluded that Dalits retain their stigma in India's society even after converting and recommended scrapping the ban.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination earlier this year also formally rebuked India for denying affirmative-action benefits to Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam, and recommended that the prohibition be removed.

"The government of India seems quite sympathetic" to such demands, says Sardar Buta Singh, a minister-level official who heads India's agency overseeing Dalit affairs, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. "All the parties have started thinking about this problem, and it can be solved."

India's Dalits have tried over the centuries to escape their low status, which Hindu scriptures teach is a punishment for sins in a previous life, by embracing caste-less religions. In centuries past most converts turned to Islam, a religion professed by many Indian rulers before the British seized the subcontinent in the 19th century.

But with India's expanding economy offering unprecedented opportunities for social and economic advancement, a great many Dalits are now turning to Christianity, attracted by benefits like education and health care that are sometimes offered by Western-funded congregations. This allows them to seek opportunities beyond the government sector, in the booming information-technology and services industries that put a premium on the Westernized outlook and English-language skills.

Much to the dismay of Hindu nationalist groups, the number of India's secret Christians has climbed in recent years to an estimated 25 million people, about the size of the officially registered Christian population.

The gains among secret Christians come despite the obvious risks: Affirmative-action benefits often mean the difference between grinding poverty and a glimmer of hope for better life.

A lanky 30-year-old with a trimmed mustache, Venkatesh Gunti was born into a Dalit household here in Medipally, a cluster of pastel-colored homes set in the rolling green hills of Andhra Pradesh state. Since his teenage years, Mr. Gunti frequently prayed in the village's Zion church, established by South African missionaries. Three years ago, he found a prized job that would have allowed him to escape the misery of rural life -- as a handyman in a government college in the town of Bhongir.

he job was reserved for a Dalit, and Mr. Gunti had to produce a "scheduled caste" certificate -- something he believed would be a mere formality.

But when Mr. Gunti applied for it at the local government revenue collection office, the clerk, Mr. Gunti recalls, refused to issue the document. According to reports filed by the village secretary, Mr. Gunti was a regular churchgoer and therefore no longer qualified for "scheduled caste" status. He didn't get the job and had to stay in the village, eking out a living as a manual laborer.

To gain back the affirmative-action benefits, Mr. Gunti says he had to pretend that he had reverted to Hinduism, participating in a Hindu religious festival when he knew that the village secretary was watching. Last year, the subterfuge finally worked, and Mr. Gunti was reclassified as a member of the "scheduled caste." He says he won't partake in any more Hindu rituals, but will also steer clear of the church. Mr. Gunti has yet to find a new job.

Questioned about the case, Raghu Rama Rao, Medipally's village secretary, explains that he has no choice. "This is the law -- if we'll come to know they go to church, we'll have to make an inquiry and submit a report," Mr. Rao says in his home, its outer wall sporting a poster for a Hindu nationalist organization. Mr. Rao adds that he's already showing kindness by reporting only the active churchgoers, and leaving alone those believed Christian Dalits who do not openly flaunt their faith.

Such thorough enforcement means that secret lives have to be lived throughout India's society. "If they ever find out I'm a Christian, I will lose my position, no question about it," says a Dalit schoolteacher who behaves as a Hindu when he teaches in a state school near Medipally but decorates his Hyderabad apartment with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

"The government is forcing us to lie," echoes Prasadarao Yadavalli, a 48-year-old official in Andhra Pradesh's state bureaucracy who rose to his post thanks to Dalit quotas while hiding his Christian faith. Mr. Yadavalli says he has decided to finally come out this year, as he could no longer maintain this double life: "Whatever the consequences, God will take care of us."

Even one of the Dalit converts who petitioned India's Supreme Court is keeping his true beliefs secret from neighbors.

Mukesh Kumar, a zoologist, complained in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court in 2005 that he was denied a university job reserved for Dalits because he converted to Islam. His wife, Reena, added in the same affidavit that she also wants to embrace Islam but is afraid to do so because she would lose her current job of village administrator, an elected position gained under the Dalit quota.

Posters of Holy Men

Interviewed in his village of Neyazoopura, in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, an agitated Dr. Kumar -- who helps his wife run the village administration -- initially denied any link with the Muslim religion. His office is decorated with posters of Hindu holy men. Only after hastily chasing away curious villagers and shutting the doors would Dr. Kumar, 37, confirm his signature on the affidavit. "It's a constitutional right to change a religion at any time if you want it," he says.

India's 1950 constitution indeed guarantees the freedom of faith, in addition to outlawing discrimination against the Dalits. But, in defining who is entitled to affirmative-action protection afforded to the Dalits, a 1950 presidential order excluded any "person who professes a religion different from Hinduism."

The rule was amended in 1956 to include Dalit Sikhs and in 1990 to embrace Dalit Buddhists, on the grounds that these two religions can be considered offshoots of Hinduism.

Indian Christian groups have tried for decades to win a similar exception for Christianity, which is believed to have arrived in India when St. Thomas disembarked in Kerala in the first century. A bill to do so was approved by the national government in 1996, but never made it to a Parliament vote because of a coalition crisis that prompted new elections; these were won by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The party is a staunch opponent of conversions from Hinduism, now practiced by 80.5% of the general population. "People convert to Christianity here mostly because of aggressive proselytizing by missionaries, who induce very gullible people. This must be stopped," says Ram Madhav, a spokesman and national executive member of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, or RSS, a powerful organization that promotes Hindu nationalist ideology and is affiliated with the BJP.

The years of BJP rule were marked by violence against Muslim and Christian minorities. Facing a common enemy, India's Christian and Muslim organizations joined forces in protecting the country's secular tradition. Christian groups organized relief for Muslim refugees from religious pogroms in the state of Gujarat in 2002, and Christian churches were sheltered in some Muslim areas. Though the BJP has denied that some of its leaders helped orchestrate religious violence, the U.S. has since canceled the visa of Gujarat's chief minister, a BJP member, because of his role in the 2002 bloodshed.

"The Christians and the Muslims are a minority in India, they are both oppressed, and so there is a natural alliance between us," says Mahmood Madani, a Parliament member and secretary-general of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the country's leading Islamic body.

Viewing the Dalits as the main source of potential converts, some Christian and Muslim organizations started working together in recent years among these communities. While discrimination against Dalits is illegal, it is in practice widespread, particularly in rural parts of India, where people from higher castes often won't touch a Dalit or share with them food or water.

Here in Andhra Pradesh, Muslim and Christian leaders now regularly break this barrier of untouchability as they organize festive meals in Dalit villages, eating from the same giant plate of rice and vegetable curry.

"This is a real physical demonstration against caste discrimination," says Joseph D'souza, the president of the All-India Christian Council, who has organized many of these gatherings.

Though no open proselytizing is conducted at these events, shared meals frequently end up producing new converts. "The condition of Dalits is like that of dogs in India," says P.K. Ahmad Sabir, Andhra Pradesh state leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Mr. D'souza's partner in the Dalit outreach effort. "Our religions -- Christianity and Islam -- teach that everyone is an equal. Hindus don't believe in this, which gives a good chance to Christianity and Islam."

Joining Forces

In 2004, the votes of India's religious minorities helped oust the BJP government, bringing into office a center-left coalition led by the traditionally secularist Indian National Congress. This time around, the Muslims joined the earlier Christian campaign to end the discrimination against Dalit converts, and the issue returned to the government agenda.

"The Christian community has realized it is small compared to the Muslims, and that if they stand alone, they have a much smaller chance for success," says Tahir Mahmood, one of India's most prominent constitutional experts. "Together, they're a force to be reckoned with, and so they've become friends in adversity."

Instead of merely adding a waiver for Christianity to the 1950 presidential order, advocates today demand that any reference to religion be deleted from it altogether.

Campaigners are pressing the government to act without delay. "This is not just a Christian problem," says Jose Daniel, president of the National Coordination Committee for Scheduled Caste Christians and one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court challenge against the anticonvert rules. "It's a denial of rights to all the Dalits in India."

An evangelical take on the St. John's Bible

A long and decent article in Christianity Today on the St. John's Bible.
The entire process flies in the face of modernity's worship of speed and efficiency. This is no longer the Middle Ages. We have the printing press. We have computers. What does the handwritten word have that the mass-printed word doesn't? The Saint John's team hopes more Americans will ask that question.

Jackson explains that calligraphy honors the words and the person receiving those words: "Every tiny mark contains the beat of the heart of the person who made it." The "Illuminating the Word" exhibit notes that the other two "peoples of the Book"—Jews and Muslims—honor scribes as those who handle the very words of God. The Torah read in a synagogue must be handwritten on a parchment scroll. In Islam, calligraphy is considered the highest art form. Eastern religions also esteem it.
And, of course, some questions on the nature of the inter-faith approach taken in the production of the Bible. (My own experience of viewing the St. John's Bible in DC are recorded in a blog post from last October.)
Yet the Saint John's Bible also reflects a deliberate openness to those from other traditions, even other faiths. The complex imagery and often-abstract style invite viewers to consider many interpretations. Saint John's public statements make it clear that this Bible is meant to "welcome," not convert.

This desire to find common ground comes across most explicitly in the Psalms. Running horizontally across the pages are voiceprints of Saint John's monks chanting the Psalms in their daily worship, while God's presence (represented by gold "batons") accompanies and directs. Running vertically across the same pages are voiceprints of Jewish, Muslim, Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, and Native American worshipers. But many viewers will rightly wonder what message this is sending about the relationship between Christianity and other religions, and between Scripture and other sacred texts.

Prayer of Gratitude

Thank you Jesus, for bringing me this far.
In your light I see the light of my life.
Your teaching is brief and to the point:
You persuade us to trust in your heavenly Father;
You command us to love one another,
What is easier than to believe in God?
What is easier than to love him?
Your yoke is pleasant, your burden is light,
You, the one and only Teacher!
Your promise is everything to those
Who obey your teaching:
You ask nothing too hard for a believer,
Nothing a lover can refuse.

Your promises to your disciples are true,
Entirely true, nothing but the truth.
Even more, you promise us yourself.
The perfection of all that can be made perfect.
Thank you, Jesus, now and always.

- St. Nicholas of Cusa. (Emphasis added)

The sea level is rising! The sea level is rising!

Well, I've been meaning to wade into the politically-incorrect waters of enviro-skepticism. Don't really have the time to do the topic justice: I guess reading about it (check out, for instance, Spike Magazine's section on the environment) just feeds my biases and contrarian-ness. I do want to go through the IPCC's report, but that's a rather distant goal given how many other things have priority.

So here's a book that looks promising: Cool it: The Skeptical Environmentalist's guide to Global Warming Must be something that both the NYT ("Feel Good" vs "Do Good" on Climate Change)and the WSJ (Chill Out) ran stories!

And before y'all start rolling your eyes at yet more evidence of my slouching towards the Republican Party, do read along a bit. Lomborg is not a global-warming skeptic. He thinks the science is somewhat clear -- global warming is happening, and there is some human contribution. However, he's a practitioner of the dismal science, and brings its cold, sobering gaze to bear on the problem.
The lesson from our expedition is not that global warming is a trivial problem. Although Dr. Lomborg believes its dangers have been hyped, he agrees that global warming is real and will do more harm than good. He advocates a carbon tax and a treaty forcing nations to budget hefty increases for research into low-carbon energy technologies.

But the best strategy, he says, is to make the rest of the world as rich as New York, so that people elsewhere can afford to do things like shore up their coastlines and buy air conditioners. He calls Kyoto-style treaties to cut greenhouse-gas emissions a mistake because they cost too much and do too little too late. Even if the United States were to join in the Kyoto treaty, he notes, the cuts in emissions would merely postpone the projected rise in sea level by four years: from 2100 to 2104.

“We could spend all that money to cut emissions and end up with more land flooded next century because people would be poorer,” Dr. Lomborg said as we surveyed Manhattan’s expanded shoreline. “Wealth is a more important factor than sea-level rise in protecting you from the sea. You can draw maps showing 100 million people flooded out of their homes from global warming, but look at what’s happened here in New York. It’s the same story in Denmark and Holland — we’ve been gaining land as the sea rises.”
And while we're at it, Spiked's enviro-humorist suggests that it's probably best not give money to charities in Africa (more Africans means a larger carbon footprint after all) and the magazine's editor wonders if all the feel good carbon-offsetting stuff is simply a modern form of imperialist slavery: let the rich in the West work off their eco-guilt by keeping po' brown folk in India away from modern innovations that might actually improve their lot. Rather like indulgences, eh what? [Hmm, Spiked's server is down so I can't link to the eco-slavery article. Maybe it's some protestor's that are doing some eco-hacking?]

50 Years Ago in Scientific American: "Metropolitan Segregation": Scientific American

50 Years Ago in Scientific American: "Metropolitan Segregation": Scientific American A fascinating article from 1957 was one of the first to talk about and describe the phenomenon of "white flight."

Alan Greenspan on India

He's everywhere in the news (caught part of an interview with him on 60 minutes on Sunday) and I suppose his book is doing well. (I think I might read it. I suspect my dad would have!)

Peter Foster (The [UK] Telegraph's New Delhi correspondent) agrees with Greenspan's comments on India in the book.
"Indeed, India's per capita GDP four decades ago was equal to that of China, but is now less than half of China's and still losing ground. It is conceivable that India can undergo as radical a reform as China and become world-prominent. But at this [time of] writing, its politics appear to be leading India in a discouraging direction."

On this final point - politics - it is hard to disagree with Greenspan. The recent furore over the Indo-US nuclear deal exposed for all the world to see the backward-looking, ideologically driven anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism which continues to retard India.

It is the giant conundrum of India that a country whose people are so innovative, entrepreneurial and resourceful when it comes to making money are led by politicians who so distrust the generation of wealth - perhaps because they already have it.

It is no accident that in Britain the Indian-origin population represents 2.5 per cent of the population and generates 5 per cent of GDP. They punch double their weight.
[I love how he calls Greenspan the "arch-capitalist." Sounds like stuff emanating from the CPI!]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Women sue over receiving IVF twins - National -

Women sue over receiving IVF twins - National - Um. What does one say?

Well, the obvious thing is -- if the other one is a "mistake" why don't we just kill it? No, the burden isn't the children's -- but it's the doctor's, who screwed up?

What a world!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Windy City

Drove up to Chicago today, stop 2 on the Great Paulist Road Trip 2007 (yet again!). The guys were in the van, and I had a separate car so on the way I took a slight detour and stopped in Fort Wayne, IN. Getting to Ft. Wayne from Columbus is not easy -- there's all kinds of state and federal highways one goes on. Google Maps rocks though.

Oh, I stopped in Ft. Wayne to have lunch with a friend. We were supposed to meet at a new Italian place, which turned out to be closed, so ended up at an Indian lunch buffet.

In Chicago, two of us are being hosted by some gracious parishioners who live in a wonderful condo a block from the parish, while one gets to stay at the rectory with the priests.

My brother's in the US this week (he comes here on and off). He flew into Chicago this morning, a brief stop before flying on. I'll miss him though -- we leave Friday morning and he flies back to Chicago to go back to Delhi Friday night. Oh well. We did talk on the phone -- his words were, "sounds like you're on a paid vacation."


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Viene il Papa!

Rocco has the details of a possible extensive visit to of the Holy Father to the US next spring ... slated for the middle of April, including, Washington DC and CUA! Oh I hope it happens. And we should be back from our Lenten assignments too!

Start the novenas y'all! :)

MD-88 crashes on landing in Phuket,Thailand

~80 dead, some survivors. Lots of foreign tourists.

Absolutely horrific!

Bloomberg. discussion.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

John Allen on why Fr. Peter Phan is being investigated

Why is Peter Phan under investigation? A good analysis of the details and history of the case, the merits of the case (i.e. the substantive issues under investigation), Fr. Phan's response (which involves requesting financial compensation that a proper response would require), and the unusual fact that there are two independent investigation (one by the CDF and one by the USCCB's committee on doctrinal life. Fr. Phan chose not to response to Allen's queries (quite understandably). Further, there's this connection with the approach taken to mission and presence in Asia by the FABC and particularly in India. For e.g.
One example came in October 2005, when a conference of priests and bishops at the Pune Papal Seminary in India recommended a sweeping program of "Indianization" of the Church, including performing the Hindu ritual of aarti during Mass (a ritual that involves lighting candles and singing), studying Sanskrit and the Vedas, experiencing ashram life, and participating in a satsang (a form of meditation and spiritual study under the guidance of a master.) In part, these practices were justified as a response to criticism that Christianity is hostile to Hindu traditions: "It would definitely put a check on the so-called fundamentalists who keep blaming us for conversions," said Indian Fr. Lionell Mascarenhas.

Archbishop Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, said in a 2006 interview with NCR that Asia can teach the church something about inculturation.

"The Holy Spirit guides us in a particular direction at a particular time, and today we're being led towards inculturation," he said. "In Asian societies, religion is seen as a necessary part of the culture. I believe the West has got to learn to respond to the signs of the times. Change and adaptation is necessary, and maybe the churches of the South, especially in Asia, can offer an example. Today, we try to be open to the Spirit with self-confidence, believing that inculturation is not going to take the church to the ruins."

While few would dispute that point in theory, where the rubber meets the road is how to apply it in practice.
[I should add that in my limited experience -- I spent a lot of time one year at the Jesuit seminary, De Nobili College, right next door to the Papal Atheneum, now known as the Jnanadeep Vidyapeeth -- the Light of Knowledge University -- and in my experience, many Indian Jesuits would nuance the unique nature of Christ's role in salvation to such a degree as to empty it of any serious content. Certainly, one is hard pressed to find a Catholic priest who might suggest that people should convert to Christianity -- that's not a criticism, but an observation. Conversion is a hugely complicated issue, very volatile, and the Church tends to be on the defensive, especially for the excesses of the colonial era. That said, perhaps, things might have gone too far the other way -- the sense I get is that dialogue has completely replaced any sense of proclamation or evangelization. I've also been to Masses where the aarti is used -- I can't for the life of me see what the problem is what that -- where bhajans are sung that sound not very different from what one hears at a katha or a puja and I recall one very eyebrow raising liturgy with an unpublished, unapproved, 1970s experimental Indian anaphora, including phrases lifted directly out of the Upanishads. My question to the Jesuits always has been --- why this insistence on top down inculturation to a very particular kind of Brahmanical Hinduism? Do we want -- like De Nobili -- to have a Catholic clergy that looks like Hindu Brahmins? [There's a whole separate question of the fact that for the most part, Catholic clergy still -- this is changing -- come from the higher castes] Is Hindiusm Brahmanism? What about Islam, which has equal claim of being an Indian religion? What about Dalit and tribal religions? And what about the culture of Latin Christianity that has grown up, on its own -- which is how often inculturation happens -- organically, in the south, or in Goa, or in the tribal areas of Jharkhand? And can't we learn something about inculturation from the Indian Orthodox -- whose liturgies, to my mind, seem incredibly Indian -- both positively (the liturgy) and negatively (with respect to caste?). Lots of questions. But I'm an outsider really. At least in my limited experience of urban Catholicism, the one place I hear nothing about incluturation is from the laity. Long tangent, sorry. I can see why these issues are of such interest to the Holy See.]

Fr. James Martin SJ on Colbert

Defending Mother Teresa on Colbert Report! Go see it!

Go Fr. Martin! (Via dotCommonweal)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Great Paulist Road Trip Redux

Well, I am repeating the Novitiate, so I do have to take this trip again. We're off in the morning to Columbus. On Monday to Chicago, the following Friday to Grand Rapids MI, the following Monday to Toronto and the Thursday after that to Lake George NY for some R&R before returning to DC.

If you're interested in how it went last year, scroll through the archives for September 2006.

A fifth column? Hardly

America's Muslims six years after 9/11. An analysis by Der Spiegel. American exceptionalism again.
It is almost 1 p.m., time for noon prayers, and Abdul Malik Mujahid, 55, is in his office on the second floor of Chicago's Downtown Islamic Center, preparing for his sermon. On his desk are a Koran, a pad of paper and a Blackberry. A telephone rings in the next room as people hurry through the corridors.

Soon Mujahid takes the elevator to the fourth floor, carrying the text of his sermon under his arm. The 200 men waiting for him in the prayer room are dressed in jeans and in suits. They have slipped away from their offices for lunch, removed their shoes and staked out their spots on the carpet. Now they want to hear Mujahid's Friday sermon.

He nods to the congregation. Mujahid is a short, elegant man. His gray beard is carefully trimmed and he has a smooth voice. He turns toward Mecca and recites the Fatiha, the opening Sura in the Koran. Then he quickly gets to his point: "My brothers, we can all contribute to reducing our energy consumption," he says. "That must be your very own jihad, your fight against global warming."
There is now a Muslim member in Congress (aside: one startling number leaped out in the breakdown given of members of Congress in the article: There are 153 Catholics. The largest single group. Really? Would one know otherwise?), a deputy mayor of Los Angeles is Muslim, a councilman from Houston. If there is any real chance for a moderate Islam to develop and grow, I suspect it's in the US.

Some members of the "Army of Mary" excommunicated

It's a Canadian group. First I'm hearing of it. Zenit has the details.

Theologian at Georgetown being investigated

Fr. Peter Phan at Georgetown is, according to this "breaking news" report by John Allen in the NCR, being investigated both by the Vatican and (at the request of the Vaticanb) by the US Bishops. The issues is, as Allen writes, one of the central thrusts of this pontificate: the relationship between Christ, Christianity and the religions of the world.
Both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops are investigating a book by a prominent American Catholic theologian, Vietnam-born Fr. Peter Phan of Georgetown University. The book raises issues about the uniqueness of Christ and the church, issues that were also behind recent censures of other high-profile theologians, as well as a recent Vatican declaration that the fullness of the Christian church resides in Catholicism alone.

The case confirms that no subject is of greater doctrinal concern for church authorities, including Pope Benedict XVI, than what they see as “religious relativism,” meaning the impression that Christ is analogous to other religious figures such as the Buddha, or that Christianity is one valid spiritual path among others.

Critics of writers such as Phan, who offer a positive theological evaluation of non-Christian religions, assert that their work courts confusion on these points, while others believe church authorities are drawing the borders of theological discussion too narrowly.

Phan, a priest of the Dallas diocese, is a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. The book in question is Phan’s 2004 Being Religious Interreligiously, published by Orbis.
Here's a link to a Commonweal article by Fr. Phan that gives a sense of his thought - Praying to the Buddha: Living amid religious pluralism. (It's an interesting article, and I'll probably put down some thoughts later.)

More links and commentary at American Papist (including a response form Sherry Wedell at Intentional Disciples. She's written an interesting piece, to be added to the "to read" list: The Challenge of Independent Christianity.)

[I've just started a second reading of Changing Gods -- I inserted a second reading of Pope Benedict's Truth and Tolerance: Christian Beliefs and World Religion in between -- all this is to help me write a proper response which just might end up getting published in a missionary journal in India. Or, it might not.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lesson from Austria: The Papal liturgies

Sandrom Magister has a detailed analysis of the liturgies during the Papal visit to Austria, focusing on the celebration with youth, the Mass at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna (with a complete Mass by Haydn -- appropriately, the "Mariazeller Messe" -- accompanied by Greogorian Chant) and the remarks made at the monastery of Heiligenkreuz (Holy Cross). Magister sees here a powerful witness and model for the celebration of the Roman Rite. And there's this wonderful quote from the Pope:
"In the beauty of the liturgy, [...] wherever we join in singing, praising, exalting and worshipping God, a little bit of heaven will become present on earth. Truly it would not be presumptuous to say that, in a liturgy completely centred on God, we can see, in its rituals and chant, an image of eternity. [...] In all our efforts on behalf of the liturgy, the determining factor must always be our looking to God. We stand before God – he speaks to us and we speak to him. Whenever in our thinking we are only concerned about making the liturgy attractive, interesting and beautiful, the battle is already lost. Either it is Opus Dei, with God as its specific subject, or it is not. In the light of this, I ask you to celebrate the sacred liturgy with your gaze fixed on God within the communion of saints, the living Church of every time and place, so that it will truly be an expression of the sublime beauty of the God who has called men and women to be his friends."
He also notes that the master of papal ceremonies, Fr. Piero Marini, is to be replaced by Fr. Guido Marini of Genoa, who is "close to his predecessor in name, but to pope Ratzinger in substance."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Some good, life-saving advice

From Salon columnist and pilot Patrick Smith (at his indignant best here about the errors in the coverage of the recent China Airlines 737 incident where a fuel tank was punctured, and burst into flames. I am completely sympathetic to his indignation.) -- read this part. It's true. [And incidentally, why, no matter how many times I may have flown on a particular type of aircraft, I always spend a few minutes going over that little card in the seat-back pocket-in-front-of-me and locate all the exits. As Hainan Airlines titles that card, "Just in case."]
Conventional wisdom holds that airplane crashes are nonsurvivable. I can't tell you how many times I've heard cynical fliers remark on the futility of fastening their seat belts. "After all," the logic goes, "if there's an accident, we're all going to die anyway, right?"

In truth, most accidents have survivors, and relatively few are all-out catastrophes. Thus, a little pre-planning could save your life.

Part of that pre-planning is knowing exactly where the doors are -- all of them, as smoke, fire or debris could render one or more exits unusable. You must also understand that should an evacuation be necessary, you will not be taking your carry-on luggage with you. Doing so could put yourself and others in considerable danger. Video and photos from Okinawa show several fleeing passengers laden with carry-ons. One of the pictures I saw shows a woman, already burdened with two shoulder bags, reaching for a third piece of luggage that she had apparently dropped on the tarmac.

What with the nature of carry-ons these days -- expensive computers, phones and PDAs packed with valuable data -- the temptation to reach for your stuff would be strong. What's the difference, you think, in taking an extra second or two to pull out your laptop? Well, hundreds of people each taking an extra second adds up to a lot of seconds, and if there's a fire encroaching quickly toward thousands of gallons of highly volatile jet fuel, every one of those seconds counts. And although you may be one of the first ones out, you've slowed the channel of escape for those behind you.

This is the reason, by the way, for the litany of prohibitions during taxi, takeoff and landing: Tray tables need to be up, window shades open, laptops and iPods put away. It's not about electronic interference, it's about the need for a speedy egress and situational awareness should anything happen.

Dedication of the Hecker Center for Ministry

The newly opened Hecker Center for Ministry was officially dedicated today at a simpe ceremony presided over by Arhbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington DC. St. Paul's College in DC has had a long history of association with the Archdiocese -- the Paulists were the first order to send students to the newly opened Catholic University of America; Paulist Msgr. Burke was instrumental in founding the National Catholic War Council which eventually became the USCCB (which is right next door). The Hecker Center was created by redisgning two major wings of the college to "enhance a partnership with national Catholic organizations and others located at St. Pual's for this purpose." These include the Canon Law Society of America, the Carmelite Institute, Christian Brothers Conference, Fair Trade Federation, the Paulist Press Newman Bookstore and the United States Catholic Mission Association.

A phalanx of Bishops (in town, many staying at SPC, for the Administrative Commitee Meeting of the USCCB), numerous Paulists (most in collars, a couple of seminarians in the Paulist habit which is slowly making somewhat of a comeback), the President of Trinity University and CUA, and others were present for the occasion. A few photos follow.

A phalanx of Bishops

Archbishop Wuerl delivers the homily

Archbishop Wuerl blessing the Center. The deacon behind him is newly ordained Paulist deacon Rev. Mr. Steven Bell CSP.

I actually don't have any pictures of the Center itself (!) -- however the link above will take you to a page with photos. The following quote from the writings of Fr. Hecker was read at the service:
The light the age requires for its renewal, can only come from the same source, the cultivation of the Holy Spirit in the individual soul. The renewal of the age depends on the renewal of religion. The renewal of religion depends upon the greater effusion of the creative and renewing power of the Holy Spirit. The greater effusion of the Holy Spirit depends on the giving of increased attention of His movements and inspirations of the soul. The radical and adequate remedy for all the evils of our age, and the source of all true progress, consists in increased attention and fidelity to the action of the Holy Spirit in the soul. "Thou shalt send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created: and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth."

Indian bishop defends Mother Teresa's questioned spirituality

From the Bishop of Calcutta.
ndian bishop defends Mother Teresa's questioned spirituality

By Anto Akkara
Kolkata, India, 11 September (ENI)--A media frenzy based on the supposed
spiritual emptiness in the life of Mother Teresa, made public in some of her
recently published letters, derives from a lack of spirituality, says Roman
Catholic Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta.

"Those who are questioning the faith of the Mother have no idea of what is
spiritual life," Sirkar told Ecumenical News International during an interview
in his office on 5 September on the 10th anniversary of the death of Mother

The collection of letters between Mother Teresa and her confessors and superiors
over a period of more than 60 years is contained in a book, "Mother Teresa: Come
Be My Light". The U.S. news magazine Time recently published excerpts from the

The Time report said the letters showed that during the last decades of her
life, Mother Teresa, who was known as "the saint of the gutters" felt no
presence of God.

One letter from 1979 has her writing to a spiritual confidant, "Jesus has a very
special love for you ... as for me, the silence and emptiness is so great that I
look and do not see."

Still, Archbishop Sirkar noted, "The more you move forward in the path to
saintliness or holiness, the more you have to struggle against that which is not
holy." He noted, "Unfortunately, those who have raised the issue have no
understanding of spiritual or sacramental life."

Sirkar added, "Many are weak in their religious life and are not able to grasp
the feelings the Mother has expressed in her letters."

During a memorial Mass on the 10th anniversary of Mother Teresa's death,
Archbishop Sirkar in a homily hailed her "deep faith". He said this enabled the
nun "to dedicate herself to God" and "to give until it hurts" in the service of
the poor and the dying.

Born in Skopje in what is now the Republic of Macedonia, Mother Teresa came to
India in 1929 as a Loreto nun after receiving training in Ireland. She began to
work among the poor, lonely and dying in 1950, and founded the Missionaries of
Charity congregation to serve them.

"The church is not disappointed by these letters at all," asserted Archbishop
"This [controversy] is a creation of the media."

Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa's successor and superior general of the
Missionaries of Charity, which has over 4800 nuns and 700 novices working in 134
countries, told ENI, "This is a trial only few souls go through. It happens when
God enters their hearts in a very powerful way." She said, "The light is so
strong and the human capacity is so less. What happens when you look at the
blazing sun? You are blinded. It is like that." [468 words]

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New Bishop ordained in China

... with the public approval of, it seems, both the PCA and the Holy See. He will serve as an auxilliary in the southern diocese of Guizhou.

And another bishop, of the "underground church" -- dies in custody after two years of solitary confinment.

It's a muddled picture, that's for sure.