Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Beijing Olympics: Excitment and Concern

The Beijing Olympics are right around the corner. It will be interesting to see how Human Rights groups and leaders of faith handle this delicate drama. I keep thinking about China’s unwillingness to use its considerable influence to stop the killing in Darfur or to influence Burma’s polices toward its own people. China’s heavy handed policies in Tibet have also drawn criticism from many around the world.

While I favor a boycott of the Olympics it is clear that will not happen. I am actually not anti-China. China will be one of the most important nations in the world for the remainder of this century. It has a rich and long history and it is a nation of dreams. I also believe sports are far less important than human rights and this summer was an important opportunity to exert pressure on China to be a real leader in the world and not simply an economic power. Bush has made it clear that China is more important than the suffering of the people of Darfur, Burma and Tibet.

Still, life is grey not black and white. I am excited about the pageantry of the Olympics and the pure amazement of world class athletes. I also love the symbolism of countries competing with one another in peaceful ways.

So what messages are coming out of China at this time? It is a mixed result. China is proud and has tried to control the news coming out of the earthquake stricken provinces. That reminds me of our reluctance to initially accept international help after Katrina.

Two priests outside of Beijing who are members of the “underground Catholic Church” or the church in compliance with the Vatican are reported missing. One hopes they are simply being detained until after the Games. That is not OK but it is better than other possible scenarios.

The Vatican and China are hardly one dimensional in their developing relationship. Talks, overtures and Catholic enthusiasm to aid earthquake victims have marked a slow but steady improvement in Vatican-China relations.

Amnesty International’s newest report states that human rights violations have actually increased in China. Congress has called on President Bush to address Human Rights with the Chinese when he attends the Games. In reality I don’t know too many nations that can go to the Games without bringing with them a recent history of Human Rights violations. The War on Terror has resulted in many nations participating in behaviors they would not have imagined only ten years ago. I am not minimizing China’s record, I am simply not trying to make the rest of us look like we are pure as the driven snow, we are not.

So what will I do during the Games? I will probably watch commentaries on the political scene in China. I may watch some of the Olympics. I will certainly pray for China, the athletes and a safe Olympics. I will stand in wonder of what the human body can do. I will give thanks for the dream of what the Olympics are supposed to be.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Religious Intolerance in South Asia

Religious intolerance comes in many forms. We saw it as Mitt Romney ran for president and people worried about having a Mormon for president instead of a “real Christian”. We saw in our eagerness to focus on the more sensational sermons coming out of Obama’s church while ignoring the very conventional messages that expressed the mission and values of that church. We saw it in Ireland and clearly we see it in Israel.

This past month has given us a new area to focus on, India and the Himalaya states. In Nepal the Salesian priest, Father John Prakash was killed. He was assassinated by “Nepal Defense Army”. This is a militant group that is attempted to make Nepal a Hindu State. Until recently the Himalayan Kingdom (just recently a secular republic) was the only Hindu nation in the world.

The priest was killed on the 1st of July. If the goal was to stifle interfaith contact it failed. His memorial service was an interfaith service. He was remembered as a person who was committed to Nepal for the past 10 years. He encouraged everyone to be the best they were. This compassionate man was mourned.

Across the border in neighboring India intolerance was also showing its ugly head. 22 bombs exploded in the city of Ahmadabad. 42 people were killed. Additional bombs were found in the cities of Bangalore and Surat. A militant Islamic group has claimed responsibility for the bombings and carnage.

In the state of Orissa Hindu extremists have again attacked Catholic Indians. This is a reoccurring problem in this area. Since the beginning of the year 95 churches have been destroyed as well as an additional 730 homes. The Catholic Bishops Conference has called on the government to step up its protection of all of its citizens.

So one need not look only to the Middle East or Northern Africa for religious intolerance and escalating violence. The question is what can be done to curb the influence of the few who are willing to kill and terrorize to promote their worldview? Again, dialogue and prayer, active and sustained are needed.

Indian Catholic Mass

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rome and the Russian Orthodox Church

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican are in dialogue. The churches have been split since the Schism of 1054 between Rome and the Orthodox Churches of the East.

The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexiy II reported at the Council of Bishops that he and Pope Benedict XVI have been exploring a number of shared and important issues. However, while dialogue is a positive step suspicion is strong. The Russian Church believes Rome is trying to proselyte in Russia. The Vatican states it is only trying to minister to Catholics already there and not trying to infringe on the Russian Orthodox Churches territory.

The President of Belarus has invited the Pope to a State visit. This would place the Holy Father in the shadow of Russia and clearly in Orthodox territory. Pope Benedict has yet to decide if he will accept the invitation. However, dialogue by itself is a significant improvement. Rome and the other Orthodox Churches have been in dialogue for a number of years. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I exchanged visits with the Pope and expressed warm regard for the Holy Father. He also has expressed concern about the slowness of warming of relationships between the Latin Church and the Russian Church.

This may be the beginning of an historic thaw in relationships between two of the largest bodies of Christians in the world. However it will not happen over night. The Russian Church takes its concerns about Catholic activity in Russia seriously. Further, there are a number of conservative bishops who look at any conversation with other Christian groups as suspect. Both churches could benefit from our prayers for a softening of hearts and a growing focus on hospitality.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A "New" Catholic Church in Venezuela?

So, there is a new Catholic Church? Supporters of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela would like us to think so. In fact a number of Catholic priests and ministers from various Protestant denominations have formed a “reform” Catholic Church. It mimics many of the “revolutionary” ideas of the President of Venezuela.

Archbishop Roberto Luckert Leon of Coro has made the Catholic Churches position very clear. None of the sacraments of this “new’ church are legitimate, the liturgies are not legitimate, this is not part of the Catholic Church nor does it represents a splintering of the Catholic church.

Sounds to me as if a President who can not manipulate the Church is deciding to simply get rid of it. Sounds like a desperate act from an increasingly desperate man.

The Catholic Church in Kenya

Religious leaders are still looking at what went wrong in Kenya after the last election. The escalation of violence that left hundreds dead and thousands homeless is too recent to be ignored. In a land marked by tribal and ethnic loyalties the religious leaders are not looking to blame but rather to find a new course, to reconcile.

Leaders of every major faith, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and Muslim have come together to respond to the humanitarian crisis. Initially the groups had worked on rescue missions. Now they are working on coordinating services to speed up resettlement, to rebuild where possible and to move toward real reconciliation and not simply the cessation of hostilities.

The faith communities are working with one another. They are also working with the Red Cross and a variety of NGOs.

Kenya has also experienced violence in its schools including arson. In a move aimed at having a long-term effect on the character of the nation the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church of Kenya have called for compulsory religious education in schools. The goal is to help students develop a personal ethic or as we would say, virtues.

The real challenge will be if all of these faith communities can work with one another come the next election or the next crisis.

The Lord Almighty-Kenyan Version

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Very Special Day in the Summit City

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

History Center

Grand Wayne Convention Center

Allen County Public Library

Allen County Public Library

Well today was an extraordinary day that I never would have anticipated. Cathi and I were watching our great-great niece and nephew for the day, ages three and five. It was hot, humid and we didn’t know what to do.

I suggested we go to the downtown library. It is expanded and just reopened last year. The kid’s room is fantastic. We played, read, did arts and crafts and toured the museum and its art gallery.

Just getting to the library was fun. We parked a half a block from Harrison Square project. That is the baseball stadium, condominiums and hotel project that is suppose to anchor and revitalize our downtown. Well we parked near it and watched it begin to take identifiable form. Further down the street were the Grand Wayne Center and the Embassy Theater, both of which will make the whole area a cultural and entertainment hub.

After we checked out our books we drove to a McDonald's for food. We don’t normally like fast food but we wanted air conditioning and a play area for the kids. It was just a nice break.

After that we went to the History Center. This was the original Town Hall. It is a beautiful building that serves as our History Museum. The kids had a great time playing with trains, locking themselves up in jail, using typewriters and interacting with the exhibits.

Finally we thought we were on our way home. However he drove past the Botanical Gardens. These are three connected domes covered in shrubbery. They are downtown across from the Cathedral and next to the Embassy. Our nephew knows the place well. So, we ended up there. The kids loved the waterfall, the rain forest, the desert, the fish and the outside gardens. When we left we decided to walk across the street to show them the inside of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, my church. As I opened the huge doors I almost ran over the bride waiting for her wedding! They smiled and asked us to use the side door and have the kids watch the wedding procession. So we did. The bride maids actually had beautiful red gowns. The bride looked like a princess with a long, long train on her dress. The music was wonderful and the kids loved seeing a fairy tale right in front of them.

Finally we went home, did some arts and crafts and I then drove the kids to their house. For not knowing what we were going to do it really was an extraordinary day!

Worship Service at the Old Fort

It has been a very busy time for downtown Fort Wayne. Late spring and early summer is a time of festivals. We have had a Fiesta, Greek Fest, German Fest, Pride Fest and tonight there is an Island Fest complete with a beach and reggae music.

However, the biggest event by far is the Three Rivers Festival. It lasts nine days. It has carnival rides, a huge parade, and events all over the city. Cathi and our niece Zoƫ entered an intergenerational craft show at the Community Center. Our school had an award winning float (antique circus wagon pulled by horses). The school also had an art showing and a special planetarium show for the community. Events include music, movies, art shows, and of course food.

I was especially excited to see that the First Baptist Church of Fort Wayne was having a worship service at Historic Fort Wayne (our fort). This was a re-enactment of an 1820 worship service. Turns out that on May 15th 1820 the Rev. Isaac McCoy, his wife and children arrived in Fort Wayne. At that time the city was just a frontier town. On May 15th he also preached his first sermon in town. On June 18th he baptized Pe-Me-Sah-Quah who was the grand daughter of Chief Little Turtle. The churches charter members included Indians and settlers. The service this day was at the fort because he also used the decommissioned fort of his day.

The preacher, the Rev. George B. Scripture was in an impressive period costume. He looked like a cross between a parson and a riverboat gambler. He stood out of the sun framed by the fort doorway and was very impressive with his white hair and strong voice.

Music was provided by the Towpath Players. They played hand harps, dulcimers and tin whistles and they were wonderful.

We sat around the flag pole in the center of the fort. To one side the horses neighed and stomped their hooves. Above us on the roof of the fort a dove landed and it seemed so appropriate for the setting. The symbol of peace landed on a structure for war. Many of the church members were also dressed in historical costumes.

The fort also had en-actors from Wisconsin, Chicago and Nevada. Soldiers and settles, traders and Indians wondered about as we participated in our worship service.

Outside the fort the blacksmith shop was busy. A Miami Indian showed off his goods, a Shawnee rode around on a horse. Infantry shoot of their rifles and the cannon was shot across the river. It was quite a setting for church!

The service was simple and touching. The music was great. We all sang and the Rev. preached about “God’s Formula for Real Happiness”. Right across the river carnival rides were going, food was being served and people were having a fun time. We sat and worshiped as the birds sang and the sky became deep blue. Spending time with our Baptist brothers and sisters as they mark an important time in their local history proved to be a great way to spend a Sunday morning in Fort Wayne.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Looking for an Answer

OK folks, help me with my ignorance! During the Vigil Service at WYD Pope Benedict XVI held up a monstrance before the crowd. While holding the monstrance his hands were covered with a shawl for the occasion. I know that is the norm, it is required. However, the deacon who handed him the monstrance picked it up with his bare hands. Why the inconsistency? I am not saying it is wrong, I am saying I don't understand. So, someone out there, talk to me!
Thanks, Carl

Sunday, July 20, 2008

WYD: Farwell Sydney and Hello Madrid

Well, WYD 2008 is over. Three years of planning, praying, preparing for and then a short week of memories. However, these are the memories that last a life time, that change a life, that have the power to alter many lives.

The flags of over a hundred nations, the dress and languages of the world, the sacred liturgical dance of the aborigines of Australia and the people of Fiji and other nations, the music and the unity, oh the unity. All of this will be remembered by those who attended and those who observed.

What will also be remembered is a Pope who addresses difficult issues directly: clergy sexual abuse, climate change, intolerance, poverty, all these issues were met head on by the Successor of Peter.

However, when the feast of stimuli is put aside, when the issues of the day are placed in context (as important as they truly are) what will stand out most is the gift of the Holy Spirit, unity. 600,000 people at the Final Mass. 600,000 pilgrims touched, moved, and now ready to share the Good News with the world. World Youth Day is not a concert pretending to be a Praise and Worship service. It is not an event disconnected from the rest of the Church. It is a well-planned, prayed over, integrative occurrence that connects peoples of various generations, nations, cultures and walks of life with one another to better serve the Church. That is worth celebrating.

I spent the week following two major events, the Global Interfaith Conference in Madrid Spain hosted by the King of Saudi Arabia and WYD in Sydney Australia. I founded it meaningful, powerful that these two events occurred at the same time and I referred to it as an “Axis of Hope”. When Pope Benedict XVI met with over 40 religious leaders of other faiths I made the connection to the goals of King Abdullah. Imagine my surprise last night as I was watching the Final Mass of WYD 2008 and the Pope announced his pick for the 2011 World Youth Day, yep, Madrid Spain! The Axis of Hope continues.
Peace and all good,

Final Mass: WYD 2008

WYD 2008: Building Bridges Between Faiths

WYD 2008 - The Pope invites religious leaders to unite

Well I started by talking about the Interfaith Conference in Madrid Spain and now find myself talking about dialogue between faiths on the other side of the world. The Pope met with leaders of world faiths in Sydney Australia. It is the same type of meeting he held in the U.S. The consistency is important. It emphasizes the Churches commitment to meet and talk honestly and in love with members of other faiths.

The sites of these visits are important. The Holy Father visited the World Trade Center/Ground Zero site while in New York. He met with leaders of Judaism, Islam and other faiths. A similar meeting in the South Pacific is important. Fanatical Islam and Christianity are clashing in Indonesia, the Philippines, and East Timor. Dialog is important if we are to avoid labeling people two dimensionally.

The other interesting thing to come out of this WYD is the idea that interfaith dialogue cannot be reserved for only large events and heads of state or leaders of faith. It must happen here, there, everywhere. It must happen between you and me. We must begin to view the other inhabitants of this planet as they really are, our brothers and sisters. However, for these meetings to be of value we must all know our faiths and be able to separate facts from our opinions. Not an easy task, just an important one.

WYD 2008 - Interreligious dialogue as a way of life

Saturday, July 19, 2008

WYD, Insomnia and the Evening Vigil

Evening Vigil with The Holy Father
Well, I was feeling a little under the weather. That leads to insomnia. At 3:00 a.m. I was restless, at 4 a.m. I was frustrated. At 5 a.m. I gave it up, got up, went downstairs and turned on the tele. And there it was, the Evening Vigil of World Youth Day.

I didn’t get downstairs in time to see the first young person have their candle lit by the Pope and then begin the process of sharing that flame with the enormous crowd. By the time I was downstairs there was an ocean of candles bobbing in the early Australian evening.

Young people from around the world walked up the ziggurat-like ramp to address the crowd and the Holy Father. There was a Dutch woman in traditional dress, a man from Chile, a man from Sri Lanka and a man from Thailand. They all dressed in traditional garb and spoke in their native languages. The young woman from Germany brought a bright smile to the Pope’s face.

After each short address the Pope would speak on one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then the orchestra, accompanied by a magnificent choir would sing the “Hallelujahs”. The crowd would accompany the choir and the candles would sway back and forth. As the night grew on it became darker. During readings the flames dancing in the crowd looked like a galaxy. During the singing the candles looked like fluorescent algae bobbing and floating on the surface of the ocean. Either way one was aware of a sense of hundred of thousands of individuals, independent and yet connected.

One of the young speakers was a deaf woman who spoke in sign. She talked about how her deafness was a gift, it allowed her to connect with others that society overlooks. I found myself wondering how many times I mistook gifts as burdens. I am a male and I do tend to view whining as my birth right. Occasionally I find the hand I have been dealt a gift but that is honestly the exception to the rule. Perhaps I need to begin to reevaluate this approach.

After the readings and the identification of the gifts of the Holy Spirit the Pope gave his homily. It was on the Holy Spirit. His Holiness stated that we can tell when the Holy Spirit is present by the unity that comes about. The Pope spoke of our willingness to try to go out on our own, to disconnect ourselves or aspects of ourselves from others. This tendency fractures us from the Body. The Holy Spirit brings us together and is Unity. As he spoke the candles bounced and it was clear these individuals were unified. People from all over the world, every race, language group, walk of life were united.

Young people from around the world came up on stage. This select and yet representative group of folks were people who would be Confirmed the following day. Kneeling beside the Holy Father they participated in a period of Eucharistic Adoration. They must have known just how special this moment was in their lives. Then the Pope gave a three part Benediction to the crowd and the service ended.

This was hardly the end of the evening for most of these young folks. Tents were set up for Eucharist Adoration. More tents were set up for Reconciliation. Community, food, laughter and friendship were sure to mark the evening.

However, as it was getting darker in Sydney it was getting lighter in Fort Wayne. So I took my dog to the park and then stopped at Burger King for a little unhealthy breakfast. I smiled knowing that even during my mundane activities I was connected to the youth in Australia just as they were connected to the larger Universal Church and the Body of Christ.

So, insomnia, perhaps it is a gift.

WYD Opening Mass

Friday, July 18, 2008

Madrid Interfaith Conference Concludes, Hope Continues

300 religious leaders of the world, Hindu, Islamic, Jews, Christians, Shinto, and Confucians concluded their interfaith conference today. For three days they all meet in Madrid Spain, guests of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The conference reflects the current world situation. Terrorism, intolerance and war to stop violence are tearing allies apart, maiming innocent victims and making the followers of intolerance stronger. The possibility of the world dissolving into a full culture war becomes more real everyday. Fear spawns a need for simple answers where none exist. So the conference was timely.

The conference called on the U.N. to institute an on-going dialogue. The Madrid Declaration acknowledges the unity of human kind. Calls for greater dialogue, greater respect and defines terrorism as a world phenomena. It calls for a refined definition of terrorism and a reasonable and international plan to cooperatively combat terrorism. Finally it calls for protection of the environment.

Our faith is one that demands that we love, demands that we forgive, demands that we reach out to our enemies and forbids us to judge. Dialogue, sounds like something we can all live with.

WYD, Father Stan and Suffering

Fr. Stan Fortuna - Everybody Got 2 Suffer

While watching the World Youth Day 2008 specials I came across Father Stan Fortuna. No surprise there. If there are young people, if there are Catholics, if there is praise and worship than this Franciscan will be there.

For me he is a most unlikely priest. I don’t expect to see brothers playing jazz, I don’t expect to hear Fathers rapping. But there he is over and over again being cooler than cool. But it is not an act and the rap is not the message, it is simply one of many mediums of expressing the message of Love.

I am excited to see him. He will be performing at the University of Saint Francis at the end of September. I especially like hearing his, “Everybody Got 2 Suffer”. The topic of suffering came up over and over again in my Pastoral Counseling classes. It is a focus of Disaster Mental Health. My Buddhist Monk friends in Fort Wayne talk about suffering constantly. All faiths struggle to make sense out of suffering. Why does a loving God allow it? What function does it serve? How can we endure it? For the Christian, how can I offer it up?

So, I love the video even if usually prefer listening to Sinatra to listening to rap.

WYD 2008: Images and Thoughts

"Sydney: Witness the Spirit" WYD08

Watching WYD 2008 is almost stimuli overload. So much to hear, to see and to imagine. I would love to be there, if I was younger and had more energy. How does the Holy Father keep going? I get tired just watching him!

His message is similar to his message in the United States, love, reconcile, take responsibility and take care of your world. However, it is the faces of the pilgrims that fascinate me. Folks from all over the globe who took years preparing for this event. People who gather together with strangers and leave with new friends. People forever transformed.

The other thing that fascinates me is all of the symbols and rituals, beside liturgy, that touch people in such powerful ways. When I first watched the video on the WYD Cross and Icon I found myself thinking about our Jubilee Cross in our diocese. When I saw the Icon I thought of the icon I bought at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. I though of my love of icons, of how they are made, their history, their veneration and their power. I appreciate the simplicity of some Protestant churches but I would miss the symbols that serve as gateways or focal points of prayer.

Yep, World Youth Day, I love it.

WYD08 - Journey of Cross & Icon

An Axis of Hope?

World Youth Day 2008

What a week for the world. Every week we are confronted with another species that is endangered due to global warming. Every week we learn of the cost of war and violence, of human rights violations, of the excesses of greed and pride. This week is different.

This week, from two sides of the planet we heard words of hope, of reconciliation, of faith.

In Madrid Spain King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosted a three day Global Interfaith Conference. It is a beginning for a series of dialogues between faiths. The goal is not some warmed over, watered down agreement that we all can agree on such as liking rainbows and hugs. Rather it is an honest assessment of what the faiths of the world hold in common and where they differ. It is a call for real understanding, a call for authentic faith in action. The hope is that such a dialogue will free people of faith from confusing fanaticism and intolerance with the teachings of their faiths. The hope is greater peace, at home, in our families, our communities and between nations. We shall see.

On the other side of the planet the Holy Father arrived in Australia for World Youth Day 2008. Last night I watched him arrive in Sydney Harbor. I watched his ship sail into Barangaroo. The scene was wonderful. Here was the Successor of Peter surrounded not by cardinals and bishops but by youth from around the world. The poorest of nations found ways to send these young pilgrims to WYD. I watched him on the deck of the ship surrounded from youth from Africa, Oceania, the Pacific Rim, Europe and the Americas. It was a clear reflection of the Universal Church.

I watched as the Holy Father praised Australia for its act of reconciliation toward the aboriginal peoples of the nation. I watched as the Pope called for believers to work for peace and to care for the environment. I look forward to following WYD as it promises to inspire a new generation of Christians to live in love and peace with a world that needs to be loved.

So, it has been a good week. While these two events are monumental and will be markers in history I find myself wondering how many smaller markers, acts of hope occur everyday that are over looked. I find myself wondering how many miracles everyday go unnoticed.

Franciscans WYD

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Preparing for THE Encounter

Bishop Gabino Miranda Melgarejo of Peru spoke at a Hispanic Eucharistic Conference in Atlanta Georgia. What he said had the impact of a “grandmother speech”. In other words, it just made good common sense.The bishop spoke of the need for folks to attend church more than the minimum of one time a week. To get the most of this encounter with the ‘Body of Christ and the Real Presence, to get nourished required some preparation.

The bishop stated that to get the most out of Mass we need to be prepared internally and eternally. We need to dress the part, we need to take time to be with God, to be spiritually ready for a meaningful encounter. His examples were basic and to the point. If we were going to a party we would spend time on our appearance, so why not for an encounter with God and His Church?

Part of being prepared is to understand and pay attention to all of the outward symbols of the Mass. That includes the vestments of the priests, the colors, songs and special additions to the church. It means appreciating 20 centuries of liturgy.

I enjoyed reading about the conference. It made sense and now I have to put my jeans away and find something else to wear to church!

Atlanta Eucharistic Congress 2008

Friday, July 11, 2008

Interfaith Conference in Madrid

I know the Beijing Olympics is right around the corner. However, that is hardly the only important international event of the summer. Come 16 July there will be an interfaith conference in Madrid Spain. The conference is hosted by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The fact that the ruler of a nation associated with the Wahhabism School of Sunni Islam, the nation that is the birthplace of Islam and the center of the faith cannot be stressed enough.This is an important conference and an important step in a series of steps toward greater dialog and closer relations between faith communities. Spain seems a very wise choice since it is a bridge between the Christian culture of Europe and the Islamic culture of northern Africa.

The conference will bring together members of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The purpose of the conference is to stress the core beliefs the world religions hold in common. The king believes that if members of each faith actually stay true to the core values of their faiths then peace may be achieved, families strengthened and a cultural war avoided.

The conference will bring together leaders in a variety of fields or disciplines. That includes theologians, political scientists, political leaders, behavioral scientists and advocates for human rights.

The Vatican is not neutral in this endeavor. Recognizing the importance of the conference the Vatican is dispatching its top leader in interfaith dialog, Cardinal Tauran.

Israeli Rabbi David Rosen, the president of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations will be attending the conference. In fact the conference will have approximately 200 attendees from many faiths and nations. It is planned as only one of a series of conferences to promote interfaith cooperation and dialogue.

This conference is too important to be ignored or viewed simply as a curiosity. The world is hemorrhaging. The cries of crisis are all too common. From religious conflicts to human rights violations to a planet facing an ecological disaster the world needs for its leaders to be able to talk and to listen to one another. If our religious leaders cannot do this then how can we expect our secular leaders to talk to one another in peace and with respect? We must pray for their success no matter how long it may take.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Year of Saint Paul

Saint Paul the Apostle Rome Italy

The Feast Day of Peter and Paul
marked the beginning of the Year of St. Paul. Pope Benedict declared the year to mark the 2000 anniversary of the apostle’s birth. I look forward to a year of focusing on this key person in the development of our faith.

He is a lightening rod of controversy. Some of that controversy is of his own making. He was a man of strong conviction and did not always express those convictions diplomatically. He was also a sophisticated writer and orator. However, much of the controversy appears to be our habit of interpreting the words and actions of a person from 2000 years ago through the cultural prism of today.

So it is easy to attack this saint as being anti women. However that requires that one ignore his writings to women deacons and female leaders in the Roman Christian community. It also requires one to ignore that he demands that husband treat their wives with respect.

It is easy to point out his condemnation of homosexuality. However, a fuller reading would reveal he condemns all hedonistic pleasures of the flesh that are not focused on love and sacrifice.

One can point out he advocated for celibacy and almost sounded anti flesh, as if he hated this body. However, a more balanced view would be that he called out for balance, between the spirit and the body.

Some Christian denominations go in the other direction. Their branch of Christianity is almost exclusively Pauline. This reflects that he is the most extensive contributor to the Christian Scriptures. I believe St. Paul would either be embarrassed or angered at such a development because his writings, his focus was always on Jesus.

Last week I attended Mass at a different church. The priest stated that he looked forward to the year so he could learn more about the saint. The priest stated that while the Letters of Saint Paul were read each week during liturgy he rarely addressed the writings in his homily. He stated that was because he found the writings too philosophical and abstract and he hoped this year would change that for him.

I was surprised. I found myself thinking if he found Paul challenging how did he ever get through the writings of St. John? However, I also found his honesty refreshing and I suspect he connected with a number of his congregates who shared his experience.

I love the writings of St. Paul. I don’t believe the writings of one of the core leaders of the Ancient Church should be an easy read. However, I find his readings grounded in love. I find his writings to be some of the most beautiful writings in Scripture. I believe it is important to have a model of such a strong man who can also express such tender feelings.

1 Corinthians 13:4: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant…”

So I look forward to learning as the world celebrates this Year of St. Paul. I look forward to Turkish Catholics as they mark this year in the land of St Paul. I look forward as Churches around the world study the works of this crucial early leader and saint.

Marking the Beginning of the Year of St. Paul in Singapore

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Acts of Love Between Brothers

OK, admittedly I write a lot about faith communities attacking one another. Hopefully I make clear distinctions between members of faith trying to live loving lives and the fanatics found in all faiths that hurt in the name of a loving God. So how are people of faith suppose to act? How can we tell them from others? Well, we refer to the Rule of Rules or the Golden Rule. However, the concept is known the world over:

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do naught to others that which if done to thee would cause pain.

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow men. That is the entire law, the rest is commentary.

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

Buddhism: hurt not others with that which pains yourself.

Or, as we know it, taught by THE Teacher, Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you.

So, where is the example? In London. St. Alban’s Church was robbed of 600 pounds collected for Christian Aid. The elders of the nearby Mosque heard this news and decided not to simply stand by. A collection was taken of the members and the money collected was given to Father Milnes. This was not an act of political expediency, trying to sway public opinion. It was far simpler and far better. A Mosque leader stated, “We are friends and neighbors and we look after each another.”

That is how we are suppose to treat one another.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Historic Fort Wayne

I tend to write about serious stuff, some stuff is just plain ole depressing. But that is not how I approach life. There is just too much goodness in creation to ignore, besides, who would want to?

Our small city is just an example of a place generous in things to do, see and appreciate.

You all know I walk my dog multiple times a day. My preference is next to one of our three rivers. My dog’s favorite walk is at Headwaters Park, especially by the Historic Old Fort.

Well, this has been a great spring and summer to walk by the Fort. In May there was a school day in which "soldiers" demonstrated life in Fort Wayne during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The uniforms and actors were great.

On one side of you is the fort, next to you the river. Across the river is the park which is full of trees, fountains, statues and pavilions. Beyond the park is downtown. It is a wonderful setting.

In the coming weeks we will be celebrating Three Rivers Festival. The fort will be open and reenacting the War of 1812 and the Civil War. It is wonderful to walk around the park and realize this is the site of the Miami Nation, five different forts, growing industry, professional baseball, a shanty town during the Great Depression and the Great Flood that occasioned President Reagan’s visit to our city.

So yep, there is a lot of depressing stuff in the world and it cannot be ignored. But to deal with anything you have to refuel yourself. The Desert Fathers had, well, desert spirituality. The early Franciscans had mountain spirituality. Me, I guess I have river spirituality and I love it.

Peace-making: Save Iraqi Christians and CSI

Persecution of Iraqi Christians

After writing about the plight of Christians in Iraq I received an e-mail from Save Iraqi Christians. This is a compelling site. It describes the situation in Iraq but also identifies supporters of the Iraqi Christian community around the world. These are supporters of many faiths. Faced with a situation that is heartbreaking and should be of interest to all people of faith the site offers hope. If you believe that “with God all things are possible” and you have faith like a mustard seed, then the site gives you the “what”. The “what” is what to do besides feeling depressed. The “what” is what the world can do, the nation can do, what you and I can do to save this historically important community, a member of our Christian family, from imminent extinction.

So, please take time to visit the site, explore it and then if you feel so moved, at the very least sign the petition.

The site also introduced me to CSI (no, not the television show!). CSI or Christian Solidarity International is a Christian human rights organization for religious liberty helping victims of religious repression, victimized children and victims of disaster. The organization was founded in 1977 in Switzerland. According to the site, CSI's primary objective is worldwide respect for the God-given right of every human being to choose his or her faith and to practice it, as stipulated in Art. 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The organization offers Christians ample opportunities to help our brothers and sisters in need. Petitions addressing Sudanese Slavery and then support for newly freed slaves may be found on the site. Egyptian persecution of Christians and of course the plight of Iraqi Christians may also be found by visiting their website.

So, if you are looking for tangible, concrete ways to support our modern martyrs, guidance for addressing our leaders or projects and prayer lists for your local communities to participate in visit Save Iraqi Christians or CSI.

Peace and all good,

The (Ignored) Extermination of Iraqi Christians

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Iraqi Christians Need Our Help Now

What will we say when we meet St. Thomas the Apostle? What will we tell him about his legacy, the Eastern Churches of Iraq? For 2000 years the Christians of this nation survived persecution, changing empires, Islamic Dynasties and Western Colonialism. And now, in a matter of seven years they face extinction, extinction.

These are the Chaldean (Catholic) Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, and the Assyrian Church of the East. Their liturgies are in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Twenty years ago there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. After the Gulf War their numbers dropped to 800,000. Today there are perhaps 400,000 left in the nation. The exodus of refugees is estimated to be 2,000 a day.

Iraq is a nation of modern martyrs. Persecution against the Christian minority is pronounced and effective. Baghdad will soon be empty of Christians, this was a center of Iraqi Christians. Where the Christians go, to Nineveh, Mosul, Kurd territories they are caught in the middle of conflict. In a nation of competing interests and forces they are a people without a militia and without powerful allies. Of the Western nations only Germany has publicly spoke of the plight of these ancient Christians and only the Pope has called out for an end to the violence against these people.

It is time to demand our leaders take responsibility for this situation thy helped create. It time we called for financial support, prayer support and material support for these people. They need their own police force, they need infrastructure, health care, educational systems. They need so much of what has been taken from them over the last 20 years and especially the last seven years. Without such assistance this culture is doomed to extinction in a very short period of time.

So, what will we say to St. Thomas when we meet him?

Iraqi Christians Assyrian Chaldean Syrian

Mugabe, the "Election" and the Church

The election and then run-off election for President of Zimbabwe has been a sad affair. The fact that “President” Mugabe had his opponent arrested illustrates how this election is pure folly. His opponent was released but says he was beaten and he dropped out of the race. The result, an unopposed Mugabe, who clearly lost the initial election, is now declared the winner. The nation still faces economic disaster. Fear and oppression are still the pillars of governance and a nation continues to suffer.

Mugabe counts himself a faithful Catholic. The church/es of Zimbabwe have a complicated relationship with this regime. He was initially supported by many in faith communities because they wanted an end to the repressive and racist Smith Regime. However, over the years Mugabe’s government has become increasingly divisive, oppressive and blatantly violates the human rights of its citizens. Today his support in the faith communities of the nation is not solid.

Traditional leaders have voiced their support of his call for dialog and congratulated him on his re-election. One wonders what will happen to these Traditional Leaders who have failed to lead when their people needed them most. This regime is doomed. Mugabe is an old man. He will either die in the next few years or the leaders of his party will recognize they have lost the support of the nation and they will desert him. Either way the government and policies these “Leaders” support will only be around for a limited time and the people will remember how the Traditional Leaders failed them.

Church leaders are calling for reconciliation and the support of the world. Priests have been attacked and are afraid to travel. One Catholic Church has been burnt. The Bishop of South Africa has called on all African Nations to reject Mugabe as the elected leader of Zimbabwe.

It is a dangerous time to live in Zimbabwe. A people that have known too much suffering continues to try to survive under the heel of this dictator and his sham election. The question is, will the neighboring nations have the moral fortitude to call for Mugabe to step down? At the very least our prayers are required.

Zimbabwe Vote Rigging

Moral Theology, Flooding, Fires and Festivals: I'm Back

When a Creek Becomes a river: Flooding in Indiana

Well it has been over a month since my last blog. I don’t usually take such long breaks. Usually my breaks are in terms of hours or most a few days. However, it has been a challenging summer. I was teaching a course two nights a week. I had not taught that course before so there was prep time. The bigger challenge is the other two nights a week I was taking Moral Theology.

Now that was a challenge. We read about Pauline Moral Theology, about the Patristic view of Moral Theology, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics, the Nomalists, Trent, Casuistry and Vatican I and II. All of this while each student was responsible for leading two discussions and completing and presenting a term project.

My final project was on the Catholic position on torture. I will write about that in the coming weeks.

Now I know all you other students are thinking, “Oh, poor baby had to read and do some homework!” I’m just saying I didn’t blog because I had to DO my homework. Well, the term is over and I’m back.

I don’t even know where I will focus in the coming days. So much has occurred while I was tending to my own garden. The disaster situations in China and Burma are still just that. Kenya struggles with healing. Zimbabwe is an insult to the democratic process, the world tries to support the opposition but it is not easy.

I have been called by the American Red Cross to respond to numerous disasters but cannot at this time. Tornadoes and flooding have ravaged the center of the nation while the West is dealing with non-stop Wildfires.

Back home in Indiana we have had Greek Fest, German Fest (of which the Catholic community plays a significant role), Fiesta, more activities at the Old Fort and we are preparing for the Three Rivers Festival. The center of the state is under water from flooding, our neighbors to the West are dealing with flooding from the Mississippi River.

Even closer to home, our fraternity of the Secular Franciscans is adjusting to change. We have had elections. Our past leaders look rested and happy, our new leaders look excited. I am in the enviable position of being a newbie so I don’t have to worry about being responsible for anything, just taking it all in and say “thank you”, so “thank you”.

So, yep there is plenty to write about. The challenge for now is to focus, focus. So I will do the only sane thing, I will go walk my dog by one of our rivers.

The Flood of 08: Columbus Indiana