Friday, February 29, 2008

Chaldean Archbishop Kidnapped in Iraq

Aramaic Christians
Well it has happened again. The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul Iraq has been kidnapped at gun point. He had finished Mass and as he left the church he was taken. Three people were killed in the kidnapping.

Pope Benedict XVI asked that the church, “ unite in fervent prayer so that reason and humanity prevail among the authors of the kidnapping, and that Monsignor Rahho is returned quickly to the care of his flock,".

Attacks against Chaldean Christians have increased in the last year. In fact the large percentage of the Iraqi refugees are from the small Chaldean Christian minority. Religious leaders, churches, shops have all been targeted.

However this war turns out, whatever shape Iraq takes it is clear this war has been a disaster for the native Christian population. The Christian populations in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt are also experiencing persecution. However, it is only in Iraq that America has practical influence and that has not made a difference. The number of martyrs and refugees continue to grow. The Christian population in Iraq continues to decline. And now there are three more martyrs and the fate of the Archbishop is unknown. Let us heed the pope’s request.

Persecution of Christians in Iraq

Monday, February 25, 2008

Obama Photo: Reason to Fear?

I am not making an endorsement for any primary candidate. I am simply responding to the photo of Barack Obama in African garb. I do not understand the reason for sending out this photo. Is this supposed to frighten Americans? Is this supposed to make Americans fear Obama is not “American-enough?” If we fall for that, if we vote out of fear, than we should be ashamed. Vote for whoever you want to vote for because they have a record and a platform you believe in. Don’t vote one way or another because of this photograph.

I like the photo. We need bridges to the Islamic community. We need bridges to Africa. Here is a Christian, an active, church-going Christian with Muslim relatives. Here is a person who had a mother from Kansas, a father from Kenya (his grandmother is still in Kenya) and a step-father from Indonesia. Here is a person who lived in Hawaii, Indonesia, New York and Chicago.

This is a guy who can see subtleties and does not revert to black and white thinking. He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He is a lecturer at the University of Chicago.

I hope the photograph does not frighten Americans because I think for a great deal of the world the photo is probably reassuring.

When we see Presidents with Indian headdresses on we do not assume they are members of the American Indian Movement. We recognize a photo-op when we see it and we know it honors the owners of the culture being highlighted.

So vote for whoever you want to vote for. Do not vote as a reaction to a photo.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Saints, Snow, Kids and Indiana, a Good Day!

Today was a good day. I went to bed after reading about Blessed Angela of Foligno. She lived in Italy and was an early Franciscan mystic. I know worship is sensual, sensual not sexual. We take in our universe through our senses, the more sensory stimulation the more chances for meaning. That is why the Orthodox have icons and gold and beautiful, awe-inspiring churches. That is why we use “smells and bells” for special occasions and incense, statues, music and art for everyday occasions. We try to use every sensory receptor to help us comprehend the incomprehensible.

Well, Blessed Angela did this in her prayer life. The result was that during Eucharist when she consumed the real presence she felt it throughout her body. Her visualizations were concrete and reverential. It would be easy to misunderstand her writings and that would be a loss. She reminds us that partaking in Eucharist and being one with the Body of Christ is an enormous gift, a grace that should be felt from head to foot.

I then woke up and read about St. Clare and her love of the Incarnation and the Passion. I have been to Greccio and I know how powerful a picture Francis was able to create. The humility of a God willing to walk not only on this earth but in a human body and as a poor child, it is again, incompressible. Then the Logos accepts the Passion. I have seen the San Damiano Cross, the cross that changed Francis life and inspired St. Clare and all of her sisters. I understand why these two events were the compass points of St. Clare’s life.

Then, after breakfast Cathi and my great nephew got in our car and headed for Muncie. We spent the day with our grand daughter and daughter at the Muncie Children’s Museum. But first, we had to get there!

The snow covered the farm land but the temperature was rising. The result was a mystical fog, it was like driving through a silent white tunnel. Occasionally a black barren tree would contrast against the cloud we were driving though. It was beautiful.

We went though Montpelier, a town of almost 2000 folks. For a small town it had a lot to see. We stood by a statue of a Miami Indian that was two stories tall. A block away was a huge bell in a yard, across the street from the bell was cannon from either WW II or the Korean War. Two blocks past that was a jet sitting in a park. That is a lot to see for a small town!

The rest of the day was spent in play. Two five year olds can have a lot of fun in a museum designed for children. They ran and played with trains, water, an art exhibit on Chagall, dinosaurs, phones, stores and trucks. We got tired just watching. It was great to see them having so much fun, it was great to see my daughter being such a good mom.

At the end of the day we all went to our own homes and Cathi and I, tired but happy relaxed, Saints, kids, family and Indiana, yep, it was a good day.

Kosovo, Serbia and a Prayer for Peace

One Soldier's Memories: James Blunt "No Bravery"

The end of the War in Kosovo

Everyday I read about Kosovo and Serbia. I sincerely believe the road to peace is through each side understanding one another. That requires on my part an attempt to grasp the arguments of both sides. In the process both sides feel insulted or discounted. My wonderings are only intellectual and prayerful and yet Brother Francis is right, peace-making in difficult.

I cannot believe the sense of loss Serbia must be experiencing at this time. I have traveled to all of the regions of the continental United States. I cannot imagine any of those regions no longer being a part of my country and my country has only existed a little over 230 years. While the Balkans has had many transformations over the centuries Kosovo has been considered a Holy Land and an integral part of Serbia for centuries. Kosovo is where the Serbs defeated the Ottomans, for the Serbs it is a turning point in their history and a triumph of Christianity over Islam.

I can understand all of the arguments that support Serbia. Fear of encouraging separatist movements is a real concern. Russia is not willing to give up Dagestan or Chechnya. China is not willing to give into the East Turkestan Islamic Movement or give independence to Tibet. Spain will not accept an independent Basque nation. The concerns are on all continents. Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Quebec, Muslims provinces of the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, even a Pampas independence movement in Brazil reflect why recognizing the independence of Kosovo frightens so many nations.

The other arguments, in favor of an independent Kosovo must also be recognized. Serbia has been involved in many of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. The Wars, in Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Macedonia were marked by ethnic-cleansing, atrocities and brutality. The Wars were fought both officially and unofficially. In the end the result was the dissolution of the former Yugoslav Republic. This is the background for the Serb-Kosovo conflict. Serbs would state that Kosovo is different, it was not a province of the former Yugoslavia but an integral part of Serbia.

Albanian Kosovo citizens would point out that they make up 90-95% of the population of Kosovo and experienced dislocation, massacres and repression by the Serbs. They would state that the Kosovo War was a war and not a limited conflict.

Neither side’s arguments can or should be ignored. However, the map of Europe is a map of nations that have all gone to war against their neighbors and today live in peace. Kosovo provides Europe with one more potential model of how European Muslims and Christians can co-exist together in peace as opposed to the Islamic ghettos of England and France that are thought of as ripe for the growth of Fanatical Islamic groups.

I feel sad for Serbia but they can choose to adjust to this new reality. Russia has accepted the loss of the former republics of the U.S.S.R., the sun has set on the British Empire and a new and vibrant Serbia can arise from the ashes of the post-Yugoslavia.

In the days after September 11th "The Wall of Hope" was created, it was a place for online prayers for peace. Robin Cunningham's prayer could easily be a prayer for the citizens of the Balkans:
I pray that we can find more reasons to reach for the peace we all want, than finding reasons for continuing to try to get even.
If we continue trying to right the wrongs, we will be trying to settle scores from battles that no one could possibly know the beginnings of.
The search for God and the search for peace have too often not been the same.
I pray that eventually we all come to know the truth that we are all one and there is nothing to fight for.
Fighting for peace does not bring peace. BE peace and peace will come.

~Robin Cunningham

Let us pray that our brothers and sisters in the Balkans will choose to BE peace

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kosovo, Serbia, the Church and the World

It would be easy to rejoice for Kosovo’s status as the worlds nest nation. However, there is nothing simple about it. The United States, the E.U., England, France, Italy and Germany have recognized the sovereignty of Kosovo. However Spain, Cyprus, Romania, and Greece have joined China and Russia in opposing independence. Those supporting Kosovo point to a history of abuses of the Albanian Muslim majority in Kosovo by the Serbians when the Serbs ruled the area. Indeed the history of war and ethnic cleansing that marked the dissolution of Yugoslavia at the end of the Cold War and into the 1990s makes it hard for people to be sympathetic to the Serbian position. However, things are never simple in the Balkans.

Those opposing independence fear this may only fuel the ambitions of other separatist movements. Indeed Canada’s initial silence may be viewed as the silence of a nation that supports human rights but knows what it means to struggle with separatist movements. Many wonder how the United States, a nation who experienced its bloodiest war stopping its own member states from succession can now support what it denies to its own citizens, the right to succeed from the union.

The Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church made it clear that the Church was in solidarity with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Many in the world-wide Orthodox community view Kosovo independence as a loss for Orthodoxy. Archbishop Gjergji of the Catholic Church in Kosovo addressed the European Parliament. He stated that the role of the Catholic Church would be to build bridges between the Muslim Albanians of Kosovo and the Orthodox of Serbia. The bridges will be necessary.

While the world reacted in horror to the destruction of Hellenistic-influenced statues of Buddha in Afghanistan by the Taliban the world has been silent to such cultural destruction in Kosovo. Over 18 historic monasteries, churches and cathedrals have been leveled to the ground. The world finally recognized the abuse of the Albanian nationals we must recognize the destruction of Serbian history and culture in Kosovo.

There is the potential for compromise and de-escalation of tensions. The Catholic Church could become a vocal supporter of Orthodox positions they can agree on while also supporting human rights and nonviolence. Turkey could use its influence to moderate Kosovo’s behavior and advise them to become active protectors of Christian history within their boundaries. This coupled with a new zeal to protect its own Christian citizens and heritage might garner Turkey needed support in the E.U. Russia could continue to support Serbia through the U.N and in diplomatic efforts while not fanning greater conflict in the area. The United States could acknowledge that Kosovo independence is a painful loss for Serbia . Serbia, as it has with the other break away nations of the old Yugoslavia, could learn to live with its new neighbor in the hopes that Serbian citizens could visit historic sites in Kosovo.

These are all coulds, ifs, maybes. However, there is another option. There was another time of conflict in the Balkans when nations missed chances for peace and instead stumbled into the First World War. Let us pray for cooler heads and for eyes that can see the grief conflict would bring.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Brazil, Environmental Destruction and the Church

Amazon River Drying Up

The growing alarm over global warming has many fronts. Polar ice melting, amphibian dwindling, deforestation in South America, Africa and Asia, drought in the southwest and southeast United States, extinction, the list goes on and on. The predicted effect is flooding coastal cities, the loss of small island nations, extinctions, increased starvation and increased international conflict. Not a happy picture.

The conflict appears to be one on a massive scale but the suffering will also be on personal levels. In Brazil the increased destruction of the rain forest is having a devastating effect. Parts of the Amazon River system has actually dried up making transportation among villages impossible. Imagine being part of the largest water system in the world and having to search for water to drink. Additionally, the destruction of the rain forest has lead to dislocation of the native peoples.

Whether looked at globally or nationally the problem looks too big to confront. It is not. Father Henri des Roziers is a French priest working under the auspices of Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). He has worked in Brazil for over 30 years. The good father works with the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) of the Roman Catholic Church. He supports poor farmers who are in conflict with the large land owners. This work has placed the priest in direct conflict with the large landowners and he is currently under 24 hour police protection.

There have been over 814 killings in the Brazilian state of Para between 1971 and 2006 that are believed to be related to land conflict. The authorities in Para are taking the situation seriously and have provided the priest with four police officers per shift for the past three years. There is a reason for this caution. Sister Dorothy Stang worked for the poor in Para, she was murdered in 2005.

Most of us are not called on to put on life on the line. However, many of us can do something. Project H2O is an example of supporting people and local villages, the use of solar cookers supports women and slows deforestation. Green Peace, Amnesty International, religious-based organizations and environmental groups all provide avenues for us to support others while not having to make the choices Father Henri des Roziers or Sister Dorothy Stang have had to make. Struggles for land, water, food and energy are not going to go away. Faith communities and individual believers need to act on their faith to reduce conflict and improve the environment and quality of life. We are one creation and our job is to be grateful stewards of that gift.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Give Me That Old Time Religion

So I am a graduate student again. This time it is Theology and I am out of my element. Love it but it is not easy to adjust to, often it is NOT an easy read. About the only thing it has in common with science is an abundance of questions.

Currently I am taking Systematic Theology. We are reading St. Augustine. We are reading about the first seven Ecumenical Councils. We are reading about the methodology of theology. I am developing a vocabulary, but not fast enough. I am developing a time line, but not fast enough. I am making new friends from the early centuries of the church, but …

Lucky for me, I found this video, the song explains everything I need to know. Well, not really but it is still a good song. Enjoy.
Old Time Religion: Russ Rentler

Instant Karma: Save Darfur

Instant Karma: Save Darfur
So, what could be better than John Lennon music (showing my age), great artists and a united effort to Save Darfur? Go to their website. It is one of the unique places where you can listen and you can be heard!

President Bush, Africa and Prayer

Darfur Genocide

So President Bush is in Africa. I am pleased. No matter what one's politics are, once a President touches foreign soil it creates discussion about that far away place. We need to talk about Africa. It is a continent of unbridled promise, rich in resources, cultures and energetic people. It is also a continent that has known far too much suffering. In a world increasingly viewed as a clash between Christian and Muslim nations it is Africa, not the Middle East or Asia that has the most potential for such conflict. Because a number of the nations of Africa have large numbers of citizens from both faiths it is also Africa that has the potential of showing the world how to live in peace.

President Bush will be visiting Rwanda, Ghana, Liberia, Tanzania and Benin. These are countries that can showcase progress made with the help of U.S. assistance. That is good, any lessening of suffering is good. That is not however the whole picture. While parts of Africa are showing signs of healing and growth other parts of the continent are hemorrhaging.

Sudan grasps for a peace between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south but that is not it’s only struggle. Lives are still lost at an alarming rate in the Darfur region and the humanitarian crisis is now spilling over into Chad. Ethiopia and Eritrea are edging closer to yet another war. Somalia has not had an effective central government in decades.

Zimbabwe is a land of conflict, dictatorship and increasing poverty. The Congo is attempting to hold unto a fragile peace after fighting the most deadly war since World War II. This was a war that left five million people dead.

Currently the most shocking conflict is the struggle of Kenyan against Kenyan after their last election. This strife has resulted in 1000 dead and 300,000 displaced citizens. The churches of Eastern Africa and the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan work to try to find some compromise that will allow both sides to put down their arms and begin to act again as Kenyans.

The nations the President will visit are not without their challenges. The President of Tanzania is the new in-coming president of the African Union. His nation is struggling to care for refugees that are arriving from neighboring Kenya. Rwanda has the largest number of peace keepers in Darfur. Ghana has taken on an increasing high profile role of negotiating African conflicts.

There are examples of hope that are not dependent on the stability of a government or aid from the West. In Kenya Father Ludwig Peschen of the White Fathers has been helping all who suffer by remaining neutral. He is in negotiations with Aid to the Church in Need. His job is a big one. He assists all in Nairobi who have lost their homes and all their possessions. He visits refugees and brings the essentials when he has them. Otherwise he simply visits so they know they are not forgotten. The priest is a physician and a psychotherapist. Clearly he could be doing other things with his skills, but this is his calling.

The good father is skilled in what he does. He treated trauma victims in Sudan. He is part of a cadre of men in women throughout Africa who are confronting war and brutality with love and compassion.

President Bush is looking for success to associate with his presidency. His HIV/AIDS programs and his support of fighting disease have helped many. Let us pray that his trip is not just the trip of a president in his last year in office. Let us pray this trip marks the beginning of a new and positive relationship between the United States and the many nations of Africa.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Schools, Guns and Prayers

I have been writing about events that have occurred all over the world. They help me feel connected to the Body of Christ, or remind that we are connected whether we feel it or not. Violence in Burma, the Middle East and Africa has taken up a lot of my blog space.

Unfortunately today my topic is not far from home. Like most Americans I am stunned at five school shootings in one week. The latest in Illinois touches me because I am originally from Chicago. While I attended Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University was a choice of a number of my colleagues. I have been to the University of Illinois. This is not some exotic setting for me, this is home.

I teach and I cannot imagine nearing the end of my lecture and then to have someone step out of the shadows and change peoples lives forever. I grieve for those students and their families. My heart also goes out to the young man who was so disturbed that he caused this pain. My heart especially goes out to his family at this time.

I read the message of the President of the Brady Foundation, Paul Helmke, former mayor of Fort Wayne. He stated:

Every day in America, 32 people are murdered with guns. That’s a daily Virginia Tech. This tragic figure is not due to mysterious forces beyond our control. People cause this problem and people can fix it.

Today, as we grieve with the victims and families of this latest mass shooting, I call on college and university presidents across America to join with us in demanding that the presidential candidates – as well as the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush – support meaningful action to prevent gun violence. Much more needs to be done to help make our schools and communities safer.

Another newspaper asked how we could control school shootings in a nation that had 270 million guns. Are we supposed to feel comforted that these shooters at least had their constitutional right to bare arms protected? I am not anti-gun, I am anti “let’s flood the nation with cheap and easily accessible guns with minimal safeguards”.

In the last week we have witnessed guns used not for target practice or hunting, not to make collectors proud of their collection. Instead we witnessed:

A man shoot his wife in Notre Dame Elementary School in Portsmouth Ohio

A nursing student from Louisiana Technical College outside of Baton Rouge shoot two women and then herself

A sophomore shoot a senior at a Memphis Tennessee high school gymnasium.

A 14 year old fatally shoot a 15 year peer in a school in Oxnard California.

And now this shooting in Illinois. This is too much. I don’t believe that you can stop someone who is truly committed to killing themselves or others. If there is no ambivalence they will find a way. But when there is time and planning involved you would hope someone would notice changes in behavior. You would hope that it would not be easy for someone to arm themselves, especially when they have a history of mental illness. Last year 30,000 people in the U.S. were killed by handguns. When are we going to decide we can protect Americans right to own firearms and we can also protect Americans?

So until our politicians grow backbones and decide they can find a realistic middle ground we do what we can. Until so called pro-life politicians realize being pro-life means protecting all human life we do what we can. Today on campus students gathered in prayer for their peers in Illinois. Faculty started classes with a minute of prayer, meetings started on a quiet, sober thought and prayers. You pray for the life time of pain a moment has caused. You pray for that school to someday find its way back to normal. You pray a prayer of thanksgiving that your students and your sons and daughters are safe, for now.

You pray, amen.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Pope Shenouda, Floods and a Journey Cut Short

Well H.H. Pope Shednouda has recovered. He consecrated a church in Texas and then on Thursday consecrated St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Columbus Ohio. I find this man incredible. He was a monk, an author, a political prisoner. He stood firm against the demands of the communist who ravaged Ethiopia. Under his guidance and care the Coptic Church has grown around the world. He has been active in promoting Christian unity and has reached out to Rome, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and protestant denominations. I wanted to see this man and here he was next door in Ohio. So I decided to drive to Columbus to witness the consecration. I of course first called the church to make sure I would not be intruding, they graciously invited me.

Back at work I was excited. I told folks what I was going to do. Barb O’Conner, the leader of JustPeace immediately asked if she could join me. Barb had a special interest in the trip. A couple of years ago she took an educational trip to Turkey, the Holy Land and Egypt. While in Egypt she went to a number of Coptic Churches. So it was set, I had a traveling companion.

While at work I found out that my interest in the Coptic Orthodox Church was not as unique as I had guessed. Dr. Kumfer had served in a Ruthenian Catholic Church and explained some of the liturgy of Eastern Churches so I would have some point of reference. Dr. Fleischacher compared the early Coptic Church to the Roman-Carthage traditions that influenced St. Augustine. I kept missing Dr. Deville who is a deacon in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Barb told me about St. Barbara and the Hanging Church in Cairo. Sr. Anita reminisced of her studies in the Vatican and coming across the Coptic Seminary in the Vatican Gardens and then getting a tour of it! Yep, I hang with some interesting folks. However, I suspect Sr. Anita was visiting with the Egyptian Catholic Copts and not the Egyptian Orthodox Copts, still, pretty cool!

So I got home Wednesday evening from class. I could not go to sleep right ways because I still had Dr. Fleischacher's Systematic Theology lectures cluttering up my brain. He lectured on St. Augustine’s writings on angels and on Methods of Systematic Theology. He talked about sources of meaning. This was divided between Conscious Acts and Content, understanding and understood, judgment and deciding. This was all placed in the context of realms of knowledge finally leading to the steps of meaning. I would love to say it was all crystal clear to me but really I felt like I was Alice in Wonderland, without the pretty dress! Nope couldn’t sleep after that. Bottom line, I went to bed at midnight and got up at 4 AM to go see the Pope.

We have had a very strange week of weather. We had snow, then thunderstorms, fog that was unbelievable and then melting. Still, we were going to Columbus. I picked Barb up at 5 AM and we were on our way to Ohio. It was dark and we could not see the fields. However, once in Ohio county sheriffs stopped us from using three different roads. Signs and blockades stopped drivers. The roads disappeared into lakes from the flooding. We turned back and stopped at a restaurant for breakfast. While there locals were talking about the flooding county-wide. Our pilgrimage was over, we did not see the Pope. When I finally got home I found out how extensive the flooding was in Ohio, the trip was doomed before we started.

Still, it really was a good trip. Barb had contacted a friend in Egypt to tell him what we were doing. She carried with her a peace calendar from an organization consisting of Jewish, Muslims and Christian peace advocates. She also showed me photos of St. Barbara Coptic Church in Cairo and the Hanging Church. This is the church of the pope in Cairo though officially the headquarters is in Alexandria. She also showed me a photo of an icon of St. Barbara.

When I got home I saw what the rains and snow did to Fort Wayne. Foster Park was under water, all four entrances and the golf course. Headwaters Park was doing what it was designed to do, be a sponge. It was under water. It was kind of ironic. Water stopped us from seeing the Pope of the Desert. Still, I felt connected to him and to the St. Mary’s Orthodox Coptic Church of Columbus Ohio. I enjoyed my brief adventure with Barb and Cathi was very happy that we got back safe. At the very least there was nothing routine about our day!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Project H2O, Secular Franciscans and Lent

h2o project

Reese, my dog, and I have been walking by the rivers again. Yesterday we were at Kid’s Crossing, the snow was so high that there was no parking by Headwaters Park. We walked over to the St. Joseph River. The river was covered with ice and snow. However, under the steel bridge that connected the park with the Civil War Memorial the river opened up to a sparkling rapid. Everything was covered in wet, heavy, deep white snow. The trees, the bridge, the houses all looked like they had just popped out of a scene from Dr. Zhivago.

Today we went to Headwaters Park. The temperature had jumped to 42 degrees. All of the snow had melted and the St. Mary’s River was swollen. The river was so high that flocks of ducks and Canada Geese were swimming in the park, not in the river, in the park. However what got our attention was the ice flows on the river. Because the river was flowing so quickly the sheets of ice were hitting branches of trees (the river was up to the forks of the trees) like knife blades. The sound was like glass being cut. Reese just sat and watched this unusual scene.

What has been clear these past few days, with the snow, the rain and the rivers is the abundance of water we are blessed with in Fort Wayne. The last Holy Family Fraternity meeting of the Secular Franciscans addressed the scarcity of available and safe water for much of the world. We were introduced to Project H2O. There is a Project H2O International organization that addresses the need for safe water. Our group has chosen to support the Franciscan Youth organization in their Project H2O ministry.

The project recognizes that in many countries either there is not enough water to meet the needs of the citizens or the water is not sanitary. Pollution, sewage and parasites make this most essential ingredient for life a threat to health. We learned how in some communities 30% of the adult population is blind due to parasites in the water supply.

Now we were not hearing about this in the abstract. We are Franciscans and we are about to enter the season of Lent. This is the 40 days before Easter. It is a time of reflection, fasting, penance and alms giving. We are to “faith” together. So our fraternity decided to support the Franciscan Youth group by supporting their Project H2O.The project meets many of our Lenten activities. It requires that we reflect, it requires that we act. It requires that we give up something so others may gain something.

So here is how it works. For two weeks we only drink tap water. All the money we save on coffee, tea, pop, alcohol, bottled water is saved. At the end of two weeks we give that money to the Franciscan Youth group. They in turn give it to Project H2O who use the money to build wells in villages. For as little as $2500.00 a well can be drilled that will support a village. That means children can go to school, mothers can go to work and money can be spent on food, clothes, education instead of on medical bills.

The goals of Project H2O are simple and clear:
• To bring fresh, clean drinking water to famine stricken nations in the love of Christ.
• To train and educate the local villagers on hygiene, keeping their hands, buckets, and cups clean to insure their water stays clean.
• To share the love of Christ and bring forth the Gospel.

Francis and Clare would have approved. They modeled gospel-living and the gospel states: "I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink."
Matthew 25:35

So tonight I will have a little Merlot, a cup of coffee maybe a diet soda. Then tomorrow I will begin two weeks of only drinking tap water. If I am wise or at least mildly empathetic I will understand that when others have no access to clean water my drinking clean water from the tap is not a sacrifice. In a world in which deforestation is accelerating at an alarming rate, in which rain forests are being cut down on multiple continents, in which rivers are drying up the problem we are addressing will be here for a long, long time. The question is will we allow ourselves to recognize the suffering and if so, will we do something about it?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Pope Shenouda III in Ohio

H.H.Pope Shenouda

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church is in Ohio! He is in America to consecrate St. Mary’s Coptic Church in Columbus Ohio and St. Abanoub Coptic Orthodox Church in Euless Texas. Unfortunately the 84 year old pontiff became ill and was hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic. He is expected to resume his duties once he is feeling better.

I find everything about this trip fascinating. The Pope has led the native Christian church since 1971. He started his religious career in a fine Egyptian tradition, he started in the desert as a monk. Today he still tries to spend at least three days a week in a monastery. His life as witness has had a huge impact on the state of the Coptic Church in Egypt.

The Copts are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians (“Copt” means Egypt). They influenced early Christianity. St. Anthony, the “Father of the Monks” and the Desert Fathers provided a model of monasticism that has influenced all of Christianity including the West. The writings and the lives of the saints influenced an important neighbor and fellow African, St. Augustine. This is the land to which the Holy Family fled. This is the land of St. Athanasius the Apostolic, and St. Cyril the Great. This is an apostolic church founded by St. Mark.

However, the church was the first to schism in response to doctrinal questions about the nature of the Trinity. Many in the Coptic Church would say the schism was the result of poor translation and even poorer political relationships of the day. This proud church found itself with Arianism on one side and the Empire on the other. Egypt then devolved into fighting between two doctrinal positions. This weakened position made them vulnerable when a small Arab army marched into Egypt and took over the whole country in the name of Islam. After only 100 years the reign of Christianity in Egypt was over. Today the Copts are a minority people in an Arab Islamic nation. Their delicate balance is to preserve their faith while not offending the dominate faith of the nation. The result of this “dance” has been impressive.

This Pope has seen a revival in monastic life in Egypt. He has reestablished old monasteries and opened new ones. He has ordained hundreds of monks and nuns. He is the first Coptic Pope to establish monasteries outside of Egypt. At this time there are nine such sites.

The church has also expanded around the globe. When his holiness became pope in 1971 there were nine churches outside of Egypt. Today there ware over 100.

The Pope’s life has not been easy. For standing up to then President Anwar El-Sadat the pope was exiled to a monastery for 40 months. He was referred to by the President as “the ex-pope”. During his time away from his people he prayed, reflected and wrote 16 books!

The Pope has worked tirelessly to improve relationships between Copts and Muslim Egyptians. He has also been a forceful advocate for greater Christian unity. He met Pope Paul VI in Rome in 1973. He became the first Coptic Pope to visit the Vatican in over 1500 years! He has met with most of the patriarchs of the Orthodox churches.

So, this man who lived for six years in a cave he carved out with his own hands, a graduate of the University of Cairo, the author of over 100 books, this bridge between various forms of Christianity is in the United States. Better yet, he is in the Midwest. I wish him a speedy recovery as he does what he does best, care for his flock.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Hanoi and the Catholic Church, A New Age?

Hanoi Catholics Protest

The Catholic Church and the Vietnamese government have been walking a tightrope. Viet Nam would like to normalize relationships with the Vatican. This is after years of being suspicious of foreign influence. It is part of Hanoi’s increase opening up to the world. Viet Nam has 5 million Catholics out of a population of 78 million people.

The suspicion reflects years of dealing with colonial powers. The first Catholics came in the 16th century and were Portuguese Franciscans, Spanish Dominicans and Portuguese Jesuits. However, it was the French Jesuits who had the most influence. They established the Paris Foreign Missionary Association in 1664. The Pope assigned missionary work in Viet Nam. The final result is the 2nd largest Catholic population in Southeast Asia.

After the nation was unified many churches were closed, seminaries were disbanded and active church attendance dwindled. This was similar to the experiences of the Vietnamese Buddhists. Things began to turn around for the church in the 1990s when the nation began to interact with the larger world. Today there are: two archdioceses and eight dioceses, 2,300 priests, 1,500 seminarians, 9,300 sisters and 1,200 brothers.

So, if things are getting better what is the problem? Change gives rise to hope and hope demands more change. During the reunification many church lands were confiscated. Now, as new churches are built each month many of the faithful are demanding that old churches be returned to the Church.

For the past month protesters in Hanoi have set up tents and marched. They demanded that the government return St. Joseph's Cathedral. The church had served as the Vatican’s embassy in pre-communist Viet Nam. Other sites were also the target of protest. The protests have been going on since Dec. 18. These were substantial protests, at times there were 1000 protesters at one site. That may seem small by Western standards but is large in a country that strongly discourages public criticism of the government.

Both sides are showing flexibility and are focused on problem-solving. Hanoi's People's Committee met with Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet. The Archbishop reports that parishioners will dismantle their tents and a large cross they set up near the cathedral. They have agreed to let negotiation take the place of public protest. The Vatican has also asked that protesters cease their mass prayer meetings and work with the government.

This move toward a more peaceful resolution to the controversy reflects the desire by both sides for closer ties. Last November a Vatican emissary ordained 57 priests in the Hanoi Cathedral and then met with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan. Many are hoping that warmer relationships may also eventually lead to a visit by Pope Benedict XVI. After watching opposing sides in Kenya turn protest into a gruesome body count it is good to see two very different sides decide to talk instead of fight. Let’s pray the talks continue.