Saturday, May 31, 2008

Obama, Clergy and Religious Leadership

So Senator Obama felt compelled to resign his membership from his church. I understand that decision. Rev. Wright did say a number of outrageous things, especially the Reverend’s more recent comments. It would also be difficult to ignore the showboating by Father Pfleger. The priest's mocking of Senator Clinton was cruel and there was nothing in that “act” that looked Christ-like. So I understand the senator’s decision. It is difficult to make an argument for being a uniter if your religious leaders are divisive.

However, I hope this does not mean we now expect our leaders to only attend houses of worship lead by beige-Jell-O, milk toast, don’t-rock-the-boat religious leaders. Because that is not my idea of what a religious leader is.

In my faith tradition religious leaders are not afraid to speak truth to power. That is what the prophets did and that is what I would hope our clergy would do. I would hope they would hold America accountable for racism, ignoring the poor, polluting the planet, using resources very poorly and fighting wars that cannot be described by religious leaders as Just Wars. I am not defending Rev. Wright or Father Pfleger. I am expressing my concern that we do not mistake religious leaders in the future who challenge the establishment as being kooks or somehow anti-American.

I would of course also hope our leader’s clergy would also remind us of all our gifts, rights and responsibilities we share and are blessed with as Americans.

My other concern is the use of Internet video clips to emphasize one aspect of a worship service. I hope this campaign does not begin to equate charismatic, energetic, loud, heart felt sermons and congregations as something other than Christian. I am Norwegian-American. I like my sermons spoken calmly and thoughtfully with not hubbub to distract from the sermon. Heck, I cringe at liturgical dance. But that is just my preference, it says nothing about folks who prefer to make a “Joyful noise unto the Lord”. I worry that the video clips are becoming subtle shorthand for people to sneer and feel superior because they are not like “that”.

When I put my stoic style to the side I have to ask myself, if I believe God IS Love and loved us to the point of sacrifice, then why aren’t I up on my feet dancing, praising and saying Thank You.

So Senator, I understand your decision. I just hope we do not get to the point where we expect our leader’s clergy and spiritual mentors to stand for nothing more than decorum.

The Pope Calls for Allowing Aid to get to the Needy in Burma

The news that continues to leak out of Myanmar is horrible. Entire villages have been devastated and the villagers are then left to fend for themselves. The government is ineffective in distributing donations. The U.S. naval ships off the coast of Myanmar are loaded with medical supplies and food but the Myanmar government will not allow the U.S. to unload the supplies on Burmese soil. People are dying, the dead or decomposing, jobs, infrastructure and social networks are gone. The foundation for major epidemics is set and yet the government cares more about its own power than its own people.

Friday the Pope called for the leaders of Myanmar to allow all foreign relief workers to provide the materials and skills they have to offer this suffering nation.

At this time the estimates are staggering, 134,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million destitute.

The archbishop of Mandalay said the infrastructure of the Catholic Church in Burma is so devastated that it could take over a decade to rebuild. Still the church is working to distribute food, water, medical care and shelter.

The church is not alone in this enormous task. Buddhist monks have worked at meeting the needs of the neglected villagers. They have defied the government and distrusted supplies they collected.

Aid group warns of cyclone disease threat


Tiber River Rome

Tiber River Rome

Our Franciscan Pilgrims in Roma

Touring Rome
Today will be a great day for our pilgrims, except for the sadness of knowing their journey is almost over. They will visit the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums. Some will go to the Vatican Gardens. They will walk along the Tiber River, view the black market and bump into the Roma (gypsies). They will see the Pantheon which was a temple to the Roman gods and then became a shrine to the saints. They will see the Castle Sant'Angelo which served as the bastion of popes facing invaders. The will see the Spanish Steps, fountains and public art, and the Circus Maximus, once the home of chariot races. They will visit many piazzas, squares full of art and cafes. Foods, shops, museums, the ancient, the modern, the fashionable and the outrageous will be right there.

I cannot imagine any of them not seeing the coliseum. This is the most ancient monument from ancient Rome. Its building began in 7.5. A.D. and was opened in 80 A.D., an opening celebrated with a full day of bloody games during which, according to legend, five thousand animals were killed. This is a site of interest to all lovers of history but has special meaning to Christians who remember the martyrs.

They will especially want to visit the forum. which just goes on and one and on. The forum served as the center of social and political life in Ancient Rome. The site includes palaces, statues, temples and courts and homes.

Did I mention fountains? This is the city of fountains and the most famous is Trevi Fountain. This is perhaps the most famous fountain in the world. This huge Baroque construction, inspired by sea mythology, took 30 years to built, starting in 1732. Legend says that anyone who throws a coin into the fountain will return to the Eternal City. They will throw a coin in the fountain because they will want to return!

The pilgrims will celebrate their last Eucharist in Rome tonight. They will have one more day here, at St.Peter’s but they know a major event in their lives is coming to an end. What they cannot know at this time is that the meaning of the pilgrimage, the impact on their lives will be life long and changing. It is impossible to think about them without smiling, so, I smile.

Roman Forum and Roman Colosseum, Rome Italy

Friday, May 30, 2008

I am Easily Influenced, by Me!

So what happens when you write about Italy so much? Well… tonight I made supper. I made penne pasta with both basil pesto sauce and marinara sauce. I made a salad and of course had Italian bread. I grilled peppers, onions and zucchini in garlic and olive oil. I had an antipasto olive and pepper dish. I also had provolone, prosciutto and soppressata. Not too shabby for a Norwegian-American, uff da!

Our Pilgrims at the Vatican and Rome

Today our pilgrims walk over to St. Peter’s square. They had a walking tour of Rome last night. However, today they will go into the Vatican. They will have their breath taken away by the immense size and grandeur of it all. When you have a Universal Church that is 2000 years old you accumulate a lot of stuff and have a lot of people to remember and it is all here, starting with St. Peter.

They will see unbelievable art. They will walk past the Papal Apartments, the Vatican Swiss Guards.

They will celebrate Eucharist at the Tomb of St. Peter. Eucharist is a time when the celebrants are connected with the entire church is place and time. That sense of this mystery is never more real than here.

They will have a historical tour of the Vatican. They will see where Vatican I and II occurred, where Pope John Paul II lies.

I remember just being blown away by the history, the significance of place but also the beauty. It looks as if it was built yesterday, the materials are so pristine. The columns that hold up the dome are wider than my house.

Afterwards they will go to St. John Lateran. This was the church of the popes during Francis day. I never made it there so I look forward to viewing their photos and hearing their stories.

Finally they will visit San Francesco a Ripa. This is church in a poor neighborhood that Francis stayed at when we walked to Rome It is a beautiful yellow church with hidden relics and a long history of serving the poor and being taken over by conflicting political powers.

Rome is a wonderful city with layers and layers of history, beauty everywhere and so much activity. Our pilgrims will have a great day.

The Vatican June 2007

Francis, Greccio and Our Pilgrims

Yesterday was a great day. I received a brief e-mail from Kathleen Lotter stating they had arrived in Rome. Today Kathleen and the other pilgrims will experience the Vatican but yesterday they experienced Christmas!

After living, worshipping and exploring Assisi the pilgrims went to the Reita Valley. This is a site of multiple Franciscan hermitages. However, the most famous is Greccio. It is here that Francis recreated the living nativity scene during a midnight Christmas Mass. Francis popularized this custom which is still very popular today.

So they visited another hermitage on the side of a mountain. I am sure they wondered how it was ever built. They walked past the dorms the friars stayed in, most only big enough for a cot. They were reminded of the mountain spirituality that is so central to Franciscan Spirituality.

So they explored this beautiful sanctuary, had a service there and then the trip did not end. They went to another sanctuary, La Foresta for an authentic Italian Christmas Dinner, their prayers yesterday were Christmas Carols. Outside of the sanctuary was Mundo X which is an agrarian Franciscan drug rehab center. They were among Franciscans working with today’s lepers.

I know they had a wonderful time that will have a lasting effect on all of their Christmases. From this moment on they will focus on the humility of Christmas and when they look at their little manger sets under their Christmas trees or on their mantles they will remember Greccio and Francis.

Assisi Pilgrimage: Walking in Faith With Francis and Clare
(includes a scene with Father Murray Bodo, OFM)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Spending Time with Saint Clare

The Piazza, The Temple, and Silvia
Today our pilgrims spend time with Saint Clare. They will spend time at theBasilica S. Chiara. The will walk down to the lower levels and spend time with Clare at her tomb. At the other end of this section of the church are important relics and artifacts. This includes robes, writings but especially the approved Order they she spent a life time trying to get approved by the Pope. This finally happened right before her death.

The upper level is magnificent. It lacks the beauty of the Basilica of St. Francis because many of the frescoes have been destroyed by the effects of earthquakes and plague. During times of plague the churches served as hospitals and the walls were washed down with lye water which erased the frescoes. Still, this church makes you pause, become silent and listen.

On the side chapel hangs the original Cross of San Damiano. We see replicas of it all over our campus. It is the iconic cross that marks one of the biggest and most important conversions in young Francis’ life and there it is.

In the main sanctuary hangs the Tavola of St. Clare, it is about six feet tall. On that wood is painted the main events of Clare's life.

The piazza outside is huge and hangs over a valley. The church is built of pink and white stone. I know the pilgrims will be moved today. When I was there I would visit Clare almost every morning before breakfast.

To get there the pilgrims will leave Casa Papa Giovanna and walk through the Piazza del Comune with its Roman Temple, towers, and fountain. They will spend time there in the evening.

Finally, tonight they go to Il Paradiso for Cena or dinner. This is a magnificent indoor/outdoor restaurant on the side of the mountain leading to San Damiano. The food will be great, the camaraderie memorable. If they are smart they will take a drink out of the stone fountain, it is Roman and it is not everyday a Hoosier gets to drink from a fountain from the Roman Empire!

When this day is over they will never ever again think of Clare as Francis’ sidekick but rather as a dynamic force in the world.

Assisi - Night and day

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Traveling to La Verna

So today the pilgrims travel to La Verna. This is the only land that Francis owned outright, a gift. He visited this mountain sanctuary at least six times. It is here that he received the stigmata. It is here that St. Bonaventure wrote the Soul’s Journey into God. It is here that Pope John Paul II spoke from the precept. This is where St. Anthony of Padua went for sanctuary.

We walked the mountain side, visited the caves where Francis and the other brothers stayed. We visited the site of the stigmata and participated in a procession from the church to the Stigmata Chapel.

This is a very holy site. It is clear why Francis needed to have time away from the world so he could then move and work in the world.

I cannot wait to talk to this years batch of pilgrims when they return. I know La Verna is different for each person and I want to hear their experiences.

Sketches from La Verna Sanctuary

Monday, May 26, 2008

St. Clare, Pilgrims and San Damiano

So today the pilgrims journey just outside of Assisi. It is not far but it is a formidable walk to San Damiano.

The place is surprisingly simple. This is where so much started. This is where Francis prayed before the cross and heard God tell him to rebuild His church. This became the sanctuary, the home for Clare and the Poor Clares.

At this site Clare and the other sisters “heard” the Mass behind a metal grill. Here is where Clare healed others while she herself suffered in debilitating health. This is where Clare stood before the Saracens who where preparing to invade Assisi and the troops turned around. This is where Clare died.

This is an incredible place. From behind these walls Clare influenced Western and Central Europe. From behind these walls a movement grew, the Second Order.

The pilgrims will be moved, by the walk, by the place and by a healing ceremony next to the site where the saint died.

They will walk out of the medieval walled city of Assisi. They will walk down and down past olive orchards and grape vineyards. The yellow flowers and tall trees will frame the valley and the birds will sing and the blossoms will be aromatic and they will have a wonderful time.

It is good to walk among and with the saints.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kazakhstan Unveils Monument to the Martyrs from the Ukraine

The Greek-Catholic Church of Kazakhstan has announced the unveiling of a new monument to the Ukraine Martyrs. These were the victims of Josef Stalin’s internal deportations and gulag. The gulag was a string of prisons. The prison system consisted of over 100 prison or concentration camps for political prisoners. There were more than 200,000 members of the clergy held prisoner. It is estimated that over 800,000 people were executed in the gulags.
The memorial honors all of the martyrs, known and unknown. However, it especially honors Blessed Oleksiy Zarytskyi, who died in a gulag hospital in Dolinka on October 30, 1963. Zarytskyi was one of 27 martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 27, 2001. Zarytskyi is remembered for the care given not only to fellow Ukrainians but also to Poles, Russians and Germans.
Kazakhstan is a nation of 8 million Muslims and 6 million Orthodox. However, there are also 500,000 Catholics, and it is the martyrs of this tiny minority that was currently being honored.

Pilgrims with Francis

Our pilgrims today have had a busy day. They had Eucharist at the Tomb of Francis. This is a very sober place and yet above it in the upper church the place is ablaze in color. This seems appropriate. Brother Francis cherished creation and we cherish him. Still, he would not understand how a man who chose a simple, humble life ends up entombed in a basilica that could pass for a fortress!

They also visited the Porziuncola. Again, Francis would not recognize this place. This is where the brothers lived in huts. This is the tiny, tiny church. This is also the site of the birth place of the Seculars and the Clares. All of this is now inside an enormous church that can be seen from the city. This is the site of Pope John Paul II’s three world interfaith peace services. They had to be moved by this visit.

Finally, they had the evening off. After learning, worshipping, reflecting, it is time to just spend time with fellow pilgrims. We would sit at the piazza eating gelato, sipping wine or coffees and talking. One night a group of teenagers sat at the top of the stairs of the Roman Temple and played guitars and sang. Friars and sisters from around the world walked the cobblestone streets. There is time to be by yourself. I am sure my fellow pilgrims had a great day.

St Francis of Assisi - Mickey Rourke – Porziuncola

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Responses to Burma and China

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has called for prayers and donations for Burma and for China. The Philippines is a nation that is familiar with the fury of tropical storms and as the largest catholic nation in the areas they feel especially moved by these twin tragedies.

The nation is sending a 30 person medical team to Myanmar. The team will be there for two weeks.

There are indications that Americans are experiencing “disaster fatigue” and have been less generous with aid then in past disasters. However, Operations Blessings is an exception. They are on the ground providing critical services and at home in the U.S. they are actively coordinating relief efforts from collection to distribution.

We are lucky, we have many choices when it comes to helping. Sending money, sending prayers, working with local Burmese communities or supporting agencies that are doing the work provides us with a great deal of flexibility. What we cannot afford to do is act as if these are not our brothers and sisters in need.

Moral Theology and Father John Perry

Well, one term over and another one started. Last term I was taking Systematic Theology. The readings were challenging. We read St. Augustine’s explanations of the Triune God. We read about methodology and about the First Seven Ecumenical Councils. Then I made my first attempt to write a paper that was not APA or MLA, noooo, it was Chicago Style. The last time I used footnotes Nixon was in the White Still. Still, I learned a lot.

Now I am taking Moral Theology. I have been collecting my documents for my presentation. I have decided to write on the Catholic position on torture. Last summer in Portland Oregon at the Catholic Collegium on Intellectual Life I had the great fortune of having Father John Perry as a member of my daily group. John is a Jesuit priest in Canada who is also an expert on modern slavery and on torture. So I picked up his book, Torture: Religious Ethics and National Security. The other texts are equally sobering and equally timely. A year later and I am still moved by John, still learning from him. Thank you Father John!

So the Theology classes are progressing. I am finding them challenging, exciting and at times frustrating. I am not sure what I will do with an M.A. in Theology but I do know I love what I am learning, most of the time. I know it helps ground me as a Pastoral Counselor. I know it adds to my understanding of historical movements when I teach the History and Systems of Psychology. I also know it has forever altered how I experience Mass. So, back to my homework.

New Pilgrims to Assisi

Assisi, City of Francis
Last year when I started this blog the first thing I wrote about was my pilgrimage to Assisi. I wrote because it had been one year and my friends were now making the pilgrimage. Well, a year later and there is another group of pilgrims from the University of St. Francis.

They arrived yesterday. The drive from Rome to Assisi sets the stage. As the mountains and valleys appear and the poppies, vineyards and olive orchards appear you know you are entering a special place.

Yesterday they arrived at Casa Papa Giovanni. That will be there home for a week. It is a place of great meals, a chapel for individual and group services. It has a wonderful library and three, count them, three, roof top gardens. From your bedroom windows you can see the valley between Assisi and Perugia.

Down the street is the Roman Temple, the Basilica of St. Clare, the chapel of St. Stefan, the fountain. In the other direction rests Brother Francis. Above is the fortress wall.

These pilgrims will be transformed. This is not a vacation, it is the folding and unfolding of time. They will walk and commune with the saints and with one another. They will commune with all of us who made that visit.

Yesterday they were oriented to the city and to the historical landscape of Francis and Clare. Today they go to so many of the birthplaces of our movement. As I write this they are asleep. I cannot wait to hear their experiences. In the meantime I will be reflecting on our collective pilgrimages.

Peace and all good

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chinese Mourn and the World is Moved

Today began a three day period of mourning in China. At 2:28 people across China stopped what they were doing. Construction stopped, transportations stopped, workers of all types paused for three minutes of silent prayer and mourning. It reportedly was not always quite as this nation of over one billion people found it difficult to grieve silently. The pain found a way out.

And so it will go for the next three days. 70,000 dead, far more homeless and a major impact on the economy of this giant cannot be minimized. The ripple effect of pain as families, neighborhoods and villages cope with the loss of so many can not be imagined.

I remember feeling poisoned by the agony of Katrina. That disaster had a horrible death toll of over 1000, this is so much larger.

Bricks-The Great Wall Appeal is collecting funds from around the world. While this proud nation is accepting financial assistance for its citizens it is not accepting rescue teams. Australia, Japan and South Korea have all attempted to send teams and have all been politely rebuffed.The Chinese state the conditions are simply too dangerous to place others in harms way.

The Vatican usually declares May 24th as a World Day of Prayer for the Church in China. However, the Pope has called for all to join with the Chinese now to pray and mourn for the death of so many and the suffering of even more.

Our prayers are with the Chinese people over these next three days. Prayers and contributions may be united with The Great Wall Appeal. With so many dead there is a great hole in our family and it is time for brothers and sisters to share in the suffering and give comfort to one another.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Malaysia Celebrating Diversity

Malaysian Artistes For Unity Here In My Home

Well there is a new music video coming out of Malaysia today that addresses racial diversity and unity. It could easily be applied to America. However, we are hardly the only country with racial and ethnic diversity. The video is meant to promote unity and the artists ask that it be downloaded and uploaded by anyone interested in it. They are on a mission of love!

The video is Here In My Home and song by Malaysian Artistes for Unity. We are not the only ones with challenges. Malaysia is a nation of 27 million people. It sits at the crossroads (or shipping lanes!) of cultures. Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Burmese, further away, Indian culture all influences the nation.

The nation is made up of Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Chinese, Nyonya, and indigenous people from Borneo. That’s quite a mix, it’s like trying to describe what makes a Chicagoan! The nation is predominately Muslim but tolerant of its diverse citizens. Therefore it is not difficult to find Catholic and Protestant churches or any variety of Buddhist Temples. So the vide is to promote this sense of “Us-ness” in Malaysia that goes beyond race, ethnicity or religion. It is a fun song and a great model of how to not just “tolerate” diversity but rather, to “celebrate” diversity.

The Trailer: it sets the video in context

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Chinese Earhquake and Our Response

China Earthquake May 2008

China’s earthquake is a disaster that appears to keep on growing. Aftershocks, damaged dams and now the fear of flooding all add to a horrible situation.

The government is now estimating that the death toll may rise to 50,000 with a considerably higher number of homeless.

Schools, hospitals, neighbors and infrastructure has all been damaged or destroyed.

The government’s response has been swift. This includes the army moving in for transportation, food services and especially to repair dams. Government officials have been at the disaster sites.

Our prayers should go out to all Chinese as they deal with this monumental disaster.

The Chinese Catholic Church is responding with all of the compassion and challenges that other segments of Chinese society are exhibiting. The diocese in the area most directly impacted by the quake reports devastation. Priests from various parishes report difficulties contacting parish members or locating members. Over thirty churches in the area were damaged, some severely and at least one was completely destroyed. The quake has affected priests, nuns, seminaries, monasteries, churches and of course lay members.

Special Mass has been held throughout the area. Eucharistic Adoration sessions are being scheduled. Memorial services and prayers for the survivors are an active part of the Chinese Catholic Church response. Additionally collections have been made through Jinde Charities, a Catholic NGO that has asked for money, tents, medicines, foods, water and prayers.

It is appropriate that our thoughts, prayers, treasures and efforts go out not only to our Catholic brothers and sisters in China but to all Chinese at this time.

Friday, May 16, 2008

17th of May and My Blog One Year Later

Oslo Norway

Inside Minnekirken Church in Chicago

Viking Ship Replica in Chicago
Well today is the 17th of May or Syttende Mai. This is Norwegian Constitution Day. It is the equivalent of our Independence Day. There will be parades throughout Norway today. There will be parades in the upper Midwest and the Northwest, wherever large concentrations of Norwegian Americans are found there will be parades and celebrations.

As a child I loved this day. I would go to Humboldt Park in Chicago and watch the parade with my father. As young adults Cathi and I worked in the Norway Center in Chicago for one year. It was great, a Viking bar, and a Norse reception room. The reception room had been the center of Norwegian relief efforts during World War II. In 1976 the King of Norway visited Chicago and I saw him. I will never forget that day. So today is an important day to me.

However, today is also important to me for another reason. It is the one year anniversary of starting this blog. I had no idea if I would stick with it. I had no idea if I would attract readers. I certainly did not know how to make a blog. Still, one year later and I am still writing.

It has been a good year. I have learned a lot about a lot of different topics. I have leaned about different groups/peoples/faiths. Most importantly I have talked with so many interesting people.

I have communicated with African students studying in Poland, with old friends, friars, sisters and priests. I have communicated with some of the most interesting bloggers around. Including someone who actually thinks Notre Dame has a football team (just seeing if you’re paying attention), a Republican Catholic in Louisiana, a gay Catholic in Australia, Buddhists, Muslims, contemplatives, interfaith groups and so many more.

I have learned to pick my words carefully but to not deny my opinions. That has become difficult. I clearly care about the plight of Christians across the Middle East and Northern Africa. It is important to acknowledge the violence by fanatics who kill in the name of Islam without confusing Muslims with those fanatics. Not an easy thing. However, it is clear, fanatics, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu have more in common with each other than with folks who worship a loving God.

I have learned I need to seek balance. Yes, the world is full of violence, natural disasters, and mistrust. However, it is also full of peace-makers, natural beauty, fun and pilgrims. There are so many pilgrims!.

My goals last year were modest. At that time I stated:
So, the things I expect I will address:
Journeys and pilgrimages
Inter-faith interactions
Global Warming
Pastoral Counseling
Clinical Psychology
Disaster Mental Health

However, for today I am just learning the lay of the land. I am learning to navigate the template. My goal is modest: to connect with compassionate others who care about creation, the Creator and who do not take themselves too seriously. Only time will tell if this is worthwhile or folly!

So, blogging has been a dance for me. It is part travelogue, part journal, part op-ed page and part spiritual reflection. The order and priorities change. The joy of interacting with folks from around the globe does not.

So, Happy Syttende Mai and we will see if I am still around blogging a year from now.

Peace and all good,

Syttende Mai Norway

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fort Wayne, Spring, the Parks and a Great Dog

It has been an excellent week for dog walking in Fort Wayne. The weather has been a little wet and cold but the parks are alive.

I walk with my Chow-Chow Recess though a number of our parks. At Tillman Park we watch the geese land in the water and the river rise. At Foster Park we watch the small rapids, the duck families and smell the spring flowers.

At Headwaters Park we walked past the old fort, over the bridge and walked by St. Mary’s River, St. Joseph River and the Maumee River. We crossed over and walked past the statues, looked for heron, listened to woodpeckers and stared at the skateboarders. There is a lot of dead wood damming up one of the bridges and on top of a story and a half pile of dead trees was a Canada goose proudly honking, it was cool.

At Sweeney Park we crossed over and walked by the homestead. At the park proper we walked through the rock garden, over the wooden foot bridges and watched as the pagoda was being constructed. Robins, cardinals, blue jays, wrens and swallows were every where.

So, it is still cool outside but spring is right around the corner and we are ready to walk in the woods, by the river and in the fields. It is good to have a dog!