Thursday, 30 November 2006

Where Mary Is Believed to Have Lived

Structure Near Ephesus Was Ancient Pilgrimage Site

EPHESUS, Turkey, NOV. 29, 2006 ( Benedict XVI celebrated Mass, which was attended by part of the small Turkish Catholic community, at the house where, according to tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary once lived.

From the first centuries, numerous Christian authors from the East and West mentioned John's and the Blessed Virgin's stay in this city, in which were located the headquarters of the first of the seven Churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

But, how was it determined that this was the house of Jesus' Mother? The finding took place at the end of the 19th century.

On July 29, 1891, two Vincentian priests, French Fathers Henry Jung and Eugène Poulin, gave in to the insistent requests of Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey, superior of the Daughters of Charity who worked in the French hospital of Izmir. The priests set out to look for Mary's house, having as their compass the vision of German mystic Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick (1774-1824).

From her bed in a village of Westphalia, where she spent the last 12 years of her life, the mystic received visions of the life of Jesus and Mary. These visions were recorded and published after her death by German writer Clemens Brentano.

The two priests, former soldiers of the French army, climbed the Bulbul Dag ("nightingale's hill" in Turkish), which rises above the Ephesus plain.

After much effort, they found the ruins of a house near a fountain, a few kilometers from Ephesus. The house seemed to have been used as a chapel -- which fit perfectly with Emmerick's description.

Pilgrimage site

It was the "Panaya uc Kapoulou Monastiri," as the Orthodox Christians of the area called it -- the "Monastery of the Three Doors of Panaya, the All Holy," given the three arches of the facade. These Greek Christians used to go to the site on pilgrimage during the octave of the feast of Mary's Dormition, Aug. 15.

The Vincentian priests did some research among the residents of the area and confirmed the existence of a centuries-old devotion which recognized in the ruined chapel the place of the last residence of "Meryem Anas," Mother Mary.

Archaeological studies carried out in 1898 and 1899 brought to light among the ruins the remains of a first-century house, as well as the ruins of a small village that was established around the house since the seventh century.

Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) was positive about these findings and re-established in the Ordo Romanus a note that on the feast of the Assumption mentioned Ephesus as the probable place of the Blessed Virgin's dormition.

The Meryem Ana shrine, in front of which Benedict XVI celebrated Mass today, was restored in the 1950s. Pastoral care of the site has been entrusted to the Capuchin friars.

Mary's House was visited by Pope Paul VI in 1967 and by Pope John Paul II in 1979.

It is the object of Muslim pilgrimages too, as Mary is presented in the Koran as "the only woman who has not been touched by the devil."

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Pope Benedict's arrival in Turkey


VATICAN CITY, NOV 28, 2006 (VIS) - At 9.20 a.m. today, the Holy Father departed from Rome's Fiumicino airport bound for Turkey, where he landed three hours later at Ankara's Esemboga airport. Thus began Benedict XVI's fifth apostolic trip outside Italy.

Speaking to the journalists accompanying him on his flight, the Pope affirmed that his visit to Turkey "is not political but pastoral," and that its aim is "dialogue and the shared commitment to peace."

As he descended from his aircraft, the Holy Father was greeted by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, by the governor of the local region, and by the military commander and the mayor of Ankara, the capital of Turkey, a city of some five million inhabitants. Also there to greet him was Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini O.F.M. Cap., of Izmir, president of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Turkey.

The Holy Father then went to a room within the airport building where he held a meeting with the prime minister.

Following this meeting, which lasted 20 minutes, the Pope travelled by car to the Mausoleum of Ataturk some 45 kilometers from the city. Built between 1944 and 1953, it holds the earthly remains of Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" (Father of the Turks), founder and first president of the Turkish Republic (1923-1938). Within the building, which resembles a Greek temple and is reached by a flight of steps, the walls are covered in green marble and the ceiling decorated with gold mosaics. The cenotaph to Ataturk is made from a single block of marble weighing 40 tonnes.

At 3 p.m. local time (2 p.m. in Rome), Benedict XVI was received by Ahmet Necdet Sezer, president of the Republic of Turkey, in the presidential palace. Subsequently he met with one of the country's two vice prime ministers in the "Guest House" of the presidential palace.

This afternoon, the Pope met with Ali Bardokoglu, Turkey's president for religious affairs, in the "Diyanet," the headquarters of his department (picture at the top).

Turkey has 72 million inhabitants, of whom 99.8 percent are Muslims. The remaining 0.20 percent is made up of Christians of various rites (Greek-Orthodox, Syro-Orthodox, Armenian-Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics) and Jews.

Catholics number some 32,000, about 0.04 percent of the total population. The Catholic Episcopal Conference of Turkey is made up of six bishops. Currently, there are 47 parishes, 68 priests, 98 male and female religious, four permanent deacons, five major seminarians and 28 catechists.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

From the Introduction of Benedict XVI's New Book

"A First Glance at the Secret of Jesus"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 27, 2006 ( Here is a translation of excerpts from the Introduction of the book "Jesus of Nazareth," which Benedict XVI will publish next spring.

The excerpts were made available by Rizzoli, the publishing house that has been given the international rights.


A First Glance at the Secret of Jesus

(...) In Jesus the promise of the new prophet is fulfilled. In him is fully realized what in Moses was only imperfect: He lives in the presence of God, not only as friend but as Son, in profound unity with the Father. Only beginning from here can we really understand the figure of Jesus that we find in the New Testament. All that which is recounted, the words, facts, suffering and glory of Jesus has its foundation here. If this authentic center is disregarded, one does not grasp what is specific to the figure of Jesus which then becomes contradictory and, in short, incomprehensible. Only from here can the question be answered before which whoever reads the New Testament must place himself: from where did Jesus get his teaching? How is his coming explained? The reaction of his listeners was clear: His teaching does not come from some school. It is radically different from that which can be learned in schools. It is not explained according to the method of interpretation, it is different, it is explanation "with authority." We will return to this verification of the listeners when we reflect on the words of Jesus and we will have to examine its meaning closely. The teaching of Jesus does not come from human learning, no matter what it is. It comes from the immediate contact with the Father, from "face-to-face" dialogue, from seeing that which is "in the bosom of the Father." It is word of the Son. Without this interior foundation it would be temerity. He was judged precisely in this way by the learned of his time because, in fact, they did not want to accept its interior meaning: seeing and knowing face-to-face.

Fundamental to know Jesus are the recurring references to the fact that he would withdraw "on the mountain" and prayed there all night, "alone" with the Father. These brief references dispel somewhat the veil of the mystery, allowing us to cast a glance at Jesus' filial existence, to perceive the springing source of his actions, of his teaching and of his suffering. This "praying" of Jesus is the Son speaking with the Father in which the human conscience and will, the human soul of Jesus are involved, so that the "prayer" of men might become participation in the communion of the Son with the Father. Harnack's famous affirmation according to which the proclamation of Jesus is a proclamation that comes from the Father and of which the Son is not a part -- and therefore Christology does not belong to the proclamation of Jesus -- is a thesis that denies itself. Jesus can speak of the Father, as he does, only because he is Son and lives in filial communion with the Father. The Christological dimension, namely the mystery of the Son who reveals the Father, "Christology," is present in all the discourses and all the actions of Jesus. Here another important point is evident. We said that in the filial communion of Jesus with the Father the human soul of Jesus is involved in the act of prayer. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (John 14:9). The disciple who follows Jesus thus comes to be involved together with him in the communion with God. And it is this that truly saves: the exceeding of man's limits. This exceeding was innate in man as expectation and possibility since the creation given the likeness with God.

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Monday, 27 November 2006

The Pope's visit to Turkey: the state of religious liberty in Turkey

Interview With R.M.T. Schmid of the Becket Institute

ROME, NOV. 26, 2006 ( The Christian churches in Turkey want more religious freedom, even as they realize that the country's secularism might also be a bulwark against radical Islam, says an observer.

Raphaela M.T. Schmid, the Rome director of the Becket Institute for Religious Liberty, offered that assessment in this interview.

Schmid just returned from Istanbul where she spoke with religious authorities and government officials who will be meeting with Benedict XVI later this week.

Q: What is the state of religion in Turkey?

Schmid: Turkey is not really an Islamic country, even if it is over 99% Muslim and mosque attendance is going up.

Until the 1920s it was a theocracy under Shariah law. Ataturk saw this as a stumbling block for social and commercial progress. He reinvented Turkey as a secular state and helped Turks gain the reputation of being "Muslims with a Protestant work ethic." His reforms included the abolition of polygamy, equal rights for women, coed public schools, and the prohibition of religious garb in public.

Ataturkist laws have been applied in such a way that Turkey de facto has an unofficial established religion, a moderate sort of Sunni Islam. The state appoints imams; it oversees what is preached in the mosques and what is taught in Koran schools.

Q: Why are Muslim Turks not reacting against this sort of state control?

Schmid: Recent polls indicate that the majority see themselves as Turks first and as Muslims second. Ataturk is universally revered as a hero; his memory and legacy are protected by law. But behind this picture of national pride, Ataturkist secularism and Muslim identity make for conflicting loyalties.

Turks who want to be good citizens of the republic may also want to wear the veil and send their kids to a Koran school of their choice. What makes this even trickier is the concern that religious freedom may be exploited by those who are pushing for a more radical, politicized Islam in Turkey. The military so far has been the protector of the secularity of the state. The question is whether that will remain so in the future.

So, it is important to understand that these problems cannot simply be resolved by appealing to international human rights tribunals.

The Turkish attitude toward religion in the public sphere is something that is intimately tied up with the modern notion of Turkish national identity, a notion more complex than Islamic law and tradition would have, where nationality and citizenship are defined by religion.

Q: What about the Christian churches in Turkey?

Schmid: Christian leaders say that it's easy to live in Turkey as a Christian. Turkey is known for its tradition of a very tolerant Islam, which goes back to medieval times.

It is striking, though, how the number of Christians has dwindled. For example, at the beginning of the 20th century half of the population of Istanbul was Christian. Now Christians make up less than 1%.

The circa 65,000 Armenian Christians in Turkey are the survivors of the ethnic cleansing of 1915-16, which is still a taboo subject. There are about 20,000 Syrian Orthodox and circa 20,000 Catholics.

Most of the Greek Orthodox were exchanged for Greek Muslims that came to Turkey in the '20s. Their patriarch, Bartholomew I, as far as Turks are concerned, is a foreign cleric with a local congregation of not more than 3,000 faithful. The fact that 300 million Christians around the world recognize his authority does not figure.

In fact, all Christian churches are regarded as foreign and relations with them are handled mostly by the Foreign Ministry, even if their members are Turkish citizens and the presence of those churches predates Turkey, the Ottoman Empire and Islam by centuries.

Q: What are the concrete problems Christians face in Turkey?

Schmid: Christians can freely worship, but there are difficulties. Limitations imposed by the state have left their schools struggling. Christian seminaries were closed in the '70s and the communities find it difficult to train their leaders and teachers.

There is a treaty which guarantees legal status to non-Muslim religious communities, but it doesn't specify, so the interpretation by the Turkish state is rather random. The Catholic Church, for example, does not have legal status; it cannot own or inherit properties, etc.

So, the Christian churches want more religious freedom but they too are aware that the secularism of the Turkish state may also be a bulwark against a more radical form of Islam.

Q: What is the significance of the papal visit in Turkey?

Schmid: Of course, this is not the first Pope to visit. In recent times both Paul VI and John Paul II have been to Turkey.

The Turks' favorite Pope is John XXIII, who before his election had been nuncio in Istanbul for nearly a decade. He is even nicknamed "The Turkish Pope." "He really knew us," "he really understood us" is what we were told, and the reason given again and again was this: "because he loved us."

Pope Benedict XVI was originally invited by Patriarch Bartholomew, but because of the Regensburg lecture this ecumenical meeting now is eclipsed by the visit to Turkey as a Muslim country.

So far there have been only two occasions when the Turkish media have paid real attention to this Pope. One was when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he commented that Turkey's joining Europe would be "anti-historical"; the other occasion was his lecture at Regensburg. In each instance, certain sound bites from his discourse were overamplified so as to drown out the actual point he was making.

Q: Was did the Pope actually say about Turkey and Europe?

Schmid: Cardinal Ratzinger in a 2004 interview with Le Figaro magazine was considering the European Union and Turkey from a cultural perspective.

He suggested that Turkey's integration into Europe may mean a loss of richness and cultural distinctiveness for the sake of economic benefits. This caused waves of indignation in Turkey, where the memory of that interview still seems to be that Cardinal Ratzinger in some way didn't deem Turkey worthy of entry.

To me quite the opposite seems the case: He was taking Turkey and its distinct culture very seriously when he questioned whether this sort of loss would be worth it for Turkey. He expressed himself in favor of a Turkey that may be a bridge between Europe and the East precisely because of its own distinct identity, rooted in Islam rather than Christianity.

This line of thinking is not necessarily an expression of a clash-of-civilizations worldview. I see it in line with a recurring theme in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger: that religion and culture cannot be separated.

This is why he expressed himself in favor of close forms of association and collaboration that at the same time would not abandon the cultural concept of a Europe rooted in Christianity.

Ironically, I heard this same point made by Turkish intellectuals and Muslim authorities, only that they start by saying that Turkey should be part of the EU for economic reasons and then admit that, of course, it should maintain its own culture, rooted in Islam.

Q: How does the Regensburg lecture fit into all this?

Schmid: The Pope's point was that a dialogue of religions can only take place where there is room for both faith and reason. He warned against two extremes: a rationality that rejects religion and a religion that rejects rationality.

He tried to show that "whether God has to act in accordance with reason" for any religion is a question with far-reaching consequences. To illustrate that it is not a new question he quoted the now infamous 14th-century emperor Paleologus accusing Islam of getting the answer wrong. But the Pope also looked at Christianity and its own moments of placing God above and beyond reason. So, I think he tried to initiate a conversation on the level of a philosophy of religion.

It didn't seem to go so well at the time and Pope Benedict's meeting with the highest Muslim authority, the president of religious affairs, is made awkward by the fact that he was someone who spoke out very quickly and very strongly against the Regensburg speech, though he later admitted that he had not read it. But as the Grand Mufti of Istanbul said in this context: What starts out badly may still come to a good end.

Have you any thoughts about this? Feel free to comment.

Friday, 24 November 2006

From the Preface of the Pope's new book on Jesus of Nazareth

"A Historically Honest and Convincing Figure"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 23, 2006 ( Here is a translation of excerpts from the Preface of the first volume of the book "Jesus of Nazareth," which Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI will publish next spring. The excerpts were made available by Rizzoli, the publishing house that has been given the international rights.
* * *
I have come to the book on Jesus, the first part of which I now present, following a long interior journey. In the period of my youth -- the thirties and forties -- a series of fascinating books were published on Jesus. I remember the name of some of the authors: Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Franz Michel Willam, Giovanni Papini, Jean Daniel-Rops. In all these books, the image of Jesus Christ was delineated from the Gospels: how he lived on earth and how, despite his being fully man, at the same time he led men to God, with whom, as Son, he was but one. Thus, through the man Jesus, God was made visible and from God the image of the just man could be seen.
Beginning in the fifties, the situation changed. The split between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" became ever greater: One was rapidly removed from the other. However, what meaning could faith in Jesus Christ have, in Jesus the Son of the living God, if the man Jesus was so different from the way he was presented by the evangelists and the way he is proclaimed by the Church from the Gospels? Progress in historical-critical research led to ever more subtle distinctions between the different strata of tradition. In the wake of this research, the figure of Jesus, on which faith leans, became ever more uncertain, it took on increasingly less defined features.
At the same time, reconstructions of this Jesus, who should be sought after the traditions of the evangelists and their sources, became ever more contradictory: from the revolutionary enemy of the Romans who opposed the established power and naturally failed, to the gentle moralist who allowed everything and inexplicably ended up by causing his own ruin.
Whoever reads a few of these reconstructions can see immediately that they are more photographs of the authors and their ideals than a real questioning of an image that has become confused. Meanwhile, mistrust was growing toward these images of Jesus, and the figure itself of Jesus was ever more removed from us.
All these attempts have left in their wake, as common denominator, the impression that we know very little about Jesus, and that only later faith in his divinity has formed his image. Meanwhile, this image has been penetrating profoundly in the common consciousness of Christianity. Such a situation is tragic for the faith, because it makes its authentic point of reference uncertain: intimate friendship with Jesus, from whom everything depends, is debated and runs the risk of becoming useless. [...]
I have felt the need to give readers these indications of a methodological character so that they can determine the path of my interpretation of the figure of Jesus in the New Testament. With reference to my interpretation of Jesus, this means first of all that I trust the Gospels. Of course I take as a given all that the Council and modern exegesis say about the literary genres, the intention of their affirmations, on the communal context of the Gospels and its words in this living context. Accepting all this in the measure that was possible to me, I wished to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the true Jesus, as the "historical Jesus" in the true sense of the expression.
I am convinced, and I hope the reader will also realize, that this figure is far more logical and, from the historical point of view, also more comprehensible than the reconstructions we have had to deal with in the last decades.
I believe, in fact, that this Jesus -- the one of the Gospels -- is a historically honest and convincing figure. The Crucifixion and its efficacy can only be explained if something extraordinary happened, if Jesus' figure and words radically exceeded all the hopes and expectations of the age.
Approximately twenty years after Jesus' death, we find fully displayed in the great hymn to Christ that is the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-8) a Christology which says that Jesus was equal to God but that he stripped himself, became man, humbled himself unto death on the cross and that to him is owed the homage of creation, the adoration that in the prophet Isaiah (45:23) God proclaimed is owed only to Him.
With good judgment, critical research asks the question: What happened in the twenty years after Jesus' Crucifixion? How was this Christology arrived at?
The action of anonymous community formations, of which attempts are made to find exponents, in fact does not explain anything. How would it be possible for groups of unknowns to be so creative, so convincing to the point of imposing themselves in this way? Is it not more logical, also from the historical point of view, that greatness be found in the origin and that the figure of Jesus break all available categories and thus be understood only from the mystery of God?
Of course, to believe that though being man He "was" God and to make this known shrouding it in parables and in an ever clearer way, goes beyond the possibilities of the historical method. On the contrary, if from this conviction of faith the texts are read with the historical method and the opening is greater, the texts open to reveal a path and a figure that are worthy of faith. Also clarified then is the struggle at other levels present in the writings of the New Testament around the figure of Jesus and despite all the differences, one comes to profound agreement with these writings.
Of course with this vision of the figure of Jesus I go beyond what, for example, Schnackenburg says in representation of the greater part of contemporary exegesis. I hope, on the contrary, that the reader will understand that this book has not been written against modern exegesis, but with great recognition of all that it continues to give us.
It has made us aware of a great quantity of sources and concepts through which the figure of Jesus can become present with a vivacity and profundity that only a few decades ago we could not even imagine. I have attempted to go beyond the mere historical-critical interpretation applying new methodological criteria, which allows us to make a properly theological interpretation of the Bible and that naturally requires faith, without by so doing wanting in any way to renounce historical seriousness. I do not think it is necessary to say expressly that this book is not at all a magisterial act, but the expression of my personal seeking of the "Lord's face" (Psalm 27:8). Therefore, every one has the liberty to contradict me. I only ask from women and men readers the anticipation of sympathy without which there is no possible understanding.
As I already mentioned at the beginning of this Preface, the interior journey to this book has been long. I was able to begin work on it during my vacation of 2003. In August 2004, Chapters 1 to 4 took their final form. Following my election to the episcopal See of Rome I have used all the free moments I have had to carry on with it. Given that I do not know how much time and how much strength will still be given to me, I have decided to publish now as the first part of the book the first ten chapters that extend from the Baptism in the Jordan to Peter's confession and the Transfiguration.



VATICAN CITY, NOV 23, 2006 (VIS) - Following their private meeting this morning, the Pope and the archbishop of Canterbury signed a Common Declaration in the presence of members of the Anglican delegation accompanying the archbishop, and of Catholic representatives led by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, archbishop of Westminster.

In their English-language declaration, Benedict XVI and Archbishop Williams note that 40 years ago their predecessors, Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, undertook "to establish a dialogue in which matters which had been divisive in the past might be addressed from a fresh perspective with truth and love."

"True ecumenism," they write, "goes beyond theological dialogue; it touches our spiritual lives and our common witness. As our dialogue has developed, many Catholics and Anglicans have found in each other a love for Christ which invites us into practical cooperation and service."

"The International Anglican - Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) has been engaged in an exploration of the appropriate ways in which our shared mission to proclaim new life in Christ to the world can be advanced and nurtured. Their report ... has recently been completed and submitted for review to the Anglican Communion Office and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and we express our gratitude for their work."

They continue: "In this fraternal visit, we celebrate the good which has come from these four decades of dialogue. We are grateful to God for the gifts of grace which have accompanied them. At the same time, our long journey together makes it necessary to acknowledge publicly the challenge represented by new developments which, besides being divisive for Anglicans, present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress. It is a matter of urgency, therefore, that in renewing our commitment to pursue the path towards full visible communion in the truth and love of Christ, we also commit ourselves in our continuing dialogue to address the important issues involved in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous.

"As Christian leaders facing the challenges of the new millennium, we affirm again our public commitment to the revelation of divine life uniquely set forth by God in the divinity and humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that it is through Christ and the means of salvation found in Him that healing and reconciliation are offered to us and to the world."

The Holy Father and the primate of the Anglican Communion recognize that "there are many areas of witness and service in which we can stand together, and which indeed call for closer cooperation between us: the pursuit of peace in the Holy Land and in other parts of the world marred by conflict and the threat of terrorism; promoting respect for life from conception until natural death; protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of children in the context of healthy family life; outreach to the poor, oppressed and the most vulnerable, especially those who are persecuted for their faith; addressing the negative effects of materialism; and care for creation and for our environment. We also commit ourselves to inter-religious dialogue through which we can jointly reach out to our non-Christian brothers and sisters."

Following the signing ceremony, the Holy Father and the archbishop of Canterbury went to the Vatican's "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel where together they prayed the "Hora media" in the presence of the Anglican and Catholic delegations.

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Thursday, 23 November 2006

Pope Benedict has written a new book on Jesus our Lord


VATICAN CITY, NOV 22, 2006 (VIS) - Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., has written a note concerning a forthcoming book by Benedict XVI, scheduled for publication in the spring of 2007. The title of the volume is: "Gesu di Nazareth. Dal Battesimo nel Giordano alla Trasfigurazione" (Jesus of Nazareth, From His Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration).

The Vatican Publishing House, which holds the copyright on all the Pope's writings, has ceded the world rights for the translation, distribution and marketing of this book to the Rizzoli Publishing House.

"The fact that Benedict XVI has managed to complete the first part of his great book on Jesus, and that within a few months we will have it in our hands, is wonderful news," writes Fr. Lombardi in his note. "I find it extraordinary that despite the duties and concerns of the pontificate, he has managed to complete a work of such great academic and spiritual depth. He says he dedicated all his free time to the project; and this itself is a very significant indication of the importance and urgency the book has for him.

"With his habitual simplicity and humility, the Pope explains that this is not a 'work of Magisterium' but the fruit of his own research, and as such it can be freely discussed and criticized. This is a very important observation, because it makes clear that what he writes in the book in no way binds the research of exegetes and theologians. It is not a long encyclical on Jesus, but a personal presentation of the figure of Jesus by the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, who has been elected as Bishop of Rome."

In the book's preface, Fr. Lombardi's note says, the Holy Father "explains that in modern culture, and in many presentations of the figure of Jesus, the gap between the 'historical Jesus' and the 'Christ of the faith' has become ever wider. ... Joseph Ratzinger, taking into consideration all the achievements of modern research, aims to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the real 'historical Jesus,' as a sensible and convincing figure to Whom we can and must trustingly refer, and upon Whom we have good reason to base our faith and our Christian life. With his book, then, the Pope aims to offer a fundamental service to support the faith of his brothers and sisters, and he does so from the central element of the faith: Jesus Christ."

In the introduction to the book, Fr. Lombardi continues, "Jesus is presented to us as the new Moses, the new prophet who speaks with 'God face to face,' ... the Son, deeply united to the Father. If this essential aspect is overlooked, the figure of Jesus become contradictory and incomprehensible. With passion, Joseph Ratzinger speaks to us of Jesus' intimate union with the Father, and wishes to ensure that Jesus' disciples participate in this communion. It is, then, a great work of exegesis and theology, but also a great work of spirituality."

Fr. Lombardi concludes: "Recalling the profound impression and the spiritual fruits that, as a young man, I drew from reading Joseph Ratzinger's first work - 'Introduction to Christianity' - I am sure that this time too we will not be disappointed, but that both believers and all people truly disposed to understand more fully the figure of Jesus, will be immensely grateful to the Pope for his great witness as a thinker, scholar and man of faith, on the most essential point of the entire Christian faith."

Have you any comments? I think this is great news, a book on Our Lord by the Pope!

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Any comments on intolerance between religions?

Israeli Ambassador on Ending Prejudice
Interview With Oded Ben-Hur

ROME, NOV. 21, 2006 ( Israel's ambassador to the Holy See sees a need for a worldwide education campaign to topple the walls of prejudice -- and he thinks the Pope could play a key role.

Oded Ben-Hur has been ambassador to the Vatican since June 2003. Born in Israel in 1951, he began his diplomatic career in 1977. He was a minister-plenipotentiary on the Israeli Policy Planning Bureau (2000-2003) and ambassador to the Baltic states (1996-1999).

In this interview with ZENIT, the ambassador explains his proposal and asks the Holy See to launch an appeal so that "Christians will return to live in the Middle East, in particular in the Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories," as "they are an essential factor for peace."

Q: Mr. Ambassador, the situation in the Holy Land and the border areas has had a new and dramatic evolution. What is it like?

Ben-Hur: It is a very complex subject, which cannot be exhausted with a few words. We are witnessing a conflict that is taking place within the Palestinian people, and the same is happening in Lebanon. It is to be desired that from these conflicts a new way out will be born, geared to negotiations, and not threats by extremists.

It must be remembered that in the decades following the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, the Arab-Israeli conflict was characterized by Arabs' hatred for Israel, which, from their point of view, was created to cleanse Europe's conscience after the Shoah [Holocaust].

In the mid-1990s, however, we witnessed a substantial change, with the growth of Islamic fundamentalism which, in the name of Allah, has introduced the "culture of death" in our region.

Both Hamas as well as Hezbollah impede every attempt at dialogue, denying the very existence of the state of Israel, and they are local manifestations of global danger called extremist Islam.

While many in the world believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the "mother of all conflicts" and, therefore, once resolved, the world will be half-way to peace, the truth is very different.

Suffice is to see that 85% of the latest terrorist attacks in the world have been perpetrated by Muslim extremists against moderate Muslim countries and citizens -- Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, Indonesia, etc. -- precisely for the purpose of discouraging them from dialogue with the West.

Iran represents the most worrying proof of this growing danger, as it continues to export the idea of the Islamic revolution of a Shiite nature, threatening Israel's existence, denying the Shoah, expressing the will that the whole world live under Muslim dominion. I consider it a reason for great preoccupation for the Christian world.

In fact, thanks to Hezbollah and Syria's "good offices," Iran caused the last war in Lebanon.

Q: Do you see a possible way out of this situation?

Ben-Hur: I believe that at the base of these frictions and of all hostilities there is an abyss of ignorance between religions and cultures, because of centuries of prejudices, hatred and wars.

The only way to break this vicious circle, from my point of view, is to revive an endless campaign of education and formation to help people worldwide build bridges of understanding and knowledge to pull down the walls of prejudices and opposition between religions, which have given origin to the "demonizing" of one another.

Q: But who can launch this campaign?

Ben-Hur: This campaign should have universal extent and be based on three principal means: financial sources, school programs and, what is most important, appropriate teachers.

Of course, it is up to governments and politicians to undertake this initiative. However, given the nature of their responsibility, few times can they commit themselves beyond four or five years of their terms. Therefore, the promoters and axis of this "educational marathon" must be the leaders of the different religions of the world: They do not have to be re-elected; they have a wide vision and great motivation.

In line with this logic, it is indispensable that the one who promotes this initiative is a religious leader of the highest level. In Islam, there is no one leader; the small Jewish world, for obvious reasons, can allow itself to be guided but cannot open the way.

Therefore, the most appropriate leader to address this very important challenge is the Pope, especially in the light of the recent frictions within interreligious dialogue.

Q: What is the future of Christians in the Middle East?

Ben-Hur: I believe it is totally necessary that the Holy See launch an appeal so that Christians will return to live in the Middle East, in particular in Lebanon and in the Palestinian Territories. The Christian communities have always been an essential factor for peace. It is necessary that they return to be an integral part of the social fabric of these areas.

Aspirations to interreligious and intercultural dialogue can only be successful if Christians can return to coexist in an agreed manner with their Muslim Arab brothers. In this way, for example, Bethlehem would again be a city of peace and coexistence as it was in past decades.

Q: What role do pilgrims have in the political and social development of the area?

Ben-Hur: The Holy See should also launch an appeal to the Christian world and motivate its own bishops to encourage pilgrimages to the Holy Land and neighboring countries.

If only one of every thousand Catholics of the world, that is, some 1.2 billion people visited the Holy Land every year, a movement would be generated that might influence positively the Arab-Israeli conflict, profoundly altering the psychological situation, attracting investments, favoring an economic rebirth of tourist industries in support of the Palestinian people, of the Christian communities of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, etc.

Undoubtedly, pilgrims assume the role of "messengers of peace."

Q: How are relations between Israel and the Holy See developing?

Ben-Hur: We are entering our 13th year of official relations, which in Hebrew would be called "Bar Mitzvah year," a traditional rite that symbolizes the passage from childhood to adulthood, namely, to take on responsibilities and become mature. I hope this will happen.

The age-old history of Jews and Christians makes relations between Israel and the Holy See complex and difficult and, given that the rules of an interview allow for rather limited space, I will mention only two important points to explain the present state of relations.

The first is the financial and economic agreement which should establish the rights and duties of Catholic communities in Israel regarding issues of taxes, properties, holy places, access to the country's judicial system, etc. Planned for the end of November is the visit of a high-level Israeli delegation to the Vatican to discuss proposals oriented to overcoming the obstacles that endure and conclude the agreement.

The second point is the need to promote a quality leap in our relations undertaking a true political dialogue with this objective; a shared agenda must be planned of topics and common interests which is supported by reciprocal visits between the highest authorities of the two states.

Finally, though not least, I would like to recall our hope that the Pope will want to visit Israel in the course of next year.

Q: Do you see signs of optimism?

Ben-Hur: I am optimistic for two reasons.

The first, because I was born in a family of optimistic parents who, despite all the difficulties, together with their surviving companions of the Shoah, succeeded in building a democratic, strong and modern country, which is also in the fourth phase of development in the application of biotechnologies and nanotechnologies.

The second reason is the simple fact that, in Israel, we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of being pessimistic: We cannot lock ourselves in and throw the key into the Mediterranean.

We have to stretch our hand out to any willingness of the Arabs for dialogue with us and try to promote every initiative for peace in which we believe profoundly.

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Monday, 20 November 2006

Religious Freedom in Vietnam? What do you think?

Bush and Laura Bush outside Cua Bac church
Mr Bush hoped to push the message of religious freedom
When US President George W Bush attended a church in Vietnam on Sunday, his visit was a political statement as well as an act of faith.
Just days before he arrived for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit, the US took Vietnam off a list of nations it believes severely violate religious freedom.
In announcing the decision, the US state department said there had been "significant improvements toward advancing religious freedom" in Vietnam in recent years.
Mr Bush's trip to Hanoi's Cua Bac church was designed to highlight those improvements, and make sure the trend continues.
"A whole society is a society that welcomes basic freedom - and there is no more basic freedom than the freedom to worship as you see fit," he told reporters after the service.
"My hope is that people all across the world will be able to express religious freedom."
Priests jailed
Christians in Hanoi clearly feel that progress has been made.
"My parents had some difficulties in the past," said 22-year-old Do Duy Nghin, one of Vietnam's six million Catholics.
"People they knew were banned from going to church at one point, and some priests were even jailed.
"But now I feel free and comfortable to worship the way I want."
It appears that the days when the Communist authorities attached a stigma to religion are now over.

Worshippers in St Anthony's Church in Hanoi
Vietnam has the second largest Catholic community in SE Asia
People walk freely in and out of churches and Buddhist temples - some of which have been newly built in the last few years - and believers openly wear pendants and carry other symbols of their faith.
But critics say the authorities continue to restrict the activities of any religious organisations deemed to be at odds with state policy.
According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, "severe restrictions on religious freedom and abuses continue," with "forced renunciations of faith" taking place in some areas.
In a statement expressing her disagreement with Washington's decision to remove Vietnam from its blacklist, commission chairwoman Felice Gaer said the government remained "highly suspicious" of certain groups from the rural highlands.
These groups include the ethnic minority Protestants from Montagnard and Hmong communities, as well as the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).
According to the campaign organisation Human Rights Watch, several senior UBCV monks are confined to their monasteries by the authorities.
Many hundreds of house churches - underground groups which have not been officially registered by the government - also exist throughout Vietnam, and continue to complain of harassment by officials.
Increased tolerance
By contrast, Mr Bush was able to mingle freely with both Protestant and Catholic believers under the backdrop of a large wooden cross.
The Vietnamese government views its removal from the US blacklist - which includes such countries as North Korea, Iran and Sudan - as a cause for celebration. But it also sees the move as nothing less than it deserves.
"This decision reflects accurately the reality in Vietnam," said Ngo Yen Thi, director of the Committee for Religious Affairs.
Explaining the move, the US state department said Vietnam had released many religious prisoners in recent years, and that harassment of worshipers had diminished.
"Though important work remains to be done, Vietnam can no longer be identified as a severe violator of religious freedom," the department said.
Signs on the ground in the major cities are definitely looking positive.
But for freedom of religion to really come to Vietnam, it has to include all religions everywhere in the country - and so far, despite the optimism in Hanoi, this is not yet the case.

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Democracy in Iraq: What do you think?

Kissinger says Iraq isn't ripe for democracy

In a critique of Bush administration strategy, the former secretary of State says the focus should be on stability.
By Doyle McManus, Times Staff Writer
November 19, 2006

NEW YORK — Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, a frequent advisor to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, has concluded that the United States must choose between stability and democracy in Iraq — and that democracy, for now, is out of reach.

"I think that's reality. I think that was true from the beginning," Kissinger said in an interview last week.

"Iraq is not a nation in the historic sense," he said, pointing to the ferocity of the conflicts among Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs. "The evolution of democracy … usually has to go through a phase in which a nation [is] born. And by attempting to skip that process, our valid goals were distorted into what we are now seeing."

Instead of holding elections and trying to build democratic institutions from the ground up, Kissinger said, the United States should focus on more limited goals: preventing the emergence of a "fundamentalist jihadist regime" in Baghdad and enlisting other countries to help stabilize Iraq.

Speaking in unusually blunt terms at a time when the administration is reviewing policy options for Iraq, Kissinger emphasized that he did not intend to be critical of the president or other officials who have managed the U.S. effort in Iraq.

"I supported going in," he said. "I'm basically supporting the administration. And these are the criticisms of a friend of the administration who thinks well of the president."

Kissinger has made some of these points before, especially his argument that the United States should try to "internationalize" the problem of Iraq by enlisting other countries, including Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Russia, in a joint effort.

But as debate escalated over possible changes in U.S. strategy in the wake of the Democrats' victory in the congressional election, his latest comments amounted to a sharp critique of the administration's course.

He said he would have preferred a post-invasion policy that installed a strong Iraqi leader from the military or some other institution and deferred the development of democracy until later. "If we had done that right away, that might have been the best way to proceed," he said.

In Iraq, he said, elections, the centerpiece of the administration's political strategy, merely sharpened sectarian differences.

"It [was] a mistake to think that you can gain legitimacy primarily through the electoral process," he said.

And he suggested that Bush may have been slow to change course in Iraq because advisors told him the United States was winning the war.

"As long as he was told he was winning, he had every reason to pursue the recommended strategy" that his advisors had proposed, Kissinger said.

He declined to elaborate, except to add that it was impossible to portray the current state of affairs in Iraq as "winning."

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that what we're seeing now would be an odd appearance for a victory," he said.

In public, Bush and his aides have given no indication that they intend to scale back their efforts to build democracy, which the president has declared his central goal not only in Iraq, but across the Middle East.

In private, however, middle-ranking administration officials have acknowledged that the goal of building a democratic Iraqi government supported by Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds has become increasingly distant in the face of unremitting sectarian violence.

The task now, Kissinger said, is to manage the devolution of Iraq into a "confederal state" in which Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions would govern themselves "with substantial autonomy."

"The question now is, how do you manage that?" he said. "That's not an exercise in political science. That's something that has to reflect some balance of forces and some balance of interests."

An initial step, he said, would be to convene an international "contact group" including Iran, Syria and Turkey to try to create a stable balance among Iraq's factions.

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Sunday, 19 November 2006

Youth of various faiths (at Assisi) addressing youth of the world

Report on Interreligious Youth Meeting at Assisi"Prayer Does Not Divide But Unites"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 18, 2006 ( Here is the report on the interreligious youth meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi. The commemorative event was held recently in Assisi.

Monsignor Felix Machado, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, wrote the report.

* * *

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, organized an International Interreligious Youth Meeting in Assisi from Nov. 4-8, 2006, in order to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Day of Prayer for Peace which took place on Oct. 27, 1986, in Assisi.

The goal of the meeting was to pass on to the young generation the "spirit of Assisi" which the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, launched on Oct. 27. The PCID invited about 100 youth from different religious traditions throughout the world; nearly 50 young people represented the Christians and the rest came from other religious traditions.

The program was designed to make the youth discover the "spirit of Assisi" which had prayer for peace at its center; in this way the youth would testify to the truth that "prayer does not divide but unites and is a decisive element for an effective pedagogy of peace, hinged on friendship, reciprocal acceptance and dialogue between different cultures and religions" as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his message for the 20th anniversary of the first Assisi meeting (Sept. 2, 2006).

The response from the various communities and organizations of different religions to the invitations which were sent by H.E. Cardinal Paul Poupard, president, had been overwhelming and encouraging. In fact, leaders from other religions sponsored their respective representatives to the Youth Meeting and contributed to their travel expenses.

The PCID looked after the participants during the meeting. About 45 youth from 29 countries and belonging to Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Sikh, Bahai, Tenrikyo and Brahma Kumari traditions came to Assisi and formed themselves as a family for four days.

Plenary sessions, group and panel discussions and walking pilgrimage to San Damiano and Rivotorto in Assisi had been some of the highlights of the program during the Youth Meeting. The youth were able to taste the Franciscan hospitality and imbibe the sacred atmosphere of Assisi, the city of St Francis and St Clare. The youth were put up in different Franciscan houses in Assisi.

Separate rooms in the Sacro Convento in Assisi were kept at the disposal of the youth of different religions in order for them to spend quiet time in prayer and meditation according to their respective traditions. The participants were welcomed to have their meals in the common refectory by the Friars of the Sacro Convento. The meals were served respecting the traditional religious customs of different religions which were represented at the Youth Meeting.

The Christian participants from around the world formed half of the total number of youth who were present in Assisi: 35 Catholics and 16 representatives of other Christian Churches and communities. The deliberations were conducted in Italian, French and English languages, making available simultaneous translations to the participants.

The young Catholics participated in the Holy Mass which was celebrated on Sunday by H.E. Cardinal [Roger] Etchegaray. On the other days H.E. Cardinal Poupard and H.E. [Archbishop Pier Luigi] Celata celebrated the holy Masses for the Catholic youth.

H.E. Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, bishop of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, joined the opening session on Nov. 5 and formally extended his greetings to the assembly. H.E. Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, secretary, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, welcomed the participants and followed the deliberations throughout the entire meeting. Father Vincenzo Coli, Custode, Sacro Convento, also greeted the participants. H.E. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, chief organizer of the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986, delivered the keynote address, "Impact of Assisi 1986."

The "spirit of Assisi" has been kept alive by various groups, such as the Community of Sant'Egidio, Tendai Buddhists in Japan, Communion and Liberation, and the Focolare Movement. A representative each from these above-mentioned groups shared with the participants their experiences of the past 20 years. Father Coli also enlightened the participants by introducing them to the Franciscan spirituality.

The youth walked in the spirit of religious pilgrimage from the Basilica of St. Francis to Rivotorto, where St. Francis lived most of his life. On their way to Rivotorto, at the ancient Church of San Damiano, a young Franciscan friar guided the youth in reflection on the conversion of St Francis. At Rivitorto likewise a young Franciscan sister led the youth in meditation on St. Francis' resolve to serve the poor.

On Nov. 6 Kathryn Lohre, representing the World Council of Churches, Geneva, addressed the youth participants on "Upholding Common Values and Respecting the Differences." Ms. Lohre from the Lutheran tradition also took part in a panel discussion which was held on Nov. 7. A Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew and a Catholic joined the panel discussion which was presided over by H.E. Cardinal Paul Poupard and moderated by Father Felix Machado.

Cardinal Poupard also addressed the youth on Nov. 7. In his address he made the youth aware of the present situation of interreligious relations, taking into account some difficulties but above all encouraging the youth to live in hope for future by themselves becoming active protagonists of interreligious collaboration in order to establish harmony in society and peace in the world.

The youth were not passive listeners during the whole meeting. They were encouraged to actively forge bonds of friendship so that upon their return they themselves become active protagonists of peace in their own communities and societies. Creative sessions of interactions had been included in the program. The youth decided to send out a "Message from the Youth to the Youth" as an expression of their hope for a world of harmony and peace; the message was jointly formulated by seven youth participants who represented different religious traditions; they declared it as a conclusion of the meeting.

In the spirit of commitment and with joy and enthusiasm in their hearts, the youth wrote: "We appeal to all people that peace is not something only to be sought in halls of government, but also in the halls of our synagogues, our churches, our mosques, our temples, our pagodas, our gurudwaras, our atash berhams, our schools, our work places, our homes and most importantly in our hearts. We will strive to follow the path of peace, guided by the precepts of our respective religious traditions. In the 'spirit of Assisi' and with a united voice, we echo the words of that great ambassador of peace, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, as we cry out: 'Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth Justice and Peace, Forgiveness and Life, Love!'"

The Assisi Youth Meeting concluded in Rome on Nov. 8 when the participants joined the large assembly of 30,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. It was the general audience of the Holy Father. Explaining the deeper meaning of the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Pope Benedict XVI had written to Bishop Sorrentino on Sept. 2, 2006: "We are in greater need of this dialogue than ever, especially if we look at the new generations. Sentiments of hatred and vengeance have been inculcated in numerous young people in those parts of the world marked by conflicts, in ideological contexts where the seeds of ancient resentment are cultivated and their souls prepared for future violence. These barriers must be torn down and encounter must be encouraged. I am glad, therefore, that the initiatives planned in Assisi this year are along these lines and, in particular, that the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has had the idea of applying them in a special way for young people."

Addressing the youth who gathered in Assisi from Nov. 4-7, 2006, and who had come to participate in the general audience on Nov. 8, 2006, the Holy Father said: "I am pleased to greet the young people of different nations and religious traditions who recently gathered in Assisi to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Interreligious Meeting of Prayer for Peace desired by my predecessor, Pope John Paul II. I thank the various religious leaders who enabled them to take part in this event, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue which organized it. Dear young friends: our world urgently needs peace!

"The Assisi meeting emphasized the power of prayer in building peace. Genuine prayer transforms hearts, opens us to dialogue, understanding and reconciliation, and breaks down the walls erected by violence, hatred and revenge. May you now return to your own religious communities as witnesses to the 'spirit of Assisi,' messengers of that peace which is God's gracious gift, and living signs of hope for our world." [Text adapted]

Message From Youth, to Youth"We Were United in a Single Purpose: Praying for Peace"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 18, 2006 ( Here is a message from the participants in the interreligious youth meeting that commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi. This message was released through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

* * *

Interreligious Youth Meeting
Nov. 4-8, 2006
Assisi, Italy

Message from Youth, to Youth

We came together in Assisi, called from nearly 30 nations and representing 13 religious traditions, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the historic Day of Prayer for World Peace in 1986. Invited by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and sent by our religious communities and organizations, we young people came here to carry forward the flame of peace ignited by our spiritual leaders 20 years ago in these same sacred spaces.

We encountered one another with honesty and sincerity to build up the bonds of fraternity that unite us all as brothers and sisters in our humanity, fashioned by and in God. From our commonly held desires for happiness, justice and truth, we entered into genuine dialogue.

We shared and learned about each other's cultures and beliefs, not to minimize or ignore our differences, but to grow in mutual respect, esteem and understanding. Though we do not share the same religious convictions, we have all inherited the same earth and share a common responsibility to be faithful citizens of society and to be good stewards of creation.

We prayed according to our respective religious traditions, imploring from God the precious gift of peace. While our prayers were offered in different places, languages and ways, we were united in a single purpose: praying for peace. In this way, we testified to the truth that "prayer does not divide but unites and is a decisive element for an effective pedagogy of peace, hinged on friendship, reciprocal acceptance and dialogue between different cultures and religions" as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his message for the 20th anniversary of the first Assisi meeting.

We walked as pilgrims to the site of St. Francis of Assisi's conversion 800 years ago, when God called out to Francis "Go, rebuild my house." Likewise today, in the spirit of our respective religions, we young people hear the call to "Go, rebuild our world," which is too often broken by violence and war.

We appeal to all people that peace is not something only to be sought in halls of government, but also in the halls of our synagogues, our churches, our mosques, our temples, our pagodas, our gurudwaras, our atash berhrams, our schools, our workplaces, our homes and most importantly in our hearts.

We will strive to follow the path to peace, guided by the precepts of our respective religious traditions. In the "spirit of Assisi" and with a united voice, we echo the words of that great ambassador of peace, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, as we cry out:

Violence never again!
War never again!
Terrorism never again!

In the name of God,
may every religion bring upon the earth
Justice and Peace,
Forgiveness and Life,

We young people represent a new generation and a new hope. We resolve to return to our families and communities, to be advocates for interreligious and intercultural understanding and respect. We accept the responsibility of continuing the dialogue begun here in Assisi and we fully commit ourselves to working for justice and to be instruments of peace in our homelands and in every corner of the earth.

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Thursday, 16 November 2006

Some young modern nuns

Today's Nun Has A Veil--And A Blog
More young women are entering convents. How they are changing the sisterhood


Posted Monday, Nov. 13, 2006

For the iPod generation, it doesn't get more radical than wearing a veil. The hijab worn by traditional Muslim women might have people talking, but it's the wimple that really turns heads. And in the U.S. today, the nuns most likely to wear that headdress are the ones young enough to have a playlist.

Over the past five years, Roman Catholic communities around the country have experienced a curious phenomenon: more women, most in their 20s and 30s, are trying on that veil. Convents in Nashville, Tenn.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and New York City all admitted at least 15 entrants over the past year and fielded hundreds of inquiries. One convent is hurriedly raising funds for a new building to house the inflow, and at another a rush of new blood has lowered the median age of its 225 sisters to 36. Catholic centers at universities, including Illinois and Texas A&M, report growing numbers of women entering discernment, or the official period of considering a vocation. Career women seeking more meaning in their lives and empty-nest moms are also finding their way to convent doors.

This is a welcome turnabout for the church. As opportunities opened for women in the 1960s and '70s, fewer of them viewed the asceticism and confinements of religious life as a tempting career choice. Since 1965, the number of Catholic nuns in the U.S. has declined from 179,954 to just 67,773, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The average age of nuns today is 69. But over the past decade or so, expressing their religious beliefs openly has become hip for many young people, a trend intensified among Catholic women by the charismatic appeal of Pope John Paul II's youth rallies and his interpretation of modern feminism as a way for women to express Christian values.

As this so-called JP2 generation has come of age, religious orders have begun to reach out again to young people--and to do so in the language that young people speak. Convents conduct e-mail correspondence with interested women, blogs written by sisters give a peek into the habited life and websites offer online personality questionnaires to test vocations. One site, frames the choice much like a dating service, with Christ as the ultimate match. "For a long time, we neglected to invite people to see what we are about," says Sister Doris Gottemoeller of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of America, a national order. "I think we're more ready to do that now."

And although the extreme conservatism of a nun's life may seem wholly countercultural for young American women today, that is exactly what attracts many of them, say experts and the women themselves. "Religious life itself is a radical choice," says Brother Paul Vednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference in Chicago. "In an age where our primary secular values are sex, power and money, for someone to choose chastity, obedience and poverty is a radical statement."

That radicalism is, ironically, embodied by the wearing of the veil. Decreed unnecessary by Vatican II and shed happily by many older nuns, the headdress is for many of today's newcomers a desired accessory. "A lot of my older sisters would never wear the veil," says Sister Sarah Roy, 29, who is the only member of her Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, Ill., to do so. (The others wear a simple dark dress adorned by a pin.) Though she admits "people just stare at you like you're a freak," she adds, "It's a trend with younger women wanting to wear the veil now."

Newer nuns see the veil as a public expression of faith, says Cheryl Reed, author of Unveiled: Inside the Hidden Lives of Nuns. "You can understand why a woman who has given up sex, freedom and money would want to wear her wedding dress--which is what they consider their habits to be. You want to say, 'I'm special. I gave this up.'"

Katharine Johnson isn't sure yet which wedding dress she will choose--a white one or a black one. At 21, she is in her third year of discernment. For now the senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign dresses as her classmates do, though on her ring finger she wears a miniature rosary and a favorite T shirt reads, EVERYONE LOVES A CATHOLIC GIRL. She still dates but limits physical contact to kissing. "As I date men and I date convents, I am waiting for God to say, 'This is where your heart belongs,'" she says.

Becoming a nun typically takes seven to nine years. After the period of discernment, a woman enters a religious community as a postulant, and she reflects upon her vocation and helps with chores around the convent. At the end of what is primarily a yearlong spiritual retreat, the postulant and her advisers in the community decide whether she will become a novice and study Catholic theology and ministry for up to two years. She may then take her temporary vows. After an additional four to eight years during which she serves the convent's mission, she makes her final vows and becomes a professed nun.

At the Sisters of Life Formation House in the Bronx, N.Y., 16 young women are making their way through that journey. They include a former Marine, a professional opera singer, a United Nations aide and a recent Yale grad. They have left behind paychecks, apartments, even boyfriends. Sister Thérèse Saglimbeni, 27, a novice who joined the convent in 2005, recalls watching the sisters playing volleyball while she was a student at the nearby State University of New York Maritime College. "I was with my boyfriend and had said how fun the sisters looked," she says. "He said, 'Well, why don't you join them?' And I replied, 'Well, maybe I will!'"

The other sisters chuckle when Saglimbeni recounts her saucy retort. But many of their loved ones feel less jovial about the women's decision to take the veil. "For those who are called, there is a real falling in love. You are filled with a joy and desire to be with God," says Sister Mary Gabriel Devlin, 32, vocation director at Sisters of Life. "Their families are not experiencing this, so it can be hard for them to understand." The sense of alienation can be even greater when women choose an order that isolates them from their families and others so that they can devote themselves to strict schedules of regimented prayer. Convents like Sisters of Life that combine contemplation with active ministry to the public are the most popular among young women.

While the JP2 generation seeks order and community, Gen Xers are coming to religious life in a quest for meaning after secular society has failed to meet their needs. "It's been my experience that women who are older--in their 30s and early 40s--feel that they've accomplished a lot with their life, but there's still something missing," says Sister Laurie Brink, 45, a professor of biblical studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago who has lectured on the subject and who took her vows at 37. Her generation, she adds, growing up in the wake of Vatican II, was not as schooled in catechism as were baby boomers and millennials. Many also broke from the church when their parents divorced. "My generation," says Brink, "is not good with commitment because we haven't seen a lot of it."

Now they're finding a sense of wholeness by binding themselves to their faith. Sister Melissa Schreifels, 37, first considered becoming a nun when a teacher at her high school in St. Cloud, Minn., suggested it. Because it seemed that "nobody was doing that anymore," Schreifels attended college and launched a career as a pharmacist, volunteering at her church, a hospital library and a pregnancy crisis center in her spare time. "But there was just an emptiness inside that doing the volunteer work and the pharmacy work didn't fill in me," she says. When a pastor again suggested sisterhood, Schreifels reconsidered. In 2003 she joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, Minn., who do not mandate a habit or discourage her from continuing to work as a pharmacist for Target. Schreifels gave up her Subaru Forester and apartment and moved into a house with the sisters, but her work is considered part of the order's mission to serve the community; her salary goes to support the sisterhood. "I am open to whatever God is asking," says Schreifels.

Although Bea FitzGerald, 66, first heard the call as a young woman, she pushed it aside to raise her seven children. After her husband left in 1968, she put herself through school and supported her family as a registered nurse. Once her children were grown, the call grew louder. She obtained an annulment, joined the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, based in Louisville, Ky., and, at 51, became one of the growing number of so-called Sister Moms. While widowed or divorced women with grown children have long entered religious life, Sister Moms in the U.S. are now establishing a distinct identity for themselves. Spurred by a dissertation project for her Ed.D. at Spalding University, FitzGerald tracked down 125 of them in 98 religious communities around the country. In the 1990s, she began an annual conference at which the women bond over such unique experiences as telling their children about their choice ("98% are supportive," says FitzGerald).

Nuns of all ages at convents in the U.S. say modern technology is helping them give the world--and prospective applicants--a more realistic picture of their lives. "There are people out there who wonder what being a nun is like," says Sister Julie Vieira, 36. "These are people who were exposed to stereotypes of nuns and don't understand how we really live." So last summer Vieira began a blog titled A Nun's Life, in which she has chronicled her days as a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and also a conventional-dressing, apartment-dwelling, master's degree--holding production coordinator at the Loyola Press, a Catholic publisher in Chicago. "Being a nun has not always been my lifelong goal," she writes in one entry. "The whole 'nun' thing kind of snuck up on me when I wasn't paying much attention ... I can't tell you how many times I've been called 'Sister Julie' that it doesn't jolt me or make me look around and wonder who they are talking about."

Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, vocation director at the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, credits e-mail to some extent with what can only be described as her order's astonishing growth. Founded in 1997 as an offshoot of a large convent, the Sisters now have 73 members with an average age of 24. In 2006, 15 women entered as postulants. Next August, more than 20 women are scheduled to join them. The order is fund raising for a new convent for them to live in. "We cannot build fast enough. It's incredible," says Bogdanowicz, 50.

The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, whose average age is 70, are seeking a similar youth infusion. The order, based in Mantiowac, Wis., hired a marketing company from nearby Milwaukee to hold focus groups on college campuses around the state. The marketers then launched a website featuring a blog written by the nuns, along with a slickly produced podcast about a young nun joining the order.

There's also a downloadable song of the month donated by a Christian artist, in response to the focus groups' revelation that "music was one of the highest ways to communicate with" young people, says vocation director Sister Julie Ann Sheahan. Thus the order's radio and TV ads feature a theme song based on a Franciscan hymn. The tune is also available on the website as a ringtone. Its title: Called to Be.

Read profiles of new nuns and link to their blogs and websites at

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Monday, 13 November 2006

A thought on Iraq

The Holy See (and Pope John Paul II in particular) was against both Iraqi wars, but always acknowledged the moral and Christian character of both Bush presidents. In particular their defence of the unborn and of family life has been and is exceedingly commendable.

In respect to the war in Iraq, by hindsight we can see the wisdom of the Holy See in its opposition to the invasion, but now the same Holy See is very much against a simple pull-out. Iraq has to be defended and helped to survive.

There are some who think the Coalition should simply get out (in the same way that some previous members of the 'Coalition of the Willing' simply got out) and leave it to the beleaguered Iraqis. But what would happen then? Look at what is happening now! Consider the immense carnage and murder perpetrated by the insurgents on the defenceless population. Would not this continue?

It is a strange situation in which the mayhem and destruction going on in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq are presumed by so many to be the responsibility simply of the Americans. This seems to me to be an absurdity. Were the Americans to cut and run (even if it took say, a year to do so), what would the insurgents do? They would hardly drop their arms and be peaceful. Moreover, they themselves have already announced that they plan to take the fight to the enemy once the enemy (America) has been driven out.

We cannot simply leave Iraq stranded.

Welcome to this Blog

The purpose of this blog is to communicate and share thoughts on life, faith and religion. My hope is that this blog will be a kind of journal or conversation on various topics of current interest, considered in the light of our Catholic Faith.

Father EJ Tyler