Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pope gives top Curia officials cake, sparkling wine and end of year review

I seem to recall that back in my bureaucratic, pagan days, theory demanded that in a perfectly designed organization, no supervisor should have more than 7-10 individuals reporting to him (that was before diversity, folks).

This photograph of the Pope and his staff a couple of weeks ago indicates that, according to modern organizational theory anyway, the Roman Catholic Church leaves something to be desired.

Of course, "modern organizational theory" does not take into account the Holy Spirit and personalities like Pope Benedict XVI.

There has been much written on the Pope's recent annual meeting with his Vatican officials and much of it I found boring and hard to understand.

Fortunately, the Catholic Herald in England, under the interesting and able direction of its editor, Damian Thompson, knows how to write an interesting and informative paragraph. They are even better at writing headlines. I don't need volumes. I have too much to read as it is trying to find posts for Stella Borealis.

Pope gives top Curia officials cake, sparkling wine and end of year review

Benedict XVI gave his Roman Curia officials the traditional bottle of sparkling wine and panettone cake for Christmas, and he added a gift they can chew on for days: a seven-page speech on the Holy Spirit's presence in the Church events of 2008.

The Pope met his top administrators to exchange Christmas greetings and review the year as it draws to a close. His talk was not a simple "Best of 2008" list, however, but a probing analysis of what lies behind some of the Church's most visible activities.

In particular, he offered his interpretation of two issues that prompted headlines in recent months, but whose meaning he believed was misunderstood: the international World Youth Day celebrations and the Vatican's strong pronouncements on ecology.

The Pope recalled his trip to Australia for the World Youth Day gathering in July, where he presided over events with 200,000 young people. Fears of paralysed traffic or public disturbances proved unfounded, he said, and the encounter turned out to be a "festival of joy."

The Pope noted that some people view World Youth Day as the Church's version of a rock concert, where the Pope is just the main attraction. Others, including Catholics, wonder whether they really have any lasting impact on the participants.

The Pope responded by saying these objections don't take into account the power of the Holy Spirit.

He quoted first the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said that throwing a party wasn't as hard as finding people able to attend it with joy. Then he quoted St Paul, who said joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit - something abundantly evident at World Youth Day.

He pointed out that the Australian assembly was the culmination of a long spiritual pilgrimage for the young participants, one focused intensely on Christ.

"So even the Pope is not the star around which all this turns," he said.

Those who describe the youth encounters as the Catholic variant of rock festivals, he added, are really trying to remove the all-important "question of God" from the discussion.

In a similar way, the Pope said, the Church's teaching on ecology needs to be understood as arising from God - the "creator Spirit" - who made the earth and its creatures with an "intelligent structure" that demands respect. Because of faith, the Church has a responsibility for protecting the created world and for proclaiming publicly this environmental responsibility, he said.

The Pope then explained why the human being must be at the centre of the Church's ecological concern.

"The Church must protect not only the earth, the water and the air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. It must also protect man against self-destruction," he said. "The tropical forests certainly deserve our protection, but man as a creature does not deserve any less."

By "self-destruction", the Pope said he meant "contempt for the Creator", and he said examples could be found in so-called "gender" issues today.

He offered a case in point: marriage as a permanent union between a man and a woman was something instituted by God as "the sacrament of creation".

Although the Pope didn't specifically talk about same-sex marriage, the meaning was clear enough to prompt some unusual headlines about rainforests and homosexuals.

The Pope said the Holy Spirit was the protagonist of another important event of 2008, the Synod of Bishops on Scripture. The Synod emphasised that, far from being a dead letter, the word of God was alive and was speaking to contemporary Christians in a modern Pentecost. UK Catholic Herald

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

'Vatican Splendors' exhibit extended in St. Paul

A rare exhibit of Vatican art and artifacts is being extended an extra week in St. Paul.

The exhibit, called "Vatican Splendors" is at the Minnesota History Center. It includes 200 items, including one of the oldest representations of the face of Jesus Christ.

The exhibit opened Sept. 27 and will now run through Jan. 19. After that, all the objects must go back to Italy.

Minnesota History Center Director Dan Spock says the exhibit's attendance has surpassed that in other cities. In response to demand, the History Center has extended its hours.

Among the treasures is, "Daniel in the Lion's Den," a 17th-century statue created by famed sculptor and architect Lorenzo Bernini. It's the first time its been displayed outside the Vatican.

St. Paul is the last stop of the exhibit's U.S. tour. Star Tribune

Vatican Splendors:

Minnesota History Center:

India, Exporter of Priests, May Keep Them Home; Part 3 of 3


India, Exporter of Priests, May Keep Them Home

James Estrin/The New York Times

PREPARING FOR PRIESTHOOD Students gather for evening prayers in Aluva, India. Hundreds of young Indians are in seminary, but attitudes are shifting.

ALUVA, India — In the sticky night air, next to a grove of mahogany trees, nearly 50 young men in madras shirts saunter back and forth along a basketball court, reciting the rosary.

Divine Recruits

Last of Three Articles

James Estrin/The New York Times

FOCUSED ON FAITH In Kerala, a state in the southwest part of the country where 20 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, families like the Alengadans pray together at home and Mass attendance is high.

James Estrin/The New York Times

The Rev. Jolly Vadakken, left, with seminarians in Irinjalakuda, had offers to work in Italy and Atlanta but wanted to stay in India.

They are seminarians studying to become Roman Catholic priests. Together, they send a great murmuring into the hilly village, mingling with the Muslim call to prayer and the chanting of Vedas from a Hindu temple on a nearby ridge.

Young men willing to join the priesthood are plentiful in India, unlike in the United States and Europe. Within a few miles of this seminary, called Don Bosco College, are two much larger seminaries, each with more than 400 students.

As a result, bishops trek here from the United States, Europe, Latin America and Australia looking for spare priests to fill their empty pulpits. Hundreds have been allowed to go, siphoning support from India’s widespread network of Catholic churches, schools, orphanages, missionary projects and social service programs.

At least 800 Indian priests are working in the United States alone. India, Vietnam and the Philippines are among the leading exporters of priests, according to data compiled by researchers at Catholic University of America in Washington.

But these days the Indian prelates have reason to reconsider their generosity. With India modernizing at breakneck speed, more young men are choosing financial gain over spiritual sacrifice.

“There is a great danger just now because the spirit of materialism is on the increase,” said Bishop Mar James Pazhayattil, the founding bishop of the Diocese of Irinjalakuda, as he sat barefoot at his desk, surrounded by mementos of a lifetime of church service. “Faith and the life of sacrifice are becoming less.”

Some of the forces contributing to a lack of priests in Europe and the United States have begun to take shape here.

Parents are having fewer children, with even observant Catholics freely admitting they use birth control. The Indian economy, which has boomed for years, offers more career options.

Many priests once came from large agricultural families. But now land is scarce, the soil tapped out. Families are moving to cities, far from the tight-knit parishes that for generations kept Indian Catholics connected to their faith. And educated young Catholics are increasingly attracted to fields like engineering and technology.

In past generations, having a son become a priest increased the family’s stature, said the Rev. Jose Kuriedath, a sociologist in Aluva who has written a book about vocations in India. Mr. Kuriedath recounted an adage in Malayalam, the local language: “It is equal in dignity to have either an elephant or a priest in the family.”

But this is changing.

Answering a Call

At St. Paul’s Minor Seminary in the Diocese of Irinjalakuda, sleepy teenage boys clamber from their dormitory every morning down to chapel, past a statue of Mary and portraits of Pope Benedict XVI and Gandhi.

Among them is Chacko Kuttuparambil, a stocky 17-year-old who wears high-top basketball shoes and slim, stylish glasses. His prosperous family was not particularly supportive of his joining the priesthood, he said.

His father, an apartment building manager, wanted him to be a computer engineer. His brother, a business executive, also tried to dissuade him. Chacko is the younger of two sons, and traditionally it is the responsibility of the youngest son to care for the parents in their old age.

But Chacko felt called to the priesthood because, he said, as a child he was miraculously cured of a viral infection that paralyzed the right side of his body for two years.

“He gave me life,” Chacko said, “so I am to give my life to Him.”

On a hot day before the rainy season arrived, Chacko and his fellow students boarded a bus for a field trip intended to expose them to ministry work. Along the way, the teenagers clapped and belted out Christian hymns and pop tunes. They craned to look out at billboards of motorcycles, mobile phones and models with bare midriffs advertising sari shops.

The students arrived at a home for mentally ill adults run by an order of nuns in pink saris. Some students initially recoiled at the patients’ odd tics. But as they had been taught, they separated into small groups to talk with the patients, many of whom brightened under the boys’ attention. Most of the students were selected for the seminary after attending a “life guidance camp” that each year draws hundreds of local teenagers for a three-day session at St. Paul’s.

Those who seem promising are invited back for a vocation retreat, and the best of those are invited to join the seminary.

In a first-year class, the students studied a pamphlet called “Growing up Gracefully.” The school’s rector, the Rev. Sebastian Panjikaran, demonstrated proper priestly etiquette. Father Panjikaran acted out the wrong way for a priest to walk through town, charging down the aisle between the students’ desks, his eyes fixed on the ground.

“A priest should not walk so fast,” he said, turning to face the students. “He should walk how?”

“Slowly,” the students said.

“He should walk slowly,” Father Panjikaran repeated, strolling casually up the aisle and making eye contact with the students. “And he should ... ?”

“Help,” the students say in unison.

If you walk slowly, Father Panjikaran explained, the people will see you are friendly and accessible and will ask you for help. He concluded, “You can have that sense of usefulness if you do good for others.”

Changing Landscape

Catholics represent a tiny proportion of the population in India — about 2 percent. But they have played an outsize role in weaving the country’s social safety net, establishing schools, hospitals, old-age homes and other organizations that serve many non-Catholics.

The church here is ancient, with three separate rites, each with its own liturgies and bishops. Here in Kerala, a state in southwest India, Catholics of the Syro-Malabar rite trace their roots to the Apostle Thomas, who according to lore arrived by boat in A.D. 52, made disciples among the ruling Brahmin class and planted seven churches.

About 20 percent of Kerala’s population is Catholic, and being faithful is more than a once-a-week event. Families pray together at home in the evenings, kneeling at shrines in their sitting rooms. Mass attendance in many dioceses is over 80 percent. And the entire community turns out for local festivals on saints days.

After evening Mass one Sunday at Sacred Heart Keezhmad, the parish just up the hill from Don Bosco College, the young altar boys and some friends were helping the priest close the sacristy. Of eight young men, including the president of the local Catholic youth organization, only one said he was interested in becoming a priest. Six said they aspired to be engineers, and one said he wanted to be a doctor.

Like many seminaries run by religious orders, Don Bosco College traditionally did not accept students who were the only child in their families. But that policy has changed, said the Rev. Sebastian Kalambaden, the seminary’s administrator. The seminary also has two students who were brought up Hindu and converted to Catholicism. Until recently, most seminaries avoided taking converts.

Duty to Serve Abroad

Some graduates and former teachers of Don Bosco College are now serving overseas. The students are aware that if they do well they might be tapped. And many see it as their responsibility to go.

“People came from foreign countries as missionaries, and because of them we have Christianity, and in many ways we are benefiting,” said Augustine Thekkepookombil, a seminarian. “ So I feel it is my duty to give spiritual help. That would be the best way of showing gratitude.”

The Diocese of Irinjalakuda has 10 priests serving in the United States, as well as 3 in Germany, 2 in Canada and one in England. Four are studying in Rome.

In the United States, four of the Indian priests are in Birmingham, Ala., where the former bishop arranged about seven years ago to pay the Diocese of Irinjalakuda $5,000 a year for each borrowed priest, an official in the Indian diocese said. Many bishops have such arrangements, giving them a motive other than generosity to loan out their priests.

Bishop Pazhayattil said he chose which priests to send abroad very carefully. Some who volunteer, he said, could easily go astray so far from home.

And some do not want to go. The Rev. Jolly Vadakken had studied in Rome and worked short-term in parishes in Germany, Minneapolis and Birmingham. Tall and prepossessing, fluent in five languages, Father Vadakken had offers to work as a parish pastor in Italy and Atlanta. But he preferred to stay home.

In Irinjalakuda, he runs a Catholic resource center across the street from the diocese’s towering pink cathedral. He buzzes around the diocese on a motorcycle, often in his cassock, his cellphone ringing incessantly. He operates a suicide hot line (Kerala has one of the highest suicide rates in India), counsels couples, teaches courses in parenting and runs a program that mediates local conflicts.

He said he feels more vital here than he did in the United States or Europe, where he was needed only for the sacraments.

“In the other world, we are official priests,” he said. “We are satisfied just doing the Mass and sacraments, everything on time, everything perfect.

“In India, the people come close to us,” he continued. “The work satisfaction is different. Our ministry is so much wanted here.”

At the same time, the Catholic church in Irinjalakuda is expanding. When Bishop Pazhayattil was appointed in 1978, the diocese had 78 parishes; it now has 129. He said it was unlikely he would be so eager to send his priests to Europe or the United States in the future.

The rectors of both large seminaries in Aluva, with over 400 students each, each said in separate interviews that the Catholic church in the United States and Europe would eventually need to stop relying on India to supply priests.

“It is not a solution,” said Msgr. Bosco Puthur, the rector of St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary in Mangalapuzha. “It is only a stopgap that does not solve the problem.” New York Times

In America for Job, a Kenyan Priest Finds a Home ; Part 2 of 3


In America for Job, a Kenyan Priest Finds a Home

James Estrin/The New York Times

The Rev. Chrispin Oneko greeting a young parishioner in his Western Kentucky church.

OAK GROVE, Ky. — The Rev. Chrispin Oneko, hanging up his vestments after leading one of his first Sunday Masses at his new American parish, was feeling content until he discovered several small notes left by his parishioners.

The notes, all anonymous, conveyed the same message: Father, please make your homilies shorter. One said that even five minutes was too long for a mother with children.

At home in Kenya, Father Oneko had preached to rural Africans who walked for hours to get to church and would have been disappointed if the sermons were brief.

“Here the whole Mass is one hour,” he said, a broad smile on his round face. “That was a homework for me, to learn to summarize everything and make the homily 10 minutes, maybe 15. Here, people are on the move very fast.”

Father Oneko is part of a wave of Roman Catholic priests from Africa, Asia and Latin America who have been recruited to fill empty pulpits in parishes across America. They arrive knowing how to celebrate Mass, anoint the sick and baptize babies. But few are prepared for the challenges of being a pastor in America.

Father Oneko, 46, had never counseled parishioners like those he found here at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. Many are active-duty or retired military families coping with debt, racial prejudice, multiple deployments to war zones and post-traumatic stress disorder. Nor did he have any idea how to lead the multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaign the parishioners had embarked on, hoping to build an octagonal church with a steeple to replace their red brick parish hall.

Cutting his sermons short was, in some ways, the least of Father Oneko’s worries when he arrived here in 2004. He did not understand the African-American experience. He had never dealt with lay people so involved in running their church. And yet, in the end, the families of his church would come to feel an affinity with their gentle new pastor, reaching out to him in his hour of need, just as he had tended to them in theirs.

To the volunteers at St. Michael’s, it was clear that Father Oneko was out of his element in many ways. Marie Lake, the church’s volunteer administrator, and her husband, Fred, often invited him for dinner.

“My husband was driving him down 41A and there was a big old statue of Uncle Sam,” said Mrs. Lake, who owns an accounting business and keeps the church’s books. “He thought it was Sam from Sam’s Club wholesale.”

To help him along, the Lakes gave Father Oneko a high school textbook on American history and government.

“Many years ago we sent our missionaries to Africa, and now they’re sending missionaries here,” Mrs. Lake said. “It’s strange how that goes.”

In this largely rural, largely white area of Western Kentucky, the Rev. Darrell Venters, who is in charge of recruiting priests for the Diocese of Owensboro, knew that some of his parishes would never accept Father Oneko, who is short, stout and very dark-skinned.

But Father Venters thought that Father Oneko and St. Michael’s, a parish on the outskirts of a big military base, with its racial mix and many families who had lived abroad, was a good bet.

“We knew if any parish would accept him, it would be this one,” Father Venters said.

Inspired to Serve

When Father Oneko was growing up, the priest in his Roman Catholic parish was an American who spoke the native Luo language and was beloved by the villagers. He showed the children home movies of his parents and his seminary back in America.

“He inspired me,” Father Oneko said. “He was able to speak my language better than anybody I have known. It really interested me, the way I saw him praying the rosary every day. I just admired to be like him.”

In Kenya, Father Oneko became the sole pastor for 12 satellite parishes in an 80-mile stretch. He served more than 3,000 people communion on a typical weekend and ran a girls high school.

It was a hardship post. His car, the only one in the vicinity, was used as a school bus, an ambulance and, if the local officers caught a thief, a police car — with Father Oneko the driver.

When his bishop asked for volunteers to serve in a diocese in Jamaica that badly needed priests, Father Oneko put up his hand. He wanted a new challenge, and being a missionary suited his vision of serving the church.

He found conditions in Jamaica even more desperate than in Kenya. Violence was so common that thugs had killed a priest at the altar.

“The rats in the rectory ate my clothes,” he said. “I got a baby kitten to hunt the rats, but the kitten was eaten by hungry dogs.”

Father Oneko lasted nearly five years as pastor of five churches in Jamaica. But after so much time in hardship posts, he wanted to taste life in a developed country. He sent letters of introduction to dioceses in the United States.

He received offers from two American dioceses. He knew nothing about the Diocese of Owensboro, but picked it because he felt some affinity with its name.

“Our names start with O,” he explained. “So I was so much interested in this place that starts with O.”

Priests must have permission to leave their own dioceses, and some bishops are reluctant to let their priests go, especially if their parishes are understaffed.

In fact, the flow of priests from the developing world to Europe and the United States amounts to a brain drain: most of those developing countries have far fewer priests in proportion to Roman Catholics than the United States does. Father Oneko’s situation in Kenya, serving 12 parishes simultaneously, was not unusual.

But Father Oneko’s bishop at the time, Archbishop John Njenga of Mombasa, said he was receptive to the pleas of the bishops in Jamaica and the United States. He had traveled to Germany and seen parishes closed for lack of priests.

“The Lord will reward us for our generosity, for letting men go out there,” said Archbishop Njenga, who is now retired.

Father Oneko arrived at St. Michael’s on the heels of a Nigerian priest who had been helping out temporarily. Father Oneko said he was unnerved to hear that the Nigerian had not been a resounding success. Parishioners complained that they could not understand his accent. An American pastor said the Nigerian had seemed overly interested in material goods. When an ophthalmologist offered to fit him for glasses at no charge, he asked for three pairs.

But parishioners soon noticed that Father Oneko was different. He listened and won people over with his humility. Where the Nigerian priest had taught the choir to sing African hymns, Father Oneko did not try to impose his worship style. And he learned to keep his sermons to no more than 15 minutes and the Masses to one hour.

One Sunday, after he opened his homily with a joke that fell flat, he said, “I know some of you are looking at your watches, so I’ll make it brief.”

He preached slowly, in his Kenyan accent: “Late us prrray.” Sometimes he spelled out words when he saw the congregation looking puzzled. “B-I-R-D, not B-E-D,” he said.

He did not tell the parishioners that in Kenya and Jamaica, he had been a charismatic Catholic, participating in faith healings and leading Masses with spirited singing and clapping that lasted for hours.

In Kentucky, he stuck to the music the congregation was used to. At the Saturday evening Mass, that meant a faint choir of three voices; at the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, an extended family of Filipinos played guitar and piano.

Some afternoons, the church’s deacon, Jack Cheasty, would see Father Oneko sitting alone at the piano in a corner of the church, quietly playing the upbeat charismatic hymns he loved. “He’s cautious to do anything that might be divisive,” Deacon Cheasty said, “and that’s one of his strengths.”

Tending the Flock

Father Oneko drove slowly out of the church parking lot one day in his Ford Taurus with a bumper sticker that said, “The Holy Priesthood: Called, Consecrated, Sent.” He was making house calls, giving communion to three parishioners too ill to come to church.

At the first house, he was offered a seat in an armchair, but instead he chose to sit on a rumpled couch next to his ailing parishioner, SunI Robbins, so frail from lung cancer she could barely sit up. She opened trembling hands to receive the eucharist.

“Don’t lose hope,” Father Oneko said gently, “because we all love you. Mr. Robbins loves you. The whole church, we are all praying for you. Just trust in God’s mercy and love.” (Mrs. Robbins has since died.)

Driving well under the speed limit, as is his habit, he said that Africans were far more accustomed to death — and premature death — than Americans. In Kenya, he said, so many parents were used to having children die. In Africa, he said, “We just accept it.”

He drove into the countryside to the home of one of the church’s founding members, Shirley Korman. In the yard, Mrs. Korman’s son was stalking small game with a rifle. Inside, the house was decorated with large framed prints of Civil War battle scenes.

Mrs. Korman, a retired nurse who has congestive heart failure, sat in a glider rocker, a red wig setting off her pale skin. She said that when her husband died, Father Oneko had comforted her and led a moving funeral.

“Father Chrispin,” she said, “if you’re still here in Kentucky, I want you to come and do my funeral.”

His answer was gentle: “I hope to still see more of you, but if it happens, I will fulfill your request.”

On the way out, after passing a portrait of Robert E. Lee, Father Oneko spied a statue of a guardian angel on the kitchen table. The angel was a beautiful woman in flowing robes, and she was black.

“I haven’t seen one like that before!” Father Oneko exclaimed, delighted.

That night, he settled at a table at a Mexican restaurant filled with soldiers in uniform and their families, where he discovered to his satisfaction that sizzling fajitas tasted a lot like the grilled meat he missed from Kenya. He said that although he saw himself as a missionary, he did not think he was actually spreading the faith in Kentucky.

“People already know their faith,” he said. “Mine is only to help them. I’m not planting any new faith here. Mine is only to water it.”

He confessed that he had an easier time relating to white Americans than African-Americans because he did not understand why blacks carried such resentments toward the United States.

“Their ancestors are long gone,” he said. “They are bitter for I don’t know what.”

He has little tolerance for what he sees as unnecessary self-pity. When an unemployed Vietnam veteran told him he blamed his war experience for his poverty, Father Oneko said he told him: “I blame you, because military people have so many opportunities. You are getting some pension from the government, so you should not complain.

“There are some poor people, poorer than you, somewhere, in Africa, in Jamaica,” Father Oneko said. “But you, at least you have freedom. You have somewhere to sleep.”

‘Part of the Family’

One morning in January, Father Oneko received a phone call from his family in Kenya, where a disputed presidential election had just set off a wave of intertribal anger and violence.

A mob had set fire to his parents’ house because they had given shelter to a family of a rival tribe the mob was chasing. Father Oneko’s 32-year-old brother, Vincent Oloo, arrived in time to help their elderly parents escape the burning house. But the mob turned on Father Oneko’s brother, shooting him dead. He left a wife and three children.

“My parents were just crying and crying,” Father Oneko said. “My father is crying and saying, ‘Now I’m losing all the children, who will bury me?’ ”

Father Oneko phoned his friend the Rev. John Thomas and then Mrs. Lake, his faithful volunteer administrator. She was stunned at the news, and for half an hour listened to and consoled her priest — a sudden role reversal. Father Oneko was troubled to hear his mother wailing on the phone and to know that he could not go to Kenya to perform the funeral. His parents insisted it was too dangerous for him to come.

Mrs. Lake called three of the church’s Silver Angels, a club of elders. They phoned more church members, and in two hours 60 people had assembled at a special noon Mass in memory of Father Oneko’s brother.

At the end of the Mass, they lined up in the center aisle as if for communion, and Father Oneko stood at the front receiving their embraces one by one.

He was overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy. Children in the parish school in Hopkinsville made him cards; one showed his brother with a halo, in the clouds. The bishop and priests of the diocese e-mailed and phoned their condolences. St. Michael’s and the parish in Hopkinsville took up a special collection for his family that totaled $5,600.

“It seems the whole church is praying with me,” Father Oneko said a few days later, as he read through the children’s cards. “You feel like you’re not a foreigner, just a part of the family. It makes me know how much I am to them.”

Bidding Farewell

In June, after four years at St. Michael’s, Father Oneko was transferred as part of a routine reshuffling of priests in the diocese. When he told the worshipers at the 11:30 Sunday Mass about the transfer, some cried. Several told him they would leave the church.

He said: “Don’t come to the church because of me. Come because of God.”

He insisted he did not want a big goodbye party because he was afraid he would cry. Still, he was showered with gifts: calling cards; a white chasuble from the Silver Angels, hemmed for his short frame; a $1,500 check from the parish for his coming trip to see his family in Kenya; and from Mrs. Korman, a replica of the black angel he had seen on her kitchen table.

He was leaving the parish no more and no less healthy than he had found it. Attendance still fluctuated from 300 to 450 on a weekend — lower in summer and during troop mobilizations.

The campaign to raise money for the new church was still under way. But as a temporary measure, the parishioners had replaced the stacking chairs with wooden pews and built an arched altar, so the old recreation hall looked more like a real church.

At his last set of three weekend Masses, Father Oneko began his homily with a rambling African story about a hyena, a monkey and a tortoise. At the punch lines, no one in the first two Masses laughed. By the third, he had the timing down better and some chuckled. The story was about being grateful, and he spent the next 20 minutes thanking everyone he could think of by name. The homily lasted 35 minutes.

In one of his last acts, he baptized an 11-month-old baby. With the sun streaming in, the baby, Hope Charity Banse, looked like a porcelain doll in her white christening gown.

The baby’s mother, Jennifer Banse, had been waiting for this moment for months. Her husband had just returned from Iraq, in time for Father Oneko to perform the baptism before he transferred. In her husband’s absence, Father Oneko had been a comfort.

Hope rested her head on her mother’s shoulder, then stretched her hand toward the African priest, more familiar to her than her own father. “Hope Charity,” Father Oneko said, “the Christian community welcomes you with great joy.” New York Times

Monday, December 29, 2008

Brother Dietrich Reinhart, former president of St John's University, died today

The former president of St. John's University, who resigned in October because of health problems, died early today, the Catholic school in Collegeville, Minn., announced.

Brother Dietrich Reinhart "passed away peacefully" in Collegeville, the school said.

Reinhart, 59, who became the 11th president of Saint John's in 1991, resigned after announcing in September that he had malignant metastatic melanoma. Dan Whalen, a 1970 graduate of St. John's University, was named interim successor.

Thomas Edward Reinhart was born on May 17, 1949, and grew up in Minneapolis. He entered Saint John's University in 1967 and graduated magna cum laude in history in 1971. He professed as a monk of St. John's Abbey in 1972. He held master's and doctoral degrees in history from Brown University. Before becoming president, Reinhart served as dean of the college at St. John's and taught European history.

Reinhart asked for the name of Dietrich in honor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran theologian who participated in the resistance movement against Nazism.

During Dietrich's presidency, enrollment at St. John's grew by 9 percent, the university endowment rose to more than $145 million and its sesquicentennial capital campaign for $150 million exceeded its goal.

Services are scheduled for Jan. 6 at 3 p.m. in Saint John's Abbey Church. Interment in Saint John's Cemetery follows the service. Star Tribune

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Reverend Know-It-All: Light-Hearted Apologetics

As I am wont to do, I explore the Internet a lot. Today I found a fun, interesting and most importantly, an orthodox, website of a Chicago priest (he's not running for anything), Fr. Richard Simon, who has been posting good apologetics articles (The real story) for three years or so.

The Reverend Know-It-All, pastor of St. Lambert's parish in Skoki, IL:

If you don't like theology, I'm not kidding. Fr. Simon has some fun, and informative, and orthodox articles that you will enjoy reading, and most importantly, learn something from.

It's War: The National Catholic Reporter wants you in Hell!

The American Bishops began to show some "spine" during the last election campaign, standing up for the faith against "catholic" politicians who support abortion providers. It's time that the American Bishops stand up against the "catholic" newspapers who want to see you in Hell.

They should start by denying these heretics press passes to Church events and interviews with Catholic bishops and spokespeople. Any request for access should be responded to with an offer of as many priests as they need for Confessions for their management and staffs.

Father Zuhlsdorf comments today on a column by another of the National Catholic Reporter's band of reprobates and apostates. As usual with Father Z's comments, the emphasis is on the heresies in bold black type and makes his comments in bold red type.

National Catholic Reporter: undermining your faith yet again

CATEGORY: SESSIUNCULA — Fr. John Zuhlsdorf @ 2:43 pm

Some years ago I attended in Chicago a meeting of the Catholic Press Association, a left-leaning organization. Card. George gave a splendid address on the vocation of a Catholic journalist.

His Eminence offered that the role of a Catholic journalist, among other things, was to report on the life of grace. He added that in order to recognize the life of grace in others the journalists had to be themselves in the state of grace.

They laughed.

It is therefore no surprise that the ultra-lefitist dissident National Catholic Reporter continues to publish rubbish that designed to undermine Catholic faith.

Here is a good example. The following prompted this brilliant response.

My emphases and comments.

‘With age, my Catholicism holds more uncertainty’

By Rose Murphy
December 26, 2008

My current, critical reading about religion and my growing disenchantment with the Catholic Church do not proceed without some pronounced unease. [Good. You should feel uneasy about this. You are closer to the end of your life than the beginning and you are allowing your feet to stray from the path Christ gave you to come to salvation.] I feel driven to question beliefs I once held with assured confidence. But am I needlessly cutting off a strong spiritual lifeline by going so rarely to my local church? Am I wallowing in intellectual smugness and neglecting an insistent Catholic tie that goes beyond logic?

It is difficult to stay loyal to a church whose members once unleashed cruel forms of the Inquisition [this old canard again?] on presumably evil non-believers and whose clergy so recently and secretly protected pedophilic priests. [Okay… the Inquisition was… how long ago?] But I am more disillusioned by dogmatic bans on birth control that afflict poor women in developing countries and that too often obscure the core message of Christ’s call for compassion. [Read: Unless the Church changes her teaching on contraception, the Church is cruel to women.]

Impossible now to recapture that ardent, unquestioning faith I had as a child, and into adulthood [I don’t think "questioning" is a problem, so long as the questioning comes from "faith seeking understanding".] : that Christ was physically present in communion, that I had a special guardian angel, that certain prayers chipped away at Purgatory time. Even after outgrowing those fantasies, [The Real Presence, angels, our connection with the Church Suffering are "fantasies".] I continued to keep a core faith in the larger Church tenets: that Jesus was the Son of God, that he died for my sins, that I was preparing for an afterlife where I would see God and presumably my parents and all those who had gone before me. Today all of that doctrine is hazy to me, not so much rejected as irrelevant. [So, she is not sure that Christ is God or that He died for our sins.] I know now that humans can never penetrate the idea of God; certainty is – and has always been—an illusion. [This is why we speak of faith.]

Intellectually, I can reject much of the Catholic Church, [Because she has a far more penetrating mind than, say, St. Augustine or St. Thomas….] but emotionally it reels me in whenever I wander from it. I am still nourished by certain Mass rituals: [which?] the Prayers of the Faithful (with touching reminders of so much pain among my neighbors), the Sign of Peace and the communal grasp of another hand, the preparations for Eucharist, [not, apparently, including the consecration] and the walk up the aisle to receive communion. Just what am I receiving? I know the act of communion matters to me, feeling the host on my tongue is significant, but I don’t know why. [This at the same time horizontal and completely self-absorbed.]

But slowly, I am becoming more comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. [And Satan has a greater and greater grip. This is the sort of creeping incrementalism that the Enemy uses to effect.] And I find that meeting the challenge of practicing compassion in this troubled world is much more difficult than showing up for Sunday Mass. More and more, I see Christ as a rebel, an advocate for the poor, an agitator, an outsider who spoke truth to power and paid the ultimate price for it. [Setting aside the empty buzz words, this is a great example of what Pope Benedict wrote to correct in his first encyclical Deus caritas est.]

His message focused on loving one another, without reservation, not on explaining the Trinity. And whether or not he is the Son of God seems a pointless discussion. [A "pointless discussion"? Lady… if Christ is not the Son of God, then you and everyone else are probably going to hell. Also, what circuit is missing from the brains of some lefties that keeps them from understanding that we can love one another and… AND... explain the Trinity? They are not mutually exclusive. This is not a zero sum game: either love or explain… you can’t do both. This so typical of most liberals: you can’t be smart, or intellectual or make distinctions or admit authority and still be nice.]

Such realizations still do not alleviate feelings of restlessness and guilt when I choose a bike ride and coffee on Sunday morning instead of Mass. [Good.] But on those Sundays when I do slip into church, I hear a foreign language all around me, especially when it comes to the Apostles Creed. I cannot dutifully mumble it any longer. I cannot relate to ecstatic utterances about a “personal relationship” with God, because for me such a relationship is impossible. [Though I wonder what sort of parish she is going to…] It smacks too much of a cozy, privileged connection with a physical being who sits among the fluffy clouds and notes all the details of my daily life. I can imagine a spiritual force at work in the universe, something that connects all life, humanity and nature, but I cannot personify it or give it the familial name of “Father” or “Son.” [Sooo… she is what… a Buddhist? A pantheist?]

But rather than reject a lifetime spiritual path, perhaps I need to get more comfortable with the idea of metaphor in Catholic doctrine and look beyond the literal pronouncements; [Because her mind is so subtle, she’ll create her own religion to suit her own needs.] then it becomes easier to see Christ as a symbolic son of God, as a presence that helps me find the divine spark (God) within myself, and more importantly serves as a model for truly compassionate living. [Because, after all, it’s all about her.]

Receiving the spiritual nourishment of communion then becomes a reminder of so many people who lack food or the means to acquire it. [sigh]

So can I continue to call myself a Catholic? [No. Not on these terms. But we hope and pray that you will come back to your Faith.] A friend once framed the dilemma in whimsical language: “I can no more stop being a Catholic than a Navajo could stop being a Navajo.” Ultimately, I think this struggle will always be with me, and that I will come to accept, and perhaps even embrace, a natural state of discomfort. Despite all the ambiguity, I would like to think I am still welcome at the communion table.

Rose Murphy is a writer based in Sonoma, California, who explores current events and also focuses on Irish [That figures. This is the not uncommon tortured reveling in anti-intellectual victimhood we expect from the followers of McBrien and Greeley.] culture and history. Father Zuhlsdorf

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Former Newman Club building at the UofMN for Lease; Archdiocese can't agree with U on purchase agreement

The rapidly growing University of Minnesota is about to become a bit smaller.

After 10 years of renting the 1701 University classroom building on University Avenue, the University decided to terminate the lease at the end of October.

The lease will end after the spring 2009 semester, and classes using the nine rooms in the building will have to relocate within the University, Director of Classroom Management Steve Fitzgerald said.

The University made an offer a few months ago to purchase the property from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis , who owns the building, but the bid was denied.

“The University made us an offer and we didn’t accept it because we didn’t feel it was an acceptable offer,” Dennis McGrath, archdiocese director of communications said. “We didn’t feel it was adequate.”

When the Newman Center moved into St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Dinkytown in 1999, the University began using the 1701 building for classes.

The University had a long-term lease on the building, but the University’s Director of Real Estate, Sue Weinberg, said they made an offer to buy the building instead. The plan was to buy the land and fix the “inadequate building systems” for future classes.

“It would be our hope to acquire the property and then make a sufficient investment to put it in a good condition that would allow us to have classes in the building during the summer months,” Weinberg said, adding that all renovations since the University began its lease have been cosmetic.

The Archdiocese has found a real estate firm to lease the building.

NorthMarq real estate advisor Kevin Peck said they will try to find someone to lease the building from the Archdiocese, but they do not know who will move in.

“I don’t think there’s a preference for any certain type of business,” Peck said.

NorthMarq has already seen interest from different groups, Peck said.

Some issues with the condition of the 1701 building, like lack of air conditioning, have created problems for Spanish and Portuguese junior Stacy Weltzin .

“It was uncomfortable, especially for a class period that was, like, two hours long,” she said. “You don’t want to sit there and be sweating to death in class for two hours.”

The University tries to keep old building systems up to date, and the office of classroom management continues to try to have renovations approved, Fitzgerald said.

“We’ve got so many buildings that are old at the University that there are some other classrooms that are at the low end of the quality spectrum,” he said. “We’ve made great progress over the past years in improving classrooms in general, and we want to continue to do that.” Minnesota Daily

Tip O' the Hat to Brian Marshall, Temporary Cub Reporter

Fathers Without Borders: Serving Short-Handed U.S. Parishes

Serving Short-Handed U.S. Parishes, Fathers Without Borders; Part 1 of 3

The Rev. Titus Ahabyona, center, a priest from Uganda, at a retreat in Kentucky, which has several priests from abroad

OWENSBORO, Ky. — Sixteen of the Rev. Darrell Venters’s fellow priests are running themselves ragged here, each serving three parishes simultaneously. One priest admits he stood at an altar once and forgot exactly which church he was in.

So Father Venters, lean and leathery as the Marlboro man — a cigarette in one hand and a cellphone with a ring tone like a church bell in the other — spends most of his days recruiting priests from overseas to serve in the small towns, rolling hills and farmland that make up the Roman Catholic Diocese of Owensboro.

He sorts through e-mail and letters from foreign priests soliciting jobs in America, many written in formal, stilted English. He is looking, he said, for something that shouts: “This priest is just meant for Kentucky!”

“If we didn’t get international priests,” he said, “some of our guys would have had five parishes. If one of our guys were to leave, or God forbid have a heart attack and die, we didn’t have anyone to fill in.”

In the last six years, he has brought 12 priests from Africa, Asia and Latin America who are serving in this diocese covering the western third of Kentucky, where a vast majority of residents are white. His experiences offer a close look at the church’s drive to import foreign priests to compensate for a dearth of Americans, and the ways in which this trend is reshaping the Roman Catholic experience in America.

One of six diocesan priests now serving in the United States came from abroad, according to “International Priests in America,” a large study published in 2006. About 300 international priests arrive to work here each year. Even in American seminaries, about a third of those studying for the priesthood are foreign-born.

Father Venters has seen lows. Some foreign priests had to be sent home. One became romantically entangled with a female co-worker. One isolated himself in the rectory. Still another would not learn to drive. A priest from the Philippines left after two weeks because he could not stand the cold. A Peruvian priest was hostile toward Hispanics who were not from Peru.

“From a strictly personnel perspective,” Father Venters said one day over a lunch of potato soup with American cheese and a glass of sweet tea, “the international priests are easier to work with than the local priests. If they mess up, you just say, ‘See you.’ You withdraw your permission for them to stay.”

But there have been victories as well, when Kentucky Catholics who once did not know Nigeria from Uganda opened their eyes to the conditions in the countries their foreign priests came from — even raising $6,000 to install wells in the home village of a Nigerian priest serving in Owensboro.

“You’re taking a shot in the dark getting these guys,” Father Venters said. “But honestly, other than a few, we have had really, really good results.”

In earlier eras, the Catholic church in the United States depended on foreign priests from places like Ireland, Italy, Germany, Poland and Belgium. But they usually accompanied their immigrant flocks, and ministered to their own people in their native language.

Nowadays, however, the missionary priests have little in common with the Americans who often come to them for advice and solace in times of crisis. In Owensboro, it falls to Father Venters, who grew up on a farm in Illinois and has barely traveled outside the country, to find ways to bridge the often large cultural divides. One foreign priest had never seen a microwave. Another thought the frost on his car one morning was the work of vandals.

“There’s this assumption that a priest is a priest,” said Father Venters, who, as the vicar for clergy, is essentially the bishop’s assistant on personnel issues. “On the church side of it, that’s correct. We are a universal church and the rituals are the same, so he knows how to be a priest. The challenge is, he does not know how to be a priest in the United States.”

To succeed, Father Venters has also had to learn to navigate the immigration system, which has become so restrictive since the Sept. 11 attacks that even priests with invitations to work have trouble getting into the country.

At one point, he sent so many FedEx letters to Nigeria that the Department of Homeland Security suspended his account until he proved he worked for a legitimate church.

A Shrinking Pool

In 2002, when Father Venters began his recruitment drive, he was looking at a diocese that, like many in the United States, had growing needs and fewer priests to serve them.

Hispanic Catholic immigrants were pouring into Kentucky, drawn by jobs in poultry plants and construction. The diocese estimates that its Catholic population of 60,000 includes 10,000 Spanish-speaking parishioners who arrived in the last 10 years.

But the pool of priests was shrinking, from retirements, deaths and a handful who were removed from ministry after accusations of sexual abuse of young people. They were also growing elderly: eight were over age 70.

Many dioceses faced with shortages were shutting or consolidating parishes, but that was not an option for Owensboro. “Because we’re so rural,” Father Venters said, “closing parishes doesn’t make sense. Some of our counties just have one Catholic church.”

At first, Father Venters felt discouraged by the stilted English and obsequious tone of the letters foreign priests sent. One was even addressed, “Dear Very Rev.,” with a blank left where the name should go.

Then an e-mail message caught his attention. The English was clear, the tone humble. “I welcome your assistance and advice,” said the message from a Kenyan priest, Chrispin Oneko, who was serving five impoverished parishes in Jamaica.

Father Venters asked him for an “audition tape” of his preaching, and found the homily thoughtful — the accent pronounced, but clear enough. He invited the priest to fly to Owensboro to meet Bishop John J. McRaith.

The foreign priests in Owensboro earn the same amount as their American counterparts: a base salary of $1,350 a month, plus $60 for each year since ordination. (The pay scale varies among dioceses, and many pay foreign priests significantly less than Americans.) They can also earn as much as $130 a month in Mass intentions, or special requests, plus $50 for weddings and $25 for baptisms. For the African priests, it is a windfall.

Father Venters knows that many of the foreign priests send part of their income home, to help with school fees, food and medicine for their families. And yet, he said, he does not believe money, though a benefit, is the reason the priests he recruited were willing to come to America.

“A lot of them, they know we need priests,” he said. “And after getting to know them, I believe they truly have a missionary spirit.”

The notion of having to go out and recruit priests was foreign to Father Venters. He had converted to Catholicism as a young adult, had a college degree in agribusiness and was trying to figure out his next step when one day, he heard a priest give a homily about being of service to others.

“Suddenly everything else blacked out,” Father Venters said, “and I just kept hearing that word — service, service, service — echoing in my head.”

Back then, he phoned the Diocese of Owensboro and asked to sign up for seminary. His class at St. Meinrad School of Theology had 48 students, and in 1989, he was one of seven new priests ordained by Bishop McRaith.

But within 10 years, the vocations dried up. It has been five years since a new priest was ordained in Owensboro. The next ordination, of two priests, is expected next year.

Most of the priests serving in Owensboro support Father Venters’s recruiting drive, but some voice doubts. The Rev. Dennis Holly, with the Glenmary Home Missioners, an American order dedicated to serving regions that are not predominantly Catholic, like Western Kentucky, believes America is essentially taking more than its share of resources, behaving like a mere consumer by spending money to attract priests from countries that have even greater shortages. He thinks the Catholic church should place priests where they are needed most around the globe.

“We experience the priest shortage, and rather than ask the question, ‘Why do we have a priest shortage?’ we just import some and act like we don’t have a priest shortage,” Father Holly said. “Until we face the issue of mandatory celibacy and the ordination of women, we can’t deal with the lack of response to the invitation to priesthood.”

But Father Venters is a pragmatist. He said those were good questions, “but, in the meantime, you have to respond to the needs of people.”

Reaching Out for Help

After the Kenyan priest arrived, Father Venters went on a recruiting spree, collecting priests from Nigeria, Uganda and India.

The bishops in Africa were far more willing than those in Latin America to allow their priests to leave because some African dioceses were ordaining so many they could not afford to keep them on the payroll. But Father Venters really needed priests who spoke Spanish. He cast a wide net, sending letters to every bishop in Mexico describing the diocese’s dire situation.

He got few responses. It turned out that the bishops in Mexico were receiving similar pleas from bishops all over the United States. And the Mexican bishops have a priest shortage of their own. (Mexico and Central and South America have one priest for about every 7,000 Catholics; the United States has one for every 1,500.)

Father Venters did not give up. After many false starts, he finally succeeded in recruiting a suitable Hispanic priest, the Rev. Jose Carmelo Jimenez Salinas, who had been beaten by the police for marching with his parishioners — indigenous peasants siding with Zapatista rebels against the Mexican government. His bishop thought a trip to the United States would give things a chance to cool down.

Father Jimenez had not wanted to come. In Mexico, he knew he was needed. Sometimes he traveled 12 hours on horseback to reach Catholics who had waited six months for a priest to come baptize their babies. “I thought the U.S. had no needs,” he said, a wide grin revealing capped front teeth.

In Kentucky, Father Jimenez was given a car, on which he logged 2,500 miles each month driving to his four parishes.

His cellphone rings constantly, with parishioners who need rides, who are scared in immigration raids, who need money to stave off an eviction or bail a relative out of jail. He accompanies them to the jail and the hospital, often to translate, even though he barely speaks English. By the time he returns to the rectory, often after 11, he is exhausted.

In 2006, the Owensboro recruiting drive struck gold. Father Venters met the Rev. Benny Valayath, an Indian priest serving in Lexington, Ky., who belongs to an Indian society of priests called the Heralds of Good News.

The Heralds’ purpose is to supply priests to places that need them. Most of the Heralds serve in Africa, Papua New Guinea and the tribal areas of India. But in recent years they have begun to send priests to the United States and Europe, too.

It is a very practical arrangement. With the money the Heralds earn in the first world, they can support the society’s priests in developing countries, Father Valayath said. From March 2006 to June 2007, six Indian priests arrived in Owensboro. The first three were assigned two small rural parishes each, in the rural Lake Barkley region.

In one, the people were so afraid that the diocese would close their parish that they were relieved and elated to hear about the Indian priest. But in another church, a parishioner had only one question: “How dark is his skin?”

Some of the foreign priests had confided their apprehensions to Father Venters. They had studied American history in school and knew about racism, the civil rights movement and the Ku Klux Klan. “I told them that, as much as I hated it, there is prejudice — but it’s nothing like when I was growing up,” Father Venters said.

In a parish that received an Indian priest, five older couples asked to leave, objecting to his accent. In the end, only three changed parishes.

“We never had a parish that rose up in revolt” against having a foreign priest, Father Venters said. “The longer they’re in a place, the better it gets.”

Adjusting to America

In helping the new priests deal with culture shock, Father Venters saw his own culture in ways he never had before.

When he took one new arrival to a restaurant, it dawned on him that “Texas toast” and “Buffalo wings” required some explanation.

“When they come over they have no connection to our national holidays,” Father Venters said. “Thanksgiving means nothing to them. Halloween was a new thing to a lot of them. Those are cultural things, which I learned that I take for granted.”

One of the newest Indian priests, Father Shijo Vadakumkara, made a trip to the local PetSmart to pick up food for the rectory’s cat. He wandered the aisles murmuring, “All this is for pets?”

Father Venters has sent most of the international priests to live the first few months with an American pastor who could teach them the ropes, though in one case a visa took so long to arrive that a recruit from India had to go directly from the airport to his new parish to celebrate Mass. Within a short time, however, the parishioners were taking their new priest fishing and tubing.

Father Venters checks in often on the recruits and said he was regularly heartened by what he found.

Father Venters watched from the back row as Father Julian Ibemere from Nigeria celebrated a noon Mass for 32 parishioners, most of them elderly.

Majestic in a green chasuble, Father Ibemere delivered his homily strolling up and down the aisle. When it was time to distribute the eucharist, he bent down to give communion to a man he knew was too ill to stand.

After the Mass, however, one member of the congregation, Virginia Ballard, gestured toward the Nigerian priest and confided in Father Venters, “I can’t understand what he said, but he’s a sweet young man.”

Mrs. Ballard went on to praise Father Ibemere’s knowledge of the Bible, his capacity to remember the names of congregants, his willingness to teach the Americans about his home in Nigeria. “He is a holy man,” she concluded, “and we are honored to have him.”

Early this year, the priests of the Owensboro Diocese gathered at a lakeside retreat for four days of private meetings, prayer and fellowship. The foreign priests chose seats among the Americans. In the evening, the priests scattered to various recreations, a test of how well they had really clicked. Some kept to their own kind: a handful of American priests watched “Evan Almighty.” Another American group headed off to a nearby casino.

But others mingled easily with the foreign priests in a conference room where the bishop had stocked a full bar. At a round table nearby, a group of American and Indian priests played Uno. When the electricity went out, one American ran to his car to fetch votive candles from his trunk, and they continued playing by candlelight. “It reminds me of home in Kenya,” Father Oneko said of the blackout.

At lunch on the last day, Father Venters and some of the priests reflected on the retreat’s sessions that focused on their needy “sister” diocese in Jamaica. Father Vadakumkara, the young Indian priest, announced that he wanted to go to Jamaica next year to help out in parishes that had no priests.

Father Venters put down his fork, startled at the thought of another vacancy.

“And who do you think will sub for you when you are gone?” he asked with a laugh. “You’ll have to get your own sub.” New York Times

Friday, December 26, 2008

On the other hand, you don't need art, architecture and incense to be a Catholic. An old barn will do.

I just posted on why some homosexuals justify staying with a Church that they don't agree with.

On the same Minnesota Public Radio web site, a father of five, husband, writer and convert to Catholicism, a resident of St. Joseph, MN, Tim Drake (of the National Catholic Register), tells us why he is a Catholic:

I came to the Catholic Church not by birth, but by an adult conversion experience very much rooted in the centrality of the Eucharist - Christ's Body and Blood - broken and shared for us all. As a former Lutheran (ELCA), I did not find a similar understanding in the Lutheran church of my youth. The Catholic Church's emphasis on Christ's words in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6 and at the Last Supper, were pivotal in my conversion.

What I have discovered, during and since my conversion is the deep history and richness of the Catholic faith - practical helps such as the Sacraments of the Church, devotions, and the Communion of Saints - that all meet the faithful Catholic where he or she is at in his or her life.

The famous British writer and convert G.K. Chesterton used to say that the Church is so much larger from the inside than the out. I've found this to be my experience of Catholicism to the point where I realize that there's so much richness, depth and beauty in the Catholic faith that I've only just scratched the surface. I'll be able to spend the rest of my life learning and will still be unable to exhaust all that's there.

Witnessing the Church on a global scale, at events such as World Youth Day, has helped to make me realize that I belong to something far larger than my local parish. I belong to a community of faith that not only stretches across the globe geographically, but also stretches across time and place. By being united with the Church, I am linked with all those who have gone before - the disciples, the apostles, the early Church Fathers, religious and laity, and all those saints who have died in the faith.

My hope for the Church is that it can move forward in peace and greater unity. The years since the Second Vatican Council have been years of much turmoil and confusion for the Church. Confusion isn't anything new for the Church. It existed at the time of the early Church Fathers, and has existed after each of the Church's councils. That is why we have the authority of the Church - to provide guidance and clarity. My hope is that Pope Benedict XVI's clear teachings will help move the Church from a time of confusion into a time of greater clarity.

Clearly, I have concerns - of which Pope Benedict has frequently spoken - about maintaining Catholic identity in a culture that lives as if there is no God, and a culture that routinely seeks to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ.

My wife and I are doing our best to raise our five children to be faithful members of the Church and of society, but it's a challenge in a culture that largely pushes immorality rather than virtue.

To that end, we try as a family to attend daily Mass as often as possible. We pray together daily. I am a member of a men's weekly faith-discussion group. My wife is a member of a women's faith-discussion group. We both attend annual religious retreats and try to foster a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

We have even celebrated the Sacrament of the Eucharist annually in our barn, and have invited hundreds of others to join us (see photo).

As I ponder the state of the Church, I have great hope for the future. Many of the young are tired of the instability and division they've experienced - often in their own families - and long for the stability and traditions that the Catholic Church can offer, an unbroken line that goes back 2,000 years.

Just why do homosexuals want to stay in the Church? They don't agree with much of the teachings.

One of the big questions of the 21st Century to me seems to be why homosexuals stay in the Catholic Church? It's pretty apparent that they don't agree with much of what the Church teaches and requires.

Minnesota Public Radio, few of whose members and virtually none of its employees have Mandatums from their bishop authorizing them to teach Catholic theology, has opened their airwaves (webwaves?) on its Speaking of Faith program to the world to let modern Catholics speak out on why they are Catholic or what they think of the Church or whatever else is on their mind. The results can be found here.

One Lacey Louwagie of Duluth, a self-identified bisexual and weekly Mass attendee in her comments, shares why she stays in the Church:

Both sides of my (rather large) family are Catholic, so part of the solace I take in Catholicism is the connection to my childhood and my history. But all my life, I've examined and been at odds with many of the Church's teachings, and as an adult was fully aware that I didn't have to stay. I did a lot of soul and church-searching, and eventually made a conscious decision to stay because I love the sensualism in the Catholic Church, the invoking of the elements of fire (candle), air (incense), earth (palm leaves, ashes), and water (holy water, baptism). I love the concrete-ness of the faith, with rituals that invoke all the senses. I need a faith that I can touch: the smoothness of the beads under my fingers as I pray the rosary, the taste of the host as it dissolves on my tongue. I also love Catholicism's rich artistic culture, and appreciate the beautiful art, literature, and music that has come from a Catholic inspiration.

With all that said, there are still many days when I question why I stay. I find very little in official Church doctrine that I can stand behind; my main concerns come from the Church's stance on women and homosexuals -- issues that, as a bisexual woman, cut close to the heart. The Church's refusal to ordain women, despite ample evidence that women were leaders in the early Christian traditions and the Bible, is not only appalling but soul-crushing. The Church's stance on birth control removes the element of love in sex and replaces it with an element of fear (and the Church's teaching on birth control is essentially a classist one as well, with the Church urging couples who cannot afford to care for many children to "abstain" to limit their family, while the implication is that wealthy couples can have all the sex they want). The Church's teachings on homosexuality and birth control both fly in the face of "natural law," which they often cite as "justification" for both teachings. But homosexuality occurs in nature at a consistent rate, while the evolutionary function of sex in humans is for bonding, not procreation. I dream of a Church that one day embraces the best of its teachings on social justice, to stop perepetuating oppression and spiritual violence upon so many of its people.

Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of God, love for "Him", bearing the sufferings of the Cross of Calvary or worship in her statement. Also unsurprisingly, her reasons for staying are very physical, sensual and indicative of a need for immediate and regular gratification.

Thousands, maybe millions, of homosexuals stay in the Church for probably those same reasons. Many of them find employment there and often head key ministries as staff or volunteers. They consider it a wonderful venue and outlet for their senses of artistic expression. It is no wonder that puppets, tambourines and dance are regularly seen as improvisational (unauthorized) modifications to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Make a Christmas Pilgrimage, to St. Paul

Terry, the prolific blogger (I've lost count of the number of blogs he has), has a wonderful post at his Abbey-Roads (he's an unrepentant Beatles fan) on his visit to the Cathedral of St. Paul on Christmas Day.

Take your family and friends over there this week.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

All I want for Christmas is . . . .


A Baseball Rosary!

It's a little bit late now, but my birthday is May 27.

Also available as soccer, football, basketball,
hockey, volleyball
, tennis, golf
and bowling rosaries.

Catholic Supply of St. Louis

Don't you wish you had thought of these?

Ben Stein's Confession

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary. A Shepherd's Voice, Father John Malloy S.D.B., San Francisco

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees.. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a Nativity Scene, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.

I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking. Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'

In light of recent events.. terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school The Bible says "Thou Shalt not Kill, thou Shalt not Steal", and "Love your Neighbor as Yourself." And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves. Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us. Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it.... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards,
Honestly and respectfully.
Ben Stein

And a very Happy and Holy Christmas to you all, including Ben Stein

Ray Marshall