Wednesday, April 30

Irritation and Concern:

I have a sick baby at my side, and a talk to write, so no guarantees of coherence here. But then, there never are.

First, in regard to Sean Hannity. The problem is not what he or Bill O'Reilly believe or what variety of Catholic they consider themselves to be. The problem comes when they presume to make pronouncements about what the Church teaches - and they're wrong. No excuses, either. No "well, they're entertainers" or "they know as much as the average adult lay Catholic." Nope. These guys are in the process of making millions from spouting their opinions on television, radio, and in print. They have a responsibility - not just to be engaging, confrontational, or whatever it is their bosses want, but to be truthful and honest as well. As a person who has an audience that (when you take everything I write regularly together) numbers in the hundreds of thousands, I feel that responsibility very keenly, and try very hard not to make misstatements and to research whatever it is I'm talking about. Look at it this way: I write about religion, but, of course that ends up touching on everything. Say I want to write on something related to medical ethics. Would I have the right to say, "Well, the American Medical Association says..." without making sure that I'm absolutely positive about what the AMA does, indeed, say on a certain issue? Of course not. And neither do these guys who both (Hannity more than O'Reilly, though) make an issue of their Catholicism or Catholic heritage.

I only skimmed the Hannity thread below, but I noted that once again, the issue (naturally enough) of Catholic identity is rearing its head, and that's fine. But I wonder sometimes about our purpose and our starting point in such musings.

First of all, when it comes to Catholic identity, as much as the Kennedy's, Hannity's, Gibson's, Sullivan's and Daschle's of this world might irritate us, our primary, fundamental and really only responsibility in terms of Catholic identity is our own. Splinters and beams, people. Splinters and beams.

Secondly, if this is an issue for you and you wonder how and where you fit into this huge, diverse thing called the Catholic Church, please, please don't start looking at it from the point of this or that specific Church teaching on this or that issue.

Start with Christ.

Sure, on down the road you will confront these other issues, but as you begin.start with Christ.

Who do you believe Jesus is? What do you believe about Him? Have you read the Gospels lately? Well, go ahead. Listen to Jesus as he speaks, observe him as he acts and accept his invitation to pray. Where do you stand in relation to Jesus? Do you believe what He teaches is true? Do you believe that what happened to him - his death for us sinners and his resurrection - was absolutely real? Where do you stand?

And, of course, all of this must be done honestly and with a completely open heart, without any desire to justify our own sins or to mesh what we hear Jesus saying with what we think he should be saying or with what, as 21st century Americans, we dearly wish he would say.

And then, if we are Catholic, while we are studying and pondering, we are also encountering Jesus - in our personal prayer, and in the sacraments. We go to Mass, not expecting to be entertained by the personalities or inspired by human wisdom, but merely to encounter Jesus, bring our lives to him, and bring him into our lives. Let him change you. Let him speak. Listen.

I'm not being a fideist here, or saying that the other issues aren't important. They are. But way too many people unwittingly use them as an excuse to stay away, not just from the Church, but from God, period. I am not saying, either, that everyone who turns their focus this way will automatically end up as happy Catholics or even Catholics at all. I'm saying that if you are a Catholic who is struggling with that Catholic identity, start all over. Take a break from stressing about specific teachings that bug you, and go to Jesus - in the Gospels, in prayer, and in the Eucharist and in Reconciliation.

And let Him lead you from there.

A Holy Cross alumn weighs in on the Matthews thing at NRO

He offers a broader context, relating how the protesting alumnus shared his concerns privately with the college, but received no response. He also gives the full context of the president's defense, which has been discussed in comments here, but I offer again:

Despite Matthews's copious comments in defense of abortion (he has uttered flat-out on several occasions "I am pro-choice"), McFarland told the paper Matthews "said he feels abortion is immoral. Where he would differ from some Catholics is on the role of government and how intrusive government should be in controlling this. It's a matter of practical judgment. That's allowable in Catholic thought."

This perspective has, of course, been dissected forever, including in these here comment boxes. So I'll just add my own personal observation:

Do you know the problem with the "personally-opposed to abortion, but we live in a pluralistic society, can't force my views on anyone" crowd? They're ultimately a bunch of liars, no more and no less. Well, maybe more. Why? Because there is never any evidence at all of their opposition to abortion beyond their words. Let's put it this way: I've been involved in the pro-life movement off and on for twenty years. I've worked with national organizations like Feminists for Life. I've worked on the local level. I've answered phones in centers offering alternatives to women in crisis pregnancies. I've sorted baby clothes and organized diapers. I've sat in countless meetings at every level of the movement. I've done scads of public speaking on the issue.

And in all that activity, meeting with all of those people, not once have I ever encountered a person, also working at those tasks, who said he or she was personally opposed but pro-choice.

Translation:

The "personally opposed" don't do squat to try to help women and girls make life-affirming choices. The only people that are doing that are the people who are opposed to abortion, proud to say they're pro-life and believe that it should be discouraged by any moral means possible, including, dare we say it, the law. The personally opposed but pro-choice are not, in reality, where it counts - saving lives - really opposed to abortion. And they should just stop trying to absolve their own consciences by uttering empty words and just admit it: they really don't care if kids are being killed down the street. Because if they cared they'd be doing something about it, in some way, no matter how small. And my experience, at least, tells me that they can't be bothered.

Not the rest of us are doing as much as we could - or should - either, mind you.

Update:

As usual, commenters and other bloggers have helped me clarify my thinking. What I was really thinking of here were people who are in positions of power, responsibility and influence, or who are of the activist temperment. Certainly, all of us hold a myriad of positions of various issues and important matters, and we can't be involved or do something about all of them. I may be concerned about everything from the situation in the Congo to problems of health care for the poor in this country to oppression in North Korea to the idiocy that passes for modern education, but I can't be involved in every single cause. Just can't. So sure - there are plenty of people out there who don't like abortion, who live that in their own lives and choices but don't get involved in activism. Those aren't the people I called liars.

No, I'm talking about politicians and government officials who piously cry that they are "personally opposed" while consistently voting with NARAL and NOW, down the line, 100%, or who do nothing to use the power they have to actively nurture and support alternatives to abortion or education programs on the nature of abortion. I'm talking about people involved in communications in media who do nothing to try to balance the way that this issue is portrayed in the media. I'm talking about activists - in the secular world, and in the Church, too - who say that they are really, really dismayed by abortion, and then proceed to scold, scold, scold pro-lifers for being "single issue" and not focusing on the "root causes" of abortion, telling them that they should really be in the business of helping women and education, instead of wasting all their time on legislative issues. Now, if these personally opposed activist types actually were involved in the abortion issue just the tiniest, littlest bit they would know, of course, that perhaps 90% of what pro-lifers do in their organizations is all about helping women, children and families, and education. They would know this. But they don't know this, because, you see, despite their great concern for the issues of the day, they are not actually involved in trying to do anything about abortion, so they have no freaking clue what the pro-life movement is really all about.

So those were the people I was talking about. The people who say they don't like abortion. The people who have the power to do something about it. The people who scold the other people who are actually doing something about this thing they say they abhor. The people who, at the close of the day, have done nothing with the power, influence and responsibility that they have to work on diminishing this practice they say they oppose.



Tuesday, April 29

When in doubt...

Bleg

St. Francis Cabrini's body is in New York, but I have read several places that her head was removed and is in Italy. I can't verify this, however, and I can't find out where it is, exactly.

Does anyone know?

St. Catherine

Happy Feast Day to my daughter, Catherine!

(Click on the picture to read about her relationship to her saint when she was younger..)

Monday, April 28

I'm by no means the first to blog this - in fact, I probably close to last - but here goes, anyway -

A good piece by Mary Jo Andersen on Sean Hannity's awesome understanding of Catholicism

I'm jabbing at my phone. No, no, no. We can't let this get by. Hannity identifies himself as a Catholic, and now he tells the listening public that the Church has mellowed out on homosexuality. Lots of Sean's fans will take that as gospel. He's wrong, but they will think he knows what he is talking about (because he usually does).

A caller beats me to it. The caller is polite and he knows more than Hannity in this case. "Sean, you're making me crazy," the caller laughs. "Take a look at the Catholic Catechism, number 2357: It says 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.'"

Amazingly, Hannity – the publicly acknowledged Catholic Hannity – asks "What catechism is that?" Now, I'm crazy too. Jab, jab at the phone. Again the caller is on the money, "THE Catechism." But Sean isn't interested. Sean dismissed the Catechism because, he says, he has consulted theologians on this matter and they say something different. This is dangerous.



Happy Pascha to you too, buddy:

A raucous Orthodox Easter in Jerusalem

With a raucous crowd jammed shoulder to shoulder yesterday inside the fortress-like Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a parade of Greek and Armenian Orthodox clergy slowly walked to the tomb of Jesus.

And that's where the trouble began.

Priests from the competing sects pushed and shoved each other as part of an ancient dispute over who would emerge first with the flame they believe miraculously descends from heaven during the Easter Ceremony of the Holy Fire, marked this weekend by Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Israeli riot police quelled the small disturbance, which had threatened to explode in violence yesterday.

Neither side could come to terms, but the priests did promise to avoid coming to blows - as happened between the clergy and worshipers last year - after Israeli officials threatened to limit the number of participants to just a few hundred. In the end, police let 6,000 into the stone church built on the spot where it is believed Jesus was crucified and buried.

Inside, police carrying clubs and guns set up metal barricades to segregate the crowds, which surged forward to touch or photograph the patriarchs and their entourages as they walked three times around the tomb.



Mercy

Yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday, in case your parish didn’t see fit to mention it.

One of the great sadnesses of contemporary Catholic life and conversation is that it has become so politicized and factionalized. Sure, divisions and disagreements, heresies and heterodoxy have always been a part of Catholic life, but these days, the divisions seem more powerful than ever, perhaps because of the power of mass communications. Too many Catholics, especially those involved in presenting the Faith to the public and the wider culture, are motivated by defining who’s really Catholic and who’s not. Sure, there’s a place for that kind of conversation (not with the end of exclusion, of course, but with the end of honing and understanding our identity) and discernment, but these days, it’s almost all you hear. Everyone is either on the attack or on the defensive.

Lost in all of that, of course, is the Gospel. Which is exactly what the Sower of Discord wants. Exactly.

Lost is the whole reason for the Church: to point every person on earth to the reality of God’s love and mercy.

Mercy, of course, is another word for the compassionate, forgiving love of God.

Do you believe in it?

I don’t mean in general – I mean in particular. Do you believe in it for you?

Yesterday’s Gospel concerned Thomas. My husband has a very interesting perspective on that Gospel, which I hope he will share on his site (I’ll let you know when he does). But when we consider this Gospel as the Good News for us on Mercy Sunday, it takes on a different light than it does in its usual presentation.

Doubt is a part of almost everyone’s faith, and when we think of Thomas, we usually think of it in terms of doubting the possibility of the truth of various tenets of faith. But in the context of Divine Mercy, we might take it to a deeper level. How tempted are we to doubt that most basic tenet of faith – the one that tells us in words and in the figure of Jesus Crucified and Risen, that Mercy is ours?

What pain, what difficulty, what suffering we put ourselves through because we close ourselves off to God’s mercy. For some strange reason, we decide that we know better than God: God may have said that we can be forgiven, but in our strange, masochistic pride, we decide that we can’t. God must be wrong.

Sin is a terrible thing with terrible consequences. When we have done something wrong, we stand looking in horror at what our selfishness has unleashed. It seems impossible that we could ever be forgiven. We will not believe it, we say.

But perhaps, we need to be more like Thomas. We need to confront our doubt and put our fingers in Jesus’ side. We need to contemplate Jesus crucified and consider why he is there. Is he there so we can continue to beat ourselves over the head or be buried under our own crosses? Was he just wasting his time so we can continue our frustrated, angry, mournful journeys, letting sin define who we are rather than God’s love? Or are we willing to really embrace the gift of our baptisms, which is the victory over sin and death? Are we free in Christ or does sin still have power over us? (Romans 6)

We are called to embrace Mercy – God’s mercy on us, God’s mercy on the world, an unbounded mercy that we are invited to share.

Like Thomas, we doubt. We doubt that God could have really meant to include us and our specific wretchedness in his embrace. We doubt that Jesus crucified really and truly has anything to do with us. We doubt that the promise of resurrection can be fulfilled in our spirits, chained down by sin, right here and right now.

But it is never too late. Never too late to join our voices to Thomas’, and say “My Lord and My God.” Never too late to turn our hearts and pray, as often as we need, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Okay, well...

A couple of days ago, I threw out the remark that I thought Catholic Nexus was your best source for Catholic news. A remark which was followed by a note from Phil Lawler asking, well, what about us?

Well, I wrote him back explaining that I have been perpetually confused about what was available to all on the CWN site, and what was available to subscribers only. I was under the impression that most of their site fell into the latter category. I checked them this morning, and see that I was wrong - most of the news of the day, it seems is available to all.

So, sorry about that - the praise for Catholic Nexus still stands, but I when I made the remark, I was thinking more in lines of blog-like/portal/link sites (like Drudge) rather than actual original news-gathering sites. So, if that's what you're after, check out Catholic World News today, with lots of interesting articles, including one on the fight at Holy Cross over the selection of Chris Matthews as commencement speaker

Father Michael McFarland, SJ, the president of Holy Cross, responded to the criticism by saying that Matthews' support for legal abortion is "allowable in Catholic thought"....

Sunday, April 27

Michael has posted a nice article on the Mass that he wrote for OSV.

Cinco de Mayo...

is coming, and with it, my talk in Kalamazoo. Here are the details:



It's part of the Bishop Paul V. Donovan Lecture Series

I'll be speaking on Monday, May 5 on Saints, Relics, and the Incarnation

The talk is from 7-8, refreshments will be served from 8-8:15, and a Q & A session will be from 8:15 to 9:00. Or 8:15-8:20, depending on how dumb I am exposed to be.

The talk, sponsored by the Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Initiation, will be held at Msgr. John R. Hackett Catholic Central High School, 1000 West Kilgore Road.

Come one, come all and hear fun stories about your favorite saint's most gruesome relics and why it's all (or at least mostly) for the good.

Saturday, April 26

Via Catholic Nexus: (really your best source for Catholic news)

Vatican backs Keeler's decision to halt prayer meetings led by Gianna Talone-Sullivan

Seven beatifications tomorrow, including Father James Alberione:

This, from Publishers' Weekly Religion Bookline:

How many publishing companies can say their founder is a saint? Two Catholic houses may soon be one step closer to being able to make that claim. Father James Alberione, the founder of two religious orders who run Catholic book publishing houses in the U.S., will be beatified by Pope John Paul II in Rome on April 27. Beatification is the final step before canonization or declaration of sainthood in the Catholic Church.

Alberione founded the Society of St. Paul, an order of priests and brothers that runs Alba House in New York, and the Daughters of St.Paul, the nuns whose Boston-based Pauline Books & Media is both a publisher and retailer, operating 20 bookstores around the country. Born in 1884 in Italy, Alberione began studying for the priesthood at age 16. On the night of December31, 1900, while in prayer, he had a religious experience in which he felt called to serve people of the new century through the emerging means of mass communication. He and his followers went on to publish books, magazines and newspapers and eventually used radio, television, audio and video production, as well as the Internet, to pursue their mission. Alberione died in 1971.

“"He was a little bit ahead of his time,”" said Father Edmund Lane, editor-in-chief at Alba House. “"His beatification authenticates his vision.”" Sister Sean Marie David Mayer of Pauline Books & Media agreed: “"This is significant for the publishing industry because it’'s the first time a person is being put forward as an example by the Catholic Church who really worked with publishing and media.”"

Mayer told BookLine the beautification announcement “"caught us rather by surprise.”" Most of the seven books Alberione wrote are out of print, although two compilations of his writings are due out in fall 2003. Pauline also just released a title about Alberione’'s spirituality, “"Life for the World”" (Mar.) by Sister Marie Paul Curley. The current definitive biography is Alba House’'s English translation of the Italian “"James Alberione: Apostle for Our Times”" by Luigi Rolfo (1987).Given Alberione’'s passion for mass communication, some say he’'s a shoe-in as a potential patron saint for the Internet. He already has his own Web site: www.Alberione.com. Says webmaster Sister Kathryn Hermes, “"If Alberione were alive today, he would be using the Internet.”"

Here's the Italian site if you're interested.

Australian Madonna begins crying again over Easter Weekend.

Gee whiz, you'd think she'd be happy.

An investigation by the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth into the phenomenon last year failed to establish the source of the tears. Announcing the results in February, Archbishop Barry Hickey said he could not conclude safely that the substance was of divine origin.Scientists identified it as olive oil mixed with globules of rose oil.Archbishop Hickey declined to comment further on the phenomenon this week, saying only that it was a "private matter".Although almost 350ml of the liquid was collected from the statue in the fortnight before the investigation began, it did not produce any tears while under observation by the investigating commission.Under Archbishop Hickey's orders, the statue cannot be displayed in church property in the archdiocese.



Pope condemns Cuban executions

Pope John Paul II has added his voice to international condemnations of Cuba's crackdown on dissidents, including the execution of three hijackers. In a letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro, released by the Vatican, the pontiff expressed his "deep pain" at the executions, and appealed for clemency for 75 imprisoned dissidents. ....

...The pope's appeal was dated 13 April, but released only on Saturday by the Vatican, through its secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The message asked President Castro for "a significant gesture of clemency toward those convicted". "I am sure that you share also share with me the conviction that only a sincere and constructive confrontation between the citizens and the civil authorities can guarantee the promotion of a modern and democratic Cuba," the pope said.




The NYTimes on consecrated virgins

As Kathleen Danes prepares to become a June bride, in her bedroom closet hangs her gown, in a shade of sky blue. It is not that Ms. Danes is ineligible for virginal white. Quite the contrary; at her church ceremony, she will formally become a consecrated virgin wedded to Jesus Christ. She chose that hue, she said, because it was the color worn by the Virgin Mary."At this consecration, the greatest, most important celebration of my life, I want to feel close to my spouse's mother," said Ms. Danes, 62, who will participate in an ancient and little-known Roman Catholic rite called the Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World. "There is no better way to reach the heart of Jesus than through his most holy mother."

When Ms. Danes, the sacristan at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Lighthouse Point, Fla., is consecrated in the Archdiocese of Miami, she will join a tiny but growing number of consecrated virgins around the nation. The rite allows women to be publicly recognized as living a life of prayer and devotion while living in society rather than as nuns.

To become a bride of Jesus Christ, a woman must have never married and must demonstrate a life of chastity and devotion to the church. There is no age requirement, although some dioceses prescribe a minimum age like 30. Consecrated virgins have no formal obligations besides daily prayer, but they typically engage in service to the church. There is no equivalent vocation for men.Loretta Matulich, a consecrated virgin from Oregon City, Ore., and president of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, said there were at least 100 consecrated virgins in the United States, up from about 20 in 1995. In just the last year, about 15 women around the nation were consecrated, and in the next six months, another 15 will be, Ms. Matulich said.



From Andrew Greeley:Reasons to leave the Catholic Church:

And no, they're not what you think. In fact, it's probably the opposite.

Greeley says that sure, if you don't believe in a loving, merciful personal God, eternal life or sacramentalism, go ahead and leave (although, he notes, it just might be more difficult to do so than you think.)

But, he continues, these aren't the typical reasons he hears for people's departures:

However, most of the reasons I hear advanced these days are not of this sort. They are rather tales of what some priest did or said, of what some nun taught you, of some lunacy propagated by a bishop, of what some RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] director tried to impose upon you, of what some chancery office bureaucrat told you, of some rule that a liturgist said you had to obey, of the moronic failure of the church to deal with the pedophile crisis, of the denial by so many priests that there is a sexual abuse crisis, of the failure of the pope to support our eminently moral president, of the failure of bishops to speak out against the war (which they have, of course, though no one hears them anymore), of the pastor who is spending huge sums of money on a church the parish doesn't need. Etc. Etc. Etc.

These are, in all candor, lousy reasons for decamping--reasons I find it hard to accept, although they often rise from great suffering. They equate the Catholic heritage with the stupidities of its leaders, which have been worse in the past than in the present.

Frank Sheed, the English Catholic writer, put it nicely long ago: ''We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the Cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I myself admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the church as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope (or a priest) could do or say would make me wish to leave the church, although I might well wish that they would leave.''

Now, of course I agree with Greeley, but I think he's being a little too flip here in relation to the real pain people sometimes experience at the hands of those charged with leadership in the Church. It's not simply that people's feelings are hurt. It's that their faith is shaken. If a person who has been entrusted with passing on the Faith lies to you or hurts you or teaches something that is wrong, it is difficult for many to separate that relatively small moment in the present from the weight and breadth of Traditon. And the reason it's hard for people to do this is that over the past forty years, they haven't been taught the distinction. We have been so inundated with a catechesis that emphasizes "we are the Church" in entirely the wrong sense - people have been encouraged to become Catholic, not because of the truth that the Church teaches, but because they find a warm loving community at St. Fuzzy's. The cult of personality has come to dominate how laity see priests, and hardly anyone dissuades them from seeing beyond a priest (or other leader's) "personal gifts" to what he or she is supposed to be standing behind. So yeah, when this is the way that "We are the Church" is presented to Catholic laypeople, when they are encouraged to evaluate the holiness and truth of Catholicism by the "vibrancy" of its liturgies, the "hospitality" of the local parish and the "warmth" of Fr. Laughsalot, when they encounter "boring" liturgies, impersonal parishes and the dauntingly brusqe Fr. Dontbotherme, they're going to be hurt and their faith will be shaken because a subjective, personality and experientially-based "faith" is what they have been taught - through no fault of their own.



Friday, April 25

Yay. I'm there.

(Seriously - if this actually serves up what it promises to, it looks like what I've been waiting for. I've been contemplating Moveable Type for a while, but didn't want to bother with what it required. All along, though, I thought that certainly, at some point, they'd be coming up with something that was more a bit more user friendly with the added attraction of a host server. They have. I'll check it out once it emerges and if I like it, I will probably spend some time moving my whole Mighty Web Presence to it - this place and the home page, with a new look, new title and slightly new direction for a weblog - can't handle the constant provision of news any more, but I do need some sort of creative outlet that's totally mine, so maybe this will inspire me and help me out...We'll see.)

The other night (a sleepless night because of impending illness, stress and other factors), I flipped on CSpan and found myself mesmerized by a press conference with Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile, scholar and member of the Iraqi National Congress who has also been writing for The New Republic of late. He had just returned from the confab in Nasariyah, and I have to say that I found it impossible to stop listening to this quietly authoritative, intelligent man.

Here's a piece he has on the situation in the newest TNR, but I think the link requires a not-free registration. Too bad. His point is that the situation is miserable in Iraq, but he found the INC meeting very hopeful, but also that the situation is shifting very rapidly, and the US response has been inadequate because of poor planning and intra-Administration disagreements:

In Iraq, the world's most powerful military has crushed the hated rule of a despot. When U.S. Marines reached Baghdad, Iraqis cheered. Barely two weeks later, however, what Iraqis see before them is a foreign army that has de facto control over their country but has not facilitated the reconstitution of basic order. There is a naïve belief stalking some corridors of power in Washington today that, since the United States has liberated Iraq, it can now stand aside and let 100 flowers bloom. This, supposedly, is democracy. Iraqis have no idea what to make of this bizarre conception. And, as confusion and disorder grow, creating a power vacuum, some of the most dangerous and illiberal groups in Iraq are amassing power.

The severity of the problem hit me when I entered Iraq last Monday. Along with some colleagues from the Iraqi National Congress (INC), I was riding with a convoy from Kuwait and transporting supplies to the 700 fighters of the Free Iraqi Forces (FIF) based outside of Nasiriya, supervised by Ahmed Chalabi of the INC. No sooner had we crossed the border than we were besieged by hordes of children. They were desperate for water and food, standing in the road so we couldn't drive past without heeding their pleas. Never have I felt so conflicted. I soon found myself in an exchange with one young boy who had to be convinced I was a fellow Iraqi. I had been gone for more years than he could comprehend. I found myself telling him about the schools I had attended, the family I came from, the books I had written. One of his friends started pointing at the military supplies we were hauling and musing aloud about what he'd like to have. The crux of the problem was that, in the absence of my ability to help them (I could not empty the vehicle of supplies), they grew suspicious, and then hostile. How, after all, can someone powerful enough to drive in a convoy be powerless to provide food or water? This, I realized, is how they see the United States.

Currently, no means of providing law and order in Iraq's cities exist--a small but critical step on the road to a democratic Iraq. CENTCOM has repeatedly said that its ongoing combat requirements supercede any police function it might possibly provide. As a result, looting has happened under the noses of American fighters, prompting confusion among Iraqis who want order and do not understand why heavily armed Americans cannot provide it.

The lack of civil authority has been accompanied by a remarkable mistake by CENTCOM: It has allowed the eastern border of Iraq to remain open. As a result, thousands of people have been trucked into Iraq from Iran in recent weeks, mainly to provide support for hard-line Shia clerics who have stepped into the power vacuum and are rallying shocked Iraqis around them. As a result, new radical Muslim groups are developing local support, surpassing in power the older, long-standing fundamentalist group Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). If American forces, helped by Iraqis, had shut the eastern border, policed Baghdad and southern cities, and helped restore law and order, this could have been avoided. Even now, there is still time: If the United States moves to close the border with Iran and checks entrances to Baghdad and other cities, they can reverse this dangerous influx. But time is short.

The absence of civil authority has also had an effect on American forces. In the south, I encountered few checkpoints, and people were free to go as they pleased. Consequently, soldiers appeared nervous, constantly fingering their weapons because they feared some of the Iraqis moving around might want to hurt them. In an unfamiliar country, unable to speak the language, confronted by occasional outbursts of anger, they are poorly equipped to distinguish friend from foe and are wary of becoming targets.

....For the sake of Iraqi democracy and U.S. security, Washington needs to immediately stop putting off the difficult decisions about Iraqi political authority. The difficult choice the United States has to make is between effectiveness and representativeness. If it wants to create an effective peace in Iraq that can pave the way for a liberal constitution and elections, it needs to allow a liberal Iraqi leadership to emerge, stay involved in Iraq (rather than moving troops out), close the border with Iran, and promote a group of Iraqis--both exiles and internals--who can serve as a police force and eliminate the security vacuum that exists today and benefits the Islamists. If it favors instant representativeness--the appearance of allowing all Iraqis, no matter how incapable and illiberal, to quickly have a role in politics--if it reduces its troop presence, if it does not foster law and order, it will leave the country in a chaos that breeds the worst kind of intolerant politics. I did not return home for that.

Other good stuff in the issue:

Peter Maass on the Shi'ites:

A few days after American troops entered Baghdad, I went to Saddam City, a sprawling slum inhabited almost exclusively by Shia Muslims. But, by the time I got there, Saddam City was gone. Yes, the people were still there, as was the poverty--the kids playing barefoot soccer on dirt lots and the young men carrying AK-47 assault rifles. But it was Saddam City no longer. THIS IS SADR CITY, announced a spray-painted sign as I drove into the slum, renamed for Sheik Mohammed Sadek Al Sadr, who was killed along with two of his sons in 1999 for speaking out against Saddam Hussein. Another sign welcomed me to REVOLUTION CITY.

My first stop was the local hospital, which was surrounded by gunmen and presided over by an imam who refused entry to my colleagues and me. Our next stop was a nearby mosque, but the gunman at the entrance told us we could not speak to the imam and told my interpreter that Western journalists only tell lies. We then went to El Hekmah, the main mosque in the slum. The gunmen there were not warm, either, though a mid-level cleric agreed to speak with me outside the mosque for a few minutes. He told me they were under orders not to talk to journalists. As we chatted, a stream of stern-faced imams came and went, all of them surrounded by the sort of no-nonsense gunmen with whom you do not mess unless you have a death wish.

Although Iraqi police and American troops had begun foot patrols in other parts of Baghdad, they were nowhere to be seen in Saddam/Sadr/Revolution City. That's true throughout Shia population centers in Iraq. In Karbala, which contains the holiest Shia shrines, and Najaf, home to the main Shia seminary, the imams are in control. The gunmen are theirs, the hospitals are theirs, the banks are theirs, the streets are theirs.


Peter Beinart on Iraq and freedom:

Nothing makes me more nervous about the future of Iraq than hearing Bush officials declare that its people are free. Donald Rumsfeld said so six times in his post-looting "freedom's untidy" press conference on April 11. A few days later, President Bush told a crowd in St. Louis that, "Thanks to the courage and might of our military, the Iraqi people are now free."

No, they're not. The president and the defense secretary are playing a semantic game. Just because the Iraqi people are free from Saddam Hussein doesn't mean they're free. Freedom, after all, is not just the absence of centralized dictatorship. If it were, the Somali people would have been free in 1991, when they overthrew the tyrant Mohammed Siad Barre and saw anarchy and starvation follow in his wake. Political theory 101 says that, while people might be theoretically free in the absence of an effective sovereign, that freedom has little real meaning. And, today in Iraq, there is still no effective sovereign--there is only the strongest guy on your particular block. If he's an American soldier, you may indeed enjoy the beginnings of freedom. But, given how thinly American forces are stretched, most blocks don't have a GI; they have a cleric with a gun. And many of those clerics have about as much respect for individual liberty as Mullah Omar.

Why does it matter that Bush and Rumsfeld are overstating what the United States has thus far achieved? Because in the coming months there will be enormous pressure to declare political victory and get out--before the foundations for real Iraqi freedom have been established. If the president says that, with a new, decent government, Iraqis can become free, he implicitly tells Americans that our work there is only beginning. If he says Iraqis are already free, he implicitly tells Americans that our work there is done.




The Pope's new poems

Poland’s Church-owned St Stanislaw publishing house had hoped to release Roman Triptych as a world exclusive at the Pope’s former see of Krakow, and was disappointed when told it would be launched simultaneously by Biblioteca Editrice Vaticana in Rome. The English translation, now available from the Catholic Truth Society with an introduction by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is disappointingly low-key, and will colour the work’s reception by missing the resonance and deeper sense of much of the Pope’s Polish-language original. However banal, it nevertheless conveys his ideas and images, and will have to suffice for English-language readers.

John Allen's Word From Rome this week reflects on the Pope's presence during Holy Week liturgies...

How John Paul II holds up has thus become the most-watched annual bellwether of his physical condition.

This year, the verdict was largely positive. The pope kept all his appointments, celebrated all his Masses and delivered all his public addresses, including the annual Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi greetings in 62 languages.

He did so with verve. When building to rhetorical high points, such as any mention of Iraq or the need for peace, the pope’s voice became clear, strong, and booming. He was unusually comprehensible, even to people who didn’t have a text. At the end of the Urbi et Orbi remarks, the pope broke into song for the final greeting in Latin. (“The last language is the first!” he cheerfully quipped). The bit of bravado brought cheers from the crowd of 60,000 that had braved a rainy day in St. Peter’s Square.

One factor explaining the pope’s robust condition is his new rolling hydraulic chair. The device allows the pope to be wheeled into place in the sanctuary, and then raised up to the altar so he does not have to stand while celebrating the Eucharist. John Paul has aggravated arthritis in the right knee, so standing is wearying. Now he stands only for the reading of the gospel. For the same reason, the pope no longer walks the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. This year he held the cross in a seated position during the 14th station.


...and various reactions to the Vatican's stance on the Iraq war, an interview with Tommy Thompson, and an explanation of how the rumor of the Traditionalist reconciliation began and exploded:

Coverage of the Vatican around the world suffers from a peculiar malady, which is dependence upon the Italian papers. Since most journalists who follow the Vatican don’t do so full-time, they often end up cribbing material from the local press. This is natural, but it can also be dangerous. Italian journalism is distinguished by strong personalities and sparkling writing, but not always by scrupulous concern for facts.

Thursday, April 24

Something I learned today:

In 2001, an employee fired by an oncologist charged in a lawsuit that her former employer, who had treated the late Cardinal Cooke, gave slides containing the late Cardinal's blood to patients to use in prayer for healing...

By popular request

(Okay...one reader...)

Here's a link to a page with links about Shi'ite Islam

and here's a rundown of countries with the largest Shi'ite populations.

Wednesday, April 23

Lots of linking and quoting these days, eh?

Well, that's because there's been a lot of non-blogging writing going on here - in the past week I've written four Living Faith devotions, an OSV column, an OSV book review, an article for Catholic Parent, read the 500-page book for the review and revised a manuscript. And been to Tennessee and back. And now I have to get to serious work on a talk I'm giving in Kalamzoo on May 5.

So thanks for your continued visits. The nap remains fitful.

Fight about Rick Santorum here, if you like.

From Deal Hudson:

The interview he gave AP was in reference to a case coming up before the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of Texas' sodomy laws. The plaintiff in the case is arguing that the state has no right to interfere in one's sexual life (in the form of anti-sodomy laws) on the grounds that it violates our constitutional right to privacy.

The question is, how far does our right to privacy extend? Legal scholars have pointed out that, if the sodomy laws are overturned on the basis of our right to privacy, then other sexual acts that are currently illegal -- like incest, bigamy, and adultery -- will have to be made legal on the same grounds. Santorum's point is not a new one, nor is it
discriminatory. Really, it's just being consistent.

Reading the full transcript of the AP interview makes it even clearer that Santorum isn't "gay-bashing," but merely questioning the constitutionality of the argument for sodomy based on the right to privacy, and then extending that argument to its logical conclusion. Rather than having the Supreme Court come in, Santorum said that the people should be allowed to vote within their state as to whether they want sodomy laws, or any other kind of laws that restrict these activities.

From Andrew Sullivan

But let's examine Santorum's quote in the best possible light, shall we? An optimistic interpretation would be that he is making a constitutional point about judicial restraint. That's fair enough. It's a perfectly debatable proposition whether there is a right to privacy in the Constitution, and it doesn't involve anyone's views of homosexuals, abortion or any other matter. But Santorum must also know that such a right to privacy is now settled constitutional doctrine: It underpins the right to abortion and even the right to practice contraception. If he wants to abolish it, he must surely hold out the possibility of the government once again policing some of the most intimate sexual and reproductive matters imaginable, regulated by nothing but majority opinion. Santorum's position is therefore that there should be no constitutional restraint on the power of government to regulate sexual morality -- even within your own bedroom. The only restraint -- especially against any sexual minorities -- would be mandated by majority decisions.

From Ramesh Ponnuru (in response to Sullivan)

This seems to me a misreading. First, I don’t see where Santorum came out for the active, or even not-so-active, enforcement of anti-sodomy laws. Second, Santorum is not saying that governments should show no restraint in policing sexual morality. He is denying the existence of two particular restraints: a constitutional right to sexual freedom and a valid moral principle that prohibits the governmental policing of consensual sexual behavior. There may be all kinds of other reasons, both prudential and principled, for state governments to show restraint.

An unedited transcript of the pertinent sections of the interview.


Our religious education lesson for today concerns:

Bloody Shiites

Shi'ites

What are they doing?

They're marking al-Arbe'ein, or forty days after the Ashoura, the date on which the death of the Prophet's grandson Hussein was killed in battle at the site of present-day Karbala. A slash in the head is made and then the wound is hit so the blood splatters and spreads.

So...here's what's being said today about the Shi'ites and their role in the future of Iraq.

The WaPost says that US planners are surprised by the strength of the Shi'ites:

The burst of Shiite power -- as demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands who made a long-banned pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala yesterday -- has U.S. officials looking for allies in the struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

As the administration plotted to overthrow Hussein's government, U.S. officials said this week, it failed to fully appreciate the force of Shiite aspirations and is now concerned that those sentiments could coalesce into a fundamentalist government. Some administration officials were dazzled by Ahmed Chalabi, the prominent Iraqi exile who is a Shiite and an advocate of a secular democracy. Others were more focused on the overriding goal of defeating Hussein and paid little attention to the dynamics of religion and politics in the region.

"It is a complex equation, and the U.S. government is ill-equipped to figure out how this is going to shake out," a State Department official said. "I don't think anyone took a step backward and asked, 'What are we looking for?' The focus was on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein."

Complicating matters is that the United States has virtually no diplomatic relationship with Iran, leaving U.S. officials in the dark about the goals and intentions of the government in Tehran. The Iranian government is the patron of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading Iraqi Shiite group.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Now Mr. Saddam is gone, and power resides temporarily with the U.S. and allies occupying the country -- "Christians" in a word: aliens. And the Shia vividly realize they make up three-fifths of Iraq's population.

"Democracy" to many of them means "Islamic democracy" -- i.e. rule by the tribe or group that through its numbers or its access to weapons is in a position to control the others. For the mullahs now taking control of towns and villages, from Baghdad to Basra, many carrying the psychological scars of collaboration, are not likely to be contemplating any sort of power sharing with the displaced Sunni Arabs whose symbol was Mr. Saddam; nor with Kurdish, nor Turkomen, nor Assyrian Christian "infidels." They were ruled by a minority and now they intend to rule the minorities. The rhetoric of the demagogues arriving from the Iranian-sponsored SCIRI -- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- is deliciously attractive to them. The alternative of Western-style, constitutional democracy, with strict separation of mosque and state, must seem a joke -- something designed for some other culture..

The Shia underground is resurfacing, and in many places joining forces with SCIRI agents leaching into the country -- who were, after all, exiled Iraqis, not Persians. (The SCIRI leaders tend, as the Iranian fanatics of 1978-79, to be physical cowards. They send their minions first to stir up the crowds, as the Khomeinists did from France and elsewhere, but will not enter the country themselves until they think it is safe to do so. Whereas the "pro-Western-style democracy" leadership of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress has been on the ground in Iraq for weeks, and has already lost one of its own Shia leaders to assassination.).

While SCIRI ardently promised the allies that they would participate fully in the U.S.-led reconstruction effort, and accept power-sharing under the umbrella of Mr. Chalabi's INC, they lied. First they refused to participate in the initial U.S.-organized meeting of diverse Iraqi interests in Nasiriya last week. Now it is clear they were plotting from the beginning to foment another Shia uprising, not before, but after the Americans had taken out Mr. Saddam. Their intention is to test U.S. resolve, and if it fails, to achieve a theocratic state, on the Iranian model. They are going about it in precisely the same way Ayatollah Khomeini went about it..

Michael Leeden blames it all on Iran

But the true audacity of Tehran lies in their political moves. The Iranians have infiltrated more than a hundred highly trained Arab mullahs from Qom and other Iranian religious centers into Iraq, especially to Najaf and Karbala, the holy cities of the Shiite faith. They are poisoning the minds of the (largely uneducated) Iraqi mobs with a simple slogan, repeated five times a day in the mosques: “America did it for the Jews and for the oil.” They are also distributing cash to the Iraqis.

Just as they did against the shah, the Iranian Shiite leaders intend to build a mass following, leading to an insurrection against us. Look carefully at the banners carried by the Shiite demonstrators. They are very clean and well produced, with slogans in both Arabic (for the Iraqis) and English (for Western media). That is the Iranian regime at work, one of the most brilliant and patient intelligence organizations in the region. The slogans chanted by the mobs in Baghdad are Iranian slogans, calls for an Islamic state. It may seem fanciful to suggest that our liberation of Iraq could be transformed into a pro-Iranian regime applying sharia law, but after all just last year our negotiators permitted the creation of an Islamic Republic in Afghanistan.

An outline of the major divisions with Shi'ite Islam

A Who's Who of Shi'ite leadership in Iraq

Update

What happened today in Karbala, including a call to reject US presence by the brother of the guy who, according to this, has said he would cooperate with the US

And here, a mostly informative discussion thread on the whole issue.

Finally, ShiaPundit weighs in

Well, not finally:

The Untouchable Mayor of Kut

The U.S. Marines who seized control of this city near the Iranian border more than two weeks ago still have not dared enter the mayor's office. That is the domain of Sayed Abbas Fadhil -- and for now, he is untouchable.

Fadhil, a portly Shiite Muslim preacher turned farmer who has proclaimed himself the new mayor of Kut, insists his ascension to high office has been blessed by the city's religious leaders, teachers, lawyers, doctors, municipal workers and just about everyone else around, save for American troops and those who were part of ousted President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

In case his claim of popular support does not deter his eviction, he has welcomed into mayoral compound several hundred young men who have vowed to defend him if the Marines try to remove him by force.

"We thank the Americans for getting rid of Saddam's regime, but now Iraq must be run by Iraqis," Fadhil thundered during a meeting today with his supporters in the building's spacious conference room. "We cannot allow the Americans to rule us from this office."

In a country where seemingly everyone with influence and connections is seeking to fill the leadership vacuum left by the downfall of Hussein and his once-omnipotent Baath Party, Fadhil's claim to be mayor of Kut is perhaps the most audacious attempt yet to grab power. Unlike Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi, the Iraqi exile who has declared himself governor of Baghdad but remains holed up in two downtown hotels, Fadhil has set up shop in an official building and appears to have rallied support across this city of 300,000 people.

He also has been doing more than issuing what he considers official pronouncements. Some of his followers have started police patrols and set up checkpoints on roads out of Kut. Others have fanned out to hospitals, mosques and schools to inform residents that Fadhil is the new boss in town.



Tuesday, April 22

Satire that's beyond satire because it's oh, so tragically true.

(But apparently NOW is trying to back off..)

Back from the Lenten Blogging Fast are:

Peter Nixon

Sean Gallagher

and Mark Shea

During this octave of Easter...

we'd all do well to visit the blogs of our neophytes - those who came into the Church this past weekend. It's inspiring, gratifying reading.

From Kathy at Not for Sheep:

I woke up this morning, happy--because I am a Catholic!

I have been reflecting on partaking of the Eucharist both yesterday and the day before. I love it. In partaking of the Eucharist, I feel like I am much more than just myself; that in me, joy meets sorrow and triumphs eternally--all because of Christ.

From Joe Convert:

I am a Catholic. I'm proud of my heritage of faith, and humbled that the Lord saw fit to invite me into his church. I can't really describe it any other way; as I told someone after mass last night, none of this was part of my game plan. The Catholic Church wasn't even on the radar for me two years ago. In a very short amount of time, I transformed from being utterly disinterested in the Church to realizing I'd need a really good reason to prevent me from becoming Catholic. I've read mountains of anti-Catholic literature, had good friends try and talk me out of it, and have been rejected by people who really matter to me. Through that entire journey, I could find no credible arguments against the authority and historicity of the Church, but plenty to back up her claims. I have encountered nothing that could deny the witness of my own heart, as I have seen my life transformed by the gospel to a degree I had not thought possible. After 30 years of professing faith in Christ, I'm delighted to say that I'm starting over.

From Sean at Swimming the Tiber

Well, here I am... a Catholic, received into the Church through the Holy Mysteries of Chrismation and Eucharist. I'm not an emotionally effusive person, but if you were in the room with me right now, you would see my cheeks damp with tears of joy, as they have been almost every time this weekend when I've thought about what God has done for me and what a wonderful experience I had coming into his Church. Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

And Will at Mysterium Crucis:

I'm just so happy to know that now I'm on the inside. I'm Catholic. My faith is sure to have its struggles, new difficulties and new doubts will always present themselves to me. But I won't be alone. I'll face those challenges as Will the Catholic. And I'll have the prayers and strength of the Church, militant and triumphant, at my aide. I can only grow stronger from here, God willing.

The blogmistress at Well was also due to make her full profession, but hasn't blogged about it yet..

Go visit these folks, read their experiences and for that moment, remember what - or rather who brought us all here and why.


Sunday, April 20

Easter Sermon

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
-St. John Chrysostom

Thursday, April 17


This will be it from me until next Monday or Tuesday, and even then I hope to return the blog to its nap, but for Mondays. But until then, I leave you with my prayer that you will all have a blessed and holy celebration of the Triduum, and with this poem by Edwin Muir:

The Killing

That was the day they killed the Son of God
On a squat hill-top by Jerusalem.
Zion was bare, her children from their maze
Sucked by the dream of curiosity
Clean through the gates. The very halt and blind
Had somehow got themselves up to the hill.
After the ceremonial preparation,
The scourging, nailing, nailing against the wood,
Erection of the main-trees with their burden,
While from the hill rose an orchestral wailing,
They were there at last, high up in the soft spring day.
We watched the writhings, heard the moanings, saw
The three heads turning on their separate axles
Like broken wheels left spinning. Round his head
Was loosely bound a crown of plaited thorn
That hurt at random, stinging temple and brow
As the pain swung into its envious circle.
In front the wreath was gathered in a knot
That as he gazed looked like the last stump left
Of a death-wounded deer's great antlers. Some
Who came to stare grew silent as they looked,
Indignant or sorry. But the hardened old
And the hard-hearted young, although at odds
From the first morning, cursed him with one curse,
Having prayed for a Rabbi or an armed Messiah
And found the Son of God. What use to them
Was a God or a Son of God? Of what avail
For purposes such as theirs? Beside the cross-foot,
Alone, four women stood and did not move
All day. The sun revolved, the shadows wheeled,
The evening fell. His head lay on his breast,
But in his breast they watched his heart move on
By itself alone, accomplishing its journey.
Their taunts grew louder, sharpened by the knowledge
That he was walking in the park of death,
Far from their rage. Yet all grew stale at last,
Spite, curiosity, envy, hate itself.
They waited only for death and death was slow
And came so quietly they scarce could mark it.
They were angry then with death and death's deceit.

I was a stranger, could not read these people
Or this outlandish deity. Did a God
Indeed in dying cross my life that day
By chance, he on his road and I on mine?


Well, now, you must read this from J. Bottum at the Weekly Standard

Tom Daschle may no longer call himself a Catholic. The Senate minority leader and the highest ranking Democrat in Washington has been sent a letter by his home diocese of Sioux Falls, sources in South Dakota have told The Weekly Standard, directing him to remove from his congressional biography and campaign documents all references to his standing as a member of the Catholic Church.

Seders in Iraq

This year, for the observant among the estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Jewish military personnel serving in the Gulf, the holiday takes on extra significance.Many Army troops are expected to congregate in tents in Iraq and Kuwait for the ritual meal, provided primarily by the Jewish Welfare Board in New York City. The Air Force will have one seder at a base in Kuwait.There are so many Jewish Marines, there will be two dinners in the heart of Baghdad.


.... the Jewish Welfare Board Jewish Chaplains Council, has provided kosher food for Passover to troops since World War II. Each Passover kit contains enough food for one meal -- a can of tuna fish, gefilte fish, grape juice, the unleavened bread called matzoh and chicken soup with matzoh balls -- plus a Haggadah, the story of Passover.


North Korea's human catastrophe

This raises the third dimension of the human catastrophe, which is the North Korean gulag. It is estimated that the system of political prisons and labor camps in North Korea holds more than 200,000 people, and that, given the harsh conditions in these camps, some 400,000 prisoners have perished in the past three decades. In keeping with North Korean founder Kim Il Sung's dictate that class enemies "must be eliminated through three generations," parents, children, grandchildren and other relatives of prisoners are also sent to the gulag; and forced abortion and infanticide are standard practice, as prisoners are considered subhuman and are not permitted to have children. North Korea, of course, denies the existence of such camps, but in December the Far Eastern Economic Review published satellite photos of a camp in Hoeryong County that holds 50,000 prisoners, along with interviews of escaped prison guards who described what happened in the different buildings, including those where prisoners were tortured and executed.The famine, refugees and gulag are not isolated problems but rather illustrative aspects of the most oppressive system in the world today. North Korea is a remnant of Stalinist totalitarianism at its worst, and its extortionate behavior has no purpose other than to perpetuate its existence.

And Josh Marshall remarks, in relation to recent developments:

Bush administration Korea policy got an apparent boost a couple days ago when the North Koreans suddenly (a couple days after the fall of Baghdad) announced they were willing to engage in multilateral talks over their nuclear weapons program so long as the US was "ready to make a bold switch-over in its Korea policy for a settlement of the nuclear issue." On Sunday, the president crowed -- not without some justification -- that his tough policy against Iraq had made the North Koreans cave.

But now there seems to be a catch. The North Koreans say they're okay with multilateral talks. But, according to an article in today's Korea Herald, North Korea -- and China -- say they don't want the Russians or the Japanese at table. We probably don't mind not having the Russians there. But according to Chris Nelson, at The Nelson Report, the US would find excluding Japan from multilateral talks "unacceptable under any circumstances."



Well, the Dog Bites Man headline award today goes to the AP for its headline on the report about the Eucharist Encyclical, released today:

Pope says only priests can celebrate Mass

Here's a link to the encyclical itself

And if that's too much, here are excerpts.

Wednesday, April 16

A useful snapshot of the competing interests in northern Iraq from the WaPo.

From Christianity Today:

The Bible was not written to governments about when to go to war, but to God's people about how to live in this war-ridden world. It is about God's plans for the world and for you. And the Bible's view of life, war, and peace gives us the real basis for prayer and action.

From a sermon given on March 23 by Phillip Jensen, dean of Saint Andrew's Anglican Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. Worth a read.

Tuesday, April 15

From the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Albany:

Throughout the quarter-century of his pontificate, John Paul has preached repeatedly about "solidarity," that is, the unity of the human race as God's creation. The term has become a byword of his papacy, one that he juxtaposes with such values as truth, charity and justice. The idea of solidarity is why he rails so often against market forces that allow the rich to dominate the poor; the notion of solidarity led him to call on the Northern Hemisphere to forgive the indebtedness of its Southern neighbors; solidarity is the reason he so often speaks about ecumenical and interfaith amity.

By insisting so much on solidarity, the Pope may have added a new dimension to a major tenet of the just-war theory. That theory holds that a nation cannot go to war except in self-defense. Among the primary moral and political objections to the war in Iraq was that the coalition forces moved without firm proof that they were defending themselves. But it could be argued -- on the basis of the Pope's own theory of solidarity -- that the years of horror perpetrated against the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein were provocation against everyone in the world who treasures such values as truth, charity and justice. Indeed, what Saddam inflicted on his people seems to fit perfectly one part of the definition of the just-war theory, as given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: damage that was "lasting, grave and certain."

If the concept of solidarity had been previously added to the just-war theory, its other elements might have fallen into place in the case of the Iraqi crisis: alternate means of achieving peace, such as years of diplomacy and negotiation, proved to be ineffective; the prospects for success are very high; and the use of modern arms seems not to be producing "evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated."

Thanks to Mark Shea for the link!



Read this frightening Slate dispatch from Mosul

and Christopher Allbriton in Tikrit

Here's an entire website dedicated to the looting and destruction of the Iraq National Museum

I'm glad to see that the site's author makes clear his belief that

One thing before I go on. I wish to be absolutely clear: no epic Sumerian cuneiform tablet, majestic Neo-Assyrian lamassu sculpture or any other Mesopotamian artifact is worth a human life, be it Iraqi, American, British or other.

That said, there are lots and lots of articles, many photos, as well as articles on the general status of Iraqi archaelogical sites and artifacts from the First Gulf War to the present.

And then there's the Baghdad National Library, which burned yesterday.


Hi there...

I am pretty blogged out at the moment, and I have a couple of articles I want to finish writing before this weekend, when we travel to Knoxville. I might post something else that strikes me as particularly interesting, but don't count on it.

Until then....

Keep your eye on Mosul - things are really heating up there.

(here's an updated article)

Matt Labash travels to the misery that is Umm Qasr

and, I put a couple of pages of Joseph photos together here

and here.

Monday, April 14

From the Touchstone blog Mere Comments, David Mills uses a Michael Kinsley piece to reflect on our standards for judging morality:

Having been hesitantly hawkish about the Iraq war, and being as cheered as anyone by the Coalition success so far in removing a brutal regime and freeing the people he had enslaved, I have also been disturbed by how many Christians are talking as if the success of the effort — its success so far — justified the war and makes its doubters and critics look foolish.....

But we still have Weeki-Wachee, don't we?



Sunday, April 13

A couple of notes from last week that I neglected to mention are both discussed in this here article

....concerning the Archbishop of San Antonio, who ordered a priest to put that US flag back up where he says it belongs:

Archbishop Patrick Flores issued his order after receiving inquiries about what some Our Lady of Grace congregants say the Rev. John Mannion's latest display of anti-United States sentiment. Church members say that Mannion often criticized America during sermons and kept the flag at half-staff. Last week, he simply removed it from the church in La Coste, 20 miles southwest of San Antonio. ''I have advised Father Mannion that the American flag must be restored at full height to its usual place of honor immediately,'' Flores said Thursday.

...and the Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, who fired his Justice and Peace director:

Earlier this week, the Portland, Ore., archdiocese fired its 12-year peace and justice director after repeatedly warning the man to curtail his anti-war activism. An archdiocese spokesman said Frank Fromherz was laid off because of budget cuts. But Fromherz, 49, said archdiocese officials told him he was fired because he violated his role as an ''agent'' for the archbishop and his views. Fromherz had clashed with Archbishop John G. Vlazny over the war. For example, Fromherz sent an e-mail to hundreds of Catholics and others that encouraged anti-war protests and called on ''the international criminal court to indict and prosecute our own President (Bush) as a war criminal.''

So..bring it all together for us...the Pope opposed to the war, the church employees speaking against the war in..er...vivid terms, the bishops telling them to stop, the military personnel listening to the Passion in Baghdad, being told to liken themselves to the suffering Christ, and the Iraqi Christians, glad that God has answered their prayers for an end to the bombing...(blogged below)

Too much for me, especially this late.

Discuss amongst yourselves.




Keep reading Back to Iraq.

I’m standing about 50 km from Tikrit and nervous enough to feel like I’ve just swallowed molten lead. The road is as straight as an sniper shot. Behind me, about 10 km, stands the last PUK checkpoint after Kirkuk. The land is flat, and perhaps it’s my imagination, but it appears stunted and less fertile than the hills and mountains to the north east. There is a light wind that smells faintly of burning oil. Every now and then a car passes our small encampment on the side of the road and its passengers peer at us intently. The ones coming from the direction of Tikrit don’t smile. Before us lies the stronghold of Saddam Hussein, and I have to make a decision to press on or not.

Two articles on Palm Sunday with Iraqi Christians:

From the AP in Baghdad:

Beneath the stained-glass windows at Our Lady of Deliverance, a church of Iraq's tiny Christian minority, parishioners collected their Palm Sunday olive branches, representing the palm fronds that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem. Their welcome for the U.S. Marines in east Baghdad is less than a hosanna, however. "We're happy the Americans have ended the regime," said Msgr. Raphael Qutiimi, the pastor. "But that's not enough. They need to quickly return security and stability and peace. If they don't act, the looting will continue."

....in the peaceful courtyard of Our Lady of Deliverance, an elegant 72-year-old woman, a former secretary for international companies, also uttered a harsh word, when asked what she thought of the quieting war.

"Massacre," she muttered in English. Asked again, she repeated, "Massacre!"

She referred to the uncounted Iraqi civilian deaths at U.S.-British hands. "We have no idea," she said of the conflict's ultimate meaning for Iraq. "We'll have to wait and judge later, and maybe we'll thank God for it."

...and in Kirkuk

Christians at the cathedral in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk said on Sunday their prayers for peace had been answered, but what comes after the fall of Saddam Hussein is what worries them now.At the first mass for Iraq's Chaldean Catholic minority since government forces collapsed on Thursday and U.S. troops moved in, Bishop Andraus Sanna said in a sermon delivered in Arabic that his flock had much to be grateful for.But having enjoyed relative religious freedom under Saddam and his Baath party, Christians feel they have something to lose now he has been ousted from power and U.S. forces promise democracy in a largely Muslim country.


Palm Sunday at the Baghdad airport

On Palm Sunday in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers on bent knee paused in silence during a field mass for a reading of the Passion. "Jesus gave a loud cry, and breathed his last," read Lt. Mike Heninger, Catholic priest for the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Army Division. In the service, Heninger directed the troops to find strength in Lent's lesson of self-sacrifice. "Jesus went forward knowing full well what was expected of him," Heninger said. "How have we been dealing with hardship in this time of Lent in the desert?" The mass was held in a dark, dust filled building with broken windows - a former Iraqi catering facility at Saddam International Airport,. Impromptu pews were made by pulling dusty seats together and covering them with green Iraqi Airways blankets. The altar was a serving cart, covered in another green blanket. "I think the appropriate colors are white, but we don't have white sheets," said 3rd ID Chaplain Lt. Col. Roger Heath.

Heninger also gathered long leaves from nearby palm trees to hand out to the congregation of troops. The tone of the service was quiet and serious. Keeping a commitment to serve "isn't always easy," Heninger said. "It was challenging there in the garden, when Christ said, 'Father, if this cup is to be passed to me, let it be passed.'" Heninger said. "We find ourselves in these times of hardships, perhaps during this operation, when we wish the cup would be passed, that we would not have to drink from this cup of sacrifice. But it is in these times where we need to walk in the footsteps of Christ."



Former Sandinista "cultural ambassador" protests war and US imperialism while...

his son serves in the US Army Over There

The story of the old revolutionary and his soldier son is the talk of the town in Managua, where the Mejía Godoy family is a beloved cultural treasure. Though Camilo has not openly disavowed his father nor his beliefs, the circumstances that led him to the Persian Gulf hold powerful symbolic meaning for a country still deeply divided by the lingering effects of a violent civil war, U.S. intervention and the ensuing wave of exiles.

"A lot of people [from Nicaragua] are caught in this same paradox," says Greg Landau, a San Francisco-based producer and guitarist, who toured extensively in the 1980s with Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy, the young soldier's uncle. "In many families, people are caught on opposite sides of the political fence."


Background on the situation in Najaf

and, from Al-Jazeera,

a report that the siege on al-Sistani's home, blogged below, has ended

Armed men are reported to have lifted a siege of the home of Shia spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in the early hours of Monday hours before the expiry of a 48-hour deadline they had imposed for the cleric to to leave the country.The circumstances of the withdrawal of members of a group calling itself the Jimaat-E-Sadr-Thani are still unclear but if confirmed they will come as a relief to the residents of the central Iraqi city of Najaf who have seen their 'liberated' city torn apart by inter-Shia strife.


Shi'ite clerics move to assume authority in Baghdad

I'm in charge, only for the sake of God," said Sayyid Sadeq Aalaq, 60, the leader of the small, modest Imam Ali Mosque, the first to be built in the neighborhood. But he added, "I don't covet power or authority."

Claiming control over six of the neighborhood's 79 districts, he seemed to have both, and he worked with an enthusiasm that belied his age. Since Hussein's fall, he has used the mosque's loudspeaker -- powered by a generator during Baghdad's lingering blackout -- to broadcast an edict by Sistani forbidding looting. He has organized meetings with former police officers and is eager for them to return to their jobs. He has also started forming popular committees that would oversee the return of electricity, water distribution and food handouts, once the task of the Baath Party that crumbled hours before U.S. troops captured the city.

On his own initiative, Aalaq organized a meeting Saturday for leaders of the neighborhood's mosques. Among their priorities is to ease tensions between Sunnis and Shiites that erupted Friday at Abrar Mosque -- a rare Sunni place of worship in the neighborhood. In the dispute, a gun battle broke out that lasted four hours, until dawn. Although no one was killed, it was a sobering reminder of underlying tensions.

In days regulated by the call to prayer, Aalaq said, he is driven every two hours by a neighbor in a battered 1980 Toyota to inspect checkpoints in his territory. This morning, he went to bakeries, insisting they make bread available to residents. "I had to order them," he said, leaning on a cane and draped in a gray cape with gold trim. "I had to be forceful. They said, 'Okay, we'll bake.' "

In Aalaq's remarks are signs of what will be required for credibility in postwar Iraq -- a record of resistance to the Hussein government and independence from the Americans. He said his authority was derived, in part, from his family's suffering. Seven of his relatives were executed in 1982 for membership in the Dawa Party, an outlawed Shiite group that, for a time, waged a bloody struggle against the government. He never saw their bodies. Over a three-month period, his family was simply handed their death certificates by the neighborhood Baath Party official, the names Kadhim, Hussein, Salam, Adnan, Hassan, Hayat and Mohammed scrawled across the top.

His son, Mortadha, fled the neighborhood after the riots in 1999, and was smuggled into Lebanon for about $250."Everybody likes me. They follow my orders," Aalaq said. "They know we are good people, and they know we have suffered."

With far less bitterness, he carries the same reticence in dealing with U.S. forces, refusing to meet any as long as they stay in Iraq.

"The Americans asked to talk to me, but I refused," Aalaq said, sitting in an office at the mosque. Overhead was a portrait of Ali, the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law whom Shiites believe was his rightful heir. "If I met with them, my popularity would collapse."

It's a fascinating, lengthy look at a very complex situation.

Some good news:

Baghdad residents band to protect Jewish community center and synagogue

In the Batauin district near the Saddun commercial artery, the entrance of a large synagogue is blocked by an immense iron portal.The way onto the street is obstructed by trees and chairs. A self-defence militia formed on Saturday to fight back against bandits."We are defending the synagogue like all houses on the street and we will not let anyone touch it," said Edward Benham, a 19-year-old computer science student.The young Christian said that Jews normally came each Saturday but because of the lingering security problem, no one came last Saturday.

Here's an article about the history of the Jewish community in Baghdad, now 38 strong.



The Information Minister's son is

a doctor in Dublin

(Ireland, not Ohio)

But the son of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the notorious Iraqi Information Minister whose bizarre rantings earned him the nickname Comical Ali, enjoys an altogether more low-key position - as a doctor in a Dublin hospital. Osama al-Sahaf practises in the city's Beaumount Hospital and has predictably been dubbed Surgical Ali.



What they found in Uday's house

...including printouts of emails addressed to udaysaddamhussein@yahoo.com....how covert of him. How weird if US intelligence didn't ever notice...

Josh Marshall comments

Mosul:

Fearful of marauding gangs of looters, thieves and arsonists, Arab residents in Iraq's third-largest city formed armed militias on Sunday in a desperate attempt to protect their homes, shops and families.

Religious leaders in Mosul acknowledged the need for the neighborhood militias given the wholesale breakdown of law and order in the city, but the clerics also appealed to residents to put down their weapons in favor of unarmed patrols and roadblocks.

"These people setting up their own private militias and checkpoints are childish and stupid," said Sheikh Badr Al-Hilali, director of Mosul's mosques and religious sites. "Most of them don't even know how to use a gun. They are performing a stage-play that's a mockery of law and order. The allies have to stop this."

But the allies here - a couple of hundred Green Berets and Marines - are overwhelmed and overmatched. Mosul is a fractious, ethnically divided city of some 2 million people, including large numbers of hard-core Ba'ath Party members and Saddam Hussein loyalists who are angry over the fall of their regime.

"We need thousands of soldiers to properly police this city," said a Kurdish political leader who is working with the U.S. contingent.

U.S. soldiers have had to shift into a policing role in Mosul, which has been wracked by three days of horrific Kurdish-Arab violence. An estimated 70 people have been killed with countless numbers injured.

The city certainly remained edgy, tense and dangerous over the weekend. Two Army soldiers on a patrol late Saturday night were wounded by an unseen sniper, and they were quickly evacuated by helicopter out of the city for medical treatment.

Convoys of Green Berets, Marines and members of a new, U.S.-supervised squad of Free Iraqi Fighters made several swings through the city Sunday, large American flags flying high behind their Humvees. Children waved and shouted hello, although most of the men in the Arab neighborhoods looked on warily and unsmiling.


Even though Sunday is a regular workday here, only bakeries and tea shops were open. Men with Kalashnikov assault rifles stood on many rooftops in the downtown areas, presumably protecting their shops below.

Nearly all municipal services - water, power, police, sanitation - have broken down since the Iraqi Army meekly surrendered Thursday night. A frenzy of looting quickly followed as bank vaults were emptied of their cash, government offices were trashed and torched, and luxury hotels were ransacked.

By Sunday, however, the full extent of the looting was becoming more clear and more painful.

The prestigious University of Mosul was wrecked to within an inch of its academic life. The Medical College was robbed of microscopes, medicines and precious lab equipment. The public library lost its oldest volumes and the archives lost countless historical documents. Hospitals were ripped apart, ambulances hijacked and drug cabinets carried off whole.

Harold Bloom to donate personal library and archives to a Catholic college

arold Bloom has always railed against what he calls "the school of resentment," Marxist, feminist, Afrocentric and deconstructionist scholars who, he says, deny the aesthetic and spiritual values inherent in great literature. So when it came time for Mr. Bloom, 72, to choose a place to donate his immense personal library and his archives, he bypassed several larger prominent universities that in his opinion house those very practitioners of resentment in favor of a small, relatively unknown Catholic college in Colchester, Vt.

"Dear child," Mr. Bloom said in a telephone interview, using the appellation he applies to friend, stranger, male and female, alike, "with rare exceptions the universities and colleges in the English-speaking world that have sustained some sense of literature as a matter of powerful cognition and extraordinary aesthetic beauty tend to be the Roman Catholic institutions."



Some Shi'ite stories:

Vengeful chaos threatens Shi'ite's new freedom

A decent overview of Shi'ites in Iraq and their rivalries

Another one on the same topic

Claims that leading Shi'ite cleric has been told to leave Najaf

Armed men have surrounded the house of a top Shi'ite Muslim cleric in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, ordering him to leave the country within 48 hours, aides to the cleric told Reuters on Sunday.Shi'ite sources said U.S. troops stationed on the outskirts of Najaf had moved into the city to restore order amid a struggle between rival Shi'ite groups for control of the historical heart of their religious community.

"Armed thugs and hooligans have had the house of (Grand) Ayatollah (Ali) Sistani under siege since yesterday. They have told him to either leave Iraq in 48 hours or they would attack," Kuwait-based Ayatollah Abulqasim Dibaji told Reuters.

Dibaji said the house was surrounded by members of Jimaat-e-Sadr-Thani, a shadowy group led by Moqtada Sadr, the ambitious 22-year-old son of a late spiritual leader in Iraq."Moqtada wants to take total control of the holy sites in Iraq," Dibaji said.



Thanks for the thoughtful discussion on the looting of antiquities below. I hadn't been online since yesterday afternoon, and when I saw 22 comments attached to that post, I thought, "oh no..." but my fears were unfounded. A thoughtful discussion, to which I will only add...

there is no such thing as a cookie cutter "citizen of Baghdad." Looting hospitals and museums is not characteristic behavior for the citizenry, I would imagine. A city of 5 million can hold a lot of sociopaths and criminals.

But I still remain convinced that more should have been done to anticipate this. And - if we can spare Marines to guard the Oil Ministry, we can spare them to guard hospitals, as well.

I have no doubt that in the next week, barring some disaster on another front, aid will begin pouring into Baghdad and calm will be restored, at least in regard to the looting. The whole issue of the replacement of civil authority is going to remain an interesting one, though, what with the ties that pre-war law enforcement has to the Baath party, inter-religious strife, ethnic strife in the North, as well as the tension between the Iraqi insistence that since the Coalition brought this destruction and opened the way for this situation, it has a responsibility to see it through and fix it, and their negative feelings about an American presence, especially a ruling one..

They're trying to restore order in Baghdad..

Hundreds of Iraqi police and other civil servants responded to U.S. calls broadcast by radio to meet in Baghdad on Sunday as part of efforts to resume order and key services to the capital.But scores of residents protested in central Baghdad, angry that power and water supplies were still disrupted. Some accused U.S. forces of being concerned only about oil rather than getting the country back on its feet.


Saturday, April 12

We're off to an author appearance and booksigning by one of Katie's favorite authors, Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, which is about mice and other creatures who live in a kind of monastery and fight wars and stuff. I guess.

Portraits of looting, said to be overplayed by certain US officials:

The National Museum of Iraq

Officials with crumpled spirits fought back tears and anger at American troops, as they ran down an inventory of the most storied items that they said had been carried away by the thousands of looters who poured into the museum after daybreak on Thursday and remained until dusk on Friday, with only one intervention by American troops, lasting about half an hour, at lunchtime on Thursday.

Nothing remained, museum officials said, at least nothing of real value, from a museum that had been regarded by archaeologists and other specialists as perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East.

As examples of what was gone, the official cited a harp in solid gold from the Sumerian era, which began about 3360 B.C. and started to crumble about 2000 B.C. Another item on their list of looted antiquities was a sculptured head of a woman from Uruk, one of the great Sumerian cities, dating to about the same era, and a collection of gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings, also from the Sumerian dynasties and also at least 4,000 years old.

From Kirkuk

Following the fall of Kirkuk on Thursday a man staggered from the shattered dispensary of the air base hospital carrying a crate of the malaria drug chloroquin. Asked what he intended to do it with it he replied: "What's malaria?"

hospitals in Baghdad

hospitals in Mosul

...and all over the place. As I wrote in a comment, of course this should be expected - which is why the Coalition forces should have expected it. You won't find any criticism here of Iraqis looting presidential palaces and some government facilities, but this is a terrible problem, not just because so many important facilities are being destroyed and must be rebuilt, but because there's a chance that records are being destroyed in the process, and most importantly, that the situation will careen into violence as a very heavily-armed Iraqi population starts taking matters into its own hands, which then could very well escalate into ethnic and religious violence...

The Coalition has put itself into a very difficult situation here. They don't want to be policemen for many reasons - it deepens the impression that they are occupiers, the means they might have to turn to have the potential of turning portions of the population against them...a sticky wicket, as they say.

But I find it astonishing that no one foresaw this - I mean, the military is famous for its multiplicity of war plans, its efforts to account for every contigency or consequence...right?

And I won't even mention the account I read that indicated that the marines had, straight away, put barbed wire and armed guards around the Oil Ministry, while allowing the other ministries to be looted and burned....

Oops. I guess I already did.



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