Friday, January 10

From CT: The pressures on one of the oldest Christian communities:

Our Turkish-speaking drivers were taking us through the Fertile Crescent, that crossroads of great civilizations, but it did not appear very fertile. On this visit to eastern Turkey, religious freedom advocate Paul Marshall and I saw little cultivated land and a striking level of depopulation. We met the only two monks remaining in the monastery of the village of Sare (or Sarikoy). They were resigned, calm, and ready for the apocalypse.

Syriac-speaking Christians in this area have persisted through more than a dozen centuries of Muslim, Ottoman, and now Turkish rule. They languish between the secularizing government of the Republic of Turkey and an Islamic culture that views them as heathen outsiders. The government has long given them minimal "freedom of worship" while decisively restricting property rights for local congregations. Nor do authorities allow them any avenues of new growth—communication, speech, normal press freedom, or economic development.

Syriac-Aramaic comes as close as any living language to what Jesus spoke. It is the liturgical and poetic language of these Christians. Yet authorities forbid Christians on Turkey's southeastern border with Syria, Iraq, and Iran to teach that language—nor can their schoolchildren learn any subject in it. Christians in Syria, by contrast, legally teach and worship in that language.

Case Western Reserve prof writes book on "roadside religion"

Beal's book will provide a glimpse of about 20 religious-themed parks or attractions around the country that he has visited or plans to see in the coming year.

These include the Holyland USA Nature Sanctuary in Virginia with its scaled-down version of biblical Israel on the site of a former government whiskey distillery; the Living Bible museum in Mansfield; the world's largest rosary collection, in Oregon; and Biblical Minigolf in Kentucky.

Beal said he had been interested in these sorts of attractions for years, and decided last year to take a personal look after spotting the partially constructed Noah's ark replica - intended not as a lifeboat for some future global flood, but rather as a conference center for evangelical Christians (Beal said the ark has run aground on the rocks of financial uncertainty).

"Your first question has to be, 'What is that?' " he said. "But that's quickly followed by 'Who did it?' And "Why?' What is driving these kind of things? What kind of demons or visions or whatever?"

Beal was impressed by the sheer scale of such efforts as "The World's Largest Ten Commandments" in giant letters laid on the side of a mountain in North Carolina, supposedly visible from outer space.

Cardinal George discusses his childhood bout with polio

George, now 65, was a 13-year-old boy on Chicago's Northwest Side when he was diagnosed with polio.

"The big problem I had at 13 was I couldn't run any longer, I couldn't play ball, and I couldn't do a lot of things that I was looking forward to," he said. "At the very moment when that process was beginning, suddenly there was a new process, and I had to go into a consideration of what can't I do . . . instead of what can I do."

George, who wears a brace on his leg and special shoes, still occasionally battles feelings of resentment because of what he calls his disability. "But a life of resentment is a crippled life," he said.

It was a few weeks before Christmas 1950 when George, who had been suffering from symptoms that doctors at first mistook for rheumatic fever and the flu, was diagnosed with polio. Young George entered St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, where he remained for three months.

From World:

Thirty years, thirty pro-life faces.

Cardinal Lustiger of Paris has a new book

No man is better qualified to stress the inseparable bond between Jews and Christians than Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, whose name used to be Aaron and whose mother Gisèle, a Polish rabbi's daughter, was gassed to death in Auschwitz in 1943.

In his latest, stunningly beautiful book, "La Promesse" (The Promise), this most illustrious convert from Judaism calls the Holocaust a unique event in history not so much because it was a genocide -- genocides have happened before and since Auschwitz -- but because the victims were none other but God's chosen people.

Lustiger, who became a Christian at age 14, took his book's title from Psalm 119:148: "My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise."

And he prefaces his work with St. Simeon's stirring words of thanks, which in liturgical churches the congregation chants as post-communion canticle. In the Jerusalem Temple, this old man took the Christ child into his arms and said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word / for mine eyes have seen thy salvation / which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples / a light for the revelation to the gentiles / and for the glory of thy people Israel."

This is a fitting motto for a man who for a long time was thought destined to become the second Jewish pope in history -- after St. Peter -- an idea that triggered in some mystical circles the kind of apocalyptical speculation the Bible clearly prohibits.

To speculate is to miss the entire dimension of the phenomenon of this prince of the Church, who unequivocally stands by his Jewish roots but is equally unequivocal in his conviction that Christ is the fulfillment of God's promise to his people -- and all nations. Hence his emphasis on Psalm 119 and Simeon's prayer.

As one who lost his mother in the Holocaust, Lustiger can dispense with the habitual mushiness of many Christian theologians, who try to paper over the differences between the two related faiths in their view of Jesus.

Letters. I get letters.

With stickers.

Let me explain:

Any newspaper columnist is accustomed to mail, much of it negative, because, of course, most of us are only moved to write to a journalist when we disagree with him or her.

I’ve found that e-mail has changed this situation a bit. Before email, I probably received one positive letter for every ten negatives. But with email, I actually receive more positive feedback than negative. Why is this?

I think it has to do with that energy level, again. Just think, if you didn’t have email, all that you have to do to send a letter to a columnist. You have to get paper, pen or typewriter and physically write it. You have to find an envelope and a stamp. You have to find the address of the columnist. You have to go mail the letter.

Given how busy our lives are, most of us are not going to go to all that effort to tell a columnist, “Nice job!” (and God bless those who do!), but we’re more likely to get motivated to do the work if we’re ticked off, strongly disagree or are deeply moved to correct an error.

Email, of course, is far simpler, especially if you’re reading something online, with the writer’s email link conveniently embedded in his or her byline. And even if you’re reading it in print, there are fewer steps involved in whipping off an email than doing snail mail, and so if you’re impressed or happy with a columnist, you’re more likely to let them know via email.

By the way – in case you’re wondering. In my fifteen or so years of column-writing, the issues that prompted the greatest volume of negative mail were two: a Florida Catholic column on the purported apparitions in Conyers, Georgia – which may seem minor to you, but were the Big Thing back when I wrote the column, especially in that region, where parishes were regularly taking busloads of people up to The Holy Hill to see if visionary Nancy Fowler was going to see Mary again. I nailed her, pointing out some conflicts in what she’d written she heard with Church teaching, and further daring to state that experiences like Jesus on the crucifix in Nancy’s room gently chuckling at the face cream on her face and allowing, “You look funny,” were not arguments for credibility.

Had a lot of people telling me they’d be praying for me after that. I remember Michael at the time saying that I shouldn’t get mad, I should be grateful. Who doesn’t need prayers?

Oh, and the second greatest outpouring was after an OSV column in which I suggested that Dr. Laura was not, indeed the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Well, despite the benefits of email, I still get snail mail. Since Michael works in a division of OSV, he gets to bring it home to me. When he tells me over the phone that I got mail, my first question is always, “Does it have stickers on it?”

Because, you see, a high proportion of people who write to me festoon their envelopes with stickers: pro-life stickers, stickers with Mary, stickers with Jesus, stickers with St. Anthony, stickers with the Sacred Heart, pasted all over the back, sometimes on the front, and often inside.

One sticker is usually harmless, but more than one unfailingly means trouble. It means that what is inside is either an scribbled note written on half a piece of paper in illegible handwriting or a single-spaced typewritten (not word processed) missive, often several pages long.

Well, yesterday, Michael brought home some mail – one from an older gentleman in Ocala, Florida, who writes me some kind words about once a year on the back of a copy of one of my columns that he particularly liked. The other looked more dangerous. There were no stickers, but it was in a large manila envelope. And glancing inside, I saw that it was three pages of typewritten (again, not word-processed) material. With clippings.

Well, I needn’t have worried. It turned out to be a most interesting, and heartbreaking letter, from an older lady who is in the Illinois parish whose former pastor was the unfortunately named Jeff Windy who engaged in the even more unfortunate activity of manufacturing GHB – the date rape drug – out the rectory.

The writer reports that the parish – 150 years old, peopled mostly by the elderly – had actually been suffering for years under the pastorate of Fr. Windy. He had (true to form) engaged in renovations without asking the parish, and, as he was arrested, left the parish $181,000 in debt. She says it has come out that Fr. Windy has had a drug problem of some sort or another since he was 16, and she (this is her opinion, remember) finds it difficult to believe that Bishop Meyers (now of Newark) didn’t know about it. There’s no resident priest in the parish any more, and a pastor of another parish is their acting pastor with an 80-year old retired priest helping out by saying 2 masses on Sundays.

She writes:

I feel this matter will mean the end of our church of over 150-year old parish. The flock scatters when there is no shepherd….First of all I think that the clergy should be operating on the same page, instead of putting their own spin on things. I think the hierarchy in the church should review the capitol sins. If my memory serves me right, from the pages of the Baltimore Catechism where I learned the matter of faith that PRIDE is the number one, which is a condition that affects a lot of members of the leaders of our church. My daughter says she thinks priests should have to stay out of jail like the rest of us. I realize that we are not to make a comment on Jeff Windy’s conduct – he has to work out with the Lord, however, Jesus wasn’t happy with the money changers in thee temple, so I don’t think He would be please with a priest dealing drugs out the rectory door.

What does this show? It shows the responsibility that leaders – lay and clerical both – have to lead, and the wide-ranging consequences of failure to lead. It’s not just one priest doing one wrong thing and going to jail. It’s an entire parish left floundering, saddled with debt, left, essentially, to fend for itself….

Please tell me that this loser will be stripped of parental rights - yesterday, if possible.

(LA Times, LRR)The children, ages 7 and 4, had cereal and, for a time, milk. Frozen TV dinners and corn dogs, too. All the basics, to their mother's mind, to survive the 20 days she planned to be in North Carolina wooing a potential husband she'd met over the Internet.

The mother — Janet Hseuh Chen, 31 — tended to the details with meticulous care, authorities said. She unplugged the phone and taped the drapes shut. She lied to school officials, saying she and the children were going out of town. She taught the children how to heat their own meals and stash the trash in the refrigerator away from bugs.

But her plans didn't quite work out.

Neighbors became suspicious Monday when they spotted a 4-year-old boy peering out the window of a Placentia apartment with a week-old "missed delivery" tag hanging on the door. Their suspicions led to a call to police, who discovered the children had been left by themselves since two days before Christmas.

Alice McDermott, truly one of the most boring writers on the planet, spoke at Georgetown and said that her new novel could be seen as a metaphor for the situation in the Church

In McDermott’s story, each family member reacts numbly to the father and resists accepting the change, mirroring the father’s behavior as he refuses to see a doctor or accept his inevitable death. McDermott, an outspoken Catholic, explained that she drew remarkable parallels between the story and the current status of the Catholic Church, also experiencing significant suffering and resisting a change of ritual.

“I never begin my writing with the intention of providing a lesson, but any novel, play, poem or story can be formed into a parable with unintended messages,” McDermott said.

She continued the metaphor by explaining the father’s symbolism of the current institutional Church — aging, loving, stubborn, damaged, ritualistic and trapped with pain. The Church cannot win the current argument by sustaining tradition, and yet it still refuses to change the rituals of priesthood, she said.

McDermott depicted the mother as a pragmatic character who insisted on changing her husband through medical treatment, but nonetheless endured his suffering out of love and obedience.

McDermott was on the faculty of the Sewannee Writers' Conference the year I attended, and while she was obviously a very nice lady, her readings of her closely detailed "evocative"prose were deadly - one a piece she'd written for the NYTimes magazine on the subject of "heat" which detailed - and I mean detailed a scene of her father putting a box fan in her room when she was a child. The second was an excerpt from Charming Billy in which, as I recall, all the characters were wandering around the house, either before or after Billy's funeral, studying the wallpaper and the flowers on the hall table, wondering where Billy was, thinking they'd glimpsed him around the corner, and so on, an experience by the end of which I and those I was sitting with wanted to just stand up and scream, "HE'S DEAD, REMEMBER???!!"

Obviously, not my cup 'o tea.

Accused priests were often on Law's calendar

The record of Law's appointments released yesterday spans his tenure as leader of the archdiocese from 1984 through the end of last year. But it contains unexplained gaps ranging from a day to several months.

Still, Law's calendar shows him scheduled to meet often with priests accused of sexual misconduct from his first weeks on the job until June 2001, when he had a half-hour meeting with the Rev. Ronald L. Paquin, who was indicted on three counts of child rape last year.

Other accused priests granted face-to-face meetings with Law include:

The Rev. Thomas P. Forry. In August 1984, Law met twice with Forry, who earlier that month had been urged by clinicians to enter a clergy treatment center for allegedly beating up his housekeeper and carrying on a long-term sexual relationship with a woman.

But after Law met with Forry, he was returned to his South Weymouth parish and later became a military chaplain.

Law met with Forry four more times between 1993 and 1995, when Forry was a prison chaplain. The archdiocesan Review Board, which examines cases of problem priests, took up Forry's case five times between 1993 and 1998, and as recently as 1999 another priest warned the archdiocese that Forry was a ''deeply troubled person'' who needed psychological evaluation. But Forry was not removed from ministry until February 2002.

An article on The Sisters of the 11th Hour, an order for "late" vocations, minister in Mexico.

Unlike many Catholic orders that do not encourage older women to join, the order founded by Sister Antonia, the Servants of the 11th Hour, is designed for those who, if not quite in their 11th hour, are at least in the second half of their lives. Requests for information have flooded in from women as far away as Brazil and Colombia.Sister Antonia says seven have joined, most of them former career women and widows. She has ways of knowing whether someone is right for the job, she says: Those who ask when dinner time is, or where they'll be sleeping, may not be.

A bit more can be found here.


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