By now, the threat facing Christianity in its birthplace has become depressingly clear. Christians represented 30 percent of British Mandate Palestine in 1948, while today their share in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is estimated at 1.25 percent. The risk, as the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has put it, is that the Holy Land is becoming a “spiritual Disneyland” -- full of glittering rides and attractions, but empty of its indigenous Christian population.
All Things Catholic
People naturally love an underdog, which helps explain global enthusiasm for the birth of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9. Facing arguably the longest odds in the world -- widespread poverty and illiteracy, oppression by an authoritarian regime, and chronic ethnic and religious tension -- the people of South Sudan finally enjoyed a moment in the sun, and their resilience can't help but gladden hearts.
There’s much to be learned from detective stories, including that the solution to any mystery usually lies in finding the right question to ask. At the moment, a gripping Vatican mystery centers on the Congregation for Religious, and here’s a nominee for the right question: Is Ronald Reagan or Sigmund Freud the better template for Benedict XVI’s management style?
Obviously, a bit of background is in order.
Wednesday may have been the peak moment of the liturgical calendar this week, as the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, but Tuesday, June 28, 2011, marked a crescendo of a different sort: The day when the informal sweepstakes leading up to the next conclave officially began.
To be clear, no health scare flared up around Pope Benedict XVI, and there’s no other reason to believe his papacy is nearing an end. (As I sometimes jokingly put it, German machinery is built to last!) Yet on Tuesday, the pontiff made a personnel move that’s not only important in its own right, but one with obvious implications for handicapping papal prospects.
On June 28, Pope Benedict XVI named the 69-year-old Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Scola, as the new Archbishop of Milan.
Next Wednesday is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, when archbishops appointed during the past year will be in Rome to receive their pallium. (A narrow band of woolen cloth, the pallium symbolizes the archbishop’s office.) This year the event takes on extra significance as the 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s ordination to the priesthood, which took place in the Freising Cathedral in Bavaria on June 29, 1951.
Absolutely no zone of church life these days is immune to hard questions about Catholic identity, reflecting the mega-trend I’ve dubbed “Evangelical Catholicism,” premised on a robust assertion of traditional Catholic thought, speech and practice. This politics of identity is the scarlet thread that runs through a wide range of upheavals, from the Latin Mass to the new Roman Missal, from debates over the ecclesial character of Catholic hospitals and charities to theology and seminary formation.
If you blinked last weekend you might have missed it, but Pope Benedict XVI visited Croatia on Saturday and Sunday, marking the 19th foreign journey of his pontificate. As papal travel goes, it wasn't really the stuff of high drama. (The main news flash was Benedict's support for Croatia joining the EU, pretty much a done deal in any event.)
Lucas Davenport is a fictional detective who's the hero of John Sandford's "Prey" series. (He's also, by the way, a lapsed believer but still Catholic to the core, whose best friend and dispenser of psychological insight is a nun.) Davenport has this rule of thumb for working a case: You're starting to get a handle on things if you can make an accurate prediction.
A funny thing has happened as the story of a recent Vatican crackdown on a legendary monastery in Rome has made its way into the English-language press. I mean that literally -- the story has been turned into a joke, thereby obscuring its real significance.
On a per capita basis, Italy probably churns out more books on the Catholic church each year than anyplace else on earth. Given the boost created by the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II, this spring has been an especially busy period for the Italian market, generating several titles that will likely make their way into translations and shape Catholic conversation around the world.
This week, I’ll offer brief sketches of four such titles to emerge from the recent bumper crop.