From a distance, the Synod of Bishops on the Bible, currently meeting in the Vatican, may seem an oddly esoteric distraction from the unfolding global drama. After all, the world's economy is in meltdown, and America is facing a crucial election in just 25 days. Against that backdrop, bringing together 400 bishops, clergy, lay leaders, Bible experts and delegates from other Christian churches to discuss how fast lectors read scripture passages during Mass, or the precise sense in which the Bible is "inerrant," can seem like fiddling while everyplace other than Rome burns.
All Things Catholic
[Note: Beginning Monday, Oct. 6, John Allen will be filing daily reports from Rome about the Synod of Bishops. You can find his coverage at johnallen.ncrcafe.org.]
While the Vatican is most assuredly not a democracy, probably the closest thing it has to the trappings of democratic debate opens in Rome on Sunday with the 22nd session of the Synod of Bishops, this one devoted to The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.
I’m in Louisville, Kentucky, this week, as a keynote presenter at the biennial convocation of the Catholic Coalition on Preaching, a consortium of national organizations dedicated to excellence in preaching. My partner in crime is Dominican Sr. Barbara Reid, who teaches at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (Personally, I get very nervous when journalists start preaching, so I was especially delighted that Reid was on hand to do the theological heavy lifting.)
From time to time, Catholicism can be seized with fits of enthusiasm and veer toward one extreme or another. Over the long run, however, its instinct is usually to seek the sane middle, driven by what Pope Benedict XVI has called the Catholic genius for seeking "both/and" solutions to seemingly "either/or" problems.
John Allen is covering Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Paris and Lourdes in France Sept. 12-15. There is no column today, but Allen is providing postings from France.
[Note: John Allen will be covering Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 12-15 visit to Paris and Lourdes in France, travelling on the papal plane. Watch the NCR web site for his daily reports.]
If, in some weird parallel universe, Pope Benedict XVI were to be a candidate this fall for President of the United States, he could mount a serious run. Polls say Benedict enjoys a 75 percent approval rating after a successful visit last April, he packs obvious appeal to "faith and values" voters, and it would be hard to question his international experience. In an election in which the Republican nominee is 72, even the pope's advanced age wouldn't necessarily be a drawback.
Islamic radicalism is causing great consternation these days, and rightly so. Christopher Hitchens has said it represents "an intricate cultural and political challenge that will absorb all of our energies for the rest of our lives," and while other assertions from Hitchens may be open to debate, it's tough to take issue here.
Few analysts so far seem to have noticed, but the crisis du jour in the Caucasus, this time focusing on the tiny breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, may be most remarkable for what it's not. For once in this volatile part of the world, religion does not appear to be a driving force in the conflict.
Anyone who's ever learned a foreign language knows that perhaps 50 percent of a language is predictable according to its own rules, and the rest simply is what it is, the product of history and culture rather than logic. Try explaining to an ESL student why the plural of "mouse" is "mice," but the plural of "spouse" is not "spice," and you'll find that going over the rules really doesn't help; in the end, that's just how things are.
A two-part dramatic miniseries on Pope Paul VI is slated for Italian national TV this fall, marking the 30th anniversary of his death in August 1978. Corriere della Sera, Italy's main daily, reports that eight million Euro are being pumped into the project, which is hardly surprising given the mammoth ratings success of earlier miniseries about the popes between whom Paul VI was sandwiched: John XXIII and John Paul II.