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Religion Newsmaker of the Year: President Obama

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Every year, on Interfaith Voices, I interview leading religion journalists about the top religion stories of the year just past, and about the top religion newsmakers of the year. This year, I talked with Kevin Eckstrom, Editor of Religion News Service, and Kim Lawton of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS TV.

Both of these top-notch analysts named President Obama as the “Religion Newsmaker of the Year.” They cited his speech at Notre Dame University, his address to the Muslim world in Cairo, his faith-based outreach, and even his Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, where he cited the just war theory, and for many, gave new voice to the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. I agree with them. Whether you agree or disagree with the substance of what he had to say, he has become a consequential figure in the world of public religion and public theology.

Statement by Archbishop Celestino Migliore to the U. N. Climate Change Conference

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"The Way Humanity Treats the Environment Influences the Way It Treats Itself"

Here is the statement Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, delivered Thursday to the U.N. conference on climate change in Copenhagen. Archbishop Migliore is head of the Holy See delegation to the meeting.

"Mr President,
This conference reiterates how long it takes to create the clear and firm political will necessary to adopt common binding measures and adequate budgets for an effective mitigation and adaptation to ongoing climate change.
Is this political will slow in taking shape due to the complexity of the interlinking issues that we must tackle? Is it mainly a problem of conflicting national interests? Or is it the difficulty in translating into numbers the by-now acquired principle of common and differentiated responsibility? Or is it still the predominance of energy policies over care of the environment? Undoubtedly, there is a little of all of this.

Where was God at Copenhagen?

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Irish Columban Missionary Fr. Seán McDonagh sent this report on Saturday from Copenhagen:

"Columban missionaries like myself who worked in Mindanao, Phillipines, in the 1970s and 1980s will remember that, at many of our heated meetings on issues such as peace, social justice and concerns with the behavior of the army or the police, one well-known Columban would ask: Where is God in all of this?

I am not sure whether there was much God-inspired love for the poor, future generations and the planet itself, in the formal negotiations, as nations put their own immediate economic future before long-term concerns for the poor of the world or future generations.

Once again at COP 15, there were presentations by scientific institutions such as The Hadley Centre in Britain. Warnings from them and their companions in the scientific community are becoming more apocalyptic each year in terms of telling us how quickly climate change is happening and how much more destructive the consequences will be if no serious remedial action is taken within the next decade.

Approaching dysfunctional government

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"Unless some legislator pulls off a last-minute double-cross, health care reform will pass the Senate this week. Count me among those who consider this an awesome achievement. It’s a seriously flawed bill, we’ll spend years if not decades fixing it, but it’s nonetheless a huge step forward.

It was, however, a close-run thing. And the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional."

So writes Paul Krugman in today's New York Times, a column worth pondering.

Dec. 21, St. Peter Canisius, Patron of the Catholic Press

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O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

--Antiphon for Vespers, Dec. 21

Today is the feast of St. Peter Canisius, the first Dutchman to enter the Society of Jesus and its first best-selling author.

Unlike the Protestants who began producing catechisms and bibles in the vernacular soon after the invention of the printing press, Catholics were slow to take advantage of the new technology. But with Canisius's catechism, the light began to dawn.

"In April 1555, Dutch Jesuit Peter Canisius's famous catechism was published in Vienna at the request of King Ferdinand of Austria. The book became one of the most successful religious bestsellers in Church history, and it was the most frequently issued publication by a Dutch author ever: 1,075 different editions in 26 different languages."

-- Scroll down half way to see pages of the catechism.

A 'two-for-one' strategy in declaring popes as saints

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.

tTwo instances of something may not constitute a trend, but they can at least suggest a strategy. This morning an apparent Vatican strategy on turning popes into saints came into view: When you’re going to move a pope along the path whose cause is sure to cause friction in Catholic/Jewish relations, bundle it with a popular pope also seen as a friend to the Jews.

tCall it a “two-for-one” strategy with regard to pope-saints.

tThis morning, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI has approved decrees of heroic virtue for several figures, including two of his 20th century predecessors: Pope John Paul II, and Pope Pius XII.

tA decree of heroic virtue is an official finding that someone lived a saintly life. It allows the candidate to be referred to as “venerable,” and means that the only hurdle left for beatification is a documented miracle, with one more miracle necessary for canonization, the formal act of declaring someone a saint.

What Should Ben Nelson Do?

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Mountains of pressure from all sides are landing on the shoulders of Sen. Ben Nelson, the conservative Democrat from Nebraska who has refused, so far, to sign on to any of the compromises on federal funding of abortion in the health care reform effort. Even the latest effort by Sen. Bob Casey to thread the needle on the difficult issue has met with a non placet from Nelson. What should he do?

Putting Christ in Christmas: More Than an Old Chestnut

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A few night ago I joined a gathering billed as a "Christmas celebration." There were good eats, including a fabulous ice cream cake shaped like St. Nick, but the main feature was the showing of "Noel," the 2004 film pegged to the season.

Among the stars of the show are Susan Sarandon, Alan Arkin and Robin Williams who does an extended cameo.

The story is a festoon of sorrows. Sarandon strains to care for her elderly, Alzheimer-afflicted mother. A young couple's marriage falls to pieces because of the husband's jealousy. A man wanders in and out of insanity out of grief for his wife. Everyone paints a canvas of bleakness.

But serrendipity comes to the rescue and almost everybody ends up is touched by an angel.

I'm fairly immune to the sappy productions; they're hard to sit through but at least they don't pretend to do much else. This one, however, was downright irritating because it starts out as a genuine human drama, then resorts to cheap answers.

The film is set in New York where Christian symbols were much in evidence. The woebegotten actors play out their agonies among them. Yet the film was otherwise devoid of religious content.

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September 12-25, 2014

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