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Cristo Rey vs. alumni

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What happens when your old Catholic alma mater is no longer the same place it used to be? That's become an issue for many successful alumni of Verbum Dei high school in the Watts section of south Los Angeles.

In the year 2000, Verbum Dei was like a lot of inner city Catholic schools -- struggling to make ends meet while serving an increasingly impoverished student body. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday, that was when Cardinal Roger Mahony approached the Jesuits to take over the school.

They did and converted it into the "Cristo Rey" model -- schools for the poor where students help meet tuition requirements by taking work/study jobs with major corporations and other sponsors. It has been remarkably successful throughout the country, and it saved Verbum Dei.

But, Verbum Dei was the first school that did not start out as a Cristo Rey institution -- so it has legions of alumni from the "old days." They are now successful and solidly middle-class, thanks to their alma mater -- and want to send their children there to keep the tradition alive.

Jim McGinnis remembered

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A memorial Mass was celebrated Aug. 18 at St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock) Church in North St. Louis for Jim McGinnis, who for nearly 40 years was an advocate and educator for peace and justice. McGinnis, 66, died from a heart attack Aug. 13 near his home in St. Louis.

McGinnis founded the Institute for Peace and Justice in St. Louis to demonstrate and teach in nonviolence programs across the country.

One of the programs supported by the Institute was Parenting for Peace and Justice and it became rich leaven for many families, with young children, that wanted to live by Christian values. Jim and his wife, Kathy, have been heroic advocates for Catholic values and Jim will be missed by many, including this parent.

Why We Love Barney Frank

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Why do we love Congressman Barney Frank? Not only because he is the funniest male member of Congress, although that counts for a lot. (Congresswoman Linda Sanchez wins the prize for funniest female member of Congress.) Cong. Frank has attained that stage in life where he says what most politicians are afraid to say.

Last night at a town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts a woman said that the health care reform effort was akin to what the Nazis did, deciding who should live or die. To illustrate her point, literally, she has a picture of President Obama that had been altered to make him look like Adolph Hitler. She repeatedly called reform effort a “Nazi policy.” Congressman Frank asked the woman what planet she spends most of her time living on and that he would just as soon argue with a dining room table as engage her argument, such as it was. You can see the video clip here, and it only takes two minutes.

Morning Briefing

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Chinese mayor questions financiers' conscience

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It's funny that a mayor of a Chinese city actually offers a stinging assessment of "financiers." (Shanghai Mayor Sees Bankers Bereft of Conscience) I can't recall one U.S. official making a similar indictment.

Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng has every intention of fulfilling his mandate to enable China’s financial capital to overtake Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo as preeminent in Asia, as long as bankers don’t get in the way.

“Financiers have the least conscience in the world when it comes to making money,” Han, 55, said in an interview. “By saying that, I would have offended many bankers and financiers, but this is my personal experience.”

Sotomayor's first vote

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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has cast her first vote as a member of the court, voting to stay the execution of Jason Getsy, who is scheduled to be killed tomorrow in Ohio. Unfortunately, she was on the losing side of the argument as her five fellow Catholics on the bench voted to let the judiciously sanctioned murder proceed. Still, hats off to Justice Sotomayor for being on the side of the angels on this one. And, for being on the side of the Church.

Mad about \"Mad Men\"

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The back-to-school displays are out, leaves are starting to drop from trees, and "Mad Men," the Emmy-award winning AMC series about a fictional New York ad agency, is back. Ah, fall.

Much was made about last season's Catholic storyline involving a priest (played by Tom Hanks' son) who counsels an advertising copywriter who had abandoned a baby who was the result of a one-night stand with a coworker. The season premier on Sunday night didn't do much with that angle, but it did set the stage for another season of what I call "mid-century modern sinning" in my review of the series for NCR here.

Other Catholic fans of the series include Father Jim Martin, S.J. at America, Deacon Greg Kandra at The Deacon's Bench and Thomas Hibbs at Inside Catholic.

Pope sends top diplomat to deal with Chavez

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.

tReflecting Venezuela’s growing regional power, as well as its recent history of bitter church/state conflict under leftist President Hugo Chavez, Pope Benedict XVI has dispatched one of his top diplomats as the country’s new nuncio, or papal ambassador.

tThe Vatican announced yesterday that Monsignor Pietro Parolin, 54, has been appointed the pope’s new representative in Caracas. The move means that Parolin, who has previously served in Vatican embassies in Nigeria and Mexico, becomes an archbishop.

tSince 2002, Parolin has worked in Rome as the Vatican’s under-secretary for relations with states, a position which made him a primary point of contact for foreign diplomats, international leaders, NGOs, and journalists. He also represented the Vatican in a variety of sensitive assignments, including trips to North Korea and Vietnam as well as the 2007 “Annapolis Conference” on the Middle East convened by the Bush administration.

The great balancing act

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When we open the ancient overflowing tool box of our Catholic spiritual tradition, we find nestled within many reliable implements that have stood the test of centuries of use in the work of creative inner integration and soul crafting.

What are some of those ancient tools? Patience, silence, incubating darkness, the wonderful yeasting action of prayer, wise and careful discernment, the adventure of striving for simplicity, meditation techniques, centering prayer, the not-so-easy art of letting go, the simple craft of mindfulness, the call to the death-rebirth dynamic of the cocoon, the cultivation of a deep contemplative attitude, fasting, and the endless and arduous mystery of forgiveness.

Once we have these tools at hand, where can they be put to work? Where else but in our everyday life?

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July 4-17, 2014

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