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Africa's dynamism real but also deceptive, cardinal says

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tAfrican Catholicism’s explosive growth and vitality are real, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana said this morning during the opening session of the second Synod for Africa, but also in a sense deceptive.

t Turkson, the relator, or general secretary, of the synod, pointed to four specific challenges:

•tThe fact that the church “hardly exists in large parts north of the equator,” meaning that it’s largely concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa;
•t“The fidelity and commitment of some clergy and religious to their vocations,” perhaps a veiled reference to scandals such the one that erupted last May in the Central African Republic, when Archbishop Paulin Pomodimo resigned after a Vatican investigation revealed that several priests were living more or less openly with women and the children they had fathered;
•t“The loss of members to new religious movements and sects” – which, in today’s Africa, is likely a reference to the rapid expansion of Christian Pentecostalism – as well as a tendency for young Africans to lose their faith when they relocate to Europe and North America;
•tNeed for “a conversion that is deep and permanent.”

Say hello to Africa's next great hope to be pope

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tFor the better part of three decades, the phrase “African pope” almost automatically beckoned images of Cardinal Francis Arinze, a smiling, charismatic Nigerian who loomed in the popular imagination as the best prospect to become the first African pope since Gelasius I in the late fifth century, and only the third African pope in history.

tArinze, however, is now retired and will turn 77 on Nov. 1. With the opening today of the second Synod for Africa, the torch has in effect been passed to Africa’s next great papabile, or candidate to become pope: Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who will celebrate his 61st birthday on Oct. 11.

Asked this morning during a Vatican news conference if the Catholic church is ready for a black pope, Turkson answered simply: "Why not?"

"We've had Kofi Annan as Secretary General of the United Nations ... he had his problems, but he did it. Now we have Obama in the United States. So, if by divine providence, God would wish to have a black man as pope, I say thanks be to God!"

It was vintage Turkson -- candid, charming, and delivered with a healthy dose of humor.

To bongos and bass guitar, pope calls Africa an 'immense spiritual lung'

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tHere’s something you don’t see every day: St. Peter’s Basilica, typically a showcase for traditional and sober forms of Catholic worship, rocking to the beat of bongo drums and bass guitars, as a Congolese chorus belted out catchy African hymns such as “Nakoma Peto” and “Yamba Makabu”.

tSuch was the scene in St. Peter’s this morning, during an opening Mass for the second Synod of Bishops for Africa, which is set to run Oct. 4-25 in Rome.

tPope Benedict XVI led this morning’s liturgy, joined by almost 240 bishops, most of them Africans taking part in the synod. Concelebrating the Mass were the three co-presidents of the synod, Cardinals Francis Arinze of Nigeria, Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa, and Theodore-Adrien Sarr of Senegal, along with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, the “relator,” or general secretary, of the synod.

Lessons from the clergy sexual abuse crisis

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The past two weeks have brought attention to the sexual abuse of young people and children through two very high profile cases: actress Mackenzie Phillips’s allegations that her father John Phillips raped her at the age of 19 and then subsequently they had a “consensual” sexual relationship thereafter and the arrest of director Roman Polanski 31 years after he pled guilty to the statutory rape of a 13 year old.

I believe that Catholics have a special obligation to understand the damage of sexual abuse and to promote both justice and healing. As a church, the damage wrought by the clergy sexual abuse crisis has been substantial -- there remains a lot of anger and feeling that justice has not been served, especially against those who covered up these crimes for decades.

Ted Kennedy's Catholicism

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This week on Interfaith Voices, my lead interview is with Jonathan Karp, the publisher and editor who worked with Senator Ted Kennedy for more than two years to write and publish his memoir, True Compass. It has just hit the bookstores in the last couple weeks, and it’s a wonderful read!

Karp talks about how Matthew 25 (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. ...) was at the heart of Kennedy’s Catholic faith, and how it nourished his legislative agenda. He also talks about how he assessed his personal moral failings, and how he viewed the issue of abortion.

To hear the entire interview, go to: http://www.interfaithradio.org/

Santa Monica Catholic hospital gets $100 million

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On the brighter side of the news, a billionaire pharmaceutical developer has donated $100 million to a Santa Monica hospital, with more than half the funds going to research projects and facilities.

Patrick Soon-Shiong and his wife, Michele Chan, donated the money to St. John's Health Center, a 380-bed Catholic hospital.

St. John's Chief Executive Lou Lazatin said Thursday $55 million will create several research centers and fund future projects.

The donation includes $35 million already spent on renovating and expanding the hospital and $10 million to attract doctors and scientists.

The couple donated a separate $35 million to St. John's in 2007.

Defending the Red Mass

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The Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is all in a tizzy because of this Sunday’s Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, the Apostle here in Washington, D.C. as reported below in the Morning Briefing. “The truth is this was set up as a way to basically lecture and give information to the justices. There is no other institution that has this special way to talk to the justices on the Supreme Court,” he told CNN.

I will set aside the rather funny coincidence that the Rev. Lynn is ordained in the United Church of Christ which was the last ecclesial body to be disestablished in the United States. In Massachusetts and Connecticut, the UCC was established by law into the early decades of the nineteenth century because the Bill of Rights did not then apply to state constitutions.

The pope has become an Italian story

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Rome -- At one point during Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the Czech Republic last weekend, I strolled across the press center in the Prague Hilton. Taking in the conversations floating through the air, and gazing at the people in the room, I was struck by this insight: The pope has once again become largely an Italian story.

Pope John Paul II was a global newsmaker, and the press corps that followed him was strikingly international. These days, the non-Italians who regularly travel with the pope have dwindled to the media equivalent of a remnant church. On this trip, there was no one from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or CNN (unless you count me, but my phone never rang), all of whom used to be regulars. Fox was on the papal plane, but only because their Rome correspondent is invested in the Vatican story; if he weren't around, it's a good bet Fox wouldn't be in the mix either.

Ambassador Diaz's remarks to Pope Benedict

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John Allen reported earlier this morning that President Barack Obama's ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI today.

The U.S. Embasssy to the Holy See posted Diaz's remarks to its Web site. Here it is:

Presentation of Credentials Miguel H. Diaz Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See

Remarks
Vatican City

Your Holiness,

It is a distinct honor to present to you my credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Holy See and to bring to you warm greetings from President Barack Obama and the American people. I am very grateful to President Obama for the opportunity to represent him and my country to the Holy See. My wife and children, who have accompanied me to Rome, have also welcomed our President’s invitation to serve our country. They join me in offering our familial, cultural, and educational experiences at the service of diplomacy.

Liturgical impoliteness: what my mother would say

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I've been thinking lately about the decision of Bishop Edward Slattery of Oklahoma City to begin facing the altar, rather than the people, at Mass.

Bishop Slattery says he is celebrating ad orientem, (facing East) as part of his urging Catholics "to draw upon the ancient liturgical practice of the church to recover a more authentic Catholic worship."

Authentic tradition of Catholic worship? From what age of the church, I wonder. Surely not the Last Supper. And surely not the "house churches" in the early centuries of Christianity where people sat around a table.

But mostly, I cannot image a faster way to alienate people in parishes than to do this. After decades of being taught that the Eucharist is a communal celebration, this feels like shunning the People of God. I want to ask Bishop Slattery: Are you afraid of the people? If not, then why… as my mother would say… are you being so impolite?

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