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Great Women Never Die

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I am so glad that Newsweek (“Why are all the really old people women?” Sept. 28, 2009, page 72) has finally answered a media literacy education question that I have had for years: why great women never die. In fact, if you read the four or five enhanced obituaries of daily newspapers in major US markets, women seldom die at all.

A few years ago I heard Sr. Helen Prejean speak at a Catholic Press Association meeting in pre-Katrina New Orleans. I paraphrase but the gist is, “When a white man is murdered in New Orleans it is front page news; when a black man is murdered it is on page 30.”

Rite of Dedication at Sacred Heart University

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Yesterday, Sunday, I attended the two and 1/2 hour Rite of Dedication of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart University, located in Fairfield, Conn. Peter Steinfels of The New York Times wrote about the event on Sept. 25th.

Bishop Bill Lori, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and as the local bishop, presided. The official program noted that the university was founded in 1963 during the Vatican Council II, and therefore, the chapel's being named for the Holy Spirit echoes the spirit of Vatican II. The university takes its "inspiration and energy" from that ecumenical council.

David Gergen warns fight against poverty will be long, hard

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PORTLAND, Ore.
David Gergen, longtime political commentator and advisor to four presidents, lauded the national Catholic Charities campaign to reduce poverty in America Sept. 25 but warned that “progress is hard work; politics is hard work. It just takes a long time.”

tGergen, a senior political analyst for CNN and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University in Boston, addressed the Catholic Charities USA 2009 Annual Gathering on the second day of its Sept. 24-26 meeting in Portland.

The Midterms & Health Care & Nukes

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Politco.com has a really great article about the re-election prospects of Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln. A Democrat, Lincoln survived re-election in 2004 when the state went heavily for George W. Bush but Republicans think that the anti-health care reform movement may make her vulnerable next year. “This race will be more about the policies of Barack Obama than it will be about the policies and positions that Blanche Lincoln is talking about on a daily basis,” said GOP campaign adviser.

A day to honor 'Good King Wenceslas'

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By JOHN L. ALEN JR.
Prague

tCelebrating the feast day of the most famous figure in Czech history, a 10th century ruler known around the world as “Good King Wenceslas” thanks to the popular Christmas carol, Pope Benedict XVI closed his three-day visit to the Czech Republic this morning with a Mass in honor of St. Wenceslas, the country’s patron saint.

tThe Mass was held in Stará Boleslav, a pilgrimage destination about 15 miles outside Prague believed to be the site of the death of Wenceslas in 935. (In Czech, “Wenceslas” is rendered as "Václav" and remains perhaps the most common first name in the country.)

tThe early history of Christianity in the Czech lands is thoroughly intertwined with the story, and at times the legend, of Wenceslas. Tradition holds that his grandfather was converted by St. Cyril and Methodius, the legendary “apostles to the Slavs,” thereby becoming the first Christian prince of the Czechs. His grandmother Ludmilla, today venerated as a saint, was strangled to death by a pagan servant in a dynastic dispute.

UK trip, Newman beatification in 2010 a 'good hypothesis'

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Prague

tIn a briefing with reporters in the Czech capital, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi stopped short of official confirmation of a rumored papal trip to Great Britain for 2010, but suggested that it’s likely. He added that such a trip would be an "obvious occasion" to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Lombardi also said that outings in 2010 to both Malta and Portugal are in the works, but that preparations still have to be made.

tThe Malta trip, set for April, has already been announced by the Maltese bishops. It will commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul’s famous shipwreck on the Mediterranean island. The pontiff’s trip to Portugal has likewise been quasi-official for some time, set for the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima on May 13.

tLombardi said that the main organizer of papal travel, Alberto Gasparri, has not yet worked out the details of trips to either location.

A professor pope wields some rhetorical jiu-jitsu

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Prague

tIn the Japanese martial art of jiu-jitsu, the key to success is turning your opponent’s strength into a weakness. If your opponent is bigger or hits harder, you deflect his energy rather than directly opposing it, turning the blows back upon the guy delivering them.

tIn effect, Pope Benedict XVI has been practicing some rhetorical jiu-jitsu this weekend in the Czech Republic.

Benedict XVI confronts the ghost of Jan Hus

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Prague

tThough lengthy volumes have been written about Christian history in the Czech lands, the casual observer really only needs two words to understand the striking ambivalence that Catholicism often evokes here: Jan Hus.

t In America, “Good King Wenceslas” is probably the single most famous figure from Czech history, owing largely to the popular Christmas carol. His memory lives on here too, but more commonly it’s the medieval preacher Jan Hus who is lionized as the real father of the Czech nation and the embodiment of its virtues. The fact that Hus was burned at the stake by the Catholic church in 1415 goes a long way toward explaining why, for some locals, being Czech and being hostile to Catholicism are practically the same thing.

tEven the most avowedly atheistic Czechs celebrate Hus as a nationalist founder. Ted Turnau, who teaches the sociology of religion at Charles University, says that in Czech schools still today, Hus is often presented as the father of the nation, and of resistance to outside domination, with only scant mention of his religious views.

The Hapsburgs were smiling from Heaven today

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Prague

tEmpires come and go, but even long after they crumble, one can occasionally catch a glimpse of their past glory. Assuming that the Hapsburgs, monarchs of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, were looking down from Heaven upon a field near the Brno airport this Sunday, one can assume they were smiling.

t(Officially speaking, Catholics can be reasonably sure that at least one Hapsburg had such a view from above. Karl I, the last Hapsburg monarch, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.)

tPope Benedict XVI presided over an open-air Mass in Brno this morning that drew a crowd estimated at roughly 120,000, composed of Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Austrians and Germans, thus representing several of the constituent elements of the old Hapsburg empire (minus, of course, the Hungarians). Though those peoples are now scattered into different nations, today’s Mass offered a reminder of a time when the common Christian faith of central Europe was also embodied in a common political identity.

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