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Peace and Patience


All the wringing of hands that surrounds President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize reminds me of a very early morning breakfast I had thirty years ago with another Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

It was January of 1979, and I woke up at five o’clock on a dark bleak Moscow morning to hail a cab outside the enormous, Stalinesque Hotel Russiya. I was a senior in college at Columbia University then, and I climbed into the taxi with my friend Mitchell. We both ran the university daily newspaper and through a series of phone calls from supposedly secure lines, we had arranged an interview with Andrei Sakharov on behalf of Ivy League student newspapers.

He had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work on behalf of human rights in the Soviet Union. Sakharov spent his earlier years as a nuclear physicist, part of a team of scientists that developed the Soviet hydrogen bomb. That work lead him into a life of relative privilege in the USSR – but as time worn on, he could not look past the corruption and abuse that plagued his country’s political system.

Catholic schools in the news


Catholic schools seem to be attracting a lot of media attention lately. Just today we see:

Catholic schools shift with the population in the Philadelphia Inquirer: At the same time that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is closing two venerable Catholic high schools in the city in June, it is preparing to open a new high school in the suburbs in the fall and plans to build another in a few years.

Looking for Solutions to the Catholic School Crisis in Time magazine: He is neither old, nor a priest, nor particularly attached to time-honored traditions. At 35, John Eriksen, one of the nation's youngest Catholic school superintendents, offers a ruthless assessment of parochial education. "The biggest threat that urban Catholic schools face is nostalgia."

More on Moore


After seeing Michael Moore’s "Capitalism: A Love Story," I wanted nothing more than to walk from the dark theater into a church to discuss with others what I had seen. Moore’s documentary, a brilliant expose of the ways the rich get richer and the poor poorer included clips of discussions he’d had with Catholic priests, both of whom called capitalism "evil."

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton also put in his two cents, explaining that the teachings and the life of Christ are simply not compatible with an economic system that puts profits before people.

The evolution of (ideas about) God


Need a quick refresher on God? Andrew Pessin, author of a new book called The God Question, manages something few philosophers can pull off: he speaks in lucid, plain English! On this week’s Interfaith Voices, he describes the evolution of Western ideas about God from Plato and Aristotle to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to Maimonides and Marx… all the way up to atheist Richard Dawkins. It includes a discussion of female images of God in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Then, we host a debate on the Supreme Court case of the Mojave Cross with Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Luke Goodrich, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. If you wonder about the arguments on both sides of this case (a cross as a national memorial), it’s a great review.

Finally, you can hear about a blessing of the animals that St. Francis of Assisi would love, and a chant from Soka Gakkai Buddhism. Here’s the link to the show:

Catholic blogging


I recently wrote about Catholic bloggers in NCR, highlighting the popular Philadelphia blogger Rocco Palmo, who writes the gossipy Whispers in the Loggia, which these days is covering the African Synod, Cardinal Francis George's new book and the Phillies playoffs.

Palmo tries to distance himself from other Catholic bloggers because too many of them are used primarily to point fingers and rant, usually at fellow Catholics. I wrote, "While it’s nice and democratic that the Internet gives everyone a soapbox (or at least everyone with Internet access), some might want to use that soap to wash out their mouths. Call me biased, but I think the majority of these mudslinging sites are by traditionalist Catholics -- perhaps because it seems more Catholic blogs slant to the right than to the left."

Botswana, where African stereotypes go to die



tOver and over during the first week of the Synod for Africa, speakers have stressed the diversity of situations across the continent – the contrast between the Muslim-dominated north and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, or between war-torn Congo and Sudan and zones of relative calm such as Gambia.

tNowhere do generalizations about Africa go to die as readily, however, as in Botswana.

tA landlocked nation of two million in southern Africa, Botswana has long been hailed as an African success story. (Americans may be most familiar with Botswana as the setting for the novels, and now the HBO television series, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”)

One of the most impoverished nations in Africa at the time of its independence in 1966, Botswana today boasts a stable political system and a rapidly developing market economy.

Ghost of Maputo Protocol hangs over African Synod



tOne thread running through the Oct. 4-25 Synod for Africa has been alarm about a perceived assault on the family, and upon traditional African morality, stemming from Western non-governmental organizations and international bodies.

Archbishop Joseph Tlhagale of Johannesburg, for example, president of the Southern Africa bishops’ conference, told the synod on Oct. 8 that Africa is “under heavy strain from liberalism, secularism, and from lobbyists who squat at the United Nations.” Archbishop Robert Sarah of Guinea, currently the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, condemned a Western “theory of gender” which he said is trying to push Africa “to write laws favorable to … contraceptive and abortion services (the concept of ‘reproductive health’) as well as homosexuality.”

For anyone curious as to what the bishops have in mind, just three words will do the trick: The Maputo Protocol.

In search of one good idea at the Synod of Bishops



tAnyone who has ever endured the first week of a Vatican-sponsored Synod of Bishops, reading mountains of paperwork and listening to a seemingly endless cycle of speeches, will appreciate this metaphor: Whatever else it may be, a Synod of Bishops is like a particle accelerator for words.

A synod concentrates tremendous energy in a confined space, producing a collision that releases a vast amount of verbiage. Consider that the average speech given in the synod hall is perhaps 1,000 words long; with roughly 200 speeches during the first week and a half, that’s 200,000 words in speech-making alone, to say nothing of the two lengthy preparatory documents, the two weighty speeches given by the relator, and so on. Conservatively, one could estimate that each synod generates at least a million words.

Truth to be told, at least some of that language – though typically full of passion and good will – is forgotten as soon as it’s pronounced.

Religious orders still giving a thousand lives for Africa



tAs it happens, Oct. 10 is the anniversary of the death of St. Daniel Comboni, a 19th century Italian missionary who spent much of his life in Sudan. Among other claims to fame, Comboni was probably the source of more epigrammatic one-liners about the church’s mission in Africa than any other single Catholic figure, living or dead.

Memorable Comboni-isms include, “Either Africa or death,” a classic expression of his missionary drive; “Save Africa through Africa,” an early formula for the transition to self-reliance; and his famous sentiment upon approaching his death in 1881, “I wish I had a thousand lives to give for Africa.”


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