A veritable rainbow of paint drips decorates the top of our dining room table. On the floor beneath it are hundreds of tiny scraps of paper and the blunt-nosed scissors that snipped them. A nearby bin collects other tools of the toddler art trade: crayons and markers, glue sticks, pipe cleaners and empty toilet paper rolls.
CHICAGO -- Every year, about 100,000 pilgrims trek to the Taize ecumenical community in France where the biggest attraction is the music, a throwback -- way, way back, about 1,500 years or so -- to repetitive plainchant.
This weekend, for the first time, the Taize brothers will bring their conference to the United States, where several thousand people -- particularly young adults -- are expected to meet for prayer and song at DePaul University in Chicago.
Diocesan and parish pastoral councils have recently been in the news. First, the beleaguered Philadelphia archdiocese announced the formation of its first "archdiocesan pastoral council," as Archbishop Charles Chaput tries to create almost from scratch a well-functioning enterprise.
Then there's the case of Florian Stangl, a 26-year-old gay Austrian man in a registered domestic partnership, whose pastor had prohibited him from serving on the parish council to which he had been elected by a wide margin. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna overrode the pastor and allowed Stangl to serve on the council.
Today, half of the 195 U.S. dioceses have diocesan pastoral councils, while three-fourths of the 18,000 parishes have parish pastoral councils, according to a 2003 survey by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But what exactly is a parish pastoral council? Where do they come from? What is their mission? And how do they operate?
WASHINGTON -- Arianne Gasser of Canton, Ohio, is proud to call herself a graduate student at a prestigious Catholic university, and she also is proud to call herself an atheist.
The pride she has in her atheist status is part of what inspired her to travel from the Philadelphia area, where she is enrolled at Villanova University, to Washington in March to join thousands of other atheists, agnostics and other nonbelievers for the "Reason Rally," an event that was billed as an assembly to unify secular people nationwide.
Two disciples were making their way to a village named Emmaus. In the course of their lively exchange, Jesus approached and began to walk with them. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:13-32).
Of all the Easter stories, Jesus, this is my favorite.
"I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief."
As this Lenten season draws to a close, I seem suffocated with the death of innocents, from Afghanistan to Florida. It wounds my spirit, but it can no longer shock me, this pouring out of the blood of the blameless, wherever we find violence valorized and guns made holy.
In the background, we hear the murmurs concerning a poor man who was completely fractured by too much exposure to the horrors of war, finally turning his confusion, rage and self-loathing onto the sleeping citizens of two villages in an occupied land. Closer still, we hear the guilty plea of Deryl Dedmon, a bewildered and disconnected near-adult in Mississippi who drove his truck over and killed a black man. He proclaimed, "I was young and dumb, ignorant and full of hatred" as he confronted the dark place inside him that urged him to find a black body he could destroy. And in our face, day after day, night after night, we see the pretty young boy, holding the baby up and smiling in the camera. We see the trembling mother and barely focused father asking, "What did our son do? What did he do?"
VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican spokesman praised Cuba's decision to accept Pope Benedict XVI's request to make Good Friday a national holiday this year.
"It is certainly a very positive sign," Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Sunday.
Good Friday, the commemoration of Jesus' passion and death, falls on April 6 this year.
During the pope's private meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana on March 27, the pope asked for further freedoms for the Catholic church in the communist nation, including the declaration of Good Friday as a holiday.
The Cuban government accepted the proposal Saturday after the pope's March 29 return to the Vatican.
Lombardi said the Vatican hopes the holiday will enable people to attend religious services and have "happy Easter celebrations."
The Vatican hopes Pope Benedict's March 26-28 visit to Cuba "continues to bring the desired fruits for the good of the church and all Cubans," the spokesman added.
Only Good Friday 2012 has been made a public holiday; the government hasn't decided whether it will become a permanent celebration, news reports said.
In September 2011, Msgr. John Kozar of the Pittsburgh diocese became president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), the New York City-based papal agency. Kozar succeeded Msgr. Robert Stern, who led the organization for a quarter century.
The association, founded in 1926 by Pope Pius XI, serves in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. It has a fourfold mandate: to support the pastoral mission and institutions of the Eastern Catholic churches, to provide humanitarian assistance to all, to promote Christian unity and interreligious understanding and collaboration, and to educate people in the West about the history, cultures, peoples and churches of the East.
We wholeheartedly second the invitation by Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson for a thorough and honest reexamination of the church’s teaching on sexuality. (See story.) Robinson’s invitation, coming in a paper delivered in Baltimore at a conference sponsored by New Ways Ministry, is a gentle but elegant plea that offers hope for Catholics who want to stop the church’s headlong plunge into irrelevancy as a moral voice in our culture.
Stripped of its supernatural elements, does religion have anything to offer atheists? What can nonbelievers borrow from the organizations, practices and rituals of believers -- without borrowing a belief in God?
According to Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton, a lot.
In his new book, Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, he outlines an array of things he contends religions get right and that atheists can adopt to create a better, richer secular society.
"The starting point of all religions is that humans are weak and vulnerable and needing direction," de Botton said shortly after arriving in the United States from his home in England to promote the book.
"But as I look at secular society, I see how we've been abandoned to make our own way through life and how challenging that is."
Religion, de Botton writes, has a lot to say about how to live and love, caring for others, handling suffering, dealing with death and all the other universal experiences that make us human.
And while he is not suggesting that atheists adopt a belief, he argues that atheists ignore religion's wisdom at their peril.