The Quran and the possibilities for dialogue with Muslims

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran caused a bit of a flurry among Muslims and among Catholic scholars of Islam when he told a French newspaper he didn’t think “theological” dialogue was possible with Muslims because, he said, they believe the Quran was dictated by God and cannot be interpreted.

It is something most Christians, and even some Muslims, believe. But it appears more complicated than that.

The cardinal’s remarks were made less than a week after 138 Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders proposing new ideas for dialogue, so for a reaction story to the cardinal’s comments we put questions to two of the scholars who signed the letter.

Because the topic is so complicated, Aref Ali Nayed said he wanted the complete text of his answers to be posted online and a link included with the CNS story which ran today. Islamica, a magazine closely associated with the Muslim scholars’ dialogue initiative, has posted the text. Click here to see it.

Vanishing ministry: Magazine profiles urban priest, parish in Philly

The latest edition of St. Anthony Messenger magazine profiles a Philadelphia priest in what the Catholic monthly calls a vanishing style of ministry: “one diocesan priest in a depressed neighborhood, where he is also a community activist whose willingness to beg, borrow, barter and plead keeps an elementary school thriving.” Read here about Father John Patrick McNamee, pastor of St. Malachy Church, “a rare respite in North Philadelphia’s rough environs.”

About that papal visit

Sometime over the next two days, Pope Benedict will receive a dossier with the proposed program for his visit to the United Nations and the United States next April.

Much has been circulated about the papal visit in recent weeks, including detailed plans about liturgies in New York and Washington, encounters with New York seminarians and U.S. bishops, and of course the pope’s expected address to the U.N. General Assembly. But all those plans are tentative at this point — and it bothers the Vatican that they’ve prematurely made their way into blogs and news reports.

The pope’s advance team was on the East Coast last week putting together a definitive program for a trip that focuses on two stops, Washington and New York. But even this “final” program is not final, because the pope hasn’t sat down and reviewed it yet. The ultimate decisions are indeed up to him, and it’s quite possible that the pope could change things, either tweaking the schedule or deciding to add a city.

Typically, papal trip planning goes through several drafts. The host country usually announces the main events a few months ahead of time, and the Vatican doesn’t release the pope’s official schedule until about six weeks before the trip. But in this case, media interest and logistical demands may move all that up. With no other papal travel on the horizon, excitement is already building for B16′s first UN/US encounter — even if it’s nearly six months away.

Choirs and cantors help soothe the souls that grieve

Betty Sjoquist, center, and Marian LeBrun, members of the Resurrection Schola, rehearsed Oct. 18 at Epiphany in Coon Rapids. Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Catholic SpiritThe Catholic Spirit in St. Paul-Minneapolis has a nice story on parish funeral choirs that might serve as a model for others who want to explore this ministry. Reporter Pat Norby explains, “Those who sing for parish funerals say they receive as much as they give during their participation in a funeral Mass.” Click here for the full story.

Archbishop Gregory to undergo prostate surgery

Here is Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s column, posted today in The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Atlanta Archdiocese, that he will undergo surgery next Monday after being diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer.

Covering disasters is cooperative effort

Jim Plum embraces Dylan Cader, 10, while helping the Cader family sift through the remains of their home in San Diego's Rancho Bernardo neighborhood Oct. 25. At least 1,800 houses were lost to the wildfires in Southern California. (CNS/David Maung)To provide detailed coverage of natural disasters, CNS relies heavily on diocesan reporters who have the advantage of being much closer to the scene than those of us in Washington and Rome.

Our coverage of the wildfires in Southern California has been no exception with added input of reporters from The Tidings, archdiocesan newspaper of Los Angeles, and The Southern Cross, San Diego’s diocesan paper.

When Paula Doyle, reporter for The Tidings, got to work last Monday, the fires that had started the day before had already wreaked havoc on the region. She knew she “had to do a fire story,” but the problem was access — getting to the affected areas when most of the roads were blocked.

She told CNS that she approached the story, before she even knew what it was, by doing what she always does before writing — saying a prayer and quieting her mind.

During that process she happened to remember that her dentist’s wife, Suzanne Ricci, is a co-principal at Our Lady of Malibu School. As a school official, Ricci was given the OK by police to walk through school property on a closed-off road. She described the scene in detail to Doyle and even e-mailed her a picture of the fire scorched portable building used as the school’s computer lab. The description and photo were part of CNS coverage.

School loses computer lab in Malibu wildfireDoyle said that, through the school contact, The Tidings was able to run more details about the Our Lady of Malibu School than what was had been reported in the Los Angeles Times.

“Catholic journalism is all about contacts,” she said, pointing out that with Catholics comprising one-fourth of the population, “it’s not hard to know other Catholics.”

Father Gregory Le Blanc and Bishop Ronald Gilmore tour the site of St. Joseph Church days after the May 4 tornado.That’s certainly what has helped our coverage of other disasters, including the tornado in Greensburg, Kan., in May.

A friend of CNS knew someone in Kansas who in turn knew that a parish secretary survived the tornado that whipped through her home by clinging to her oxygen tank.

I spoke to the 70-year-old woman on her cell phone while she was stocking up on basic supplies at a local Wal-Mart later. She recounted her tornado experience of huddling in the hallway, closing her eyes and praying as loudly as she could, possibly louder, she said, than the tornado itself.

Although the contacts help in getting a Catholic angle to these kind of stories, as Peter Finney Jr., editor of the Clarion Herald, the archdiocesan newspaper in New Orleans, or Shirley Henderson, editor of Gulf Pine Catholic, diocesan newspaper of Biloxi, Miss., can most likely attest, sometimes the stories just come from just being at the right place at the right time.

That certainly happened for some of the stories CNS photographer Bob Roller and I covered in Mississippi right after Hurricane Katrina. After Bob took pictures of what had been a Biloxi neighborhood (completely blown away by hurricane winds) he spoke to some residents sorting through scattered debris and learned they were Catholic.

Their story, I found out when I visited them the next day, was one of loss and hope after finding their baby’s christening gown intact when all else was either gone or completely mud damaged from the storm.

Six months later, CNS visual media manager Nancy Wiechec and I revisited the same location for an update from the family. The area, filled then with FEMA trailers, looked completely different. This time, it wasn’t so much who we knew as much as plain good luck by knocking on the right trailer door when the owner just happened to be around.

No poncho for the pope

When a head of state meets the pope at the Vatican, the encounter unfolds according to a fairly strict program, usually ending with an exchange of gifts.

Paraguay’s President Nicanor Duarte Frutos packed a gift for the pope in his luggage, but it was nowhere to be seen when he met Pope Benedict XVI earlier today.

The luggage apparently was a victim of strike-induced airport chaos in France, where Duarte had stopped before traveling to Rome.

Reporters traveling with the president said the gift was a traditional, vibrantly-colored poncho. Paraguay’s ambassador to the Vatican promised to deliver it when it arrives.

New edition on Knights Templar: No free copies

To a medieval historian, it was a real temptation.

Franco Cardini, one of Italy’s most renowned experts on the Middle Ages, candidly confessed as much during a press conference last week. In front of him on the speaker’s dais stood a copy of “Processus Contra Templarios,” the facsimile collection of Vatican documents with an $8,400 price tag.

History professors generally aren’t rich, Cardini said, and they have a tendency to kleptomania. If the book hadn’t been so imposing and precious, he said, it would have already been in his briefcase.

He was kidding — we think. Certainly there were no free copies floating around at the volume’s unveiling. More than a book, it was an elaborate artifact, with parchment reproductions and cardinals’ seals, all wrapped in a goatskin binding. The centerpiece was the Chinon parchment, which detailed a papal investigation of the Knights Templar in 1308.

Who was buying up the 799 copies of this limited edition? The publisher wouldn’t say (“right to privacy”) but it was a good bet that no one at the Vatican could afford it. Pope Benedict’s copy was a gift.

Cardini was just one of the highlights of the press conference. Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, started it off with a sharply worded criticism of the false claims that have swirled around the documents ahead of the book launch.

That put him at cross purposes with the book’s publicists, who sat impassively on the stage next to him. The word around the Vatican is that Bishop Pagano, a rigorous academic, has no time for pseudo-scholars seeking to hype speculation or move product.

Bishop Pagano had a similar reaction when the Vatican Secret Archives recently opened its files relating to the pre-World War II period. The appetite was high for a “smoking gun” piece of evidence showing that the future Pope Pius XII — then nuncio to Germany — was somehow cooperating with Hitler. But after initial research of the Archives material failed to produce anything dramatic, curiosity gave way to disinterest, the prefect said.

I thought something was odd at the Templars press conference when Cardinal Raffaele Farina, the Vatican archivist, failed to show up on the rostrum as scheduled. Then Bishop Pagano, after slamming the publicity hype, walked out of the room before the presentation was half-over. Too bad he missed Cardini’s call for a less magnificent edition of the documents, one that an average academic could afford.

Vatican press conferences are usually long-winded, tedious, and a bit Politburo-esque: a line-up of church officials reading speeches that say much the same thing. This one was different, and it was a breath of fresh air.

Tributes from the Catholic press for a new cardinal

CNS photo by Bob RollerAll of us in the Catholic press were thrilled when Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop John P. Foley, the longtime president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Foley has been our friend and mentor going back to the days when he was editor of the Philadelphia archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Standard and Times.

So it should be no surprise that many of us are writing tributes to him. One of the best I’ve seen so far is by Joe Ryan, currently the assistant editor at The Dialog, diocesan newspaper of Wilmington, Del.  Joe worked for Cardinal-designate Foley in Philadelphia and learned from him the ideals that all Catholic journalists try to uphold.

“Whether reporting on … a parish’s anniversary, a clothing drive or the tragedy of a victim’s molestation by a priest, Catholic journalism’s duty to report the truth in light of our faith is never detrimental to the church,” Joe wrote.

His tribute starts off with a story that many of us in the Catholic press have already heard (perhaps several times!) about a trip the young priest-editor took with the then-archbishop of Philadelphia:

Philadelphia’s Cardinal John Krol was touring the Holy Land in the early 1970s when he went to Egypt and visited the pyramids at Giza. Like many tourists there, the distinguished prelate was invited by a persistent hawker to ride a camel.

The cardinal asked the editor of his newspaper, The Catholic Standard and Times, if he thought he should get on the camel.

“No, your eminence,” said Msgr. John P. Foley. “I would advise you not to get on that camel.”

Cardinal Krol, caught between a beckoning Bedouin and his dubious priest-editor, decided his opportunities in life to ride a camel would be limited, so up he climbed.

Msgr. Foley promptly took his boss’s picture, which ran in Catholic newspapers around the world. It showed the Archbishop of Philadelphia, ungainly in the camel’s saddle, looking more like the former butcher from Cleveland he had been than Lawrence of Arabia.

“You told me not to get on the camel; why did you take my picture?” the cardinal asked the editor.

“As your loyal priest, your eminence, I gave you my best advice,” Msgr. Foley said. “As the editor of your newspaper, I took your picture.”

That incident at Giza summarizes the essence of Catholic journalism as I learned it 30 years ago from Msgr. Foley, who was named a cardinal Oct. 17 by Pope Benedict XVI; when the word Catholic modifies the word journalism, it doesn’t alter the discipline with bias, it strengthens it with a profound truth — the way, the truth and the life of Jesus Christ.

The entire tribute is worth reading, especially if you’ve ever wondered how we define our roles as Catholic journalists and why we report the “Good News” and the bad news at the same time.  (This link here will take you to a .pdf of the entire current edition of The Dialog. For Joe’s tribute to Cardinal-designate Foley, go to Page 13 of the 26-page .pdf file.)

This week in Origins

Another edition of Origins CNS Documentary Service is online and in the mail. Here’s what’s in the new edition dated Nov. 1:

  • The English-speaking Catholic bishops from Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria call for the opening of “new doors” in dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. “We want to deepen our dialogue so that we can enter in the heart of the matter: the promotion of peace in our West African subregion,” they say. (Subscribers: Click here)
  • Pope Paul VI’s cry from the heart in “Populorum Progressio” that “development is the new name for peace” has only gained new urgency in the 40 years since it was issued, says Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. (Subscribers: Click here)
  • The liturgical celebration of marriage ought to be a vital part of Catholic marriage ministry and a source of theological reflection on the sacrament of marriage, says liturgist Paul Covino. (Subscribers: Click here)
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