Why Catholics leave (continued) …

More Catholic press reaction to the release late last month of the landmark study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on the religious affiliation of U.S. adults, this time from Our Sunday Visitor.  Editor John Norton wrote a column on one aspect of the study — the fact that Catholics are leaving the church “in droves” — and says in a second column that he was inundated with responses. One that he highlights was from a Michigan deacon who listed a variety of reasons Catholics leave, based on his pastoral experience. You can read those here.

Blogging on the theme of the papal visit

The USCCB today announced the launching of its papal visit blog, “an inside view of papal visit preparations, views from the pew, and reflections on the meaning of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States.”

One of those reflections is a look at the trip’s theme, “Christ Our Hope.” But this is not your ordinary (read: boring) essay on the philosophical or theological meaning of three words that many who follow the trip won’t even remember. Instead, Helen Osman, USCCB secretary of communications, tells a real-life story of Christian hope:

“Christ Our Hope:” Seems like a safe theme for the 2008 papal visit, doesn’t it? Hope is a nice word; the politicians have grabbed on to it; it’s a great Scripture for newlyweds.

But hope can be a very dangerous word, if you really believe in Christian hope. Just ask Martha Sweed Walker.

Read on to discover what it can really mean.

In Jerusalem, sirens warn of bloodshed

Israeli Jewish religious students mourn for fellow students during a memorial service for eight victims killed by a Palestinian gunman at the Merkaz Harav seminary in Jerusalem March 6. (CNS/Reuters)JERUSALEM — Our two young boys had finally fallen asleep when we saw the news trailer on the television announcing a special broadcast. Then almost simultaneously we heard the ambulances, and we knew there had been an attack. During the five years of the intifada the sounds of ambulances rushing through our neighborhood toward the nearby hospitals was a sure sign of a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Even now I still react instinctively to the sound of sirens, and once again they were a warning of bloodshed somewhere in the city.

This time the attack took place in a Jewish seminary, a 15-minute drive from where we live. I made sure our doors were locked. But it was not the closest call we have had. Six years ago, when our oldest son was only 3 months old, a young Palestinian woman blew herself up at the entrance of our neighborhood supermarket, only 10 minutes after we finished our shopping.

The morning after the seminary attack, residents of the religious neighborhood where it took place were busy doing their Sabbath shopping. Billboards were plastered with death notices for the eight students killed, and thousands gathered for the funeral before each body was taken to be buried by their families.

In their mourning, the families will join, among others, the Palestinian Abu Shabak family of Gaza, whose two children were killed March 2, and the Yihye children of the Israeli town of Btecha, who buried their father Feb. 29 — some of the newest casualties in the latest renewal of the vicious cycle which endlessly entangles Israelis and Palestinians.

PHOTO: Israeli Jewish religious students mourn for fellow students during a memorial service for eight victims killed by a Palestinian gunman at the Merkaz Harav seminary in Jerusalem March 6. (CNS/Reuters)

Podcast explores new survey on religious practice

Speaking of National Catholic Reporter (see previous post), last week’s release of the landmark “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is the subject of a three-episode podcast (totalling about 15 minutes) posted this week by the newspaper.

What should the pope say in America?

(CNS/Paul Haring)At least two CNS clients are beginning to explore what Pope Benedict might say and what he might find during his U.S. trip., while a third blogs about those questions.

– The National Catholic Reporter published the first of what it says will be four essays leading up to the papal visit. In the first, professor Richard R. Gaillardetz imagines a different kind of papal visit from JPII’s trips, one that would be largely a fact-finding mission that would show that “the American religious scene is not the same as that in Western Europe.”

– The National Catholic Register blogged this week about the Gaillardetz piece and pointed to an earlier papal-visit preview piece by Catholic journalist Russell Shaw, who wants to give the pope “an honest picture of the real state of American Catholicism behind the ecclesiastical Potemkin Village façade that will be on display.”

– One of America magazine’s blogs is asking readers to weigh in on what the pope’s message to America should be. A sampling of responses, it says, will be published before the trip.

As we often say on the bottom of the first take of a breaking story, more to come …

Keeping up on the Catholic vote

A man votes in the presidential primary at Christ the King Parish in Silver Spring, Md., Feb. 12. (CNS/Paul Haring)How the Catholic vote plays out both in the Democratic primaries and this fall’s general election is something lots of news organizations (including us!) are following. And on that topic, our client America magazine had a great post this week on its blog calling Catholics “quintessential swing voters, pulled towards the Democrats on economic issues, pulled towards the GOP on social issues.”

What made this post particularly attractive to news and politics junkies like me were the links in it to an article on the Catholic vote at Politico.com and to, as the America blogger says, “a fascinating look at how the media and a campaign interact.” (If you’ve not heard of Politico, it’s a relatively new Web site and newspaper here in D.C. that has quickly become a major player in election coverage because of the strength of its reporting staff.)

It’s this kind of reporting by a respected magazine like America that proves how much the Internet has changed the media in the past dozen years. How long would an analysis like this have had to wait until it appeared in the print edition? How much more difficult would it have been to find these Politico articles — especially its “How the sausage gets made” piece on interaction between the media and the Obama campaign — without the Internet?

I know I’m stating the obvious, but finding this post on America’s blog (courtesy of my Google Reader) and the links that are in it was one of those “ah ha!” moments for me.

Meanwhile, remember 2004? We tracked the Catholic vote in that election too, an election which featured a Catholic nominee on the Democratic ticket. This fall’s election won’t have that angle (though there were numerous Catholics vying for attention when the election season began). But following the Catholic vote — both next month in Pennsylvania and in November — will still be a major issue to cover.

PHOTO: A man votes in the presidential primary at Christ the King Parish in Silver Spring, Md., Feb. 12. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Jesuit General Congregation set to end Thursday

Jesuit General Congregation logoAfter two months of work, the Jesuit General Congregation will end Thursday evening with a Mass of Thanksgiving at Rome’s Church of the Gesu, where Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola is buried.

Before then, the 200+ delegates expect to debate and finalize two documents: one on collaboration with others and another on Jesuit identity. A document on the internal governance of the Society of Jesus was approved Friday and another on the meaning of obedience was adopted Monday. While the General Congregation Web site has provided brief introductions to the documents, they were not made public immediately.

On the same site, members of the General Congregation communications team have posted the complete transcript of their long interview with Father Adolfo Nicolas, who was elected superior general of the Society of Jesus Jan. 19.  The Jesuit communicators even asked him about being elected to such a big job at the age of 71. Father Nicolas said that on Day Three of the four-day, one-on-one conversations that precede the election of a Jesuit superior, his confreres starting asking him about his health. “I have never been in any community where Jesuits were so concerned with it,” he said. That’s when he started realizing people were considering him a serious candidate.

The General Congregation began with the delegates voting to accept the resignation of Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach as superior general. Father Nicolas and the other members of the General Congregation formally thanked him for his service Saturday, presenting him with a long ovation and an icon. Before the end of March, Father Kolvenbach will return to Lebanon where he worked for many years.

Most-viewed CNS stories for February

Did you miss any of these? Here’s a list of most-viewed stories for February on our public site, http://www.catholicnews.com:

1. Vatican official: Church should reconsider Communion in the hand

2. Pope OKs plenary indulgence for Lourdes’ 150th anniversary

3. Catholic school closures, vouchers are in the national spotlight

4. Pope reduces waiting period for sainthood cause for Fatima visionary

5. Polish priest: Young priests plagiarize homilies from Internet

6. Archbishop to ordain seminarians in Tridentine Mass in Rome cathedral

7. Lourdes bishop says Mary sought devotion to Jesus, Eucharist

8. Sister Dorothy Marie Hennessey, peace activist jailed at age 88, dies

9. Pope tells Jesuits to make clear their acceptance of church teachings

10. St. Patrick’s Day falling during Holy Week prompts parade dilemma

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