John Paul II: The DVD collection

Pope John Paul II embraces a child at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square in 2000. (CNS photo from Reuters)

Pope John Paul II embraces a child at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square in 2000. (CNS photo from Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — It was 30 years ago that the College of Cardinals stunned the world by electing a non-Italian, Pope John Paul II. Now, scenes from his 26+ years as supreme pontiff are being offered in a special 30th anniversary DVD collection by the Vatican Television Center.

It’s worth checking out. In collaboration with HDH Communications, the Vatican is offering a 5-DVD set titled, “John Paul II – The pope who made history” at the discounted price of €41.99 (about $57). The Vatican’s other DVD sets on John Paul II are also being discounted by 30 percent for the next month.

CTV, the Vatican’s television operation, has an immense archive of video, which make these DVDs unique. The sample clip on their Web site, which runs three and a half minutes, includes some of the image highlights of Pope John Paul’s pontificate — focusing on his travels around the world and the human side of the papacy.

The DVD anniversary set shows the pope in prayer, joking with young people, encountering indigenous families, visiting a Syrian mosque, skiing and making a pilgrimage through the Holy Land. Of course, that only skims the surface. The DVDs confirm that, in many ways, his was truly a pontificate made for modern media.

CNS Bible Blog: Ruth, Chapter 2 – Love and integrity

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

I sat down with the Book of Ruth and started reading Chapter 2. Following what is described as an Ignatian method for reading and praying with the Scriptures, I imagine myself as a character in the story.

I am Boaz. The potent one. I know who I am, I know what I have. I count my blessings and give thanks to God every day. But I am not young anymore and I have been waiting for something to happen. When I watch over my slaves, I pray. When I walk my fields, when I touch my gold, I pray. Sometimes I gently ask, sometimes I howl in pain and longing, sometimes I whisper under my breath, sometimes I rage in frustration. I am asked to wait; the time will come.

She is not a girl anymore. She arrived yesterday and I already know everything about her. Ruth had been married for 10 years. Now she is widowed. What she has done makes my heart beat faster: left everything out of love for her mother-in-law. She is a passionate one. One who follows a dream. Maybe the foreigners’ dreams are bigger than ours. How far have I ever walked for a dream?

Someone will have to marry her, that’s the law. It will be a bit of a haggle since I’m not first in line. She is on offer, though, and I can be the buyer.

I get all confused when she takes the initative. She just lies there at my feet at night, offering freely what I thought I had to buy dearly. I tremble. Then I remember how she said, when we first met: “You have comforted me with your consoling words; would indeed that I were a servant of yours!”

Does she feel what I feel? Or is she doing what she has to do to get a husband, any husband? How will I ever know?

As I step out of the story, I pray for all those who have to do whatever it takes to get by. Who find themselves in situations and systems not of their own making, and still make the best of it. That they may find love and understanding, and keep their integrity.

Organ donation encouraged

The shortage of organ donors is especially prevalent among minority communities, a problem highlighted in a feature in El Pregonero, the Spanish-language newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

It tells the story of Jacinta Marshall, a Panamanian immigrant and advocate for organ donation, and her campaign for education in the Latino community. The need for organ donors was made personal by the 17-month wait her husband, Stanley Marshall, endured to get a new kidney.

CNS Bible Blog: Ruth, Chapter 1 – Guided by a dream

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Today, I sat down with the Book of Ruth and started reading Chapter 1. Using a method for reading and praying with the Scriptures that is attributed to St Ignatius Loyola, I took a step inside the story.

I am Ruth. I went with my mother-in-law Naomi and never looked back.

It was an easy decision for me. It was much harder for her to accept my decision. I love her and always will. There is no sacrifice in this decision for me. I feel closer to her than I have ever felt to my own mother; I love her more than my life. Naomi and I, we walk hand-in-hand, even though we might not touch each other. We brave the desert storms. We have the same direction: her people, who — through my love for her — are my own people. Her God is my God.

(CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

(CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

Naomi isn’t always the easiest woman to be with, especially since her whole family died in Moab. She has been taking this as a sign that God is unhappy with her, but I think that’s not true. I’m sure God just had other plans for her. That’s as far as I know him, this God. The strong one. The one who saves. The one who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. The one who has dreams for us. I am following one of those dreams. I have always been the dreamer in our family, my husband never really understood that. But his God did. Praying to the God of Israel felt easier than praying to our gods in Moab. So I followed Naomi to be with a people that knew their God, a people who had met him, personally. Apart from praying with them, I also have to find work there. And possibly a husband. Someone with my kind of spirituality would be nice.

As I step out of the story, I pray for all those who leave everything behind, guided only by a dream.

Those trendsetters out in Kansas….

Yep. They’re doing some cutting-edge diocesan newspapering at The Leaven in the land of Dorothy and Toto (not to mention jokes, songs and empires built on corn).

The staff of the newspaper of the Kansas City Archdiocese has launched not just a redesign of their Web page, but a rethinking of how they get news and what they’re putting under that umbrella.

note on the paper’s Web site from Leaven co-editor Anita McSorley starts this way:
“We here at The Leaven have a confession to make.
“We’re old. We’re tired.
“And up until now, we were so not cool.”

McSorley proceeds to explain just how cool The Leaven has become. They’ve got a slick new Web site with all the usual features of a good news site (archives, links, easy-to-find contact information) plus staff-created news feature videos (check out reporter Joe Bollig’s adventure at a church-run summer camp).

She describes the process of rethinking and remaking what they do, including opening up their reporting to anyone who wants to contribute something. The Web site includes links for the public to submit stories, photographs and even original music recordings, all to potentially be available to the public.

Frankly, it sounds like a heck of a lot of work, but ultimately exciting and energizing. As newspaper folk everywhere know, rethinking what we do is the only way we’re likely to survive. At The Leaven it looks like they’re plunging ahead with creativity and their typically good-humored sense of adventure.

CNS Bible Blog: Judith 12-13 – A woman serving God

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Continuing with the Book of Judith, I focused on Chapter 12 and Chapter 13. Using the method of praying with Scripture known as Ignatian contemplation (or Ignatian imagining), I continued to read and pray, imagining myself as Judith.

As I step into Holofernes’ tent, all eyes are on me. I lie down for the banquet and General Holofernes, supreme commander of 170,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, looks enraptured. I rejoice inwardly, as this is exactly the state I need him in to execute my plan. I do my best to fire his imagination, sending him flirtatious glances, smiles, gestures, while he is getting more and more drunk. For some reason, I’m deeply enjoying this game – with the two of us expecting completely different rewards from it. My God has a fine sense of humor. I sigh in sadness as I remember the looks I used to get from my husband, Manasses. Oh, how I still miss him. He would thoroughly approve of my being here.

I’m a little nervous. Holofernes, so drunk that he has passed out, is lying on his bed, right in front of me. The moment has come. I gather myself, I gather my years on the rooftop of my house, years spent in prayer and fasting, spent soaking up energy for this moment. I grab his sword with both hands and whisper: “God of life, God of Israel, one man has to die so that your people can survive and remember your Holy Name for generations to come. Guide my hands.” Then I strike with all my strength.

I stand there, my still muscles shaking from the effort, while my whole being is taking in what I have just done. What God has just done. Using a woman, the beauty of a woman. I am amazed. Men can’t do that, end a war. They have to retaliate, they have to keep going, an eye for an eye. But through the beauty of a woman, God can end wars. Oh, the joy! Now quick, let me take his head and get out of here. My Israelites have to be told about the greatness of God!

As I step out of the story, I pray for the unique gifts of women, that they may be appreciated and cultivated every day in the church and elsewhere.

Price of Bible in Zimbabwe increases by the minute

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Even making a plan to buy a Bible in Zimbabwe is enough to work you up into a sweat, says Jesuit Father Oscar Wermter.

A foreign currency sign is seen as shoppers buy products at a supermarket in Harare, Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government recently allowed food outlets to accept foreign currency in order to tackle the increasing inflation. (CNS/Reuters)

A foreign currency sign is seen as shoppers buy products at a supermarket in Harare, Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government recently allowed food outlets to accept foreign currency in order to tackle the increasing inflation. (CNS/Reuters)

At last, the Bible has been translated into Shona, a local language, and is selling for $6. So, like other parish priests, Harare-based Father Wermter wants to order 20 for those in his parish who want their own copy but can’t afford it. The Bible is a luxury in a country where 5 million people — about half the population of Zimbabwe – are facing starvation.

Everyone with something to sell wants cash or foreign currency, he says, and if you insist on paying by check they charge you 10 times as much.

If he went to the bank to draw out the equivalent in Zimbabwean dollars of the $120 he would need for 20 Bibles, he would stand all day in line and, when he got to the front, he likely would be told there was not enough money to give him all he needed.

And even if he was able to draw it all, by the time he got out of the bank, with an inflation rate of 231 million percent the Zim bucks would be worth less than they had been when he started out. His other option is to collect the cash from each parishioner before he pays the supplier. But then he’s passing on the chore of spending a day in the bank to them and will still be out of pocket because, with prices going up every few minutes, there’s no way he could collect the money and pay for the Bibles before the
price rose.

So he’s caught between a rock and a hard place, and while he’s pondering those Bibles aren’t getting any cheaper.

‘Catholics have an obligation to be interested in politics’

As Canadians go to the polls today to elect a government, Catholics are being wooed by candidates and parties in much the same way U.S. Catholic voters are sought.

The Catholic Register, Canada’s oldest Catholic weekly, has been in the thick of things. A detailed article, “The spirituality of politics”, tackles what some of the nation’s Catholic groups are emphasizing as important in voting. Associate editor Michael Swan talked about politics with people from a range of Catholic organizations — from the Campaign Life Coalition, which focuses on abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia, to the Catholic Worker Movement, which focuses on peace and life issues such as opposing the death penalty and supporting people with mental handicaps.

He also traces the history of the church’s involvement in Canadian politics, dating back to the 1890s, when Bishop John Cameron of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, regularly dined with Canada’s first Catholic prime minister, Sir John Thompson. That was 70 years before the United States elected its first Catholic president, John Kennedy.

The page also includes a summary of the points in the Canadian bishops’ federal election guide, which starts with this premise: “Catholics have an obligation to be interested in politics.”

Pope Benedict as Bible blogger?

VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops on the Bible heard an unusual suggestion Tuesday morning when a Hong Kong observer asked Pope Benedict to start up his own daily blog on Scripture.

Agnes Kam Leng Lam, president of the Catholic Biblical Association of Hong Kong, said people need to experience Scripture in small but significant doses.

“To put it in a nutshell, I’d like to suggest to you Holy Father to start a multi-language blog to shepherd today’s world by scriptural verses, daily verses,” she said on the synod floor. The pope’s blog should include simple reflections that relate Scripture to real-life situations, she said.

Lam included advice that’s probably good for any blogger: “Remember, brief texts, Holy Father, and plentiful images, and this will be very attractive to the young generation and to today’s people.”

The talk apparently provoked a positive reaction and some laughter, but the pope, who was presiding over the Oct. 5-26 assembly, didn’t say whether he’d be blogging anytime soon.

CNS Bible Blog: Judith, Chapter 10 – Hanging on to tradition

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Today, I sat down again with the Book of Judith and started reading Chapter 10. Following the method of “Ignatian contemplation” (a way for reading and praying with the Scriptures that has been used by Jesuits since the 16th century), I took a step back inside the story as Judith.

Uta Sievers

When the Assyrian soldiers grab my bare arms, I feel fire run through my body. I shrink back but see the necessity of going through this. I feel shame at the humiliating smiles, at their obvious enjoyment of having me in their hands. Disgust at their dirty hands on my skin. The eyes of men who are trained for war, not for love. Their smelly bodies rub against me as they push me forward to take me to Holofernes. Beauty can be such a trap.

I manage to tell the story of my treason convincingly, and there is a reason for it: I am still angry at the Elders in my town, who almost mistrusted God. Silly people, my Israelites! I feel I could almost do it, lead the enemy into the heartland of Israel. But that’s not God, that’s me, the Jonah in me. All I need to do now is get through to Holofernes, and any story will do.

As I am escorted through the gaping crowds of soldiers, I feel lightheaded. I know what God is doing here by way of me, Judith: crossing all the boundaries of what’s permitted for a woman, a stranger, an inferior human being. It’s so outrageous that they decide not to harm me … for now.

I have five days. Four and a half now. I feel my way through those days, doing things almost in a trance, following the master plan. I reconnect every night with the one who is in charge here. Oh, how I long for my nightly prayer sessions. To feel clean once again inside and out after washing myself in the fountain. To share my fears with the one who knows them already, and who even knows the outcome of our plan. To find strength and answers. To be safe from the inhabitants of the camp, one night at a time.

As I step out of the story, I pray for the men and women of all faiths who hang on to their traditions and customs in the midst of adverse conditions because that is where they find meaning.

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