Excerpts from ‘Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week’

VATICAN CITY — Here are some highlights from Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week — From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” published today.

In his foreword, the pope explains the purpose of his project:

In the foreword to Part One, I stated that my concern was to present “the figure and the message of Jesus”. Perhaps it would have been good to assign these two words — figure and message — as a subtitle to the book, in order to clarify its underlying intention. Exaggerating a little, one could say that I set out to discover the real Jesus, on the basis of whom something like a “Christology from below” would then become possible. The quest for the “historical Jesus”, as conducted in mainstream critical exegesis in accordance with its hermeneutical presuppositions, lacks sufficient content to exert any significant historical impact. It is focused too much on the past for it to make possible a personal relationship with Jesus…. I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to personal encounter and that, through collective listening with Jesus’ disciples across the ages, can indeed attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus.

The pope looks at religiously motivated violence and says Jesus brought something new and different:

There has been a noticeable reduction in the wave of theologies of revolution that attempt to justify violence as a means of building a better world — the “kingdom” — by interpreting Jesus as a “Zealot”. The cruel consequences of religiously motivated violence are only too evident to us all. Violence does not build up the kingdom of God, the kingdom of humanity. On the contrary, it is a favorite instrument of the Antichrist, however idealistic its religious motivation may be. It serves, not humanity, but inhumanity.

But what about Jesus? Was he a Zealot? Was the cleansing of the Temple a summons to political revolution? Jesus’ whole ministry and his message — from the temptations in the desert, his baptism in the Jordan, the Sermon on the Mount, right up to the parable of the Last  Judgment (Mt 25) and his response to Peter’s confession — point in a radically different direction, as we saw in Part One of this book.

No; violent revolution, killing others in God’s name, was not his way. His “zeal” for the kingdom of God took quite a different form.

He explores the idea of “eternal life” offered by Jesus:

“Eternal life” is not — as the modern reader might immediately assume — life after death, in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal. “Eternal life” is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death. This is the point: to seize “life” here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone.

The pope emphasizes the importance of the historical foundation of the events recounted in Scripture, but notes the limits of the historical method:

The New Testament message is not simply an idea; essential to it is the fact that these events actually occurred in the history of this world: biblical faith does not recount stories as symbols of meta-historical truths; rather, it bases itself upon history that unfolded upon this earth (cf. Part One, p. xv). If Jesus did not give his disciples bread and wine as his body and blood, then the Church’s Eucharistic celebration is empty — a pious fiction and not a reality at the foundation of communion with God and among men.

This naturally raises once more the question of possible and appropriate forms of historical verification. We must be clear about the fact that historical research can at most establish high probability but never final and absolute certainty over every detail. If the certainty of faith were dependent upon scientific-historical verification alone, it would always remain open to revision.

Jesus was not a political agitator, the pope says:

Through the message that he proclaimed, Jesus had actually achieved a separation of the religious from the political, thereby changing the world: this is what truly marks the essence of his new path….

In his teaching and in his whole ministry, Jesus had inaugurated a nonpolitical Messianic kingdom and had begun to detach these two hitherto inseparable realities from one another, as we said earlier. But this separation — essential to Jesus’ message — of politics from faith, of God’s people from politics, was ultimately possible only through the Cross. Only through the total loss of all external power, through the radical stripping away that led to the Cross, could this new world come into being. Only through faith in the Crucified One, in him who was robbed of all worldly power and thereby exalted, does the new community arise, the new manner of God’s dominion in the world

He says it is wrong to blame the Jewish people for Jesus’ death:

Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus’ accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death? We must take note of the different answers that the Gospels give to this question. According to John it was simply “the Jews”. But John’s use of this expression does not in any way indicate — as the modern reader might suppose — the people of Israel in general, even less is it “racist” in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews. In John’s Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy.

He says the truth of the Resurrection is crucial for the faith:

The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.

If this were taken away, it would still be possible to piece together from the Christian tradition a series of interesting ideas about God and men, about man’s being and his obligations, a kind of religious world view: but the Christian faith itself would be dead. Jesus would be a failed religious leader, who despite his failure remains great and can cause us to reflect. But he would then remain purely human, and his authority would extend only so far as his message is of interest to us. He would no longer be a criterion; the only criterion left would be our own judgment in selecting from his heritage what strikes us as helpful. In other words, we would be alone. Our own judgment would be the highest instance.

Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then he becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself.

The Resurrection, he says, does not contradict science but goes beyond science:

Naturally there can be no contradiction of clear scientific data. The Resurrection accounts certainly speak of something outside our world of experience. They speak of something new, something unprecedented — a new dimension of reality that is revealed. What already exists is not called into question. Rather we are told that there is a further dimension, beyond what was previously known. Does that contradict science? Can there really only ever be what there has always been? Can there not be something unexpected, something unimaginable, something new? If there really is a God, is he not able to create a new dimension of human existence, a new dimension of reality altogether? Is not creation actually waiting for this last and highest “evolutionary leap”, for the union of the finite with the infinite, for the union of man and God, for the conquest of death?

Throughout the history of the living, the origins of anything new have always been small, practically invisible, and easily overlooked. The Lord himself has told us that “heaven” in this world is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds (Mt 13:31-32), yet contained within it are the infinite potentialities of God. In terms of world history, Jesus’ Resurrection is improbable; it is the smallest mustard seed of history. … And yet it was truly the new beginning for which the world was silently waiting.

In book, pope presents Jesus as reconciler, not political revolutionary

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In his new volume on “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI presents the passion and resurrection of Christ as history-changing events that answer humanity’s unceasing need to be reconciled with God.

The 384-page book, titled “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week — From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” was officially released March 10. The pope had worked for several years on the text, the second in his series exploring the main events of Jesus’ public ministry.

The Vatican said 1.2 million copies of the book had already been published in seven languages, and that an e-book version was also planned.

In a foreword, the pope said he did not set out to write another chronological “Life of Jesus,” but instead to present the figure and message of “the real Jesus” — not a political revolutionary and not a mere moralist, but the son of God who inaugurated a new path of salvation based on the power of love.

(full story)

Carnival returns to Port-au-Prince, but celebration is more subdued

Editor’s Note: CNS staff writer Dennis Sadowski and staff photographer Bob Roller arrived in Haiti yesterday afternoon to report on the aftereffects of the January 2010 earthquake.

People walk along a street in Port-au-Prince March 8. Much misery remains more than a year following Haiti's devastating earthquake. (CNS/Bob Roller)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The pre-Lenten celebration of Carnival returned to the Haitian capital this week, but not with the usual sense of jubilance that marked the three-day affair prior to last year’s devastating earthquake.

Last night’s celebration featured a parade through the dusty, potholed streets of a neighborhood near downtown. Brass bands, vibrant dancers and street theater were all part of the festivities. Young people dressed in colorful — sometimes scanty — costumes and glitter faces. Others wore elaborately designed and decorated masks reflecting Haitian tradition. Clearly, most were made by the people who wore them.

The parade was also a chance for supporters of the two candidates in Haiti’s March 20 presidential election to show whom they backed. More than a few people were plastered with posters depicting popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly and former first lady Merlande Manigat, who are in the runoff election after two months of controversy marred Haiti’s attempt at a smooth, democratic transition in power.

Overall, long-standing revelers said, the themes this year were more subdued. But CNS photographer Bob Roller, who roamed the crowds in search of just the right image, seemed to think participants and the throngs along the parade route were trying to get back to normal after a year of horrendous hardship.

This year’s Carnival went off amid a bit of controversy. It was organized despite the loss of long-time financial backers who felt the festive affair was not far enough removed from the quake 14 months ago which claimed more than 300,000 lives. About 800,000 people still live in spontaneous settlements in ragged tents and squalid conditions.

The Haitian traditions continued today, Ash Wednesday, as the Christian world embarks on the six-week Lenten journey. From now through Easter, “rara” bands will traverse neighborhoods singing songs about life and events of the past year. Traditionally, the songs recall some of the not-so-fortunate news of the community from which the band hails in a ritual meant to evoke remorse and regret.

Radio Waumini: Voice for the Catholics in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya — In a country where many people outside of cities still do not own a television set, a 43-year-old priest and his staff of 35 are working to become the voice of Catholics.

Father Martin Wanyoike and his staff operate Radio Waumini, which was started by the Kenya Episcopal Conference but receives no funding from the bishops.

Father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Kenyan Catholic bishops' Radio Waumini, shows diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States around his studio in Nairobi. (CNS/Msgr. John E. Kozar)

Father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Kenyan Catholic bishops' Radio Waumini, shows diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States around his studio in Nairobi. (CNS/Msgr. John E. Kozar)

The station has a mix of music — not just religious — broadcast on an FM signal. It also broadcasts live online from 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m. each day and even has a page on Facebook.

“Our target — we want very much to bring on board the young people,” Father Wanyoike recently told a group of mission directors from the United States. “You cannot reach the young people by playing only choir music.”

Father Wanyoike has his own morning show and recently extended it to include Nairobi’s early morning drive-time for commuters. He also believes that some of the station’s talk shows and programs on reconciliation contributed to the “healing process of our country” after the ethnic violence that followed the December 2007 elections.

In the African culture, where people are orally inclined, “the radio has become the storyteller,” said Father Wanyoike. Radio is “easy, it’s accessible, it’s cheap to own.”

Archbishop Alain Lebeaupain, the Vatican’s ambassador to Kenya, agrees that radio is the way to communicate with people. When he met with the mission directors, he encouraged them to support Radio Waumini and said he would like to see it as a national network of stations so the church can communicate with all Kenyans.

Editor’s Note: CNS International Editor Barb Fraze and Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec were in Kenya last month on a trip funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

Villanova University choirs sing in St. Peter’s Basilica

VATICAN CITY — The Villanova University choirs, the “Singers” and “Voices,” ended their performance tour of Italy by singing at an evening Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The “Singers” and “Voices” are the largest men’s and women’s choral groups at the Catholic, Augustinian university in Villanova, Pa.

Members of Villanova University choirs in St. Peter's Basilica (CNS photo/John Lamb)

“The experience of singing in the basilicas of Italy cannot be conveyed in mere words.  Of course, the premier performance was at St. Peter’s.  It is very rewarding to see the faces and feel the uplift of the students when they hear their singing in venues that not only are beautiful and have such rich history but also are amazing acoustically,” said Villanova’s director of music activities, Brian Meneely

The theme of their performance tour was “Musicians Serving Musicians,” highlighting the core values of the Augustinians, which are represented on the seal of the University: Veritas, Unitas, Caritas (the pursuit of truth, unity, and love.)

“We learned so much from working with each other and with the help of our directors throughout the week, it was truly an incredible experience. I feel so fortunate to have even had the opportunity to sing in such a beautiful place such as St. Peter’s Basilica and I know it was something I will treasure for the rest of my life,” said sophomore Brittany Coyle.

The choirs also performed at the Duomo in Spoleto, the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and held a joint concert with an Italian choir in Lucca. An impromptu concert was also given at the Trevi Fountain to celebrate the students’ last evening in Rome.

The students are all undergraduates pursuing various degrees of study, and this was the group’s’ first performance at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Gottemoeller ready for ‘next great adventure': Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Rose E. Gottemoeller (CNS photo/Department of State)

With the New START agreement with Russia in place, the State Department’s Rose Gottemoeller is preparing for her “next great adventure” on the road to nuclear disarmament.

Gottemoeller, assistant secretary in the Department of State’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, was the chief U.S. negotiator of the treaty that defines the next stage of strategic nuclear weapons cuts (from 2,200 to 1,550 on each side).

Yesterday she thanked representatives of more than a dozen faith-based organizations — several Catholic groups among them –that were instrumental in the campaign to get New START ratified by the Senate and said that their networks will be needed again to as the Obama administration turns its attention to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Even though the U.S. is a signatory to the pact that ends all nuclear weapons testing, the Senate voted against ratification in 1999. But Gottemoeller, a Catholic who holds a degree in Russian from Georgetown University, said she thinks there’s enough momentum coming off of the New START campaign that the multilateral pact can be approved.

Admitting the effort won’t be easy, Gottemoeller remains optimistic because of the bipartisanship that emerged among senators during the New START debate in December.

Gottemoeller explained to the groups that she saw senators working together to resolve differences and understand other points of view on the treaty. She found it gratifying to observe how more and more senators who initially opposed the pact came to understand that New START would ensure America’s security.

The result was a 71-26 vote to ratify the agreement.

That bodes well for the test ban treaty, she said after being honored for her work on New START by the groups during a reception at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.

The test ban treaty’s verification regime includes international monitoring, regular consultation, on-site inspections and confidence-building measures. It was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996 and 182 countries, including five nuclear weapons states, are signatories. In all, 153 nations have ratified the treaty but China and the U.S. are not among them.

The strongest objections from senators focus on the U.S. ability to modernize its nuclear stockpiles. Gottemoeller is hoping the faith community’s voices will come through again in stressing the moral message that the world will be a much safer place with the test ban treaty in place.

A lesson in U.S. black Catholic history

Dominican Sister Jamie Phelps (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

ROME — February was Black History Month in the United States, and the “Catholic angle” of this event was explored in a talk in Rome by Dominican Sister Jamie Phelps. director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of New Orleans.

Sister Phelps spoke at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas of Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, at a program organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

The U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, said black Catholics were a little-known but important segment of American society, and he wanted Rome to hear about it.

As Sister Phelps put it, black Catholics have a dynamic history of “uncommon faithfulness” in the church, but it’s one that has been generally invisible — even to other Catholics. She recalled that when she was growing up, people would look puzzled when she and her family showed up at Catholic events and tell her, “You’re supposed to be Protestant.”

There are about 3 million African American Catholics in the United States today, she said. They generally identify closely with the teachings of the church, on matters from abortion to concern for the poor.

“What resonates with the worldview of African American Catholics is respect for the dignity of the human person,” she said.

Black Catholics are proud of their religious history. There were early popes and saints from Northern Africa, “and we claim them as our own,” Sister Phelps said.

“We recognize that missionaries who came to Africa gifted us with Catholicism, even as they defined us as less than themselves,” she said.

Sister Phelps said that by establishing schools for black Catholics as far back as the 1800s and by maintaining Catholic schools in inner cities over the last 100 years, U.S. bishops played a key role in promoting social justice. She worries, however, that economic pressures are eroding that commitment to education.

“We are losing black Catholics … there really is a battle on for that. The closing of schools is one of our big concerns,” she said. For more than a hundred years, she said, Catholic schools have been the major instrument of evangelization in black communities.

“So it’s sort of crazy for us to be engaged in evangelization in one breath, and to be closing Catholic schools in the other breath. You need to meet people where they are,” she said.

The reasons given always have to do with money, but Sister Phelps says she finds those arguments unconvincing.

“It seems to me we’re one church, and there are some rich Catholics in the United States and there are some rich parishes. What’s the obligation of those rich Catholic parishes to nurture and sustain the Catholic Church in the inner city, where we’re supposed to be doing our ministry to the poor?” she said.

She added: “Don’t get me wrong, all black Catholics are not poor. So we should make it come out of their pockets also.”


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