Anglican-Roman Catholic bowling for unity?

VATICAN CITY — In the field of ecumenical dialogue, a key task always has been defining terms. Often, Christians have discovered, their beliefs are not that different, but the language they use is.

“Bowling” in the headline above does not involve an alley and 10 pins.

This is cricket. The game involves a ball and bat. And teams of 11. A field and a “pitch,” which is part of the field, not the act of throwing the ball.

As a group of priests and seminarians representing the Vatican and another representing the Church of England prepare to meet in September, it’s many of the rest of us who have to try to understand their terminology.

Father Tony Currer, the official in charge of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is a “right-hand batsman.” He’ll be traveling back to England with three “right-arm fast bowlers” and seven other seminarians in the name of Christian unity.

The members of St. Peter's Cricket Club, aka the Vatican team.

The members of St. Peter’s Cricket Club, aka the Vatican team.

“A bowler is like a pitcher” in American baseball, he said. “I guess in baseball you would distinguish between left-handed and right-handed pitchers, right? Then some are specialists in bowling quickly or bowling with a spin.”

Before coming to Rome, Father Currer played in the Durham City League, which is an amateur league, though at a level “higher than a parish team” or something like that.

Sometimes Christians complain that ecumenical dialogue has been limited to a small group of experts. Cricket seems mostly limited to residents of the United Kingdom, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa.

The Vatican-Church of England cricket match Sept. 19 at the Kent County Cricket Club will be preceded by ecumenical vespers Sept. 18 in the Anglican’s Canterbury Cathedral. Although initially planned strictly as a challenge, the two sides have now decided the match will be an occasion to raise money together for the Global Freedom Network, an interfaith effort against human trafficking supported both by Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Pope Francis.

I asked Father Currer if the joint fundraising effort was designed to mitigate the potentially negative ecumenical impact of an Anglican-Roman Catholic showdown.

“Normally I am in the business of finding agreement with the Anglicans, not beating them. That’s not the way forward,” he responded.

The Vatican XI — captained by Father Currer and including seminarians from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — has a total of four matches scheduled for their September “Tour of Light” in England. At a Vatican news conference yesterday, they announced one that’s creating quite a buzz: A Sept. 17 match against the team of the Royal Household of Windsor Castle, one of the residences of Queen Elizabeth II.

Father Currer isn’t sure yet if the match will take place on the castle grounds, but “it is not an unusual thing for a stately home to have a cricket site.”

No word yet on whether there will be royal spectators.

The pope stopped outside their house

VATICAN CITY — Pamela Mauro thought it was unlikely Pope Francis would stop at her house, “but seeing how he is, I decided to try anyway.”

Mauro’s parents, and her sister Roberta, who is severely disabled, live in Calabria, just outside Sibari on the main road Pope Francis traveled Saturday on his way to a Mass with an estimated 250,000 people.

She and her family put up big signs on the road, asking Pope Francis, “Stop.” Another said, “There’s an angel waiting for you here.” And yet another said, “Dear Pope, bless and embrace little Roberta.”

Shortly before the pope was due to pass, the family went to the edge of the road, brining Roberta with them on a reclining wheelchair.

Pope Francis did indeed stop his car. He got out of the car and blessed and caressed Roberta.

He blessed the others, shook hands, posed for photos and put up with some ear-piercing shouts of approval, mostly “Bravo, Francesco.”

The Italian newspaper Il Gazzettino posted a story and photographs on their website and Ivan Parfenie posted a video on YouTube.

Supreme Court’s inaction signals bad news for heavily indebted poor countries

A man walks next to his makeshift home in 2008 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by Argentina in a case in which a hedge fund has sued the country for $1 billion, meaning the country will be forced to turn over information about financial assets in New York banks and face the possibility of not providing development aid for the country's poorest residents. (CNS/Cezaro De Luca, EPA)

A man walks next to his makeshift home in 2008 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  (CNS/Cezaro De Luca, EPA)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision yesterday not to hear an appeal from Argentina after being sued by a hedge fund for $1 billion has upset advocates for debt relief.

The inaction by the Supreme Court lets two lower federal court rulings stand and Argentina now must turn over information about its U.S. bank holdings to the hedge fund.

Catholic News Service recently reported on the case and the work of Jubilee USA to advocate for debt relief for poor countries.

Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, told CNS this morning that the case means it is open season on the assets of other heavily indebted poor countries.

“It has incredible impacts in terms of how the financial system operates, how poor countries have the ability to become middle income countries,” he said. “There are few winners and lots of losers.

“A small group of hedge funds, less than 100 engage in this predatory behavior, are the winners. The losers, it’s most of us. The U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, legitimate Wall Street investors, who supported Argentina and any poor country that would qualify for debt relief are the losers,” LeCompte explained.

“It affects all of us because debt relief is brokered using U.S. taxpayer money. Essentially the ultimate money that these predatory hedge funds will collect is U.S. taxpayer money.”

Because the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, LeCompte fears that the floodgates could open for other hedge funds to recover the assets of defaulting countries to the detriment of poor citizens. He identified Ivory Coast, Zambia and some Eastern European countries as “on the chopping block.”

The Argentine case dates to 2001 when it defaulted on its loan payments and subsequently was sued by the hedge fund firm NML Capital. The hedge fund won in both in U.S. District Court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Argentina had resisted the requests and appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the matter.

The court offered no comment on its decision to decline the case.

Debt relief advocates call companies like NML Capital “vulture funds” because they swoop in to buy up debt for pennies on the dollar and then sue for full repayment. Some of the claims result in huge profits for the funds.

The International Monetary Fund, Wall Street firms and the governments of the U.S., France, Mexico and Brazil sided with Argentina because of the potential impact on debt restructuring programs, access to credit by poor countries and global financial stability.

“These are the actors that Pope Francis described as savage,” LeCompte said of the hedge funds. “These are the type of actors he was speaking about because these are people who profit off the backs of the poor.”

Lessons from a #WorldCup friendly

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON — Walking around the grounds of FedEx Field, I came to realize why sportscasters deemed the June 7 match between the Spanish national team and El Salvador a “friendly.”

Surrounded by fans sporting T-shirts, flags, and even instruments representing the colors of their favorite teams, I was amazed to see how many Salvadoran fans eagerly invited individuals sporting Spain’s red and yellow paraphernalia to chat about the upcoming game or share some prepared food.

Having grown up in a household that became visibly depressed and bitter after a favorite team lost a championship game, I could not understand what I was seeing. Why were fans of opposing camps becoming friends before one of the most publicized matches on the Road to Brazil? Although El Salvador is no longer eligible to play in the World Cup, didn’t these fans realize that they were associating with the enemy, the defending World Cup champions?

As I talked with many of the fans from both camps, I began to realize that the World Cup represents a chance to bond with people of all nations over a common love for the game of soccer.

Daniel Garcia-Donoso, assistant professor of Spanish at The Catholic University of America, explained how he is able to experience the same camaraderie that is maintained within his home country of Spain when he attends games like this.

“I am far away from my country, from Spain,” said Garcia. “I wear this jersey once or twice a year when watching the Spanish team, and I feel part of a community. I see other people wearing shirts from Spain or shirts from El Salvador, and we all form a community when we watch the game.”

Another Spanish fan, Daniel Lledo, shared similar sentiments.

“In a game like this, to be playing against El Salvador, our brothers from across the pond, it’s a friendly,” said Lledo. “Everyone is here to have fun and enjoy the game together.”

Salvadoran soccer fans gather outside Washington for a friendly with Spain before the World Cup. (CNS/TylerOrsburn)

Salvadoran soccer fans gather outside Washington for a friendly with Spain before the World Cup. (CNS/TylerOrsburn)

‘We want to be Barnabas’

NEW ORLEANS — At the June 11 opening Mass of the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in New Orleans, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the church leaders who had gathered for two and a half days of meetings “want to be Barnabas.”

By that, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, meant the bishops want to be men of encouragement to Catholics, society and each other.

St. Barnabas, whose feast day is celebrated June 11, was given the name Joseph at birth but then was renamed Barnabas by the early apostles after he sold his property and gave them the proceeds, the archbishop explained.

The new name, which he said means “son of encouragement,” aptly describes the characteristics of this early apostle who encouraged the Christian community and even introduced Saul — before he also had a name change to Paul — to this group. Barnabas also went on to Antioch to preach the Gospel message to an audience that was not very receptive.

Archbishop Kurtz said he and his fellow bishops in their time together in New Orleans want to focus on how they can encourage the faithful to take up the task of being new evangelists and to also consider how to encourage the larger society, noting that faith is good for everyone “not just the faithful.”

He added that bishops also need to encourage each other, pointing out that certain bishops “have that knack.”

In his case, the bishop who provided this constant encouragement — with a phone call, a note, or a pat on the back –  was the late Bishop David B. Thompson, who headed the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, from 1990-1999. He died last fall at the age of 90.

“He was a true friend,” the archbishop noted.

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond attends session on opening day of bishops' spring assembly. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

At the beginning of Mass, Archbishop Kurtz thanked New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond for the “truly warm New Orleans welcome,” which could very likely be interpreted literally that sunny and humid afternoon.

Archbishop Aymond indeed welcomed his fellow bishops to the city and St. Louis Cathedral, established as a parish in 1720. He also welcomed the city’s mayor, Mitch Landrieu, to the afternoon Mass.

A handful of protesters stood outside the cathedral prior to Mass holding signs in favor of women’s ordination to the priesthood. By the middle of Mass they were gone and the area outside the church was instead dotted with tourists taking pictures and children chasing each other.

 

It’s #TimetoAct to stem sexual violence in conflict

The four-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict kicked off today in London, and actress Angelina Jolie, special envoy to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was among celebrities participating. But although church officials were not in the spotlight, many religious groups are helping those facing sexual violence.

Women flee Nam Lim Pa village for the jungle in northern Myanmar in this 2011 handout photo released by the aid group Partners Relief and Development, which said government soldiers were committing serious human rights abuses, including rape, in a campaign against guerrillas. (CNS/Partners Relief and Development via Reuters)

Women flee Nam Lim Pa village for the jungle in northern Myanmar in this 2011 handout photo released by the aid group Partners Relief and Development, which said government soldiers were committing serious human rights abuses, including rape, in a campaign against guerrillas. (CNS/Partners Relief and Development via Reuters)

Nigel Baker, Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, highlighted the role of Catholic agencies in this blog.

“Very often it is the missionaries, religious sisters and organisations like Caritas Internationalis that are the most-trusted long-term partners for communities facing conflict and trauma, because of their long-term, unconditional presence on the ground,” he wrote.

Church workers have helped victims of sexual violence in places like Congo, where one nun has said the trauma to which women are subjected “cripples them in all their activities.” Pope Francis has met victims of human trafficking, often one of the side effects of conflict. And during war in places like Central African Republic, women risk rape to venture to the fields to get food for their families.

The summit has some good ambitions, including introduction of an international protocol that might or might not be enforceable. But as Britain’s Baker says: “Perhaps the most important role that Catholics can play is support for the survivor. This might be the moral support provided by awareness raising, and insisting that stigma must attach to the perpetrator, not the victim. Or that very basic, fundamental role of accompanying the survivor and their community during the essential post-trauma restorative process. At the level of global leadership, or through on the ground, sleeves-rolled-up activism, Catholic networks are well placed to make a difference. It’s #TimeToAct.”

 

 

Thy will be done…even on The Voice!

ROME — Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia’s landslide victory on The Voice of Italy last night wasn’t as big a surprise as much as what she did with her winner’s platform.

prize

She thanked everyone on the talent show for their help and support, but left her highest praise for God.

“My final and most important thanks go to the one who is up there,” she said to applause.

thank him

She said her presence on The Voice wasn’t to walk away a winner or a music star, but to show people a different kind of victory:

“My dream is to recite the Our Father together, maybe we can all hold each other’s hands and pray. I want Jesus to come right here inside!”

It left most people perplexed and unsure, but Sister Cristina was in charge, telling the band to strike up a soft melody to set the mood.

Half-joking, the MC said, “She’s taking over!” So he let her lead the prayer, but without the band.

Her rapper, atheist coach, J-Ax, warned her that he and the other bad-boy coach on stage, Piero Pelu, “will burst into flames.”

praying

“Oh, come on!” she replied. Once a lapsed Catholic herself, Sister Cristina wasn’t intimidated and off she went, leading people in prayer on the finale of the highly popular TV show.

The sister won 62% of the popular vote, crushing her closest competitor — a very talented hard rock singer, who did a pretty decent “Stairway to Heaven.”

 

Here are the four songs she sang last night.

The first, “Beautiful That Way,” is from the movie “Life is Beautiful.” J-Ax chose the tune, she said, because “I came in smiling and he wants me to end (the TV series) smiling.”

 

 

She did a duet with her coach called “Gli Anni — The Years” as a retrospective tribute to the past season together:

 

 

The third part was to sing a never-before-performed song. J-Ax gave Sister Cristina a rousing Italian tune called “Lungo la Riva — Along the Shore,” which was about going on a journey and following a light that will “lead me to you,” to which Sister Cristina always pointed to heaven:

 

 

The finale was a reprisal of the song each competitor performed for their first blind audition.

That first video of Sister Cristina doing Alicia Keys’ “No one,” garnered worldwide attention, including from Keys, who praised the sister’s performance.

J-Ax said that video, which has more than 51 million views, should be proof of the sister’s talent because “to paraphrase Elvis, 50 million people can’t be wrong!”

 

And what does the Vatican have to say?

Last night, during the competition, the head of the Pontifical Council for Culture tweeted a quote from an ancient Roman statesman, who was a Christian writer and great supporter of monastic communities:

 

“If we continue to commit injustice, God will leave us without music.”

 

And his advice?

This morning the cardinal tweeted a saying from Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav:

“Even if you can’t sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your home. But sing!”

 

 

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