Oprah discovers a book CNS readers knew about in 2008

Oprah’s latest book club selection, “Say You’re One of  Them” by Jesuit Father Uwem Akpan, should sound familar to CNS readers.  BOOK-AFRICAWhen Elizabeth Rackover reviewed it for us last year, she found some of the Nigerian priest’s short stories difficult to read and said she was reminded of something the Rev. William Sloane Coffin had once written:

“When they see the innocent suffering, every time they lift their eyes to heaven and say, ‘God, how could you let this happen?’ it’s well to remember that exactly at that moment God is asking exactly the same question of us: ‘How could you let this happen?'”

Confessions of a former FBI intern

As a young man James Carroll, the Boston Globe columnist, author and former priest, stepped into his father’s shoes while studying at Georgetown University in Washington. For one summer, he was an FBI intern; his dad served in the FBI until 1948, at which point he was commissioned as an intelligence officer by the Air Force. One day the FBI interns were invited to a meet-and-greet with the U.S. attorney general.

At the meet-and-greet Carroll took his place in the receiving line until he got to shake hands with the attorney general, who asked  him his name, where he was studying and what he planned to do in the future. Carroll told the attorney general that once his internship was over, he was going to a seminary to study for the priesthood.

The attorney general replied, “Get out in the streets with the Protestants, and fight for civil rights. We don’t have enough Catholics out there. The Protestants are taking the lead on this.”

The year was 1962. The attorney general was Robert Kennedy.

Hearing Kennedy speak about civil rights — and not anti-communism or any of a host of other issues — as the leading cause for the United States at that time “validated my calling,” Carroll recalled during a Sept. 30 symposium on Catholics and the media. “It showed me what I needed to do.”

Carroll served as a civil rights and a community organizer in Washington and New York. He left the priesthood in 1974, five years after his ordination, to become a writer.

Year for Priests: A reflection on black spirituality

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

As a result of the current Synod of Bishops for Africa in Rome, there is a renewed interest in the African church.  While many Americans feel, at best, a distant connection to this culture, I have spent several years immersed in the African-American community and believe much can be learned from their expression of faith and spirituality.

Prior to my association with the Basilians, I taught in a high school that was predominantly black (comprised of slave descendants, Africans, Haitians and some South Americans).  Eventually, I also found myself worshiping in this community and sought to learn about its spirituality.  As an extrovert who often felt out of sync with the more subdued liturgies to which I was accustomed, I embarked on a quest to find an expression of faith that would fulfill and challenge me.  I found all that I was looking for and more in the black Catholic Church.

In the U.S. bishops’ document, What We Have Seen and Heard, black spirituality is defined as joyful, holistic, communal and contemplative — each one representing a “pillar” of this expression.  Each is combined with a rich expression of song, a deep-rooted love for the Word of God, and a sense of urgency to evangelize.  Underneath all of this lies a deep sense of the paschal mystery.  I found that black spirituality is seemingly synonymous with suffering and the ability to overcome it.

One of my spiritual guides taught me that black spirituality is an expression more than a thought.  It is a song before a letter.  It is a movement before a stillness.  Black spirituality, as I understand it thus far, is neither accepting nor rejecting — it is simply being.

Of course, I do not believe these traits are exclusive to one spirituality or another, but I do believe uniqueness is often created by emphasis.  People are longing to hear a joyful noise again, to express their thankfulness to their Creator with their whole being. They long for a community which accepts — rather than judges — them where they are, and they long to find an authentic understanding and meaning to our suffering.  While I am not naive enough to believe these ideals can always be found in any one place, I do believe that the expression of faith found in the black Catholic Church fills many of the voids we desperately long to have filled.

In the end, I believe our greatest contributions come from neither black nor white, but from the gray — our ability to share and accept these gifts from each other.  During my experience in African-American communities, I met many who were skeptical of me because of the harm they experienced from people imposing one expression of faith on another.  As a result, gifts are kept hidden and conversations remain mute.  People are afraid of losing all that they have gained or what new ideas may be found, but I see so much hope and joy in the area between African and European.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

Click here for more in this series.

Alaska archbishop finds Scouting has a spiritual side too

Scouting doesn’t get a lot of recognition these days. Whether it’s a wilderness adventure or learning a new skill, the diverse programs of the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts offer young people the chance to become better prepared for life.

Surely there are a lot of advantages to Scouting and one bishop is investing some of his valuable time and energy in promoting this  worthwhile activity.

A recent story in the Catholic Anchor, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, looks at the work of Archbishop Roger Schweitz, a former Scout himself, who believes Scouting for both boys and girls has a definite spiritual side in addition to the fun activities.

Knights on horseback at papal audience

VATICAN CITY — A group of Knights of Malta and members of the Italian forestry police from the region around L’Aquila — devastated by an earthquake last April — rode their horses the 70 miles from L’Aquila to the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square this morning.

L'Aquila Knights

(Cindy Wooden/CNS)

Father Romano Damy, the knights’ chaplain, said the group left L’Aquila last Thursday and mounted their pilgrimage to thank the pope for visiting the region a few weeks after the quake.

Year for Priests: A hospital bedside marriage

By Maryknoll Father Michael J. Snyder
One in a series

DAR ES SALAAM, Tananzia — I had been away from Tanzania for one month enjoying a vacation with family at home.  The highlight of the vacation was presiding at the marriage ceremony for my niece.  Joined by over 200 guests, it was a great occasion for family and friends at a beautiful church and reception hall in New Jersey.  It was a day filled with celebration and joy.

Upon returning to Dar es Salaam I continued with ministry at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences where I serve as the Catholic chaplain.  On my first Sunday back, after celebrating Mass at our university hospital chapel, there were some people who wished to see me.  They had a sick person who they feared was in danger of death.

The patient was a woman in her mid-30s.  Her husband and two relatives came with a request.  The woman, Anna, has suffered with stomach cancer for several years.  She has received treatments and has been in and out of hospitals throughout the ordeal.  Although they have one child, Anna and her husband, Valentine, have not yet had their marriage blessed in the church, a condition so common in Tanzania today.  Valentine, fearing that Anna may soon die, came to request that I come to the ward and bless the marriage.

After gathering some details I went with Valentine to see Anna.  She was indeed very ill, nothing but bare bones.  But, she was conscious and alert.  I asked Valentine to sit on the bed next to his wife.  I explained to Anna that I had come to bless her marriage.  She was grateful.  Some nurses gathered around the bed and, together with the two family members, I conducted a marriage service.  While beginning the prayers in Swahili I had an immediate flashback to my niece’s wedding of just one week ago!  As Valentine and Anna exchanged their vows I could feel a lump in my throat.  When it came to rings, of course there weren’t any.  So I did some quick thinking and improvised, asking that each simply repeat these words: “Anna (Valentine), accept my word of promise as a sign of my love and fidelity to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The two weddings were so different.  Instead of a beautiful church in New Jersey, our service was conducted in a hospital ward in Dar es Salaam on a bed with sheets stained with Anna’s pain and suffering.  From the richest to among one of the poorest countries in the world I was struck by the contrast!  Throughout the service I sensed the tears coming to my eyes and had to work to hold them back.  After the wedding ceremony, Anna and Valentine received holy Communion for the first time since their marriage eight years ago.  As the service ended, despite the contrasting scenes, I realized there was something so much in common with my niece’s wedding: it was that moment of great joy and celebration when Anna and Valentine were announced husband and wife.  As they held hands on the bed, those present shrilled the sound of ululation, the traditional African expression of joy. Anna’s constant physical pain was suddenly eased by the joy of love shared between them.  In taking care of his wife, Valentine was a living witness to the promises they shared: “I promise to be faithful to you in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.  I will love and cherish you all the days of my life.”

Two days later, Anna passed away.  How grateful I am for this brief encounter with Anna and Valentine.  May she rest in peace!

Fr. Michael J. Snyder is a member of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, commonly known as Maryknoll. A native of New Jersey, he was ordained in 1979 and assigned to work in Tanzania, East Africa. In addition to various parish assignments, Fr. Mike served as the regional superior for the Maryknoll priests, brothers, and lay missioners working in Tanzania (1989-1995). In 1996 he returned to the U.S. to serve on the General Council for Maryknoll until 2002. Fr. Mike also served as vocation director for Maryknoll for seven years. In 2007 he returned for missionary service in Tanzania where he resides today.

Click here for more in this series.

An ‘A’ for accuracy?

During a Sept. 30 symposium in Washington on how self-described progressive Catholics can reframe media coverage of church issues, speakers talked about one thorny media problem for Catholics of all stripes: the shrinking number of reporters with religion as their beat.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, of Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, sends a weekly e-mail to religion reporters. He commented that every week “I get more and more bouncebacks” as reporters’ work-based e-mail accounts have been deactivated now that they no longer work for the publication.

Father Reese noted that some reporters newly assigned to cover religion are unfamiliar with knowledge of basic church matters that with other writers would have been taken for granted. When being interviewed by one scribe — the name of the news outlet will be withheld here since we are confident the writer continues to learn on the job — Father Reese said he was asked “what the difference is between a Jesuit priest and a diocesan priest.” Later in the interview, when Father Reese made a reference to “St. Peter, the first pope,” the writer asked him, “And what was his last name?”