Summer reading list with a Catholic twist

Looking for a Catholic book to read during this summer? A Catholic online bookstore — Aquinas and More Catholic Goods — based in Colorado Springs, Colo., has just launched its fourth annual summer book club.

Ian Rutherford, the bookstore’s president, said the idea came from summer reading lists of secular bookstores and libraries and also because summer is typically a slow time for Catholic store sales.

The first year of the book club, the store provided a list of 10 books and urged people to vote for their top three. Back then, a few hundred participants voted; this year more than 1,000 people submitted ideas for the summer reading selection and the 12 finalists are posted on the website. The site is once again having readers vote for their top three.

The store is providing online study guides for the books and encouraging people to start parish discussion groups.

For the first time, the list — of fiction and nonfiction titles –also includes selections for teens and children.

“Many Catholics are not aware that there are extraordinary works of fiction on Catholic themes which are edifying, informative, engaging and inspiring. At the same time, fiction is not everyone’s cup of tea so the summer reading program offers a solid selection of books in the subject areas of education, history, comparative religion, military interest, family issues, popular culture and more,” said Rutherford.

Beneath the mundane in Rome, Christian treasures

The insurance company building over the Catacombs of St. Thecla (CNS/Paul Haring)

UPDATE: Full story.

ROME — From the truly horrible 1970s building housing an insurance company upstairs, you’d never know that the oldest paintings of the Apostles Peter, Paul, John and Andrew are in the basement.

A mosaic floor in the pagan necropolis near the Catacombs of St. Thecla (CNS/Paul Haring)

Going down a few steps from the street, visitors see the remains of a pagan necropolis.

The Italian government controls that part of the underground complex and has restored some of the mosaic floors of the burial chambers.

A few yards further into the basement, down a dirt slope, visitors enter the mini Basilica of St. Thecla where Christians would celebrate Mass when visiting the tombs of their loved ones or when they came on pilgrimage to Rome.

The Catacombs of St. Thecla are filled with corridors lined with niches for simple burials and cubicles where the families of the wealthy were interred. There also are several large burial chambers with niches scaling the walls.

After a press conference presenting the restoration of a frescoed cubicle, now known as the Cubicle of the Apostles, the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology allowed several dozen reporters and photographers to visit the catacombs, which are not open to the public.

Haiti’s slave revolt and its role in helping US become world power

Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Haiti’s long rebuilding process following the Jan. 12 earthquake is just beginning, as Catholic News Service reported June 8 after an interview with the country’s ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph.

The reconstruction effort received a boost June 17 when the 26-member Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission — co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton, U.N. special envoy for Haiti, and Haiti Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive — met for the first time to approve several projects.

Among them was a plan to build 10 storm shelters in the quake-ravaged communities of Leogane and Jacmel, a loan program for small businesses and $45 million for the Haitian government to cover some of its $175 million budget shortfall.

Through Clinton’s role, the U.S. continues its long involvement in Haiti’s history. Since Haiti evicted the French in 1803 and revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the country’s independence Jan. 1, 1804, to conclude the world’s only successful slave revolt, Haitian and American history have been intertwined.

Whenever he can — as he did during the CNS interview — Joseph likes to point out that it was his countrymen’s accomplishment that set the U.S. on the road to becoming the world’s leading economic power.


By allowing President Thomas Jefferson to complete the Louisiana Purchase, the largest real estate deal in U.S. history at 5 million acres.

The sale was finalized April 30, 1803, as French forces were succumbing to yellow fever and being overrun by fierce resistance from freed slaves. Napoleon Bonaparte, who had engineered a coup to overthrow the revolutionary government in France, agreed to the $15 million deal ($11.25 million in cash and $3.75 million in debt cancellation) to help refill his country’s coffers. At $3 per acre, the acquisition doubled the size of the U.S. by adding an area that encompassed all or part of 13 states.

Bonaparte said the purchase immediately elevated the young U.S. to the status of world power.

The back story finds that France itself was undergoing its own revolution as the Haitian slaves rose up against their French masters. The Haitian revolution that started in 1791 largely paralleled the French Revolution (1789-99). During that period the French legislature freed slaves throughout the French empire, much to the dislike of some elite.

After gaining their freedom, the Haitian slaves on the island of Saint Domingue (the French name for the country) wanted their independence and fought the French (and the Spanish and English as well) to gain it.

As Joseph says, if it hadn’t been for the French being preoccupied with its own battle in Haiti/Saint Domingue, it’s possible Napoleon might not have sold France’s land holdings in North America to the U.S.

Archbishop lauds day of prayer for oil spill recovery June 20

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond has applauded Louisiana legislators for declaring a day of prayer for recovery from the oil spill June 20. “This is a public sign of our humble dependence upon God,” he said in a June 17 statement.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to those killed in the explosion. Likewise we offer prayerful consolation to their families and friends,” he said. “The oil spill has very challenging effects on many people in our community, epecially the fishing industry, oil industry and related works. We also need to be attentive to the impact on our environment and economy.”

He urged all to pray to God for reassurance and “to walk with us in this very challenging time.”

“We pray that: we may not lose hope; we will persevere in tough times; we will see God’s compassion and love in these trying circumstances; God will lead scientists and engineers to a permanent solution soon; we will bear this cross with trust; we will reach out in prayer and with financial resources to those whose livelihood and family life have been affected.”

Archbishop Aymond said that Catholic Charities of the archdiocese will continue to aid those suffering from the disaster with food, counseling and other services — on an emergency basis and long-term.

“God never abandons us but walks with us during this challenging time in the history of our state and nation,” he said.

Georgetown professor receives CTSA’s John Courtney Murray Award for excellence

Father Peter Phan (CNS/Rick DelVecchio, Catholic San Francisco)

Father Peter Phan, professor of Catholic social thought at Georgetown University, received the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society of America during the organization’s annual convention in Cleveland June 12.

The award is CTSA’s highest honor.

A native of Vietnam who emigrated as a refugee to the United States in 1975, Father Phan, is widely recognized in theological circles for contributions in a wide range of systematic theology topics including ecclesiology, Christology, the Trinity, race, eschatology, liberation theology, popular religion and piety, ecumenism and Catholic social thought.

As the award was announced during the society’s annual banquet, Father Phan was recognized for his breadth of expertise in systematic theology as well has for his original contributions in Catholic theology.

In addition, his record includes 12 monographs, 11 edited works, 35 encyclopedia entries, 62 book chapters, 93 referred articles, 104 book reviews and numerous articles for publications such as America, Commonweal and U.S. Catholic.

Father Phan’s career has included stops at the University of Dallas and The Catholic University of America before his arrival at Georgetown. Formerly a Salesian, he is a priest in the Diocese of Dallas.

It should be noted that the 67-year-old priest’s career is not without controversy. His 2004 book on religious pluralism, “Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue,” was found to contain “pervading ambiguities and equivocations that could easily confuse or mislead the faithful,” by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

The December 2007 decision by the bishops’ committee followed an evaluation of the book at the request of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When asked to respond to concerns raised by the congregation and the bishops, Father Phan declined.

Quoting frequently from the book, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and “Dominus Iesus,” the 2000 declaration of the Vatican doctrinal congregation on the “unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church,” the committee said Father Phan’s book “could leave readers in considerable confusion as to the proper understanding of the uniqueness of Christ.”

Episode 2 of ‘Indiana Jones and the Christian Catacombs’

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s “Indiana Jones” squad is at it again.

Restorer uses a laser on the image of St. Paul in the Catacomb of St. Thecla. (Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology)

A restorer uses a laser on the image of St. Paul in the Catacombs of St. Thecla. (Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology)

Bringing out the big guns — using lasers instead of brushes and trowels — to clean crusty walls and ceilings of Rome catacombs closed to the public, Vatican archaeologists have made what they describe as more “surprising discoveries.”

They haven’t, however, given much information about what those discoveries are. The world will have to wait until next Tuesday, when the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology holds a press conference at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The press advisory said that a year after the commission announced the discovery of the “oldest known image of St. Paul” in the catacombs of St. Thecla, the commission will share “further surprising discoveries made by restorers in the ‘cubiculum’ of the same catacombs. Using laser technology, other images of saints have been discovered, likewise the oldest of their kind, on the ceiling of the same area.”

A “cubiculum” is a small room carved out of the rock that served as a chapel or burial chamber.

Last year the commission announced the discovery of a fourth-century portrait of St. Paul in the catacombs close to the basilica, which is named after him. According to tradition, his bones are preserved under the basilica’s main altar.

The image of a bald man with a stern expression, a high forehead, large eyes, distinctive nose and a dark tapered beard tipped experts off that it was St. Paul because it matched images of him from later centuries, the newspaper said.

Image of St. Peter in the Catacombs of St. Thecla. (Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology)

Image of St. Peter in the Catacombs of St. Thecla. (Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology)

In early June, the Vatican newspaper hinted that the new discoveries would include portraits of other apostles (it already released a photo of a portrait of St. Peter from the same catacomb).

The paper also said the work — including the embracing of new technologies — is a direct result of the re-organization of the pontifical commission under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope: Sex abuse scandal didn’t ruin Year for Priests

VATICAN CITY — Celebrating the closing Mass for the Year for Priests this morning, Pope Benedict highlighted the crucial role of the priesthood in modern times and begged forgiveness for clerical sexual abuse, saying it was a call to purification.

In his homily, the pope began by underlining a point he has repeatedly stressed, that the priesthood is not just another job:

The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ’s name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life.

He said the sex abuse scandal requires repentance and strict measures to prevent such sins in the future. But the scandal did not ruin the Year for Priests, he said:

Together with the whole Church we wanted to make clear once again that we have to ask God for this vocation. We have to beg for workers for God’s harvest, and this petition to God is, at the same time, his own way of knocking on the hearts of young people who consider themselves able to do what God considers them able to do. It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the “enemy”; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers. Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in “earthen vessels” which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God.

The pope said priests must be aware that for many people today, God is no longer a focus of their lives:

There was still a recognition that the world presupposes a Creator. Yet this God, after making the world, had evidently withdrawn from it. The world itself had a certain set of laws by which it ran, and God did not, could not, intervene in them. God was only a remote cause. Many perhaps did not even want God to look after them. They did not want God to get in the way. But wherever God’s loving concern is perceived as getting in the way, human beings go awry. It is fine and consoling to know that there is someone who loves me and looks after me. But it is far more important that there is a God who knows me, loves me and is concerned about me. “I know my own and my own know me” (Jn 10:14), the Church says before the Gospel with the Lord’s words. God knows me, he is concerned about me. This thought should make us truly joyful. Let us allow it to penetrate the depths of our being. Then let us also realize what it means: God wants us, as priests, in one tiny moment of history, to share his concern about people. As priests, we want to be persons who share his concern for men and women, who take care of them and provide them with a concrete experience of God’s concern. Whatever the field of activity entrusted to him, the priest, with the Lord, ought to be able to say: “I know my sheep and mine know me”.

Sometimes, he said, the priest must protect his flock with “rod and staff”:

“Your rod and your staff – they comfort me”: the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church’s ministry, of the priest’s ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd’s rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love. Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented. As if it were no longer God’s gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd’s staff – a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord.

He ended by asking priests to bring waters of life to a thirsty world:

Every Christian and every priest should become, starting from Christ, a wellspring which gives life to others. We ought to be offering life-giving water to a parched and thirsty world. Lord, we thank you because for our sake you opened your heart; because in your death and in your resurrection you became the source of life. Give us life, make us live from you as our source, and grant that we too may be sources, wellsprings capable of bestowing the water of life in our time. We thank you for the grace of the priestly ministry. Lord bless us, and bless all those who in our time are thirsty and continue to seek. Amen.