In Italy, Halloween has barely crept into sight

ROME — In the United States, the start of the fall season brings not only cooler weather and spiced apple cider but the anticipation of Halloween, a holiday cherished by both children and adults. The commercialized activities of children dressing up as frightful creatures trick-o-treating or visiting haunted houses define Halloween in the US.

Pumpkins for sale in an outdoor market catering to foreigners in Rome. (CNS/Cindy Wooden)

Yet, as I walk down the streets of Rome, these images and decorations are absent from most storefronts and households. Imagine walking down the street in mid-October and not seeing jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, or witches? Only a few bakeries and bars decorate their stores with ghosts and pumpkins. Instead, Italians recognize the religious holiday of All Saints Day on Nov. 1st as the national holiday, preserving the true meaning of this religious holiday.

This year, All Saints Day falls on a Tuesday so today serves as a “bridge” holiday when all Italian schools are closed. Children, however, rarely spend this holiday finalizing their costumes or trick-or-treating. Although many English-speaking international schools hold small Halloween celebrations, they do not partake in typical Halloween parties held in the United States. Young Italians attend parties or stay out later on Monday night since they don’t have school on Tuesday, and other people use the four-day weekend as a chance to take a vacation.

Catholics around the world, including Italian Catholics, observe All Saints Day by attending Mass, praying the Litany of the Saints and lighting candles. On Nov. 2nd, All Souls Day, Italians remember their own loved ones who have passed and visit cemeteries and place flowers on graves of the deceased. These practices are more common in Italy as Italians have continued to preserve the religious meaning of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, resisting the commercialized aspects of the pagan holiday of Halloween.

Cardinal Turkson present at both 1986, 2011 Assisi meetings

ROME– As president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson played a major role in the organization of the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi held on Oct 27.

Cardinal Peter Turkson welcomes delegates to Assisi last week. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)

What many people do not know is that Cardinal Turkson served as a guide and translator for a traditional religious leader from Ghana, his home country, at the original World Day of Prayer for Peace convoked by Pope John Paul II in 1986.

The cardinal described that experience in an editorial in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, saying, “A scene remains vividly engraved in my mind: that man, another Togolese religious leader and myself, in a room, each one recollected in prayer.”

Here is the full text from Cardinal Turkson’s editorial in Saturday’s Osservatore Romano:

Twenty-five years ago, I served a traditional religious leader from Ghana as guide and translator and accompanied him throughout the World Day of Prayer for Peace convoked by Blessed Pope John Paul II. A scene remains vividly engraved in my mind: that man, another Togolese religious leader, and myself, in a room, each one recollected in prayer.

The 25th anniversary commemoration of that historic “first Assisi” had as its theme Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace. I could not help but be struck by the evolution, the development, which was taking place before my eyes on Thursday 27 October under the guidance of Pope Benedict XVI, and although there were many innovative elements, for me the most striking is expressed in the word pilgrimage.

The notion of pilgrimage, common to nearly all the world’s religions with non-religious examples as well, connotes the notion of a desire, an effort, a pursuit, a search, a yearning – and all of these in common with others who share the same – getting everyone involved into motion. Visibly and tangibly so, it was still dark on Thursday morning when we began gathering at the Vatican Train Station and boarded the special Frecciargento.

It would not have been a pilgrimage without prayer, which we find in the title, Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world. Prayer began already on the train as, here and there, one could notice a pilgrim discretely using a rosary or other traditional expression. In Assisi, after a frugal lunch in the Convent Refectory, everyone was invited to observe a time of quiet for personal reflection and prayer.

Another innovative contrast now emerges. Certainly in the Christian tradition and probably in many others, the most effective thing we can do for peace is to pray for conversion, beginning with the conversion of each one’s own heart. But “effective” is not the same as “active”. And in 2011, it seems to me that by going on pilgrimage together, all of us participated in a common quest and were together involved in the hard work of peace-making. Thus everyone testified in deed that it is possible to come and work together for a more just and solidary world.

In 1986 all the Heads of Delegation were religious leaders. There is no statistic to express what proportion of mankind they represented but certainly it was less than 100% as some who are not religious would not identify with the World Day of Prayer. In 2011, inviting a politician and three philosophers publicly declared not to be religious, the Holy Father deliberately included the whole of the human family. The quest for peace is a yearning of all hearts. For indeed, “now that vital goods shared by the entire human family are at stake,” the whole human family should come out and demonstrate.
From among the many Witnesses to Peace, what struck me was, above all, the humble truthfulness of the Holy Father who “as a Christian [admits] that in history there has been recourse to violence in the name of Christian faith. Shamefully, we recognize it.” Then the admission on the part of Julia Kristeva, spokesperson of agnostic humanism, of the need for “a new reflection on the choice and responsibility of motherhood. Secularization is today’s only civilization which has nothing to say about the reality of being a mother.” And then Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, denouncing the fact that the high level of unemployment among young people throughout the world is a great obstacle to a just peace.

“The genuine search for truth, the awareness of a common origin, a common earth, a common destination,” commented a thinker close to our Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “can really be the ground for a new era of durable harmony among all the nations.” Words to share, while remembering above all that, without God’s help, no authentic pilgrimage of peace is possible.

Catholic Charities USA makes top 10 in Philanthropy 400

This week the Chronicle of Philanthropy published it annual Philanthropy 400, those U.S. organizations that raised the most money in the last year. According to reporters Noelle Barton and Holly Hall, who wrote the piece accompanying the list, “America’s big charities expect fundraising to rise in 2011, but the increase won’t come close to making up what they lost in the downturn.”

Philanthropic giving in the U.S. still has yet to recover from the losses in the 2008 recession. Most of this year’s gains, they reported, were seen by international charities that receive in-kind gifts and by community foundations and organizations that receive donated stock.

“When those groups are excluded from analysis, the increase in gifts was flat,” they said.

Catholic or Catholic-related organizations in the Philanthropy 400, their ranking and their total 2010 gifts are:

10. Catholic Charities USA, $793,815,584

15. American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, $659,370,821

51. Catholic Relief Services, $294,287,000

78. University of Notre Dame, 221,615,902

110. Catholic Medical Mission Board, $177,207,054

144. Christian Appalachian Project, (Ky.), $131,586,590

147. Father Flanagan Boys’ Home (Neb.), $130,737,000

159. Boston College, $120,537,000

160. St. Mary’s Food Bank (Ariz.), $119,703,302

214. Georgetown University, $90,858,000

221. Catholic Healthcare West (Calif.), $86,286,000

288. Marquette University, $60,461,194

340. Covenant House, $51,195,438

394. Villanova University, $43,483,000

Catholic institutions that made last year’s list but fell from the top 400 this year are Fordham University, Le Moyne College and St. Louis University.

According to the report, “charities in the Philanthropy 400 are an important bellwether for the state of giving, and how American donors are responding to the bad economy. The nonprofits on the list raise $1 of every $4 contributed to nonprofit causes.”

Response from Sister Elizabeth Johnson to US bishops’ Committee on Doctrine’s latest statement

UPDATE: Cardinal Wuerl responds to charge bishops never were willing to meet with theologian.

Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, professor of systematic theology at Fordham University, responded this morning to the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine latest statement on her book “Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers of the Theology of God.” Here is her statement, which as of this writing is not available online. Go here to read our story detailing the bishop’s latest response to the book, and here to read their full text..

It is with sadness that I read the October statement of the Committee on Doctrine about my book, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers of the Theology of God (Continuum, 2007). My disappointment focuses on three issues: process, content and result.

First, process. In April the committee invited me to submit observations on their original statement (dated March 24, 2011), which had been composed without any discussion or foreknowledge on my part. My response was entitled “Observations” (printed in Origins 7/7/11). In it I posed important questions about the nature of faith, revelation, biblical language and theology itself, figuring that discussion on these fundamental matters might clarify the content of the book and where it had been misrepresented. Both publicly and privately I made clear my willingness to meet with Cardinal Wuerl and the committee to discuss these matters at any time.

The committee did not engage these questions. No invitation was forthcoming to meet and discuss with the committee in person. Moreover, in its new document the committee addresses none of these issues — not a single one. The opportunity to dialogue was bypassed. Despite the protocol “Doctrinal Responsibilities” (1989) approved by an overwhelming majority of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after consultation with the
Holy See, this committee for a second time has shown a lack of willingness to dialogue about such an important matter as the living God in whom we believe. It could have been so interesting and beneficial for the church.

Second, content. As a result of the lack of process, the October statement mainly reiterates the points made in the committee’s original statement. I appreciate that the new statement distinguishes between its criticism of the book and the intent of the author. It does correct some errors made in the committee’s original reading of my book, and the vituperative rhetoric has been toned down. Yet there is little movement in understanding.

For example, pointing to Jesus’ parable of the woman searching for her lost coin (Lk 15:8-10) , my “Observations” ask: Is the church not allowed to use the language of Jesus, who casts God the Redeemer in this female image? While admitting the “possibility”, the October statement draws from this question the “insinuation” that calling God “Father” obscures the truth about God, something the book never says. It further criticizes Quest for not making the trinitarian language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit more central, noting how necessary this is in the formula of baptism. What is so baffling here is that Quest agrees with the validity of trinitarian language. It spends a whole chapter describing how this language came about, exploring its meaning, and affirming its use in liturgical ritual. True, Quest also points out that Scripture offers a multitude of other ways to speak of God, such as the above parable. For some reason, this is not acceptable.

Remaining with what is apparently a propositional notion of revelation and faith, the statement reaffirms its earlier judgment. But as Scripture itself demonstrates and my simple “Observations” try to make clear, there is so much more richness to the picture. The content of the statement disappoints insofar as it ignores the breadth and depth of God’s self-gift in history (revelation) and the people’s living response (faith).

Third, result. This statement, like the first, continues to misrepresent the genre of the book, and in key instances misinterprets what it says. It faults Quest for what it does not say, as if the book were a catechetical text aiming to present the full range of Christian doctrine. It takes sentences and, despite my written  clarifications to the contrary, makes them conclude to positions that I have  not taken and would never take. The committee’s reading projects meanings,  discovers insinuations and otherwise distorts the text so that in some  instances I do not recognize the book I wrote. This October statement paints an  incorrect picture of the fundamental line of thought the book develops.

I am responsible for what I have said and written, and stand open to correction if this contradicts the faith. But I am not willing to take responsibility for what Quest does not say and I do not think.

To restate what I have maintained all along: The aim of this book is to explore many ways to think about the living God. Like the householder who brings out of the storeroom things new and old (Matt 13:52), theologians over the centuries have labored to seek understanding of faith that keeps pace with history. In that tradition, Quest for the Living God presents contemporary theologies from around the world which, listening to the belief and practice of people of the church, try to connect the truth of the living God with the thought forms and critical issues of our day. The book’s chapters clarify the new avenues of insight, rooted in Scripture: God as gracious mystery who is ever greater, ever nearer; the crucified God of compassion; the liberating God of life; God who acts womanish; who breaks chains of slavery; who accompanies the people in fiesta; the generous God of the religions; the Creator Spirit indwelling the evolving world; and Trinity, the living God of love.

I respectfully suggest that mapping these frontiers is a legitimate theological undertaking. Far from being contrary to the faith of the church, it is an exercise of that faith. I want to make it absolutely clear that nothing in this book dissents from the church’s faith about God revealed in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. The many new avenues of reflection signal, I think, the presence of the Spirit, alive and active, nourishing people in their hunger for God in our day. Of the thousands of messages I have received, one of the most poignant is from an elderly Catholic man who read it as part of a parish book club. The result? “Now I am no longer afraid to meet my Maker,” he said — a stunning testimony to the nonviolent appeal of the truth of the theologies presented in Quest.

To conclude: This book affirms that the living God is the holy mystery of Love who cannot be comprehensively expressed or contained in any words, no matter how beautiful, sacred, official or true. There is always more to discover, in prayer and in service with and for the suffering world. It would have been a blessing if the Committee on Doctrine and I could have found common ground for dialogue on at least this point.

I lament that this is not the case.

At this time I will make no further statements nor give any interviews.

Time to rid world of nuclear weapons, cardinal, ex-defense secretary say

Nuclear disarmament is a moral imperative that requires bold action on the part of the world’s military powers, an American cardinal and a  former Secretary of Defense told a forum sponsored by University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, and William Perry, who served as defense secretary from 1994 to 1997 under President Bill  Clinton and helped build the U.S. nuclear arsenal during the Cold War, said Oct. 25 that even though eliminating nuclear weapons around the world will be a tough challenge, it doesn’t mean world leaders shouldn’t try.

“The church … finds the nuclear status quo morally unacceptable,” Cardinal Mahony said, pointing to the need to begin moving toward a mutual, verifiable global ban on such weapons.

The cardinal, who has helped draft statements from the American bishops on the possession and use of nuclear weapons, expressed concern that despite the signing of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the U.S. and Russia early this year, thousands of missiles and bombs remain on alert.

Disarmament is “a moral imperative,” he said. “(The church) does reject the view that nuclear deterrence is the only option in the long term. Rather the church insists that nuclear disarmament, not nuclear deterrence, is a long-term basis for security.”

Perry has reversed course since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He said he has made it his life’s work to rid the world of nuclear weapons, no matter how small the steps that are taken.

Perry is known today as a member of the “gang of four,” which includes former statesmen Henry Kissinger, George P. Schultz and Sam Nunn, who in a series of op-ed pieces (here, here and here for starters) in The Wall Street Journal beginning in 2007 called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. The group subsequently formed the Nuclear Security Project, which produced a video titled “Nuclear Tipping Point” to bolster their stance.

Perry acknowledged that Iran and North Korea pose serious dangers if they are able to build nuclear arsenals and said the world must be vigilant when dealing with both nations.

Both speakers also cited several challenges ahead in a world still dependent on nuclear deterrence. Most notable perhaps, they said, is a complacent public which hardly concerns itself with the dangers that nuclear weapons pose. They also called for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, strengthening protections around nuclear materials and implementation of a nuclear fissile material treaty.

“In the end it requires something more: a rejection of the sin of despair that we can never escape the nuclear predicament we find ourselves in,” Cardinal Mahony said. “We must embrace the virtue of hope. We must not be naïve about the daunting challenges involved in moving to nuclear zero.”

American Catholicism: Bigger than a blog post

There are probably as many ways to tease out the data from National Catholic Reporter’s latest survey of American Catholics’ attitudes and beliefs as there are, well, American Catholics.

Michelle Dillon, who chairs the sociology department at the University of New Hampshire and serves on the survey team, said at an Oct. 24 news conference to release the findings that the church did not seem to be discussing its long-range future — much less have a plan in place. “Who’s doing the talking?” she asked.

Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and another member of the survey team, expressed concern for the future of American Catholicism — especially for the growing numbers of Hispanic Catholics — without the network of Catholic schools that were in place even one generation ago.

But William V. D’Antonio, a sociologist based at The Catholic University of America, said one prescription may be small Christian communities. “There are small Christian communities at Yale and at Catholic University,” he said. He noted there are some areas of the country where Hispanic Catholics flock to small Christian communities.

Gautier pondered the dwindling number of priests at the news conference. Catholics in the survey were aware, she said, that the number of priests was shrinking, but a clear majority reported that they had not been personally affected by the shortage. “That’s because they’re being stretched thinner and thinner and thinner” with multiparish clergy assignments, Gautier said. With the remaining priests getting older, she added, “something’s got to give.” Gautier also blanched at reports, not part of the NCR survey, that some dioceses are requiring church construction projects to offer seating for 1,300 persons.  “How are people going to know each other in that kind of situation?” she asked aloud.

Still, Gautier marveled at how ethnic Catholics have not only been assimiliated into American society, but within the church itself, moving to suburbs, exurbs and areas of the American South and West that formerly held very few Catholics.

D’Antonio said the 1945-65 era was the period of “American Catholic triumphalism,” as the parish and school networks were arguably at their strongest and Catholics started being accepted into all facets of American life.  This included the election of John Kennedy as the nation’s first Catholic president. “Jack Kennedy’s election meant everything to us,” said D’Antonio, who was part of the pre-Vatican II era of U.S. Catholics, which now account for only about 10 percent of the nation’s Catholic population.

But NCR editor-at-large Tom Roberts said thost post-World War II decades were an anomaly. “Nothing like it ever happened before, and nothing like it is going to happen again,” he said. U.S. Catholics, he added, “have to start thinking about what kind of church they want for the 21st century.”

Vatican calls for global authority on economic issues

Wall Street sign near New York Stock Exchange (CNS photo/Reuters)

UPDATED STORYVatican document calls for global authority to regulate markets

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican document called for the gradual creation of a “world political authority” with broad powers to regulate financial markets and rein in the “inequalities and distortions of capitalist development.”

The document said the current global financial crisis has revealed “selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a great scale.” A supranational authority, it said, is needed to place the common good at the center of international economic activity.

The 41-page text was titled, “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority.” Prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, it was released Oct. 24 in several languages, including a provisional translation in English.

The document cited the teachings of popes over the last 40 years on the need for a universal public authority that would transcend national interests. The current economic crisis, which has seen growing inequality between the rich and poor of the world, underlines the necessity to take concrete steps toward creating such an authority, it said.

One major step, it said, should be reform of the international monetary system in a way that involves developing countries. The document foresaw creation of a “central world bank” that would regulate the flow of monetary exchanges.

The document also proposed:

— Taxation measures on financial transactions. Revenues could contribute to the creation of a “world reserve fund” to support the economies of countries his by crisis, it said.

— Forms of recapitalization of banks with public funds that make support conditional on “virtuous” behavior aimed at developing the real economy.

— More effective management of financial “shadow markets” that are largely uncontrolled today.

Such moves would be designed to make the global economy more responsive to the needs of the person, and less “subordinated to the interests of countries that effectively enjoy a position of economic and financial advantage,” it said.

In making the case for a global authority, the document said the continued model of nationalistic self-interest seemed “anachronistic and surreal” in the age of globalization.

“We should not be afraid to propose new ideas, even if they might destabilize pre-existing balances of power that prevail over the weakest,” it said.

The “new world dynamics,” it said, call for a “gradual, balanced transfer of a part of each nation’s powers to a world authority and to regional authorities.”

“In a world on its way to rapid globalization, the reference to a world authority becomes the only horizon compatible with the new realities of our time and the needs of humankind,” it said. Helping to usher in this new society is a duty for everyone, especially for Christians, it said.