Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

I hope all of you have a happy and blessed New Year! Have fun tonight (not too much, OK?) and remember--tomorrow's a Holy Day, so get thee to a Church! Or go tonight, like I am. ;-) I've left plenty of reading for y'all, but I'll probably post on Monday....and once the holidays are over (also Monday), we're back to normal posting schedule. Enjoy!

Popcorn time: Memoirs of a Geisha

(like the new movie headline? ;) ;) )

Just saw the film adaptation of one of my favorite novels, Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha , which I enjoyed, although I found it very helpful to have read the book first. I saw it with three girlfriends, none of which had read the novel, so I got some good feedback from them about what they wish they would have known, or questions they had, about the film after they saw it. So this is a three parter: a synopsis, the review, and then the FAQs.

Synopsis: Young Chiyo and her sister, Satsu, are sold by their parents to become geishas in the Japanese city of Gion, to geishas what Broadway is to singers and dancers. The sisters are sure they will be housed together, but the geisha house (or okiya ) only take Chiyo, while her sister is taken to another part of town (we discover later that she has been sold as prostitute). Chiyo meets Mother and Auntie, who run the house, and she is enlisted as a servant with another girl, Pumpkin, until she is old enough to attend Geisha classes and begin her training. As Geisha means "artist", these classes consist of dance practice, training in traditional Japanese instruments, and tea ceremony (these are described in detail in the novel but are brushed over quickly in the film). Chiyo manages to fall out of favor with Mother, however, when she tries to escape with her sister and ruins a kimono that belongs to Mameha, the greatest geisha in Gion, at the urging of Chiyo's enemy in the house, Hatsumomo. Hatsumomo is one of Gion's best geisha, unendingly jealous of Mameha, and hates Chiyo because she sees in her a potential rival, so she does everything in her power to ruin the young girl's future. As a maid, Chiyo begins to despair of her life after her training is ended until she meets the chairman (Ken Wanatabe), who shows her kindness and treats her with respect. She falls instantly in love and vows to one day become a geisha so she can be around him. Unexpectedly, Mameha takes Chiyo under her wing, trains her as a geisha, and gives her the new name Sayuri. As Sayuri, she becomes the top geisha in Gion, much to the displeasure of Hatsumomo, who eventually goes mad after setting a fire in the okiya and leaves the family. The rest of the film charts Sayuri's attempts to capture the chairman; the loss of her virginity to the highest bidder; the harsh treatment she endures at the hands of men, who think her nothing more than a prostitute, and other geisha; and the coming and aftermath of World War II and the effect it has on geisha culture and Sayuri's life. I'm not going to give away the ending, but that's a brief sketch.

Review: I really enjoyed this film, especially the cinematography, scenery, costumes (by Colleen Atwood, who also designed for Chicago ), and the wonderful score by John Williams that features Itzhak Perlman on the violin and Yo-Yo Ma on the cello. It's simply divine to listen to (and has been nominated for a Golden Globe). The pacing is good (at times, too good), and the acting excellent, especially in Ken Wanatabe, Zizi Zhang (who plays adult Chiyo/Sayuri), and Michelle Yeoh, who plays Hatsumomo. The film captures the heart and spirit of the novel wonderfully without too much attention to following Golden's dense plot like a BBC serial. Enjoyable, adult romance which I found quite satisfying. Some of the actors' accents, however, are difficult to understand, so some knowledge of the story is helpful in deciphering what's happening.

1. Why are Chiyo and Satsu sold? The girls are sold because their mother is dying and their father is in his 60s and is a fisherman. He has no sons, and with his wife's death imminent, he is worried about how to provide for the girls, since he does not see himself living much longer than his wife. Selling the girls will not only give him some money to provide for his wife's burial, but will also enable to the girls to get some sort of education and have skills to make a living upon. (He probably did not picture Satsu's life as a prostitute...he probably thought they'd both be sold into geisha houses and trained.) This did actually happen to girls in the countryside of Japan in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

2. What happens to Satsu? she ends up becoming a prostitute and does eventually escape Gion. We aren't sure what happens to her after that.

3. What's a geisha's debt? How is it acquired? An apprentice geisha, before she makes her debut, already owes the ohiya a lot of money--the money it cost to acquire her, money for her lessons, clothes, food, doctor's visits, etc. Since chiyo has broken her arm and damaged an expensive kimono, she is more in debt that most. That is why Mameha makes the deal with Mother about her fees. There's no way Mother, who is very stingy, would have permitted the girl to acquire more debt with the uncertainy of her future earnings and ability to pay it off.

4. What's mizuage? a mizuage was a way of "selling" an apprentice geisha's virginity--it was also a way to make a lot of money for the geisha and pay down her debts. In the film, Chiyo's mizuage sets a record for being the highest ever, with Dr. Crab finally taking the honors. It was considered a great honor in some circles of men to "deflower" a virgin girl and was very ceremonialized in its actions. The boxes that Mameha has Chiyo present to Nobu, the Baron, and Dr. Crab are ekubo cakes, which symbolize that a girl is ready for her mizuage and that she is inviting these men to "bid" for it. The bidding was done through a third party.

5. What exactly is a geisha? First and foremost, they are not prostitutes. As stated above, geisha means "artist", and so the women were trained as entertainers (like lounge singers today, or something). They knew the ancient arts of dance and music, as well as tea ceremony, and were taught how to conduct gracious conversation and keep things pleasant at a party. For men to hire geisha to entertain a party was a display of wealth and taste, especially if they were top geisha, like Mameha and Sayuri. There were some sexual relations involved--the Baron is Mameha's danna but sex was not the top priority. Not all parties were dance and tea ceremony, however; the island party at the end of the film demonstrates a "coarser" type of event.

6. What's a danna? a danna is a geisha's patron. He pays for her apartment, lesson fees, and other things she may need. He also gives her gifts, such as kimono, and other things. Sex is involved, usually, but that's not the primary focus. A geisha is essentially a high-class mistress when she has a danna , and these men usually provided the financial independence necessary for geisha to move out of their okiyas and set up their own housekeeping, like Mameha does in the film. In the novel, Sayuri also has a danna , a general.

7. Why does Chiyo change her name? It's part of the right of passage of becoming a geisha, much like people taking names at Confirmation, or things like that. It demonstrates that she is a full-fledged geisha now. Usually the name was derived from their big sister's name, to help her 'establish' herself, but in Sayuri's case all the names with part of Mameha's were considered "inauspicious" (geisha are very superstitious), so her name is different.

8. How do you know all this? :-D I've read a lot! I've read the novel several times, but also the book Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki, whose life was the inspiration for Golden's novel and who Golden himself interviewed several times in the course of writing. She talks very candidly about her life as a geisha and the geisha culture, and I found it very interesting and educational. I highly recommend it if you're interested in this culture.

B XVI: JP II's last message--suffering has meaning

Benedict XVI said that the last lesson that Pope John Paul II left to humanity was to show with his example that suffering has meaning. On Thursday, when reviewing with the Roman Curia the key events of 2005 for the Church, Benedict XVI began by reliving the last days of John Paul II. "No Pope has left us an amount of texts as he has left us; previously, no Pope was able to visit, as he did, the whole world and speak directly to the people of all the continents," Benedict XVI said. "But at the end, he was given a path of suffering and silence. … "With his words and deeds, he gave us great things; but no less important is the lesson he gave us from the chair of suffering and silence." The German Pontiff said that John Paul II "left us an interpretation of suffering which is not a theological or philosophical theory, but a ripe fruit through his personal journey of suffering, undertaken by him with the support of faith in the crucified Lord." "This interpretation, which he had elaborated of the faith and which gave meaning to his suffering, lived in communion with that of the Lord, spoke through his silent suffering, transforming it into a great message," Benedict XVI continued. He said that, in the face of "the spectacle of the power of evil" in the 20th century, John Paul II answered the question that every man asks himself: "Is evil perhaps invincible? Is it the ultimate, authentic power of history?" "The power that puts a limit to evil is divine mercy," explained Benedict XVI. Likewise, divine mercy puts a limit "to violence, to the ostentation of evil." "The lamb is stronger than the dragon, we might say with Revelation," he added. Evil "also exists in the world to awaken love in us, which is giving of oneself," said Benedict XVI when touching on some of the ideas highlighted by John Paul II. "Surely we must do everything possible to attenuate suffering and prevent injustice which causes the suffering of the innocent," Benedict XVI added. "However, we must also do everything possible so that people will be able to discover the meaning of suffering and, in this way, be able to accept their own suffering and unite it to the suffering of Christ." At a time of much violence in the world, John Paul II "again showed us love and suffering at the service of others," Benedict XVI said. "He showed us, so to speak, 'live,' the Redeemer and redemption, and gave us the certainty that evil does not have the last word in the world."

Shakin' up the bishops (some of whom could use it...)

From the Herald Sun :

IT was always going to be a hard act to follow, but Pope Benedict XVI has taken a surprise "softly softly" approach in taking over from Pope John Paul II.

After eight months Pope Benedict, at 78, is curiously displaying no signs of being in a hurry.
His moves and decisions so far have been minor, nothing like the reactionary, hard-line pontificate hostile commentators had predicted.

Up to his last days, John Paul II set a frenetic pace, criss-crossing the world and issuing a blizzard of sermons and papal documents.

Benedict has slowed things down considerably.

He meets fewer dignitaries, makes fewer speeches and statements and travels far less frequently than his predecessor -- though he has pencilled in a trip to Australia for World Youth Day in 2008.

His twice-weekly sermons at St Peter's Square, however, attract larger crowds and are considered easier to understand than those of his predecessor, whose heavy Polish accent was slightly slurred.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his reputation was as the intransigent Vatican enforcer -- the Grand Inquisitor -- but as pope, Benedict's demeanour has been joyful and serene.

For Australian church commentator Dr Paul Collins, whose book God's New Man hit the bookshops soon after the April conclave, Benedict has done the right thing by doing very little.

"We needed a retreat from the high papacy of JPII. He tried to be omnipresent and was up for every gig that you could poke a stick at," Dr Collins said.

"In Benedict we have a more modest approach -- he's got a better grip of the true role of the pope, which is partly to inspire others to use their gifts."

Benedict is a deep thinker, thorough and brutally analytical. Problems are approached from every angle and then acted on, decisively.

But he is also from folksy beer-drinking Bavaria.

He relaxes by playing Mozart on his piano and prefers traditional sacred music and art.

It is believed he wants big improvements in the liturgy, but realises tens of millions of Catholics have grown accustomed to their suggestions being included in masses, weddings and funerals.

Dr Collins predicted that priorities for the new pope would include healing the 1000-year rift with the Orthodox churches, reorganising the curia (the central administration of the church) and appointing a more talented bench of bishops.

Others predict Benedict will attempt to reform the church's liturgy, which they believe has gone from a universal and familiar rite to a free-for-all at which congregations have a tendency to worship themselves rather than God -- with bad music to go with it. (me: uh, yeah!! Clean up the music, please!!)

Another church commentator, Fr Ephraim Chifley, said the curia was likely to be frightened of the new pope because he used to be one of them.

Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine and the Faith for 24 years.

"No one knows what he's going to do," Fr Chifley said. "Because he is 'curia wise', he won't be suffering from staff capture."

Fr Chifley also described the new pope as a man of symbols.

"What he's done so far suggests he is very 'old school' and won't be conducting vast masses with dancing girls," he said. (me: did anyone ever have a Mass with dancing girls?? If so, I want to see a tape!)

"He's a step-by-step man, but no one will have any doubts about what direction he is heading in."

HIS few decisions so far have included prohibiting sexually active gay men from training to be priests and a crackdown on seminary professors promoting a gay culture.

However, Benedict sensibly stopped short of totally banning a religious life for those with homosexual inclinations.

At the same time he opted to maintain the tradition of a celibate priesthood -- something likely to create difficulties for many bishops.

But Benedict also invited the church's most famous rebel, Hans Kung, to his summer palace -- and the liberal theologian said the meeting was friendly.

Papal watchers predict Pope Benedict is likely to axe several Vatican departments and bring to heel the all-powerful Secretariat of State, which has run the church since Pope Paul VI upgraded it in the 1960s.

When still a cardinal, Benedict argued that the two biggest problems facing the church were its lacklustre bishops and the crisis in the liturgy.

However, a recent synod of hundreds of bishops in Rome showed his "generals" were extremely reluctant to revive past practices and Benedict knows he cannot move too far ahead of them.

W HILE there are exceptions, the Catholic Church's bishops range from the uninspiring and complacent through to the timid and negligent.

Dr Collins agrees that quality of bishops is a major problem, but argues that the pool of clergy to choose from are "limited, small and ageing".

"He won't be able to do much to brighten up our bishops, because he refuses to broaden out who can be ordained," Dr Collins said.

Inside the Vatican editor Dr Robert Moynahan recently declared that the new pope faced myriad problems, but all were reducible to just one: the faith.

"We all know the consequences of the loss of faith: selfishness, sin, cruelty, oppression, strife, division, suffering, disease, tears, hatred, death," Dr Moynahan said.

"However, the overall 'plan' of Benedict's pontificate can be nothing other than this -- as it is the overall plan of all popes: to preserve the faith and to confirm others in the faith."

When many believe we are in the post-Christian era, it is equally a very modest and a monumental agenda, but more than enough to keep a man on the cusp of his 80th birthday occupied.

I just want to see the dancing girls. :) And can we please, please, please get back to the Old Mass music? I mean, some of the new stuff is good, but I want "O Sacred Head Surrounded" during Lent and "Of the Father's Love Begotten" at Christmas, and the chant!! I want Old School occassionally. And can Catholic schools please instill in their pupils correct singing method? Maybe then our singing would get better (although at my parish, we're no slouches, thank you).

B XVI: failing to make mark?

Geez, some of us are so imptatient! This from the Manilla Times ...comments to follow:

After Catholics bade adieu to Pope John Paul II, a charismatic giant who touched millions across the world, they are still taking the measure of his timid successor Benedict XVI, whose thoughts on the future of the Church remain inscrutable.

Even after eight months as the new leader of the globe’s 1.2 billion Catholics, the new Pope has yet to make his mark on the Holy See, Vatican insiders say.

Shortly after his name was first announced to the masses from the loggia of Saint Peter’s Basilica on April 19, expectations abounded that the new Pope would make sweeping changes in the Roman Curia, the lumbering apparatus of Vatican government.

But Benedict has made only one significant change to the Vatican hierarchy, installing US Archbishop William Levada as his own successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Meanwhile, old faces long ago put in place by his predecessor, notably Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and “foreign minister” Msgr. Giovanni Lajola, remain.

Some members of the Curia said they believe that rather than decree a quick shake-up at the Holy See, Benedict will continue to impose change slowly through a series of careful adjustments.

Some say he still has not communicated how he intends to alter the Church. Veteran Vatican watcher Giancarlo Zizola said: “His choosing to remain silent is itself a sign of reform of the papacy.”

He said the new pontificate marks an end to the worrying “idolatry” of the late John Paul II.

Vatican insiders have inevitably contrasted Benedict’s first eight months to those of his three immediate predecessors.

They point out that John Paul II launched an outspoken defense of the Solidarity democracy movement in his native Poland, and published his first encyclical; Paul VI made a significant pilgrimage to the Holy Land; John XXIII laid the foundations for the ground breaking Second Vatican Council.

Benedict has, however, been scrupulously honoring commitments made by John Paul II, including a visit to his native Germany for the World Youth Day celebrations in August, his first—and to date, only—foreign visit.

All that is about to change, however. The new Pope’s ability to reach out to the masses in the manner of the charismatic Pope will come under renewed scrutiny next year during planned visits to Turkey, Spain, Germany and Poland.

His campaign to forge closer ties with Jews, including an address at Cologne’s historic Synagogue, has proceeded without incident.

But lately Benedict has faced what many see as the first crisis of his pontificate, as homosexual priests publicly rejected his prohibition of gay men from entering the priesthood.

Well, geez! Give the man some time. The vatican Instruction was--is--a big thing, but I don't think it's a "crisis". It's what we've always said, isn't it? He's been to Cologne and spoke at World Youth Day, he's been appointing bishops...there was a lot to catch up on, in a sense. And if he's going to Turkey next year, that alone is going to need preparation. That's a big visit, along with Spain, Germany, and Poland. And he's not 50 something. Not every pope can come up with Vatican II (thank God!). I'm content to let him move along. As the old saying goes, "The Devil works quickly, but God works slowly" Let the man "go slowly"...that's fine with me!

Remember Darfu? The pope does.

On Nov. 28, in Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI said to the archbishop of Khartoum, "The horror of events unfolding in Darfur points to the need for stronger international resolve to ensure security and basic human rights" there. Reuters, reporting the pope's concern, noted, as much of the world knows, that hundreds of thousands of black Africans have died of violence or disease, and more than 2 million have been driven from their homes.

Now, normally, as a Republican, I'm a bit skeptical of tossing money out left and right, but I think that stopping genocide, wherever it's taking place, is something we have a moral obligation to do. This is a crime, especially after we saw what happened in Rwanda--peace cannot be had in a world where people kill other people simply because of their bloodlines, the color of their skin, or national/familial background. And yet I do not see Europe or the UN or the peaceniks working to get things done there....just another thing that requires much prayer...

B XVI: Embryos are "full and complete humans" to God

From Reuters (ehhh...)

God sees embryos as "full and complete" humans, Pope Benedict said on Wednesday in an address that firmly underlined the Roman Catholic Church's stance against abortion and scientific research on embryos.

"The loving eyes of God look on the human being, considered full and complete at its beginning," Benedict said in his weekly address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Quoting Psalm 139, Benedict said the Bible teaches that God already recognises the embryo as a complete human. That view is the basis for the Church teaching that aborting or manipulating these embryos amounts to murder.

In Psalm 139, the psalmist says to God: "Thou didst see my limbs unformed in the womb, and in thy book they are all recorded."

"It is extremely powerful, the idea in this psalm, that in this 'unformed' embryo God already sees the whole future," Benedict said.

"In the Lord's book of life, the days that this creature will live and will fill with works during his time on earth are already written."

Benedict has already weighed into an Italian debate on abortion ahead of a general election in April, publicly supporting a pro-life group that right-wing Health Minister Francesco Storace wants to have access to counselling centres advising women seeking to terminate pregnancy.

The Pontiff also raised the theme in his Christmas Eve mass on Saturday, saying the love of God shines on each child, "even on those still unborn".

As well as being against abortion in all cases, the Church opposes stem-cell research which extracts useful cells from unused embryos left over from fertility treatments.

This goes in the "good thing we have journalists" file--how else would we know this stuff?? But it isn't just religion, actually that says this--it's science, too. I think we all learned in high school biology that the sperm and the egg, once joined, have all the DNA and chromosomes and unique genetic code that make it a unique human being from the outset. It's genetic imprint is created, fascinating and unique, from the moment of conception. So there we have it. This isn't new, folks. But perhaps we need to be reminded, again and again, until what people used to know intrinsicly becomes that way again.

Polish Govt. may buy JP II's house

From the Irish Examiner :

A Polish opposition party today urged the government to buy the house where the late Pope John Paul II was born and which hosts a museum in his honour.

The present owner, Ron Balamuth, who lives in the United States, has decided to sell the two-storey house in the southern town of Wadowice, where the late pontiff was born Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920.

Balamuth has not said why he wants to sell. Polish media have reported that the price is about €828,000.

The Peasant’s Party said it wrote a letter to Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz asking the government to buy the house.

There was no immediate reaction from the government.

Earlier this month, Polish Roman Catholic Church authorities confirmed they were in negotiations to purchase the house. No final decision has been announced.

The Wojtylas moved into the house in 1919, with their elder son Edmund. After the death of the mother and of Edmund, the future Pope moved with his father to the city of Krakow, where he studied Polish literature at the Jagiellonian University.

Built in the mid-19th century, the house has housed a museum devoted to the life and teachings of John Paul II since 1984. Some 3,500 people have visited the museum daily since his death on April 2.

Separately, an exhibition has opened showing scenes from the Pope’s life represented by 20in tall porcelain dolls at a museum in the southern Polish town of Pilzno, the Polish news agency PAP reported.

The 14 scenes include baby Karol Wojtyla posing for a picture with his mother, him as a young priest, as newly elected Pope in 1978 and in the 1981 assassination attempt. The last scene shows the arrival of new Pope Benedict XVI.

Another JPII tribute...

From USA Today :

"Be not afraid," Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the brilliant Polish theologian, said on the October 1978 day when he became Pope John Paul II.

And it seemed he never was - spiritually, morally, politically or physically - until his death April 2 from heart and kidney failure while thousands prayed in St. Peter's Square.

During his historic 26-year papacy, John Paul II carried his radiant faith and fierce convictions to the ends of the earth as Roman Catholicism's unmovable defender.

By last spring, however, the once-robust pope, who skied in his youth and hiked the Italian hills, was physically ravaged by injury and illness. He had withstood six surgeries and borne uncomplainingly the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Yet, even in his last decade, as his back froze in a stoop, his voice slurred and his hands shook, John Paul II kept his laser-sharp gaze on his flock.

And they on him. "John Paul the Great!" they cried as they choked the streets for his funeral Mass, televised in places where no pope before him had ever been.

By his death at age 84, John Paul II had journeyed more than 700,000 miles, about 1½ round-trips to the moon. He saw the map of the world transformed by political and social revolution and the landscape of the spirit quake with cultural upheaval.

Since St. Peter established the papacy, only Pope Pius IX served longer as the Vicar of Christ. John Paul outlived the Nazis, outwitted the Communists of the USSR and survived a 1981 assassination attempt.

He challenged communism, socialism, materialism and relativism, inspiring 1.1 billion Catholics and countless admirers worldwide. He also changed the map of personal faith, with his deep devotion to the Virgin Mary and his addition to the rosary prayers of new meditations on Jesus' life.

He created more cardinals, named more bishops than ever in history, recognized more saints than the previous 17 popes combined. And he made an unprecedented plea for pardon for 2,000 years of grave errors by sons and daughters of the Church.

Yet not all was well for the Church on his watch. Catholicism expanded in Africa and held ground against vigorous Protestant proselytizing in South America, but Mass attendance plummeted in Europe and slid in the USA. He was admired but hardly obeyed by many of the USA's 67 million Catholics. His opposition to the 1991 Gulf War and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq was politely ignored in Washington.

The Vatican took years to respond to a global crisis of sexual abuse by clergy. By the time the U.S. scandal exploded in 2002, more than 5,000 priests had abused thousands of children and teens over half a century, said a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The news outraged the faithful, costing the U.S. church $1 billion at last count.

But in the Church, John Paul could, and did, enforce his vision.

He reeled in Catholic institutions to toe the doctrinal lines in teaching, booted dissident theologians and muted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which once issued powerful letters on war and economics. Women were told that the male-only priesthood was settled doctrine that no pope couldchange. Meanwhile, he praised celibacy for priests - a tradition he had the authority to change but never did.

He flatly denounced dissent from official Church stands denouncing abortion, birth control, homosexual behavior, euthanasia and the death penalty.

"Freedom," John Paul II often said, "consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."

Heresy trial in the States

From NPR (so proceed with caution) comments follow....

The San Bernardino Diocese says Father Ned Reidy is leading Catholics astray with his breakaway parish near Palm Springs. While a secret diocese tribunal deliberates on a verdict, Father Reidy continues to celebrate Mass for his small but devoted congregation at the Pathfinder Community of the Risen Christ in San Bernardino, Calif.

Reidy left the Roman Catholic church in 1999 to join the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, a denomination that now boasts more than a dozen parishes nationwide. While Catholic in name, it splits with the Vatican over some fundamental church doctrines. Unlike heretics of old, Reidy does not openly rail against Roman Catholic teachings with which he disagrees. He says he just offers an alternative.

"We're involved in ministry here: women's ordination and calling men who are married and who've all their lives wanted to be priests (emphasis mine)," Reidy tells Steven Cuevas of member station KPCC. "I'm involved with priests who've left, who are just floating around. We're involved in preaching a good news that a lot of people have never heard before."

It's a message that resonates with some Catholics. Gene Philips is a regular at Pathfinder. A staunch anti-abortion Catholic, he broke away after a priest told him that as a divorced man, he could not receive communion.

"When Jesus said, 'Take this all of you and eat it. Take this all of you and drink from it,' he meant all!" Philips says. "He meant all of you!"

But in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, Father Reidy is a heretic -- someone who goes against basic church teachings. Father Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, says the rare heresy trial is necessary to clarify Reidy's status within the church: He is no longer a Roman Catholic priest. The diocese fears that by using the word "Catholic" in his denomination, Reidy could mislead some worshippers.

"Ned Reidy made promises to his religious community and vows at his ordination, which he publicly broke with the Roman Catholic Church with the establishment of another denomination," Lincoln says.

Reidy is also charged with schism, which is defined as a failure to submit to the authority of the pope or of church leaders.

Reidy doesn't deny the charges. But he says the diocese no longer has jurisdiction over him. If found guilty, Reidy would be formally defrocked and ex-communicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Reidy was a Roman Catholic priest in good standing for nearly 20 years in the Palm Desert area of Southern California. Tom Roberts, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, says he understands if the diocese might feel a little threatened by Reidy's breakaway denomination.

"If he's an effective minister, someone who's been high profile in the community, and he leaves and co-founds his own denomination, I can understand the bishop wanting to make a special statement about this person," Roberts says. "I also don't think Catholics are confused by these issues. I don't think they would mistake this person as a Roman Catholic cleric."

Whatever the verdict, Reidy can always appeal to the Vatican. But he says he won't. He didn't attend his heresy trial, and he says he plans to continue his ministry regardless of the verdict.

Oh, where to begin, where to begin, where to begin. ...let's see. Well the whole vow of obedience has clearly gone out the window. Women priest? Married men as priests? Come on! I mean, yeah, this is California (what would the Spanish missionary founders say now?), but let's get real. You are either Catholic or you're not. If this guy wants to found his own thing, fine, but take the Catholic our of it. He's not Catholic. This is not the Catholic church, nor Catholic doctrine. And I don't think the diocese is doing this because it feels "threatened". The bishop has a responsibility to protect his flock, and he has to do that by making sure that this guy doesn't lead faithful Catholics astray. Mr. Roberts doesn't think that people would "mistake this person as Roman Catholic cleric", but you never know. I've run into some Catholics who have been swayed by many Protestants into thinking that certain pieces of their doctrine are compatible with ours. What about "the wolf in sheep's clothing" thing? Hmmm?

I think the diocese is doing exactly the right thing here. Bravo for having the courage to do it.

Au revoir, limbo.... (and learn more about it than you ever wanted to)

Looks like limbo is on it's way out (finally)... From the Chicago Trib : (long, yes, but full of good insight and such...)

It may seem half a shame to get rid of a church tradition, however cruel and antiquated, if it can inspire poetry like "The Inferno" or spooky lines like these from Seamus Heaney: "Fishermen at Ballyshannon/Netted an infant last night/Along with the salmon."

But limbo, that netherworld of unbaptized babies and worthy pagans, is very much on the way out--another lesson that while belief in God may not change, the things people believe about him most certainly do.

This month, 30 top theologians from around the world met at the Vatican to discuss, among other quandaries, the problem of what happens to babies who die without baptism. What they were really doing, as theological advisers to Pope Benedict XVI, was finally disposing of limbo--a concept that was never official church doctrine but has been an enduring medieval theory of a blissful state among the departed, somehow different from both heaven and hell.

Unlike purgatory, a sort of waiting room to heaven for those with some venial faults, the theory of limbo consigned children outside of heaven on account of original sin alone. As a concept, limbo has long been out of favor anyway as theologically questionable and unnecessarily harsh. It is hard to imagine depriving innocents of heaven. These days it prompts more snickers than anything, as evidenced by the titter of headlines here along the lines of "Limbo Consigned to Hell."

But it remains an interesting relic, strangely relevant to what the Roman Catholic Church has been and what it wants to be. The theory of limbo bumps up against one of the most contentious issues for the church: abortion. If fetuses are human beings, what happens to their souls if they are aborted? It raises questions of how broadly the church--and its new leader--views the idea of salvation.

And it has some real-life consequences. The church is growing most in poor places like Africa and Asia where infant mortality remains high. While the concerns of the experts reconsidering limbo are more theological, it does not hurt the church's future if an African mother who has lost a baby can receive more hopeful news from her priest in 2005 than, say, an Italian mother did 100 years ago.

"You look at the proper theology, but if there is more consolation, all the better," said Rev. Luis Ladaria, the Spanish Jesuit who is secretary general of the International Theological Commission, the official body working on limbo. Unlike many issues--the recent emotional debate over homosexuality in the priesthood, for example--limbo seems to garner unanimity that it should exit the church's stage, even if, at the moment, the exact doctrine that would replace it is unclear.

"Limbo has never been a definitive truth of the faith," Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year, said in an interview in 1984, during his long term as Pope John Paul II's doctrinal watchdog. "Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis."

Debate began with Augustine

As pope, Benedict has said nothing on the subject, though many experts--but not all, it should be noted--say the controversy over limbo began with one of Benedict's spiritual heroes: St. Augustine.

The theology is complicated, but the bottom line is that Augustine, believing in humankind's original sin, persuaded a church council in 418 to reject any notion of an "intermediary place" between heaven and hell. He held that baptism was necessary for salvation, and that unbaptized babies would actually go to hell, though in his later writings he conceded that it would entail the mildest of conditions.

It was "a pretty grim doctrine," said Rev. Gerald O'Collins, an Australian Jesuit and co-author of "A Concise Dictionary of Theology." "You're either in hell or you're not."

In the Middle Ages, theologians, notably St. Thomas Aquinas, postulated a slightly cheerier idea: limbo, from the Latin "limbus," meaning a hem or a boundary. Here innocents would live forever in what Thomas called "natural happiness," if not in heaven.

This was the Limbo of the Babies. There was also a temporary Limbo of the Fathers, where Dante located, among others, Virgil, his guide through hell; Moses; Socrates; Plato; even the gentlemanly Muslim warrior Saladin.

Not doctrine but tradition

Though limbo had no firm scriptural basis and was thus never official church doctrine, it remained a major part of church tradition--as well as one defining image of Catholicism--as either a neat theological compromise or as a bit mean, depending on whom one asked.

It remained strong in 1905, when Pope Pius X stated plainly, "Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either."

But ideas began to change with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, in which the church held that everyone--baptized Christians or not--could be eligible for salvation through the mystery of Christ's redemptive power. Pope John Paul II continued the decline of limbo, omitting the term from the most recent catechism and last year, not long before his death, asking the theological commission to officially consider the question of unbaptized babies.

Pope John Paul, who brought the issue of abortion to the fore of the church's concerns, appeared interested for a special reason: the fate of aborted fetuses. In his 1995 encyclical, he wrote to women who had abortions, "You will also be able to ask forgiveness of your child, who is now living in the Lord." He did not say if they were in heaven or limbo.

The mystery of God, and people's ignorance before it, is, Ladaria said, the starting point for his panel's work. To some observers of the church, which holds the pope's judgment infallible on certain matters, the questioning of limbo is a rare, welcome admission of error.

A sign of inclusivity?

This will attract attention "as something that does look like an ability to pull back," said Rev. James O'Donnell, provost of Georgetown University and a professor of classics. It is, he said, essentially saying, "Let's progress back to ignorance rather than remain mired in assertion that brings with it perhaps more complication and more trouble than it is worth."

O'Donnell, author of "Augustine: A New Biography," said it might also be interesting to see limbo killed off under the rule of Benedict.

Benedict, he noted, is also an Augustine scholar, and the issue of unbaptized babies aside, Augustine generally argued for a broader view of who should be allowed in the church.

Over the years before he became pope, Ratzinger propounded several doctrines that had the "appearance, and sometimes more than the appearance, of exclusivity and separatism" of Catholics over other faiths, he said. Getting rid of limbo, he said, could be read as a sign of Benedict's endorsing a greater inclusivity into God's plan.

"Even though Augustine himself would not be particularly tolerant of a doctrine that is kinder to unbaptized children, you could still say that a move in that direction would have an Augustinian quality to it," he said.

Ladaria said the final report on limbo might be finished in no less than a year.

You know, the part above where it says purgatory is like a "waiting room" for Heaven is what I always thought of as a kid. I thought that purgatory was one big doctor's waiting room with an abundance of Golden Books that you read (and didn't run out of new ones--joy!) until the Big Angel in the Sky called your name and you got to see God then. I will say I like my picture better than Dante's idea of climbing up the mountain. But I digress. :)

Experimental lay movement gets a talking-to

Via Yahoo!

A letter reported by specialist Catholic media from Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, demands that the Neocatechumenal Way movement, which claims thousands of followers, change its practices.

The Neocatechumenal Way, launched in the Madrid slums in 1964 by Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez, celebrates mass on Saturdays instead of Sundays, and communion is administered to the faithful seated around a table.

In addition, lay members of the congregation are allowed to preach during the service, while the priest plays a relatively minor role.

The Vatican's letter says members of the Neocatechumenate should celebrate mass on Sunday during the normal parish liturgy at least once a month, that all the prescribed prayers should be followed, that a priest or deacon deliver the homily, and that communion be administered while standing or genuflecting.

The Vatican has given the Neocatechumenate two years to bring its practice on communion in line with the norms, while allowing lay people to continue to deliver reflections at the mass, as long as they are brief and not confused with the homily...the new pope is less keen on lay movements, and particularly those that seek to introduce innovations into Church practices. The Neocatechumenal Way, which has its own seminaries, has faced criticism that it resembles a separate sect.

On its own website the movement claims to have communities in 105 countries, mainly in Europe and the Americas, more than 700 ordained priests and hundreds more undergoing training.

Hey, you know, I'm not too keen on "new" movements myself. Call me old-fashioned, but I think Mass should be on Sunday, we should not be "reclining" around the altar, and I don't want to hear my fellow parishioners preaching. And, um, the priest's role shouldn't be "minor". Why do people constantly feel the need to reinvent the wheel? If it was good enough for Augustine, St. Thomas More, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis, and all the other great saints, and the popes, then I'll take it. Thank you.

A Dubious Distinction?

In the year-end accolades that are coming out, Pope Benedict has been named the "Ant-Gay Person of the Year" by the Washington Blade . Here's some choice bits courtesy of Yahoo!

...writer Dyana Bagby writes "Presiding over what some describe as the 'strongest bully pulpit in the world,' Pope Benedict XVI, just eight months into his tenure, has unilaterally targeted gays as moral threats to society."

From banning gay priests to publicly lobbying against legal recognition for gay couples in Spain and Italy, the Washington Blade reports Pope Benedict XVI has aggressively lobbied against gay rights across the globe.

"His rhetoric is obscene. He wants gays clearly taken care of -- it's almost like the Final Solution," said Kara Speltz, a Catholic lesbian activist for Soulforce, an organization dedicated to ending anti-gay discrimination within all religions.

ooooookay. So whose rhetoric is obscene here? Just because the Pope doesn't happen to believe that homosexual "rights" such as marriage are part of God's order, that doesn't mean he's ordering their extermination. Good heavens. Let's get a grip on our figures of speech, please. When we start sending gays to the gulag, then we'll talk. But guess what? That's not going to happen. So let's get real, please.

B XVI may visit Auschwitz in May

From USA Today :

Poland's Roman Catholic Church has invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz during his expected visit to Poland in May, a church spokesman said Thursday.
Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Krakow who was the late Pope John Paul II's longtime aide, invited Benedict to visit Auschwitz and two cities associated with John Paul's life, his spokesman said.

"The archbishop of Krakow said he has invited the pope to visit Krakow, Wadowice and Auschwitz and a separate invitation has come from the sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska," spokesman Rev. Robert Necek told The Associated Press.

Necek reiterated that the German-born pope is expected to visit Poland in the second half of May, but hasn't given an exact date.

tribute to JPII -- he was a "regular man"

Probably the first of a few JP the Great tributes I'll be posting in their entirety---yes, they're long, but nice, so if you have a mind to read them, go ahead...

Lean forward and kiss his ring?
He'd prefer that you give him a bear hug instead.
When Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, it was the humane details the local folks who met him were remembering.
"He was a very unassuming, down-to-earth guy," said Dave Cole, recalling the day he and his wife Henny entertained Cardinal Karol Wotyla, the future pope.
"He didn't want anyone to kiss his ring, nothing formal like that. He wanted to hug us. You know how some people come into your house for five minutes and they feel like they're part of the family? That's how he was," she said.
The circumstances that brought the Cardinal from Poland to the Coles' house in Trooper that day in July 1976 were the result of a happy "accident," Cole told this reporter last April.
It all began with Henny Cole's aunt, Sister Bernice, who was a Felician nun working at the Vatican at the time.
"When she knew of people in Rome who were coming over here for some reason, she would tell them if they needed a place to stay that they could use our house," he noted.
Both Wotyla and his assistant, Father Ambroziak, had traveled from Poland to attend the Catholic Eucharistic Congress, which coincided with the U.S. Bicentennial celebration.
"I arrive at St. Charles Seminary to pick up the priest, and it turns out the Cardinal had no driver to take him around," Cole recalled.
Even priests are not immune to scoring a few points with the boss, he suggested. Sympathetic to the cardinal's dilemma, Ambroziak volunteered Cole's services, and both men rode to Trooper with Cole behind the wheel.
"When he got in my car the first thing I thought of is, 'What do you say to a cardinal?'," Cole laughed.
"My wife didn't even know he was coming with us, but we spent the whole day with him. We took him to a Polish shrine in Doylestown, where he said Mass, and then he came back to the house. We invited all the neighbors over, and their kids."
As they neared the house, Wotyla asked if it was the family's summer home.
"I said, 'Yeah ... also winter, fall and spring,'" she said.
The cardinal had a good chuckle over that, noted Cole.
What Cole remembers most about the unexpected visitor was the way he came across like a "lovable grandfather."
"He was very robust then, very strong. He picked up my daughter Alison, who was two years old then. He was very warm. You just wanted to be around the guy. Over the years so many people have asked me what he was like. And that's exactly how he was."
Wotyla had tickets to a Polish composers concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia that evening. As a way of thanking the Coles for their hospitality, he insisted they attend the concert with him.
"My wife was planning on having a big dinner at the house, but we were running late."
Not a problem with this preeminent guest, who was happy to grab a bite to eat anywhere the Coles suggested.
"He was not fussy at all," Cole said. "He told us this was the only time he had spent with an American family."
Not surprisingly, the talk eventually turned to the subject of religion.
"Father Ambroziak had said the cardinal was one of the great philosophers of the Catholic Church, and he really was an interesting guy to talk to," Cole said. "He said 'You Americans don't know what freedoms you have. Until the government takes away your religious freedom, you'll never see your churches full. That's the way it was in Poland. The government was so anti-religion that it bonded the people together and made the church stronger than ever.'"
"He said, 'Over here in the United States it doesn't matter if you go to church or not, that's your right, your freedom. You just don't appreciate it until someone takes it away.'"
When the Coles and the cardinal parted ways late that night, Wotyla extended an invitation to the couple to stop by the Vatican if they were ever in Europe.
During a vacation to Rome many years later, they took him up on his offer.
By then, of course, Wotyla had become Pope John Paul II.
"When he got elected in '78 it really blew our minds to think it was the guy who spent the day at our house," Cole said. "When we visited him at the Vatican, he actually remembered us."
In 1982, Cole had written to the pope, asking him to pray for his father, who was dying of cancer.
"About two weeks later we received a letter from the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C. that the pope had gotten my letter and that he was forwarding to me a handwritten blessing and rosaries for my father. We never really expected that, but it shows you how caring and thoughtful this man was."
Cole admitted he never had an inkling that the man he opened his home to would one day be made head of the Catholic Church.
But Ambroziak's parting words to him following the ride back to St. Charles Seminary that night were eerily prophetic:
"He told me, 'You may have hosted the next pope.'"
Father Patrick McManus of Visitation B.V.M. Catholic Church was only eight years old when Pope John Paul II visited Philadelphia in October 1979, a year after assuming the papacy.
"When he came here, I remember sitting in front of the television, watching it the entire time," McManus recalled.
"I didn't really know the significance of it until later on, when I became a priest, but I look back on it fondly now."
Twenty years after being glued inexplicably to the screen that day, the newly ordained McManus was celebrating Mass with the pope in Rome.
Cardinal Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, then Archbishop of Philadelphia, had written a letter to the Vatican on McManus' behalf.
"It's not especially unusual for a newly ordained priest to celebrate Mass with the pope, but you do need somebody to sponsor you," McManus said. "A friend and I went over to Rome and we didn't know it would happen until the day before when we got a phone call in our hotel room. They said the Holy Father would like me to come in the morning and celebrate Mass with him."
When he first saw Pope John Paul II, McManus remembers being struck by his "prayerful" bearing.
"You knew there was something different about him. As soon as you walked into the chapel and saw him kneeling down praying you knew you were in the presence of a holy man, almost like a saint, right in your midst."

--from the Times-Herald of Philadelphia

Friday, December 30, 2005

I'm baaack!

Hey everyone--
Hope you all had a marvelous and enjoyable Christmas!! I am back from my "holiday" break and will begin posting a slew of things tomorrow. Among them--holiday pope stories, the female pope (again!), movie review, and all sorts of other goodies. Check back tomorrow for more!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Some Christmas pics (for those interested)

Merry Christmas, everybody!! The news today is a bit light, so I thought I'd post the first round of Christmas pics, with explanations.....hope you are all having a blessed and joyous day!

L-R: Tom, me, and Branden at the Christmas fete Richelle and I threw at Bon Vie bistro up at Easton. Great party, good food, good times....very enjoyable.

More friends at Bon Vie...L-R: Doug and Becca, Richelle and Brian, Brian and Leah Yoder

Evening at Karen's place in German Village (very cool): the puppies (!) and me and Karen

The family at Christmas: Mel, me, and Bryan

Photos from Branden's Christmas Party: 1) me and Troy in the basement pool room (with Alex in the back); 2) Tiff and I in the living room in front of the 'blue tree'--one of many!; 3) Sean, Tony and Tom before playing Mario Tennis (again...); 4) Andrea and Lindsay enjoy my Snickerdoodle cake (recipe appearing here soon!) with Doc Froggy!!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas y'all!

Posting will be sporadic the next few days, what with the holiday and all, but I've just put up a bunch of stuff to make you happy. :) Tomorrow I'll post a few other things (I think), but if I don't, have a MERRY CHRISTMAS :) ! I'll see you next week.

B XV: Election was a surprise


...."[r]ecalling his own election on April 19, the pope said he was faced with a task that was completely beyond anything that he would ever have imagined as his vocation. He recalled, as he put it, the "fright" with which he had received the news.
He added that he accepted the job only because of his great faith in God. He asked for the prayers of the faithful to sustain him in his mission."

As they say in The Princess Diaries : "courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that something is more important."

B XVI: Fashion Icon?

From Yahoo!

Whether it's Prada and Gucci, or just fancy ecclesiastical tailoring, Pope Benedict XVI is his own man when it comes to dressing.

Just days before Christmas, Benedict showed up at his weekly public audience in St. Peter's Square wearing a fur-trimmed stocking cap that could easily have passed for a Santa Claus hat.

Earlier this month, Benedict made another fashion statement – donning a deep red velvet cape trimmed in ermine for the trad-itional visit to the statue of the Madonna that marks the beginning of Rome's Christmas season.

Coming on the heels of gossip about Gucci shades and bright red Prada loafers, the vintage styles have turned Benedict into something of a fashion celebrity.

“Those red shoes have made quite an impression,'' said Vatican historian Alberto Melloni.

But those who know the 78-year-old Joseph Ratzinger from his years as head of the Vatican's doctrinal office before he became pope in April dismiss any notion of vanity in his dressing habits.

“He wouldn't know Gucci from Smoochi,'' said Marjorie Weeke, a former official at the Vatican. – AP

Um, no, you cannot sue the Pope....

A crazy story out of Texas...well, maybe not crazy, but far-fetched...


A U.S. judge on Thursday dismissed Pope Benedict from a civil lawsuit lodged against him and other Roman Catholic church officials that accused them of covering up sexual abuse of a minor by a seminary student.
In a written ruling, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal agreed with a motion filed by the Vatican that Pope Benedict enjoyed "head-of-state immunity" in the case.
Three unnamed plaintiffs in the case have said church officials ignored their pleas to investigate Juan Carlos Patino-Arango, who they accused of sexual abuse, and that the clergy helped him leave the country.
The church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly called the Holy Office of the Vatican, headed by Pope Benedict when he was a cardinal, played a central role in the conspiracy to conceal the abuse that occurred in 1995 and 1996, the plaintiffs said.
The Church has been hit by numerous lawsuits since the 2002 scandal in the United States when it was discovered that priests accused of molesting children were moved from parish to parish to hide the abuse.

New Papal Nuncio causes issues with U.S. gay community

(from a gay community be warned....)

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed a veteran Vatican diplomat to be the ambassador, or nuncio, to the United States, stirring some disappointment in the U.S. LGBT community.
The Vatican announced the new assignment for Archbishop Pietro Sambi last week. Sambi, a 67-year-old Italian, had been the Vatican's representative in Israel and Palestine, where he helped organize the Holy Land visit by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
As nuncio, Sambi will represent the Vatican and the church hierarchy to the U.S. government. He will also participate in the appointment of bishops, archbishops and cardinals in the United States.
Sambi replaces Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, who served as the U.S. nuncio since 1998.
Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the pope has "honored the (U.S.) church" with the appointment.
But the choice is causing concern for some gay Catholics and non-Catholics alike. As nuncio in Israel, Sambi was involved in talks on a "variety of controversial issues" between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, according to the Catholic News Service. In March, he participated in a coordinated effort by Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics in Jerusalem to oppose an international Gay Pride event, WorldPride, scheduled to take place in the city in summer 2005. It was later postponed to 2006.
On Tuesday, a senior rabbi at New York's oldest synagogue for LGBT Jews voiced dismay at Sambi's appointment.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who is the North American co-chairwoman for WorldPride, said it "affirms the church hierarchy's willingness to target our community for persecution and derision within the Catholic Church and align itself with other anti-gay religious extremists."
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which serves LGBT Catholics, called the WorldPride incident a "disappointing" feature in Sambi's background. However, he said he hoped Sambi would represent the pope in a more pastoral role, despite the pontiff's reputation for orthodoxy.
"It would be great if Sambi would act as a true servant, listening to the turmoil that exists in the U.S. church on many issues -- gay and lesbian rights in particular," he told the PlanetOut Network. "The Catholic Church here in the United States needs a papal nuncio who is a listener, healer, reconciler."
Many gay Catholics were troubled and hurt by a Vatican document released last month that directs seminaries to exclude gay candidates for the priesthood unless they have "overcome" their homosexuality. The instruction was widely criticized by gay rights groups and gay clergy, with some priests resigning in protest.
Sambi's role will also be political, as DeBernardo noted.
"I hope that Sambi will delve into the Catholic Church's rich tradition of social justice teaching to challenge the Bush administration's policies of conducting an unjust and illegitimate war in Iraq, and the policies of disregarding human and civil rights here and abroad," he said.

The "forbidden books" revealed!

A good bit of Church lore/history:

The Vatican has opened up to German historians the secret records associated with the Catholic Church's former Index of Forbidden Books, revealing that well-loved books of the 19th century nearly came under bans.
The Index, which was abolished in 1967, was a directory listing thousands of books that the church considered as theologically wrong or immoral.
The historians discovered that both a guide to good manners and the classic 19th century novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe were scrutinized by the inquisitors in Rome, who formed a department known as the Sacred Congregation of the Index.
One of the Vatican readers in 1853 in the United States, to be a coded appeal for revolution. But when a second opinion was sought from other inquisitors, they did not consider it very harmful and no ban was ever pronounced.
Another title that was nearly proclaimed insidious was a book on human relationships by Adolph Knigge, a German baron, which became a celebrated 19th century primer on the foundations of etiquette.
The church has never before revealed that the Knigge book landed on the inquisitors' desk in 1820, with critics saying its philosophy encouraged selfishness and concentrated on personal happiness in a way that contradicted Catholic spirituality. But no ban was passed.
The historians, from the University of Muenster in northern Germany, were granted access several years ago to the records of more than 400 years of literary censorship by the church.
They had to sort out the mass of papers in the newly opened archive in the Vatican, and have now completed work on the 19th century, according to Hubert Wolf, a professor of church history.
"Both Knigge and Uncle Tom's Cabin are two examples that show how fierce the debate was about individual books within the congregation," said Wolf, who heads the research team. "It certainly was not a bunch of yes-men churning out prohibitions en masse."
The decisions taken by the office illuminate the personalities of the readers and their attitudes and standing within the Vatican as well as internal power struggles within the Congregation.
During the study, information was gathered from the minutes of meetings, assessments and reports. A complete list of Index and other Inquisition staff over more than four centuries was compiled.
Thousands of titles were placed on the Church's guide to bad books, among them books by writers as diverse as Martin Luther, Jean- Paul Sartre and Immanuel Kant. The historians believe about double the number of works that were banned came under scrutiny.
"As a matter of principle, the church never disclosed the 'not guilty' verdicts," said Wolf, whose research is bringing the sometimes random nature of the assessments to light.
The historians were surprised that certain books did not figure in the Congregation's records at all.
"We looked everywhere for a mention of Charles Darwin, for example. There was nothing," said Wolf, referring to the British scientist who proposed the theory of evolution and enraged those who believe literally in the biblical story of creation.
Adolf Hitler's hate-filled ideology, "Mein Kampf", was also never put on the Index, though Wolf and his team did discover evidence that the censors considered what to do about Hitler, with discussions in the office going on for years and a decision constantly postponed.
In the end, the examination of Mein Kampf was simply terminated. So far the historians are not sure why.
The Vatican now routinely releases its files for research after a set number of years, and those dealing with the period of Nazi Germany are due to be opened soon. Professor Wolf said he planned to follow up the Mein Kampf topic then.
The historian said research in the Index files was like playing detective.
When he received special permission in 1992 to be one of the first historians to see the secret documents of the Index, they were jumbled and there was no catalogue. In 1998, the Vatican officially opened the complete archive to historians.
The 19th century findings have already been published in the form of complete listings and other scholarly works of reference.
The objective remains to compile a complete survey from the 16th century to 1967, when the modernized church recognized that freedom of conscience was a greater good than supervising reading habits.
"The whole venture was crazy," says Wolf.
Catholics are still expected today to voluntarily avoid books that would weaken their own faith or moral integrity, but that is a decision they make according to conscience, not at the orders of the church.
The research project is to seek further funding, arguing that the archives are invaluable as one of the few pan-European, contemporary compilations of information about the literature of the West.

The Healing Power of Advent

Nice Advent reflection from the Miami Tribune by Fr. James Fetscher:

More than simply getting ready for Christmas with holiday shopping, gift wrapping and manger scenes, Advent's focus is the return of Jesus in Glory. Well, we're more than half way through Advent; how are we doing?
What am I talking about? I ask myself, ''Is Jesus the point of what I'm doing today?'' during my meditative time at the ''Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament'' [the host consecrated during Holy Communion].
In my library there is a picture of Pope John Paul II in profile. Behind him is Jesus, also in profile. I ask myself -- is Jesus standing behind all of what I am doing?
Advent preparation is a special ''gut check'' on keeping Jesus in focus. Keeping Him in focus can't help but affect the way we live each day of this beloved season, and each day after it.
When we think back on the tragedies of the tsunami, the increasing crescendo of insurgency and terrorism, the devastation of the Pakistani earthquakes, our unending hurricane season, we ask the Lord to help us focus on the continuing needs of so many people. Perhaps we even find ourselves a little hunched over from what we have been through, and even more, saddened by what we have watched others experience.
What can we do about it? In perhaps unexpected simplicity, Monsignor Ronald Knox, an English spiritual writer, convert and Oxford chaplain, suggests the journey of a Christian is like a choir singing without instruments. Eventually, your pitch tends to slip. You go flat or even sometimes sharp. Then the choir leader pulls out a little harmonica-like pitch pipe and sounds the correct note and the choir gets back on pitch.
Advent is a good time to get out the pitch pipe and get back on pitch. It works pretty well if you use the breath of the Holy Spirit to make the sound. In my mind the pitch pipe is that ``gaze on the return of Jesus in Glory.''
In other words, for us believers, what has the power to help heal all the visions of a year's worth of troubling events? It is the return of Jesus in Glory on the horizon of Advent that enables us to look through and across the fields of pain.
When we pray O Come, O Come Emmanuel, let Him not come simply as the babe in an overly beautified, prettified and sanitized stable scene. Let Him also come as the Victor who leaves no pain untouched, no wound unhealed, if we would only ''adjust the pitch'' and let Him in.
Let's be grateful that while we strive to see Jesus in peace we find that He really is there in the middle of it all. May we see Him better than we ever have during this Advent Season. Merry Christmas and Peace to all.

Toledo man makes Chalice to honor JP II

From The Blade :

The work is tedious, but John Ziolkowski is slowly coaxing the image of two doves to emerge from a hard block of cherry wood to form the focal points on a chalice he is making for the anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II in April.
There's time, Mr. Ziolkowski said, but he's beginning to feel some pressure because he has already spent about a year on the project.
Much of the work is being done with hand tools at the woodworking shop at the Sylvania Senior Center.
The work is slow, because he is fashioning the chalice from cherry wood, which he said is one of the hardest and most difficult to work with.
For the 86-year-old Mr. Ziolkowski, the chalice is just the most recent in a string of projects he began to take on back when he was a youth.
He has a number of newspaper clippings, some of them yellowing with age, which his sister has kept.
The first in which he is featured is from 72 years ago when he was a 14-year-old from Lagrange Street displaying a model sail boat he constructed. Another newspaper picture a year later shows him with an operational motorboat he made of wood.
His general ability in woodworking won him a trip to Washington, and there is another newspaper article with a photo of him and other youngsters on the trip.
Among the highlights, Mr. Ziolkowski said, was a visit with J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.
Most of the articles are from the 1930s while he was a student at the former Toledo Vocational School.
After his schooling, Mr. Ziolkowski took a number of jobs in pattern making in Michigan and the Toledo area.
He said there were occasions during which his wife would come home and find him there.
"She'd ask if I quit a job again, and I'd tell her I had. I wanted jobs with challenges.''
He eventually opened his own business, Precision Pattern & Model Corp., which he operated from 1956 to 1976.
He has continued woodworking projects, many of which he now does at the senior center with tools and saws once used at his own company.
For a time they had been used in a business operated by one of his sons, but when that closed, Mr. Ziolkowski donated the equipment to the senior center.
He said he is unsure of where the chalice may eventually be used in a Mass, but said that for now, he will concentrate on finishing the project.

It's not a Santa hat!

The real significance behind the "santa hat" we've seen B XVI in lately. Little bit of papal trivia for y'all. :) From Yahoo!:

Pope Benedict XVI resembled a clean-shaven Father Christmas when he donned a red velvet hat with white ermine trim to face a winter chill for his weekly general audience.As temperatures hovered around nine degrees celsius (48 degrees fahrenheit) thousands of pilgrims who gathered in the square were treated to the rare sight as the 78-year-old pope arrived for the audience in his popemobile, waving to the crowd. His secretary removed the hat when the pope sat in his throne for the beginning of the ceremony, for which his headwear was the usual round zucchetto cap. No pope since John XXIII, who died in 1963, has worn the traditional Camauro in public, though its use by popes goes back to the 12th century.

New Bishop in Nashville

From the Columbia Daily Herald :

Maury — and 38 other Middle Tennessee counties — have a new bishop.
The Vatican announced Tuesday Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to name the Rev. David R. Choby, a Nashville native, as the 11th bishop of the city’s diocese. Choby, 58, has been serving as the diocese’s administrator since Nov. 2, 2004, after Bishop Edward Kmiec was installed as the bishop of Buffalo, N.Y.
Choby said one of the immediate challenges he would face as the new bishop of Nashville is finding a way to serve a growing Catholic population with a shrinking number of priests.
“I feel very comfortable with being Bishop of the Diocese of Nashville,” Choby told The Associated Press. “I have so much support.”
He said he’s confident that the Diocese of Nashville will be able to properly serve its population, which includes about 75,000 members in 51 parishes and 3 missions across 38 Middle Tennessee counties. The number of seminarians in Middle Tennessee studying to become priests has grown in the past few years from four to 15, he said.
“I believe we may soon have 20 to 25 seminarians,” Choby said. “Plus, we’ve got a lot of very talented lay people that serve the diocese well.”
He was first notified of the Pope’s selection on Dec. 6, when Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Holy See’s representative in the United States, called him.
Nashville-area priests and Catholics said Choby will serve the Diocese of Nashville well, having grown up in the area. The bishop-elect attended Cathedral School and St. Edward School and graduated from Father Ryan High School in 1965.
“He’s from this community. He knows Nashville; he knows the people,” said Lily Ayala-Berlyn, vice president for advancement at the Dominican Campus in Nashville.
Choby was ordained a priest for the diocese in 1974 and studied church law at a pontifical university in Rome.
He said he was at first reluctant to accept the diocesan administrator position because he was content serving St. John Vianney in Gallatin, where he has been serving as pastor for 16 years.
“Initially I thought about declining the election, but then I really sensed that it would be fine,” Choby said. “I talked to a couple of priests, and they were very enthusiastic. People were very supportive.”
In 1999, the Diocese of Nashville became embroiled in the nationwide Catholic priest abuse controversy when two ex-Catholic priests confessed to molesting children when they worked in the Nashville Diocese.
A settlement was reached earlier this month in a lawsuit against the diocese brought by two young men who claimed they were molested by former priest Ed McKeown when they were children. The specifics of the agreement were not made public.
Both men argued that the diocese knew McKeown, who is now serving a 25-year prison term, was a sexual predator and didn’t warn the community about the possible danger when he left the priesthood.
Choby said the issue was not solely a Catholic one, but one that “clouds our whole society.”
“Certainly I will make the effort to do anything I can do to respond to the victims,” he said.
The Rev. John Kirk, associate pastor of St. Philip Catholic Church in Franklin said Choby, who he has known for more than 30 years, is an excellent choice for bishop.
“It’s a good Christmas present,” he said.

B XVI announces next 3 World Youth Day Themes

From Zenit:

Benedict XVI has selected the themes for World Youth Day for the next three years.
The events in 2006 and 2007 will be at the diocesan level. The 2008 event, in Australia, will be international.
In 2006, young people of the world will reflect on verse 105 of Psalm 119: "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path."
The theme chosen for 2007 is from the Gospel, John 13:34: "Love one another, as I have loved you."
The World Youth Day to be held in Sydney from July 15-20, 2008, will focus on the theme taken from the Acts of the Apostles (1:8): "You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses." .

Parish in East Toledo to close

From the ever-lovely Toledo Blade :

An East Toledo parish that appealed its closing to the Vatican has won a partial victory from Rome and now plans to plead its case to the church's highest court, according to a parishioner leading the effort.
Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, however, said yesterday the ruling upholds his decision to close Holy Rosary Parish, 821 North Wheeling St., with only minor procedural changes required. The Congregation for the Clergy, one of nine governing bodies in the Vatican curia, upheld Bishop Blair's decision to close Holy Rosary Parish but said the wrong section of canon law was cited, which could affect distribution of the church's assets.
Rather than close Holy Rosary, the bishop should have merged the church with a neighboring parish or assigned it to a newly formed parish, the Vatican said. When parishes are closed, their cash savings, real estate, and other assets - or liabilities - go directly to the diocese, while the assets of parishes that are merged or assigned to new parishes become property of the merged or new parishes.
"We are partly satisfied with the decree, and partly not happy with it," said George Van Doren, a parishioner who has spearheaded Holy Rosary's appeals. The church was among 17 parishes in the 157-parish diocese closed by Bishop Blair effective July 1 in the most sweeping realignment in the history of the Toledo diocese.
Mr. Van Doren said the 200 or so members of Holy Rosary had hoped the Congregation for the Clergy would overturn Bishop Blair's decision to close their parish, but he called the assets part of the decree decision "a huge win" for churches targeted for closing.
"It's significant because it confirms our argument that the bishop can't just outright close your parish. He has to at least merge you or form a new parish," Mr. Van Doren said.
Mr. Van Doren and Bishop Blair said the Vatican issued a similar ruling for St. James Church in Kansas, Ohio, the only other closed parish in the Toledo diocese that appealed to Rome.
Holy Rosary had $200,000 in its bank account before the diocese announced its closing, said Mr. Van Doren, chairman of the church's finance council.
In his view, the Vatican decree will deter bishops from closing parishes merely to seize their assets when the U.S. Catholic Church is paying millions of dollars to victims of clerical sexual abuse and some dioceses are declaring bankruptcy.
Mr. Van Doren said Holy Rosary will take the next step and appeal its closing to the Apostolic Signatura, the church's highest-ranking court.
Bishop Blair said yesterday the assets of all closed parishes have been frozen until a decision is made on proper use of property and funds. He said the closings and mergers of a dozen parishes were the result of years of planning by a diocesan panel, and that finances had nothing to do with his decision.
The decree from the Congregation for the Clergy addressed "what is the proper canon by which the assets and liabilities of the suppressed parish are handled," Bishop Blair said. "Rome reviewed everything. … My decision on closing the parish was totally upheld."

Former Salt Lake Bishop to head S.F. archdiocese

From the San Jose Mercury News :

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed the current bishop of Salt Lake City to lead the San Francisco archdiocese, which is considered by many to be among the most liberal in the nation.
Monsignor George Niederauer, 69, had served as bishop for the Salt Lake City diocese for about a decade. He began the job in San Francisco on Thursday and will be formally installed Feb. 15.
During a news conference, Niederauer said he was looking forward to meeting and working with San Francisco's community because it's ``richly varied -- socially, ethnically and culturally.''
He said he supports the church's teachings on abortion and same-sex marriage, though ``that doesn't mean I do not care about and want to serve everyone in the church. . . . We're not talking here about condemning, rejecting or labeling people.''
The Los Angeles native was ordained in 1962 and appointed to the Salt Lake City post in November 1994.
Niederauer said Thursday he was ``mistaken'' when he wrote a letter to a judge in the late 1980s urging leniency for Andrew Christian Andersen, a former Orange County priest who was convicted of 26 counts of child abuse. In his letter, Niederauer said the boys might have interpreted ``horse play'' as molesting. The judge sentenced Andersen to five years' probation and treatment. His parole was revoked in 1990, and he was sentenced to six years in state prison after his arrest in New Mexico for forcing a teenage boy into a car, assaulting him and trying to sodomize him. Andersen was removed from the priesthood in the mid-1990s.
``The church and I knew much less about this whole matter than we do now,'' Niederauer said.
Nonetheless, at least two survivors of sexual abuse by priests showed up at the news conference to meet Niederauer and give him a letter written on behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
They urged him to release the names of potentially dangerous priests, suspend accused priests and reach out to heal the survivors of sex abuse, according to the letter.

The Travel dossier: B XVI to Prague in Sept. 06

From the Prague Daily Monitor :

Pope Benedict XVI will probably come on a visit to Prague next September, Prague Archbishop Cardinal Miloslav Vlk told CTK today.
In such a case, the Pope will link his visit to the Czech Republic with the planned trip to his native Bavaria, Vlk said, adding that Benedict XVI has already received the invitation by Czech bishops, but an invitation from President Vaclav Klaus is necessary, too.
During his meeting with Papal Nuncio to the Czech Republic Diego Causero today, Klaus mentioned the invitation.
Presidential Office spokesman Petr Hajek told the media that Klaus had invited the Pope to the Czech Republic, but Causero did not consider it an official invitation.
According to diplomatic habits, the verbal invitation is considered the first step toward the visit. If it is accepted by the addressed side, an official visit follows, Hajek said.
Vlk said that he welcomed Klaus's intention. "We like it and we agree with it," Vlk said.
"We have invited him and the Pope has agreed. But we have not yet published it since we did not have any precise date," Vlk said.
However, Pope's trip to Germany was already announced on December 8. He is scheduled to visit Munich, Regensburg, Altoettingen and his native town of Marktl am Inn on September 10-15.
Previous Pope John Paul II visited the Czech Republic in 1990, 1995 and 1997.

Pope and Catro--round 2?

Via Reuters:

ROME (Reuters) - Cuban President Fidel Castro wants Pope Benedict to make a visit to his country, an Italian cardinal has said. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, who visited Cuba in October and met Castro, told the Italian Catholic business magazine "Il Consulente Re" that Castro told him he was impressed by Benedict, who was elected last April.
"I recognized in him the face of an angel, the face of a very good person. I would like to invite him to Cuba," Bertone quoted Castro as telling him.
According to the monthly magazine, published on Tuesday, Castro asked Bertone to help arrange a visit. Benedict's predecessor John Paul made a historic visit to communist Cuba in 1998 and held mass in Havana's Revolution Square.
The Vatican embassy in Havana said no formal invitation had been made by Cuba requesting another papal visit.
"During that meeting with the Cardinal, there were real showings of esteem for Pope Benedict," Papal Nuncio Monsignor Luigi Bonazzi told Reuters.
In a rare meeting, Castro dined with the hierarchy of Cuba's Roman Catholic Church on Nov 16 to mark 70 years of unbroken diplomatic relations between Havana and the Vatican.
Ties remained intact even though hundreds of priests were expelled after Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and Cuba became an atheist state.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban government abandoned official atheism and allowed religious believers to join the ruling Communist Party a decade ago.

the Pope and shopping

From the Wisconsin State Journal ; a rather irreverant look at BXVI's calls against Christmas consumerism....

I hate to say this, but Pope Benedict XVI is starting to meddle with Christmas.
No, he's not saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Even the pope wouldn't take on Bill O'Reilly or the American Family Association.

What the pope, who celebrates his first Christmas as head of the Catholic Church this year, is doing is far more insidious: He's urging people to give joy rather than merchandise.

"You should bring joy, not expensive gifts that cost time and money," the pope said Sunday during a homily at Santa Maria Consolatrice Church in Rome. "With a smile, an act of kindness, a little help, forgiveness, you can bring joy and that joy will come back to you."

Well, that kind of idea might work in Rome. But here in America, we know what joy is and it is not a smile or an act of kindness.

Joy is receiving a 62-inch projection television set with surround sound, a bargain at just $4,995, or a 50-inch plasma TV for a mere $3,995.

It is obvious the pope isn't married. Just try giving your wife a kindly smile for Christmas. See how long her joy lasts.

No, if you want to bring real joy to your home, try an Elextrolux Trilobite vacuum cleaner. You've probably heard of the Roomba. That's a robotic vacuum that sells for about $250 and goes circling round the living room bumping into things. A mere toy compared to the Trilobite.

According to the Electrolux promotions, the name "comes from the hard-shelled sea creature from the Paleozoic era (between 250 million and 560 million years ago) that roamed the ocean floor feeding on particles and small animals."

Take that, Roomba! The Trilobite, which costs a cool $1,779, uses a form of sound radar to locate itself. "Much like a bat, which emits a high-pitched sound to create a personal sonar reading of its landscape, the Trilobite pings 60,000 HX ultra sound vibrations at surfaces to create a map of the room and remember it for future assignments."

Put one of those babies on the floor of the Sistine Chapel and you can save the salaries of five Swiss Guards.

While the Trilobite is cleaning the chapel, the pope can catch up on his voice mail using his new state-of-the-art cell phone.

Like the Samsung i730 PDA telephone that you can buy for $799 - or considerably less with discounts. It is a telephone. It is a Personal Digital Assistant. It is a music player and a video player and a game player. But, here's what really turns a guy on: It's what's under the hood.

"Under the hood, the i730 sports a 520 MHz Intel Bulverde CPU with 65 MG of RAM and 128 MB of embedded flash memory."

I have no idea what I just said, but I think this cell phone doubles as a powerful sports car.

I'm not sure the pope gets it.

"In today's world, God is absent," he told the Christians in Rome Sunday. "People need anesthesia to live. They live in a dark world."

Perhaps in Rome, but not here. Here, if we need to escape the darkness, we don't just light a candle. We gas up the cell phone and drive into the brave new world of consumer products.

So what does B XVI think of church and state?

From Zenit:

To Benedict XVI secularity means a "healthy separation," not an opposition, between powers.

The Pope delivered that message today when he received the credentials of the new French ambassador to the Holy See, Bernard Kessedjian. The 62-year-old diplomat had been France's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

The Holy Father made reference, in his speech delivered in French, to the recent 100th anniversary of the approval of the French law for the separation of Church and state.

"As my predecessor John Paul II recalled in a letter addressed to French bishops," Benedict XVI said, "the principle of the lay state lies in a healthy distinction of powers."

"It is by no means antagonistic and does not exclude the Church's ever more active participation in social life," the Pope added. Such an approach, he said, is careful to maintain "full respect for the competencies of each side."

"This concept," the Holy Father went on, "must promote the Church's autonomy, both in her organization and her mission."

For this reason he deemed "very positive that these opportunities for dialogue between the Church and civil authorities at all levels are created."

The Pope said, "I am certain that this will allow all forces concerned with the well-being of society to unite their efforts for the good of citizens."

Hey Benedict...want to come talk to the U.S. Congress? Or the judges? Or the Indian legislature?

Monday, December 19, 2005

It's not just the mega-churches anymore....

I've written at some length about the mega-church closing issue, but now I see it isn't just them. Smaller churches around the country, including two that I've seen around here, are closing their doors on Christmas Day.

I was talking about this with my Dad yesterday on the way to Church, and he said, "Isn't Christmas on a Sunday?" I said yes. Then he asked, "wouldn't they be open anyway, on a Sunday?" I affirmed that. He then added, "and wouldn't they be open on Christmas, too?" I answered that I supposed they would be. "So why are they closed when it's Christmas and a Sunday, which should give them two reasons to offer a service?"

Good points, Dad. Good points. :)

Why can't novelists find another topic?!

Grrr!! Just after I write about my beefs with The DaVinci Code I find there's another conspiracy theory novel about the Church coming out....

From the Herald Sun:

THE Vatican, having weathered author Dan Brown's bestseller The Da Vinci Code, will now be battening down the blockbuster hatches against a new novel claiming that Pope John Paul I was assassinated.
ohn Paul I died of an apparent heart attack just 33 days after becoming Pope in 1978.
But Portuguese author Luis Miguel Rocha, 29, dubbed the "new Dan Brown", says he was murdered because he was aware of money laundering involving the Vatican Bank and planned to liberalise church doctrine.
Rocha says his The Last Pope is based on documents from a secret Vatican source, which he will reveal in April.
The novel depicts a conspiracy involving top financial officials, governments, and a mafia group including Vatican officials.
"He wanted to be the last wealthy pope," Rocha said. "John Paul I wanted to redistribute the riches of the church, open the church to women, and authorise contraceptives."
John Paul's death on September 28, 1978, instantly gave rise to speculation over discrepancies in the official story and over the Vatican's refusal to allow an autopsy.
In 1984, British author David Yallop's In God's Name proposed that John Paul was murdered.

Geez, can we pick another topic to write about? Another institution to bash?? Hello?????

Newsweek and JP II

From the 12/16 Newsweek :

Pope John Paul II, 84
No pope since Peter had loomed so large. His travels to 129 countries over 26 years covered the equivalent of three times the distance between the Earth and the moon. He was seen in person by more people than any other leader, spiritual or secular, in history; his Vatican funeral last April drew a total of 3 million mourners. Having grown up in Poland—he was the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years—Karol Wojtyla experienced both the Nazi occupation and Soviet domination. He never forgot the feeling of "humiliation at the hands of evil," and never hesitated to speak out about the need for freedom, morality and justice. In 1979, his first visit to Poland as pope inspired the birth of the Solidarity movement, which toppled the communist regime and helped trigger the collapse of the Soviet empire and the end of the cold war. John Paul was a doctrinal conservative, holding the line on birth control, abortion and women's roles in the church, but he was also the first pope in history to visit both a synagogue and a mosque, and he reached out to the Third World in a way none of his predecessors had. His was a truly revolutionary pontificate—and he looms every bit as large in death as he did in life.

Nice to see a relatively positive appreciation of JP II, eh?

"A Man on a Mission" from Time Magazine

From Time : a review of B XVI's beginnings as the Holy Father...(I've kept the choice bits...the whole thing is at:,13005,901051226-1142185-3,00.html) Very nice piece written as the magazine named him "European Newsmaker of the Year" (why he wasn't worthy of "person" of the Year, I don't know...why the Gates' and Bono???) Long but good....

The man who would become Pope Benedict XVI began the year behind a desk. Granted, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was no ordinary shuffler of Vatican papers; indeed, he had long been celebrated by Church conservatives as the architect of Pope John Paul II's doctrinal policy and vilified by progressives as the panzerkardinal who defended Catholic orthodoxy with the impenetrability of a tank. Yet Ratzinger's quotidian reality was essentially that of an exalted Catholic Church bureaucrat. Working the day shift at Church headquarters for 23 years meant studying and safeguarding the Gospels, not preaching it...
The new Pope has stepped onto the world stage with grace, warmth and an understated clout, qualities that make him our choice for European Newsmaker of the Year. A man often described as methodical and contemplative — even downright shy — has created a charisma all his own, one that seems to defy our turn-up-the-volume, look-at-me times. At 78, Benedict is the archetype of the quiet, lifelong believer who suddenly sees it is his turn to speak up, a rejuvenated old soul surprisingly well-equipped for his final mission. Father Joseph Fessio, who has known the Pope since the 1970s, said his former professor "actually seems healthier, younger, more radiant, more at peace" since assuming the papal throne.
Yet Ratzinger's peaceful countenance belies an energetic soul. The new Pope is a man on a mission, determined to reassert Catholic orthodoxy in the face of the challenge of modern times, and to make the Church once again a central part of the life of Europe, a geographical entity once coterminous with Christendom but now the most secular place on earth. Ratzinger's public image may be more cuddly than many expected it would be, but his beliefs have not budged. He has made it clear that traditional Church teachings on abortion, female clergy and homosexuality will not be challenged so long as he's in charge. (emphasis mine)
Yet away from the most controversial issues, the Pope has shown an ability to preach eloquently about the core issues of modern existence — good and evil, charity and consumerism, and the slippery slope of instantaneous self-fulfillment. Ratzinger, says a top aide to a progressive European Cardinal, "has a brilliant way of summing up a concept in a single sentence. He can clean off the window of modern history, and give you a clear vision of what's wrong with our society."
The new Pope's mission is the same one that has driven him since he was ordained in his native Bavaria. But Ratzinger's essential beliefs were rarely seen more clearly than during — and after — his predecessor's final hours. On the evening of April 1, a veteran aide to Ratzinger recounted how, that morning, his boss had gathered together employees in the doctrinal office for a reciting of the rosary, and then informed them of his visit to see John Paul. "I've never seen him that emotional," the Vatican official said. Ten days later, it fell to Ratzinger to lead the service for John Paul's funeral. It may have been the most-watched such ceremony in human history, with over 1 million faithful and dozens of world leaders jammed in and around St. Peter's Square, and tens of millions more watching on television. Ratzinger was a study in serenity, guiding the elaborate liturgy with poise, and delivering a moving, plainspoken homily... "After John Paul died," a Rome-based Cardinal recalled recently, "Ratzinger seemed to be carrying the entire Church on his shoulders." Hours before the voting was to begin, he gave his last speech as Cardinal, an impassioned defense of orthodoxy in which he denounced "the dictatorship of relativism." The next day, he was Pope. Beaming from the loggia above a drizzly St. Peter's Square, Papa Benedetto XVI told the world that the Cardinals had elected "a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."
He quickly got down to business. Benedict fast-tracked John Paul's road toward sainthood, named his own successor in the doctrinal office and prepared his first encyclical (due out around Christmas). In August, he visited his native Germany for World Youth Day, where he made a historic visit to the Cologne synagogue, spoke out forcefully against terrorism in a meeting with German Muslim leaders, and won over some 1 million young people — many of whom had originally signed up to see their beloved John Paul.
Benedict's public appeal comes from a manner that is always composed. His voice has a singsong cadence and his smile lights up his aging face. He doesn't mince words. "True revolution can only come from God," he told the youth gathering in Cologne. The new Pope has managed to fill John Paul's shoes without trying to match his oversized magnetism, and in so doing has revealed a side of his character that perhaps he didn't even know he had. Angelo Cardinal Scola of Venice, who has known Ratzinger since 1971, says the papacy has brought out the best in his mentor. Ratzinger, Scola told Time, "has the gift to be able to speak, at the same time, to the most simple and the most cultured of people. In 35 years, every single time I have seen or heard him, I have learned something new."
The new Pope himself seems ready to learn. Over the summer, he met in a one-month span with the leaders of the ultratraditionalist Lefebvrites and then with Hans K√ľng, a Swiss-born progressive theologian who has loudly disagreed with much of Cardinal Ratzinger's doctrine. He showed no sign of giving ground on either flank, but he listened. At October's Synod of Bishops, he introduced the first-ever open discussion period, and took part in it. "That the Pope himself spoke up was evidence that he wants a direct and immediate dialogue with his brother Bishops — a precious sign of a healthy collegiality," says Scola, whom Benedict picked to preside over the three-week-long meeting. And he reaches out, above all, to his flock. Benedict has already produced a series of penetrating homilies, using language that often doesn't quite sound like it should come from a Pope. In a passage on sin, he wrote of the temptation to "think that bargaining a little with evil, reserving some freedom against God, is good, perhaps even necessary. But if we look at the world, it is not so. Evil always poisons." His predecessor's poetic touch made the world take notice. Benedict will connect by the power of his prose.
But for all his learning and his sense of mission, the great surprise of Benedict's papacy so far — at least to those who didn't personally know him — has been a quiet humanity. At the end of a general audience in August, the Pope had set aside time for a long line of the ill and elderly to personally greet him. A girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, approached, holding her mother's hand and gripping a teddy bear. Her hair was cut short and her face was puffy from medication. The Pope looked straight in the little girl's eager eyes, and brushed his hand with a blessing across her forehead. And then, without missing a beat, he reached over and blessed the teddy bear in the same way. Among those for whom doctrine is key, Benedict's unshakable convictions will earn him both fans and foes. For those of us less sure of our faith — and even those with none at all — the new Pope reminds us, simply, that a missionary's work is never done.