FaithWorld

Serbian Orthodox bishop extols the virtues of quality wine

trebinjeThe Serbian Orthodox Church’s Bishop Grigorije of the diocese of Zahumlje and Herzegovina is not only a prominent figure in the Church who’s seen as a possible candidate for Patriarch. He is also a major vinter whose operations have earned praise and good money for quality wines.His Tvrdos Monastery, located in Trebinja in southern Bosnia, produces 500,000 bottles of wine per year and exports it to Serbia, Montenegro and even further afield to Germany, the United States, Switzerland and other countries. “It is a very good business, but it is very difficult,” he said during the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God late last month. “It is good, but it is very difficult because we have wine from Italy, France, Spain.”
(Photo: Bishop Grigorije leads service at Trvdos Monastery, 28 Aug 2009/Adam Tanner)

The Trvdos Monastery also has a minority partnership with a Serbian-American investor who owns 440 hectares of Trebinje land, of which 200 are now vineyards, an unusual tie up between the Church and profit-seeking investor (click here to see that story).The monastery’s wine, which they sell for six euros a bottle but can retail for 30 euros in a restaurant, was available in ample amount during a late morning feast of fish and vegetarian dishes. Believers from Trebinje, Bosnia’s southernmost town of about 30,000 people, crowded onto benches around long tables to enjoy the meal.Although other Serbian Orthodox monasteries and churches grow wine (and monks and priests privately say food and wine is one of the few indulgences afforded them), Bishop Grigorije said the Tvrdos operation is the largest.  “Wine, it is very good for people, it is so good,” said the bishop, who as a boy picked grapes in this largely Serbian region of southern Bosnia. “If you drink wine, and you don’t drink too much, you will be so happy and so healthy.”treb2“If you drink bad wine, you are going to feel bad.  All the southern people, Italians, French, Spanish are so much happier than the Germans, the Czechs, as they are drinking so much wine!”The Trvdos Monastery wine production came to a halt in the 1990s Bosnian war and restarted a decade ago. Every year they are boosting production by 15,000 bottles and they recently took out about a two million euro loan to buy a series of shiny new Italian Defranceschi 30,000 litre wine storage tanks, Grigorije said. After some time in those tanks the wine goes into hundred-year old barrels to acquire the wine’s hardy, full-bodied flavour.In grape-growing and wine-making, you have to have a little faith, Grigorije said, because so much depends on uncontrollable factors such as the weather: “The most difficult thing is if we won’t have grapes – it is in the hands of God.”
(Photo: Lunch at Tvrdos Monastery, 28 Aug 2009/Adam Tanner)

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Could abortion law backfire on Spain’s Zapatero?

zapateroIn a country like Spain, where a large majority still identify themselves as at least more-or-less Catholic, you’d think the government would shy away from taking on the Roman Catholic Church.  In fact, there are probably few things Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero likes better than a brawl with the bishops.

Lingering anti-clerical sentiment in sectors of Zapatero’s Socialist Party, particularly on its left-most fringes, means the PM has few more effective tools for rallying his voters than the sight of a protest march led by priests and nuns. (Photo: Prime Minister Zapatero, 5 June 2009/Juan Medina)

At a time when unemployment is closing in on 20 percent, Zapatero knows matters economic are not going to provide anything to cheer his supporters. So there was little surprise when the government rolled out a bill to liberalise abortion laws, including a provision to allow 16 year olds to abort without parental consent, in time for the European elections. At present, Spanish law allows abortion only in certain circumstances, such as if the birth poses a psychogical risk to the mother, although in practice it is easily available.

UPDATE: SSPX to ordain new priests despite Vatican warning

econe-1The Vatican warning to the ultra-traditionalist SSPX not to ordain new priests this month without Roman approval had no discernible effect on the rebel Catholic group. Soon after the Vatican declared the ordinations would be illegitimate, Father Yves Le Roux, rector of the SSPX’s St Thomas Aquinas seminary in Winona, Minnesota, said the ordination of 13 new priests there would go ahead on Friday.

“Absolutely. We are doing it,” he told our Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella by telephone. “This is something the Vatican feels it has to say. It’s a political statement but the reality is totally different.” (Photo: SSPX ordains deacons in Écône, Switzerland, 3 April 2009/Valentin Flauraud)

The SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen, in the German state of Bavaria, declared its intention to go ahead with its June 27 ordinations in a statement posted on its website on Monday (here in German original and in English). It argued that Pope Benedict’s decision in January to lift the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops was a “confidence-building measure for the coming theological discussions with representatives of the Holy See” meant to thrash out an official position in the Church for the SSPX.” Further ordinations are due at the SSPX headquarters in Écône, Switzerland on June 29.

No prayer against swine flu?

swine-flu-mass-1Jim Forsyth, our stringer in San Antonio, Texas, reports:

San Antonio has been hard hit by the swine flu, but if local Roman Catholics go to Mass to pray for deliverance from the disease, they may not get the relief they had hoped for. Archbishop Jose Gomez has issued a letter to priests in the archdiocese recommending they make changes in the Mass because of the swine flu outbreak.

“I am requesting that you offer Holy Communion under only one species, bread only,” Gomez told his priests. “Also, during the Lord’s Prayer, please suspend the holding of hands and the shaking of hands or embracing during the sign of peace.”

“Common sense would dictate that washing of hands by ministers and others who come in contact with people can be effective in preventing the spread of swine flu,” Gomez wrote.

Paraguay’s opposition slams ex-bishop president over love child

URUGUAYParaguay’s political opposition whipped out the heavy artillery on Tuesday, taking President Fernando Lugo to task for having fathered a child while he still served as a Roman Catholic bishop.

A 57-year-old leftist, Lugo admitted on Monday he is the father of a toddler, confirming his relationship with a woman who is now 26 years old.

Lugo was known as the “bishop of the poor” during the 10 years he labored in a forlorn rural area of landlocked Paraguay. The president campaigned on pledges to ease crushing poverty in the South American nation, but opposition lawmaker Carlos Maria Soler said: “I hope the poverty vows the bishop took do not go the way of his chastity vows, because then we’d really be in trouble.”

Paraguay’s ex-bishop president admits to fathering child

President Fernando LugoParaguay’s president, Fernando Lugo, admitted he fathered a child with a woman he had a relationship with when he was still known as the ”bishop of the poor” who served an impoverished rural area as a Roman Catholic bishop.Viviana Carrillo

The Catholic Church frowned on his getting into politics, but eventually the Vatican granted him an unprecedented dispensation to serve as president of the South American country without breaking Church rules.  Would the pope have been moved to such leniency if he had known Lugo broke his vows?

Picture of President Fernando Lugo taken April 13, 2009, REUTERS/Rafael Urzua; picture of Viviana Carrillo, the woman he fathered a child with, taken April 7, 2009, REUTERS/Courtesy Ultima Hora.

Tens of thousands sign petitions backing or criticising pope

Tens of thousands of people have signed petitions either backing or criticising Pope Benedict for readmitting ultra-traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson into the Roman Catholic Church. The supporters are ahead in statistical terms, but this isn’t really a representative sample so it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions. It does give some idea, though, of how much interest the issue has created. (Photo: Bishop Williamson leaves for London after expulsion order from Argentina, 24 Feb 2009/Enrique Marcarian)

The Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich reports today that about 30,000 people, including many theologians,  have signed a petition criticising the readmission of ultra-traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson and urging Pope Benedict to defend the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The petition (here in English translation) was launched by the lay reform movement Wir sind Kirche (We are Church), which the SZ says will present it to German bishops holding an assembly in Hamburg next week.

Searching on the support side, I found a French-based petition claiming 47,222 signatures so far. It praises Benedict for lifting the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops and adds: “By this brave gesture, You acted (as) the Good Shepherd of the flock entrusted to You by God.” The site includes a “letter of encouragement” by Rev. Régis de Cacqueray, head of the large French chapter of the SSPX, and sports a selection of logos from traditionalist websites — mostly not SSPX — supporting the petition.

Pope meets Devil in Düsseldorf

Pope Benedict met the Devil in Düsseldorf on Monday. To be more precise, a large papier-mâché figure of the German-born pontiff shook hands with another figure depicting the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. The mock encounter was part of the annual carnival parade on Monday, known as Rose Monday in Germany, where the parade floats traditionally poke fun at public figures.

Benedict’s decision to readmit four excommunicated bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) last month sparked off loud protests among Catholics and Jews, especially in the German-speaking countries because Williamson appeared in a Swedish television interview only days before and denied the Nazis used gas chambers or killed six million Jews. The wing on the Williamson figure says “Anti-Semitism” and the brush at the end of his tail says Piusbrüder (Pius Brothers, the German term for the SSPX priests).

Just so there’s no confusion, the Williamson figure sports an armband clearly identifying who Benedict is shaking hands with. Thanks to Ina Fassbender for these shots.

Fellay surprised by how quickly excommunications were lifted

Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), has made some interesting comments in an in-house video interview shown at a meeting of his supporters in Paris on Thursday evening. First of all, he said he was surprised to see how quickly the Vatican lifted excommunication orders against him and three other bishops. Relations with Rome had been “rather cold” for months, he said, since he declined to accept a Vatican ultimatum last June to stop criticising the pope and to accept his authority in doctrinal matters. Fellay said he wrote to the Vatican in December requesting the retraction of the excommunications as a way to make contact again. “Since the letter was relatively severe, I didn’t expect a quick response. It was just a way to reestablish contact,” he said.

(Bishop Fellay’s interview in French on Feb 5 in Paris, issued on Feb 12 by SSPX communications office DICI/also on gloria.tv)

Another reason not to expect any change in his status, Fellay said, was the fact that rumours he heard from Rome said the Vatican was thinking of reaffirming his excommunication because he was leading a “schismatic drift”. Just before he was due to leave for Rome in mid-January to make courtesy calls on some Vatican officials, he said, he got a call saying officials there wanted urgently to discuss the excommunications with him.

We know the rest of the story from there. The excommunications were lifted, Bishop Richard Williamson’s interview caused an uproar and the Vatican handled the whole thing very poorly. What is striking in this part of Fellay’s account is the apparently sloppy handling of this even beforehand. Let’s step back and remember that this split was the most important schismatic act since the Second Vatican Council. The Vatican has been dealing with this issue for years. Why such a rush all of a sudden?

End of an era for the Amazon’s turbulent priests

Liberation Theology has long been out of fashion at the Vatican, but its effects have lived on in Latin America. One is a tradition of foreign-born Catholic priests who went to the region to preach its message of justice for the poor and oppressed. But the falling number of priests in Europe and the United States and a turn away from this activist view of the Gospels has taken its toll. The clerics defending peasants against landowners and denouncing child prostitution, drug trafficking and illegal logging are growing old and the flow of foreign priests is drying up. There are Brazilian priests, but with family members living in the country, they are often more vulnerable to death threats.

Stuart Grudgings, senior correspondent in our Rio de Janeiro bureau, travelled to Abaetetuba at the mouth of the Amazon in northeastern Brazil to visit Italian-born Bishop Flavio Giovenale and other members of this disappearing breed of priests.

Read the whole feature here. (Photo left: Bishop Flavio Giovenale, 11 Feb 2009/Paulo Santos) (Photo right: Sunset over Abaetetuba, 28 Sept 2008/Paulo Santos)