FaithWorld

Storm in a cappuccino cup? 106-year-old nun supports Obama

Sister Cecelia Gaudette/CBS photoSister Cecilia Gaudette is an American Catholic nun who is spunky despite her 106 years.  She was born in Manchester, New Hampshire on March 25, 1902 — when Republican Teddy Roosevelt was president  — and has been living (until recently) in obscurity in a convent in Rome.  The last time she voted was in 1952, for Dwight Eisenhower, another Republican. Now she is voting for Barack Obama. Read the Reuters story here and watch the CBS video to find out why.

Not surprisingly, the blogosphere has reacted with both praise and condemnation for Gaudette for backing a candidate who supports abortion rights.  Some readers even see the story as a kind of covert media campaigning for Obama. Last month a Roman Catholic with a much higher profile,  Archbishop Raymond Burke, a senior American official at the Vatican, caused a stir when he said the Democratic Party risked becoming a “party of death” because of its choices on abortion, embryonic stem cells and other bioethical questions.

With the Obama button on her habit and little American flag in hand, Sister Cecelia seems to be a perfect subject for a nice little story. Is that all this is? Or do you think her critics are right to read much more into this?

Prejudice against Muslims, Jews on the rise in Europe – Pew study

Swastikas on Muslim gravestones in northern France, 6 April 2008/stringerAnti-Muslim and anti-Jewish feelings are rising in several major European countries, according to a survey by the Washington- based Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude Survey. Mike Conlon in our Chicago bureau has summed up the report here.

Apart from the figures themselves, what struck me most was the way the study says the trends are moving. Pew said the upswing in anti-Muslim feelings came mostly between 2004 and 2006, with some falls since then, while the upswing of feelings against Jews has come mostly between 2006 and 2008. Is this matched by facts on the ground, such as attacks on religious people and sites or increasingly discriminatory acts or agitation against religious minorities? Or is this a change in mood that need surveys like this to be perceived?

The news media tend to focus on actual examples of such prejudices, such as the recent anti-mosque campaign in Italy or suspected anti-Semitic attack on a young Paris Jew, since these are news events that reflect prejudices. This is admittedly an imperfect measure (which, by the way, is one reason why we also report surveys like this). We don’t claim to be able to cover such events so thoroughly that we could track trends like Pew does. Even with that proviso, I’m not sure I would have said that Europe saw a surge of anti-Muslim feeling between 2004 and 2006 and a surge of anti-Jewish feeling since then. The evidence from actual events is difficult to read.

The Pope and Carla – a photographer’s dream

Pope Benedict at a recent general audience at the VaticanDuring a Vatican briefing this week on Pope Benedict’s trip to France, a television producer got up and asked the question that surely was foremost in the minds of many photographers and television crews struggling to hold back yawns as subjects such as France’s secular history were discussed:

Will Carla Bruni be at the airport to welcome the pope?

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi smiled. He said Carla Bruni’s husband — who happens to be Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France – had made it known that he might be at the airport. But he said he did not know if Bruni would be there. Heads of state usually wait for popes at their palaces but sometimes, to show their added respect for the pontiff, they also go to the airport.

In Paris, government officials confirmed Sarkozy would break protocol and greet Benedict at Orly airport, something he is not required to do because this is an official visit rather than a more formal state visit. They said they expected Carla to be there … but didn’t want to be quoted on that.

Christians flee, leaders deplore religious violence in India

Car burns in church compound in Kandhamal district of Orissa, 26 August 2008/Stringer IndiaRaphael Cheenath, the Roman Catholic archbishop in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, calls the religious violence there “ethnic cleansing of Christians.” Pope Benedict, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Italian government have all called for an end to the killings in the eastern state. The death toll is now 13 and possibly up to 10,000 people — mostly Christians — have sought shelter in makeshift refugee camps. More than a dozen churches have been burned. Catholic schools across India closed in protest on Friday. Local officials say the week-long violence may be waning, but this remains to be seen.

The criticism from outside the state hinted the critics believed authorities in the state had not done enough to halt the violence. No names are named, but anyone who knows Indian politics can connect the dots. The violence by Hindu mobs broke out after a Hindu leader in Orissa, Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, was killed. The state is run by a coalition which includes the main Hindu nationalist opposition party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), so suspicions immediately fall on a party that has also been already accused of turning a blind eye to the deaths of about 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. The BJP’s Lal Krishna Advani, head of the opposition in the Indian parliament, has said Maoists were suspected of the killings.

Fire at Christian orphanage in Bargah, Orissa state, 26 August 2008/Reuters TVAs our correspondent Jatindra Dash in the Orissa state capital Bhubaneswar wrote: Most of India’s billion-plus citizens are Hindu and about 2.5 percent are Christians. In the Kandhamal area, more than 20 percent of the 650,000 people are mainly tribal inhabitants who converted to Christianity. Religious violence has troubled the tribal regions of Orissa for years, with Hindus and Christians fighting over conversions. While Hindu groups accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith, the Christians say lower-caste Hindus convert willingly to escape a complex Hindu caste system.

Did Saddleback “faith quiz” cross church-state divide?

John McCain, Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback Civil Forum, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryDid Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama violate the separation of church and state? Was it right for a pastor to ask U.S. presidential candidates about their belief in Jesus Christ or their worst moral failures? Will the success of the Saddleback Civil Forum mean that major televised interviews or debates about faith will become a regular fixture in American political campaigns?

I didn’t think questions like this got enough of an airing in U.S. media before Saturday’s event. The fact that Warren made it such an interesting evening made me think the fundamental question — should there be a televised “faith quiz” at all? — would be crowded out of the public debate. The initial reactions angled on the winner/loser question or the “cone of silence” issue seemed to bear this out. But some commentators and blogs are now zeroing in on the deeper question.

Obama and Warren, 17 August 2008//Mark AveryIn the New York Times, columnist Willian Kristol (Showdown at Saddleback) applauded the event and said: “Rick Warren should moderate one of the fall presidential debates.” That says a lot about the quality of the usual televised debates but little about the church-state question. Ruth Ann Dailey’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put her answer about the church-state question right in the headline: At Saddleback, the wall stands firm.

Euro 2008: do Catholic countries have the edge?

The Euro 2008 flag flutters near Zurich’s Grossmünster church, 25 May 2008/Arnd Wiegmann“Do Catholic countries have better football players?”

I was surprised to see this headline on the Austrian Catholic website kath.net today… and even more surprised to see they seemed to mean it seriously.

“A look at the participants in the final round of the European football championship in Switzerland and Austria suggests this,” kath.net writes in a report from Vienna. “In seven of the 16 participating countries, Catholics are clearly in the majority: Poland (95 percent of the population), Spain (92 percent), Italy (90 percent), Portugal (90 percent), Croatia (77 percent), Austria (69 percent ) and France (51 percent). Only one Protestant stronghold confronts them, Sweden. Of the 8.8 million inhabitants of the northern European country, 80 percent are Lutherans.”

Poland’s team with coach Leo Beenhakker (C) attends Mass in Bad Waltersdorf, 6 June 2008/stringerThere’s no hint of analysis of why this should be relevant, or mention of the personal faith — or lack thereof — of the players on these national teams. This purely statistical view (sports fans love stats, don’t they?) goes on to point out which participating countries have large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants (Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands).

Warm words hint at further Vatican-Moscow thaw

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy meet in Moscow, 29 May 2008/Alexander NatruskinWith some news events, not much happens but the atmosphere is so striking that it’s worth mentioning all the same. That was the case in Moscow this week as Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, met Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II.

Though this was an unofficial visit, the patriarch and the cardinal both took care to use language noticeable for its friendly, accommodating and even warm tone in their greetings – a continuation of what is seen as a “thaw” and “emerging cooperation” between the two churches.

“I am convinced of the necessity in an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, based on the coincidence of our positions on many of the issues facing the Christian world today,” Alexiy told Kasper. “I believe (your) interest in the life and traditions of the (Orthodox) Church will turn out to be important between our two Churches.”

Papal succession speculation sweepstakes off and running

Cardinals file into the Sistine Chapel for conclave, 18 April 2005/poolThe papal succession speculation sweepstakes are truly off and running. The Paris daily Le Figaro started it shortly after Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States with an article saying he looked tired and pointedly mentioning possible successors. The Vatican promptly denied any health problems and veteran vaticanisti poured cold water on the story. While we mentioned this here on the blog, we haven’t done a story for the Reuters file because it’s way too early for such speculation. B16 looks like he’s in pretty good shape for 81.

But once the gates were open, two leading religion writers saw no reason to hold back. Henri Tincq, long-time religion correspondent for Le Monde in Paris, came out on Friday with a full-page portrait of the current favourite pick (here in French). The headline reads: Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, le cardinal tout-terrain (the all-terrain cardinal). Tincq starts off with an interesting lead: “There is no doubt that, if he is elected pope one day, he will allow cardinals and bishops to take the controls of a small plane or helicopter for their pastoral tours.” It seems he’s been told by the Vatican not to pilot aircraft anymore.

Tincq paints a lively portrait of the archbishop of Tegucigalpa who, apart from his religious vocation, is an amateur pilot, an accomplished musician (saxophone, organ, guitar, drums, double bass, marimba), speaks seven languages, has lobbied successfully for Third World debt relief and now heads Caritas Internationalis. And he’s only 65, meaning he has a long “window” of eligibility ahead of him.

Bush soon a Catholic? Fantasy, speculation, wishful praying?

U.S. President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair often saw eye to eye politically. Are they about to see eye to eye religiously?

Pope Benedict XVI chats with U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush in the Oval Office at the White House in WashingtonBlair, a life-long Anglican, converted to Catholicism in December after he left office in June. The Italian weekly magazine Panorama is reporting in its latest edition that Bush, a Methodist, may follow his political soul-mate and also convert to Catholicism after he leaves office next year.

To be honest, the odds of this happening appear as good as those of the proverbial snowball in hell. In fact, the Panorama article starts with two sentences saying this “might” happen and the rest of the article is background.

Vienna museum reels from Last Supper uproar, blames outsiders

Vienna Catherdal Museum director Bernhard Böhler, 9 April 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderThe mainstream Austrian press has now got hold of the debate over a controversial exhibition in Vienna’s Cathedral Museum and the director is wading right in. Austrian papers have not given the Alfred Hrdlicka exhibition too much attention until recently. The celebrated 80-year-old Austrian artist’s outspokenness and bold paintings are nothing new to country with a tradition for daring art.

Now the museum’s director Bernhard Böhler has told Die Presse newspaper he is amazed by the fierce criticism the museum has received for exhibiting a homoerotic version of the Last Supper, which had to be taken down on the request of Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. The exhibition provoked some complaints from visitors but it was the uproar on religious blogs in German and in the United States that really hit both the museum and the cardinal hard.

Boehler put this “massive verbal hostility” down to the fact that most of the critics don’t know Hrdlicka’s art well enough. He said he was “astounded by the heatedness of the debate.”