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?

Some Kosovo “crypto-Catholics” embrace their faith publicly

Outside the Catholic church in Kravoserija, 8 Sept 2008/Hazir RekaSome of Kosovo’s “crypto- Catholics” are slowly coming out of hiding. Pressured into accepting Islam centuries ago by the victorious Ottoman Turks, some families in this Balkan country maintained their Christian customs in private while passing as Muslims in public. Some of them returned to their ancestral faith in the late 19th century, after the Ottomans withdrew. Now, almost 10 years after Serbian rule ended, more have decided to go back to Roman Catholicism. The Church says the conversions now run into the thousands.

Finding these Catholics for a feature was not too hard. At a local church in Pristina, priests provided information on people who had converted and names of other churches where it had happened.

The Sopi family in the central Kosovo town of Klina, which was highlighted in the feature, was initially wary of talking to the international media after a story in the local newspaper led their Muslim neighbours to regard them differently now. But after a long chat, they agreed to an interview as long as it was neither taped nor photographed.

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.

What’s said and unsaid in French pre-visit pope cover

Le Canard enchaîné front page, 10 Sept 2008France wouldn’t be France if it didn’t satirise the high and mighty — especially when the target is none other than head of the Roman Catholic Church which once held so much power here.canard-headline-2.gif

With Pope Benedict due to arrive on Friday for his first official visit, the French satirical press is having a field day poking fun at him, Catholics, Church doctrine and anything else to do with religion. Being militantly anti-Catholic is a badge of honour for a certain type of secularist French intellectual, so this week’s editions of their favourite journals were bound to zero in on Benedict. But there’s an interesting twist…

Le Canard enchaîné (picture above), a weekly that mixes satire and investigative journalism, something like Private Eye in Britain, leads its front page with a spoof story claiming Benedict (Benoît XVI in French) has been listed in a controversial classified police registry dubbed Edvige. Pretty tame stuff. Its main scoop — the Canard is a must-read for Parisian political gossip — is the claim that President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to attend just about every important event during Benedict’s stay in France. Like many other anonymously sourced Canard scoops, this may or may not be true. Sounds likely, though…

1.5 million euro bill for 24 papal hours in Paris

Altar for papal Mass being built outside Les Invalides, 9 Sept 2008/Tom HeneghanOne and a half million euros ($2.1 million) for 24 hours in Paris? No, we’re not talking about some luxury visit, but the stopover that Pope Benedict will make on Friday and Saturday on his way to the shrine at Lourdes. The pontiff apparently did not even plan to visit the capital on his first trip to France, meant to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary there. But the city’s archbishop, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, argued for a stop in the City of Light and Benedict agreed.

The Archdiocese of Paris has offered an interesting peek into the costs of a papal visit as part of a public appeal it made to Catholics to help foot the bill. The archdiocese expects to cover all costs without having to dip into its own funds. At a media briefing on Monday, it presented pie-charts (which the French call “camemberts”) breaking down projected expenditure and income. The costs for security, which must be considerable, are assumed by the state and not included in these totals.

On the cost side, the largest chunk of the 1.5 million euro budget — 52% — will go for 15 giant screens that will be set up along the left bank of the River Seine on Friday to show live broadcasts of the pope’s activities during the day. They will then be switched to the Espalanade des Invalides, a spacious green in western Paris, to transmit his Mass to the crowd of 200,000 expected there on Saturday morning.

Pope’s students to launch Ratzinger Foundation in Munich

The sun rises over Munich’s cathedral, 9 Feb 2008/Alexandra BeierThe Ratzinger Schülerkreis, the group of Pope Benedict’s former theology students, plans to launch a foundation bearing his name this November in Munich. The group, which held its annual meeting with its former teacher at Castel Gandolfo last weekend, aims to promote theological studies “in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger”. Reflecting the international character of the Schülerkreis, the Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI foundation has a board of trustees with former students from Germany, Portugal, Ireland, Benin and the United States.

The Schülerkreis itself, which has been meeting for 30 years, is slowly taking on a more organised feel. For years, the closed-door meetings of several dozen former students and their professor went on below the radar screen of the outside world. That changed, though, when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict and the meetings were switched to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. There was still no media access, but diligent telephoning to participants yielded a rundown of the discussions. The 2006 discussion on creation was considered so interesting that the Schülerkreis decided to publish the proceedings the following year in a book Creation and Evolution.

Now they’ve even started issuing press releases after their talks. Rev. Vincent Twomey, an Irish Schüler who has written Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age, was the author and he’s sent me the text. Since we didn’t cover the meeting this year for the wire, here’s the press release:

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.

Webcast for Common Word final news conf. on Thursday

Sign outside Yale Divinity School, 25 July 2008/Tom HeneghanAn announcement about the Common Word conference we’ve been following here (and will cover on Thursday):

    FYI Yale Divinity School tells us there will be a live web stream of the final news conference of its Muslim-Christian dialogue conference on Thursday, July 31, at 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. EST/1530 – 1700 GMT. The stream will be available at the conference web site at:  http://www.yale.edu/divinity/commonword/index.shtml.   Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan, chairman of the royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, will present a summary document from the conference and will take questions from the media. Members of the media unable to attend may submit questions to Volf and Ghazi via e-mail, beginning at 11:45 a.m. EST, to: gus.spohn@yale.edu.    Sign at Yale Common Word conference, 25 July 2008/Tom HeneghanVideos of several of the conference sessions, including an opening address by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts on Monday evening, are currently available online at:http://www.yale.edu/divinity/video/commonword/video.shtm

No votes, no resolutions — a typical Anglican fudge?

Archbidhop of Canterbury Rowan Williams with African clergy at Lambeth Conference, 16 July 2008/Ho NewThe Lambeth Conference, the once-in-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops from around the globe, has come up with what it hopes will be the perfect solution for avoiding any mud-slinging.

No news could be said to be good news for the beleaguered church right now and the organisers of the Anglican summit in the English cathedral city of Canterbury may well have the Zulus to thank for that.

Anglicanism has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons as conservatives and liberals lock horns in an increasingly bitter war of words over the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. Up to a quarter of the bishops have stayed away from Lambeth in protest, a move that has shaken the Anglican Communion but, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Willliams says, will not lead to a schism.