FaithWorld

from India Insight:

Can you outsource God?

– Saritha Rai writes for the GlobalPost, where this article first appeared. –

It is dawn in Kerala, a palm frond of a state in India's South West. As the sun's first rays hit the church steeple, a Holy Mass is being conducted in the local Malayalam language.

Only, the prayer is dedicated to a newborn by his Catholic family half a world away in the United States.

Requests for these so-called Mass Intentions, or prayers offered for a specific reason, pour into India from the United States, Canada and Europe, where there is a huge shortage of priests.

This outsourcing to faraway India is a quaint practice that has been called "religious outsourcing."

Ex-nun urges Indian Catholic Church reform in tell-all book

amenA Roman Catholic nun who left her convent in India after 33 years of service has penned an unflattering picture of life within the cloistered walls in a book that may further embarrass the Church.

In “Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun”, published in India in English this month, Sister Jesme tells of sexual relations between some priests and nuns, homosexuality in the convent and discrimination and corruption in Catholic institutions…

“Amen” grabbed media headlines in February, when it was first published in Malayalam — the regional language of Kerala. With the new English edition and offers of a film based on the book, Sister Jesme’s plea for a reformation of the Church is now set to reach a wider audience.

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.

SSPX set to push the envelope against the Vatican again

mueller-regensburgThe ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), recently in the headlines for having a Holocaust denier as one of its four bishops recently readmitted to the Roman Catholic Church, looks set to push the envelope with Rome again by ordaining 21 new priests in three different countries on June 27.* Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, the German diocese where the SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen plans to ordain three of those men, has declared the planned ordinations a violation of Church law and has urged the Vatican to warn the SSPX not to go through with them. He told Bavarian Radio on Sunday that he hadn’t heard back from Rome yet and would bring up the issue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) personally on his next monthly trip there.

*CORRECTION: Not all will be ordained that day — 13 priests will be ordained in Minnesota on June 19. (Photo: Bishop Müller, 21 Sept 2007/Michael Dalder)

In the subtle ways of the Vatican, a non-response from Rome to a bishop’s query is like the yellow signal on a traffic light. It’s neither yes nor no, in that vague way that says if it’s not openly forbidden, one might be able to live with it, but, uh, we don’t want to put that in writing, so over to you. The question now is whether the Vatican will opt to live with this latest challenge to its authority.

Visiting the Samaritans on their holy West Bank mountain

samaritan-slideshow (Click on the photo above for a slideshow on the Samaritans)

Samaritan High Priest Abdel Moin Sadaqa was relaxing on his porch watching Al-Jazeera on a wide-screen TV when we dropped by his home to talk about his ancient religion. “I like to keep up with the news,” the 83-year-old head of one of the world’s oldest and smallest religions explained as he turned down the volume. Told we wanted to make him part of the news, more precisely part of a feature on Samaritanism, he sat up, carefully put on his red priestly turban and proceeded to chat away in the fluent English he learned as a boy under the British mandate for Palestine. Our interview with him and other Samaritans were the basis for my feature “Samaritans use modern means to keep ancient faith.”

sadaqa (Photo: High Priest Abdel Moin Sadaqa at his home, 19 May 2009/Tom Heneghan)

Visiting the descendants of the biblical Samaritans was the last stop in a series of visits in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank I made after covering Pope Benedict’s trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Leaving Jerusalem with Ivan Karakashian from our bureau there, we drove through Israel’s imposing security barrier to Ramallah, picked up our Nablus stringer Atef Sa’ad there and then drove north along the web of priority roads that link the spreading network of Israeli settlements in the West Bank back to Israel. Signs of the Israeli-Palestinian face-off were all around — Israeli army patrols and checkpoints, guarded Jewish enclaves flying the Star of David flag on the hills and Palestinian villages with their mosques and minarets in the valleys. The tension seemed to melt away, though, when we turned onto a narrow road to wind our way up Mount Gerizim to the Samaritan village of Kiryat Luza.

The West Bank Samaritans used to live in Nablus, the nearest Palestinian city, but left it when the first intifada in 1987 brought the tension too close for comfort. The Samaritans get along with both Israelis and Palestinians and many have identity papers from both sides, Husney Kohen, one of the faith’s 12 hereditary priests, told us at the community’s small museum in Kiryat Luza. But their custom of not taking sides and keeping secrets meant that gunmen began using their neighbourhood as a place to execute enemies in broad daylight without worrying about witnesses. “We weren’t hurt, but we were afraid,” he said. Now living on their holy mountain, the Samaritans feel safe.

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)

Beyond financial crisis, Christian-Muslim dialogue progresses

Dialogue participants at Lambeth Palace, London, 15 Oct 2008/Episcopal Life Online, Matthew DaviesThe financial crisis so dominates the news these days that reports on a meeting of the Christian and Muslim religious leaders and scholars pictured here zero in first on what they said about the economy. These men and women of faith would readily admit they look like anything but a group of portfolio managers, but comments on the crisis now get top billing no matter where they come from. We grabbed the crisis angle too, breaking out the economic statement from the final communique yesterday as our first item on this meeting. With that done, let me go back to look at the rest of the news from the latest Common Word dialogue meeting in Cambridge and London on October 12-15.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this meeting was how both sides — 17 Muslims and 19 Christians — worked to understand the other’s faith and find ways to spread that understanding within their communities. For example, in his opening address, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams tackled the problem of how to deal with the the two faiths speak differently about God. “While what we say about God is markedly different,  irreducibly different in many respects,” he said, “we recognize in each other’s language and practice a similarity in the way we understand the impact of God on human lives, and thus a certain similarity in what we take for granted about the nature or character of God.” 

Meeting in Cambridge, they held sessions in the “scriptural reasoning” practiced at the university’s Inter-Faith Programme. In these sessions, Christians, Muslims and Jews read passages from their scriptures together and then explain them to each other. David David Ford/Cambridge Inter-Faith ProgrammeFord, an Anglican theologian from Northern Ireland who is director of the Inter-Faith Programme, told me he attended one such session with a British Anglican bishop, a German Jesuit priest, a Muslim sheikh from the Emirates, a Libyan Islamic theologian, a British Methodist theologian and an Iranian ayatollah.  “We were all studying together and dealing with important issues,” he said. “Some of the Muslim scholars were doing this for the first time with Christians,” said Aref Ali Nayed, a senior advisor to the Inter-Faith Programme.

Priestly turf wars in the Holy Land

Loving thy neighbour is not always easy, especially, it seems, when it comes to the traditional site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Worshipper at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 8 2007

Christian factions have squabbled for years over who controls which parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s divided Old City.

Sometimes they even come to blows.

Priests and worshippers at an Orthodox Palm Sunday celebration on April 20 ended up brawling after Armenian clerics apparently kicked a Greek Orthodox priest out of a shrine at the church — one of Christianity’s holiest.

Seminarians in black rock for Pope Benedict

Priest at youth rally for Pope Benedict, 19 April 2008/poolAt a rock concert on Saturday in the grounds of a seminary in Yonkers, just north of New York City, thousands of young Catholics mixed with hundreds of seminarians dressed in long black cassocks or black suits. The mosh pit in front of the stage was a sea of clerical black as the young seminarians jumped, clapped and danced to the music in brilliant sunshine.

“I give them a lot of credit for being willing to wear them on such a hot day,” said Maggie Coyne, 18, a student at Albertus Magnus High School in Rockland County, NY, who was due to present a gift to Pope Benedict on stage.

“It is a little outdated but it shows that they deserve respect. They’re doing a tremendous thing,” she said.