What is most impressive to me is the impact that his memory still has on post-modern Americans (76% of which are not Catholic) six years after his death. And how high his approval is among practicing Catholics despite all the public criticism from the left and the far right in recent days.
78% of American admire John Paul II at least somewhat (98% of practicing Catholics)
55% of American admire him a good or great deal (vs. 89% of practicing Catholics).
74% of Americans think he is a good candiate for beatification (vs. 94% of practicing Catholics)
59% of Americans think he was one of the best or the best Pope in history (vs. 87% of practicing Catholics)
40% of Americans saw one of John Paul's televised Masses or events (vs. 71% of practicing Catholics)
46% of Americans watched his funeral on television (vs. 73% of practicing Catholics)
Nearly 40% of Americans say John Paul II made some difference in their spiritual lives (87% of practicing Catholics)
Here's a very moving story about Pope John Paul II from the layman who accompanied and photographed him in some of his most intimate moments for 27 years. A story that I’d never heard before, a perfect read just hours before his beatification.
“It was May 4, 1984 and Pope John Paul II was visiting Sorok Island off South Korea, a one-time leper colony where several hundred people with the disfiguring disease were receiving care."
“The protocol that day in 1984 called for John Paul to enter the Sarok pavilion where the patients were gathered, give a brief speech on the meaning of suffering, then leave. But after surveying the scene, John Paul brushed aside a cardinal who tried to speed him along, and set to work.
He touched them with his hands, caressed them, kissed each one," Mari said. "Eight hundred lepers, one by one. One by one!"
For me he was a man of God," the 71-year-old Mari said in an interview this week inside his apartment just steps from the Vatican.
I can guarantee you he was a living saint, because everything I could see with my eyes, hear with my ears, you cannot believe that this man could do so much.”
Sherry's note - the picture above shows Pope John Paul II with lepers - not in South Korea but in Africa
In the spirit of the season, I have a book on order about 100 Catholics saints who raised the dead.
I know. It is really out there. Jesus rising from the dead - OK. Even the idea of saints doing it spooks us a bit. And as for just plain Christians experiencing God raising the dead? Yeah, right.
It came as a surprise to me to discover that it has always been a rare but real part of the Christian experience. The ultimate experience of resurrection life.
My first real life exposure was years ago when I was doing gifts interviews in Washington DC and a woman came in who had had an extraordinary healing ministry for 30 years. When I asked her to tell me a story, she told me about praying for a man who rose from the dead. We hear hundreds of amazing and inspiring stories in the Called & Gifted process but this was one of those jaw-dropping moments. I tried to appear calm and pretend that I had heard stories like this before although I was inwardly skeptical. Darn. She really wanted to talk about other things so I never did hear exactly what happened.
(I had a similar experience not too long ago when I finally heard someone tell of having an experience of bi-location. As she pointed out, I do joke in workshops about my desire to hear bi-location stories, but I never expected anyone to take me up on it. 65,000+ have gone through the Called & Gifted process and I finally stumbled across someone who seems to have experienced bi-location. That percentage seems about right.)
And then there was the time in Rome, when Fr. Michael Sweeney and I and our OP host were standing jammed upright in a Roman bus famous for its crowds and its pick-pockets. I had my purse firmly clapsed under my arm and my arms rigidly down at my side when our guide casually nodded his head toward a church that we were passing and said "Oh, and that's where St. Dominic raised the boy from the dead." "Wait!" I squealed inwardly asI desperately tried to turn my wedged body so that I could see what he was referring to but we had passed the spot by before I managed to extract myself.
Another tantalizing almost-brush with resurrection.
Bl Jordan of Saxony, who followed St. Dominic as Master of the Order, wrote a very sober account of the miracle which was witnessed by a number of intelligent Dominicans.
"It happened that, once while he was in Rome, a young man, related to the Lord Cardinal Stephen of Fossa Nuova, was riding recklessly down a steep hill and thrown from his horse. While he was being carried away, it was hard to tell whether he was still alive or dead. As the crowd which had gathered was displaying its grief with wails and lamentations, Master Dominic happened along with Brother Tancred, a good, fervant man and one prior in Rome; in fact, it was he who told me of this incident. Brother Tancred said to him, "Why do you hesitate? Why don't you call on the Lord? Where is your pity for your neighbor, your confidence in God?"
Stirred by these words and inflamed by the fire of his own ardent compassion, he ordered that the young man be brought to a nearby house. There he restored him to life by his prayers and personally led him out of the house in the sight of those who had gathered."
He had expired. That is what I heard from his parents, who lived in the Roman Campagna.)
Wow. A Dominican whose instinctive response to a fatal injury was "Why do you hesitate to pray for life? Where is your pity for your neighbor, your confidence in God?"
Suddenly, it doesn't all seem so freaky.
And then I started to hear confirmed stories from sober people that Christians were starting to see people raised from the dead in significant numbers around the world.
And then I heard about Heidi and Rolland Baker, missionaries to Mozambique. Watch this short 2008 CBN interview with Heidi about the extraordinary things that she and her co-workers are seeing in northern Mozambique. Mother of over 7,000 abandoned and impoverished children, faced daily with a level of suffering and chaos that is almost indescribable, Heidi puts it bluntly "If God does not show up, we're dead."
And she talks very simply about how hard it is for western Christians to be open to the miraculous. To be desperate enough, hungry enough, humble enough to pursue God instead of depending upon our own considerable resources.
It was said of St. Dominic that he spent his days talking to people about God and his nights talking with God about people. It was his passionate longing for and pursuit of God that made it seem perfectly sane to his closest companions that he could and should pray for God to raise a young man who had died in a tragic accident.
But the question that haunts me is am I that open to God's manifest presence as St. Dominic and his early companions or as Heidi Baker is? Or am I just fine doing the conventional, educated, middle class western thing: depending entirely on my own resources? What more would God give the world through his Church if we were that desperate, that humble, that open?
Here's a creative Easter Week outreach - the Divine Mercy Project in Chicago is attracting a lot of attention.
A ten foot tall icon of the Divine Mercy, next to an empty wooden cross, in the public square of Daley Plaza (Washington & Dearborn St.), in Chicago, IL for nine days beginning on Good Friday to Divine Mercy Sunday.
24 hrs/ 9 day round the clock prayer vigil to
1) “bring souls to the fountain of My mercy,”
2) to intercede by asking the Heavenly Father to “have mercy on us and one the whole world,” and
3) to ask Jesus at the 3 o’clock hour for the conversion of Chicago, America and the Whole World as He said, “In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world – mercy triumphed over justice.” (Diary, 1572)
To promote personal deeds of mercy because Jesus said, “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36) and “I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must no shrink from this or try to excuse yourself from it. . . Even the strongest faith is of no avail without works .. . If a soul does not exercise mercy in some way, it will not obtain My mercy on the day of judgement.” (Diary, 742, 1317)
Daley Plaza is a cross-roads for thousands and the huge numbers of Chicago inhabitants have a Catholic background. If you are in the Chicago area, check it out!
It helps to have a bit of background. Rapid Christian growth is nothing new in Vietnam. For instance, there were about 233,000 new Vietnamese Christians in 2010 and roughly 40% of these new Christians were converts.
Christianity is nearly as old in Vietnam as it is in America. Catholicism began to take root 400 years ago in the early 17th century when Jesuit missionary Alexander Rhodes and company arrived. Rhodes wrote the first Vietnamese Catechism and he published the first Portuguese-Latin-Vietnamese dictionary. This dictionary was later used widely by many Vietnamese scholars to create the new Vietnamese writing system - largely using the Roman alphabet - still used today. By 1802 there were 320,000 Vietnamese Catholics and 176 priests in three dioceses.
Vietnamese Catholicism was already 300 years old when Protestantism reached Vietnam in 1911. Today about 9% of Vietnam’s people are Christian (54% are syncretistic Buddhists and there is a growing number who claim no faith at all) but three quarters of those Christians are Catholic.
While Catholics are the historic Christian majority, Protestantism is the fastest growing faith by far, increasing by 600% over the past decade. More than half of Vietnamese Protestants belong to house churches. In 2009, one evangelical group held a public Christmas gathering of 40,000 in Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon).
Over the centuries, the links of many Catholic bishops and priests to France and the west meant that they often become involved in local conflicts where Vietnamese leaders tried to ally themselves with western powers. Tolerance of Catholicism could be easily replaced by persecution if the wrong local prince lost.
The links of the educated Catholic minority with the French and then the Americans (including Cardinal Francis Spellman) led directly to US involvement in the Vietnam war. 60% of Vietnamese Catholics in North Vietnam moved south during the 50's as a result of a US supported rumor campaign begun to strengthen the political base of devout Catholic president Diem. Di?m used slogans such as "Christ has gone south" and "the Virgin Mary had departed from the North" to convince northern Catholics to immigrate to the south.
It is no surprise then, that the Vietnamese diaspora community in the US, which fled the communist take-over of the south in 1975, has a much higher percentage of Christians (23%) than the community in Vietnam.
Or that Vietnamese are being ordained as US priests in remarkable numbers. From the US Catholic Bishops website comes this note about the ordination class of 2010.
“Notable is that while Asian/Pacific islanders constitute four percent of U.S. Catholics, they make up ten percent of ordinands who responded to the survey. Joseph Minh Nguyen of the Divine Word Missionaries in Chicago, escaped from Vietnam by boat and spent four years in a refugee camp in Indonesia, before becoming a Divine Word Missionary. Anthony Bui of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, also escaped from Vietnam by boat to a refugee camp in Indonesia. Dominic Phan, a member of the Dominican order, was one of the boat people who left Vietnam in 1989 for a refugee camp in Malaysia.”
Here we are at the 4th day of the Easter season or Bright Wednesday as it is known in the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic traditions. The whole week after Easter Sunday to the following Saturday is called Bright Week and is considered to be a single continuous day.
But are we living this week as Bright Week or just No-Longer-Lent?
According to the Council of Trullo: "from the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until New Sunday (i.e. Thomas Sunday) for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries. For in this way shall we be exalted with Christ; raised up together with Him. For this reason on the aforesaid days that by no means there be any horse races or any other public spectacle".
In pre-revolutionary Russia, the taverns used to be closed during Bright Week, and no alcoholic beverages were sold. Hmmm, that would cramp the average Catholic's No-Longer-Lentstyle.
OK. Singing. Rejoicing and celebrating Christ. Delighting in the Holy Mysteries. No horse races. Got it.
If you would like to do some serious singing and delighting in the Holy Mysteries, the Great Doxology is a fantastic place to begin. Sung here by the Boston Byzantine Choir. Feel free to sing along.
Glory to you who has shown us the light.
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to all people.
We praise you, we bless you, we worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory.
Lord, King, heavenly God, Father, almighty; Lord, the only?begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father who take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, you who take away the sins of the world.
Receive our prayer, you who sit at the right hand of the Father, and have mercy on us.
For you only are holy, only you are Lord
Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Each day we bless you, and we praise your name forever and to the ages of ages.
Lord, grant that we may be kept this day without sin.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of our fathers. Your name is praised and glorified throughout all ages. Amen.
Let your mercy, Lord, be upon us, as our trust is in you.
Blessed are you, Lord, teach me your statutes (3).
Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation. I said: Lord, have mercy on me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.
Lord, to you have I fled; teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
For you are the source of life, and in your light we shall see light.
Extend your mercy to those who know you.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us (3).
Glory . . . Now and forever . . .
Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
(Then we sing in a stronger voice:)
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.[1
Yesterday's reading for Easter Wednesday raised a profound question: What can we expect of a resurrected God? How does the power of the resurrection manifest itself in us who make up the Body of Christ on earth?
"When Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in. When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’
He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God. Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him."
(Acts 3:1 - 10)
There is a old legend that a 13th century Pope was showing St. Thomas Aquinas around the glories of the Vatican and observed that Peter could no longer say that "I have neither silver or gold".St. Thomas had the ultimate snappy come-back: "Neither can he say "rise and walk".
Of course, throughout Christian history, certain Christians have been been able to say just that. Rome Reports features a fascinating story of a young Mexican boy healed of terminal leukemia, apparently through the embrace of Pope John Paul II.
“He looked like a skeleton, of only five years or so. His skin was hanging off the bone and his cheek was decaying. I was there and I had brought the mother. The pope got off the plane at the airport in Zacatecas. He saw the mother and took the child, which weighed nothing, it was only skin and bones, he kissed the baby and gave it back to the mother. That child was cured after the kiss from the pope.”
This widely known miracle wasn’t used for the beatification process because it happened during the Pope’s lifetime. This healing is simply a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit working through a very human disciple walking the same earth as you and I.
George Weigel made an thoughtful observation about John Paul's imminent beatification this weekend:
“First, I hope we remember that everything he did was the accomplishment of a radically converted Christian disciple. His resistance to the Nazi occupation of Poland; his abandonment of his youthful plans in order to enter an underground seminary; his dynamic ministry in Cracow as priest and bishop; his philosophical and literary work; his efforts at Vatican II; his epic pontificate and its teaching; his role in the collapse of European communism and in the defense of the universality of human rights—all of this flowed from his radical conversion to Christ.
Why is this important to stress? Because it’s his connection to the rest of us. There are over a billion Catholics on this planet; very few of us will enjoy the range of intellectual, spiritual, literary, athletic, and linguistic gifts that God gave Karol Wojtyla. Because of our baptism, though, all of us share with him the possibility of being radically converted Christian disciples. All of us can be Christ’s evangelical witnesses in our families, our work, our neighborhoods. All of us can live as though the truth John Paul II taught—that Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life—is at the very epicenter of our own lives.”
This year, I want to consciously, intentionally live the whole Easter season. But I don't know how.
I realized this morning that, in my 23 years as a Catholic, I've tended to live Easter as if it is just No-Longer-Lent.
After the intensity of Lent and Holy Week, Easter is - for most of us - a one day feast, not a 50 day season. A one day lamb, ham, Easter egg and chocolate blow-out. With great left-overs. And then it's spring. (Or autumn for those readers in the southern hemisphere.)
And then I go right back to my normal, anxious life that I put on hold in order to make room for the extra Lenten effort. Only now, cause it's No-Longer-Lent, I can have that triple grande mocha latte along with my anxiety.
And I'm going to need that latte as I check in around the Catholic blogosphere. Where many are discussing the whole "crisis within the crisis" thesis. Which seems to mean that Catholics who don't talk as if the world is coming to an end and persist in the virtue of hope are not obedient disciples of Jesus Christ but reprehensible enablers of an imminent disaster such as the Church has never seen before.
What tosh. I've written about this before here and here and here and here. In summary
“I'm not saying that we don't face real crisis today. We do. I'm not saying that Catholics didn't face real crisis in the past. They did.
What is laughable is our assumption that things used to be so much better in some golden era in the past. That the crisis we face are unprecedented and can only be explained by a spiritual calamity the like of which no generation before us has endured. We are so pampered. Catholics have faced crisis in every generation and most historical situations and many of those crisis have dwarfed our own.We have got to get a grip. And a brief dip into real history away from hyperbole of St. Blog's is a salutary slap in the face.”
I'd like to propose an intense and intentional celebration and living of the whole season of Easter right through to Pentecost as one of the best and most fruitful ways to get a grip and restore our hope so that we respond as true disciples of Jesus Christ to the challenges before us. Experiencing and living the reality and power of the Resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit as the first disciples did has always been the ultimate answer to whatever crisis the Church has faced in every generation and every historical situation.
The women in today's reading in Matthew 28 are "filled with awe and great joy" as they run from the empty tomb. And then Jesus meets them. And they fall down and clasp his feet. And he tells them "Do not be afraid".
What if we together dared to immerse ourselves in and then radiate the awe and great joy of the Resurrection? What if we dared to obey our Lord when he says "Do not be afraid." Do I even know what I'm talking about? No - but my experience is that God honors attempts at obedience even when we are clueless.
What if the Catholic blogosphere was filled primarily with stories of awe, conversion, and transformation, healing and resurrection, joy, hope, the Presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit for the next 50 days? Not to hide from our challenges but to remind ourselves of how the story ends: that in a truly Christian worldview, the Resurrection is the final word on human sin, corruption, and stupidity.
Would our problems magically go away? No but we would be different and our readers would be different and the conversation would have changed significantly. And I am certain that we’d be astonished at what God would do through our communal act of faith, hope, and obedience.
In any case, here at ID, we’ll be seeking to celebrate the whole 50 days. And we’d love to learn from you how you live Easter and Pentecost.
“The site of a planned outdoor Easter service at one of China's largest independent "house" churches was eerily silent Sunday as police blocked more than 500 worshippers from leaving their homes and detained more than 36 for attempting to attend religious services in Beijing, church officials said.
The gathering place for worshippers was empty as church-like bells sounded in northwest Beijing. Hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothed police officers swarmed the site of Shouwang Church and prevented CNN journalists from accessing the area.
Authorities confiscated credentials from CNN crew members and detained them for half an hour.”
Christianity is growing faster in China than anywhere else on the planet – at more than 4 times the national population growth rate. In 2010, there were 4 million additional Christians in China, two thirds of which are converts. During the hundred years between 1910 and 2010, Christians have grown from 1.7 million to 115 million. Most of the growth has happened during the last 40 years.
81% of these first, second, and third generation Christians are Independent Christians and 17.4% are Catholic. Independent Christian leaders have been planning to challenge the state’s rejection of public worship for months.
"Even in these difficulties and divisions, each community has confirmed to AsiaNews that onthe night of the Easter Vigil, there will be dozens of baptisms in each parish or group. A parish in the north will see 40 baptisms. An important fact is the age of the newly baptized (mostly adults between 30 and 40 years) and the reasons that led them to become Catholic. "In a society where there is a lot of lies, they are driven to seek the truth and to find answers to important questions of life, that materialism is unable to meet."
Some estimates state there are at least 150 thousand newly baptized each year in China."
To put this into perspective, if this estimate is correct, China would see twice as many adult baptisms during the past year as the US Catholic Church will see this Easter. But the Catholic numbers would still represents only about 5.6% of all converts to Christianity in 2010.
Here's a short clip of the Lord's Prayer being sung at Ignatius Cathedral, Shanghai.
Enjoy this fun video with its joyful traditional Easter song from Serbia:
People rejoice, nations hear:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Stars dance, mountains sing: Christ is risen, and brings the joy! Forests murmur, winds hum: Christ is risen, and brings the joy! Seas bow*, animals roar: Christ is risen, and brings the joy! Bees swarm, and the birds sing: Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Angels stand, triple the song: Christ is risen, and brings the joy! Sky humble yourself, and elevate the earth: Christ is risen, and brings the joy! Bells chime, and tell to all: Christ is risen, and brings the joy! Glory to You God, everything is possible to You, Christ is risen, and brings the joy!