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In Praise of Catechists PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 10 July 2007 08:59
Writing about Peter To Rot last weekend reminded me of the huge debt that all Catholics owe the millions of lay catechists who have evangelized, formed, prayed with, and baptized their fellow Christians and often suffered persecution and death for doing so. They have renewed and sustained the faith of millions during centuries of persecution and isolation.

When most western Catholics hear the word “catechist”, we think of the army of volunteer CCD teachers or Directors of Religious Education who work with children in an established parish under the supervision of a priest pastor.

But that hardly begins to scratch the surface since almost all direct evangelization and religious service to the Christian community not conducted by priests or religious is considered by the Vatican to be the work of “catechists”. All lay ecclesial ministers, even parish life directors, would fall under the category of “catechist”. So would people like myself and the Institute’s many lay teachers and Mark Shea and Amy Welborn and Christopher West and Ralph Martin and lay theologians like Scott Hahn – anyone who teaches or communicates the faith in some kind of public setting.

In the current polarized atmosphere in the US, lay catechists, especially lay women who are paid to work in the church, have become the object of withering scorn by many conservatives who regard them as so many ecclesial Trojan horses engaged in ministry in order to destroy the priesthood and its unique dignity and ministry.

My response in brief: nonsense.

Not only is it historical, global, and theological nonsense, it isn’t even true on the ground. Over the past 14 years, I’ve worked with thousands of “catechists”, paid and unpaid, in hundreds of parishes in 77 dioceses on 4 continents. Have I met lay ministers who are ideologues with an agenda? Of course. But I’ve met just as many priests and religious with ideological agendas and they don’t all come from the left, folks. Lay catechists are no more likely to be corrupt ideologues than priests or religious. Like priests and religious, they turn out to be remarkably like human beings: that is, they are all over the map.

Historically, it is a truly wicked nonsense, because lay catechists have held the church together heroically in so many difficult and cataclysmic circumstances that it is impossible to recount them all. It continues to be nonsense today because lay catechists are absolutely critical to the life of the Catholic Church in the global south where the majority of Catholics now live.

In Latin America, Africa, and Asia, lay “catechists” have a huge role. In Latin and Central American, catechists often work as de facto “parish life directors” since there are only 61,000 priests and a “parish” in Latin America can contain 50,000 Catholics spread over hundreds of villages and hundreds of miles . In some rural places in the Andes, a priest may visit a village only once a year. The 1,092,452 catechists of Latin and Central America are literally holding the Church together.

It is indicative of their crucial importance in the Church today that the Vatican has started to carefully track and publish catechist numbers, just like they do those of priests and religious. As of 2002, there were 2.767.451 “catechists” compared to 837,760 religious and 422,952 priests, bishops, and seminarians combined. (via Fides)

Together, that makes a total of 4,028,163 acknowledged “pastoral workers” (It’s clunky but I’ll call them this in aggregate for lack of a better term).

69% of the Catholic world’s “pastoral workers” are lay catechists. Think about that for a moment.

Then consider this: Again, according to FIDES, as of 2002:

There are 12,108 persons per priest and 2,642 Catholics per priest in the world as a whole.

How is a single ordained man, by himself, – even one who is healthy, young, zealous, and exceptionally gifted - supposed to teach, sanctify and govern 2,642 Catholics, the majority of whom are not practicing and are often spread out over wide distances, while simultaneously evangelizing those 9,466 non-Catholics that are his “share” in his spare time? (This is a factor because a pastor, in Catholic understanding, is responsible for every human being in his jurisdiction, not just the Catholics!) It isn’t humanly possible.

But if you consider that there are 2,248 persons in the world per catechist and 386 Catholics per catechist, things start to look considerably better. Admittedly, 1,862 non-Catholics per catechist is still a big number but it is still one fifth of the number that is a individual priest’s theoretical “share”.

And, if we consider priests, religious, and catechists together as evangelists, formators, and apostles, the per person/ecclesial agent ratio is reduced to 1,545 non-Catholics to one, about one eighth of the priest/person ratio alone, and the Catholic/pastoral worker ratio lowered to 265 to one, one tenth of the priest/person ratio alone. No wonder the Vatican is tracking catechists.

The Americas, where half the Catholics of the world live, has the highest number of catechists and a good thing too. In the Americas, there are 7,066 human beings for every priest and 4,402 Catholics per priest but only 529 persons and 330 Catholics per catechist.

To bring life to these numbers and to remind us of what we owe them, I think I’ll make the heroic and creative contributions of lay “catechists” around the world and through history the subject of my personal blogging for a while. I’ve done quite a lot of research in this area over the years so will just have to sort through stuff that has been sitting patiently on my hard drive for years.
You Too Can Be An Evangelizing Avatar in Your Second Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 10 July 2007 07:25
One of the most astonishing communities on the web is that of Second Life.

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents who are called "avatars". Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by a total of 7,942,532 Residents from around the globe. Second Life is the ultimate "create your own reality" experience. You can do almost anything on Second Life that you can in real life, including purchasing land.

And evangelize. Wherever the media takes a large number of people, you can be sure that evangelicals see a new mission field.

As per this article from World Gospel Mission which is creating a handbook for Christians who are members of Second Life about how to share their faith in that setting.
2007 Is a Very Good Year PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 09 July 2007 07:41
Some things you just gotta acknowledge. According to my local utility:

During a nationwide taste test at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 75th Annual Meeting, the country’s mayors placed Colorado Springs Utilities’ water among the best tasting water in the United States. Colorado Springs was among the top five finalists, with St. Louis winning the top prize. A total of 93 cities competed in the contest.

The blind taste test was performed by the nation’s mayors over the course of three days earlier this month in Los Angeles. Colorado Springs outranked cities such as Arvada, CO; Beverly Hills, CA; Dubuque, IA; Green Bay; WI; Lansing, MI; Northbrook, IL; San Jose, CA and Tallahassee, FL.

And way ahead of Seattle, Mark!
Sending Out the Seventy (or Seventy Two) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 09 July 2007 06:27
The gospel for yesterday was the famous passage from Luke 10. Fr. Mike is back in Colorado Springs and preached a really good sermon in which he acknowledged publicly for the first time that he is J.K. Rowling's long-lost twin brother and that she has entrusted him with the answer to the burning question: "What happened to Harry Potter in book 7?" - under the seal of the confessional.

Ok, maybe not . . . (dodging brickbats) but his homily was very good and the passage brought back vivid memories of my pre-Catholic life.

As a young evangelical preparing for a missionary career, I attended the "cross-culture" part of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.

I vividly remember the beginning of one class in which the instructor rolled in . . .in a wheelchair. He was a quadrapalegic former missionary and instructor in an innovative course: Language Learning in Community. It seemed like another ordinary graduate course - with a huge syllabus, lists of books, exams, papers, etc.

Except for one thing: When the instructor rolled in, I had a sudden, intense sense of the presence of God in, over, and around him. I blinked and kept staring at him, looking for some obvious, visible sign that he was different from the other professors, all of whom were devout Christians and experienced missionaries. Nothing. So I thought, I'll just wait and see.

Several weeks into the course, the instructor started to speak about the same passage: Luke 10 and the sending out of the disciples two by two. As he spoke, something happened. We were no longer in a classroom - we were in worship and I can't tell you how or why it happened. But I thought "Now I am seeing manifested what I somehow recognized on that first day when he rolled in"

After class, I went to him, knelt by his wheelchair, and told him what I had sensed on that first day - and he began to cry. I think it was a confirmation to him that God had granted the desire of his heart - to be so embued with the spirit of Christ that even total strangers could sense it.

Some time later, I heard that he had died, struck down by one of the chronic ailments that affect quadrapolegics. I hadn't thought of him in years until the gospel was read yesterday but it all came flooding back.

May that be the desire of our hearts as well - and may God grant it.
Australia: Why do Catholics Leave? Why Do They Come Back? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 08 July 2007 11:55
An alternately interesting, illuminating, and depressing article in the Sydney Morning Herald Sunday about the Australian Catholic Church's attempts to bring home the vast number of lapsed Catholics in the run-up year to World Youth Day.

The paradoxes:

A) World Youth Day in 2008 will be the largest religious gathering in Australian history.

B) In 2007, 4.2 million of Australia's 5 million Catholics don't practice the faith (and in Australia, "practicing" means that you show up at Mass once a month!)

And this illuminating story:

"Jan Heath was once an inactive Catholic but 24 years ago found her way back. The truth, she says, is the Catholic Church has never been good at keeping its own. "I was brought up in a very strict Catholic family. When I got to 18, I drifted away; work, travel and boyfriends were more exciting than going to church.

"I found once you stopped going it was easy not to go the next week, the next and the next.

"One day a man came to paint my house and as I paid him for the job he looked at the view from our home and he said, 'Did you know, Mrs Heath, you could find God here without telling anyone?' He didn't hit me over the head with a Bible but he told me the story of his own discovery of God. I thought he was a bit weird but long after he had gone, he set me thinking.

"Two weeks later an interior decorator came to measure curtains and she asked: 'How do you and God get on?' We spent five minutes talking about curtains and five hours talking of God.

"Then a week later we got new neighbours and they invited me for a coffee. Before my backside was on the chair, the wife asked me if I'd been saved. I can tell you those three witnesses in six weeks stirred me up."

As she settled back into her faith, Heath wondered how it was that God sent an Anglican, a Lutheran and a Pentecostal to get her back to the Catholic Church. "Was there no Catholic who cared enough to lead me back? That led me to my passion."

Heath's passion is Catholics Returning, a parish program of four, two-hour sessions which invites spiritually adrift Catholics to return to the fold. It is a program that has been used in 100 parishes and has been successful, mainly because it is non-judgmental. It asks Catholics, in small groups, to tell their stories of the wilderness - and patches them back into parish life.

Heath finds people leave the church mainly out of boredom, indifference and anger - at God or the church. They drift away when struggling with life choices and usually stay away until some crisis or event, such as marriage or children, makes them rethink their spiritual direction."

Sherry's Note: All three of the "witnesses" who spoke to Heath, asked her about her relationship with God. (and how delightful that they were all lay people who witnessed in the context of their secular occupations!)

But Heath and the other Catholics interviewed talk mostly about other things: church scandals, ecclesiology, structure, politics, inclusive language, social ministries, etc.

None of them mentioned Christ.

Sometimes what is not said and what doesn't occur to anyone to say is as important as what is said.
Blessed Peter To Rot of Papua New Guinea PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 08 July 2007 06:42

Fr. Anthony, the Institute's Dominican Co-Director in Australia, reminds me that yesterday was the feast of Blessed Peter To Rot, the protomartyr of Papau New Guinea. His is a remarkable story (via From L'Osservatore Romano, 25 January 1995)

Martyr - AD 1945

Peter To Rot was born in 1912 in Rakunai, a village on the Melanesian island of New Britain, today an eastern province of the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. Due to the lack of documentation, destroyed by the Japanese during the war, it is impossible to determine his date of birth. This is also the case for his martyrdom and for almost all the events in his life. In the culture of Papua New Guinea it was not customary to keep public records.

His parents, Angelo To Puia and Maria la Tumul, baptized as adults, belonged to the region's first generation of Catholics. It should not be forgotten that the evangelization of Papua New Guinea owed a great deal to the extraordinary faith, training and commitment of English Methodist Missionaries.

On 29 September 1882 the first group of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart arrived in Matupit, New Britain, 10 years after the Methodists had begun preaching and had established the Malaguna Mission. What happened in 1898 is surprising. Angelo To Puia, the great chief of Rakunai village on the hills near Rabaul, told the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart that the majority of his people wished to be Catholic and not Methodist. It was precisely in these circumstances that Peter To Rot's father, together with other powerful tribal chieftains, was solemnly baptized, forming the nucleus of the first generation of Catholics in the region. It was Angelo To Puia himself who opened the village of Rakunai to the faith and to collaboration with the missionaries. He promoted the Christian life in his village, where he was chief for 40 years.

Beginning in adolescence, Peter To Rot had a strong inclination to piety and obedience, which convinced his parish priest Fr Emilio Jakobi that the boy was born to be a priest. But Peter's father considered this choice premature. He felt none of his people were ready for the priesthood at the time. He nonetheless agreed that Peter should be trained as a catechist.

A capable but modest catechist

In 1930, at the age of 18, the Servant of God was enrolled at St Paul's Mission School for training catechists who would work closely with the missionaries in evangelization. He succeeded brilliantly in his studies and in 1933 obtained the catechist's diploma. An account testifies to the character of this young student: "...he was modest and there was not the slightest vanity in him, neither with regard to his background nor capability. He let the older catechists guide him in his work and accepted their advice, but eventually eclipsed them all and soon became their recognized leader, although he was younger".

When he had completed his studies, Peter was assigned to the mission in his own village, and so began his work as a catechist in Rakunai. These were years of intense work to organize catechesis in the village, to gather large and small groups for instruction and prayer and to become acquainted with people's real life situations. All those who had him as their catechist recall his straightforward, immediate and effective teaching. He referred constantly to the Bible and always carried it with him (rare for Catholics of the time!), quoting it directly as the occasion required. He was particularly sensitive in discovering the inner problems in others' lives and shared them intimately.

On 11 November 1936, the only certain date in his life, Peter To Rot married the young Catholic Paula la Varpit from a neighbouring village. Their marriage was celebrated in church but many local traditions—like the 50 shell necklaces to buy the bride—were joyously included. Three children were born from his marriage with Paula: Andrea, who died after the war; a little girl, Rufina La Mama, who is still alive; and the third child (name unknown), who was born shortly after the Servant of God's death in 1945 and died soon thereafter.

The decisive turning point in Peter To Rot's life and mission occurred in 1942. After the Japanese occupation, all the missionaries and mission staff were imprisoned in a concentration camp. The Servant of God remained alone. During the war he was the only spiritual guide for Catholics in the Rakunai district. With his constant presence, he provided prayer services, catechetical instruction, the administration of Baptism, the preservation and distribution of the Eucharist to the sick and the dying, and assistance to the poor. On the outskirts of Rakunai, he built a church for the Catholic community from branches, the only material available. The main church had been destroyed by the Japanese.

At the start of the Japanese occupation, he was on good terms with the military authorities. This sort of friendly relationship with the inhabitants ceased in 1942 after the Japanese suffered some military reverses. At that point the military police replaced the local authorities, creating an atmosphere of repression.

Therefore, they decided to forbid Christian worship and all types of religious gatherings, public and private. Subsequently, the repression became more violent. The Japanese, seeking to force the local chieftains into collaborating with them, decided that the Tolais should return to their previous practice of polygamy. This was a severe blow after almost half a century of missionary work. Peter firmly opposed this and was not afraid to disagree publicly with his brother Joseph.

The Servant of God was arrested in April or May 1945. According to accounts, his questioning by the official Meshida was a farce as well as an expression of the crudest violence. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Later, referring to his imprisonment, Peter said: "I am here because of those who broke their marriage vows and because of those who do not want the growth of God's kingdom".

'A martyr for the faith'

The Servant of God was held in a concentration camp which had been set up in a cave. Various accusations were leveled at him, including: religious gatherings, undue interference in the Japanese plan for polygamy and persistence in his catechetical activities.

Efforts by the Methodist chief of Navunaram and the chief of Rakunai, Anton Tata, to have Peter released failed. A prison mate said: "He was often visited in prison by his aged mother and his wife, who brought him food every day. At one of their last visits, To Rot said to his mother: the police have told me that the Japanese doctor will be coming to give me some medicine. I suspect that this is a trick. I am really not ill at all and I cannot think what all this means".

Despite the precautions of the Japanese, Arap To Binabak, a prisoner, could see the brightly lit room where Peter had been summoned after the doctor arrived. The doctor gave Peter an injection, then something to drink and finally stuffed his ears and nose with cotton wool.

Then the doctor and two police officers made him lie down. Peter was stricken with convulsions and looked as though he was trying to vomit. The "doctor" covered his mouth and kept it closed. The convulsions continued for a time, while the doctor held him still. Peter fell into unconsciousness and after a long while drew his last breath. The same eye witness gently spread the terrible news of Peter's death to his companions. Several prisoners, taking advantage of the night-time absence of the Japanese, wanted to see his body. Thus they verified his horrible death.

But in the morning they saw a totally different scene: Peter's corpse was now arranged on the dormitory floor. The Japanese, summoned by loud speaker, registered great surprise when they saw Peter's corpse. Later, to Anton Tata, an old family friend, the Japanese cynically replied that the prisoner died from a secondary infection. In the meantime, they informed the family and returned his corpse for burial, which took place in silence without a religious rite.

The immense crowd which attended the Servant of God's burial, notwithstanding the presence of the Japanese police, immediately considered Peter a martyr. This was not a momentary reaction but a growing certitude. In fact, in the Tolai language Peter To Rot is called "A martir ure ra Lotu": "A martyr for the faith".

Fr Renato Simeone, M.S.C
Ecumenical Evangelization PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 07 July 2007 04:24
I had a most interesting two hour conversation with a very sharp Orthodox priest last week which gave me new understanding of Orthodox life in this country in a few very specific areas. Fr. X is intrigued by our work at the Institute and wanted to see how what we are doing might be adapted to his situation.

(I need to make clear right now that what I know about Orthodox theology, history, ecclesiology, and current practice could be put into a thimble with what I know about nuclear physics - with room to spare. So I spent most of the time asking questions and listening, trying to understand his quite different situation.)

Several things startled me: Fr. X's statement that only about 150,000 of the members of his communion in the US attend the Liturgy on Sundays. (And we think we have problems with 25 - 48% of Catholics at Mass on Sunday - that's at least 18 million.)

He said that, to his knowledge, there was almost no evangelizing initiatives among his group, that there is no theological understanding of a lay spirituality or mission dedicated to the evangelization of the secular and that the vast majority of "practicing" Orthodox do so for cultural reasons.

When I asked him to describe what a truly holy lay person looked like according to Orthodox tradition, he hesitated and then said "I can't describe one because there isn't a tradition of lay sanctity. Monastic holiness is the ideal for everyone, lay people are expected to be less intense about it than monks."

He was most interested in some form of ecumenical cooperation centered not around historical or theological debates but around a common concern for evangelism and the formation of all the baptized - which we would certainly be interested in exploring. Evangelization and formation with "both lungs" of the Church! What a great idea!

He hopes to attend a Called & Gifted workshop in the fall with a few friends and then we'll talk some more.
The American Catholic History Classroom PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 06 July 2007 12:56
Check this out - a new web-based resource for teaching 20th century American Catholic history in high schools. So far 5 topics are up: Catholics and industrialization, labor, education, race, and a living wage. The site includes a number of original documents for each topic, a chronology, and a recommended biography for further reading.

When I have time, I'd like to work through it myself.
Gospel Riches & Globalization PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 06 July 2007 10:29
A fascinating article in Christianity Today about the globalization of American inspired prosperity gospel in Africa.

"prosperity-tinged Pentecostalism is growing faster not just than other strands of Christianity, but than all religious groups, including Islam. Of Africa's 890 million people, 147 million are now "renewalists" (a term that includes both Pentecostals and charismatics), according to a 2006 Pew Forum on Religion and Public life study. They make up more than a fourth of Nigeria's population, more than a third of South Africa's, and a whopping 56 percent of Kenya's.

Cars in many African cities display bumper stickers like "Unstoppable Achiever," "With Jesus I Will Always Win," and "Your Success Is Determined by Your Faith," says University of London professor Paul Gifford in his 2004 book New Christianity: Pentecostalism in a Globalising African Economy. Gifford notes how these renewalists move beyond traditional Pentecostal practices of speaking in tongues, prophesying, and healing to the belief that God will provide money, cars, houses, and even spouses in response to believers' faith—if not immediately, then soon.

In its 2006 survey, Pew asked participants if God would "grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith." Eighty-five percent of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90 percent of South African Pentecostals, and 95 percent of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes. Similarly, when Pew asked if religious faith was "very important to economic success," about 9 out of 10 Kenyan, Nigerian, and South African renewalists said it was."


Allan H. Anderson, professor of Global Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, says African renewalists are, indeed, eclipsing denominationally based churches and missions. "The older churches," he says, "are struggling to keep up with the jet-setting entrepreneurs who head up these new organizations."

"If you're not willing to play that [prosperity] game," says Vince Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College, "get ready to get steamrolled."


Why is this happening? A confluence between traditional African values and American lifestyles. And the staggering global reach of evangelical media.

"As Pentecostal-charismatic programming has flooded Africa, renewalist numbers have risen from 17 million in 1970 to 147 million in 2005. The continent's largest religious broadcaster is Santa Ana, California–based Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), followed by Europe's GOD TV.

As TV sets grow common in African cities, these broadcasters are gaining huge audiences. People who lack a TV often watch with neighbors, and viewing options are limited. In Zambia, only three stations click on: MUVI TZ, which airs reruns of U.S. shows and old movies; ZNBC, the Zambian National Broadcasting Company; and TBN. Television is becoming the continent's religious classroom.

"People turn it on and assume that TBN is American Christianity, and Americans know everything, so why not listen to it?" says Bonnie Dolan, founder and director of Zambia's Center for Christian Missions, a Reformed school for pastors. "[W]e have Zambians looking to the West for direction, and they associate TBN with the West. And it's killing our churches."

Since TBN has always given me the creeps, its hard to grasp its fascination for people from other cultures. But I know that CT is describing a reality we need to grapple with.

When we were in Indonesia, we discovered that most fervent Indonesian Catholics had attended the evangelistic crusades of American Pentecostal preachers like Benny Hinn. They sang (in two languages and with a beautifully dressed choir that changed clothes between afternoon and evening) global praise and worship standards like Shout to the Lord which was written by an Australian evangelical.

Evangelicals are masters of the global media and English is the linqua franca of large parts of the world.

Read the whole piece. How can Catholics of our generation respond besides saying "in three centuries they'll be gone and we'll still be here".

A Wider Window on the World PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 06 July 2007 08:54
Although I really enjoy doing original research through the use of texts, nothing nurtures my heart, mind, and spirit as doing research by listening and talking to remarkable people.

This past week, I had a wonderful luxury of spending relaxed, in-depth time with several intimate friends and my sisters. This is so rare in my life these days (especially the relaxed part!) and when you get to do so in beautiful Seattle during a period of really good early summer weather - you could hardly do better. I also had the chance to make a new acquaintance via a two hour phone call with an Orthodox priest interested in our work.

Such interesting conversations that covered such a breadth of Christ's redeeming work in the world!

My oldest female friend (I'll call her "Natali") had lived in the Muslim world for a total of 25 years in several different countries. Her Arabic is fluent these days and her network of relationships incredibly broad across many cultures, so listening to her is getting a chance to get a glimpse of the experience of Christians in Muslim cultures. Natali kept mentioning "Muslim background believers" who are now emerging into Christian leadership in the middle east. These are men and women who were born and raised Muslim and became Christians as adults. They are popping up everywhere - as individuals, in families, small fellowship groups - and rumor has it - in significant mass movements of thousands in some parts of the Muslim world.

But because the cost of following Christ is so high in the Muslim world, information is strictly on a need to know basis and even when given out, is always vague and full of pseudonyms and so even someone like my friend Natali has no idea how many MBB's there are. All she could tell me was that when she first went to the Middle East, there weren't any and now you meet them pretty regularly. We had a MBB on our C & G teaching team in Jakarta and I even met a priest there who was a convert from Islam.

There are also huge numbers of Catholic guest workers (from India, the Philippines, etc.) in the Muslim world who are often treated atrociously. Natali told me of one such woman who worked behind a counter in a grocery story and poured out her story in a produce aisle - the most private place she could find. You sign a contract - without being allowed to read it first!!! - and then find yourself working essentially as a slave for pennies and no way to get out because your passport has been confiscated. This poor woman had serious health problems but had to walk for an hour in 120 degree heat every day after her 12 hour work day to receive a single dose of medicine because the state would not trust her with the whole perscription. Natali has generously helped several people like this woman before and brought her plight to the attention of some wealthy expat women who could do the same.

A couple years ago, Natali told (in a lowered voice even though we were in private in the US!) of a Christian woman (no longer living in the ME today) who had actually made Arabic Bibles available to Muslim seekers who sought her out. But because it was so extraordinarily dangerous, they had to approach her three times before she would even consider it and only if she sensed they were serious - and not a government agent - would she do a delivery in a grocery store. A woman, covered head to toe in a burka, would come to the shop with a large shopping bag which she would set down for a moment. Then, just as in a spy movie, she would pick up an identical shopping bag nearby containing the carefully wrapped Bible, complete her shopping, and walk out without ever conversing with or acknowledging its source.

Natali loves the Arab world and its people and for 25 years has lived there as an intentional witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. She told me again this time that she doesn't feel endangered or afraid living there. She brought me up to date on Muslim friends that she had described over the years. She showed me pictures of her recent trek to the Bedouin families she has known and visited for years. She had taken an young American woman, a recent high school grad on a three week tour, and there they sat, on the floor, in their Bedu clothes wearing the henna face painting given to honored guests.

Muslims are people she knows and individuals she loves. In her world, historic realities that loom so large for us - like Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, mean little. All that matters is are you a "believer", a follower of Isah? or are you perhaps a true seeker like one wise Muslim friend of Natali's with whom she prays. This woman friend attended a Catholic school and has ever since had a remarkable trust of Christians.

It was good to be reminded that there is much more going on in the Muslim world of 1.3 billion people than the highly publicized acts of terrorism that dominate our discussions in the west.
A Catholic Among Evangelicals PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 06 July 2007 08:37
Written by Keith Strohm
The post below about Luis Palau has brought back memories of attending large-scale Christian Music festivals. Creation West is a beautiful event that takes place in George, Washington at the Columbia River Gorge. The amphitheatre is set against the backdrop of the Gorge. It's a place that simply brings you face to face with the majesty of Creation! In fact, it's billed as a 5-day tribute to our Creator. There's a snapshot of dusk at the festival to the left of this text.

Basically, there are about 21,000 attendees at the festival--20,920 of whom are evangelical or otherwise protestant, and 80 of whom are catholic (most from my last parish). The event itself really is wonderful, with morning worship, talks throughout the day by performers and other youth ministers (many of them taking place in smaller tents), music at various stages, and activities like rock climbing, skateboarding, etc.

What I miss when I'm there is an experience of Liturgy. Rather than just have a "worship leader" play music and read a bit from the bible, I think it would be wonderful to start the day off with psalms read (and sung) monastic style. The big "climax" of each day are the concerts at night (complete with a daily "message" from a noted speaker), particularly the Candlelight vigil on Friday night. I always walk away from these experiences feeling like something is missing, and it is--the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

In any event, each year that I've gone with my parish, we brought our youth ministry music group with us. They are a powerful group of music ministers who each have a music charism and a commitment to offer their best in the ministry to which God has called them. After the last concert each night, we would gather as a group in our campground and finish the night off with a prayer service that included music, scripture, and some teaching. Because our music ministers really are quite gifted, each night we would find more and more folks from other protestant communities drifting in to our campsite to pray with us. It wouldn't be unusual for our campsite of 80 persons to host over 300 additional people.

Generally, I led those prayer services (which sometimes used the Divine Office) and had the opportunity to share my faith, teach, and evangelize to people all across the Body of Christ. While I was careful to not overwhelm my largely non-Catholic audience, I preached from the fullness of the Church's Tradition--though generally the focus was on helping teens hear and respond to the kerygma, which is a foundation point for all Christians.

It always made me (and the other folks from my parish) smile when we heard these teens and adults from other protestant communities exclaim, "Wow...I can't believe I'm worshipping with Catholics!" :) I'm not sure what these same folks from neighboring campsites thought the next day when we prayed the Rosary as a group at 3 pm.

Overall, this experience was great for our teens. They were exposed to teens their age who lived and spoke about their faith in Christ openly, and the "messages" that they heard from other speakers were great opportunities to delve more deeply into the Catholic Tradition. I also believe the experience was good for our Protestant brothers and sisters who had an experience, however brief, of Catholics who strive to live their faith intentionally.

God's Time PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 06 July 2007 07:22

I feel a little sheepish (no pun intended) making this post. I feel that way when God gives me an insight into Scripture and suddenly things seem so much clearer. I think, "Why didn't I see that before?"

Let me explain. Yesterday evening at Mass we heard the story of the testing of Abraham by God in Genesis 22. You know the story. "God said: 'Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.'" Abraham prepares to do just that, and at the last moment, when the knife is raised above the terrified boy, the angel of the Lord stops Abraham, saying, "I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son."

This story causes problems for a lot of people, especially parents, who are better able than I am to place themselves in Abraham's position, feel his confusion and anguish, and wonder, "Just what does this reveal about God, and can I really trust such a deity?" It seems cruel to test Abraham, to seemingly ask him to kill his hope in a multitude of descendants, and it leads many people to view the greatest evils in our life as directly willed by God to test our faith.

Yesterday, however, a young woman proclaimed the passage beautifully, and I heard it again for the first time. One passage in particular brought me close to tears.

"Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac's shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. 'Father!' he said. 'Yes, son,' he replied. Isaac continued, 'Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?' 'Son,' Abraham answered, 'God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.' Then the two continued going forward."

The image of Isaac carrying the wood for the holocaust on his shoulders struck me as a foreshadowing of Jesus, who would carry the cross - the wood of his own holocaust - on his shoulders some two millenia later. This is a beautiful example of the Catholic understanding that all of the Bible must be read in light of Jesus and the events of his life, death, resurrection and ascension. ("The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son. Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen." Catechism of the Catholic Church #128, 129)

As soon as the image of Isaac as a "type" of Christ struck me, the response of Abraham, "God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust." took on a new significance - that of a prophetic and deeply faith-filled statement, rather than simply wishful thinking, or deception.

Indeed, God did provide a sheep for the holocaust, not just the ram caught in the thicket, but the Lamb of God, His only begotten Son of whom he could say, "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased." (Mk 1:11)

The first Adam failed to place himself between the serpent, the most cunning ("intimidating" is another possible translation) of all the creatures, and his wife, Eve. He was not willing to possibly "lay down his life" for her, and the whole narrative thread of Scripture leads up to the second Adam who finally lays down his life for us all, fulfilling the Law in his life, and putting and end to it with his death and resurrection.

God's time, God's infinite patience and wisdom, are revealed in the Scriptures. If we are patient and observe the events of our own life with the eyes of faith, we will undoubtedly find examples of this wisdom being revealed in them as well.
Luis Palau in a Catholic Town PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 05 July 2007 22:31
Luis Palau is a very famous Latin American evangelist known for his gigantic meetings around the world (25 million have heard him speak in "live" events).

These days Palau is doing "festival evangelism" which combines a weekend of national contemporary Christian music groups, motorcross, professional skate boarders with food and Palau's preaching.

Anyway, the Heartland Festival in Omaha this summer will have a new wrinkle: official participation from the Archdiocese of Omaha.

So far, 11 parishes have signed up to participate. I enjoyed these rather militant comments from Fr. Lewis, vice chancellor of the diocese:

"We want strong, active, motivated Catholics who are very secure in their faith down at that festival doing evangelization and speaking articulately about the faith," Father Lewis said. "I would say the archbishop is very pleased with the response from the Catholic community and he continues to see it as a real opportunity to bring back the lost, those who have fallen away and those who've never really heard the message to begin with."

For the first time at a Palau festival, all participants will fill out a card indicating their religious denomination. The cards on which a person states he or she is Catholic or once was Catholic will be given to representatives from Catholic parishes who will follow up after the festival, Father Lewis said.

The archdiocese will have a large tent on the grounds where Catholic literature and items will be available and where priests will hear confessions all day long, he said.

"Initially there was so much fear about whether we were making a terrible mistake by getting involved, but I think it's quite the opposite," Father Lewis said. "I've been overwhelmed by how strong the Catholic response has been. It's certainly going to be a Luis Palau festival unlike anything he's ever experienced before and he's taking a risk by coming into this Catholic town and inviting the Catholics in."

The exact nature of the risk is unclear. A number of strongly conservative Protestant groups are already complaining that Palau has sold out by collaborating with Catholics but I don't think that that is the risk to which Fr. Lewis was referring.
The Barnabites PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 05 July 2007 09:36
Today is the memorial of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria. The Saint of the Day e-mail I receive from the St. Anthony Messenger Press has this to say about him:

"At the same time that Martin Luther was attacking abuses in the Church, a reformation within the Church was already being attempted. Among the early movers of the Counter-Reformation was Anthony Zaccaria. His mother became a widow at 18 and devoted herself to the spiritual education of her son. He received a medical doctorate at 22 and, while working among the poor of his native Cremona, was attracted to the religious apostolate. He renounced his rights to any future inheritance, worked as a catechist, and was ordained a priest at the age of 26. Called to Milan in a few years, he laid the foundations of three religious congregations, one for men, one for women and another for laity. The three foundations met regularly and engaged together in various forms of apostolic action. Their aim was the reform of the decadent society of their day, beginning with the clergy and religious. The Laity of St. Paul died out soon after Anthony's death but experienced a rebirth in the 1990s.

Greatly inspired by St. Paul (his congregation is named the Barnabites, after the companion of that saint), Anthony preached with great vigor in church and street, conducted popular missions and was not ashamed of doing public penance.

He encouraged such innovations as the collaboration of the laity in the apostolate, frequent Communion, the Forty Hours devotion and the ringing of church bells at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays.

His holiness moved many to reform their lives but, as with all saints, it also moved many to oppose him. Twice his community had to undergo official religious investigation, and twice it was exonerated.

While on a mission of peace, he became seriously ill and was brought home for a visit to his mother. He died at Cremona at the age of 36. "

According to the Barnabite website, the charism of the order - clerics, religious, and lay - is similar in vision to that of the Institute:
"Both church and society were in need of reformation, that is, "a renewal of Christian fervor" that had lost its vitality on account of lukewarmness and mediocrity.

Anthony Mary envisioned a reformation movement to bring "everywhere the vital energy of the Spirit" (Letter 5) by the concerted involvement of priests living in community under a rule (the Clerics Regular of St. Paul - Barnabites), religious women actively committed to apostolic ministry (the Angelics of St. Paul, the first uncloistered order of nuns), and lay persons, especially married couples, committed to both spiritual life and pastoral work (the Marrieds of St. Paul)."

You might check out their website, linked in the title of this post. I'll leave you with a brief quote from a letter of this saint:

"Do not think that my love for you or the good qualities you are endowed with, may have me desire that you be just little saints. No, I greatly desire that you become great saints, since you are well equipped to reach this goal... All that is required is that you really mean to develop and give back to Jesus Crucified, in a more refined form, the good qualities and graces He has given you" [Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Letter XI]
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