Religion

Amoris Laetitia backgrounder

Friday, 8 April, 2016 0 Comments

Pope Francis to make key marriage pronouncement” is how the BBC puts it in the run up to today’s publication of Amoris Laetitia, the Apostolic Exhortation about Catholic teaching on the family. The text, rumoured to be 250-pages long and divided into 300 points, will be presented by Cardinals Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, at a press conference in Rome. Scheduled to begin at 11:30 Central European Time, the event will be broadcast live via the Vatican’s Television Centre.

Where did the BBC gets its headline? The document has been surrounded by secrecy, with no leaks to the media before its presentation. This makes Amoris Laetitia unusual, seeing that Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, was published by the Italian magazine l’Espresso three days ahead of the official presentation.

What can we expect? The focus will be on the “many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care.” In other words, partners living together before marriage, communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and homosexual unions vs. heterosexual marriage, to name just three areas of contested cohabitation that are facts of 21st century life. The Guardian has already pre-empted liberal disappointment: “Pope Francis to dismay reformists with ‘modern families’ document.” Francis wouldn’t be Francis, however, if he didn’t have a surprise or two up the sleeve of the papal cassock.


Francis redefines the Popemobile

Wednesday, 18 June, 2014 0 Comments

When he greets crowds at the Vatican, his custom Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is completely open. So writes Alex Nunez in a Road & Track piece titled “Pope Francis on why he eschews a bulletproof Popemobile“. The Pontiff in trading security for intimacy and is quoted as telling Barcelona’s La Vanguardia: “It’s true that anything could happen, but let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose.”

There might be more to that fatalistic quip than meets the eye because on Monday the Vatican’s news service announced that that Francis is drastically curtailing his schedule by suspending his popular Wednesday audiences in July and skipping his daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives.

He’s had a busy year so maybe it’s just a well-earned break.


The epic of a digital relic of a saint-to-be

Sunday, 27 April, 2014 0 Comments

Tutto il mondo a San Pietro. That’s the way it will be today in Rome for the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII. Back on 6 April 2005, we joined the crowds in Rome intending to pay their respects to one to the saints-to-be, Pope John Paul II, who was lying in state […]

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A Stranger Here

Thursday, 6 February, 2014 0 Comments

The early history of the city of Ely in Cambridgeshire is marked by religious convulsions. In AD 673, Æthelthryth founded an abbey that was destroyed in 870 by Viking invaders and rebuilt by Ethelwold in 970. Construction of Ely’s great cathedral began in 1083 and work continued until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539 during the Reformation.

Following the accession of Mary I to the throne in 1553, attempts were made to enforce Catholic doctrine and during this time, two local men, William Wolsey and Robert Pygot, “were accused of not … believing that the body and blood of Christ were present in the bread and wine of the sacrament of mass”. For this heresy they were burnt at the stake in front of Ely Cathedral on 16 October 1555. Mary’s re-establishment of Catholicism was reversed after her death in 1558 by her half-sister, Elizabeth I, and it was into a Protestant Ely that John Amner was born in 1579. He worked as a chorister and organist at Ely Cathedral and he also wrote songs and verse. This is from his Sacred Hymns For Voices And Viols, which was published in 1615.

A Stranger Here

A stranger here, as all my fathers were
That went before, I wander to and fro;
From earth to heaven is my pilgrimage,
A tedious way for flesh and blood to go:
O Thou that art the way, pity the blind
And teach me how I may Thy dwelling find.

John Amner (1579 — 1641)

Ely Cathedral


The community Pope

Friday, 20 September, 2013 1 Comment

In a lengthy and fascinating interview for 16 Jesuit publications around the world, Pope Francis says Catholic leaders must find a “new balance” between their spiritual mission and their involvement in political questions, warning that if they don’t, the church’s foundation will “fall like a house of cards.” And as befits our socially mediated times, Francis goes large on “community”. Despite the many subjects covered in the interview, the liberal media reduces everything he has said to sexuality. Typical is the Irish Times: “Pope seeks ‘new balance’ on abortion, women and gays“. We need a new journalism.

“Community. I was always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa Marta. At the time of the conclave I lived in Room 207. (The rooms were assigned by drawing lots.) This room where we are now was a guest room. I chose to live here, in Room 201, because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”


The Saudis and the Brotherhood: love turns to hate

Tuesday, 20 August, 2013

“On Monday, Saudi Arabia promised to compensate Egypt for any aid that Western countries might withdraw in response to the harsh tactics employed by Egypt’s leaders to quell protests by supporters of the country’s deposed president, in which nearly 1,000 people and more than 100 police officers are reported to have been killed.” — Backing Egypt’s generals, Saudi Arabia promises financial support

Later in her Washington Post report, Liz Sly writes, “That Saudi Arabia is prepared to confront Washington over the crisis is an indicator of how deeply Saudi leaders were unsettled by the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood consolidating its hold over the Arab world’s most populous nation, analysts say.”

Muslim Brotherhood Times have changed, especially in the relationship between the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 1952, Gamel Abdel Nasser and a group of fellow military officers overthrew King Farouk and turned to Sayyid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood for popular support. However, the Brotherhood wanted to outlaw alcohol and introduce the religious law of Islam, sharia, in the new, post-monarchical Egypt, a price that was too high for Nasser and his Revolutionary Council. It banned the Brotherhood in 1954, then undid the ban, but after an attempt on Nasser’s life, reinstated the ban.

In Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman notes what happened next:

“Leading figures from the Muslim Brotherhood fled from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi rulers welcomed them, and put them to good use. The Saudi princes were determined to keep their own country on a path of pure adherence to Saudi Arabia’s antique and rigid version of Islam; and Egypt’s Islamist intellectuals, with their stores of Koranic knowledge, had much to offer. The Egyptian exiles took over professorial chairs in Saudi universities. And their impact was large. Qutb’s younger brother, Muhammad Qutb, a distinguished religious scholar in his own right, fled to Saudi Arabia and became a professor of Islamic Studies. One of his students was Osama bin Laden.”

Sayyid Qutb, however, stayed in Egypt and Nasser hanged him in 1966. By then, though, the damage was done and the religious fascism represented by Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood has since left a trail of death and suffering that stretches from the banks of the Nile to lower Manhattan. It has also steered Saudi Arabia towards barbarism and although it’s a bit late in the day for the princely descendants of the princes who imported Qutb’s toxic ideology to acknowledge their capital mistakes, it is better that it’s done late rather than never. Unless they wish to be devoured by the radicals, the Saudis and the Egyptians know that the Muslim Brotherhood must be smashed.


The evil legacy of the evil Sayyid Qutb

Monday, 19 August, 2013 1 Comment

In his book Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman examines the role that Sayyid Qutb played in the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Qutb enrolled in the Brotherhood in 1951 and duly became “the Arab world’s first important theoretician of the Islamist cause.” But what did Qutb write? Well, there is his 1964 manifesto, Milestones, a short work in which he calls for recreating the Muslim world on strictly Qur’anic grounds, but, says Berman, “his true masterwork is something else entirely, a gargantuan thirty-volume exegesis called In the shade of the Qur’an, which consists of commentaries on the various chapters or Surahs of the Koran.”

Sayyid Qutb The writing is “wise, broad, indignant, sometimes demented, bristly with hatred, medieval, modern, tolerant, intolerant, cruel, urgent, cranky, tranquil, grave, poetic, learned, analytic, moving in some passages — a work large and solid enough to create its own shade, where his readers could repose and turn his pages, as he advised the students of the Koran to do, in the earnest spirit of loyal soldiers reading their daily bulletin.” As an example, Berman offers Qutb’s commentary on Surah 2, from the section “Martyrdom and Jihad”. A snippet:

“The Surah tells the Muslims that, in the fight to uphold God’s universal Truth, lives will have to be sacrificed. Those who risk their lives and go out to fight, and who are prepared to lay down their lives for the cause of God are honorable people, pure of heart and blessed of soul. But the great surprise is that those among them who are killed in the struggle must not be considered or described as dead. They continue to live, as God Himself clearly states.”

And so it was with Sayyid Qutb, who was hanged by Nasser in 1966. His evil ideas flourish and his writings should be studied closely by those now offering themselves as experts on Egyptian affairs, and they should be mandatory reading for those journalists who display a remarkable “understanding” for the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood. Among those who come to mind here are Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Hubert Wetzel and Mary Fitzgerald.


The Most Successful Institution

Monday, 25 February, 2013 0 Comments

“The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable.”

So wrote Thomas Babington Macaulay, one of Britain’s greatest historians, in an 1840 review of Leopold von Ranke’s History of the Popes. Macaulay continued:

“The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour.”

And he finished the review, titled “The Roman Catholic Church as the Most Successful Institution that Has Ever Existed“, with a glorious flourish:

She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

Macaulay understood the value of taking the long view. Sic transit gloria mundi he would have warned His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien.


The Pope’s heart

Wednesday, 13 February, 2013 0 Comments

According to people who know about these things, congestive heart failure leads to serious loss of energy because the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. A knock-on effect is that mental capacity starts to be impacted. Congestive heart failure was one of the ailments that affected Franklin D. Roosevelt and towards the end of his presidency it robbed him of vitality in debate.

The papal heart Yesterday’s revelation that Pope Benedict XVI had been fitted with a pacemaker focused attention on his declining health, and his brother had this to say to the BBC: “When he got to the second half of his 80s, he felt that his age was showing and that he was gradually losing the abilities he may have had and that it takes to fulfil this office properly.” That’s worth pondering because as we now know, many Popes have served the final part of their papacy with some sort of dementia. Benedict XVI will be one of the Popes who will not do that. And by virtue of being alive, compos mentis and in the ‘hood, so to speak, he’ll exert a significant influence over the selection of his successor. In this way, his decision to renounce his office acquires a new dimension of wisdom.


Mentioning the “c” word

Friday, 21 September, 2012

As security forces in many Muslim countries are gearing up for a day of protests against the amateur film, Innocence of Muslims, the government of Pakistan has declared a “special day of love” for the Prophet Muhammad, and Pakistani TV is showing President Barack Obama condemning the film in ads paid for by Washington. Time […]

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Remembering breakfast with Christopher Hitchens

Friday, 16 December, 2011

On 17 June 2007, Rainy Day shared breakfast in Dublin with the late, great Christopher Hitchens. The occasion was a debate about religion that was promoted under the banner of “God Is Not Great?” between Hitchens and John Waters of the Irish Times. It was a gladiatorial contest so the metaphor we picked to set […]

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