Two Catholic voices on the Middle East

I blogged last week about the terrific “speaker series”: at Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church in Briarcliff Manor, which will kick off on Monday (Feb. 5) with the Rev. David Burrell.

Burrell, a philosphy professor at Notre Dame, has also served for two decades on the faculty of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies in Jerusalem. At Saint Theresa’s, he will talk about “Peace-Making in the Holy Land: Lessons learned from living with Muslims, Christians and Jews.”

He supposed to give an “insider’s account” of what it’s like to try to work for peace in the Middle East.

Well, only three days later, on Thursday the 8th, there will be another lecture in Westchester on the Holy Land. Also by a pretty well-known Catholic priest.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, will speak at 7:30 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. His lecture: “Christianity and The Holy Land Today.”

Migliore (that’s him) has had a long career in Vatican diplomacy. He has represented the Vatican on issues related to the World Trade Organization, the European Union and the Middle East. He was also once in charge of relations with Asian countries that do not have formal relations to the Vatican (he traveled to Beijing, Hanoi and P’yongyang).

Both lectures are free and open to the public.

St. Theresa’s is located at 1394 Pleasantville Road, Briarcliff Manor. Check the “website”: for directions.

“St. Joseph’s Seminary”: is located at 201 Seminary Avenue, Yonkers. For information contact the seminary’s development office at 914- 968-6200, ext. 8292.

The passing of a Jesuit congressman

It’s worth noting the passing of Father “Robert Drinan,”: a Jesuit priest and former congressman from Massachusetts.

Drinan, who “died yesterday”: at 86, was a very controversial guy in his day. He was a consistently liberal Catholic priest who voted his way, regardless of what his church might have wanted.
Many loved him, especially for his human rights work. Many did not.

He was a leading critic of the Vietnam war and one of the first to call for President Nixon’s impeachment. He also supported abortion rights, saying that he was personally opposed to abortion but would not challenge its legality.

In 1980, when Pope John Paul II called for all priests to avoid electoral politics, it was widely believed that he was talking to Drinan. Drinan did not seek re-election. He served from 71 to 81.

Drinan, a law professor at Georgetown, continued to speak out for abortion rights through the last stages of his life, drawing the ire of many Catholics.

When Georgetown University Law Center named a human rights chair for Drinan last year, Father Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, called the move “deeply disturbing� and “hypocritical.� He said that Georgetown created a chair “in the name of a heretical priest who has spent much of his lifetime advocating for the most heinous of human rights violations: abortion.�

A look ‘back’ at Cardinal Egan’s tenure

David Gibson, a terrific religion journalist, has a very interesting overview of Cardinal Egan’s tenure in this week’s “New York”: magazine.

The article is headlined: “The Cardinal’s Sins.” Ouch.

But the sub-head is on the money: “Edward Egan did the dirty job he was hired to do with less pain than anyone thought possible. So why can’t his priests wait to get rid of him?”

It’s been widely written in recent months — by myself and others — that a large number of New York priests are simply not happy with the cardinal’s leadership. What a “large number” means I can’t tell you. A solid minority? I would say yes. A large minority? Quite possibly. Even more? Maybe.

“Gibson,”: a highly respected reporter among his peers, summarizes very well what people have been saying across the archdiocese for several years. Egan approached the job “more as a private administrator than a civil leader.” He is “temperamentally ill-suited for the city.” He got off to a terrible start with his priests by publicly firing a portion of the faculty at St. Joseph’s Seminary in 2001. Many people have criticized his lack of cooperation with a national lay review board appointed by the bishops to deal with the sex-abuse crisis.

Of course, Gibson goes into the fall-out from the anonymous letter criticizing the cardinal that appeared a few months ago.

He also notes that “Egan was given an impossible task.” He was sent to NY to cut budgets and staff, close schools and parishes. He’s done some of each, although not to the degree that many expected.

Interestingly, Gibson says that Egan does indeed want to retire soon after he reaches the official retirement age of 75 on April 2. People have been insisting this since Egan came to NY, but I’ve always had my doubts. Seems too obvious.

As Gibson says, if Pope Benedict accepts Egan’s retirement promptly, “it would be viewed as a sign that the pope was no happier with Egan than were the priests of New York.”

The retirement watch will begin on April 2.

The battle over the battle between good and evil

Two groups that say they are trying to counter the influence of the religious right, the “Campaign to Defend the Constitution”: and the “Christian Alliance for Progress,”: are taking credit for the “mediocre sales” of “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,”: a video game that came out in November.

The game is a take-off on the immensely popular “Left Behind”: fiction series, a fundamentalist version of the end of the world. If you don’t pay attention to this stuff, the basic idea is that non-Christians get left behind at the time of the “rapture” and things get mighty ugly.

Says the Rev. Timothy Simpson, director of the Christian Alliance for Progress: “I am heartened to see that a product that is so detrimental to the well-being of society, and which has been panned by religious people of every stripe, is selling so poorly.”

The groups even trumpet the poor stock performance of Left Behind Games, Inc., citing this “chart”: on


The Left Behind Games people, meanwhile, say that their game is changing lives: “In just 2 months, we have received word that our first product, LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces, the PC Game, is changing lives. Not only have individuals cheered us on with remarkable care and support, but now churches are joining in. Mega-ministries such as Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, Women of Faith, Concerned Women for America and numerous others are all endorsing our efforts and our products.”

Something tells me that both sides see this as a contest of good vs. evil. Of course, they have very different ideas about who is who.

How ’bout them evangelicals?

During Alexandra Pelosi’s “Friends of God,”: the filmmaker keeps saying things like “You would never see that in New York.”

Pelosi grew up in San Francisco and now lives in NYC. Her film, which premiered last night on HBO, is very much an outsider’s wide-eyed view of the evangelical heartland.

She’s not only struck by preachers who insist that dinosaurs lived alongside man. She’s also baffled by teenagers who willingly attend church.

That’s not to say the Pelosi is disrespectful. She isn’t. But she encounters evangelicals like an alien life form. Which I suppose they are to a lot of folks on the coasts.

In 2005, I took “my own journey”: to Red State country, suburban Cincinnati, to write about evangelical culture. I tried to focus on everyday people and how their faith is an overt part of their daily lives. I was very conscious of not focusing on “fringe” type people or movements.

Pelosi visits Jerry Falwell, everyone’s favorite evangelical fall-guy. And she spends a lot of time with the since-disgraced Ted Haggard, who pretty much previews his own fall. Then there’s a Christian comedian, those creationist preachers, a family of 10 home-schooled kids (pictured), and on and on.

I bet that Friends of God will be real popular on the coasts. Since HBO is shown nationwide, though, I wonder if evangelicals will see Friends of God as a documentary about themselves or about Alexandra Pelosi.

Another list from 2006…

It’s a little late for “Best Of” lists from 2006, but people love lists (I’m one of them).

“Inside the Vatican”: magazine is bringing out its “Top 10 people of the year.” They’re releasing only two each day, starting with number one and working down.

It’s a pretty slow, not to mention anticlimactic, approach. But anyway…

Their Number One person of the year — taking a page from Time magazine — is “anonymous.” Any and all Catholics working for religious freedom around the world.

“They are those who work for religious freedom throughout the world, and whose names cannot be made public because they themselves might be in danger if their identities were known,” writes Inside the Vatican honcho Robert Moynihan.

Number Two is Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. He’s the leader of the Orthodox Christian world, who of course hosted the pope a few weeks back in Turkey.

Number Three is Monsignor Pietro Parolin, part of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, a mostly anonymous figure involved in numerous Vatican initiatives.

Number Four is Cardinal Péter Erdö, archbishop of Budapest, the new president of the European bishops conferences (that’s him).

Will I reveal numbers five and six tomorrow? I really don’t know. Working backward just doesn’t create much suspense, does it?

The church of what?

So yesterday I went to a seminar on “religion in the workplace,” which I wrote about for the paper and “LoHud.”:

In my lead, I referred to a lawsuit that was brought against Costco a few years back by an employee who wanted to wear an eyebrow ring at work. She claimed that it was a religious statement, since she belonged to the “Church of Body Modification.”:

I had to come back to that church today.

According to the group’s website, the church teaches “ownership over our bodies.”

“We are not here to offer spirituality to you so much as we are here because of the spirituality that is already in all of us; often expressed through what we do to our bodies.”

Hey, whatever.

The website doesn’t say how many members they have, in case you’re wondering. Can’t be much.

The church sells a T-shirt, incidentally, that says “Mind/Body/Soul” on the front. On the back: “Resurrecting the oldest form of art known to kids.”

It could also say: “And opposed by parents, even spiritual ones.”

Haggard on the cusp of his fall

Tonight, HBO premieres “Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi,”: a travelogue-type documentary about evangelical culture in the heartland. It’s on at 9.

Pelosi received a lot of attention (and an Emmy) in 2000 for “Journeys with George,” her wacky look at campaigning with the soon-to-be president.

Yes, she is the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, who you might have seen sitting behind the president at the State of the Union the other night.

I haven’t seen “Friends of God,” but from what I’ve heard, Pelosi spent a lot of time with Ted Haggard, the since-fallen evangelical leader. Supposedly, he says a lot of bizarre things about sex (including evangelical sexual practices) that seem to hint at his personal demons and foreshadow his fall. (That’s Pelosi filming him.)
The show will also visit with Joel Osteen, a growing TV presence who has a lot of people curious. And there’s a lot of the usual evangelical territory: Jerry Falwell, the conflict over homosexuality, creationism vs. evolution, etc.

I wonder if evangelicals will see the film as representing them fairly or simply making fun of them.

How many congregations are there in Westchester?

People have often asked me how many houses of worship there are in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties. They’re often surprised to hear that no one knows. My best guess is usually: “Over 1,000.”

You can calculate the number of Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, Jewish and even Muslim congregations (although no one has, to my knowledge). But then there are probably hundreds of storefront churches scattered about.

I learned yesterday that the “Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services”: has been building what has to be the first database of religious congregations in Westchester. They want houses of worship to help them evaluate the needs of seniors and then get information to the elderly about the many programs and services that are available.

Reva Greenberg, who is involved in communication efforts, told me that she started building the database from phonebooks, listings provided by denominations, newspaper articles and any other sources she could find.

The number of congregations she arrived at? 765.

The number does not include storefront and other small, mostly evangelical or Pentecostal, churches. But it’s a start.

You have to figure that the overall number in Westchester alone, then, with small churches included, probably passes 1,000. So my new best guess on the number of houses of worship in the Lower Hudson Valley is “about 1,500.”

Amazing speaker series at Briarcliff church

For the past few years, Ken Woodward, the former longtime religion editor at Newsweek, has been running a terrific and truly unusual speaker series at his church, St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff Manor.

Woodward, who is still a contributing editor at Newsweek, dips into his long list of contacts to bring in big-name, high-demand people. It’s like a mini-92nd Street Y — except it’s free and open to the public.

There can’t be another speaker series like it anywhere around. Suburbanites who are interested in the religious issues of the day would be crazy not to take advantage.

Well, Woodward has outdone himself for the “winter/spring series.”: He’s lined up four heavy-hitters from the world of religion:

Monday, February 5: David Burrell, Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame, Peace-Making in the Holy Land: Will Muslims, Christians and Jews Ever Learn to Live Together? Father Burrell will come directly from Israel, “where he has been engaged for decades with Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars in a common effort to understand each other’s faith amid the continuing conflict between Israelis and

Monday, March 12: Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and Chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Evangelicals and American Politics: Who Are They and Politically What Do They Want? Cromartie is an influential figure on religious issues and an evangelical leader who will “provide an insider’s guide to evangelicalism’s real leaders and scout the movement’s political future.

Monday, April 16, Fr. Joseph Komonchak, Professor of Theology, The Catholic University of America, Vatican Council II: Is the Church We Have the Church the Council Envisioned? A priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Komonchak is the foremost American historian of Vatican II. He’ll talk about “what went wrong with the reform of the church, what went right and why the future of the Catholicism is mostly up to the laity, not Rome.”

Monday, May 7, Christian Smith, Director of the Center for the Sociology of Religion, Notre Dame University, What Makes American Teenagers Religious–And Why Are Catholic Teens So Apathetic About Their Faith? Smith, one of nation’s top religion scholars, will draw on the most extensive survey ever of teenage spirituality to analyze the religious influence of parents, congregations and peer groups on American adolescents ages 13-17.

All the lectures are at 7:30 p.m. Woodward will introduce each speaker. For directions or further info, go to the parish “website.”: