You think your parish has problems?

Every few months, I get a fund-raising letter from the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska.

The letter inside always starts with “A Most Difficult Mission.” You gotta think so.

I looked it up. The “Diocese of Fairbanks”: includes 40 parishes spread over 409,849 square miles. Cold miles.

The Archdiocese of New York, which serves 2.5 million Catholics over 10 counties, covers 4,683 square miles.

The Diocese of Fairbanks is served by Bishop Donald Kettler, 24 priests, three brothers, 20 sisters, nine Jesuit volunteers, 35 ordained deacons (11 retired), and seven deacon candidates. The picture shows the diocese offices.

There’s one elementary school and one middle/high school. Another 2,616 children receive religious instruction — over 409,849 square miles.

The diocese has needs. Real needs.

Saint Theresa’s parish needs a 4-wheeler ATV so that Fr. Stan Jaszek can minister in Aniak, Alaska, “a Yup’ik Eskimo remote village located on the south bank of the Kuskokwim River in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in the Interior of the State.”

Brother Justin needs a new Monitor stove for his residence “so he can stay warm this winter.”

Immaculate Conception parish in Kalskag, Alaska is a Central Yup’ik Eskimo village that needs a new deep water well because its shallow well “has been deemed unhealthy by the local government.” The cost: $12,000.

In the remote bush villages of western Alaska, villages rely on VHF radio for information and announcements. VHF radio. Blessed Sacrament parish in Scammon Bay, Little Flower of Jesus parish in Hooper Bay and Sacred Heart parish in Chevak do not have VHF radios and need them to announce worship times, catechism, adult faith sharing, etc.

There’s more.

To review the diocese’s needs or to help out, go “here.”:

A most difficult mission, indeed.

Religious opponents to war speaking out

As President Bush prepares for his State of the Union tonight, the loudest religious voices on the situation in Iraq — not surprisingly — want to see American troops out.

Evangelicals and others who supported the war are relatively quiet these days. Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, whose members gave Condoleezza Rice a standing ovation at their annual meeting last June, haven’t had much to say.

More liberal denominations that opposed the war from the beginning are letting it all hang out.

“Faith in Public Life,”: a coalition of liberal to moderate groups, says that “Christian leaders are challenging the President to address the most pressing moral concerns of our time: bringing our troops home from Iraq, eradicating poverty, abolishing torture without exception, creation care and comprehensive immigration reform.”

The group quotes Rick Ufford-Chase, chief organizer of Christian Peace Witness for Iraq and a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA):

“Christians insist that the war in Iraq must come to an end now. In the past two years, I’ve visited hundreds of Christian churches. In congregation after congregation, the folks sitting in the pews of our churches want the President to articulate a clear timeline on the way out of Iraq.”

The Episcopal Diocese of New York’s diocesan council approved a resolution that says:

“Resolved, that the Council of the Episcopal Diocese of New York joins the New York City Council of Churches in:

-opposing the proposed increase or “surge” of troops in Iraq;

-calling for the beginning of a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq;

–and supporting humanitarian aid to relieve the suffering of the people of Iraq.”

The diocese’s Archdeacon Michael Kendall will speak at an “anti-escalation” “rally”: sponsored by tomorrow at noon in front of Sen. Charles Schumer’s office.

The Vatican has been very critical of the war since its start, although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken its familiar cautious tone. Bishop William Skylstad, president of the group, said in a recent “statement”: that Bush’s plan to increase troops must be judged by how well it can contribute to a “responsible transition in Iraq.â€?

Skylstad wrote:

“The Holy See and our bishops’ Conference expressed grave moral concerns about military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of invasion and occupation. In light of current realities, the Holy See and our Conference support broader regional and international engagement to increase security, stability and reconstruction in Iraq.”

A Jewish rocker is coming to Harrison

From the publicity he gets, you would think that “Matisyahu”: is the only pop musician who is reaching Jewish youth.

He’s an Hasidic reggae singer, after all (from White Plains), who tours the world, sells tons of records and is nominated for a Grammy (“Best Reggae Album”).

He’s got mass appeal, no doubt.

But the guy who’s playing at 150 or so synagogues a year is “Rick Recht,”: Jewish rocker.

A native of St. Louis, he fronts a band and sings rock songs with Jewish themes, including snippets of Jewish text.

Recht (that’s him below) is playing the “Jewish Community Center of Harrison”: on Sunday morning at 10:30. This month alone, he’s played synagogues in St. Louis, Memphis, Washington Township, N.J., Dresher, Penn., Northridge, Calif., Tiburon, Calif., and Freemont, Calif. He’s play Roslyn Heights, N.Y., this week before heading to Harrison.

Hecht spoke at a religion writers conference I went to in 2005. You could tell that he loves what he does.

“We’re playing a concert, kids are jumping up and down, singing the texts of our ancestors, the values of ancient and contemporary Judaism,” he said at the time. “They’re not thinking Jewish. They’re feeling it. Our goal is to make Jewish life relevant, cool and exciting to Jewish youth.”

Recht grew up with a strong Jewish identity, but felt it slipping away after he went to college. He started playing in a secular rock band. Everything changed when he gave a guitar lesson to the director of a Jewish school (who would become his wife).

“Basically, we’ll play anywhere where Jews congregate,” he said.

Matisyahu is not alone.

“Choose Life” plates win in Illinois

I “wrote”: last month about a Yonkers couple that is trying to get New York state (and New Jersey) to issue “specialty” license plates that say “Choose Life.”

“Elizabeth and Charles Rex”: run a non-profit that promotes adoption, and the money that would be raised from people choosing the plates would go to their cause. (That’s the proposed NY plate below.)

They say that the plates need to proclaim “Choose Life” in order to get people’s attention. Not everyone agrees.

New York and New Jersey have refused to okay the plates, leading the Rexes to file lawsuits against both states. “Choose Life” plates are now offered in at least 17 states, and several other states are caught up in lawsuits over them.

Yesterday, a federal judge in Chicago ordered Illinois state officials to offer “Choose Life” plates, saying that the message is protected by the First Amendment. According to the AP, U.S. District Judge David H. Coar said in his opinion that he assumed that the request for a “Choose Lifeâ€? plate was prompted by a sincere interest in promoting adoption.

But whatever the intent, he said, the message is protected by the First Amendment.

That’s what is so interesting about the debate over the plates. Those who propose them clearly want to share an anti-abortion message (even if they also want to promote adoption). Many of those, including government officials, who reject the plates don’t like the anti-abortion message.

But whether states can reject the plates — when they approve all sorts of other speciality plates — is a First Amendment issue.

The battle over church property

It’s one of the hottest questions in the mainline world: When a dissident congregation chooses to leave its denomination, who gets the church building and the property?

Can the fleeing congregation keep its home? Or must the dissidents move elsewhere, with Mother Church keeping the property?

There will be great national interest in what happens within the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Late last year, majorities of congregants at 11 Virginia parishes voted to leave the Episcopal Church and hook up with with a group of churches under the authority of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Most attention, of course, has been on the reason for the split: the dissidents could not abide by the Episcopal Church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop and its general leftward drift.

But now comes the nuts-and-bolts fall out. The dissident congregants and their leaders have not left their churches.

So the executive board of the diocese has adopted a “resolution”: declaring the property to be abandoned. The board also authorized Bishop Peter James Lee to “take such steps as may be necessary to recover or secure such real and personal property.”

We’re talking lawsuits.

In a “letter”: to the diocese, Lee wrote:
“I have tried to find a way forward in our dispute over property that would keep us from having to resort to civil courts. No longer am I convinced that such an outcome is possible, nor do I believe that such a move at this time is dishonorable. Rather, I believe as does the leadership of our Diocese and of our Church, that the actions taken to secure our property are consistent with our mission and with our fiduciary and moral obligations to the Church of our ancestors, to the church we serve today, and to the church of those who will follow us.”


“These differences are not about property but about the legacy we have received for the mission of Christ and our obligation to preserve that legacy for the future.”

The American Anglican Council, a conservative group supporting the dissident parishes, is lamenting the diocese’s decision.

“I am deeply disappointed, though not surprised, at the Diocese of Virginia’s sudden resort to litigation after pledging to avoid court battles in a protocol agreed upon last fall,� said the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, AAC President and CEO. “The churches involved have indicated a clear willingness to negotiate a fair, amicable agreement regarding their properties, but the diocese has prematurely ended these discussions under the guise of concern for the diocese and national church, despite the fact that all options for an agreement have not been exhausted.�

These church vs. denomination divorce cases are generally handled at the state level. Different state courts have decided different things.

Last August, a NYS Supreme Court Justice ruled that the Hudson River Presbytery, the regional arm of Presbyterian Church (USA), could not stop a renegade Orange County church from leaving the denomination and taking its property.

What makes one an evangelical?

What makes someone an evangelical Christian?

Defining what it means to be an evangelical has long been an issue of contention among scholars, reporters and — yes — Christians.

“The Barna Group,”: which does all sorts of Christian research, uses its own fine-tuned definition. To be considered an evangelical, one has to adhere to or believe nine particular points.

According to Barna, about 38 percent of Americans define themselves as evangelical. These are the folks the media refer to when reporting on the political and social influence of evangelicals.

But only 8 percent of adults qualify as “nine-point evangelicals.”

The nine points? Evangelicals:

1. Have made a personal commitment to Jesus.

2. Believe they will go to heaven because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus.

3. Believe their faith is very important in their life.

4. Believe they have a personal responsibility to share their beliefs with non-Christians.

5. Believe that Satan exists.

6. Believe that salvation is available only through grace, not good works.

7. Believe that Jesus lived a sinless life on earth.

8. Must assert the Bible’s accuracy.

9. Must describe God as the all-knowing, all-powerful perfect deity that created the universe and still rules it.

How to trace a bishop’s lineage

When I blogged Friday about the Archdiocese of New York’s realignment of parishes, I mentioned that Bishop Dennis Sullivan, the vicar general, has been getting mostly good reviews for his work.

I wanted to check the date when he was ordained a bishop, so I jumped over to “,”: an excellent website run by a Catholic layman in Kansas City.

Among the interesting features on the “Bishop Dennis Joseph Sullivan” page (and found for many other bishops) is Sullivan’s episcopal lineage. It shows that Sullivan was ordained a bishop by Cardinal Egan, who was ordained by Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who was ordained by Cardinal Eugene-Gabriel-Gervais-Laurent Tisserant, and on and on.

Sullivan’s lineage is traced as far back as to Cardinal Scipione Rebiba, an Italian bishop of several dioceses who died in 1577.

I noted that Rebiba was also part of John Paul II’s episcopal lineage. So I looked him up.

Charles Bransom, a scholar who published “Ordinations of U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1790-1989” in 1990, concluded that more than 90 percent of all Catholic bishops at the time could trace their lineage to Rebiba.

You can read more on the “Rebiban Succession” “here.”: Or if you want to check the episcopal lineage of your favorite bishop, go to Catholic-hierarchy’s “bishop search.”:

Awaiting a papal visit

When might we see Pope Benedict XVI in New York?

In January 2006, Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore said that he had been told at the Vatican that a papal trip to the U.S. was being planned for 2007.

There’s also been talk of the pope addressing the U.N. General Assembly later this year.

But, so far, nothing.


Many people are keeping on eye on the “International Eucharistic Congress”: that will be held in June 2008 in Quebec City. Right now, it looks like the pope’s first visit to North America.

New York is only 440 miles away…

Benedict is scheduled to make his first overseas journey this May when he travels to Brazil to open a meeting of the Latin American bishops’ council.

ACLU, enemies celebrate together

A quick update: I posted yesterday about the ACLU and the Traditional Values Coalition — sworn enemies on just about everything — being on the same side of an issue.

They were among many religious and business groups that opposed a provision of a U.S. Senate lobbying reform bill. The provision would have required grassroots groups to disclose lobbying expenditures that exceed $25,000 for any three-month period, creating all sorts of registration requirements.

They won. Senators voted 55-43 to remove the provision last night.

The Senate also approved the overall bill (96-2), which bans members from accepting gifts, meals and most travel from lobbyists.

James C. Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, another “religious right” group that may never again agree with the ACLU, said that the removed provision would have clamped down on freedom of speech for small groups.

“The big winners in this battle are the American people,” he said. “Getting rid of the onerous grass-roots lobbying restrictions … is a triumph of the representative form of government our founding fathers established 230 years ago.”

Ken Stein is packing them in

I “wrote”: and blogged yesterday about Jimmy Carter-critic “Kenneth Stein”: coming to speak in New Rochelle on Sunday evening.

I wasn’t able to reach Stein, a former Carter aide who recently resigned a ceremonial position with the Carter Center in Atlanta. He took the step to protest Carter’s much-publicized new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

But I heard from Stein this morning. He sounded a bit taken back by the attention he’s getting as the de facto spokesman for those angered by Carter’s book.

Some 1,000 people came to hear him in L.A. last week. About 900 came to Boston a few days later. At least 500 are expected when he speaks at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at “Temple Israel of New Rochelle.”:

“I guess people want to know the evidence; What do I know that they don’t know,” Stein told me. “But I’m not going to speculate on why Carter did it.”

“As an historian, I have to stick with the facts,” he said. “Of course, I have my own deep personal feelings.”

In a letter he sent out after resigning from the Carter Center, Stein wrote that Carter’s book is “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.”

Stein worked with Carter on an earlier book about the Middle East, “The Blood of Abraham (1985).” He said Carter’s views of Israel have changed since then.

“They’re sharper and angrier,” he said. “He uses some very clever writing ruses to state a political point of view or sentiment or feeling without someone being able to say ‘That’s what you think.’ ”

He’ll go into more detail on Sunday.