From ‘Titanic’ to Jesus’ tomb?

I was getting ready for work this morning when I heard a TV anchor say something about evidence of Jesus Christ’s tomb. Or something like that.

I didn’t see the report (I watch TV news for weather and school closings), but figured I should check it out.

Turns out that the Discovery Channel will premiere on Sunday (March 4) at 9 p.m. a new documentary called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.”:http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/tomb/tomb.html?dcitc=w99-502-ah-1024 The new issue of “Newsweek”:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17328478/site/newsweek/ magazine, out today, includes a feature about it.

My initial impression is that we will hear a bit about this because the film was produced by James Cameron, Mr. Titanic. In a statement, Cameron says: “It doesn’t get bigger than this. We’ve done our homework; we’ve made the case; and now it’s time for the debate to begin.”

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What’s the debate? The film (and a companion book, of course) claim that an ancient Jewish burial tomb in Jerusalem, discovered in 1980, includes the family plot of Jesus. Simcha Jacobovici, the director, makes the case that the bones of Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalene were once entombed there — raising questions about Jesus’ divinity.

And away we go. The Newsweek feature includes some sharp criticism of the film. And Jacobovici, it turns out, was an early promoter of the “James (brother of Jesus) box” a few years ago, which turned out to be a hoax.

If you read the full Newsweek description of the film, it sounds like Jacobovici and Cameron could have done quite well with a book/movie deal like The Da Vinci Code — where you call it fiction, but imply it’s more.

As a documentary, though, it sounds unlikely to change the course of human events. I’ll try to watch it Sunday.

May the Latin Mass return?

Might we soon see a return of the Tridentine Mass — the traditional, Latin Mass — to Catholic parishes?

Judging from a recent interview with Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, it may happen.

In his interview with Inside the Vatican magazine, Ranjith sounded absolutely disenchanted with the liturgical reforms of Vatican II:

“…the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy has not been able to achieve the expected goals of spiritual and missionary renewal in the Church so that today we could be truly happy about it.

Undoubtedly there have been positive results too; but the negative effects seem to have been greater, causing much disorientation in our ranks.

The churches have become empty, liturgical free-wheeling has become the order of the day, and the true meaning and significance of that which is celebrated has been obscured.

One has to, then, begin wondering if the reform process had in fact been handled correctly. Thus, we need to take a good look at what had happened, pray and reflect about its causes and with the help of the Lord move on to make the necessary corrections.”

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Asked whether Pope Benedict XVI will call for liberalized use of the Latin Mass, Ranjith answers:

“Well, there is this rising call for a restoration of the Tridentine Mass. And even certain leading figures of the elite have made public appeals for this Mass in some newspapers recently.

The Holy Father will, I am sure, take note of this and decide what is best for the Church.”

Ranjith, who is from Sri Lanka, says that many bishops and priests may be reluctant to see the Tridentine Mass return. But, he says:

“The appropriate question the shepherds have to ask themselves is: How can I as a bishop or priest bring even one person closer to Christ and to His Church?

It is not so much a matter of the Tridentine Mass or of the Novus Ordo. It is just a question of pastoral responsibility and sensitivity.

Thus, if the Tridentine Mass is the way to achieve an even better level of spiritual enrichment for the faithful, then the shepherds should allow it.”

You can read the entire interview “here.”:http://www.insidethevatican.com/newsflash/2007/newsflash-feb21-07.htm

Giving out pudding to remember Noah

The new Elmsford-based Turkish American Heritage Association is bringing a Turkish custom to their non-Turkish neighbors.

Pudding.

It’s called Noah’s Pudding and it’s meant to remember how Noah had to scratch together whatever food was available on the ark — into something like a pudding.

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The pudding is a commemoration of Noah’s faith and is apparently made in Turkey by Muslims and the few Christians who are left.

This past Tuesday, members of the Turkish American Heritage Association distributed pudding at the Westchester County office building in White Plains.

To read more about the pudding (and for a recipe), check the TAHA “website.”:http://tahaus.org/eng/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=100&Itemid=40

Faith Club to appear at Pace on Tuesday

Back in November, I “wrote”:http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:krwTlMuRLogJ:www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article%3FAID%3D/20061110/NEWS02/611100406/1028/NEWS12+%22gary+stern%22+and+%22faith+club%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=us about The Faith Club, three women — one Jew, one Christian, one Muslim — who wrote a book about their search for mutual understanding.

I focused on Priscilla Warner (the Jew), who I visited at her Larchmont home.

The book is very honest, very personal. I think the story told represents well the many questions people ask not only about the faiths of others, but about their own faith.

Warner, who is one of those people who can’t help but be open about everything, told me:

“We took off the white gloves. There was a sense of urgency because we were mothers in New York after 9/11. I came into it with a sense of fear. It’s all over the book.”

The other members of the club are Suzanne Oliver (center), the Christian, and Ranya Idliby (left), the Muslim. They both live in NYC.

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“The Faith Club”:http://www.thefaithclub.com/ will appear on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Kessel Student Center at Pace University in Pleasantville. The program is free and open to the public. Directions “here.”:http://appserv.pace.edu/execute/page.cfm?doc_id=16153

To RSVP or for more info, contact Heather Novak at 914-773-3464 or hnovak@pace.edu.

Boy told he can’t be Jesus

A Christian public interest law firm filed a complaint Tuesday on behalf of a Pennsylvania schoolboy who was not allowed to dress as Jesus for his school’s Halloween parade.

According to the “Alliance Defense Fund,”:http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/news/story.aspx?cid=4016 the boy’s principal in Abington Township, outside Philly, “told the fourth-grade student’s mother that a Jesus costume would violate the school’s religion policy. (The principal) required that the young student remove his crown of thorns and not identify himself as Jesus.”

ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman added:

“Our client’s teacher, perhaps missing the irony, suggested that he instead pretend to be a Roman emperor.�

New Catholic Charities head named for Hudson Valley

“Catholic Charities”:http://www.catholiccharitiesny.org/index.cfm in NY has reorganized a bit, aiming to chop the Archdiocese of New York into a few manageable parts. The archdiocese is a big place — 10 counties — so it might well be easier to get a handle on the needs of a given region than to look at the archdiocese as a whole.

Mary Ellen Ros, a Catholic Charities veteran, has been named the new director for the Hudson Valley, meaning Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Ulster counties.

She has served most recently as executive director of Catholic Charities Community Services, overseeing services for among the most vulnerable New Yorkers. She was also in charge of Catholic Charities’ response to 9/11.

Prior to joining Catholic Charities, Ros (who lives in Pawling) served as an executive at a New York City immigrant and refugee services agency. She also served with the United Nations on the Thailand/Cambodia border, managing refugee relief efforts.

Farrakhan’s final call?

The Nation of Islam opens a “major gathering”:http://www.sd2007.com/ in Detroit today, and organizers are saying that Louis Farrakhan may give his last major address this weekend.

Farrakhan, 73, has been very ill and supposedly turned over many of his duties last year.

There’s no point in going over what’s made Farrakhan a controversial figure for many years. But I wonder how many people understand that mainstream Muslims generally don’t accept the Nation of Islam as an authentic Muslim movement.

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The main reason has to do with the Nation’s founder, Fard Muhammad, from Detroit, who preached on street corners during the 1930s that blacks were a superior race. The Nation has long taught that whites were created by a renegade black scientist named Yacub.

One of the fundamental beliefs of Islam is that Muhammad was God’s final prophet. But the Nation of Islam teaches that Fard Muhammad was an incarnation of God and that his successor as head of the nation, Elijah Muhammad, was a prophet.

Mainstream Islam also denounces the Nation’s racial theories.

During the 1970s, Elijah Muhammad’s son, W.D. Muhammad, broke from the Nation of Islam and took many African Americans into mainstream Islamic practice.

Over the past few years, Farrakhan has reportedly reconciled with W.D. Muhammad. Although their two groups remain separate — with their very different beliefs intact — followers of W.D. Muhammad are expected to attend this weekend’s convention.

On the Nation’s website, you can read a recent Farrakhan “column”:http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_1324.shtml about Fard Muhammad. It’s difficult to describe.

A call to confession

“The Light is On For You” is the slogan of a new campaign in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., to get Catholics back to confession.

The Washington Post “reports”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/21/AR2007022102065.html?referrer=email today that the archdiocese is launching its biggest ad campaign ever — timed to start with Lent — to get Catholics to rethink a sacrament that many have been ignoring for years.

“People go online and confess all sorts of things, but they don’t do it in a way of apology. And it’s very hard to verbalize what you did wrong,” archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs told the Post. “That’s why I like to go when I’m in Rome, because I won’t know anyone.”

The article goes through several key reasons why the sacrament of reconciliation has lost its pull, including the rise in therapy and self-help.

When out doing reporting on whatever, I often ask Catholics if they go to confession. My very unofficial straw poll has shown that few do. People under a certain age — say, 40 — often snicker as if my question is absurd.

Reactions to Supreme Court’s punt on nativity scenes case

I blogged Tuesday about the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear a case about a NYC policy regarding holiday displays in its schools. The policy allows most holiday symbols — Santa, a Christmas tree, a menorah, an Islamic moon and star — but restricts the inclusion of a nativity scene. Too religious.

The Supreme Court’s decision to punt lets stand a lower court decision that said the policy can stay.

Christian groups that eagerly awaited a Supreme Court case are quite disappointed.

Bill Donohue of the “Catholic League,”:http://www.catholicleague.org/07press_releases/quarter_1/070221_court_passes.htm who helped get the case going by finding a plaintiff, said this:

“It is important to note that in the circuit court decision affirming the right of New York City public schools not to display a nativity scene, it did not bar the City from doing so: ‘We do not here decide whether the City could, consistent with the Constitution, include a crèche in its school holiday displays.’ Furthermore, the appeals court for the Second Circuit rejected the absurd claim by the City’s Department of Education that the menorah is not a religious symbol. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing in this ruling that legally stops the City of New York from allowing principals and teachers to treat Christianity with the same degree of respect it affords Judaism and Islam. And that means that a nativity scene, not a Christmas tree, deserves to be displayed alongside the menorah and star and crescent.

“In August, I will contact Joel I. Klein, Chancellor of the Department of Education for the City of New York, requesting that he issue a public statement recommending the display of crèches in the schools. After all, if the Catholic League is permitted by the New York City Parks Department to put a life-sized crèche in Central Park, and Orthodox Jews are allowed to put the world’s largest menorah there, it is patently unfair to allow a miniature version of the menorah in the schools—some of which are directly across the street from the park—while censoring a miniature version of the nativity scene.

“In short, this is not about legalities—it’s about morality.�

“The Thomas More Law Center,”:http://www.thomasmore.org/news.html?NewsID=526 which handled the litigation, said this:

“The Supreme Court considered the Law Center’s petition for review at seven different conferences. At the end of the day, however, by deciding not to review the case the Court passed on the opportunity to clarify its much maligned Establishment Clause jurisprudence. More fundamentally, the Court allowed to stand an anti-Christian policy that adversely affects over one million students enrolled in the Nation’s largest public school system, which has 1,200 public elementary and secondary schools.”

Robert Muise, trial counsel for the Law Center, said this:

“Our Constitution plainly forbids hostility toward Christians. Our Nation has a strong Christian heritage that is reflected in our traditions. One such tradition is displaying a crèche during the Christmas season. New York City’s Nativity ban exhibits a hostility that is contrary to our history and our Constitution. The Supreme Court should have reviewed this case.â€?