My new look

As you may have noticed, my blog has been revamped a bit.

To start, it has a new name. I never really liked “On Religion.” Too general. Too “above it all” sounding. I’m just a reporter, after all.

A few months back, an editor said I had been “blogging religiously.” Not bad, I thought. More modern. More to the point. A tad amusing.

Still, I wanted some kind of regional flavor up there. So we decided to add the sub-head: “From a New York point of view.”

What is a NY point of view, you ask? It’s hard to explain, but you know it when you see it (or at least I do — or think I do).

I figure I’m writing for an audience that is religiously diverse — in terms of the faith people practice and how they understand their faith. It’s also an audience that is curious about “others” and generally comfortable being around people who think or believe differently.

Something like that.

Then there’s the picture above. Why? What is it?

Coming up with an image for a religion blog was difficult. We toyed around with religious symbols, but who do you include and who do you leave out?

So we moved in the direction of an image with a religious or spiritual feel.

It didn’t matter to me where the picture was from. But, if you’re curious, the picture is actually from…Vietnam. A scenic road between Da Nang to Hue.

So there you have it.

Art as a bridge to religious understanding

Here’s a promising subject for a panel discussion: “Contemporary Art as a Bridge to Cross Religious Dialogue and Understanding.”

It’s Sunday (July 29) from 4 to 6 p.m. at the “Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art,”: 1701 Main St. in Peekskill. (Admission is $10 or $7.50 for members.)

The panelists will be:

Sister Mary Boys, the Skinner & McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. She is a much-published advocate for interfaith understanding.

Rabbi David Greenstein, Professor of Rabbinics, Mysticism and Jewish Thought, and Rosh ha-Yeshiva at the Academy for Jewish Religion, a rabbinic and cantorial seminary in Riverdale. He is also an artist.

Elinor Aisha Holland, a calligrapher, freelance writer and lecturer. She has lectured and taught calligraphy in schools, museum and university education programs, including the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, The Smithsonian Institute and the Detroit Institute of Art.

Priest movement

Time to catch up on a bunch of appointments within the Archdiocese of New York, most of which I’ve reported but all of which are now confirmed in Catholic New York.

tjndc5-5b2152xgoj638rofk3i_layout.jpgFormer Rockland County Vicar Monsignor William Belford (that’s him) has been named chancellor of the archdiocese. The former pastor of St. Catharine’s Church in Blauvelt, an outgoing and popular priest who, by all accounts, has a strong relationship with Cardinal Egan, left a few years back for Dutchess County.

Outgoing Chancellor Monsignor Thomas Gilleece, who has held the post since 2001, will become pastor of St. John and St. Mary’s Church in Chappaqua, a prestigious address that has been pastorless since Monsignor Charles Kelly died way back in October. Gilleece is a former pastor of St. Paul’s in Congers.

Monsignor Peter Finn, the rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, is heading for Staten Island. He will be replaced at the seminary by Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh, who takes over in a couple of weeks. Some still consider Walsh to be a contender for archbishop of New York.

Monsignor Desmond O’Connor, who took over as director of priest personnel for the archdiocese in 2002 — just as the sex-abuse crisis was taking off — will replace Belford as pastor of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in LaGrangeville. He served at St. Augustine’s in New City way back in the ’80s.

O’Connor will be replaced by the Rev. Thomas Devery, who has served as a Staten Island pastor since 2000.

I’ve heard that the priest personnel job was not exactly a slot that priests were lining up for.

And a few pastor appointments in the LoHud:

Monsignor William Foley to Immaculate Conception in Stony Point. He’s the former, longtime pastor of St. Augustine’s in New City.

Monsignor Thomas Kelly to St. Augustine’s in Larchmont. He’s coming from the Bronx.

The Rev. Robert Starr to Our Lady of Mercy in Port Chester. He’s been pastor of Immaculate Conception in Stony Point since 1995.

Expect pope in spring

After all the talk last week about Pope Benedict’s plans to visit New York, I never updated what we learned about his schedule.

So I’m doing it now. The Archdiocese of NY “says”: that the pope will be here in the spring.

A guide to bereavement and funerals

What do you do if you have to attend a funeral for someone whose faith was not your own?

You can check a new guide that provides bereavement information for 23 faiths, denominations and traditions. It was prepared by the educational arm of the “New York State Funeral Directors Association.”:

The guide includes beliefs about death, visitation and funeral practices, and mourning rituals.

It was put together by the NYS Tribute Foundation, a non-profit set up by the funeral directors’ group to educate the public about end-of-life issues.

NYSFDA Executive Director Bonnie McCullough said:

“It is important for those who attend a funeral to know what to expect. Not only will they feel more comfortable, but will be able to meaningfully participate if they so choose, while knowing that they are upholding and respecting the deceased and his or her religious traditions and practices.�

To get a copy, send $3 to New York State Tribute Foundation, 426 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205.

Two journalists spill their guts

Writing about religion, it seems, can really get you down.

I often think there’s too much coverage of the media in the media these days. I wonder if people who don’t work in the media are all that interested in the internal workings of TV, the blogosphere, etc.

Still, I’ve come across two interesting columns by journalists who have written about how their work has affected their faith.

One column is a total bummer. The other is a partial bummer.

And just so you know: Catholicism, coincidentally, does not fare well in either person’s story. Both writers were deeply affected by having to cover the church’s sex-abuse scandal.

The “first”:,0,3530015,full.story?coll=la-home-center is by an LA Times guy named William Lobdell, who has written an Orange County-based religion column for eight years. I don’t know him and have never seen his column. But he’s published a lengthy first-person essay about his “faith journey” that was picked up yesterday by a popular journalism website (and was probably the talk of many newsrooms yesterday).

It’s a very personal piece.

The “second”: is by Rod Dreher, a well known “conservative” columnist who jumped a few years back from the NY Post to National Review and is now writing the “Crunchy Con” column for Beliefnet (he’s sort of conservative, sort of not).

Dreher has put up a new link to a piece he wrote last year about why he converted from Roman Catholicism to Orthodox Christianity.

Dreher had been very popular among conservative Catholics, and his conversion was not taken well by many.

If you don’t want to read about how the sex-abuse scandal affected the faith of two guys who covered it, don’t read these columns. But if you’re at all curious about how some reporters are changed by their work (specifically when covering my favorite beat), give them a try.

A town without condoms

Catholic (College) Town, USA.

That’s what Domino’s Pizza mogul Thomas Monaghan is trying to create down near Naples, Fla.

Not only has he built Ave Maria University, the nation’s first new Catholic college in decades, which opens next month.

tjndc5-5fsj9o0lucj6l9cndq_layout.jpgBut he has created a community, a college town called “Ave Maria, Fla.,”: that is expected to include 11,000 households on 5,000 acres. I don’t really understand how one creates a new community, but Ave Maria the town “opens” in mid-2007.

As this story from the AP’s Brian Skoloff explains, you don’t have to be Catholic to live there (but you’ll have to leave town to purchase birth control):

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — No, of course not, Ave Maria is not a Roman Catholic town, its builders say. Why would you think such a thing?
Yes, the streets have names like Annunciation Circle and John Paul II Boulevard. The town is laid out to catch the sunrise at a certain angle each March 25, the day Catholics celebrate the Feast of Annunciation. And the Catholic university whose towering 10-story church dominates the landscape bans the sale of condoms and warns that premarital sex can be grounds for expulsion.
But Ave Maria is open to everyone, said Blake Gable, project manager for the Barron Collier Cos., which is building the new town in partnership with Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan, an ardent Catholic.
“When I lived in Washington, D.C., I looked out my window and I saw the National Cathedral. I didn’t feel like I was in a religious environment,� Gable said. “It’s never occurred to me that it’s a Catholic community.� Continue reading

Planting Islamic roots in the burbs

“We’re going through growing pains, which are not specific to us,” 22-year-old Hasan Ali, who was raised in Chappaqua, told me.

“All immigrant groups have gone through the same things over the last century. Many times, you feel frustrated, but you know you’ll get through it with time.”

These are trying times for American Muslims, no doubt. Their every more is under a microscope. When violence breaks out in Iraq or a terrorist plot is uncovered in the UK, people look them for answers (and, often, with suspicion).

tjndc5-5flbar164t01nb5jxfp_layout.jpgMy colleague Elizabeth Ganga and I have a “story”: in today’s Journal News/ about the Upper Westchester Muslim Society’s plans to build Westchester’s first full-fledged Islamic center — a mosque, community center, classrooms, etc. — in New Castle.

We’ve spoken to quite a few members of the group, who say the same types of things over and over: They love living in America. They want what everyone else wants. Their religion is important to them. They want to carry on their traditions and their faith while being true to the U.S.

The fact is, they will have to prove these things over time. Judging from some harsh emails I’ve received today, there are people out there who just don’t believe them.

Coincidentally, “Newsweek’s”: cover story is about Muslim Americans — particularly their struggles against anti-Muslim sentiment since 9/11.

The article says:

Nearly six years after 9/11, the story of Muslims in America is one of overwhelming success. The National Intelligence Estimate released last week warned that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda continue to have their sights set on an attack within the United States. The report also notes a growing radicalism among Muslims in the West. But at a press briefing, intelligence officials were particularly concerned about the threat of homegrown terror cells within Europe’s Muslim communities. America, the officials said, has so far provided relatively infertile ground for the growing and grooming of Muslim extremists. “Most Muslims in America think of themselves as Americans,” says Charlie Allen, intelligence chief at the Homeland Security Department.

In fact, Muslim Americans represent the most affluent, integrated, politically engaged Muslim community in the Western world. According to a major survey done by the Pew Research Center and released last spring, Muslims in America earn about the same as their neighbors, and their educational levels are about the same. An overwhelming number—71 percent—agree that in America, you can “get ahead with hard work.” In stark contrast, Muslims in France, Germany and England are about 20 percent more likely to live in poverty.

The Upper Westchester Muslim Society is a very educated, affluent group. Its leaders are focused on getting their Islamic center built and building relations with their future neighbors. They know it won’t be easy and that there is a lot at stake.

What’s the Catholic position on business mergers?

That’s just one of the snippets I’ve come across on the Web since Cardinal Egan endorsed the proposed SIRIUS/XM satellite radio merger in a Friday column in the NY Post.

tjndc5-5diah01k6ptkefyla0c_layout1.jpgThere’s a lot of buzz out there about the cardinal’s move among people who follow this stuff closely (I’m not one of them, although I understand that it comes down to whether federal regulators want to allow a satellite radio monopoly).

Of course, the Archdiocese of New York produces the darn good Catholic Channel on SIRIUS — and the Catholic Channel will be heard by more folks if the merger goes through. Egan “wrote:”:

In Washington and elsewhere, many people much more expert than I in these matters are working diligently to examine the merger. From my perspective, however, it offers a unique opportunity to extend the reach and breadth of religious programming. It is also an unmatched opportunity to strengthen this new medium and position satellite radio to compete with the ever-growing list of audio entertainment providers.

Anyway, a blog on “”: starts off:

Merger gets public support of Cardinal Edward Egan

The “LA Times”: asks:

But where does the Holy See stand?

“Barron’s”: online:

New Backer For XM, Sirius Deal: The Catholic Church

And the “Wired blog network:”:

Archbishop Turns Evangelist For XM/Sirius Merger

On Wired, one blogger notes:

It’s easier to accept an Archbishop in support of faith based programming than it is to buy the innocent intent of hungry looking CEOs like Gary Parsons and Mel Karmazin. And let’s face it–His Eminence comes off as a much more prestigious spokesperson than say, Opie & Anthony. But just because the church is in support of satellite’s faith based programming, doesn’t mean that this isn’t a heavy handed push for merger support. After all, the Archbishop made it known that he’d also like to “urge all those who are considering the merger between SIRIUS and XM to see to it that this dialogue of faith can continue.”

Will Vatican remove prayer for ‘conversion of the Jews’?

At a “press conference”: in Italy on Wednesday, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, made it sound as if the Vatican may rethink the inclusion of a controversial prayer “for the conversion of the Jews” in a recently revived Good Friday liturgy.

I hope he knew what he was saying because Jewish groups were hanging on every word. I’ve gotten press releases from the ADL, American Jewish Committee and others hailing Bertone’s comments and expecting action.

It’s been a few weeks, of course, since Pope Benedict XVI removed restrictions on the old Latin Mass, meaning liturgies that are part of the 1962 Roman Missal or liturgical book.

While Catholics have discussed the relative merits of the old Mass vs. the post-Vatican II new Mass, Jewish groups have gotten antsy about the Good Friday liturgy that is part of the 92 Missal.

The Good Friday liturgy includes:

For the conversion of the Jews. Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, You do not refuse Your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of Your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.

There has been tremendous confusion about who can use the Good Friday liturgy and under what circumstances. In fact, Bertone said certain things may have to be clarified.

A parish can only have one liturgy on Good Friday (which is a special liturgy, not a Mass). So you have to figure that the overwhelming majority of parishes will use the liturgy from the post-Vatican II liturgy book.

Very, very few Catholics, then, will ever hear the Jewish conversion prayer (which is in Latin).

Still, Bertone said that the problem regarding to the prayer “can be resolved.”

He said:

The problem can be studied, and it could be decided that all those celebrating the Mass in the Catholic Church, according to the old missal or the new missal, recite the same formula of the Good Friday prayers, which were approved by (Pope) Paul VI; this can be decided, and it would resolve all the problems.

It is now an expectation on the part of Jewish groups.

The “ADL’s”: Abe Foxman said: “We hope that Cardinal Bertone’s public conjectures will shortly result in putting Catholic-Jewish relations back to the positive mode we were in before all this.â€?

The “AJC’s”:{DDD91BD2-0752-4A9D-9289-F89C75A77AA2}&notoc=1 Rabbi David Rosen said: “We appreciate the statement by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, making it clear that efforts will be made to replace the disturbing Good Friday prayer for Jewish conversion found in the 1962 version of the Latin Tridentine mass.”