The big dinner

I don’t ordinarily attend the big Al Smith Dinner. It’s much more about politics than religion.

But you can hear Cardinal Egan make a joke at Gov. Spitzer’s expense “here.”:

Or, since Tony Blair was the main attraction, see how the Telegraph of London covered the event “here.”:

They’re not red, white & blue hats

About those new cardinals…

Many observed yesterday that while Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was the surprise choice to become a cardinal, Benedict XVI passed up a chance to give the red hat to Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.

And Baltimore’s new archbishop, Edwin O’Brien, will also have to wait for the next consistory.

But church historian Christopher Bellitto, an assistant prof of history at Kean University in Union, N.J., points out that the reason for bypassing Wuerl and O’Brien is pretty clear. Their predecessors, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Cardinal William Keeler, respectively, are each younger than 80 and remain eligible to vote for pope.

In the event of a conclave to pick his successor, Benedict probably wouldn’t want too many American cardinals running around. As it is, with DiNardo and Archbishop John Foley, a veteran Vatican official, tabbed to become cardinals, that makes 13 Americans who are eligible to get the big vote.

Kosovo students give thumbs up to U.S.

Well, not all Muslims from abroad think the U.S. is carrying out a war on Islam.

I just got back from Our Lady of Victory Academy in Dobbs Ferry, where four students from Kosovo — three of them Muslims — are visiting. They were brought over by a couple of Catholic groups seeking to promote tolerance and other ideals.

I asked the students about the U.S. role in the Muslim world. They didn’t want to talk about Iraq or Iran, but only about Kosovo, where American involvement saved who knows how many Muslims from Serbian oppressors.

“The role of the United States in Kosovo is very important, very meaningful,” said Alban Mehmeti, 19. “The U.S. is the most democratic state in the world, which is the reason why.”

‘My Sweet Jesus’

The chocolate Jesus is back. Sort of.

If you remember, an anatomically correct, all-chocolate statue of Jesus was supposed to be unveiled this past April — four days before Easter — at a NYC gallery that is visible from the street.

tjndc5-5h0a311gb9z1ailjsk5l_layout.jpgBut the Catholic League and others made enough of a ruckus to have chocolate Jesus put in monthballs (that’s it in the picture, before it was nibbled at by mice).

Now the sculptor, Cosmo Cavallaro, has created a new, 200-pounds-of-chocolate version. And he’s also carved out other chocolate figures: the Virgin Mary and saints Francis, Augustine, Michael, Jude, Anthony and Fermin.

They will go on display Oct. 27 at the “Proposition Gallery”: in Chelsea.

Cavallaro told the AP:

After the cancellation of the show, it got me to look into the Catholic religion a little deeper. I started thinking about the saints, how they were ostracized for their beliefs and then canonized.

The Catholic League doesn’t like it, of course, but won’t protest. The group “explains:”:

Since “My Sweet Jesus� isn’t going to be displayed on the ground floor of an established hotel in midtown, and since Halloween is more appropriate for Cavallaro’s crafts than Easter, our central objections are not applicable this time around. The Catholic League doesn’t approve of the piece, but this upcoming display won’t be as public, nor will it be an ostentatious assault on Christian sensibilities during Holy Week.

Mamaroneck day school wins another round

Score another one for the Religious Land Use Act.

A federal appeals court has upheld the super-controversial law in a case pitting the Village of Mamaroneck against the Westchester Day School, a growing Orthodox Jewish day school that has long wanted to build an addition.

The village has stopped the plans from going forward because of traffic and safety concerns.

So the school turned to the courts a few years back, armed with the Religious Land Use Act. The law, signed by President Clinton in 2000, basically says that municipalities cannot stop religious groups from building or expanding on their property unless they have a darn good reason.

Numerous municipalities have contended that the law is too broad and should be thrown out by the courts. But, so far, the courts disagree.

Now the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with a lower court judge that the Westchester Day School should be allowed to build.

The case may make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tutu to speak at ‘Israeli apartheid’ conference

Bishop Tutu, figure of controversy.

A few months ago, the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, a Catholic university, declined to invite Desmond Tutu to speak because he has compared the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to apartheid.

tut0-008.jpgNow a Protestant church in Boston is planning a conference called “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel.” The keynote? Tutu.

The “Boston Globe”: reports that organizers of the conference, which starts a week from Friday (Oct. 26) at Old South Church, expect demonstrations.

The Rev. Nancy Taylor, pastor of Old South Church, told the Globe:

We welcome the controversy because we are listening and learning. We view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a critical and central issue of our time and we are committed to the way of nonviolent debate and diplomacy . . . rather than to the ways of bullets, terrorism, name-calling, or stereotypes.

Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, told the Globe:

Anyone who uses apartheid as an accusation is really employing old anti-Zionist arguments – that’s really what it is – and is really applying a double standard of judgment to Israel which can be traced to historic anti-Semitic rhetoric, that all things Jews do are evil, including their nationalism.

The conference is sponsored by Friends of Sabeel, an group of American Christians that supports Sabeel, a Jerusalem-based organization of Palestinian Christians.

Red hat to Houston instead of D.C.

So Benedict XVI has named 23 new cardinals, including two Americans.

The surprise is that he’ll give the red hat to Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (that’s him) and not Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.

DiNardo will be the first Cardinal of the South.

abdinardonewpics-003-med.jpgWuerl became DC’s sixth archbishop in June 2006 and appeared to be a lock for the next consistory of cardinals, which will be Nov. 24. Next time?

Baltimore’s new boss, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, also figures to become a cardinal at some point. But his appointment was probably too recent and he’ll figure to get a call to the next consistory, whenever that is.

But who knows?

As Vatican analyst “John Allen”: says, the promotion of DiNardo to cardinal:

…undoubtedly reflects the shifting demographics of American Catholicism, away from its traditional centers on the East Coast and towards the Southwest. According to estimates from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, almost 40 percent of Catholics in the United States today are Hispanic, overwhelmingly concentrated in the “Sun Beltâ€? states of the South and Southwest.

The other American being made a cardinal is Archbishop John Foley, a longtime Vatican official. He served as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications for 23 years until he resigned in June. He’s now grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, a lay community that seeks to protect Catholic rights in the Holy Land.

Allen also writes:

Benedict’s decision to name two new American cardinals can also be read as a further sign of the importance he attaches to the church here, given that the United States will now have 17 cardinals, including 13 electors, the second-largest number in both categories after the Italians. The United States has more cardinals than Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines combined, the other three largest Catholic countries on earth, despite the fact that those three nations contain 315 million Catholics to the roughly 70 million in the United States.

Did anyone read the ‘Muslim letter?’

You hear it all the time: What are Muslims doing to reach out?

Last week, 138 Muslim leaders from around the world released an open letter to the pope and Christian leaders. The “document,”: called “A Common Word Between Us and You,” opens:

Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

The document’s release received plenty of national media coverage. But there seems to be very little buzz about it.

It’s easy to find conservative blogs that that have taken a, shall we say, skeptical slant on the whole thing. Otherwise, there’s been mostly quiet.

A group of Yale scholars did release their own “document,”: saying they were “deeply encouraged and challenged” by the Muslims. The Yalies wrote:

We applaud that A Common Word Between Us and You stresses so insistently the unique devotion to one God, indeed the love of God, as the primary duty of every believer. God alone rightly commands our ultimate allegiance. When anyone or anything besides God commands our ultimate allegiance— a ruler, a nation, economic progress, or anything else—we end up serving idols and inevitably get mired in deep and deadly conflicts.

The Muslim letter stresses the common belief in one God among the Abrahamic religions, quoting Scripture to make the point:

What all these versions thus have in common—despite the language differences between the Hebrew Old Testament, the original words of Jesus Christ in Aramaic, and the actual transmitted Greek of the New Testament—is the command to love God fully with one’s heart and soul and to be fully devoted to Him. This is the First and Greatest Commandment for human beings.

It goes on to emphasize “love of the neighbor” in Islam, as well as Christianity and Judaism. The letter states:

As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them—so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes, (in accordance with the verse of the Holy Qur’an)…

After stressing, again, that the survival of the world may hinge on cooperation among its two largest faiths, the letter says:

And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.

So what now?

David Ford, Director of the Inter-Faith Program at the University of Cambridge, told “TIME”:,8599,1670291,00.html magazine:

This is a determination by mainstream, traditional Muslim scholars and authorities who cover all the branches of Islam, and that’s very unusual. It is unapologetic — but not aggressive, not defensive — and is genuinely hospitable in all directions. It’s also modest. It doesn’t claim to be the final word; it’s ‘a’ common word.

But John Cullinan of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom wrote on “National Review Online”: that the letter is vague, lacking in substance, and doesn’t address Western concerns about passages in the Quran that appear to endorse violence.

And he asks what the letter’s writers mean by “war” against Muslims:

Where exactly do Christians as such — or Western states — “wage war against Muslims on account of their religion�? Unless the authors are willing to be more forthcoming, a useful exchange of views must await another day.




‘Screwtape Letters’ on stage

C.S. Lewis’ classic “The Screwtape Letters” comes to the NYC stage Thursday (Oct. 18).

cslewis.jpgThe story of how a senior devil named Screwtape advises an up-and-comer on how to win the damnation of a human soul will be performed at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th St.

Actor Max McLean, who will play Screwtape, co-wrote the stage adaptation with Jeff Fiske. A member of the fast-growing Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, McLean seems to work mostly in what I’ll call Christian theater. He also recorded the popular “Listener’s Bible.”

A 2006 production of Screwtape in NYC ran for 11 sold-out weeks.

Lewis (that’s him) published Screwtape in 1942, when he was largely unknown.

For info, cut and paste this:

After all, he was a fiery pope

popefiredm1510_468×365.jpgDoes this fiery figure remind you of anyone?

Some think it’s Pope John Paul II, waving from the Great Beyond.

Jarek Cielecki, a Polish priest and friend of John Paul I, said “You can see the image of a person in the flames and I think it is the servant of God, Pope John Paul II,” according to the London Daily Mail.

The image was seen at a ceremony in Poland commemorating the second anniversary of the pontiff’s death.

You can read the Daily Mail story here: