A pope of the basics

From love to hope.

Pope Benedict XVI today released his second encyclical — a papal white paper — about the Christian understanding of hope.

His first, you might remember, was about love.

As Catholic analyst John Allen “writes”:http://ncrcafe.org/node/1473 today: “With Spe Salvi, Benedict solidifies his profile as a “pope of the basicsâ€? – determined to accent the core principles of the Christian faith.”

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the new president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said today: “Pope Benedict calls us personally and as a community to a hope rooted in Jesus.”

Fair enough.

You can read the encyclical at the Bishops Conference “website.”:http://www.nccbuscc.org/

The meaning(s) of Hanukkah

Hanukkah has always been a chameleon-like holiday.

It’s permanently fused to Christmas for calendar (and gift giving) reasons.

But it’s also been linked with Thanksgiving for historical reasons (celebrating the meaning of religious freedom and similar themes).

Different Jews like Hanukkah for different reasons. The holiday starts Tuesday evening.

The Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt captures the squishy nature of Hanukkah well in a “column,”:http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c52_a1192/Editorial__Opinion/Gary_Rosenblatt.html “What does Chanukah mean to you?” (Yes, it’s also true that the holiday can be spelled in several different ways. I prefer the H version).

Rosenblatt writes:

Part of the enduring genius and vibrancy of Judaism is the ongoing relevance of its stories and the ability to choose different meanings and messages from its narrative and teachings. (Surely environmentalists can look to the Maccabee story as the preservation of nature’s resources, and Mideast experts can focus on the importance of oil in the region.)

The question for us is which theme will we focus on, and what meaning will we give it?

Perhaps our greatest challenge is to accept and even embrace each of the disparate elements of the Chanukah story and seek a way to make sense of them together.

Chabad comes to…Putnam

A great part of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson legacy as leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect was his call to bring non-Orthodox Jews to Orthodoxy.

Many hold that he believed that by saving Jews from secularism he would accelerate the coming of the messiah.

Regardless, his call was incredibly effective. Chabad has a worldwide presence, with its rabbis set up in small community after small community to reach out to whatever Jews might be around.

That goes for Putnam County.

An announcement today begins: “Rabbi Avi & Michal Korer, and their two children have recently arrived in Brewster to establish the Chabad Jewish Center of Putnam County which will be serving the Jewish communities of Brewster, Patterson Carmel, Mahopac, Cold Spring and some of the other surrounding towns.”

A Putnam Chabad “website”:http://www.putnamchabad.org/ is up, with contact info.

The Korers most recently served as spiritual leaders of the Greystone Jewish Center in Yonkers.

They will host their first holiday program, a “Super Chanukah party,” on Sunday, Dec. 9 at the Mahopac Public Library from 2 to 4 p.m.

What else will they be doing? The announcement says:

The Korers are available for classes with Jews interested in studying about their heritage, as well as to answer questions about anything in Judaism. They are also planning programs and classes for children, adults and seniors, including, adult education classes, Hebrew tutoring, and a Jewish Art Zone for children.

Do you believe in witches?

What do we believe in?

The latest Harris interactive poll asks this very question. Some findings:

1. 82 percent of Americans believe in God (unchanged since 2005).

2. Large majorities believe in miracles (79%), heaven (75), angels (74), that Jesus is God or the son of God (72), the resurrection (70), the survival of the soul after death (69), hell (62), the devil (also 62 — makes sense), and the virgin birth (60).

3. Large minorities also go for ghosts (41), UFOs (35), witches (31), astrology (29) and reincarnation (21). (Witches? Nothing really jumped out at me as particularly surprising until…witches. A third of Americans believe in witches?)

4. 42% believe (Harris’ word, not mine) in Darwin’s theory of evolution, and 39% in creationism.

5. 16% of “born again Christians” believe in evolution, compared to 43% of Catholics and 30% of other Protestants. (These numbers strike me as low. I wonder if the respondents felt that they had to choose between evolution and faith.)

6. Here’s a funky finding that doesn’t speak well for biblical literacy (or the state of education in general): 53% believe that the Old Testament is the “word of God,” but only 23% believe that the Torah is the “word of God.” Okay.

7. 70% of Americans describe themselves as religious (29% very, 49 somewhat).

8. 25% of Americans say they attend church at least once a week (born again Christians, 50%; Catholics, 30; other Protestants, 34).

The full results should be available “here”:http://www.harrisinteractive.com/news/ by tomorrow.

Clergy to speak out on cross burning

A Peekskill-based interfaith ministers group will co-sponsor a “forum”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007711280334 tomorrow on the recent cross burning incident in Cortlandt.

Several members of PAPA — the Peekskill Area Pastor’s Association — will speak at the forum, 7 p.m. at the Town of Cortlandt Community Center (Westbrook Drive, off Route 6).

“This is a critical time for us to come together — it is everyone’s responsibility to stand up to discrimination,” said the Rev. Adolphus C. Lacey, pastor of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Peekskill and president of PAPA. “The fact is that this appalling act is an assault upon the entire community and it will not be tolerated.”

Also scheduled to speak are: Monsignor Patrick Keenan of St. Columbanus Church; Rabbi Claudio Kupchick of First Hebrew Congregation; Zead Ramadan of the Hudson Valley Islamic Community Center; and the Rev. Jeannette Phillips of the Park Street AME Zion Church.

Of course, government leaders and school officials will also participate.

Your topic for Advent: Islam

Granted, Islam is an unusual topic for Advent, the period leading to Christmas.

But part of the mission of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement at Graymoor is to improve interreligious understanding.

Starting this Sunday (and for the four Sundays of Advent), Graymoor will host a speaker series that focuses on the recent “Muslim Initiative” — a letter to the Christian world, signed by 138 Muslim leaders and clerics, that calls for a new era of peace and understanding among Muslims and Christians.

images1.jpegThere has been little reaction to the letter, officially called “A common word between us and you.”:http://www.acommonword.com/ The mainstream media gave it little coverage and most people probably don’t know a thing about it.

In short, the letter says that peace between Muslims and Christians is an absolute necessity for the world and that since both traditions emphasize love of thy neighbor, it should be doable. The letter says less about how to achieve this lofty goal or why things have gone badly until now.

It has a real introductory, “let’s get started” feel.

At Graymoor, each speaker will offer reflections during a 4 p.m. Vespers service.

The speakers will be:

* Dec. 2, Sister Anne Tahaney, a member of the Catholic-Muslim dialogue for the Archdiocese of New York.

* Dec. 9, Metropolitan Michael Yavchak Champion, presiding hierarch for North and South America of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

* Dec. 16, the Right Rev. C. Christopher Epting, deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Episcopal Church.

* Dec. 23, me (Gary Stern, religion writer for The Journal News/LoHud.com and this very blog.)

I have a rough idea what I’ll say. I’ll blog about it closer to the 23rd.

Graymoor is located on Route 9 in Garrison, just north of the Westchester/Putnam border.

For information: “www.graymoorcenter.org.”:http://www.graymoorcenter.org/

How interfaith families celebrate (some of them)

In New York, just about everyone knows an interfaith family. Catholic-Jewish couples are everywhere.

The Hanukkah-Christmas season is, of course, a challenge for Christian-Jewish families — as long as both spouses are retaining at least part of their religious identity.

images.jpegThis year, Hanukkah starts early, as in next Tuesday evening (Dec. 4). All menorah candles will be long put out when Christmas arrives.

“InterfaithFamily.com”:http://www.interfaithfamily.com/?tr=y&auid=3203212 is a Jewish-oriented website for interfaith couples that encourages openness from the Jewish community and offers practical advice (often in the form of first-person tales) on how to make things work.

The website just released its fourth annual survey of interfaith couples, which asks how they deal with the “December dilemma.” The survey received 860 responses, but they’ve issued a report that focuses only on the 285 survey participants who are raising their children Jewish.

(You can download the report on the top right of their homepage.)

It would be interesting to know how the whole group feels about the holidays. But InterfaithFamily.com is looking at only a particular portion because, in part, “Jewish community policy-makers are focusing increasing attention on engaging interfaith families with the Jewish community with the end goal of the families deciding to raise their children Jewish.”

It’s true that both the Reform and Conservative worlds are striving to make interfaith families choose Jewish (and to encourage non-Jewish spouses to convert). The strategy is largely about preserving Jewish continuity.

Anyway, the survey shows that of interfaith families raising their children Jewish:

— 93 percent will celebrate Hanukkah in their home and 41 percent will participate in Christmas celebrations in their home (66 percent will participate in Christmas celebrations in the homes of relatives.)

— 93 percent will light a menorah in their home and 38 percent will put up a Christmas tree in their home.

— 76 percent say their Hanukkah celebrations will be pretty religious to deeply religious, while 69 percent say their Christmas celebrations will be “entirely secular.”

What ‘moral values’ means to black Christians

Let’s face it: When the mainstream media refer to “liberal vs. conservative” divides in the world of religion, they are usually referring to white people.

In the world of African-American Christianity, you need a whole different framework.

We all know that black Christians tend to be “liberal” on social issues. But they are often “conservative” when it comes to theology and how they understand Scripture, not to mention “moral” issues like abortion and gay marriage.

The Washington Post’s Krissah Williams does a good job “here”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/25/AR2007112501223.html explaining why black evangelicals are torn politically.

Pastor Lyle Dukes of Harvest Life Changers Church in Woodbridge, Va., said:

Morality is different in terms of the way we see it and white evangelicals see it. What we think is moral is not only the defense of marriage, but we also think equal education is a moral issue. We think discrimination is immoral.

New Yorkers rolling out papal carpet

New Yorkers are pleased to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to the Apple — but aren’t quite sure what to make of him.

A “new poll”:http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1284.xml?ReleaseID=1124&What=&strArea=;&strTime=0 by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., says that 70 percent of New York City registered voters (and 88 percent of Catholics there) say that the pope’s April visit will be “good for the city.”

No surprise there.

tjndc5-5hkqi62te4zx4y52f4d_layout.jpgBut do they approve of the job that Benedict has done so far? 36 percent approve and 24 percent don’t. A whopping 41 percent are undecided.

Among Catholics, 62 percent approve, 22 percent don’t.

Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said:

Welcome, Your Holiness. Overwhelmingly, New Yorkers applaud the Pope’s plans to visit the city. Most New Yorkers don’t know Pope Benedict XVI as well as they knew his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, so his favorability and approval are just OK. Maybe that will change in April.

60 percent of Catholics said they would like to attend the pope’s Mass at Yankees Stadium.

29 percent of non-Catholics said they would like to be there, too. Not a bad number for non-Catholics — considering the crowds, security and the fact that they can’t take Communion…

Cardinal Egan’s farewell tour continues

We’re back after another blog-out…

I blogged a few weeks ago about Cardinal Egan celebrating Mass in Yonkers for people from the city’s 20 parishes. It was an early stop on his “bicentennial tour” of the Archdiocese of New York’s 19 vicariates (or regions).

Since then, the cardinal has been to Kennedy Catholic H.S. in Somers, where he met with priests and deacons from northern Westchester and Putnam and led a Mass for people from throughout the region.

bilde.jpegLast night, he was at St. Francis of Assisi in West Nyack to do the same for the Vicariate of Rockland County. My colleague Hannan Adely “reports”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071127/NEWS03/711270367/1019/NEWS03 that some 40 priests and 20 deacons turned out, as did hundreds of parishioners on a rainy night.

You can see/hear video from the Mass and some comments from Egan “here.”:http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071126/VIDEO01/71126007

“I’d like to send out the message of congratulations and thank you for your wonderful example, your generosity and your prayerfulness over the years,” Egan said.

This is a farewell tour of sorts for ninth Archbishop of New York. The pope is expected to accept his retirement at some point in the coming months (I’ve heard everything from within weeks to next fall as theories). The big question is whether he will still be archbishop for the official bicentennial of the archdiocese in April (a Mass is scheduled at Radio City Music Hall on April 8) and for the big papal visit to NY on April 18, 19 and 20.

The cardinal, by the way, is scheduled to make a final vicariate visit in the region on April 1. He is supposed to come by Stepinac H.S. in White Plains to visit the Vicariate of Central Westchester.

If Egan is still archbishop then, it was be the beginning of several real big weeks for him. The ultimate retirement party for a cardinal archbishop?