Who helped President Bush find Jesus?

Anyone who knows the life story of President Bush has heard the tale of his religious conversion: his famous walk on the beach with Billy Graham.

But a new book by Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate.com, says that the beach walk never happened. Apparently, other writers have said the same thing.

Weisberg contends that Bush had his life-changing religious talk with a much lesser-known evangelist by the name of Arthur Blessitt (that’s him carrying a cross).

chcrossn.gifSure enough, on his webpage, Blessitt gives a detailed description of his encounter with the future president (which sounds an awful lot like Bush’s descriptions of his talk with Billy Graham):

“What is your relationship with Jesus�? I said.

He replied, “I’m not sure�.

“Let me ask you this question. If you died this moment do you have the assurance you would go to heaven?�

“No� he replied.

“Then let me explain to you how you can have that assurance and know for sure that you are saved.�

He replied, “I like that.�

I then begin to share somewhat in this order about how to know and follow Jesus.

Contributing to Latin American churches

Mass-going Catholics will be asked this weekend to contribute to churches in Latin America.

I wonder if feelings about immigration will affect contributions, one way or the other.

You would think that those who want to see illegal immigration decline would be interested in strengthening parishes and social programs in Latin America.

On the other hand, some people are so angry about immigration that they may see things…differently.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, last year’s Collection for the Church in Latin America funded $7,720,000 to 562 projects in 63 parish-based programs, 236 diocesan programs, 88 religious community programs, 37 seminaries and 86 programs sponsored by episcopal conferences.

Pope, WCC head conclude Week of Prayer

Today concludes the 100th edition of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

I’ve blogged and written about it several times since the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement started the whole thing in 1908 on Graymoor mountain in Garrison.

kobia-jan06-small.jpgThis morning, Pope Benedict XVI and the Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, were to meet at the Vatican. They were to be joined by officials of the Vatican and WCC.

Also, in a little while, the pope is to preside at an ecumenical Vespers service at a Roman basilica. Kobia (that’s him) will bring greetings from the 347 Christian traditions represented by the WCC.

One can only wonder what the state of Christian unity might be (not to mention interreligious unity) 100 years from now…

ESPN learning to play defense

ESPN usually likes some good competition.

But not this kind.

Several Christian defense groups are taking aim at the sports-media empire in Bristol, Conn., because an anchor named Dana Jacobson apparently made some anti-Christian comments at an ESPN event.

images4.jpegNow, it was a roast for Mike & Mike (Greenburg and Golic, the morning team on ESPN Radio). People tend to get pretty obnoxious, and even racy, at a roast.

But Jacobson (that’s her) went after Notre Dame, where Golic played football, and then pushed the theme: cursing the religious tradition that Notre Dame represents. And then Jesus himself.

Jacobson apologized and was disciplined by ESPN.

The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, who spoke with ESPN officials, is satisfied:

To be sure, Jacobson’s remarks were patently offensive; no one involved in this incident, including her, is maintaining otherwise. But it is also true that there is no evidence that what we are dealing with is a bigot—lots of people who have made bigoted comments are not inveterate bigots. No, what we are dealing with is a person who went off the rails while drunk at a raucous event. The ESPN officials whom I spoke to answered the questions I had to my satisfaction. Therefore, as far as the Catholic League is concerned, this matter is over.

But the Christian Defense Coalition plans to demonstrate outside ESPN’s headquarters tomorrow. They want Jacobson fired.

And the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission (a new outfit) also wants Jacobson ousted.

I’m sure SportsCenter will be on the story any time now.

Cardinal Kasper on the Week of Prayer

Back in 2001, I got to visit the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, an ecumenical and interfaith research center run by the Garrison-based Society of the Atonement (Graymoor).

I had a nice long chat about the state of Christian unity with Father James F. Puglisi, who runs the center and has since become head of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.

Earlier today, just a little while ago, in fact, the center hosted Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who gave a lecture for the 100th anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

(I got to have a nice talk with Kasper, too, when he visited Graymoor in 2002. He’s a very friendly and warm fellow.)

Among other things, Kasper (that’s him) said today:

kasper.jpgIn the last hundred years, which we commemorate this year, the ecumenical movement has made great progress. More important than individual results and the extensive production of ecumenical documents has been – as Pope John Paul II told us – the rediscovery of brotherhood among the Christians. Undoubtedly, we have not reached the goal of visible unity, we are still divided and sometimes new controversies arise. But what is also important is that a new atmosphere, a new climate, a network of friendship have emerged; the desire for full communion has matured and Christians in many parts of the world and often in the most difficult ones, give common witness not only through their words but through their deeds working for social justice, freedom and peace.

If you want more, here’s a transcript of Kasper’s entire speech:

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity –
Origin and Continuing Inspiration of the Ecumenical Movement

CARDINAL WALTER KASPER

The celebration of the Week of Prayer for the unity of all Christians in this year 2008 has its special momentum. We celebrate this year, so to speak, the 100th birthday of this yearly recurring event. At the same time we also celebrate the 40th anniversary of the joint preparation of the materials for the Week of Prayer by the Commission of Faith and Order of the WCC together with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. And because all good things come in three, we also commemorate this year the memorable fact that 25 years ago, precisely during the Week of Prayer, Pope John Paul II beatified the Trappist nun Maria Gabriella of Unity, who sacrificed her whole life to meditation and prayer for the realisation of Jesus’ own prayer “that all may be one�.
This threefold anniversary gives me reason to reflect on the history and the binding legacy of the ecumenical movement, especially of the Week of Prayer and of spiritual ecumenism, and to reflect then on what spiritual ecumenism is all about and what is its momentum, particularly in our ecumenical situation which in many aspects is changing and at the beginning of the 21st century is on the threshold of a new phase of its history. Continue reading

The pulpit as political prop?

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, doesn’t like the fact that the Rev. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church endorsed Hillary Clinton (or anyone).

Here’s his statement:

The news of Rev. Butts’ endorsement of Senator Hillary Clinton for president raises great concern about the sanctity of religion and the integrity of government in this country. Senator Clinton and her fellow presidential candidates need to stop using houses of worship as backdrops for political events. And Rev. Butts and other clergy need to stop enabling the candidates to use religion as a political tool.

As religious leaders, we must have the moral authority to speak out on important issues facing our communities. Clergy should not abuse that authority by using their pulpit to push their chosen candidates. It is unwise, and likely dishonest to give the impression that a candidate has the backing of any particular religious community. What is ethical is just as important as what is legal.

Majerus vs. some tough competition

Well-known college basketball coach Rick Majerus is in hot water with his Catholic archbishop after coming out as pro-choice at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally.

tjndc5-5hnvw7nsczc162h0h96s_layout.jpgMajerus, a familiar (bald-headed) face to college hoops fans, apparently told a TV reporter at the Clinton rally in St. Louis a few days ago “I’m pro-choice, personally.”

He also said he supports stem-cell research.

The problem is that Majerus, a Catholic, is currently coach at St. Louis University, a Catholic school. Yesterday, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke — an aggressive foil of pro-choice Catholic politicians — expressed his extreme displeasure.

He said:

burke15flash.jpgI’m confident (SLU) will deal with the question of a public representative making declarations that are inconsistent with the Catholic faith,” Burke said. “When you take a position in a Catholic university, you don’t have to embrace everything the Catholic church teaches. But you can’t make statements which call into question that identity and mission of the Catholic church.

Let’s see if St. Louis U, a Jesuit university, responds one way or the other.

Taking a constitutional for Christian unity

Talk about going for a walk.

I’ve blogged several times recently about this being the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

A reader alerted me to the journey of one Samuel Clear, a young Australian who is walking (mostly) around the world to pray for Christian Unity. He’s trying to enlist a lot of support — in prayer.

gse_multipart21281.jpgAccording to his website, he started out on Dec. 14, 2006 from eastern Brazil and is scheduled to return there around July 13 of this year.

He has a blog going and posted only last week from Moscow. Lots of pictures, too.
From his website:

Setting out on the 14th of December 2006, Samuel Clear will walk from Cape Branco, the eastern most point of Brazil, up through South America, Central America and North America, across Russia and down through Europe to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The journey will encompass approximately 29,000km (NOTE: 18,000 miles) over 564 days of which approximately 18,000km will be travelled on foot.

The entire journey is a pilgrimage and day by day, each location is in itself the destination. As Sam slowly travels around the world he will be praying for the unity of all Christians and inviting Christian’s worldwide to join him in walking and praying for unity

Where’s the private-school tax break?

Gov. Spitzer’s budget is not scoring any points with NYS’s Catholic world.

tjndc5-5iekv89yikked2cf1vs_layout.jpgThe NYS Catholic Conference is calling out the Gov for not including a $1,000-a-student tax deduction for families paying private school tuition.

James Cultrara, director for education of the Catholic Conference, said in a statement that Spitzer promised to include the tax break:

Just last week, the Catholic Diocese of Rochester announced the closing of 13 elementary schools. This mirrors wide-scale closings in every other part of the state, as parents are unable to meet rising tuition costs necessitated by the need to pay fair salaries and benefits to teachers. This is not only bad news for the parents in those schools; it is bad news for New York. The state’s independent and religious schools educate a half million children, at a savings to taxpayers of at least $7.5 billion annually. New York cannot afford economically to lose the independent and religious school systems of our state. And our children cannot afford it educationally.

Cardinal Egan and some Jewish leaders apparently wrote a letter to Spitzer saying that their faiths “instruct that commitments are to be taken very seriously.”

Needless to say, the Catholic Conference is also quite unhappy about Spitzer’s policies on abortion.

Cardinal Law, 5 years later

Five years after the fall of Cardinal Bernard Law, where is he?

What is his role as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome?

What does it mean that he serves in eight Vatican departments, including the influential Congregation for Bishops?

image325779x.jpgAnd what does Law think about the sex-abuse scandal that he helped create and that nearly destroyed the Archdiocese of Boston?

In a new piece from Rome, John Allen addresses these questions as thoroughly as he can, given that Law isn’t talking.

Allen writes:

What friends do report, however, is that the 76-year-old Law, an only child without close living relatives, has gradually achieved spiritual calm — though only after considerable struggle, they say, with what one described as “a deep wound.â€?

“He knows he made some bad decisions that caused harm to other people, and this is the consequence,â€? one American priest said who is close to Law. “Yet he struggled with what he saw as a lack of support from his priests, and a failure to recognize his contributions — his commitment to foreign missions, to the poor, to the unborn, and so on. It’s almost as if the good he did was just cast aside. He had to learn to put himself in God’s hands.â€?

“He has survived on the basis of his own spiritual life,� another Law confidante said. “He’s in exile, doing penance.�

I can vividly remember standing in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Cardinal John O’Connor’s funeral Mass, listening to Law talk about his late friend’s commitment to the unborn. Law got a standing ovation.

It seems like a long time ago.