The Catholic divide on immigration

I wondered yesterday whether the pro-immigrant outspokenness of Catholic bishops is affecting the outlook of Catholics in the parishes and pews.

I, for one, don’t see much evidence of it.

NCR’s John Allen deals with this issue directly in his coverage of this week’s Catholic conference in Washington about immigration (attended by Cardinal Egan and other cardinals). He writes:

These may be tough times in the broader culture, but Catholic activists can take comfort from the strong show of episcopal support for immigration reform this week. In addition to Mahony, Cardinals Edward Egan of New York and the emeritus Cardinal of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, spoke at the July 28-31 conference, and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees, is on hand to offer Vatican backing.

donald-kerwin_tv_29may07_21.jpg“The bishops have been prophetic on these issues,” (Donald) Kerwin (of the of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network) said (pictured). “They’ve given us immense amounts of support and cover, often at great expense in terms of the hostile reactions they’ve received.”

Observers say that opinion at the Catholic grassroots, on the other hand, is more divided. The U.S. bishops are currently planning to commission a poll of Catholic attitudes on immigration, but scattered indications suggest that Catholics aren’t much different from the general public.

In 2004, for example, voters in Arizona adopted a measure requiring proof of citizenship before anyone can register to vote or apply for public benefits. The proposition passed by 56 percent to 44, and exit polls suggest that margin included 55 percent of Arizona Catholics.

“There’s a large percentage of Catholics who need to go through a conversion process” with regard to immigration, said Martin Gutierrez of Catholic Charities in New Orleans. Guttierez said many Catholics share negative perceptions of the broader culture, such as that immigrants take jobs away from American citizens, or that they don’t want to learn English or to integrate into American society – all of which, he said, is largely false.

Soto conceded the point.

“Many Catholics have been persuaded by the more visceral arguments against immigrants offered in the media and by some politicians,” he said.

Soto expressed confidence that education can bring Catholics around, beginning with reflection on what the church is doing on the ground to welcome new arrivals.

“There’s a popular saying that you should practice what you preach. I agree with that, but I also think there’s a certain virtue in preaching what we practice,” Soto said.

“The Catholic community has been very successful in integrating and assimilating large immigrant and refugee communities. We are a counter-point to the fear and anxiety the broader society often feels,” he said. “We haven’t stopped serving immigrants and refugees in our social service agencies or in our hospitals, and people understand the reasons why we do that.”

“The virtue of our practice can help to deflect some of the more poisoned polemic that’s out there,” Soto said.

A week of prayer for religious friendship?

We already have the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, started and promoted by the Graymoor Friars.

Now we may — may — get some sort of annual week when religious leaders would highlight the good in other religious traditions.

I just watched the concluding press conference from the Muslim/Christian conference at Yale, and one of the goals coming out of it is to start such a week.

“I think it could have significant implications and repercussions,” said Ibrahim Kalin, an assistant professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, who introduced the idea at the press conference.

It won’t happen overnight.

“If it is going to be formalized, will have to be taken to a higher level, an international body like the United Nations, perhaps,” Kalin said.

volf.jpgOtherwise, in wrapping things up, Kalin and Yale theologian Miroslav Volf agreed that the conference accomplished what it could. More than 150 religious leaders from around the world came to talk and get to know one another. Over the next year or so, they’ll do it again at Cambridge University, the Vatican, Georgetown U and in Jordan.

“In the exercise of talking about love of God and love of neighbor, we practiced love of God and love of neighbor,” Volf said (that’s him).

He added: “We have never come close to anything like blows.”

‘…to ensure that religions heal rather than wound…’

Christian and Muslim leaders at the big interfaith conference at Yale have just released a concluding statement.

No real surprises. The last point, though, about “threats” made against interfaith participants in general, is quite interesting.

The statement:

A Common Word — an open letter addressed by Muslim leaders to Christian leaders — began with a desire by Muslim leaders to follow the Qur’anic commandment to speak to Christians and Jews, Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him. (3:64) The intention behind A Common Word is not to foist the theology of one religion upon another or to attempt conversion. Neither does it seek to reduce both our religions to an artificial union based upon the Two Commandments.

Nevertheless, in A Common Word, Muslims recognized that Islam and Christianity do share an essential common ground: the love of God and love of the neighbor described in the Two Greatest Commandments of the Gospel, rooted in the Torah ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The response of over 500 Christian leaders initiated by Yale University reaffirmed that this common ground is real and is a basis for dialogue between our two religions.

A Common Word is rooted in our sacred texts, arising from within, not imposed from without. Love of God and love of the neighbor are part of our common Abrahamic heritage. Based upon this principle, ours is an effort to ensure that religions heal rather than wound, nourish the human soul rather than poison human relations. These Two Commandments teach us both what we must demand of ourselves and what we should expect from the other in what we do, what we say, and what we are.

Participants in the conference discussed a range of theological and practical issues in an open manner characterized by honesty and good will. The theological issues discussed included different understandings of the Unity of God, of Jesus Christ and his passion, and of the love of God. The
practical issues included world poverty, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Palestine and Israel, the dangers of further wars, and the freedom of religion.

Participants of the conference agreed that:

1. Muslims and Christians affirm the unity and absoluteness of God. We recognize that God’s merciful love is infinite, eternal and embraces all things. This love is central to both our religions and is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic heritage.

2. We recognize that all human beings have the right to the preservation of life, religion, property, intellect, and dignity. No Muslim or Christian should deny the other these rights, nor should they tolerate the denigration or desecration of one another’s sacred symbols, founding figures, or places
of worship.

3. We are committed to these principles and to furthering them through continuous dialogue. We thank God for bringing us together in this historic endeavor and ask that He purify our intentions and grant us success through His all-encompassing Mercy and Love.

4. We Christian and Muslim participants meeting together at Yale for the historic A Common Word conference denounce and deplore threats made against those who engage in interfaith dialogue. Dialogue is not a departure from faith; it is a legitimate means of expression and an essential tool in the quest for the common good.

Christian/Muslim wrap-up today

The big Muslim/Christian conference at Yale that I visited Tuesday will wrap-up THIS MORNING (I previously had written that it was tomorrow…Sorry).

There will be a culminating press conference at 11:30 a.m. that will be streamed live HERE (again, this morning).

muslim-ghazi.jpgSummaries will be given by the event’s organizers, Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan (that’s him), chairman of the royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

They will also take questions from the media.

Is a ‘progressive revival’ underway?

What a difference a few years make.

Four years ago, all we heard about was the evangelical takeover (of the GOP, if not the country). President Bush was remaking the country into some sort of Christianland. Liberals were joking (mostly) about leaving for Canada. Politically correct New Yorkers were mystified, if not afraid.

Today, the president’s approval ratings stink. An evangelical break-up is believed to be underway. A religiously serious (if theologically liberal) mainline Protestant is the Democratic presidential candidate. And Beliefnet has today unveiled a “Progressive Revival” blog.

What’s next?

bobandhhdl.jpgThe new Beliefnet blog features 29 prominent “progressive” religious voices as bloggers. You get Interfaith Alliance guru Welton Gaddy, leading Buddhists Robert Thurman (that’s him with the DL) and Lama Surya Das, peace activist Sister Joan Chittister, progressive evangelical Tony Campolo, fun-to-read academics like Randall Balmer and Susannah Heschel — and many more!

According to Beliefnet:

The Progressive Revival bloggers come from different religious traditions and often differ in perspectives, but all are dedicated to the revival of religious progressivism and its influence in American politics.

Maybe conservatives will start fleeing the country. But for where?

Cardinals stand up for immigrants’ rights

Several Cardinals and hundreds of others are attending the 2008 National Migration Conference in Washington, advocating for the rights of immigrants.

cardinalrogermahony1.jpgCardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles (that’s him) was highly critical of U.S. immigration policy, which he said is trying to create “such a dangerous and unwelcoming atmosphere that immigrants and their families leave the United States because they have no other choice.” According to Catholic News Service, he said such policy is “doomed to fail.”

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, said in his homily:

I see our challenge as one of shouting out the message of the Gospel, the words of the holy fathers, the unchanging teaching of the church, and in the profound conviction of our nation’s history that the real heart of America has not changed, that its willingness to right a wrong has not faulted, that it needs only continuous courage, unwavering confidence in the goodness of people and a trust in God’s love for the poor and the stranger.

Cardinal Egan has been among those in attendance.

There’s no question that the leadership of the Catholic Church in the U.S. has attempted to provide a clear voice in favor of immigrants’ rights. But I still wonder whether this voice has seeped down into the parishes. I’ve rarely heard diocesan priests in New York talk about the great immigration debate, and many Catholics I know seem unsure where their church stands.

In a land where God is ‘Ceiling Cat’

Some things I just don’t get.

I’ve learned there is an Internet phenomenon (yes, a bad sign) called lolspeak, a “pop language” that involves misspelled words, messed-up grammar and a worship of cats.

I mention this only because certain proponents of lolspeak have decided to translate the entire Bible into their language of fun. They claim to be 61% done.

128340989882968750ceilingcatar.jpgWhy? I haven’t a clue.

An LA Times blogger wrote this about the project:

Sure, the Internet has more than proven itself as an invaluable tool for research, communication and business. Still, sometimes the best features of the Web are the most banal – namely those that let you kill time online while at work or school. Perhaps no other online project of the moment is greater testament to this than the Lolcat Bible Translation Project (

Thanks to thousands of slacking office workers, procrastinating students and cat lovers worldwide with fast DSL connections at the ready, over 30% of both the New Testament and Old Testament have been translated into “lolcat” speak, a.k.a. “lolspeak.” It’s based on the popular Internet meme and subsequent diversionary website (and, lately, the even more popular, where users upload pictures of their pets with embedded words in a “cute” cat-speak (example: “um, hai, yur home early!”).

And while the Bible has been translated before into Net-bred English variants (most notably an ebonics version of the Good Book), the Lolcat Bible Translation Project aims to be the first Bible a cute kitten might comprehend.

I still don’t get it.

Here is how the lolspeak version of Genesis begins:

Boreded Ceiling Cat makinkgz Urf n stuffs

1 Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

2 Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz.

3 At start, no has lyte. An Ceiling Cat sayz, i can haz lite? An lite wuz.4 An Ceiling Cat sawed teh lite, to seez stuffs, An splitted teh lite from dark but taht wuz ok cuz kittehs can see in teh dark An not tripz over nethin.5 An Ceiling Cat sayed light Day An dark no Day. It were FURST!!!1

6 An Ceiling Cat sayed, im in ur waterz makin a ceiling. But he no yet make a ur. An he maded a hole in teh Ceiling.7 An Ceiling Cat doed teh skiez with waterz down An waterz up. It happen.8 An Ceiling Cat sayed, i can has teh firmmint wich iz funny bibel naim 4 ceiling, so wuz teh twoth day.

The fine line between religion and politics

AND STILL IN NEW HAVEN — After a day of theological talk about love — and few political statements — the Palestinian chief justice, Shaykh Tayseer Rajab Al-Tamimi, turned up the heat.

He started off repeating some of the day’s main themes: that religious authority should be used to bring people together and not worsen divisions.

But then he gave the kind of political examples (from his point of view) that others had stayed away from.

He said that there was interfaith peace in the Holy Land “until the Zionist-Israeli occupation started in our land.”

He said that Jerusalem is the “scene of the most horrible genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

“The problem is not with religions,” he said, “but with those who function in those religions to achieve their own interests, political interests or expansionist interests.”

I don’t think he was talking about the resurgent Taliban.

I’m not sure if there were any rabbis in the audience at that point, but no one commented on Al-Tamimi’s points.

After he was done, another Muslim scholar stood to complain that an earlier speaker had ignored numerous persecutions against Muslims.

In the day’s final moments, all the talk about love was taken over by talk about…other things.

The conference continues tomorrow. There will be panel discussions on “love and speech” and “love and world poverty.”

I won’t be back, though, as much as I would love to hang around the Yale campus all week…

Armonk rabbi an interfaith player

STILL IN NEW HAVEN — I just had a nice talk with Rabbi Douglas Krantz, the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Yisrael in Armonk. He’s an observer at the big Christian/Muslim summit here at Yale and will be on a panel that sums things up on Thursday.

I spoke to him in a lovely Yale courtyard during a coffee break. I asked him how he became a participant.

“I got invited,” he said.

images.jpegHe’s been involved in interfaith work before, so someone knew something. Krantz is less interested in how he got here than the work that’s being done.

“These are people who have differences — and they’re talking,” he said. “That is significant. And everyone is not necessarily agreeing on everything.”

Interfaith work is hard work, Krantz told me. It’s about building human relations. “Human relations are structures. Profound structures,” he said.

Krantz also mentioned one of the unspoken truths at most interfaith events: That you have to deal with the religions on paper and how people really behave.

“Christians, Muslims and Jews are not necessarily idealized manifestations of their religions,” he said.

What will say at Thursday’s wrap-up? He’s not yet sure. But he knows the key to pursuing and promoting interfaith relations.

“I think we just keep going.”

Muslims and Christians trade love poems at Yale

NEW HAVEN — I write from Yale University Law School, where the subject of the morning has not been torts but love.


More than 150 Muslim and Christian scholars from around the world are here to find common ground. And that common ground, they say, is love — love of God and love of the neighbor.

How to translate this shared love of love into real-world understanding is, of course, the real trick. But they are giving it the old (Yale) college try.

This all stems from an open letter last year from 138 Muslim leaders to their Christian counterparts, which focused on love of God and neighbor. This letter provoked numerous responses, among them from a group of scholars at Yale.

And here we are. Everyone agrees that Islam and Christianity must get past their various raging conflicts and find something like peace. And everyone seems to agree that a focus on love is a good way to get going.

But a workshop that just finished on the concept that “God is Loving” was hopelessly academic (and I’m pretty used to religious jargon). One person even stood up to ask how it’s all going to reach the less-academic masses.

The fact that there are almost no reporters here (maybe a dozen, half from outside the U.S.) is not promising. But you have to start a dialogue somewhere, right?

One of the main forces behind the Muslim letter and this conference, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, warned that the growing animosity between Christians and Muslims can lead to war or genocide if someone doesn’t step up to the plate and do something. He’s trying.

It is an impressive gathering. There are big-name Muslim leaders from Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Bosnia, Kosovo, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan and on and on.

Prince Ghazi drew one of the only laughs of the morning from a pretty serious crowd. He talked of meeting with the Dalai Lama to bring Buddhists into the loving conversation.

“I would like to say this,” Prince Ghazi said. “He is a lot nicer than you Christians.”

I have very limited Wi-Fi access here, so I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to post again…