‘Christian Unity’ on CBS Sunday

A documentary about the search for Christian Unity will be shown on CBS in New York — channel 2 — on Sunday (Oct. 5) at 1 p.m.

The show will feature the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement at Graymoor and their work for a century to encourage ecumenism. Father James Gardiner, director of the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, will offer some historical perspective on what ecumenism is and what the search for Christian unity is all about.

The program also includes interviews with the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the NYC-based National Council of Churches, a consortium of Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox denominations that has been working for decades to bring Christians closer together.

Interestingly, the show visits Louisville, Ky., to see how ecumenism is faring in that city. We generally don’t think of Bible Belt Baptists as being all that interested in ecumenism. But several Baptist churches are featured working together to fight crime, heal racial divides and serve the needy.

Check out these icons

I wrote today about St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers holding its annual Orthodox Education Day tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 4).

The focus for the day is icons — an art form and historical subject that fascinates people from many religious backgrounds.

The day will feature 20 Russian icons that date from the 15th to the 19th centuries. These icons will be on loan from the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., which has more than 350 Russian icons and is a very interesting story in itself.

transfigurationweb.jpgThe museum was founded by a fellow named Gordon Lankton, an executive for an international plastics company. He was doing business in Moscow in 1989 and found an icon at a flea market that he picked up for 20 bucks.

Lankton, a Protestant, became fascinated with icons and began buying them up. He wound up founding the museum in Massachusetts to hold his collection — one of the largest outside of Russia.

Lankton and museum curator Kent dur Russell will be in Yonkers tomorrow to talk about their icons.

Russian icons are hot. Russia no longer allows icons to be removed from the country, and Russian businessmen swept into a Sotheby’s auction last year to buy up icons and return them to the motherland.

They are a captivating art form. Many are magnificent. But as I wrote in my article, they are not simply an art form, but a liturgical statement for the faith.

For those who are interested in Christian history, it sounds like a can’t-miss day at the seminary.

There will be several presentations on icons — what they mean and how to read them. People will also have a chance to see icons that belong to the seminary.

The folks at St. Vladimir’s are always friendly and welcoming. If you’re curious about icons — their history and their place in the Orthodox Christian faith — stop by.

But you’ll have to park on the street, as there are few lots on campus. Directions are here.


Urging prayers for Palin and against evil spirits

So who won last night? I thought they both did pretty darn well.

If you’re a Sarah Palin fan (or just think she needs our prayers), check out PrayForSarahPalin.com, a website that urges everyone to — guess what? — pray for Palin.

254751c2572449a2a0dd4954169d6746.jpgThe website explains:

There is a spiritual battle waging over the United States of America. This website is a call to pray for those who are in authority over us now as well as for those who will be elected to become leaders of our country. Because Sarah Palin has been thrust suddenly into the spotlight, we are calling all Christians to say an extra prayer for Sarah.

Joe Biden is also among those who may “be elected to become leaders of our country.” So is Barack Obama. So, for that matter, is John McCain.

So why only pray for Palin?

Under the heading “Why you should pray,” the website says: “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places…”

Eucharist desecrations back on YouTube

I got an email yesterday from a Catholic group praising YouTube for removing a series of videos showing the desecration of the Holy Eucharist.

But today the group — America Needs Fatima — is reporting the videos are back up on YouTube.

And indeed they are. I checked (but I did not watch them and will not link to them).

America Needs Fatima has a Web petition going to have the videos re-removed. Here’s what it says:

To YouTube:

18,201 people have respectfully petitioned you to remove the offensive videos showing the Holy Eucharist being desecrated posted on YouTube by user fsmdude, (even flushing one down a toilet).

These videos not only seem to violate YouTube hate policies, but should not be posted as they are offensive to God and demeaning to Catholics and the Roman Catholic faith.

Moreover, your pulling the videos on October 1, then reposting them seems to signal that you agree with these videos’ deep anti-Catholic bias. After all, it seems you have pulled videos with content offensive to Jews and Muslims.

It seems you removed a video showing the desecration of a Holocaust memorial and a trailer to a Dutch documentary that claims Islam inspires murder and terror.

But Catholic bashing seems to be acceptable.

I therefore vehemently protest your decision to give a platform for anti-Catholic bigotry. I will urge my friends and family to protest YouTube for as long as it takes, until you change this decision, and no longer facilitate blasphemous postings.

How Catholics should vote

I mentioned yesterday that the New York State Catholic Conference had released a statement on how Catholics should vote — “through the lens of our faith.”

Following the theme, St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church in Briarcliff Manor will host a debate Monday evening on…how Catholics should vote.

images.jpegIn one corner you’ll have Paul Baumann (left), editor of the liberal Catholic magazine “Commonweal” and a Barack Obama supporter. In the other, David Carlin (right), a former Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate, author of “Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?” and a John McCain man.

images1.jpegThey’ll explain their positions at 7:30 p.m. and take questions. Free. Open to all. For info, go to the St. Theresa’s website. Directions are here.

Then on Tuesday at 7 p.m., the Sisters of St. Dominic in Blauvelt will host Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C. She will speak about what it means to vote for the “common good.”

Campbell was a key figure in the drafting of a “Common Good Platform,” which was crafted by several Catholic groups with a “social justice” bent as yet another voting guide for Catholics.

Here’s the background on the platform:

When they gathered in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, our nation’s founders sought to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Today, We the People, must do all we can to create a more perfect union focused on the common good. Two thousand Catholics and other people of faith have gathered in over 40 states to develop a Platform for the Common Good that articulates shared principles about building a culture of life, promoting economic justice and peace, establishing foreign policy rooted in global solidarity and caring for God’s creation. The Platform was ratified on July 12 in Philadelphia during the Convention for the Common Good.

A synagogue mourns and moves on

It was one week before the pope’s arrival in the U.S. and I was resting up a bit.

But I got a call from the office that a local rabbi had been killed in a house fire. Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein of Young Israel of Scarsdale.

It took a couple of minutes to sink it. I had interviewed Rubenstein many times about all sorts of things. He was a very prominent man.

rabbi_small.jpgEven in a roomful of sharp, charismatic rabbis, Rubenstein had stood out. He was passionate about Judaism — and about living life as an Orthodox Jew — but he was able to reach out to Jews from very different perspectives. He was an impressive man.

He died, along with his wife, Deborah, in a house fire started by a lightning strike.

The months went by. Last week, with the High Holy Days approaching, I visited Young Israel to talk to Rabbi Jonathan Morgenstern — who had assisted Rubenstein for eight years — about how the congregation has mourned, coped and moved forward.

My article ran on LoHud/The Journal News a couple of days ago.

Morgenstern has been chosen by the congregation to succeed Rubenstein. It’s not official yet, but soon will be. He, too, is an impressive fellow.

And he’s only 30 years old. That’s 30…years…old.

Morgenstern came to Young Israel before was even ordained and has grown up there as a rabbi. He absorbed Rubenstein’s lessons — spoken and by example — for more than a quarter of his life.

You have to believe that Rubenstein’s leadership will somehow remain alive through Morgenstern.

‘Not every issue is of equal moral gravity’

The New York State Catholic Conference — the voice of Cardinal Egan and the other bishops of the Empire State — just released a statement on the upcoming election.

tjndc5-5bsnh3apj5g1276w23vq_layout.jpgThe statement — called Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty — urges Catholic New Yorkers to vote and proposes a series of questions that people should ask of political candidates on several subjects: right to life, education, protecting marriage, immigration, health care, protecting the poor, and religious liberty.

The bishops write:

We Catholics are called to look at politics as we are called to look at everything – through the lens of our faith. While we are free to join any political party that we choose or none at all, we must be cautious when we vote not to be guided solely by party loyalty nor by self interest. Rather, we should be guided in evaluating the important issues facing our state and nation by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church.

Many, many times, I’ve heard people ask why the Catholic Church prioritizes abortion over other public policy debates. Here is an answer from the statement:

It is the rare candidate who will agree with the Church on every issue. But as the U.S. Bishops’ recent document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (www.faithfulcitizenship.org <http://www.faithfulcitizenship.org/> ) makes clear, not every issue is of equal moral gravity. The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.

The right to life is the right through which all others flow. To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office. As Faithful Citizenship teaches, “Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.”

Interestingly, the statement points out that many issues are decided in Albany and not Washington: “Your vote for State Senator and Assembly Member may be as critical as your vote for President of the United States.”

Here is the statement in full:

Every four years, 12 months prior to the presidential election, the Bishops of the United States issue a statement calling Catholics to faithful citizenship. Simply put, faithful citizenship refers to our duty as Catholics to be full participants in the public square in order to make our nation and the world a better and more just place. With this duty comes the responsibility to exercise our right to vote and to be engaged in the political process. This right did not come easily, having been bought with the blood of our forebears and protected through the centuries by our Constitution and the men and women in uniform who defend it. Continue reading

Bill Maher ridicules your faith (surprise!)

So, on Friday — during the Jewish High Holy Days and just after Islam’s Ramadan — Bill Maher’s Religulous comes out.

505647.jpgFrom what I understand, it’s a 2-hour religion mockfest designed to upset the faithful. Will people take the bait or let it ride? I would say that “take the bait” is a good bet in these times.
I’ll probably see the movie in case it becomes a pop culture controversy.

I do think that Maher is often very funny. He is also prone to be obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious. We’ll see.

One reviewer calls it: “One of the funniest and move offensive documentaries ever made.”

Maher was interview by Kerry Kennedy for her new book “Being Catholic Now.” (My article about Kennedy and her book should finally appear any day now, possibly tomorrow.)

Maher says: “I hate religion. It’s the worst thing in the world. There’s a giant groundswell for this opinion, but no one’s said it in public. Maybe that’s my destiny.”

He also says: “This is one of the touchiest issues there is. This is the last frontier. It’s the last taboo.”

Islamic center focused on future, not 9/11

I’m just back from the 2-year-old Hudson Valley Islamic Community Center in Mohegan Lake, where close to 1,000 people gathered to celebrate Eid al-Fitr.

There were piles of glazed and jelly and chocolate donuts outside the center, as the Eid is a time when Muslims celebrate. It is one of only two Muslim holidays and it marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

I talked to a bunch of people who were instrumental in developing the center, which is located in a former Catholic high school. I ran into one of them, Maher El Jamal of Shrub Oak, the chairman of the board of trustees, in the kitchen, where he was helping get things in order for the big post-prayers brunch.

El Jamal had a request. He asked me not to write about how Muslims are coping “after 9/11.” Every article about Muslims, he said, opens with “After 9/11…”

He’s right about that.

He and others described a “liberal and moderate” Islamic center that is thriving and wants to become a recognized part of the larger community. They’re proud to be American Muslims, I heard again and again.

Many of their members are second- or third-generation Americans. All the school-age kids were born here. As I was leaving, dozens of kids were bouncing on two huge jumping castles outside.

I’ll start writing my article in a few minutes. As of now, I don’t see a reason to write “after 9/11.”

Happy Eid

Today is the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day Muslim celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

empirestate.jpgMany Muslims attend large community gatherings in their best clothes. They pray together and usually share a meal.

Last year, the Empire State Building was lit green to mark the Eid.

I’ve been to Eid celebrations held by the Westchester Muslim Center in Mount Vernon and the Upper Westchester Muslim Society, which is developing a new center in New Castle.

This morning, if my fledgling cold doesn’t get worse, I hope to visit the Hudson Valley Islamic Community Center, which opened about a year ago in Mohegan Lake.

There’s always some question as to when the Eid will begin, since the Muslim calendar is a lunar one. The end of Ramadan and the start of Eid depend on the sighting of a new moon.

The Fiqh Council of North America settled on today. You can try to understand their explanation here if you’d like.