Archbishop of Paris to see Holocaust exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage today

Interesting that in the wake of the Bishop Williamson/Holocaust denial affair, a delegation of a dozen Catholic cardinals, bishops and priests is visiting the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC today.

They’ll tour an exhibit, The Shooting of Jews in Ukraine: Holocaust by Bullets. The exhibit was created by Father Patrick Desbois, a French priest who has dedicated himself to meeting and interviewing Ukrainians about the million and a half Ukrainian Jews who were killed between 1941 and 1944, largely by firing squads.

Desbois will be among those at the museum today. He’ll be joined by Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris (that’s him), and others.

Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, who chairs the museum, will also be on hand.

Don’t forget your sunscreen (or your salvation)!

Why would a secular liberal who is “ambivalent” about God enroll in Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University?

To write a book about his undercover experience, of course.

A Brown University student named Kevin Roose took the plunge for a semester at Liberty U, and his book is called (are you ready?) “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University.”

Are you wincing yet?

Is it kosher to pose as something you’re not in order to get the inside scoop? It’s been done before and will be done again.

Regardless, Salon.com has a rather amusing excerpt from the book about a Liberty field trip to evangelize the fallen youth at Spring Break in Daytona Beach. There are some memorable encounters. I especially like when Roose’s group shows up to spread the Good News at a nightclub — and finds that two Christian groups are already there.

Holy jello-shot, Batman!

How’s this for an opening line: “Excuse me, sir. If you got hit by a bus today and died and had to stand before God’s judgment seat, why would you tell him you deserve to go to heaven?”

Try that on a beach.

Maryknoll priest to lead The Christophers

A Maryknoll priest who has served as a missionary in Venezuela and China has been named the new director of The Christophers, the well-known Catholic media group based in NYC.

Father Dennis Cleary took over earlier this month. “I am inspired by The Christophers’ motto: ‘It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,’ ” he said.

The Christophers use various media to promote the message that everyone can make a difference in the world. They also present annual awards for work in television, film and books.

The group was founded in 1945 by a Maryknoll priest, Father James Keller, so Cleary’s arrival has revived the connection between Ossining-based Maryknoll and The Christophers.

Cleary, a Buffalo native, was ordained a Maryknoll priest in 1977. He served in Venezuela from 1976 to 1993, living among the poor. He developed an interest in the media, producing a news show — Channel Zero — for three barrios and starting a production studio in Caracas that did documentaries.

In 1997, he was elected Maryknoll’s U.S. regional supervisor, assigning Maryknollers to ministries across the U.S.

From 2004 to 2006, he taught English and Spanish at a university in Shenyang, China, counseled students and led a reflection group for members of the local church.

He returned to the U.S. as Maryknoll’s director of mission education and promotion.

Mary Ellen Robinson, vice president of The Christophers, who is responsible for overseeing its day-to-day operations, said: “I’m looking forward to working with Father Cleary. I’ve known him for many years, and I’m happy to say he’s been on hand for many of our events and activities. He knows the message of hope and encouragement that we spread all over the world, and I believe that our friends and supporters will welcome his caring presence.”

Here is the Prayer of The Christophers:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be
consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying
that we are born to eternal life.

–attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

56% of Mainline Protestants say ‘accept homosexuality’

For a snapshot of where Mainline Protestants stand on the question whether gays and lesbians should be “accepted,” we have the latest numbers crunched by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life:

(NOTE: It’s worth noting that just because someone says that homosexuality should be accepted, doesn’t mean that they support same-sex marriage or the ordination of gay clergy.)

AIG taking hits for supporting Islamic law

As if AIG wasn’t in enough hot water, the Thomas More Law Center is charging that the American International Group is trying to destroy America by supporting Islamic law.

The Law Center, a public interest firm that defends the religious freedom of Christians, has a lawsuit to stop federal bailouts of AIG, “which engages in Shariah-based Islamic religious activities that are anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish.”

The focus of the Law Center’s ire seems to be that AIG promotes Islamic-compliant financing, something that growing numbers of financial institutions have been doing in the U.S. and around the world. Islamic law places restrictions on investments and the charging of interest, so many institutions have been trying to provide services that Muslims can use.

The Law Center says: “Use of taxpayer funds to acquire a majority ownership interest in a company that intentionally promotes and funds Shariah-based Islamic religious practices violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Leadership of Conservative Judaism continues to change

Much has been written in recent years (including by me) about the challenges facing Conservative Judaism — the “moderate” Jewish movement that seeks to reconcile tradition with the modern world.

It’s no easy task in an increasingly partisan culture, where most religious groups are identified as being with the right or left.

The incoming leader of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, an organization that represents Conservative synagogues, has a lot of work to do.

“I wanted this job because I think we are at a critical moment in the life of the movement and because the synagogue is the locus of Jewish life in the United States,” Rabbi Steven Wernick told the Jewish Week.

He’ll soon by taking over for Rabbi Jerome Epstein of New Rochelle, who has led the USCJ for 23 years.

This is a real period of change for the leadership of Conservative Judaism.

In 2007, Arnold Eisen took over as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, the intellectual center of the Conservative movement. He replaced the long-serving Rabbi Ismar Schorsch.

And in a few months, Rabbi Joel Meyers of White Plains is retiring after two decades as executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis. He’ll be replaced by another White Plains-based rabbi, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld.

I hope to write something about Schonfeld before she takes over this summer.

Church without God at Harvard

The recently released American Religious Identification Survey found that 15% of Americans have no religious affiliation (and another 5% did not know their religious identity).

Can non-religious people be drawn into religious-like congregations for the sake of community?

Probably not, at least not in real numbers. But the humanist chaplain at Harvard is giving it a shot:

By JAY LINDSAY
Associated Press Writer

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — The monthly schedule is church-like, with its parenting classes, guest speakers and small group meetings to hash out shared beliefs. But God isn’t part of this Cambridge congregation.

Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, is building a God-free model of community that he hopes helps humanists increase in numbers and influence.

Epstein (that’s him, left) sees potential in research showing that there are more people with no religion. In the latest American Religious Identification Survey, released this month, 15 percent of respondents in 2008 said they had no religion, compared to 8.2 percent in 1990. Epstein believes that group includes large numbers of people who are humanist, but have never identified themselves that way and can be reached.

At the same time, there is broader acceptance of those with no faith, as indicated by President Barack Obama’s mention of “nonbelievers” in his inaugural address, Epstein said.

Definitions of humanism vary. Generally, humanists reject belief in the supernatural and are guided by reason, experience and compassion for others. Epstein defines the philosophy as a commitment to living ethical, personally fulfilling lives while serving the greater good.

Epstein wants to plant local humanist centers nationwide that perform many of the community-building functions of a church, only in service of the humanist creed. He will promote his idea as he tours the country to promote his book, “Good Without God,” which is scheduled to be published by HarperCollins later this year. Epstein will receive assistance and funding from groups such as the American Humanist Association and the Secular Student Alliance, which have chapters they hope to strengthen and multiply.

“There are so many millions of people out there who basically share our views, that we’ve got room for everybody,” Epstein said. “What we’re doing here has got to grow even more.” Continue reading

Papal visit dominated religion coverage in ’08

Speaking of the pope…and of media coverage…

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that 1 percent of all news coverage in 2008 was focused on religion. This was about the same allotment given to education, immigration and race/gender issues.

29% of the overall “news-hole” went to politics and 13% to the U.S. economy.

As far as which religion stories were covered, the pope was supreme.

An astonishing 37% of religion coverage in 2008 was focused on the pope’s one-week trip to the U.S. The main subjects covered were the pope’s statements on sex abuse (37%), straightforward coverage of the papal events (18%) and the pope’s relationship with American Catholics (17%).

The second most covered religion story of the year was the religious element in the presidential campaign (21% of religion coverage). A distant third was coverage of the Pew Forum’s major study of religious life in America (3% of religion coverage).

Many Catholics hold that there is an anti-Catholic bias in the mainstream media. I wonder how these findings will affect such perceptions.

Here is the breakdown of coverage of the pope’s trip — from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism:

The pope in Africa

Lohud.com has dozens of great pictures of the pope’s first day in Africa HERE.

Not surprisingly, Pope Benedict XVI’s brief comments about condoms got the bulk of media attention on the pontiff’s first day in Africa.

We all know that AIDS is devastating Africa — and that the Catholic Church’s stand against contraception remains a hotly debated issue around the world.

The answer to AIDS, he said in Cameroon yesterday, is a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer.”

The pope emphasized the church’s missionary role in Africa, calling for the church to be diligent about priestly formation, liturgy and promotion of marriage. He called for better formation of children — especially in light of common superstitious practices.

He addressed pretty directly a long-running concern about African priests being too ready to break their commitment to celibacy: “The authenticity of their witness requires that there be no dichotomy between what they teach and the way they live each day.”

John Allen’s coverage focused on the pope’s call for Christians in Africa to fight against governmental corruption.

“In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent,” the pope said.

Benedict also had several interesting comments during a chat with journalists on his flight.

On AIDS: “It is my belief believe that the most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is in fact the Catholic Church and her institutions. … The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanisation of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with the suffering, a readiness – even through personal sacrifice – to stand by those who suffer.”

On the growth of Christian sects in Africa: “We, unlike some of them, do not announce a Gospel of prosperity, but Christian realism. We do not announce miracles, as some do, but the sobriety of Christian life. We are convinced that all this sobriety and realism which announce a God Who became man (therefore a profoundly human God a God Who also suffers with us) give meaning to our own suffering. In this way, announcement has a broader horizon and a greater future. We also know that these sects are not very stable. … The announcement of prosperity, of miraculous healing, etc., may do good in the short term, but we soon see that life is difficult, that a human God, a God Who suffers with us, is more convincing, truer, and offers greater help for life.”

On how the worldwide economic crisis affects the poor: “A fundamental element of the crisis is precisely a lack of ethics in financial structures; it has been understood that ethics are not something ‘outside’ the economy but ‘inside’ it, and the economy does not work if it does not contain the ethical component.”