Got Vatican II questions?

Not long after becoming pope, Benedict XVI openly wondered why the implementation of Vatican II has been so darned…complicated.

He said that many mistakenly believe that the post-Vatican II church has not lived up to the great Council, while others are wrong in believing that VII was supposed to represent a break from the pre-Council church.

B16 said: “Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.”

Bellitto_2009For the many Catholics who still have unanswered questions about Vatican II — okay, everybody — St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers would be a good place to visit next Wednesday (Feb 3). At 7:30 p.m., church historian Christopher Bellitto will speak on  “Vatican II: The State of the Questions.”

I’ve known Bellitto since he was professor of church history at St. Joseph’s Seminary and associate dean of the seminary’s Institute of Religious Studies.

He is not only a real smart guy who loves church history, but he knows how to talk and write about it. He won’t be dull. He will know what people want to hear about and he will get to it with insight and humor.

I must say, he is a master of the sound bite — an important skill if you’re going to be interviewed by media people these days. Bellitto knows how to get to the heart of a matter directly and colorfully.

And at Dunwoodie, he won’t have to rush.

Does he know Vatican II? As an editor for Paulist Press, he created and edited “Rediscovering Vatican II,” only an 8-volume series by a team of international scholars.

He is currently Assistant Professor of History at Kean University in Union, N.J.,  and the Academic Editor-at-Large for Paulist Press.

He got his doctorate at Fordham, so he’s still a local guy.

This is his first return engagement at Dunwoodie for a while. So check him out if you’re, you know, interested in Vatican II.

For more info: (914) 968-6200, ext. 8292.

‘We ask not about the reason for evil and its purpose…’

“We believe God is near to the Haitian people who have endured such terrible loss and devastation.”

This line comes from a new statement about Haiti from the Faith and Public Policy Roundtable, a group of “non-fundamentalist” Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders. I got the statement from Fordham, since Father Patrick Ryan, Fordham’s Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society, is on the Roundtable steering committee.

The statement, predictably, repudiates claims from some religious readers — i.e., Pat Robertson — that the quake was “divine
punishment of the Haitian people” and a call for “repentance for some aggravating sin.”

The Roundtable, instead, focuses on the goodness of God and humankind’s responsibility for healing and justice:


Human temptation finds the judgment of a vicious God in natural disaster. Contrary to that impulse, people of faith put their hope in a God who loves and worries for humanity. It is up to us: men and women of flesh and blood created in the Divine image, holding in our hands the redemptive power of our human responsibility, to provide direction in reaching for God’s nearness. As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote regarding the worst of human suffering, ultimately “We ask not about the reason for evil and its purpose, but rather about its rectification and uplifting.”


But what about when people do ask about the reason for the evil — and the earthquake. People do ask.

As I’ve written in the past, when I was working on my book, “Can God Intervene: How Religion Explains Natural Disasters,” I tried to get dozens of religious authorities to address the question of where was God in the tsunami. Not after the tsunami, but during the period when innocent people were drowning or being smashed against the objects of daily life.

It’s among the most difficult of questions, of course.

But it seems that Christopher Hitchens and other non-believers are the only ones who want to try to answer it (other than Pat Robertson).

Does the Roundtable’s statement even begin to address the question of where God was when the tectonic plates began to slip beneath Haiti? Here’s the statement:



Statement on the Crisis in Haiti
January 26, 2010

The earthquake in Haiti has not merely hurled the people of Haiti into
profound pain and loss. It has placed in bold relief the unrelenting plight
endured by the people of this poverty-stricken nation. Such disaster begs a
question of the gravest sort: where is God in Haiti’s desolation and grief?

Continue reading

‘Compassion fatigue’ — or simply despair?

I think that Father Tom Reese’s new piece for the Wash Post’s OnFaith blog probably captures well what a lot of people are feeling about Haiti.

Here’s the beginning:


imagesAs I was thinking about this column, there was a part of me that knew I had to write about Haiti and there was another part that simply wanted to ignore it.

On the one hand, we are faced with a humanitarian disaster in Porte-au-Prince that cannot be ignored. An estimated 200,000 people have died. Thousands have been traumatically injured, and many of them will die of their injuries or disease. These people are not just statistics, they are men and women and children with faces and names and feelings. Those who survive will be living in a ruined country without hospitals, utilities or housing. Finding water and food is a daily struggle. Haiti was a basket case before the earthquake and now there is not even a basket.

On the other hand, I want to ignore Haiti. I am suffering from what has been called compassion fatigue. Or maybe it is simply despair. The economy of the world is in the toilet. Unemployment in the U.S. will stay around 10 percent for the rest of the year. Wars are going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and all over Africa. There are millions of refugees around the world. Because of global warming, humanity is heading pell-mell toward an ecological cataclysm that will make the Haitian disaster pale to insignificance. And partisan politics has created gridlock in Washington making it impossible to deal with any of these crises.

As a political scientist, journalist and priest, I have followed and commented on the tragedies of the world for the past 30 years, and I am tired and ready to despair. Living in a global village sucks. The problems are too big and we appear powerless to do anything about them. St. John of the Cross would call this the “Dark Night of the Soul.” I think it is what Jesus experienced in the agony of the Garden.

How do we get out of this dark night, how do we get out of this despair?


To read the rest, go here.

College star Tebow already making Super Bowl news

Another football item (hey, the Super Bowl is almost upon us):

Tim Tebow, perhaps the biggest college football star ever, is preparing for the NFL draft in April. There are questions about his readiness to play quarterback in the NFL, and the whole affair will become one of the most covered sports stories of the next few months.

But that’s a subject for a different blog.

Tebow Super Bowl Ad  FootballTebow is making news now, though, because he and his mother plan to star in a pro-life commercial to air during the Super Bowl. The Tebows are devout Christians and young Tim — smart, earnest, charismatic — is not shy about sharing his faith.

When playing games at Florida, he wrote Bible verses on the “eye black” under his eyes. He even talked at a pre-season press conference about saving himself for marriage.

The Super Bowl ad is being paid for by Focus on the Family, the evangelical group.

Now a coalition of pro-choice groups is asking CBS not to show the commercial, arguing that it would be divisive. The Women’s Media Center has an online petition aimed at CBS.

Jehmu Greene, president of the WMC, says: “An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year – an event designed to bring Americans together.”

No one’s a bigger football fan than me, but the Super Bowl an event designed to bring us together? I don’t think so. It’s an event designed to make money (and bringing us together around the TV helps the $$$ cause).

The focus of the commercial is that when Tebow’s mom, Pam, was pregnant with him in 1987, she became ill during a mission trip to the Philippines and was advised by doctors to have an abortion.

For his part, Tim Tebow says: “I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe. I’ve always been very convicted of it (his views on abortion) because that’s the reason I’m here, because my mom was a very courageous woman. So any way that I could help, I would do it.”

Thirty second ads during the SB, by the way, cost $2.5 to $2.8 million.

If CBS stays with the ad, it will give new reason to pay attention to the Super Bowl commercials — other than the usual talking babies, stupid animal tricks and lots of pitches for beer and cars.

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)


Football teams are usually named after ferocious animals (Bears, Tigers, Bengals, Panthers) or tough birds (Eagles, Falcons, Seahawks, Cardinals) or various marauders (Raiders, Buccaneers, Cowboys) or Native Americans (Chiefs, Redskins) or just big, tough stuff (Giants, Jets, Chargers, Titans).

Then you have the somewhat odder, quirkier nicknames (Packers, Steelers, 49ers, Browns).

And then you have the Saints.

NFC Championship FootballThe Saints? A football team named after…tough, rugged, intimidating saints.

Now that the New Orleans Saints will be playing in their first Super Bowl, I thought some might be wondering how they got the name.

According to the Pro Football Hall or Fame website, the city of New Orleans was awarded an NFL team on Nov. 1, 1966 — All Saints Day.

Of course, the city’s anthem is “When the Saints Go Marching in.”

And that’s probably the reason that when the late New Orleans States-Item asked New Orleans fans to choose a name for their new team, the winner was the Saints.

And what about the song itself, a famous gospel hymn recorded by everyone?

According to, which relied on The Book of World Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk by James Fuld (1966), the earliest version of the hymn was published in 1896 in Cincinnati.

The hymn is a “funeral march,” meaning:


In the traditional funeral music traditions of New Orleans, Louisiana, often called the “jazz funeral”, while accompanying the coffin to the cemetery, a band would play the tune as a dirge On the way back from the interment, it would switch to the familiar upbeat “hot” or “Dixieland” style. While the tune is still heard as a slow spiritual number on rare occasions, from the mid-20th century it has been massively more common as a “hot” number. The number remains particularly associated with the city of New Orleans.


And what about the lyrics?


The song is apocalyptic, taking much of its imagery from the Book of Revelation, but excluding its more horrific depictions of the Last Judgment. The verses about the Sun and Moon refer to solar and lunar eclipses, respectively, although these cannot actually occur simultaneously. The “trumpet” is that of the Archangel Gabriel. As the hymn expresses the wish to go to Heaven, picturing the saints going in (through the Pearly Gates), it is entirely appropriate for funerals.


Does this explanation make the Saints a more appropriate nickname for a football team? Or less so?

Oh, and about the symbol on their helmet? The Saints’ website explains:


indexThe Fleur de Lis, the emblem most closely associated with the New Orleans Saints and worn on the team’s helmets, is a symbol from the Court of Louis XIV. It is a french word that stands for “flower of the lily”. The Fleur de Lis is also a symbol for New Orleans, which was adopted during the French occupation of Louisiana from 1682-1762. Traditionally, it has been used to represent French royalty, and in that sense, it is said to signify perfection, light and life. Due to its’ three petals, the fleur-de-lis has also been used to represent the Holy Trinity.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

A great loss for the Archdiocese of NY

I’m getting lots of emails and calls about the death Saturday of William F. Harrington, a prominent Westchester lawyer for half a century who was one of the central Catholic philanthropists in the Archdiocese of New York.

Harrington, who was known as B.J., was a distinguished fellow who was admired by many.

One fan wrote to me: “I know of no other who gave of himself so unselfishly to
others as B.J. did — a truly great man.”

tjndc5-5b5f5q5i9tu1iq65pezi_layoutI first talked to Harrington in 1997 for an article about whether Cardinal O’Connor would actually retire, as many thought he would.

Harrington told me: “Many people assumed he would retire. But he’s as active as he ever was. He’s all priest, and still tending to his flock.”

I remember people remarking to me at the time that Harrington got it right — that O’Connor was “all priest.”

I talked to Harrington for the last time only this past August. He was chairman of the capital campaign for the new Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, a residential nursing facility for severely disabled children, which is scheduled to open in Yonkers next year.

He was so enthusiastic about the work of the Seton Center, currently located in NYC.

“You can’t describe the work that these folks are doing,” he said.

It would take me an hour to list all the Catholic institutions and causes that Harrington worked for. He was a member of the board of both St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Joseph’s Seminary.

In 1999, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, known as the Papal Medal, the highest medal awarded to a layperson by the pope.

Archbishop Dolan is scheduled to celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial for Harrington on Wednesday at 10:15 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Harrington’s loss will leave a big hole in the Catholic Church of New York.

What are you doing, sir?

This was a misunderstanding for the books!

A flight from New York to Louisville was diverted this morning because a 17-year-old Jewish fellow from White Plains put on his teffilin for morning prayers.

My colleague Jon Bandler has the details.

I suppose that most non-Jews have never seen anyone wrap phylacteries, which consist of leather straps that hold small boxes on the arm and forehead (the boxes contain passages from Scripture).

But terrorism?

They’ll be getting a big kick out of this at El Al, the Israeli airline that is quite terrorism conscious but is quite used to passengers wrapping their tefillin.

I guess airlines will eventually have to announce: “If you plan to observe any religious or cultural practices on the flight that others might not be aware of or recognize, please tell your flight crew before fastening your seat belt.”

Something like that.

Dolan to lead Mass in Rockland for earthquake victims — then head for Haiti

Archbishop Dolan will be at St. Joseph’s Church in Spring Valley tonight (Thursday, Jan. 21) at 7:30 to preside over a Mass for the victims of the earthquake.

St. Joseph’s has many Haitian parishioners.

The church is located 333 Sneden Place West. The Mass will be celebrated in Creole.

UPDATE: It was just announced that Dolan will leave for Port-au-Prince to attend a funeral Mass on Saturday for Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, who died in the quake.

Dolan is chair of the Board of Catholic Relief Services.

According to a release: “While in Haiti, the Archbishop will also take the opportunity to offer support to CRS workers already working in Haiti and assess the progress of relief efforts being undertaken by CRS so as to help determine how the Church in the United States can best respond.  He is scheduled to return to New York sometime late in the evening of Sunday, January 24.”

Dolan is going on a private jet provided by a benefactor.


Additionally, Fordham U’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs will hold a panel discussion on the situation in Haiti at 1 p.m. today at its Rose Hill campus in the Bronx.

Panelists will be: Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., director of the Fordham University Institute
of International Humanitarian Affairs (moderator); Paul Browne, New York City Police Department’s deputy commissioner of public information and deputy director of the International Police Monitors in Haiti, where he helped establish an interim police force during the United States-led “Operation Restore Democracy” in
1994-1995; Rev. Ken Gavin, S.J., national director of the Jesuit Refugee
Service, U.S.A.; Robert Nickelsberg, American photojournalist whose work often appears in Time magazine, and who was embedded with the First Marine Division
in the Iraq War in 2003; and Ed Tsui, former longtime director of the New York office of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A school turned graveyard

Another numbing report from the Salesians of Don Bosco, who ran, among other things, a school in Port-au-Prince:


“Poor Haiti, poor Haiti.” Stretched out in a hospital bed in Santo Domingo, Fr. Attilio Stra gave a moving account of the moment the earth shook in Port-au-Prince on January 12 to Alessandra d’Asaro, a journalist from International Volunteers for Development (VIS).

In spite of the constraints of his present situation, the veteran Salesian shows the great fortitude typical of missionaries used to being face to face with poverty, violence, and social injustice. His thoughts quickly turn to the 300 or so street children buried in the Salesian school in the Salina district of Port-au-Prince.

The number of pupils who were in the school at 4:53 p.m. on January 12 is unclear because on the streets you don’t count the numbers in the group. Here the youngsters had somewhere to go, and the possibility of hoping for a better future: getting away from the dangers of the streets, studying and learning a trade, as happens in Salesian schools all over the world.

In the Little Schools of Father Bohnen, the silence is deafening. The youngsters and Bro. Sanon, who lost his life with them, have been buried in a common grave near the school. Among the ruins, pages from exercise books drift in the warm breeze, chairs, colored pencils, school reports have been scattered among the dust and the rubble by the earthquake.

Fr Pierre LephenePiles of debris heaped up, confusion among the upended floors. Through the gaps in the collapsed perimeter walls people come and go, taking everything – piles of paper cups, broken chairs, abandoned shoes, and those sheets of paper. In the tumult one comes across what seem to be pools of stagnant water. “It’s what was left by the corpses,” explains Fr. Pierre Lephène (that’s him), a Salesian from the ENAM community. “We just need to rebuild the wall to avoid so much mess and to increase security, which in these circumstances is always too little.”

The Haitian government has been gravely wounded, with many ministers among those killed in the earthquake, and the presidential palace has completely collapsed. In the stead of the local government, the United Nations, the United States, various other countries, and many private charities—including the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters–have made it their priority to provide food, water, and first aid.

An 11-truck convoy with water, dry foods, and emergency relief items arrived safely at Port-au-Prince on Saturday from La Vega, Dominican Republic.  It was escorted by a Dominican military detail.  Pictures of this mission upon departure from La Vega and arrival in Port-au-Prince are awaited. The Salesians also have a water truck moving about the city offering its precious contents to the needy.

“In this tragedy,” continues Fr. Lephène, “what is very moving is the solidarity being shown by the whole world.” At ENAM a team of civil defense workers coming from all over Latin America is working day and night, still hoping to find someone alive or dead among the ruins.

Lasting images:  hands upraised to catch the water ration from the trucks on the crowded roads of the city; the loud noise overhead of planes and helicopters; makeshift tents at the side of the roads; and, in spite of everything, the Salesians continuing their work, never forgetting to smile even in the face of such tragedy.

So chocolaty…and kosher, too

A light-hearted item: It recently came to my attention that Tootsie Rolls are now kosher.

tootsie_man_thumbThe Orthodox Union announced that it would give its familiar stamp of approval — the “U” inside of the “O” — to the Tootsie.

Said Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, OU Kosher’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing: “We are very pleased to have Tootsie Roll join with other leading confectionery producers who have attained OU certification in recent years. It was also gratifying for OU to guide Tootsie Roll through the certification process and bring these famous candies to the growing kosher market place.”

I don’t know whether Tootsie Roll Industries had to tweak its recipe or whether it was a matter of the OU checking and approving the cooking (manufacturing?) process.

A friend of mine who is kosher recently told me that he is making up for lost time. He said this with a mouthful of chocolaty, waxy, Tootsie.

Tootsie Roll Industries, by the way, is in its 112th year and produces 64 million TRs a year.