A Catholic Bible ‘summit’ in challenging times

The Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of NY has put on some big conferences the past few years for people who want to dig deeper into their Catholic faith.

But they really seem to have come up with something special this year on June 26.

The New York Catholic Bible Summit will take place from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. at Fordham U’s Lincoln Center Campus.

The theme is “Living the Word of God in Challenging Times.”

The keynote address in English will be given by Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete (that’s him), an internationally known and high regarded theologian and writer¬† from Yonkers who has a good sense of humor and is a fine story-teller.

The keynote in Spanish will be delivered by Rev. Virgilio P. Elizondo, professor of pastoral and Hispanic theology at Notre Dame.

Ticket info, directions, presenter bios — and whatever else you want to know — can be found HERE. The conference is being sponsored by the Catechetical Office, Fordham and the American Bible Society.

Here is a line-up of workshop presenters:

Rev. Dempsey Rosales Acosta, Ph.D., St. Agnes Church, New York City, En Espanol
Sr. Dianne Bergant, CSA, Ph.D., Catholic Theological Union, Chicago
Rev. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, Ph.D., Washington Theological Union, Washington, DC
Rev. Claudio M. Burgaleta, SJ, Ph.D, Fordham Univeristy, Bronx, En Espanol
Eleana Salas Caceres, FMA, Peruvian Epsicopal Conference, Lima, Peru, En Espanol
James Campbell, Ph.D., Loyola Press, Chicago
Rev. Virgilio P. Elizondo, Ph.D, Notre Dame University, South Bend, En Espanol
Bro. Ricardo Grzona, FRP, Ph.D., United Bible Societies of the Americas, En Espanol
ValLimar Jansen, OCP Publications, Portland, Oregon
Liana Lupas, Ph.D., American Bible Society, New York City
Rev. James Martin, SJ, America Magazine, New York City
Sr. Margaret Palliser, OP, Ph.D., Living with Christ, New London, CT
John Pilch, Ph.D., Georgetown University, Washington, DC
Rev. Timothy Scannell, Ph.D., St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers

Catching up on 9/11

It’s been a few days since I posted, as I’ve been trying to transition to my new life as a GA — general assignments — reporter.

I’ve been busy roaming around around, talking to people about the war in Afghanistan. Should we increase troops, pull the troops out or what? My story is out today, on the anniversary of 9/11 (which I’ll get to in a moment).

I have to say that I really appreciate the many emails and phone calls I’ve gotten from people about the demise of the religion beat here at LoHud/The Journal News. It means a lot to hear that people appreciated my coverage of religion for the last 12-plus years.

I understand that people feel it’s a mistake for LoHud/TJN to stop covering religion. But I also understand the very difficult challenges facing this business. We’re cutting back in many ares and trying to do other things well. Sometimes, there are no easy answers.

This is a tough week for me because the Religion Newswriters Association is holding its annual conference, in Minneapolis this year, and I’m not there. I’ve been to 8 or 9 conferences and¬† really enjoyed getting to know a group of reporters dedicated to covering religion as best they could.

It’s a smaller gathering this year, as many newspapers have been cutting out their religion coverage. The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson, who is in Minneapolis, writes on his blog about the religion beat being “endangered” (and has a few nice words to say about me).

So today it’s 9/11.

It was in the days after the attacks — and the weeks and months — that many people wrote and said that religion coverage was especially important to highlight and explain everything happening in the world today.

And explain we did.

Much of the coverage has focused, of course, on Islam, which was still a pretty mysterious (world) religion to most people before the attacks. I think it’s safe to say that people who want to know something about Islam now do.

Covering Islam has been no easy task for most journalists in this country. Why? We talk to and write about Muslims in America, who often see the world very differently from Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or Iraq.

Many of the outrageous things we read about Muslims in the world — people being stoned, people being arrested for converting, a woman facing trial for wearing pants — are outrageous to Muslims who live and work in the U.S. And I can tell you, American Muslims are beyond tired of having to explain and apologize for the actions of people far, far away.

A new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that Americans, by and large, see Muslims as facing a great deal of discrimination — more than any group in society other than gays and lesbians.

Forty-five percent of the public says Islam is no more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Thirty-eight percent say that Islam is more likely to encourage violence.

But which Islam are we taking about? How it’s practiced in Pakistan or in Ohio?

A surprise to me: 45 percent of Americans say they know a Muslim personally. I would have expected 20 percent or something like that.

But get this: Only 41 percent of those polled could identify the name Muslims use for God (Allah) and their holy book (the Koran). I mean, what have you been doing for the last eight years?

Regardless, if you want to relive the emotions that Americans felt after 9/11 and the many questions that people asked, check out some of the video excerpts and interviews that made up the PBS special “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.”

Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, the prominent theologian from NY, said this:

*****

What does that mean? It means a boundary has been broken that opens up the floodgates to unstoppable horror, because human is all we are, all we can be, all we can appeal to. It’s our safety net. … But here, the more you show your humanity, the more you’re hated. I’ve never seen anything like this. And I saw it.

To me, to distract one from this, to look for explanations, is obscene. It’s an offense against the reality of what happened — an offense against our humanity — to look for political explanations, economic explanations, diplomatic explanations. “Oh, it’s American foreign policy. It is the arrival into our shores of the Palestinian-Israeli fight. It is globalization. It is the cultural wars. It is American imperialism.” All of that is proposed by the “Yes, but” brigade who got to work immediately after the explosion. It is obscene and irresponsible, because we were facing an attack, a hatred of humanity which is what we all have in common. It’s our line of defense, our only one. And now that was gone. …

The people who did this, who planned it, who brought it about, I don’t know what their theology or their ideology is. I take them at their word; they died with the name of God on their lips. People say they were sincere; well, yes, they were. They believed. This is an act for them that was a sincere act, the worship of their God. I take them at their word. Does that make them any less evil? Oh, but no, that precisely is the monstrosity. If they were not sincere, it would be a terrible thing, but … it is the sincerity, it is the free will. I mean, they willed this to happen. They willed the destruction of humanity, of humanness, of everybody in that place on that day at the World Trade Center. This was a freely willed act, very sincere. And this sincerity is one of the horrible characteristics of the face of evil I saw that day. …

Oh, that Hitchens

I can’t help thinking that too much has been made of the so-called “new atheist” movement.

Sure, four or five authors have written best-selling books explaining their non-believing ways. But dozens of religious books (that get far less attention because there’s no novelty) are published every week.

Yes, polls show that 15% of Americans don’t identity with any religious movement. But few of them say they are atheist or even agnostic. They simply don’t like organized religion or they don’t think about it.

hitchens1.jpgStill, I couldn’t resist the opportunity yesterday to hear Christopher Hitchens debate the existence of God with Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a very smart and funny Catholic theologian. I’ve read many of Hitchens’ words of the years, but had never seen him up close.

I happened to be standing near the entrance to the main room at the ritzy Pierre Hotel when Hitchens returned from the bathroom and got his face powdered by an assistant. He was ready to perform and perform he did.

He spoke fast and left little doubt that he despises religion, especially Christianity (only mentioning Islam, which he also detests, briefly). He mocked the idea that Christ offers salvation to everyone, those who deserve and those who don’t.

Albacete provided a unique foil. Rather than return fire at Hitchens, he said that he wrestles with his faith every day. He gave a nuanced and demanding reading on how complicated real faith is, baffling Hitchens at time. Hitchens wanted to take aim at particular Christian beliefs, while Albacete only talked about grappling with the impulse that is faith.

The whole thing, put on by the Templeton Foundation, nearly got derailed before it started. Host Sally Quinn of the Washington Post said during the introductions that both speakers had revealed that they would rather talk about sex than religion…

Believers vs. non-believers (a double-header)

The Templeton Foundation will twice next month bring together Catholic believers and non-believers to do rhetorical battle in NYC.

images4.jpegOn Sept. 17, a Templeton Book Forum will sponsor a “conversation” between neo-conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak (that’s him) and non-believing scholar Heather Mac Donald at the Harvard Club. Novak’s new book, No One Sees God, is said to be a “reasoned response to today’s brigade of new atheists.”

On Sept. 22, at The Pierre on E. 61st, atheist pope Christopher Hitchens images5.jpegwill converse with Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete (right), a sharp and funny Catholic thinker who formerly taught at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. Hitchens and Albacete should make for a lively hour. Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, who oversee the Washington Post’s On Faith blog, will moderate.

I learned about both events by email. I don’t see any mention of them on the Templeton website, but they should pop up soon on the “upcoming events” page.