Why did he stab the cabbie?

The story of Michael Enright, the Putnam County guy who allegedly stabbed a Muslim cab driver yesterday, will draw national attention for some time.

At least until we have some idea why he did it.

The cabbie, Ahmed H. Sharif, has made clear that he believes he was stabbed because he is a Muslim.

Just got a press release announcing that a coalition of Muslim groups on Monday at the National Press Club in D.C. will release a “public service announcement” that responds to the Great Mosque Controversy and the cabbie stabbing.

It says: “The PSA will showcase American Muslims of diverse ages and backgrounds responding to the fears and concerns many Americans may have about Islam and Muslims.”

The producer of the PSA, a fellow by the name of David Hawa, says: “I think people need to hear from the average American Muslim about who we are and where we stand. This PSA will give me and other American Muslims the opportunity to talk directly to the American public –  free of any fear that politics or agendas are driving the discussion.”

Two other “Islam-related” notes:

1. In case you missed it, while I was on vacation, the Pew Forum released a poll showing that 18 percent of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. Only 34 percent of adults say he is a Christian.

Wow.

From the release:

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According to the survey, nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim — an increase from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, a sharp decrease from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.

The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009).

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2. Politico has a story about a group of American imams visiting the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.

The group stopped to pray at Dachau. An organizer said: “All of the tourists stopped in their tracks. I don’t think anyone has ever seen anything like it.”

Photo: (New York Taxi Worker Alliance)

Friar/bioethicist named to presidential commission

It just came to my attention that another well-known religious figure from NY, Dr. (and Brother) Daniel Sulmasy, has been appointed to Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

Sulmasy is a Franciscan Friar, a religious brother, who was for a long time director of the Bioethics Institute of New York Medical College in Valhalla. He also held the Sisters of Charity Chair in Ethics at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, the veritable Greenwich Village institution that is now closing most of its services.

tjndc5-5btpa448c41za9xtp1j_layoutSulmasy left New York last year for the Windy City, where he has a million titles at the University of Chicago.

He now holds the Kilbride-Clinton Chair in Medicine and Ethics in the Department of Medicine and Divinity School and is associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics.

I interviewed Sulmasy several times. In 2006, I talked to him in his Valhalla office about getting an article published on spiritual care for the dying in the prestigious journal of the American Medical Association.

“I was surprised I got ‘God’ in the title,” he told me then.

Sulmasy was in favor of doctors acknowleding the spiritual or religious sides of their patients — when appropriate.

“I want to move away from a spirit of antagonism between medicine and spirituality to one of cooperation, but I don’t want a 21st-century shamanism,” he said. “MD doesn’t stand for medical deity.”

Another doctor said of Sulmasy: “He’s brought me a long way. It’s about recognizing that people are more than the sum of their parts.”

I haven’t talked to Sulmasy since he left town, but you have to wonder if his departure was due to the demise of Catholic health care in New York. New York Medical College, long a med school in the “Catholic tradition,” is being taken over by Touro College, an Orthodox Jewish institution. And old St. Vincent’s appears to be taking its final breaths.

Last year, Sulmasy wrote about the unraveling of Catholic health care in New York for America magazine. He wrote:

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Personally, despite all the obstacles, I continue to be convinced that Catholic institutions (and, in particular, Catholic hospitals) are worth fighting to save. Catholic institutions help to nourish the faith of those who work in them and are served by them. Our Catholic hospitals also provide a vehicle for proving that our moral convictions are compatible with 21st-century technology, and they embody the ideal that service institutions ought to have service missions.

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Archbishop Dolan wasn’t too happy about it either.

Sulmasy may well have his hands full in taking a seat on the presidential commission. The Obama administration has very different views on certain things than does the Catholic Church.

But Sulmasy knows the minefields of bioethics as well as anyone.

He says: “The rapid pace of technological progress assures us that these sorts of questions will continue to surface in clinical practice. Ethics, as the most practical branch of philosophy, must be prepared to keep pace with these challenges.”

That being said, he once told me: “Being a friar is what I am. Being a medical practitioner is what I do.”

Will religious leaders speak out on immigration?

President Obama’s intention to press forward with immigration reform is certain to present serious challenges for religious leaders.

Most major religious denominations — especially those with a presence in New York — are all in favor of reform, including some form of amnesty for illegal immigrants already here. But they find themselves at odds with many citizens, including many in their pews, who have little patience with illegals.

Especially at a time of high unemployment, selling immigration reform could make the health-care reform mess look easy.

So here’s the question: How willing will religious leaders be to try to sell a controversial policy shift that many people do not want?

Just about every major mainline Protestant denomination favors immigration reform. Most major Jewish groups (including the Reform and Conservative movements) favor reform. And mostly importantly, the Roman Catholic Church, the largest and most influential religious community in many regions with high numbers of immigrants, is all-out, hog-wild in favor of reform.

Still, as I’ve written before, the Catholic Church is extremely active and vocal in Washington. But the message on immigration is rarely shared by bishops to their dioceses. And the word hardly makes it to the parish level.

An official with the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference told me last year that this disconnect was a real problem.

Will this change if the immigration debate becomes nasty, as it promises to do? How many priests and ministers and rabbis will want to promote reform from their pulpits if people might grumble or hiss or leave?

Over the past few years, religious leaders in New York met to talk about crafting a pro-immigrant statement they could release jointly. But it never came to pass. Which tells you something.

When I interviewed Archbishop Dolan soon after he came to New York, he told me that he wanted to take the lead on immigration in New York. The Catholic Church should be leading pro-immigrant rallies New York, he said, not smaller Pentecostal churches.

We’ll see.

Here in LoHudland, nothing riles people up like immigration issues. The idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants makes people go nuts. Will Dolan and other religious leaders — Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran bishops, Reform and Conservative rabbis — speak up?

We shall see.

The Latino Pastoral Action Center in the Bronx is hosting a pro-reform rally for clergy on Monday. The announced speakers are all Hispanic, so far.

MFA-logo-blueADD: I didn’t mention that a large rally for immigration reform will be held in Washington on Wednesday, March 21. Organizers say that tens of thousands will attend.

The rally is being organized and supported by dozens of religious groups.

Interestingly, the slogan for the “March for America” is “Change takes courage and faith.”

Obama: ‘…grace was not absent in the midst of tragedy’

I’m continuing to keep an eye out for religious perspectives about the suffering in Haiti.

And this morning, President Obama addressed the subject at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C.

His take is, as I’ve written before, the most common: God is with those who have responded to the suffering. He does not address God’s role (or lack of one) in the quake itself.

Per a White House transcript (which you can read here):

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Obama Prayer BreakfastThere is, of course, a need for prayer even in times of joy and peace and prosperity.  Perhaps especially in such times prayer is needed — to guard against pride and to guard against complacency.  But rightly or wrongly, most of us are inclined to seek out the divine not in the moment when the Lord makes His face shine upon us, but in moments when God’s grace can seem farthest away.

Last month, God’s grace, God’s mercy, seemed far away from our neighbors in Haiti.  And yet I believe that grace was not absent in the midst of tragedy.  It was heard in prayers and hymns that broke the silence of an earthquake’s wake.  It was witnessed among parishioners of churches that stood no more, a roadside congregation, holding bibles in their laps.  It was felt in the presence of relief workers and medics; translators; servicemen and women, bringing water and food and aid to the injured.

One such translator was an American of Haitian descent, representative of the extraordinary work that our men and women in uniform do all around the world — Navy Corpsman Christian [sic] Brossard.  And lying on a gurney aboard the USNS Comfort, a woman asked Christopher:  “Where do you come from?  What country? After my operation,” she said, “I will pray for that country.”  And in Creole, Corpsman Brossard responded, “Etazini.”  The United States of America.

God’s grace, and the compassion and decency of the American people is expressed through the men and women like Corpsman Brossard.  It’s expressed through the efforts of our Armed Forces, through the efforts of our entire government, through similar efforts from Spain and other countries around the world.  It’s also, as Secretary Clinton said, expressed through multiple faith-based efforts.  By evangelicals at World Relief.  By the American Jewish World Service. By Hindu temples, and mainline Protestants, Catholic Relief Services, African American churches, the United Sikhs.  By Americans of every faith, and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

It’s inspiring.  This is what we do, as Americans, in times of trouble.  We unite, recognizing that such crises call on all of us to act, recognizing that there but for the grace of God go I, recognizing that life’s most sacred responsibility — one affirmed, as Hillary said, by all of the world’s great religions — is to sacrifice something of ourselves for a person in need.

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Obama also used the occasion to renew his now-regular call for lessening the political partisanship in the country:

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Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility.  That begins with stepping out of our comfort zones in an effort to bridge divisions.  We see that in many conservative pastors who are helping lead the way to fix our broken immigration system.  It’s not what would be expected from them, and yet they recognize, in those immigrant families, the face of God.  We see that in the evangelical leaders who are rallying their congregations to protect our planet.  We see it in the increasing recognition among progressives that government can’t solve all of our problems, and that talking about values like responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage are integral to any anti-poverty agenda.  Stretching out of our dogmas, our prescribed roles along the political spectrum, that can help us regain a sense of civility.

Civility also requires relearning how to disagree without being disagreeable; understanding, as President [Kennedy] said, that “civility is not a sign of weakness.” Now, I am the first to confess I am not always right.  Michelle will testify to that.  (Laughter.)  But surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith, or, for that matter, my citizenship.  (Laughter and applause.)

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ADDITION: A reader points out that none other than Tim Tebow offered the closing prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast.

We are only three days away from Tebow’s much-anticipated commercial during the Super  Bowl.

Here is Tebow’s prayer, from a blog called Tebowseyeblack.com:

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Dear Jesus, thank you for this today. Thank you for bringing together so many people that have a platform to influence people for you. Lord as we disperse today, let us be united in love, hope, and peace. Lord, let us come together as one and break down all the barriers in between us that separate us.

Lord, you came to seek and save that which is lost, and we thank you for that. Lord we don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future, and in that there is peace, and in that there comfort, and in that there is hope.

Lord we pray for the people all over the world that are hurting right now. The verse that comes to mind is James 1: 2-4, Consider it all joy, my brethren, whenever you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing. And we pray for the people in Haiti right now Lord, that you make them perfect and complete because you love them and have a plan for their lives, just as you do with our lives now.

So my prayer, as we leave today, that we are united as one because of you. We love you and thank you. In Jesus name, amen.

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(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Al Smith Dinner: 64th is tomorrow

It will be hard to top last year’s Al Smith Dinner, when Barack Obama and John McCain made jokes at their own and each other’s expense (and some funny ones).

It seemed that all eyes were on the Waldorf-Astoria.

I was fortunate to be there. One lingering memory: Watching Renee Fleming warm up — singing effortlessly and stopping on a dime to complain about the sound.

USA-POLITICS/It was a special night, although Cardinal Egan took some heat through the following weeks for hanging with the Democratic candidate (who supports abortion rights).

The 64th annual dinner — which raises money for charitable causes in NY — will be held tomorrow night. And the keynote speaker will be Admiral Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I don’t suppose there will be as much joking as usual, although you have to figure that Archbishop Dolan will have some good one-liners for his first shot in the Al Smith Dinner limelight.

The way things are going in Afghanistan and Pakistan — and remember Iraq? — Mullen should have plenty to talk about.

And the cause remains a good one.

‘I’ve come…to seek a new beginning…’

Much of the world is talking this morning about Obama’s speech in Cairo.

I’ll be spending the next few hours talking to people about it.

The picture is of a Muslim family in India watching (AP Photo/Sucheta Das).

I’ll highlight a few quotations and then paste the entire speech below.

A few highlights:

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We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.  The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars.  More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.  Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

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I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.  Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight.  I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point.  But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.

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Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.  The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.  We were born out of revolution against an empire.  We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world.  We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept:  E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”

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Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task.  Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people.  These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

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Now, make no mistake:  We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there.  It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women.  It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict.  We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.  But that is not yet the case.

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Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.  Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.

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For decades then, there has been a stalemate:  two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive.  It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond.  But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth:  The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

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America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.  But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.

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Among some Muslims, there’s a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of somebody else’s faith.  The richness of religious diversity must be upheld — whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.)  And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together.  We must always examine the ways in which we protect it.  For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation.  That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

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I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.  (Applause.)  Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential.  I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.  And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

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And HERE IS THE WHOLE THING:

Continue reading

Where did the Episcopalians go?

For an assortment of reasons, I haven’t had much time to focus today on Obama’s choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Top Court in the Land.

She would be the sixth Catholic on the nine-justice court, which is notable because of what it says about the demise of anti-Catholicism. Who even cares that she’s Catholic?

Except for Catholics, of course.

For many Catholics — especially committed pro-life Catholics — the question may now become: Is Sotomayor Catholic enough?

She’s divorced. No kids. Her record on abortion — from what I understand — is somewhat unclear.

It’s early, but Sotomayor is being portrayed as a “social justice” Catholic.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson does a fine job compiling some early reactions from some of the top religion journalism bloggers out there.

He notes about the current Supreme Court: “Two of the justices are Jewish; the resignation of Justice David Souter, who is an Episcopalian, will leave, amazingly given the history of this nation, just one Protestant on the Supreme Court, 89-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens.”

Might we, one of these days, see an all-Catholic court?

I happen to be in the middle of a long profile of Chief Justice John Roberts in this week’s New Yorker. Roberts, of course, is also Catholic. But he probably wouldn’t be described as a “social justice Catholic,” at least by Jeffrey Toobin, the writer and CNN talking head.

Toobin writes this:

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In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

Did Obama miss an opportunity at ND?

Westchester’s own Ken Woodward has a fine column on Newsweek.com about the “lessons” of Obama at Notre Dame.

Woodward is the former longtime religion editor at the newsweekly and now serves as a contributing editor.

A graduate of Notre Dame and a self-described “pro-life Catholic,” Woodward approves of Obama’s invitation. He writes that both Obama and ND President Father John Jenkins showed “courage” for following through with the program.

But he takes Obama to task for not using the opportunity to reach out to Catholics:

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For example, he could have signaled his support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, a common-ground initiative that Democrats for Life have introduced in the House and Senate, which has the endorsement of the Catholic bishops Pro-Life Committee.

He might have reassured the Catholic community, beyond a passing phrase, that new regulations governing health-care providers will contain strong clauses protecting the consciences of doctors and nurses who find abortion evil. American Catholics, after all, operate the largest private-hospital system in the world.

As a political gesture, he might have announced a White House liaison to American Catholics. A hundred days into his presidency, there is no one in that post.

Above all, he could have clarified his stand on the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), a bill that would remove all state and local restrictions on abortion. As a candidate, Obama declared his support for FOCA; since then he has said that it is no longer high on his list of legislative priorities.

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In the end, Woodward writes, Catholic universities actually enhance their religious identity by “respectfully engaging” those who disagree. He writes: “The message of Notre Dame is that thoughtful Catholics wish this president well. They will work with him if he will work with them.”

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Another ‘mistake’ for Fordham?

Obama wasn’t the only pro-choice pol to be honored by a Catholic university this past weekend.

Fordham gave an honorary degree to Mayor Bloomberg.

And Sen. Schumer apparently spoke, unannounced, at Fordham Law’s graduation.

The NYPost reports that Archbishop Dolan didn’t know about Bloomberg’s honor. He probably couldn’t have known about Schumer, who tends to show up at graduations around NYS and nab a few moments at the podium.

Last fall, Cardinal Egan slammed Fordham Law for giving an award to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, saying that the decision was a “mistake.”

A statement from the archdiocese at the time said that Egan addressed the matter with Fordham and that “As a result of these discussions, the Cardinal is confident that a mistake of this sort will not happen again.”

The week that I missed

I’m back. Hope you had a good week.

I’m about half way through my 1,500 new emails. The worst part is that my email storage is full and I can’t send any emails until I empty it out.

So if you’re waiting for a response from me — as so many people are — please keep waiting.

Here are some odds and ends as I try to catch up with the news:

1. While I was on furlough, I read a stack of magazines from the past few months. In the Jan. 5 New Yorker, there was a quirky story about two rabbis who fly around China checking out factories that produce kosher food. Over $1 1/4 billion worth of kosher-certified foods are exported from China every year. Who knew?

Anyway, the article noted that one of the rabbis was drinking a Coke, and that the Orthodox Union has certified Coca-Cola as kosher since 1993. The article raised a very interesting question: How can you certify a product when its formula is a closely guarded secret? The answer: “Grunberg explained that the Coca-Cola Company presents the O.U. with a long list of ingredients to be approved, including some that are red herrings, just to foil any industrial spies who might be masquerading as rabbis.”

Fascinating, no?

2. I was in Macys buying socks and noticed a T-shirt that said: “FREE speech thought religion expression”

It had a very interesting design for some reason I checked the tag: “Made in Pakistan”

I couldn’t help wondering where in Pakistan it was made? Whose factory? Do the people there believe in all those freedoms — or even know what they are? What would the Taliban think?

3. I wrestled with whether or not I have to see “Angels & Demons.” I don’t think I do. Although it’s the number one movie this week, I haven’t heard any serious talk about the plot or any connections between the story and the real world.

I read “The Da Vinci Code,” saw the movie and wrote about it several times because I heard people wondering whether the plot was true — or based in truth or somehow connected to truth. Many people read it as historical fiction.

Not so with A&D, I think. We’ll see how things develop — and whether I need to see Tom Hanks running around like a mad man. I hope he got a different haircut this time out.

4. I read some of the coverage of B16’s trip to the Holy Land. Somehow, neither what he said nor the reactions to what he said surprised me. Some Israelis were not satisifed with his comments about the Holocaust. Well, B16’s not a great communicator. When it comes to highly symbolic moments, people still expect JPII. But B16 is a different guy.

He favors a Palestinian state and finds the Wall to be a sad sight? Who could be surprised by that?

Benedict is 82 and gave 28 speeches during the trip. He had no major gaffes that I’m aware of. Give the guy some credit.

5. The NYS Assembly’s passage of a bill to legalize gay marriage sets the stage for a fascinating debate in the Senate.

The NYS Catholic Conference calls the Assembly’s move “terribly misguided:” “Marriage is not simply a mechanism with which to provide people with benefits. By creating same-sex ‘marriages,’ the state is endorsing the notion that procreation is completely disconnected from marriage and that a nontraditional family structure serves a child as well as a traditional one.”

The Orthodox Union is “gravely disappointed:” “Legal scholars on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate agree that codifying same-sex marriage without providing robust religious accommodations and exemptions will create widespread and unnecessary legal conflict that will “reverberate across the legal and religious landscape.” We have already seen religious congregations, social welfare agencies and youth groups which object to same-sex unions penalized by authorities in states where such unions have been legalized.”

6. I wish I was around last week to write something about Obama’s Big Day at Notre Dame, which crystallizes the Catholic Church’s struggles over abortion like nothing else (Yes, I know that many Catholics would say that there is no struggle and that Catholics who disagree are dead wrong).

I haven’t had a chance yet to really digest Obama’s remarks. Maybe after I clean out my emails…

7. Finally, I am a finalist for the Religion Writer of the Year Award given out by the Religion Newswriters Assocation. A nice thing.