Friday, May 30, 2008

Provoke Radio: Sister Dorothy Stang

A series on 'Modern Saints and Martyrs'

At one time or another, all of our children have attended a Catholic elementary school that was once run by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, which was founded by Saint Julie Billiart. The school still has an SND sister or two teaching there, and the influence of the order is still strong. The school retains St Julie's motto: "Ah, qu'il est bon, le bon Dieu" ("Ah, How good is the good God").

Crystal once put up a very good post about the late SND Sister Dorothy Stang, who was martyred in Brazil in 2005 for preaching the undiluted Gospel and for standing up for the rights of poor farmers against corrupt loggers and ranchers. One of the accused conspirators in her death was recently acquitted.

In noticed that on Provoke Radio, they have been running a four-part series which includes interviews about (and with) this remarkable and saintly woman.

Listen on Provoke Radio to:

Modern Day Saints and Martyrs: The Life and Death of Sr. Dorothy Stang: Parts I through IV

Excerpts from a John Dear column on NCR: On Feb. 12, 2005, Sr. Dorothy Stang walked along a dirt road deep in the heart of Brazil's Amazon, on her way to meet a handful of poor farmers bearing up under harassment from illegal loggers and ranchers. She trudged along, until two hired assassins blocked her way. In response to their challenge, she produced maps and documents proving that the government had designated the land as a reserve for the landless poor. "Do you have a weapon?" they asked. Yes, she answered, showing them the Bible she carried for decades. She opened it and began to read aloud: "Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the peacemakers ..." Then, she said, "God bless you, my sons."

The two shot her six times and ran. Her body lay on the dirt road all day, nearby witnesses later said, because they were afraid they would be shot if they moved it. As it rained, her blood mixed with the dirt...

Anyone who leaves their homeland, spends four decades serving the poorest of the poor in Amazon, and defends the forest -- long before anyone ever thought of an environmental movement -- must possess enormous commitment, faith and vision.

In Dayton, 1931, she was born, one of nine in a lively and devout Catholic family. At 17, she entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and in 1953 she was sent to serve the poor, teach children, and assist at Most Holy Trinity parish in the desert of Sunnyslope, Ariz. After many good years, she volunteered to join a mission to Brazil, and in 1966 off she went -- later to become a citizen there. In the years before she was killed, she was hailed with honors for her work. She learned the languages and set up remote parishes. Walked the forest and met with the poorest farmers. Set up dozens of base communities and taught them the Gospel. She launched 23 schools and created a structure for the poor to claim their land. A tidy sum of work. The base community movement, liberation theology, the environmental movement -- she brought them forth, like a vineyard from a wasteland, along with the other church workers.

Feisty and energetic and loving, one of the great saints. Surely she'll be canonized one day. To that end she remained faithful to the poor, to the ruined Amazon, and so, to the Gospel and the God of justice and compassion. Beautiful stories come down to us. How she fed the hungry, built community, lived in destitution. How she confronted illegal loggers and corrupt ranchers, the class who stole land from the poor, kept them in misery, and bought off the police, the military and the government. Death threats rained down on Dorothy for years, along with insults and hate mail. Ranchers took aim at the community center for women that she had founded and riddled it with bullets. On one occasion the police arrested her for passing out "subversive" material. It was the United Nations's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Another time, she escaped by a hairs-breadth an attempt on her life.

Yet she carried on and included the ranchers in her prayers for peace. Her defense of the poor was fearless. She did her homework, studied the laws, barged repeatedly into government offices to lodge heated complaints. The poor, she said, were promised land, but here they are being driven off, loggers and ranchers behind it all, and the government turning a blind eye, turning a blind eye, as well, toward the destruction of the forest. She stood fearless even as she witnessed over the years the marriage of powers, commercial interests and the military. Together they threatened and terrorized and forced many of her programs to collapse. But she remained positive and hopeful, virtually always smiling.

"That I've been able to live, love, be loved and work with the Brazilian people, help them find confidence in themselves, to profoundly sense God's presence in their lives and then be a creative influence in society from which a more human society can be born, I thank all of you," she wrote her family and friends on her 60th birthday in 1991. "It's a chain reaction. We can give positive input-energy into life but we need to be charged also. In the midst of all this violence there are many small communities that have learned the secret of life: sharing, solidarity, confidence, equality, pardon, working together. God is present -- generator and sustainer of all life. Thus life is productive and transforming in the midst of all this."

Over the years, Dorothy wore a favorite T-shirt that read: "The death of the forest is the end of our lives." She knew first hand what the destruction of the Amazon meant, not only for Brazil but for the planet... "

"Tell all that we must make great efforts to save our planet. Mother Earth is not able to provide anymore. Her water and air are poisoned and her soil is dying of exaggerated use of chemicals, all in the name of profit. Pray for all of us and for a world where all can live -- plants, animals and humans -- in peace and harmony." In 2002, the death threats intensified. The mayor of the nearby town said, "We have to get rid of that woman if we are going to have peace." A list circulated of people with "bounties" on their heads. Atop the list was her name -- Stang, $20,000.

"I know that they want to kill me," she said, "but I will not go away. My place is here alongside these people who are constantly humiliated by the powerful." Visiting her family and community in Ohio a few months before she was killed, she told one sister, "I just want to sink myself into God." Her absence gave the authorities space to work a different tack. On her return she was met with a trumped-up charge, organizing armed rebellion. This should put her in her place, water down her gumption. And off to trial she went. It was in the middle of it that she died. "I look at Jesus carrying the cross," she said a few days before her death, when asked by a novice about her prayer, "and I ask for the strength to carry the suffering of the people." A day before she died, she said: "If something is going to happen, I hope it happens to me, because the others have families to care for."

At her funeral two thousand people marched. Hundreds of reporters descended from around the world. "Today, we are not going to bury Dorothy. We are going to plant her," her community said. "Dorothy vive!" the crowd returned. Brazil's president announced days later the creation of two new national parks in the rain forest. He declared the expansion of another and placed eight and a half million acres more under environmental protection. And he suspended logging in the most hotly contested areas. Dorothy is rising in her people and in the land.

Recent books written about Dorothy Stang:

Martyr of the Amazon: The Life of Sister Dorothy Stang, by Roseanne Murphy

The Greatest Gift: The Courageous Life and Martyrdom of Sister Dorothy Stang, by Binka Le Breton

See trailer from the South by Southwest Film Festival documentary...

They Killed Sister Dorothy

Friday, May 23, 2008

Grown Men in Tears

High drama indeed… but never shoot it high!!

Last fall my oldest son Brendan finally seemed to have come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t have the size to play organized American football the way he’d like to, and has gotten more serious about his club soccer and in developing his skills in that sport. His brothers play soccer too. Our girls do field hockey, pole-vaulting (how cool is that?) and drama.

The other night, Brendan and I were watching the UEFA European Champions Cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea, which was being played in Moscow. Brendan and his soccer club teammates are all into this sort of thing... Brendan was virtually alone in supporting Man U; almost all of his buddies were rooting for Chelsea. Now, if you ask me why 12-year old soccer-playing boys in the US have such passionate convictions one way or the other about something like this, I really can’t tell you. All I can say is that soccer has become thoroughly internationalized. Neither of these teams can really be called “British” clubs anymore, and I suppose boys have favorite players they’ve seen playing in the World Cup that they want to root for. In the case of Chelsea, I’m thinking that a lot of them are fans of the German midfielder Michael Ballak.

Predictably, the game ended in a draw, and was decided by a penalty kick shootout. I think I’ve posted before about how this is a fundamental flaw in the sport. The rules of the game and the strategies employed by most coaches are weighted too heavily in the favor of the defense. It’s too difficult to score goals, and far too many important games are settled with penalty kicks, which seems unjust to me. If you are a true aficionado of the game, however, there is hardly anything like the high drama of a penalty shootout. Even for the casual observer, it can make the palms sweat.

In most of the world, soccer is more important than a matter of life and death. The pressure on the star players is beyond intense. One thing I’ve noticed in these shootouts is that it's often the best players who choke under the pressure and make mistakes. I’m no expert when it comes to fútbol, but as far as penalty kicks are concerned, the advantage lies with the shooter, and I think the main idea is to keep the ball low and just inside of either post, hoping that the goalie will choose wrong in deciding which direction to dive in. Too often, it seems, the best players try to get cute.

For example, in the Cup final the other night, Man U’s Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably one of the 2 or 3 best players in the world, tried some lame thing where he did a little stop-and-go before taking the shot. Didn’t work. The goalie made the save. His little move should be illegal. According to the rules, the goalie can’t move until the ball is in the air anyway. Serves him right.

With this advantage it came down to Chelsea’s captain, the defender John Terry, playing just ten days after dislocating an arm, and just minutes after keeping Chelsea in the game with a brilliant defensive header, to take his turn in the box. If he just puts his shot away, it’s all over and Chelsea are champs!

Well… Between a driving rainstorm and bad turf… Watch... About 1:20 in, Chelsea in blue, Manchester United in red.

You’ve got to feel bad for the guy. As for Ronaldo, while the rest of his teammates celebrated, he still lay face down on the turf in tears of his own, no doubt giving thanks to the Madonna… “I’m not the goat, I’m not the goat, I’m not the goat…” Afterwards, though, he didn’t seem too stressed about it. He just looked like he wanted to kill his interviewer, that's all.

Shortly before the shootout, one of Chelsea's best players, Didier Drogba, was given a red card and kicked out of the game for slapping Man U's Nemanja Vidic. This indiscipline under pressure puts me in mind a bit of the great midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who probably cost France the last World Cup by losing his cool, and of a really tough break for the player in 1994’s World Cup who was all the buzz that year, Italy’s striker Roberto Baggio. In the final match with Brazil, he put his penalty kick… over the net. Did he ever live it down? Is there redemption for fallen fútbol heroes?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Silent Cal" Pipes Up With The 4-Ever Republican Platform

The first presidential film with sound recording, 1924. John McCain may as well give the same speech.

Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, presided over the soaring stock market and great boom years of the Roaring Twenties (1923–1929), and in so doing became quite popular, despite being so notoriously taciturn. When this former Massachusetts governor died in 1933, Dorothy Parker reportedly quipped, "How could they tell?"

"His ideal day is one on which nothing whatever happens.... Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored."
-- H.L. Mencken

"Coolidge's terseness became legendary. He could be 'silent in five languages,' a contemporary asserted. A favorite joke had a pretty young woman approaching the president to explain that she had bet a friend she could make him say more than two words. 'You lose,' Coolidge replied. Alice Roosevelt Longworth said he looked as though he'd been 'weaned on a pickle.'"
-- H.W. Brands

"Coolidge's philosophy is Puritanism de luxe, in which it is possible to praise all the classic virtues while continuing to enjoy all the modern conveniences."
-- Walter Lippman

"The business of America is business."
-- Coolidge

"If you keep dead still, they will run down in three or four minutes. If you even cough or smile they will start up all over again."
-- Coolidge to his successor, Herbert Hoover, on how to deal with visitors to the White House

Taxes, taxes, taxes... Yeah, sure. We all just love paying taxes, don't we? Forget your culture wars, people. Cal was telling you what the Republican Party was about, is about, and will always be about. They still stick to the same old songsheets, even though that stock market bubble collapsed shortly after Cal left office, and the country was plunged into the Great Depression. You'd think that would have been enough to discredit those laissez faire ideas forever, but apparently not. Brush that speech off, and Romney could have slickly packaged it a few months ago, or McCain could stumble through it just as clumsily today.

Yes, they've stuck to their principles. Give them credit for that... I wish the Democratic Party had stuck to theirs.

Someone clever has read between the lines of that speech, btw, and distilled the rest of the GOP platform issues, again, prescient in their relevance for today, like so...

What is that he's reading from? William's chapbook?

For all that Cal said in what he did not say, or for what little he actually said with great reluctance, his greatest bit of folk wisdom might have been what's come to be known as the Coolidge Effect.

The story goes that President and Mrs Coolidge were visiting a government farm in Kentucky one day and after arrival were taken off on separate tours. When Mrs Coolidge passed the chicken pens she paused to ask her guide how often the rooster could be expected to perform his duty. 'Dozens of times a day' was her guide's reply. She was most impressed by this and said, 'Please tell that to the President.'

When the President was duly informed of the rooster's performance he was initially dumbfounded. Then a thought occurred to him. 'Was this with the same hen each time?' he inquired. 'Oh no, Mr President, a different one each time' was his host's reply. The President nodded slowly, smiled and said, ''Tell that to Mrs Coolidge!'

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reports from Chengdu

NPR's Remarkable Chengdu Diary

As the estimate of the death toll from the devastating earthquake in China's Sichuan Province continues to rise, NPR's reporters on the scene - Melissa Block and Robert Siegel - have been covering the story up-close and first-hand in a remarkable series of posts on a blog called Chengdu Diary.

Block and Siegel just happened to be in Chengdu coincidentally when the earthquake struck. They were in the process of putting together segments for the NPR program All Things Considered, describing the incredible pace of change in China today, and focusing on the rapidly growing city of Chengdu because...

Through our coverage, we hope to convey to our audience just how complex a place China is. We want to reflect the enormous changes taking place, and the challenges and the opportunities that they present. While we certainly could have accomplished that in Beijing or Shanghai, it seemed more appropriate to get out to a city that's still in the process of developing...

We solicited ideas from a number of people. We were looking for a place with a vibrant cultural scene, a place with some historical significance, a place where the economy is booming...

We liked that Chengdu is part of a big government effort to "develop the west". We were impressed with the local music and arts scene here, not to mention the teahouse culture. We liked that we could get out to the countryside in less than an hour. We were intrigued by the fact that we'd pass Intel and Motorola offices along the way. We felt welcomed by just about everyone we met. And, I cannot lie, we ate really, really well on that trip.

People here in China seem to think we picked well. A foreign ministry official in Beijing congratulated us on the choice, and said that Chengdu represents China's heartland. "It would be like going to Kansas City," he told us, beaming.

Melissa Block was in the process of interviewing the pastor of a local church when the earthquake struck.

Listen to:

The Earthquake

Dujiangyan Parents' Search for Child

Zipingpu Dam Command Center

I find that there is something incredibly intimate and immediate about radio reporting that television cannot generally match, for some reason... Perhaps to our hearts, hearing means more than seeing than we realize.

The city of Chengdu itself seems to have withstood the quake fairly well. Some of the mountain towns outside of the city, however, have been heavily damaged, and some have virtually disappeared.

The reporters note that the residents seem to credit the central Chinese government with responding to the crisis fairly well, but are filled with anger towards local officials, especially in light of some evidence that government building were built well enough to withstand the quake, but that shoddy construction was used in buildings such as the Middle School that collapsed in Juyuan. Accusations of corruption abound.

The reporters are also finding that although they have been treated well by the population at large so far, there is some increasing distrust as well, as some residents resent others openly criticizing the Chinese government to foreign reporters.

Pray for the victims of the recent twin disasters in Asia.

How to donate to charities

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'm Ecumenical II

Patsy Cline - Walkin' After Midnight

Well, to a point I am. Much like my wearing a New York Giants t-shirt, this is probaby something you'll never see on AEV again - A country tune.

Unless Willie Nelson happens to come out with something I really like.

Click on the image...

Poor Patsy Cline. The first female country mega-star. For all her success, hers was kind of a hard-luck life. She survived a horrific car crash, only to perish in a plane crash a couple of years later at the age of 30.

I like this tune, maybe because it's kind of bluesy. I never would have heard of it if it wasn't for the Cowboy Junkies, who did a fine cover on it many years ago.

Patsy wasn't really what you would call a beauty, but there was something erotically charged about her. At least a lot of people thought so at the time.

Now, don't blame me for the portrayal of servile domesticity in this clip. In fact, I really have absolutely no idea what the heck she is doing. Can anyone tell me? Is she in a dress shop or her own kitchen? A fabric store? Wallpaper emporium? Is she wrapping presents? What...?

Ah, the early days of television... It was what it was. Most of the time, it showed a spectacular lack of imagination. Hard to believe how far women have come in society and on television. If you don't believe me, check out this old Maxwell House Coffee ad. It's from a collection of TV clips from the year 1968. "Now you be a good little housewife..."

Friday, May 09, 2008

Salt of the Earth... Working to Make Capital Punishment a Thing of the Past

"Whenever a state anywhere in the world bans or declares a moratorium on capital punishment, Rome’s Colosseum is lit up, and Catholic groups are always in the front row among those rejoicing." - John Allen

Anne and I went to Italy on our honeymoon in 1992. On thing I noticed wherever we went, from Rome to Florence, Assisi, Modena, Venice, Milan... Billboard posters advertising a traveling exhibit going around the country on the history and methods of torture. It was a curious thing. It showed a European sensitivity to an issue I hadn't given much thought to. It all seemed so remote and far in the past. Fast forward to this decade...

As I’ve noted previously, despite being constantly berated by the hierarchy for their supposed lack of faith, their lack of appreciation for their roots, and for their relativism, it seems to me that the nations of Europe, and in some high-profile cases the Latin nations of Europe in particular, are displaying their strong commitment to some of the very finest examples of Catholic social teaching, impervious to the harangues constantly levelled against their societies from the Vatican. I posted about this last year in regard to the Spanish commitment to nonviolence. Two weeks ago, I happened to notice that John Allen had written about Italy and their campaign to end capital punishment worldwide – What abortion is to American Catholics, the death penalty is for Italians.

Whether this commitment and this activism stems from their “latent” Christianity, or whether it comes from more vague forms of post-modern enlightenment values, I can’t really say. I think Europeans are in sort of a unique position among the peoples of the world’s various continents, in that they have tried and tested just about every absolutist type of ideology that has ever existed, and have learned the rough lessons to be learned from each the hard way. All I can point out is that the Community of Sant'Egidio, the lay movement I admire the most out of all of those that arose in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, has been at the forefront on the issue of capital punishment, spearheading the effort.

I think this campaign is crucial because it offers a challenge and a contradiction to:

- The United States, ever-influential worldwide, which if I am not mistaken is the only Western democracy that still has the death penalty.

- The drive to establish strict interpretations of Islamic Sharia across several nations, which is bringing pressure to bear even upon Europe itself.

- China, which is rapidly on its way to becoming the most powerful country in the world, and whose mixture of totalitarian government and cowboy capitalism may become the model for other developing nations. It lists 60 crimes which are capital offenses.

The Community of Sant'Egidio has not only fought to put an end to capital punishment, it has also worked to sponsor peaceful resolutions to conflicts, including a cease-fire they once brokered in Mozambique. Here is the the "Method" of Sant'Egidio explained.

Here are excerpts from John Allen’s article:

I’m in Rome this week, where this morning I took part in an hour-and-a-half radio program on RAI, the Italian state network, along with Cardinal Pio Laghi, the former Apsostolic Nunio in the United States... I agreed to do the program largely because I was interested in how the trip looked to Italians, having spent much of the last couple of weeks absorbing American commentary. This was one of those shows where we took listener phone calls and e-mails, so I figured I might get a good sense of Italian “vox populi” on the experience.

What struck me was how often our host, Massimo Franco, a well-known Italian journalist, as well our listeners raised an issue that barely registered on American radar screens during the pope’s trip: the death penalty. Why, Franco and the listeners wanted to know, didn’t Benedict XVI make more of an issue out of the difference between the United States, particularly the Bush administration, and the Catholic Church on the issue of capital punishment?

It was Burke who put into words something I’ve long sensed, and that became especially clear during the course of our conversation this morning: For many Italian Catholics, and perhaps Catholics in other European countries as well, the death penalty is what abortion is for many Catholics in the United States – the defining moral issue of the time.

That is to say, if the dominant “single issue” temptation for American Catholics is to focus almost exclusively on abortion, the analogous “single issue” tendency within Catholicism in Italy and elsewhere in Europe is the death penalty.

Anti-death penalty campaigns ... are a huge feature of Italian Catholic life, often led by the Community of Sant’Egidio and involving a wide cross-section of dioceses, parishes, and lay movements. Whenever a state anywhere in the world bans or declares a moratorium on capital punishment, Rome’s Colosseum is lit up, and Catholic groups are always in the front row among those rejoicing.

Italy takes great pride in long forming the vanguard of the abolitionist movement with regard to capital punishment. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany was the first sovereign state to ban the death penalty in 1786. It did so under the influence of Italian essayist Cesare Beccaria, whose 1764 anti-death penalty tract “On Crimes and Punishments” is considered an abolitionist classic.

So strong had Italian aversion to capital punishment become that when an anarchist named Angelo Bresci assassinated King Umberto I in 1900, Italian courts sentenced him to life in prison. It was the first time a man had killed a European king (without toppling his regime) and not been executed.

That legacy is very much alive at the Catholic grassroots in today’s Italy, as our callers this morning reminded us. For them, it was therefore remarkable that the pope did not raise the issue on American soil.

For American Catholics, this focus on the death penalty rather than abortion can often seem terribly imbalanced. According to Amnesty International, there were 1,591 executions worldwide in 2006, while the estimated number of abortions around the world each year is on the order of 45 million. On a purely quantitative basis, some would argue, there’s no comparison in terms of which is the more grave threat to human life. Moreover, many abortion opponents would also argue that while all killing is wrong, with the death penalty we’re usually talking about convicted criminals, while abortion strikes at the most innocent and vulnerable.

For Italian Catholics, on the other hand, the moral gravity of the death penalty often looms larger because in this case the state is not merely tolerating an act of killing, but actually performing it. It’s one thing, they argue, for women in painful circumstances to make a tragic choice; it’s another for a state, which purports to embody the values of civilized society, to put someone to death while espousing the values of justice and due process of law. From that point of view, it’s not so much the numbers involved, as the statement capital punishment makes about the moral fabric of the state itself, that jars the conscience.

Obviously from the point of view of Catholic social teaching, this is not an “either/or” choice, but very much a “both/and.” The social doctrine of the Church regards abortion as an absolute moral wrong, and, following the magisterium of Pope John Paul II, does not exclude the death penalty on principle, but holds that “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

A “consistent ethic of life” therefore posits opposition to both abortion and capital punishment.

Nonetheless, within that consistent ethic different cultures at different times will accent one or another issue, and for now it would seem that many American Catholics and many European, especially perhaps Italian, Catholics have a different sensibility in terms of where they make their most emphatic stand.

For Americans, it would no doubt have been huge news had Benedict XVI come to the United States and never mentioned abortion. For Italians, it seems equally shocking that Benedict came to the United States, one of just six nations which account for the bulk of annual executions worldwide, and didn’t bring up capital punishment.

One can draw a variety of different conclusions about all this, but it’s at least a valuable insight into varying Catholic attitudes on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Here are excerpts from an interview with the Community of Sant'Egidio’s Mario Marazziti, who's been leading capital punishment moratorium efforts at the U.N.

NCR: Why is this happening now?

Marazziti: There are different reasons. Some countries have reached the conclusion that they cannot have internal reconciliation with the death penalty. Rwanda and Burundi are examples. Abolition becomes a tool to prevent future violence. Those countries have 800 people on death row, and if they kill them, another cycle of violence could begin. It's the same rationale as South Africa or Cambodia. It's very interesting that the three nations with the greatest genocides of the 20th century, Rwanda, Burundi, and Cambodia, are now without the death penalty. That's a strong argument in international conversation.

NCR: How important has the church been?

Marazziti: Very important. The Catholic church, especially under John Paul II and continuing with what it's doing now, has had a real role in accompanying this change over the last 20 years, and the Philippines is one of the cases where you see that most clearly.

We've worked side-by-side with Cardinal [Renato] Martino [President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace]. He gave me a short interview to be used on Nov. 30, when we had our "Cities Against the Death Penalty" event. He said something to us that has never been said at such a high level before: "The death penalty is homicide." Unfortunately the media didn't pick up on it, but the clear meaning is that you can't answer one crime with another.

NCR: What were the behind-the-scenes tussles like?

Marazziti: After 1999, Amnesty International had consistently advised against going to the General Assembly, out of fear of losing. The problem is that in the General Assembly, it's not enough just to add up the number of countries that are against the death penalty. Politics also enters into it. We were in favor of going to the General Assembly, but in an intelligent way … not out of desperation, but on the basis of serious advance work. Then there were the radicals and groups such as Nessuno Tocchi Caino ("Hands Off Cain," the main anti-death penalty activist group in Italy) that wanted to go to the General Assembly no matter what, because whether they won or lost, they'd be on the front pages. So there were three different logics completely... We wanted to avoid that it would be seen as a project of the European Union, reflecting a neo-colonial vision of human rights. For that reason, we ended up with Brazil and Mexico as the initial supporters, and then in the Third Commission, the resolution was presented by Gabon.

Within the Third Commission, with 192 countries just like the General Assembly, there was a ferocious debate. The first effort was to say that this is a matter of the internal affairs of nations, and not of human rights. It can't be discussed because it's an internal question. Once they lost on this, the opponents argued that it shouldn't be voted on by the U.N. because it's something that divides nations rather than unites them. Of course, that would mean never doing anything, because everything is divisive in some sense. The third point was that it represents the imposition of a Western vision of human rights on other countries.

There were three principal centers of opposition: Singapore, representing some Asian countries; Egypt, for the Arab and Muslim states; and finally Barbados, for the Caribbean countries. The Caribbean countries were ferocious … they're tiny, but they put up a fight line-by-line, word-for-word.

At one point, the opponents proposed an amendment to add a paragraph saying that in the name of always defending life, it's also necessary to be against abortion. It was presented by Egypt, in the name of the Arab states. The response came from the Philippines, saying that this is a very important theme, and if there's a consensus we should present a new resolution on this subject, and we will be a co-sponsor. It has nothing to do, however, with this resolution... the Vatican doesn't vote at the UN. Nevertheless, they said the defense of life is an important subject, but exactly for that reason it has to be without exceptions. In substance, the point was that the Holy See doesn't support the way some say, 'We have to abolish the death penalty' but don't care about abortion, and meanwhile those who were now proposing something against abortion were doing so to uphold the death penalty. We shouldn't get into deciding which lives are worth defending. It was a very sharp, well-constructed position, and I thought it was quite clear.

NCR: In the end, what does this result mean?

Marazziti: First of all, the death penalty has officially become a question of human rights. From the point of view of the international community, this is new. … It fixes an official standard of justice without death. Even if it's not obligatory, it creates a moral standard. It will become ever more embarrassing for those countries that still use the death penalty.

NCR: The U.N. passes resolutions all the time that have little practical effect. Isn't it easy to see this as hollow symbolism?

Marazziti: My response is that if this is truly meaningless, then why was there such fierce opposition for 15 years? There was strong, at times almost violent, debate in the hall. The best of the UN were involved, first as individual states and then as groups, going over the resolution line-by-line and word-for-word. It was extremely arduous work. It's hard to imagine so many people would have invested this much time and effort on something that doesn't mean anything.

NCR: So far, most global press coverage of the UN vote has not highlighted the Catholic contribution. In Italy especially, the tendency has been to attribute the outcome to the efforts of the Italian government and various secular humanitarian groups, especially those linked to the Radical Party, which has long campaigned against the death penalty.

On Thursday, L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, carried an interview with Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in the wake of the General Assembly resolution. In part, the interview focused on a perceived lack of recognition for Catholic efforts. Martino suggested that the church's role may be more difficult to appreciate since, for Catholics, the death penalty is part of a continuum of life issues that also features war, employment, and especially abortion.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Another Old Canard Resurfaces

Blacks and Catholics pitted against each other, again...

“The Ignorant Vote—Honors Are Easy” Harper’s Weekly, 1876
Simian representations of southern blacks and northern Irish Catholics,
by Thomas Nast, the man who gave us Santa Claus.

Yeah, I know holding onto perpetual resentments and a sense of victimology can make for wearisome reading, but too bad... I'm feeling irascible this week... ;-)

There was some dark muttering beforehand, but in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's victory in the Pennsylvania Primary, there was suddenly a great deal of talk going around about whether or not Obama had a "Catholic Problem", or more accurately, if Catholics had a problem with Obama's race. Now, as similar results in the Ohio primary showed, Obama does indeed seem to have a "Rust-Belt Problem". Is that the same thing as a "Catholic Problem" based upon racial prejudice? White evangelical southerners didn't turn out for him in great numbers. Was that racial prejudice? Well, maybe that's the unspoken assumption... If women and low income voters go for Hillary in a big way, does any of that get put down to race? Actually, as far as I can tell in looking at the Democratic electorate, a lot of the Clinton/Obama split is based upon age. Younger voters, the most tolerant and non-judgmental in American history, clearly tend towards Obama, and the older voters towards Clinton. Are the older voters accused of racial prejudice? Sorry to sound paranoic, but I think that a certain stereotype persists about the northern Catholic ethnic. Most stereotypes contain a kernel of truth in them, but I think this one is running out of legs, particularly since the Catholic vote in this country, coveted for several decades now as the most critical "swing vote", is so fractured.

A lot of this is familiar to me, perhaps because I went to High School in the same years that the forced busing crisis was roiling Boston and gaining national attention. There is a certain image of Massachusetts, for instance, as a bastion of Democratic Party liberalism. There is also the other image. I wrote about it on this blog's inaugural post:

Then there is the other Massachusetts, or rather, the other image of Boston... Ethnic. Bigoted. Parochial. Insular. Clannish. Rude. Racist. Stand-offish. Unfriendly. Bog-Irish. Catholic.

The busing crisis of the 1970’s left an indelible mark on the city that has been hard to shake, especially when it had been built upon a perception already held.

Back in the NBA heyday, it was a common refrain to hear from Los Angelenos what a racist city Boston was. Unfortunately for us, the glory days of the Celtics ended before the L.A. incidents surrounding Rodney King, Darryl Gates and the LAPD, the riots, and the O.J. Simpson trial fiasco, so we were never able to return the favor in full.

This state went for Clinton easily, but does some of that ethnic lunch-bucket image linger instead upon Catholic Pennsylvanians?

It's sad to see this old African-American vs. Irish Catholic thing raise its head again, as it has at various times in this nation's history. There's no need for it now, and there was no need for it back then. The old Divide-and-Conquer trick usually works to the benefit of someone else.

A smattering of thoughts on this topic from the web...

From Fr. Andrew Greeley:

Catholic racism in Pennsylvania? Seventy-two percent of Catholic Democrats in the heavily Catholic state of Pennsylvania voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton, according to the MSNBC exit polls, and more than half of them said they would not vote for Sen. Barack Obama if he won the nomination. The finding gave me a chill. On the other hand, most Obama voters said they would vote for Clinton if she should win the contest. Is Catholic racism rearing its ugly head again?

I have spent almost a half century monitoring Catholic attitudes in this country. Through the years, Catholics have been ahead of Protestant denominations though behind Jews in measures of racial tolerance and on liberal issues -- including the Vietnam war.

What is happening? Chris Matthews, a native of the Keystone State (poor dear man!), pointed out that many of them might be in neighborhoods where they felt threatened. Abortion does not seem to be an issue in this election, and not many Catholics shape their vote on this issue. Obama did very well in his home city and state among Catholics...

The media commentators operate in a world of cliches and stereotypes -- "blue collar Catholics," "ethnic Catholics," "Reagan Republican Catholics." Either these labels are false or, charitably interpreted, misleading. At their worst, they are exercises in bigotry.

Irish Catholics crossed the line of national college attendance in the first decade of the last century, Polish and Italian Catholics after World War II. Catholics now are above the national average in white-collar and professional class occupations. Some of us are showing up on elite university faculties. Some even on television news programs. There are, of course, many Catholics still in blue-collar jobs, perhaps especially in uncivilized places like Philadelphia and Boston.
(Hey!!) Yet on average Catholics are disproportionately in the middle, upper middle, and even upper levels of American society. It is not Civil War time, and Catholics are not struggling for jobs with blacks as they did in the New York riots.

Research by two first-rate sociologists, Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza, has demonstrated that Catholics remained disproportionately Democrats in the Reagan years, not shifting more than anyone else. It is time to stop using "blue-collar" as a routine descriptor for Catholics. Yet many Democratic leaders are embarrassed to admit that they need Catholic votes to win an election. They are somehow unclean.

It turns out that the three-fifths of Jewish and Protestant Democrats in Pennsylvania also voted against Obama. Is it white racial prejudice in Pennsylvania?

When the Clintons go around telling people that Obama cannot win, they mean a black candidate cannot be elected. The country isn't ready for an African-American president. That's playing the race card as a trump.

From Deal Hudson:

On the heels of his relatively poor showing among Catholic voters, came the remark of well-known Catholic jurist Douglas Kmiec that Obama is a "Catholic natural." Evidently, Catholic voters are slow to recognize him as such. It's hard to blame them when Obama has voted against a law that would have protected a child once it was born and outside the womb -- the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act.

One Catholic blogger labeled Obama the most "Anti-Catholic Presidential Candidate." It's hard to disagree when Obama has a 100 percent pro-abortion rating from NARAL, supports partial-birth abortion, supports spending tax dollars for abortion, voted against notifying parents of minors seeking out-of-state abortions, and supports homosexual marriage.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that Obama was endorsed by one of the nation's leading abortion advocates, Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice. Calling Hillary Clinton "not radical enough on abortion," Kissling praised Obama as the man who could complete "the social transformation that Roe began but did not solidify."

From a blogger calling himself Mister Furious:

It's race. As someone who grew up Catholic in Connecticut with my father's family being Irish Catholic from Boston, and my mother's family Polish Catholic from New York, plus my ten years living in and around NYC among the Italian Catholic community, there is no shortage of, nor subtlety to, the racism among Catholics.Deal Hudson is full of shit (big surprise, right?) and is pretending his church doesn't have a problem with race by blaming regionalism and issues like abortion.Not even counting the supposed reluctance of Latinos (overwhelmingly Catholic) to support black candidates, there is more than enough old-school racism in these tradional Catholic cities, communities and neighborhoods. Abortion need not enter the discussion...

From a blogger named Ron Saunders:

Mr. Barack Obama does not have a Catholic problem. White Catholic voters have a problem with Mr. Obama because he is a Black man. Indeed White Catholics have a malignant racial problem which is much deeper than the candidacy of Barack Obama.

From Cathleen Kaveny on dotcommonweal:

1. The Catholic vote is not monolithic. As EJ Dionne has noted - “Despite a certain convergence of views among Catholics‹a concern for social justice, a collective dedication to the value of the family. Catholics haven’t voted as a bloc since the early 1960s, when they solidly backed America’s one and only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. Catholics’ loyalties are unpredictable and in flux.”

2. Getting to know Senator Obama. Senator Clinton is already well-known to voters. But as voters have come to know Senator Obama, he has been slowly but steadily gaining ground among Catholics, as they come to see who he is and what he stands for. Many Catholics are responding to his vision of the common good and his values on issues such as ending the unjust war in Iraq, providing decent jobs, ensuring affordable healthcare for all, and working for comprehensive immigration reform. Many have also been inspired by his life choices, especially his decision early on to work as a community organizer with parishes in the South Side of Chicago.

The Obama Catholic Advisory list includes:

National Co-Chairs:

Senator Bob Casey

Representative Patrick Murphy (PA-08)

Former Congressman Tim Roemer, President of the Center for National Policy

Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas

Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia

Tom Chabolla, Assistant to the President, Service Employees International Union

Victoria Reggie Kennedy, President, Common Sense About Kids and Guns

Sr. Jamie Phelps, O.P., Director and Professor of Theology, Institute for Black Catholic Studies, Xavier University

Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, Congregation of St. Joseph

National Steering Committee:

Mary Jo Bane, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School

Nicholas P. Cafardi, Catholic Author and Scholar, Pittsburgh, PA

Lisa Cahill, Professor of Theology, Boston College

M. Shawn Copeland, Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College

Ron Cruz, Leadership Development Consultant, Burke, VA

Sharon Daly, Social Justice Advocate, Knoxville, MD

Richard Gaillardetz, Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies, University of Toledo

Grant Gallicho, Associate Editor, Commonweal Magazine

Margaret Gannon, IHM, A Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, PA

Don Guter, Judge Advocate General of the Navy (2000-2002); Rear Admiral, Judge Advocate General's Corps, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Pittsburgh, PA

Cathleen Kaveny, Professor of Law and Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Jim Kesteloot, President and Executive Director, Chicago Lighthouse

Vincent Miller, Associate Professor of Theology, Georgetown University

David O'Brien, Loyola Professor of Catholic Studies at the College of the Holy Cross

Peter Quaranto, Senior Researcher and Conflict Analyst, Resolve Uganda (Notre Dame Class of 2006)

Dave Robinson, International Peace Advocate, Erie, Pennsylvania

Vincent Rougeau, Associate Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame

Fire at the Little Portion Hermitage

I noticed on John Michael Talbot's blog that a fire on April 28th at the Little Portion Hermitage completely destroyed their Common Center and chapel.

Providentially, no one was seriously injured. The Common Center that was lost "housed the community’s primary worship space, storage for audio/concert tour equipment, kitchen, dining rooms, offices, infirmary, classrooms, recreation room, stock room (full of CDs & books), and the library & community archive."

Talbot said:

We lost some most valuable things in the fire. Our community archives were lost and all of the books in our library. The Troubadour stockroom and inventory were lost to the flames. All of the various awards received were melted in the intense heat of the fire...

God gave members various words or locutions. I shared that God is stripping us back to what is really essential to our way of life and that we will rebuild with greater efficiency, but in stone. Someone got the image of Gideon, who was repeatedly told by the Lord that he needed fewer men, but men well-prepared for battle. Another said that she got a word that God is with us through this trial. These served to inspire us and to keep our spirits hopeful and filled with faith, hope, and love. I believe we may have lost some buildings, but He will make us stronger for going through this together.

Here is a link to make donations to a Recovery Fund.