Friday, July 14, 2006

To our French readers

Happy Bastille Day.


Happy Saint Camillus of Lellis Day to everyone else.

Magisterial :D

Ratzinger’s New Team Trains in the Holy Office

ROMA, July 14, 2006 – Benedict XVI’s second summer as pope opened with a lightning visit to Valencia, Spain, and will close with a visit to his native land of Bavaria, from September 9 to 14. He has already announced, after his return to Rome, that his first act of governance will be the change of the secretary of state, with cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (see photo) replacing cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Benedict XVI’s initial plans did not include making the announcement as early as he did, with an official statement last June 22. But the resistance he encountered within the curia convinced him to nip the opposition in the bud.

Bertone is not a career diplomat – as almost all the secretaries of state have been in recent centuries - but he comes from the ranks of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of which he was the secretary from 1995 to 2003. He was the number two man, with Joseph Ratzinger as prefect, and now he is again becoming the main collaborator of the new pope.

It is an historic vindication for the Holy Office. Called by this name until the 1960’s, the congregation was referred to within the Vatican as “la Suprema.” Its highest official was the pope himself, and the rest of the curia hinged upon it.

Signor Sandro of course does his usual work in breaking down what's been going on and filtering it through the lens of history to add perspective. Read it all.

Thoughts on the war

Crisis, no.

War, yes.

The State of Israel has made it plain that it is going to neutralize Hezbollah one way or another. If that means violating what is technically Lebanese territory, then so be it. Of course, it's not /really/ Lebanese sovereign territory if the Lebanese government can't defend it. A government is only /truly/ sovereign when it has a monopoly of force within its borders. And the Lebanese ain't got that at all.

So the Israelis will pound Hezbollah and see about getting its soldiers back before they get sent to Iran via Syria. This leads to the question of if Syria or Iran will get drawn in. It's important to note that a level of aiding and abetting, they're both neck-deep in this affair already. Hezbollah would be just a little militia making some noise along the Israeli border now and then if it had no funding and no material aid from Syria or Iran. The question is if Israel will be content to focus its efforts on Hezbollah in Lebanon only or if it will consider striking targets in Syria or Iran?

If Israel attacked either one, it would not be the end of the world for Israel. As the Arab-Israeli wars taught the region, Israel can wipe the floor with any Arab military force, even if they all attack simultaneously. The Arabs came close in 1973, but Israel still pulled it out. Attacks on Syria and Iran would not lead to a full-scale military confrontation. And let's acknowledge another fact. Israel has the best domestic security in the world as far as identifying and weeding out terrorists who might want to blow themselves up in the middle of a market. Retaliation of that sort would not be a terrible burden on Israel as it could certainly deal with it and cope.

Escalation would take the form of instability around the region as hardcore Arab nationalists/Islamists make a lot of noise and stir up trouble. The principal theater for such trouble to make itself known is of course Iraq.

I don't want to guess how things will play out in that kind of situation.

The Holy See had its usual announcement on the situation:

VATICAN CITY, JUL 14, 2006 (VIS) - Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano today made the following declaration on Vatican Radio:

"The news we are receiving from the Middle East is certainly worrying.

"The Holy Father Benedict XVI and all his collaborators are following with great attention the latest dramatic episodes, which risk degenerating into a conflict with international repercussions.

"As in the past, the Holy See also condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other. Indeed, a State's right to self-defense does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations.

"In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation, and gives assurances of its closeness to those people who have suffered so much in the defense of their own independence.

"Once again, it appears obvious that the only path worthy of our civilization is that of sincere dialogue between the contending parties."

When Cardinal B. comes into office, I sure hope he can come up with some statements that are a bit more interesting than that. The Middle East is going to hell in a handbasket and the Holy See can only reiterate its condemnation of terrorist attacks and military reprisals along with other filler before and after. I don't see any mention of the fact that the Holy See stands with Israel in defending its sovereign borders and independence when terrorists cross the border to attack Israeli soldiers and then kidnap two of them to haul back to Lebanon. Fair is fair, right?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Into the doldrums

Holy Father begins a brief holiday in Valle d'Aosta

VATICAN CITY, JUL 11, 2006 (VIS) - At 10.30 a.m. today, Benedict XVI left Rome by plane and, following an hour-long flight, arrived at the airport of Saint Christophe in the Valle d'Aosta region of northwestern Italy. He then travelled by car to the residence of Les Combes where he will spend a 17-day vacation.

The only two public ceremonies the Pope is due to attend during his vacation are scheduled for July 16 and 23, when he will pray the Angelus from the house in which he is staying. Access to this event is open to everyone, says a communique from the diocese of Aosta, and all those wishing to do so may go to Les Combes to hear the Holy Father and pray with him.

Benedict XVI will stay at Les Combes - located some 20 kilometers from the city of Aosta within the municipality of Introd - until July 28.

Following his vacation in Valle d'Aosta, the Pope will move to his summer residence of Castelgandolfo, 30 kilometers south of Rome, where he will remain until the end of September.

The Pope's next apostolic trip, the fourth since the start of his pontificate, will take him to Germany from September 9 to 14.

Changing of the (news) guard

Father Lombardi, New Holy See Press Office Director

VATICAN CITY, JUL 11, 2006 (VIS) - The Holy Father appointed Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. as director of the Holy See Press Office. Fr. Lombardi was born in Saluzzo, Italy in 1942 and ordained a priest in 1972. He is currently director general of the Vatican Television Center and of Vatican Radio, posts he will continue to hold in his new office.

Benedict XVI accepted the resignation from the office of director of the Holy See Press Office presented by Joaquin Navarro-Valls, thanking him for his long and generous service. Joaquin Navarro-Valls was born in Cartagena, Spain in 1936 and has been director of the Holy See Press Office since 1984.

Father Lombardi issued a letter and Dr. Navarro-Valls a declaration. Both are the usual 'Hi, I'll do my best' and 'Bye, it was great while it lasted' messages.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A bit more about Spain

From Spero News is an interview of Robert Duncan by John Allen about the Spanish situation. The insights into the Zapatero government are illuminating.

[John Allen:] 2. Has Zapatero paid any political price for the various positions of his government that run afoul of the Church?

[Robert Duncan:] That’s an interesting question, if you believe the rumor-mill in journalist circles there are many Socialists who are shaking their head at some of Zapatero’s policies, and indeed alienating some of the more center-left party members – many of who are practicing Catholics. Many of the policies that seemed to go head on with the Church, some people would argue, were based purely on winning swing votes or stealing voters from the more radical left.

I’ll step out a bit here and say that it could be argued that many of the Socialists’ more radical planks in their platform were included, not because they seriously thought they were going to win the elections, but in an attempt to close the gap against the PP with swing voters.

Duncan also talks about the meeting between Benedict and Zapatero at the archbishop's palace and if it qualified as a state meeting:

In fact, there was some local press here that suggested that it wasn’t an official State visit, but that Zapatero insisted that he be allowed to greet the Pope as a head of state. Supposedly the organizers of the World Congress said no, that this was a pastoral visit. (NOTE: There was also a ruckus in February, when a government official originally said the Pope was coming to Spain as a result of a personal invitation from Zapatero) Again, I don’t have the full story on that …. But, if true, then it would suggest that meeting at the archbishop’s palace was an agreed upon compromise to allow Zapatero to save face. Again, I cannot say for sure here, although it does seem strange that the meeting of the two is not to happen in the Valencian autonomous government building, where Pope Benedict is meeting the Spanish Royal family. I can only guess it was a matter of timing and agendas?

When I first read that the Holy Father was going to be meeting Zapatero in the archbishop's palace, my first thought was Benedict's trip to Cologne for World Youth Day and the meetings he had in the archbishop's palace. I don't view an archbishop's palace as a compromise location. Rather it could be said that such a palace of a senior churchman could be considered a mini-Vatican. 'I'm not going to meet you in some government building or in public. We're meeting in the palace of the senior prelate of the Holy Catholic Church.'

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Where we stood/Where we stand

The BBC reports that the General Synod of the Church of England has "approved the concept of women bishops as "theologically justified" by 288 votes to 119."

Last month, Cardinal Kasper addressed (Zenit) the English bishops on what the reaction of Rome would be to the ordination of women to the episcopate.

When such a situation becomes a reality, it is not a purely inner-Anglican matter, but also has consequences for the ecumenical relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. We had invested great hopes and expectations in the Catholic-Anglican dialogue.

Following the historic encounter of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop M. Ramsey on March 24, 1966 [8] -- 40 years ago now -- ARCIC was, together with the Lutheran-Catholic and the Methodist-Catholic dialogues, among the first dialogues we initiated after the Second Vatican Council.

Since that time it has in many respects brought great progress, for which we thank God and all those who have taken part. Thus the meeting of Catholic and Anglican bishops in Toronto-Mississauga (2000) was filled with great hopes.

The progress made relates not least to the question of a shared understanding of ministries. Even in the first phase of dialogue positive results were achieved in this fundamental question, and later we were able to expand upon these gains.[9]

Besides the official dialogue there was a thorough historical and theological discussion of the Bull of Pope Leo XIII, "Apostolicae Curae" (1896) (DS 3315-3319). All of these discussions have not led to a conclusive resolution or to a full consensus, but they achieved a pleasing rapprochement which justifiably aroused promising expectations.[10]

But then the growing practice of the ordination of women to priesthood led to an appreciable cooling-off. A resolution in favor of the ordination of women to the episcopate within the Church of England would most certainly lower the temperature once more; in terms of the possible recognition of Anglican orders, it would lead not only to a short-lived cold, but to a serious and long-lasting chill.

Three provinces within the Anglican Communion have already ordained women to the episcopate; several other provinces have authorized such ordinations, though none have taken place in the latter to this point. These developments already stand as a major obstacle in Anglican-Catholic relations.

But the Catholic Church has always perceived the Church of England as playing a unique role in the Anglican Communion: It is the church from which Anglicanism derives its historical continuity, and with whom the divisions of the 16th century are most specifically addressed; it is the church led by the archbishop of Canterbury who, in the words of the Windsor Report, is " the pivotal instrument and focus of unity" within the Anglican Communion; other provinces have understood being in communion with him as a " touchstone of what it was to be Anglican" (99); finally, it is the church which we in continental Europe directly associate with Anglicanism, in part because of your many Church of England chaplaincies spread throughout the continent.

For us, the Church of England is not simply one province among others; its decisions have a particular importance for our dialogue, and give a strong indication of the direction in which the Communion as a whole is heading.

Because the episcopal office is a ministry of unity, the decision you face would immediately impact on the question of the unity of the Church and with it the goal of ecumenical dialogue. It would be a decision against the common goal we have until now pursued in our dialogue: full ecclesial communion, which cannot exist without full communion in the episcopal office.

Such a decision broadly taken within the Anglican Communion would mean turning away from the common position of all churches of the first millennium, that is, not only the Catholic Church but also the ancient Eastern and the Orthodox churches.

It would, in our view, further call into question what was recognized by the Second Vatican Council (Unitatis Redintegratio, 13), that the Anglican Communion occupied " a special place" among churches and ecclesial communities of the West. We would see the Anglican Communion as moving a considerable distance closer to the side of the Protestant churches of the 16th century. It would indeed continue to have bishops, according to the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888); but as with bishops within some Protestant churches, the older churches of East and West would recognize therein much less of what they understand to be the character and ministry of the bishop in the sense understood by the early church and continuing through the ages.

Above all we could unite in joint prayer and pray for one another. All of that is, God knows, not negligible. But the loss of the common goal [the restoration of Church communion] would necessarily have an effect on such encounters and rob them of most of their élan and their internal dynamic. Above all -- and this is the most painful aspect -- the shared partaking of the one Lord's table, which we long for so earnestly, would disappear into the far and ultimately unreachable distance. Instead of moving towards one another we would co-exist alongside one another.

For many that may seem a more realistic path than what we have attempted previously, but whether it is in accordance with the binding last will and testament of Jesus, "that all may be one" (John 17: 21) is of course another question. The answer would have to be in the negative.

I ask you: Is that what we want? Are we permitted to do that? Should we not ponder what Cyprian tells us, namely that the seamless robe of Jesus Christ cannot be possessed by those who tear apart and divide the church of Christ ("De catholicae ecclesiae unitate," 1,6)?

In 1896, Pope Leo XIII declared in the Bull Apostolicae Curae that Anglican orders were in fact invalid for a number of reasons. Wikipedia's article on Apostolic Succession (which we take with a grain of salt always) notes that the decision was reaffirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger in a commentary accompanying the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam Fidem which added "new norms which expressly impose the obligation of upholding truths proposed in a definitive way by the Magisterium of the Church, and which also establish related canonical sanctions."

In his commentary, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, "With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations..."


The Church of Sweden's apostolic succession is seen by the Roman Catholic Church as having been maintained, and following the establishment of the Porvoo Communion an increasing number of Anglicans will also be able to trace their succession through Swedish bishops as well as Old Catholic bishops, whose holy orders are recognized as valid by Rome and who, at least those of the Union of Utrecht, are in full communion with Canterbury since the Bonn Agreement of 1931. It should also be noted that since the issuance of Apostolicae Curae, many Anglican jurisdictions have revised their ordinals, bringing them more in line with ordinals emanating from the early Church.

It is hard to say just where exactly the Church of England's succession is in the tangled web of validity. For certain, the ancient English succession (according to Rome) is long dead. The efforts made to change the Ordinal back to something more acceptable and to be consecrated by those bishops whose orders Rome still recognizes as valid makes a show of fixing things to some degree, but the entire situation remains murky.

At the very least, the decision by the General Synod of the Church of England that the ordination of women is 'theologically justified' does tend to clear the water quite a bit.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Espana in turmoil

The Church-state debate | Sur

Perhaps the biggest of these issues is the new education law that makes the teaching of religion in Spanish state schools non-obligatory. Curiously, teachers of religion in Spanish state schools have traditionally been hired by the Church, and mostly paid by the state. This is clearly a means by which the Church can exercise control over who can and cannot teach religion in schools, and the Church would dearly love to hold onto this right. On the other side is the state, which, especially under Socialist government control, sees itself as having the right to appoint all teachers in state schools. The issue is, quite simply, a pot waiting to boil over. As one senior Churchman says: “The educational system is one of the worst things that is happening to Spanish society.”

The Minister for Justice, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, believes that the present financing system is unsustainable, and has initiated a revision of the 2007 budget aimed at “adjusting and updating” the system, as he puts it. The perfect system would clearly be self-supporting, but this is a long way down the line for the Spanish Church. The bishops are demanding an increase in the percentage of income tax that can be designated to the Church (from 0.52 to 0.80 per cent), but agreement on this has still not been reached. Involved in the negotiations are the director of Religious Affairs Mercedes Rico, and the manager of the Episcopal Conference (the highest Church body in the land), Fernando Giménez Barriocanal. Last week, in a seminar on ‘Laity as the road to liberty’, the most radical sectors of the PSOE party spoke out against the privileges of the Spanish Church, proposing greater neutrality on the part of the state with regard to Church financing.

During the most difficult moments of the negotiations with the Church representatives, the vice-president of the Government, María Teresa Fernández, used the threat of partial withdrawal of government support for the Church as a weapon. She had taken over direct control of Church/state relations on assuming office, and made an unexpected visit to the Vatican on 12 November 2005 to complain in person to Cardinal Angelo Sodano about the treatment her government was receiving from the Church-owned radio station in Spain, La Cope.

Forget about gay marriage or all the biological issues (sex change on the government dime, invitro, etc.). It comes down to who gets to teach what and who gets how many euros.

There are Hindus who believe in Jesus...

Do nationalist Hindus force them to convert back to Hinduism?

When I was in my different religion classes while on my way to getting my BA in religious studies, Hinduism was mentioned now and again. I was not into eastern religions all that much, so I never learned about the details of Hinduism, but Professor Aslan mentioned it a few times and he explained a bit about it.

1. There is no monolithic Hindu faith. There are hundreds, if not thousands of little sects that are lumped under the collective term of Hinduism by us Westerners.

2. These sects vary widely, from the usual Hindu stuff to belief in Jesus Christ while still in the 'Hindu' milieu to even outright atheism (if I remember right).

3. After millennia of these various forms living together in peace, it is just now in the last few years that the militant Hindu nationalists have begun putting together a singular Hindu faith that lives up to the Western stereotype.

This cursory knowledge adds a little context when reading through Sandro Magister's latest on the violence against Christians in India.

ROMA, July 7, 2006 – The latest annual report on religious liberty in the world issued by Aid to the Church in Need, which was presented on June 27, indicates India as one of the countries in which “Christian missionary activity is the target of systematic violence that even reaches the point of homicide, as in the case of the Catholic priest Fr. Agnos Bara, and of the Protestant pastor Gilbert Raj.” And it denounces the “increasingly numerous anti-conversion laws adopted in various Indian states.”

Benedict XVI is aware of all of this. And he wants the world to know it, too. Last May 18, while receiving the new Indian ambassador to the Holy See, Amitava Tripathi, he called the attention of the government he represents back to this issue.

But the anti-Christian act that provoked the greatest outrage was, on June 25, the aggression against four sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in a hospital of the Hindu temple town of Tirupati, in Andra Pradesh, a state in which there is no anti-conversion law in force.

The four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity – Maria Julia, Chriselda, Emma Felesia, and Reena Francis – had come to the hospital to assist the sick, as they have done every Sunday for years, with the permission of the authorities. Surrounded by a crowd of 300 persons, including news broadcasters, and accused of converting the dying through coercion, they were held hostage until the arrival of the police, who placed the sisters under arrest.

They were freed, late in the evening, by the prime minister of the state, upon the request of the archbishop of Hyderabad, Marampudi Joji. The following day, the archbishop held a press conference together with non-Catholic representatives of the Christian Federation of Andra Pradesh. The sisters were authorized to resume their apostolate, and a judicial investigation was begun into the organizers of the attack. The Hindu fundamentalists, the archbishop said, “are pointing to the bogeyman of conversions to discredit our chief minister, who is Christian, and to bring down his government.”

The subcontinent has always been a place of extremes living side by side. With over a billion Indians, it is the world's largest democracy. At the same time, the world's largest democracy tolerates religious violence in a way that threatens its standing in thw world.

If the Hindu nationalists and their allies in the state governments were persecuting Muslims (13.4% of the population), they'd find themselves probably in a civil war and possibly a nuclear one with Pakistan.

On the other hand, we have a quote from Cardinal Dias:

“Christians in India number only 2.3% of the total population: of these 1.8% belong to the Catholic Church. Despite being such a tiny minority, the Christians cater to 20% of all the primary education in the country, 10% of the literacy and community health care programmes, 25% of the care of the orphans and widows, and 30% of the care of the handicapped, lepers and AIDS patients. The vast majority of those who avail themselves of these institutions belong to faiths other than Christian.”

In a country of 1.1 billion, 2.3% a relative drop in the bucket and those people make good targets, what with their charitable visibility.

These trends tell us a bit about where India is going. The Christians of India will no doubt persevere either in life or in death, as the Holy Spirit is with them. But this kind of situation holds broader geopolitical elements that should be considered when dealing with the situation.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Spanish schedule

From CWN (subscription needed):

July 8: Saturday
0930: Depart from Rome.

1130: Arrive in Valencia and greeting by the King and Queen of Spain.

Next: Trip to the cathedral with a stop at the train crash site for wreath-laying and prayer.

Then: Arrival at the cathedral for a ceremony with the mayor and then a meeting with the clergy and religious and after, a speech will be delivered to the Spanish bishops.

After: Travel to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Leaving for meeting with the relatives of those who died in the train crash; then outside the Angelus.

Rest Period: Archbishop's palace.

In the afternoon/evening: Meeting with the King and Queen and then the PM.

2030: First appearance at the World Meeting for Families, speech.

July 9: Sunday
Mass: 1 million, King and Queen present. Then the Angelus, then a meeting with the leader of the opposition.

1230: Ceremony at the airport, depart for Rome.

1530: Arrival in Rome.

Go home, people!

On Christianity in Lebanon:

Fr Nassif said that Christianity in Lebanon remained strong despite widespread emigration. The priest, who works for ACN’s French branch, said that out of Lebanon’s entire population of some 4.4 million, about 3.5 million are Lebanese by birth, half of which are Christians. He added that, due to emigration, the Lebanese diaspora totals some 16 million, about 80 percent of which are Christians.

Many Lebanese Christians belong to the Maronite Catholic Rite. Others are split among Orthodox Churches and other Rites united to the Roman Church. A small portion of Lebanese are also Protestant.

If those numbers are correct, then 12.8 million Christians could go home and completely dominate the political scene in Lebanon... Allow me to daydream about this prospect... A Jewish state and a Christian state along the coast of the Mediterranean, both democratic... Okay, I'm done.

Of course, it's not likely that almost 13 million people are going to leave their lives wherever they are to pack up and move back to the homeland. But on a hypothetical level, the ramifications of that kind of move are fun to think about.

Bearing witness together

Patriarch Alexy calls Roman Catholic Church to cooperation

Moscow, July 6, Interfax - Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia has once again stated the need for Orthodox-Catholic cooperation.

‘I would like to emphasize once again that Orthodox-Catholic cooperation is especially needed today when our two Church are expected to bear common witness to Christian values and to meet challenges brought about the modern world’, the patriarch said during his meeting with Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president emeritus of the Pontifical Councils For the Justice and Peace and Cor Unum, in Moscow.

The cardinal attended the World Summit of Religious Leaders as member of the Roman Catholic delegation.

Having expressed his agreement with Alexy II’s position, Cardinal Etchegaray pointed to the importance of contacts between representatives of Christian Churches and world religions and their dialogue with secular society and political circles, the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate has reported on Thursday.

‘A know that once on the top of power, politicians feel very lonely, even if they have been elected in a democratic procedure’, the cardinal said.

Pretty average stuff. Nothing earth-shattering. The quote from the cardinal is interesting though. Leaders are alone. I wonder though what kings back in olden days thought about being alone when they considered themselves the instruments of God in ruling their kingdoms.

God is love (and stay the hell outta politics!)

The Sun Star of Manila has this article:

THE Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will dissect the encyclical issued by Pope Benedict XVI which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo claimed as prohibiting clergymen from meddling in the politics.

Fr. Juanito Figura, secretary general of the CBCP, said the bishops have decided to discuss in their three-day retreat "Deus Caritas Est," the church doctrine, which the Pope gave to President Arroyo during her visit to the Vatican last week. The bishops' assembly started last Tuesday.

The article goes on to detail the latest political goings-on in the Philippines. The interesting thing is that Mrs. Arroyo thinks an encyclical about love has a political element... So tell me, did I miss that or is it really in there? I'm going to reread and look for what Her Excellency says is in there...

God is love (and stay the hell outta politics!)

The Sun Star of Manila has this article:

THE Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will dissect the encyclical issued by Pope Benedict XVI which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo claimed as prohibiting clergymen from meddling in the politics.

Fr. Juanito Figura, secretary general of the CBCP, said the bishops have decided to discuss in their three-day retreat "Deus Caritas Est," the church doctrine, which the Pope gave to President Arroyo during her visit to the Vatican last week. The bishops' assembly started last Tuesday.

The article goes on to detail the latest political goings-on in the Philippines. The interesting thing is that Mrs. Arroyo thinks an encyclical about love has a political element... So tell me, did I miss that or is it really in there? I'm going to reread and look for what Her Excellency says is in there...

Monday, July 03, 2006

Much loved but underfunded

Last August, I posted about the Grotto of the Redemption, the artificial stone grottoes constructed by the parish priest of Ss. Peter and Paul and then his assistant that detail the death and resurrection of Christ among other events from the Bible.

Today in the Sioux City diocese paper, I read this story about recent chronic budget shortfalls for the Grotto.

"In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005, we lost $45,000," he noted. "This year we were at a shortfall of $28,700 through May 31- so with June revenues we may end the year with not a big loss. We anticipate losing $15,000 to $20,000 this year. Our estimated budget for next year has a deficit of about $30,000 so it is time to call the question: Can we continue to keep operating at a deficit and if so, who will make up that deficit?"

While the future is uncertain, he said the one known factor is that they cannot keep operating at a loss. Through the years, the diocese has loaned about $260,000 to the Grotto. He acknowledged that some of those funds were used to remodel the restaurant.

The Office of Stewardship and Development for the diocese helped the Grotto coordinate a capital campaign in 1999 to secure funds for the restoration of the Grotto.

"One of the things that was happening is that we were not spending money to maintain it," said Ranniger. "The rosettes and rocks were not being sealed properly. The weather takes a toll on it."

He acknowledged that people have had a false sense of security that the Grotto would always be there. Many people also erroneously perceived it as a moneymaker for the parish/diocese.

"We felt it was important to tell the real story. Sometimes when we share the story, people will step forward and they may say that they don't want to lose the Grotto," said Ranniger.

He mentioned that one of the Grotto's biggest struggles has been with the attendance. In the 1950s and 60s, the Grotto had about 100,000 visitors a year. In recent years, attendance is at about 40,000 to 45,000. Since most of the revenue comes from free-will donations, the decline in visitors has hit hard.

"It used to be families came here several times a year. Now, we're lucky if people come once every 10 years," said Miller. "People have always been busy, however, there are so many more things for people to do, see and be involved in today."

She mentioned that many times people think that taking a pilgrimage has to be to far away places such as Rome or Lourdes and they don't consider things close to home.

"If you need a place to seek inspiration, spiritual renewal or a strengthening of faith, the Grotto may be just what the doctor ordered. In May, of the 3,500 people who visited, 34 states and 19 foreign countries were represented along with 1,200 school children from 36 schools," noted Miller.

For Ranniger, he acknowledged that his greatest challenge is the need to look at the big picture concerning ministries and challenges of the diocese. He equated it to looking at the family budget and trying to categorize things as wants and needs.

"Another side of me does say that the work and energy that Father Dobberstein put into the Grotto is immense. This shrine does have significance to the diocese," he said.

His heart wants to support this cause, but the business background in him tells him it is time to ask the tough questions.

So the basic point of this post is to urge all of you out there to consider stopping off and visiting the Grotto in West Bend, IA. Don't forget to slip a $20-bill in the donations box. :)

If you've never been there before, seeing it for the first time is an amazing experience. For me personally, everytime I make it back, the wonder at the endeavors and faith of Father Dobberstein and his assistant/successor Father Greving never loses its power.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A few things this Saturday

Sandro Magister has a commentary on the Ss. Peter and Paul homily and then the full text in English.

I'm gone this weekend into next week, as the fourth is the principal holiday of the US civic religion (such as it is...). I'll leave with two quotes...

Pacem in Terris (1963) - John XXIII

But first We must speak of man's rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life...

Declaration of Independence (1776) - Thomas Jefferson

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.