Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Light Flickers

This morning, The Drudge Report's headline is "Pope Health Concerns."  The actual article makes no claim that HH is suffering from any health problems besides fatigue from a grueling schedule and advacing years.  Which is natural and as intended.

The article mentions that in the past, HH ha indicated resignation is preferable when one is physically, mentally or spiritually unable to discharge their duties. Also mentioned are potential downsides of resignation, such as setting a precedent that future Pope's might be pressured follow or perhaps causing fissures by the existance of two living Popes at the same time.

These are legitimate concerns, to be sure.  But I am more concerned with simple continuity.  There is so much work to be done.  And I believe the present Holy Father is the best man to do it.  Please, pray for the Holy Father, that God strengthen him to continue to do his work.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

EF in Afpak

A blogging colleague contacted me this morning with the following:

Good morning everyone.

Sorry for the mass email but I'd appreciate you taking a look at this and putting it on your blog, writing about it or, simply, emailing it around if you don't have a blog or paper to write for.

These pics show something I feel is simply incredible for so many reasons -- the Traditional Latin Mass being prayed in Afghanistan.

Please consider doing anything you can to tell this story. It's one that deserves to be told:

Afpak of course refers to the Afghanistan-Pakista theater of operations. Click on the link and check it out. Be sure to pray for the Pour Souls of the Society.

Friday, July 29, 2011


We've joined Twitter. Down the right sidebar there is a button to click to follow us @VaticanWatcher. Please do so if you're so inclined.

The 2005 Conclave Diary

A couple of days ago, Father Z posted about a story by the Italian Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli at the Italian daily La Stampa.

Tornielli's story is about excerpts from a diary supposedly written during the 2005 conclave in which Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope, the excerpts published in the Italian journal Limes.

I am not going to recapitulate the details of Tornielli's story given Father Z has already done so. Reading Father Z's post, I was instantly reminded of something I had read a number of years ago about Limes publishing a diary recording the very same event, the 2005 conclave. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I cited Limes' original story in the past in the sidebar in my list of papabili. I couldn't find anything in my archive, so I checked out Sandro Magister and found his original story on the subject from 2005, "The Vatican Codes: This Is How I Rewrite My Conclave". I'm not going to rehash what Magister wrote back then beyond his point that the diary had too many inaccuracies to have come from a true-blue cardinal.

So we have Tornielli's recent story of Limes publishing excerpts from a diary on the conclave and we have my remembrances and Magister's analysis of Limes publishing excerpts from a diary on the conclave. Comparing the details of what the diary said in Tornielli's story to those from Magister make it clear to me that the Limes diary cited by Tornielli is the same as the one from long ago.

Why is Andrea Tornielli bringing up an article from six years ago about a diary that one of the most eminent of his colleagues showed to be most likely fake, a clumsy attempt to undermine the new pope's support?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Poor Timing

Magister has this article up today about Cardinal Bertone's efforts to secure control of two hospitals in Italy to build a Catholic medical hub. One of them is already controlled by the Italian bishops' conference and is basically a turf war over who gets to be on the board.

The other hospital, the San Raffaele, Magister describes as follows:

The San Raffaele is a massive, cutting-edge medical center, founded and headed in Milan by a priest, Luigi Maria Verzé, which does not, however, have anything in its statutes binding it to the Church, nor much that is Catholic in what it does.

Suffice it to say that artificial fertilization, which is condemned by the Church, is practiced there, and that in its highly modern laboratories experiments are conducted without any regard for the ethical criteria affirmed by the magisterium.

Not only that. In the connected Università Vita-Salute, dedicated to humanistic studies, philosophy, theology and scientific subjects are taught by professors who are in glaring contrast with the Catholic vision, from Emanuele Severino to Massimo Cacciari, from Roberta De Monticelli to Vito Mancuso, from Edoardo Boncinelli to Luca Cavalli-Sforza.

Fr. Verzé himself has repeatedly worried the Catholic hierarchy, with statements that could be taken as supporting euthanasia or the use of embryos.

Bertone's offer to take the San Raffaele, which is on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to its massive debt to the tune of a billion euros:

The IOR said that it was ready to provide 200 million euros immediately, while one billion over 3-5 years would be guaranteed by an international "charity" still shrouded in mystery (the financier George Soros has denied being part of the deal).

In exchange, Cardinal Bertone has demanded seats on the administrative board of the Mount Tabor Foundation, which governs the entire complex, of four of his proteges...

I am going to take a wild stab in the dark and guess that the "charity" to be named is the holding company of the Legion of Christ with its billions now under the control of a papal delegate.

The head priest Fr. Verzé is willing to accept the offer as long as he can expand the board and appoint two of his own men who will counter Bertone's people.

Magister says that it will all be decided in the next few days. He also notes that the character of the San Raffaele was only discussed for the first time a few days ago!

What he conceived of as an "epochal revolution" thus threatens, if not stopped in time, to turn into a costly and disastrous boomerang.

Because rebuilding from the ground up, on Catholic foundations, a complex like the San Raffaele, which has never been Catholi, is simply an impossible undertaking.

Now this story of Bertone's adventures in taking control of hospitals is interesting in itself to me. What makes it more interesting is that the secretary of state is willing to spend 200 million on a hospital and university in Italy right now.

Read here: "Hopeless, But Not Serious: Once Again", by David Goldman. He has a nice graph of population in a key demographic for several southern European countries including Italy.

The present crisis can and will be papered over, because there is no reason not to paper it over, and for the moment, there is plenty of fat to be cut from European government budgets. In ten or fifteen years, the budget knife will cut bone. Italy’s population is on the cusp of a tumble.

My conclusion: there is no reason to panic over the present kerfluffle, but there is no reason to own any exposure to southern Europe. Ever again.

Goldman's assessment rings true to me. Its lesson and the fact pointed out at the very end of Magister's article go well together: Bertone is on a fool's errand for more reasons than one.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


This last Thursday, we took off for a day trip up to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Thursday ended up being an excellent day to go as it was cloudy, breezy, and cool. The high was 75 degrees for the day. We made it to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The shrine was founded in the mid to late 90s by His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke back when he was bishop of La Crosse. After turning off the main highway, we followed the road to the entrance drive to the shrine and on to the parking lot next to the visitors center. Going inside, we looked around and after obtaining a map of the complex, we decided to ride up to the top rather t walk it as it would have been a good hike, taking time we didn't have. So we and I think another person got on the golf cart with the driver and took off.

From the parking lot, one can see the visitors center and above it the candle chapel. The cart took us up the path, which was out in the open up through the first switchback and then to the chapel. We picked up another man there and then went on our way up as the path became shrouded in trees. Along the way were memorials and benches for resting, but our cart kept going up to the shrine church.

The inside of the church is pretty impressive. Here are a couple of pictures to get an idea.

The sanctuary

Down the nave

After that, we decided to hike back down the hill since a ride back down required four and we were only three. Along the way, we stopped at the candle chapel and then the visitors center before heading back home. An interesting coincidence is that we headed south and ended up driving past the Dickeyville Grotto. It will have to wait for another trip.

Friday, May 20, 2011

B16: Close in prayer to the Church in China

TUESDAY, 24 MAY, IS dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai: the whole Church joins in prayer with the Church in China. There, as elsewhere, Christ is living out his passion. While the number of those who accept him as their Lord is increasing, there are others who reject Christ, who ignore him or persecute him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). The Church in China, especially at this time, needs the prayers of the universal Church. In the first place, therefore, I invite all Chinese Catholics to continue and to deepen their own prayers, especially to Mary, the powerful Virgin. At the same time all Catholics throughout the world have a duty to pray for the Church in China: those members of the faithful have a right to our prayers, they need our prayers.

AFP: China calls for Vatican ‘actions’

CHINA YESTERDAY CALLED FOR “concrete actions” from the Vatican to help improve relations, after Pope Benedict XVI urged Chinese bishops to resist pressure from Beijing and stay true to Rome.

“We hope that the Vatican can be clearly aw of the fact that China practises freedom of religious belief and of the continuous development of China’s Catholic Church,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

Ms Jiang added that Beijing hoped the Vatican would “create conditions for the development of China-Vatican relations through concrete actions”.

CNS: Doctrinal congregation: Small Vatican office has broad reach

A nice look at the daily operations of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with brief descriptions of its most recent work.

ARTINFO: New Pope Statue "Bombs" in Rome, Angry Vatican Art Critics Say

WHILE THE CULTURE COMMISSION of the Vatican originally approved sketches of the sculpture, it is now arguing that the "mantle almost looks like a sentry box, topped by a head of a pope which comes off too roundish." L'Osservatore Romana, the main Vatican newspaper, described the statue as looking like it had been exploded by a "violent gash, like a bomb" had struck. According to the Associated Press, various passersby have even noted that the Rainaldi's artwork rather resembles Italy's former dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The End

Tonight it was announced by the president that Osama bin Laden met his end today thanks to US special forces who tracked him down to a mansion not far from the capital city of Pakistan.

Mr. bin Laden, may God have mercy upon your soul.

May Intentions

VATICAN CITY, 30 APR 2011 (VIS) - Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for May is: "That those working in communication media may respect the truth, solidarity, and dignity of all people ".

His mission intention is: "That the Lord may help the Church in China persevere in fidelity to the Gospel and grow in unity".

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Beatification of the Venerable John Paul II

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday. It's still Saturday here in the central United States, but over in Rome, it's dark and the ceremonies will be getting underway in a few hours. In checking Wikipedia to make sure I am spelling 'beatification' right, I see that the Holy Father's article has already been updated, granting him the title of 'blessed'!

Tomorrow the Holy Father will be beatified and will be only one step away from sainthood. The cause for the canonization of the Holy Father has been a contentious one and especially so now that the penultimate step is here. The five-year waiting period before any cause could begin was waived in his case, this beginning early what was already a shortened process due to the reforms instituted by John Paul himself.

Stipulating John Paul's personal holiness, the question boils down to what is the vocation of the supreme pontiff? Is it to be a teacher? An administrator? A combination of the two? This blog is of course about the Vatican and the business of governing the Church, right or wrong. With that viewpoint in mind, it's hard to ignore John Paul's deficiencies as an administrator. I do agree with those who say that electing bishops can be a crap shoot and that the Holy Father did as well as he could in promoting better men over time to help right the Church. At the same time though, his choices for his personal assistants in Rome cannot be ignored. First and foremost, there was Ratzinger. Much can be forgiven thanks to the astute choice of the German as prefect of CDF. On the other hand, there is Cardinal Sodano at the Secretariat of State and others like him who are not so easy wave off as outliers.

The wide acclamation following John Paul's death is not to be ignored, but at the same time, would five years of waiting have hurt his cause if it was truly meant to be? There is much out there waiting to see a final resolution that bears heavily upon John Paul II's legacy as the vicar of Christ. I don't doubt that John Paul II walks with the angels, but for us men and women on earth, prudence is a virtue.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Mass is in three hours here (or four if you want to go to the EF). Happy Easter to both East and West!

Monday, April 04, 2011

A New Voice in the Holy See's China Policy

Sandro Magister's latest piece talks about the recent events in the People's Republic of China and the new secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Archbishop Savio Hon Taifai. Magister includes a translated interview of the archbishop with Avvenire.

The two sides are manned principally by Father Jerome Heyndrickx and Cardinal Zen. The former takes a compromising approach and the later not so much. Magister sees Hon as occupying a position that is much closer to that of the cardinal's than Heyndricks, though Archbishop Hon is not in lockstep with Zen. Reading the interview provided, Archbishop Hon's answers are on the whole prudent and level-headed.

More to come, I'm sure.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Flashpoint: Azerbaijan

This is an interesting blog post by David Goldman, also known as Spengler of Asia Times Online.

He has a quote from Bloomberg News on how Iran is beaming Azeri-language programming to its neighbor in a bid to destabilize the pro-western government. Goldman mentions as well the fault lines of Azeri society and how they reflect the larger lines in the Middle East. Two-thirds of Azeris are Shi'ites, like Iran, and Azerbaijan has historically been known as northern Persia. But Azeris are ethnically Turkic and are viewed by Sunni Turkey as its own ancestral backyard.

At the political current events blog I read, Hot Air, a lot has been made lately of Turkey's drift towards Islamism and Iran. But in his blog post, Goldman sees rather that Azerbaijan is the wedge between the two and Turkey is moving into alignment with the likes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in a bid to counter Iranian ambitions.

Goldman's conclusion is rather pessimistic:

But it is not surprising that the oil price should keep rising. The United States government is in the hands of a clique of amateurs like Samantha Power and Susan Rice, human-rights romantics without a clue about the real power relationships, while the ground has shifted under the regimes of the Middle East. Iran’s ambitions are the main concern in Riyadh and Ankara, and the weakness of the Assad regime in Syria–Iran’s main regional ally–make the situation very tippy indeed.

Friday, April 01, 2011

RIP: Father Dietzen

Aside from the usual local stories, the pastoral columns, and the national and international news (along with the opinion page that I hardly ever read), my diocesan newspaper carries the question and answer column by Father John Dietzen.

I got my newspaper today in the mail today and saw on the back page the CNS obituary of Father Dietzen, who passed away on March 27.

I like to pretend I'm up on the Catholic faith, but even when I don't agree with points of his answers, he always has interesting and educational points and his column is one of the principal features of the paper I look forward to each week. Hopefully CNS has a few more to run and hopefully Father's replacement will be as informative.

"Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his souls and the souls of all the Faithful departed rest in peace. Amen."

April Intentions

VATICAN CITY, 31 MAR 2011 (VIS) - Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for April is: "That through its compelling preaching of the Gospel, the Church may give young people new reasons for life and hope".

His mission intention is: "That by proclamation of the Gospel and the witness of their lives, missionaries may bring Christ to those who do not yet know Him".

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Happy St. Patrick's Day.

In case you didn't know, in Iowa at the midterm elections of 2010 the portion of justices who were up on the ballot for retention were voted out. Normally in Iowa, the vote is just a formality and justices are kept on, but in this case, the Iowa Supreme Court had legalized homosexual marriage in the state, an unpopular move that generated a campaign to vote no for retention.

In the days after the election, many arguments were made about Iowa voters interfering with the Court, politicizing the bench, and taking away judicial independence. The obvious reply is that if voters aren't supposed to have any say on keeping or sending off justices, why does the Iowa Constitution give them that right?

So today I got my copy of the local diocesan paper in the mail. In it was the usual column by Father McBrien and his subject was Archbishop Dolan being elected to the presidency of the USCCB instead of the vice president, Bishop Kicanas. It's costumary for the vice president to succeed, so Dolan's election was a break with tradition. Father McBrien drew parallels between the rise of the Tea Party in US politics and the slow conservative drift of the US episcopal conference and then the world at large.

McBrien obviously has his opinion on where the Church is headed and he's entitled to it. I just want to reply: if the bishops weren't supposed to choose anyone else except the vice present, why bother having the vote?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japanese Earthquake: 8.9!

All you Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan, intercede for your people in their time of struggle.

Let us pray to Our Lady of Akita that she will watch over and pray for the people of Japan.


Friday, March 04, 2011

The Knights of Columbus

This past Sunday I joined the Knights of Columbus. I had been thinking about it for a number of years. Several years ago, I received an application form during a previous recruitment drive, but for various reasons didn't get around to going any further. At Mass the previous few weeks, a gentleman spoke after Communion and information was handed out after the Dismissal. An email address was provided as a point of contact for interested parties and that more than anything helped me follow through this time around.

That was last week. I met with my point of contact last week and received information on how things would work given my disability (booklets were provided for me to read through and a helper helped me keep my place). The gentleman was very friendly and helpful and this put me at ease.

Sunday came around; I got up early and got ready to go, dressing in my suit. My brother drove me out to the family center of the parish council and I was ushered into a front office where I waited with several other gentlemen who there to be inducted with me. All were friendly and while others talked, I got a chance to look at some of the religious prints on the office walls. One of the knights came in and explained a few things to us (I followed along in one of the provided booklets). Then it was time to go inside for the 1st Degree exemplification.

After it was over, pizza was served and I met a few of my fellows. Then it was time to go. I met my brother in the parking lot and we set out for a nearby church where the 2nd and 3rd Degree exemplifications were slated to take place. Once we got there, I went inside and was vouched for by one of my fellows from my council. Then I went to wait with even more men who were from the different parishes of the city. Once more, things got under way and afterward food was served.

I learned a lot and I'm looking forward to helping my fellows and getting to know them better while helping my parish and community with other practical Catholic men.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

March Intentions

VATICAN CITY, 1 MAR 2011 (VIS) - Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for March is: "That the nations of Latin America may walk in fidelity to the Gospel and progress in justice and peace".

His mission intention is: "That the Holy Spirit may give light and strength to those in many regions of the world who are persecuted and discriminated against because of the Gospel".


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Personal Note

Hello, brothers and sisters in Christ, and other friends of the blog.

Please pray for me, that the outpatient procedure I had today will prove to be a success.

God bless.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

February Intentions

VATICAN CITY, 1 FEB 2011 (VIS) - Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for February is: "That all may respect the family and recognise it for its unmatched contribution to the advancement of society".

His mission intention is: "That Christian communities may witness to the presence of Christ in serving those who suffer from disease in those mission territories where the fight against disease is most urgent".


Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Review: Sapporo Winter Olympics

Sapporo Winter Olympics (札幌オリンピック) (1972)
by Masahiro Shinoda

It's in the previous post, but I'll embed it here again for those who find this individual post through searching.

From the only review at, by a C. Weinstein of Los Angeles:

If this DVD represents the documentary "Sapporo Winter Olympics" by Masahiroo Shinoda, it is probably one of the best that came out of Japan in the 1970's. Extremely difficult to find on video, this film is as much about a meditation on discipline and on pure atmosphere as it is a coverage of the 1972 winter games. Each section has its own rhythm and flows effortlessly into subsequent scenes. Narration is almost completely absent for most of the film, the director preferring you to experience the feeling of cold weather that practically chills you from the screen and the determination on the part of many entrants gunning for a chance to make their mark.

If you like pure atmosphere in a film or are just looking for a good documentary about the 1972 Sapporo Olympics I highly recommend finding a copy of this.

The clip is all of three minutes and thirty-five seconds, but it is amazing how it captures all the points listed in Mr. Weinstein's review. It is absolutely atmospheric and a meditation. When I first watched it yesterday, I thought to myself at first that it was some kind of extremely stylistic film portraying fictional characters, starting with the opening shot showing the lone building against a bleak, empty sky and then moving on to the bird's-eye view of the skater alone on the ice and going from there. The katakana characters only added to the feeling of foreignness. Only during my reading of the commets at YouTube did I discover that the clip is from the documentary by the noted Japanese director.

The clip has that quality that so often is found in photos and films of that period that is hard to describe. It's detailed and focused, yet subdued. without the rich colors one today associates with digital film.

The action is simple, three different ladies skating around and judges judging the figures left behind. I think only a Japanese director, with his attention to nuance and unspoken expression, could capture with such detail the emotions evident. The first skater is calm, collected, disciplined and confident. The second skater is uncertain and hesitant. Shinoda captures this by showing both her facial expression and her posture before starting as she stands there before beginning her figure. The crowd looks nervous. She begins tentatively and looks wobbly. This is followed by close-ups of two of the judges, judging, watching, commenting as they examine everything.

Like I said, it's barely over three and a half minutes, but it is captivating. It reminded me immediately of Tarkovsky's Solaris, especially the prewiew shot of the second skater, standing there with her short blond hair. It looks surreal.

I need to find this documentary.

Visiting The Dead: Compulsory Figures

In the world of traditional Catholics, the loss of what is now known as the Extraordinary Form was keenly felt in a Church gone crazy as it threw aside the old ways in favor of the new.

In the last half of the twentieth century, that phenomenon was not restricted solely to the Church. Even in the world of sports, things changed, not necessarily for the better. In baseball, the mound was lowered and the designated hitter was introduced. In basketball, the skilled teamwork of bygone eras was replaced by a more free-flowing style that was perhaps more entertaining, but at the expense of basic fundamentals.

So it went in the world of figure skating. Figure skating had for a long time been composed of two elements, the compulsory figures and the free skate. The free skate is of course what we see on television today, men and women skating around at various speeds, performing jumps and spins throughout. Compulsory figures was a portion of the competition that involved the drawing of figures on the ice with the edges of the blades of one's skates. The figures' exactness in terms of how they were made and their shape were judged and marks were given. Watch the video below, a clip from coverage of the 1988 Winter Olympics at Calgary, Canada for more information along with interviews on the change going on in the sport as the idea of removing compulsory figures from international events was first considered.

Over time, the figure skating changed as the free skate gained in importance, especially with the advent of television coverage of premiere events. Compulsory figures did not translate well in the medium as the above clip demonstrates (though by the late eighties, much had been done to make it as appealing as possible); audiences watched the jumps and spins of the free skate and then were left confused by the compulsory figures and the winners of competitions who excelled at the latter and beat the favorite of the general public who watched for the skaters who excelled at jumping and spinning.

The clip below from a documentary on the 1972 Winter Olympics at Sapporo, Japan happens to document not just the games themselves, but the turning point for the sport of figure skating. The first skater shown, Beatrix Schuba of Austria, is considered to be one of the greatest compulsory figure skaters ever. The second skater shown, Janet Lynn of the United States, was known to American audiences for her free skating ability.

Schuba received a 5.0 for her figures, a high mark that was what I have read extremely rare at senior international events and placed first. Lynn was tentative as the clip shows so well (more on the second video later) and placed fourth. The situation was reversed though for the free skate as Lynn placed first and Schuba seventh. Due to the weight given compulsory figures, Schuba won the gold medal and Lynn the bronze. After that result, a new short program was introduced and the weight of compulsory figures was slowly reduced over the years until in 1990 they were removed from international competitions altogether.

Today, compulsory figures have been largely forgotten by the viewing public and in the skating community at large as well, though there is debate in some circles as modern skaters are seen by some as having lost the skills needed for fundamental footwork that even the mediocre compulsory figure skaters of yesteryear displayed in their jumps and spins due to their training in the discipline. Whether this is actually true, I cannot say, not being an expert myself, but it stands to reason that something has been lost.

Having started to watch curling during the Winter Olympics a few olympiads ago and having watched the clips above, could there be an audience for compulsory figures, if not as a component, then as a sport unto itself? Certain people are willing to sit through curling, thought by others to be exceedingly boring, not because they are well versed on the ins and outs of the sport, but due to the human drama unfolding on the ice. Especially on television with the close-ups of the participants, viewers can get a very good sense of the tension of the back-and-forth match of wits and skill. The second clip above demonstrates that there certainly was tension in compulsory figures. With high-definition televisions and modern technology demonstrating the sport, I would suggest that the viewing experience today would be far different from all those years ago.

This obviously isn't a blog dedicated to the sport of figure skating and this post is pretty much for me alone, but it's something I have thought about and wanted to share. Make of it what you will.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt In Crisis

Two articles from Asia News from January 28:

"Burdened by the high cost of living and corruption, Christians and Muslims united in Cairo streets" is an interview with a Coptic priest. In answer to the question of the fate of Christians:

Right now, the demonstrations are not against Christians. Patriarch Shenouda has called for calm. But many Christians and non-Christians told him, that this is not the time for calm, because Christians are also affected by the crisis. In fact, for Christians the crisis is even worse because they suffer discrimination and have a hard time finding jobs. In case of promotions, they are passed over in favour younger Muslim employees. If a Christian opens a shop, fewer people buy from him.

"Egyptian revolt not only political but also spiritual and Islamic" by Samir Khalil Samir talks about a magazine article that interviewed by over a score of figures from the Islamic world. Father Samir explains:

Another interesting aspect is that this project of reform of Islam was published Jan. 24, one day before the outbreak of demonstrations in Egypt. These protests have economic and political roots. This means that in addition to current politics, there is an intellectual current that is fed up with the Islam that has spread in the last 30 years in the country, an "externalized" Islam that puts the emphasis on external things (clothing, beard, veil, etc. ..). This shows that there is a global movement - both spiritual and political - in Egypt that wants to transform the country. And since it is a leading country in the Middle Eastern world, one can expect that the changes in act in Cairo will spread throughout the region. Perhaps the same demonstrations that are taking place on the streets of the capital will have an influence on this "externalized" Islam.

He then goes on to examine several of the points of the article, including interaction between the sexes, jihad and its classical limits, and externalization of piety at the expense of personal responsibility.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review: The Pope's Legion

The Pope's Legion: The Multinational Fighting Force that Defended the Vatican
by Charles A. Coulombe

I discovered this book by way of a book review in an issue of New Oxford Review last year. As much as I want to say that it's a military history due to the great part of its subject-matter, I can't quite bring myself to do it. It does recount the history of the Papal Zouaves and recounts their various actions both in service to the Pope and afterward. But I've found it to be more a description of the time and those who lived during it.

To wit: the main strength of the book is Coulombe's attention to individuals and their stories. He details their entry into and exit from the story, interweaving the accounts of the various volunteers into that of the larger regiment and the wars in which it fought. However, the flurry of names, particularly at the beginning as the first volunteers are introduced, is daunting. It's clear though that Coulombe must have sifted through a mountain of material, personal accounts and so on, to bring so much to the narrative.

The main drawback of the book is the lack of maps, which is one of the reasons why I don't qualify it as a military history. Battles and skirmishes are described (some in great detail), lines of march are given, but without maps to show the way, it is hard to follow.

The conclusion of the book does a very good job of bringing together all the threads as Coulombe recounts the final dissolution of the regiment and the endeavors of the veterans and then talks of their legacies, both personally and collectively. The Papal Zouaves and the ideals they embodied represent a facet of the Catholic identity that has been lost due not only to the encroachment of a secular, industrialized world, but also due to changes in the Church's view on war itself after two world wars.

Coulombe quotes Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro's homily at the annual Zouave requiem in 2007, "These soldiers had received from the Church, their reason for living and this is why they were ready to sacrifice their own life for her. We are sons of the Church, too, and for her we have to fight the good battle of our time." The author then remarks that whatever response may be made to the story of the Zouaves, it had better be made quickly as time is urgent.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Sudan: Turning Point

"Church's role is critical in run-up to Sudan independence vote"
By Benjamin Mann, Staff Writer

Baltimore, Md., Jan 4, 2011 / 05:53 am (CNA).- Sudan's Catholic bishops say their country “will never be the same again,” once a January 2011 referendum that could split Africa's largest country in two takes place. Leading up to the vote, the Sudanese Catholic Church is playing a central role in preparing the country for the vote and its possible consequences.

The article talks about how the Church is taking the lead in preparing the people for the vote on independence on January 9 due to the lack of strong civil institutions and due to the trust in the Church thanks to its ability to cross tribal lines. Of course, it's what the Church has done for a thousand years and more since the fall of Rome.

This is sobering:

At worst, the referendum's results could prompt a third Sudanese civil war– “far more lethal” than the first two, in Griffin's estimation, and “just as targeted against civilians.” Such a war, he predicted, would involve not only Sudan's north and south, but the nine neighboring countries, in what “could be the largest conventional war on the African continent.”

That result, in turn, could de-stabilize large portions of East Africa, immersing other countries in “proxy wars that are ignited and played out across Sudan.” This “worst-case scenario,” according to Griffin, “would make Somalia and Yemen look manageable by comparison.”

Let's pray it doesn't end up like that.

Blowing Up Christians III

"Anxiety and anger: Christmas celebrations for Copts in Egypt and worldwide at risk" (AsiaNews):

So far, the Coptic patriarch says he will celebrate Christmas Mass, but he may yet cancel it. Security stepped up in churches throughout the country. The violence of young Copts, a sign of no confidence in the Egyptian system. Discrimination against Christians: to repair a toilet in a church, a decree from the provincial governor is needed; Muslims can build mosques freely, receiving construction materials for free. Attack on the church of Alexandria has opened "a new and more cruel style." In Sydney Christmas celebrations canceled. Security measures in France, Canada, Germany.

The reference to the toilet is telling. I'm assuming the priest means it takes getting a decree in order call up a plumber... Uh huh... That's either hyperbolic or just plain pathetic. The Coptic pope will have his hands full in calming the youth. Otherwise it could turn into a bloodbath.

The attack on the Church of Saints in Alexandria has even aroused the condemnation of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: "In all likelihood - says the priest - the source of the terrorist act is elsewhere, al Qaeda, perhaps in Iraq. What is certain is that we are faced with a newer and crueler style than before. It is the first time there has been an attack of such a violent level in Egypt, using explosives inside a church. So far there had been clashes, but between people, individuals, perhaps with a gun, but certainly not with lethal explosives".

"Islamist threats against Coptic churches in Europe" (Catholic Culture/Catholic World News):

Civil authorities in several European nations are providing police protection for Coptic Orthodox churches following threats by Islamists. A Coptic Orthodox priest in France described “threats made on the Internet by Islamic mujahideen who announced other attacks in Europe and in France in particular, and who mention our church.”

At least the Copts in Europe stand a chance with real security provided by the police, not just hired hands armed with a pistol and a cell phone like in Egypt.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Blowing Up Christians II

"Egypt: Edict posted to jihadist websites 'legitimises' church attack'" (AKI)

Rome, 3 Jan. (AKI) - A religious edict signed by a Mauritanian cleric linked to Al-Qaeda' s late leader in Iraq and posted to jihadist websites appears to legitimise the deadly New Year's Eve attack on a church in northern Egypt. The edict, signed last month by Abu al-Mandhar al-Shanqiti, urges Muslims to avenge the alleged imprisonment in a convent of two Egyptian women after they converted to Islam.

Al-Shanqiti is close to the Jordanian sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the mentor of Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a US raid there in 2006.

"How should Sharia (Islamic) law view Coptic priests and Christians who proselytise in our country and kidnap our women?" said al-Shanquiti's message, cited by jihadist website Al-Tawed.

And farther down:

"These Christians who don't hand over Muslims and who have kidnapped those two women have violated the accord under which they are afforded protection. We have no obligations towards them," said al-Shanquit.

Bolding my own. I like how he proclaims it to be their country, though as I recall, it was ours first. And note the clear statement regarding dhimmitude: those not of Islam are afforded protection, those who do not do as they should are owed nothing. Nice, huh?

Blowing Up Christians

"Europe and Islam in the wake of attacks against Copts in Alexandria"
by Samir Khalil Samir (

Absurd accusations against the Coptic community of keeping two women who converted to Islam captive. The psychosis of a country that prohibits changing of religion. Islamic attacks against Shenouda, the criticism of the imam of Al-Azhar against Benedict XVI. Europe must open up channels for cultural dialogue with Islamic countries, rejecting secularism and fundamentalism. Just like the pope said.

The article after the rider given above goes through the various points in depth. The part I found most informative was the explanation of the "absurd accusations" that the Copts are holding captive two women who supposed converted to Islam from Christianity. The article mentions that the attack against Iraqi Christians last October was also motivated by these accusations. Samir goes to great length in explaining the situation and how even the late imam of Al-Azhar decreed that there was no evidence that the two women had become Muslims.

I read yesterday that Israel's Mossad secret service is also being blamed for the attack as some kind of provocation. Samir mentions that rumor as well.

The Holy Father intends to hold an ecumenical meeting in Assisi this year in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Paul II's infamous gathering. I think I can guess what will be one of the first agenda items.