"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Sunday 21 October 2012



[Irenikon] Synod update: Syria, Islam and minor notes

Synod update: Syria, Islam and minor noteshttp://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/synod-update-syria-islam-and-minor-notes

John L. Allen Jr.  |  Oct. 19, 2012 All Things Catholic
Synod of Bishops 2012

Perhaps the closest thing to an honest-to-God news flash out of the Oct. 7-28 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, at least so far, was Tuesday's announcement that because the bishops can't be "mere spectators" to the carnage in Syria, they'll dispatch a special delegation next week to promote a solution based on "reason and compassion."

The delegation consists of:

    Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
    French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue;
    Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York;
    Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis, Military Ordinary of Colombia;
    Bishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Phat Diem, Vietnam;
    Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State (in effect, the Vatican's "foreign minister"); and
    Monsignor Alberto Ortega, an official of the Secretariat of State.

The idea is to represent all five continents, signifying universality, and to include heavy-hitters, signifying seriousness. Monsengwo is one of the most influential prelates in Africa, while Tauran is a veteran of the global stage; among other things, he was the chief spokesperson for the Vatican's opposition to the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq. Dolan, of course, is the president of the U.S. bishops' conference and carries a high media profile.

The mission has been described as symbolic, meaning that the group won't be doing much diplomatic heavy lifting. (As of Thursday, there was no word on whether the delegation would meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.) The idea is primarily to express that the church cares, particularly about Syria's 2.3 million Christians -- many of whom are terrified they'll be the first victims of whatever might follow the fall of the Assad regime. Some believe Syria could be the next Iraq, where an ancient Christian community has been gutted overnight.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as a hollow photo op. After all, a quick flyover by a group of foreign bishops is unlikely somehow to miraculously convince the warring parties to lay down their arms and to buy the world a Coke.

There are four reasons, however, why it's actually important.

First, the Synod of Bishops is routinely accused of being an expensive talk shop that doesn't accomplish much, and at one level, that's perfectly true. In fairness, the experience of listening to different voices from all over the world for three weeks has value in itself, but the synod is really not action-oriented. Usually it produces a set of fairly predictable propositions for the pope's consideration, and then people go home.

In this instance, however, it's actually trying to do something. If it's not clear what the delegation might achieve, at least it's a step beyond sitting in a meeting hall and lamenting the problems of the world.

In a nutshell, this sets a precedent that a synod can do more than just talk.

Second, it's significant that this delegation represents the Synod of Bishops rather than the Vatican. Not only does it show that concern about Syria isn't just concentrated in Rome but is widely shared among the world's bishops, but it also demonstrates that the bishops can use the synod to exercise joint responsibility. In effect, it's a concrete form of episcopal collegiality, which is what the synod was envisioned by Pope Paul VI to achieve when he created it in 1965 at the close of the Second Vatican Council.

In that sense, the Syria mission isn't just a diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking, but something with ecclesiological significance, too.

Admittedly, the announcement was made by a Vatican official; the logistics are being handled by the Vatican; and it's been packaged as a papal initiative. Dolan said he was approached at 4:25 p.m. Tuesday, minutes before the announcement was made, and was told the Holy Father wanted him to go. The point, however, isn't so much who's doing the legwork, but what the delegation represents.

Third, one should not underestimate the value of mere presence. During Pope Benedict XVI's mid-September visit to Lebanon, I had the chance to speak with a number of Syrian Christian refugees who attended his Mass on Beirut's waterfront. When I asked them what we in the West could do for them, by far their most common answer was: "Don't forget us." They feel a profound sense of isolation, and even a symbolic gesture that the church is paying attention means something.

Fourth, this mission could generate considerable press interest. Vatican communications officials say that within hours of the announcement, media agencies from all over the world made requests to travel with the bishops. Given that one thrust is to express solidarity with Christians at risk, the delegation will have a classic "teaching moment" to raise consciousness about the most dramatic, and most under-reported, Christian story of our time: the rise of a new generation of martyrs.

I've quoted this estimate before, but it bears repeating: Various sources peg the number of Christians killed each year at 150,000, either out of hatred for the faith or hatred for the works of charity inspired by the faith. That's 17 new martyrs every hour.
    Syrian Christian await disaster if the Fundamentalists win                                          

The stories are legion. On Wednesday morning, for instance, I went out to a Carmelite retreat center near Rome's Ciampino airport to speak to a group of leaders in the order, where I met Fr. Désiré Unen Alimange, an upbeat and dynamic Carmelite from the Congo. He was a friend and protégé of Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa of Bukavu, who was killed in 1996 for trying to prevent Tutsi militants from murdering Hutu refugees. Munzihirwa's favorite saying was, "There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried."

If this delegation can use its media spotlight to tell such stories -- and, perhaps, to mobilize people to do something to defend these people -- it's worth a try, even if it is only symbolism.


 A Muslim crowd burning a Coptic church in Egypt

VATICAN CITY, October 20, 2012 – Perhaps not everyone was expecting it, but the Islamic question has been one of those most touched upon in the reflections that have occupied the first two weeks of the synod on the new evangelization.

A tremendous stir was made by the film that Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the pontifical council for justice and peace, showed to the synod fathers during the general assembly of Saturday, October 13. A film found on YouTube that harshly denounced, with unsubstantiated figures, the demographic advance of Islam at the expense of Christianity as well. The cardinal later apologized.

And a stir no less sensational was made by the announcement of the visit to Syria, at the behest of Benedict XVI, of a synodal mission led by cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone. The dates and agenda of the voyage are not yet known:

> "The Holy Father has ordered..."

What has gone by unnoticed, instead, is what has been said by a number of prelates in reference to an issue that is usually taboo in the public discourse of the Catholic Church. That of conversions from Islam to Christianity.

The issue has been addressed by half a dozen prelates from as many countries, who have offered information and analysis that in some respects has never been heard before.

The first to speak of the question was the Assumptionist bishop Louis Pelâtre, apostolic vicar of Istanbul in Turkey.

"In certain circumstances," explained the prelate originally from France, "the proclamation of Jesus Christ is also possible. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was translated into Turkish as well as other publications. The young generation learns about the faith through the internet. Having practically no access to public radio or television channels, we can however use these private networks used more by the evangelical Protestants than by the Catholics. From this the need for well-prepared and qualified workers for the harvest that awaits us. This specific apostolate cannot be satisfied by good will and improvisation alone."

For his part, the Jesuit Paul Desfarges, bishop of Constantine, and of the ancient Hippo of St. Augustine, in Algeria, himself of French origin as well, noted that Islamic-Christian dialogue is indeed put to the test today "because of the fundamentalist currents," but also "because of a new situation, made of joy and suffering."

"In some of our countries," he explained, "we have been graced with a number of faithful coming from Muslim families. Generally, they had been questioning internally for a long time. These new disciples are sometimes rejected by their own family or must be very discrete. In time, however, they discover that their spiritual history with God began before their conversion and the Spirit had guided them through this or another Muslim person from their background who incarnated the spiritual and human values. These disciples remind us that the dialogue of life is at the heart of the witness of the Gospel."

The topic of conversions from Islam was also touched upon by the leader of the most substantial Catholic community of the Middle East, Maronite patriarch Béchara Boutros Rai, who resides in Lebanon.

Blessed Charles  de Foucauld who lived and died as a witness to Christ in the midst of Islam.

"Evangelization is practiced in the Arab countries," he said, "in an indirect way, in other words in Catholic schools, universities, hospitals and social institutions belonging to the dioceses and religious orders open to Muslims as well as Christians. Indirect evangelization is above all practiced via the means of social communication, especially the Catholic ones, that broadcast the liturgical celebrations and various religious programs. We would like to point out some secret conversions by Muslims to Christianity."

Particularly well developed was the reflection of Archbishop Joseph Absi, auxiliary and protosyncellus in Damascus of the Greek-Melkites in Syria, who noted the the "openness of some Muslims to Christianity, undoubtedly helped by today’s means of communication" and the fact that "some of them have even reached the point of discovering in Christ the loving face of God the Father."

But since, he added, "The Muslims do not see the difference between Christians and Westerners, because they do not distinguish, themselves, between what is religious and what is political and social. What precedes the Westerners is perceived by the Muslims as preceding the Christians. Now, Western behavior, especially on the cultural and political level and in a general way, harms the religious and national sensitivity of the Muslims, their values, their ethics and their culture. Consequentially, this forms an obstacle to their openness to Christianity and to their possible evangelization."

Cistercian martyrs who neverthess respected the religion of the Muslims they knew.
In fact, he explained, "The majority of Muslims are convinced that the relaxing of mores, the exploitation of weak and poor peoples, the disdain of the Muslim religion that they feel from Westerners, comes from Christians. What can be done to stop the Muslims from confusing Christianity and the West, Christians and Westerners, and to not feel ridiculed and frustrated? The Synod, in its configuration of new evangelization, should lean towards this question, to learn how to avoid, as much as possible, tensions and misunderstandings and what to do so that the Muslims may be more receptive with regards to the Church and to the Gospel."

The approach or conversion of Muslims to Christianity was not only spoken of by prelates from Arab countries, but also by pastors from Africa and Europe.

The Italian Vincentian Cristoforo Palmieri, bishop of Rrëshen in Albania, in fact spoke of the urgency of the "evangelization of Muslim brothers who had and still have Christian roots, and who show themselves to be open to the proclamation."??While Raphaël Balla Guilavogui, bishop of N'Zérékoré in Guinea, revealed how at the diocesan youth days organized in his country "even some Muslims are present."

Particularly dramatic was the observation of John Ebebe Ayah, bishop of Ogoja in Nigeria, who emphasized how "many of our Muslim brothers and sisters long to convert to the Christian faith but cannot achieve this, for fear of losing their lives."

As can be seen from these contributions, the phenomenon of conversions from Islam to Christianity seems still to be rather limited in number and strongly opposed by a Muslim world that in almost all of its components is still incapable of tolerating the right to change religions.

In an interview on Vatican Radio in French on October 16, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue, reiterated that "the great problem lies in the fact that in countries where Muslim law is that of the majority, as of now no Muslim accepts that the freedom to change religion, or to choose it, should be inscribed in a legal text."

And he added: "In all of my conversations with Muslims, many of them well-disposed, this has been a taboo subject."

The right to change religions has, on the other hand, been tranquilly incorporated into the world of Christian tradition. With sometimes surprising results, like the spike in conversions to Islam that is being seen in Haiti, pointed out by the Associated Press and a news item also in "L'Osservatore Romano."

                     Ilyas Khan
Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar was instrumental in helping Ilyas Khan, a British philanthropist and former Muslim, to become Catholic. But so too were many other distinctly Catholic influences, all amounting to a “pull” towards the faith rather than a “push” away from Islam.

Khan, a merchant banker by training and the owner of the Accrington Stanley soccer team, is also chairman of the prominent British charity Leonard Cheshire Disability — the largest organization in the world helping people with disabilities. In a revealing interview with Register Rome correspondent Edward Pentin, Khan explains in more detail what drew him to the Catholic Church in 2009.

What brought you to the faith? Was there anything in Islam, perhaps Muslims’ devotion to Our Lady, which helped you to convert?

Yes and no. Devotion to Our Lady on a personal basis is a big part of my faith, but at the same time, I know it wasn’t anything to do with my upbringing as a Muslim. My first tentative steps towards Catholicism were taken in my very early infancy. My mother was very ill at that time, and I was raised till about the age of 3 or 4 by a grandmother who was determinedly Catholic and Irish. I went to a Church school, and I think that when I started classes I didn’t think of myself as anything other than being Christian.

I also benefited from being brought up in Lancashire, up on the Pennines and close to the Ribble Valley. If there was ever a Catholic heartland in England, that was it — the great stronghold that never really acknowledged the Reformation.

Later on, when I was entering university, divine Providence intervened for a second time, and I stayed at Netherhall House, which is an Opus Dei student hall of residence in London. But, in between, say from the ages of about 4 to 17, I had been raised as a Muslim in a Muslim household. I had gone to mosque, learned the Quran. So, yes, I was raised a Muslim, but I don’t think there was any aspect of Islam that might have nudged me towards becoming a Catholic.

Was that time in Netherhall very influential, in terms of bringing you into the faith?

Very much so, yes. However, at that point in time, I don’t think I had the guts to convert or be received into the Church, or even take formal instruction. Apostasy is something Islam takes very seriously. In the eyes of a great many, Muslims’ apostasy is actually (as opposed to merely theoretically) punishable by death. So Netherhall was absolutely instrumental. I remember very clearly my devotion to prayer was really formed there, surrounded as I was by living examples of a wonderfully spiritual faith.

Would you say you came to the faith almost subconsciously?

Not really. I think I came to my faith wholly consciously. By the age of 18 and 19, I was a reasoning and questioning young adult. And by then I had discovered there was a brilliant person called Hans Urs von Balthasar. There was a library in Netherhall where I started reading theology. That’s where I came across Origen, and, to a very large extent, that’s also where I was able to study and appreciate the work of St. Augustine. So I was very conscious but somewhat apprehensive. Both my parents were still alive at the time, and part of my reticence was my unwillingness to cause them hurt. I don’t know quite how I would have described myself by the time I graduated from university, but probably “a closet Catholic” comes close.

What gave you the courage in the end?

Apart from the Holy Spirit? A culmination of two things: a greater degree of certainty in my own moral compass; and if there was a push away from Islam or a pull, it was much more the pull of Christ. It wasn’t ever in my mind a negative thing [to convert]. The other important factor was my very regular attendance, over a decade prior to my formally being received, at a church — St. Joseph’s in Hong Kong. I went to live in Asia and Hong Kong in my mid-20s, and that’s where I discovered my affinity for traditional Catholicism. The simple acts of faith — ritual, the liturgy and congregational prayer — were the stepping stones.

Did you have a sense, in those years leading up to being received, of a growing sense that the Catholic faith is the truth?

Yes, though that’s perhaps slightly melodramatic. At this stage of my life, when my religion is at the core of what I do, it’s very difficult to differentiate between any actions that might or might not be motivated by faith. I would hope that everything I do in my life is motivated and guided by faith. To answer your question in a slightly different way: I never doubted, from about my mid-20s onwards, that I was a Christian, and my path towards Catholicism, as opposed to Christianity per se, was really quite a quick one. In retrospect, the heart of that journey actually took four or five years and was more academically or intellectually based. I have to say it was Von Balthasar who guided me.

Were Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI also influential? Both have been described as so-called Balthasarians.

That’s a really good question. I’ve never been asked that question before. Yes, well, Cardinal Ratzinger, the current Pope, definitely qualifies as being “Balthasarian,” and Blessed John Paul II raised Balthasar to becoming a cardinal. Obviously, John Paul II was an influence beyond his regard for Von Balthasar — how could one not be influenced by such a great man? Like a great many people, Balthasar himself was not just a gigantic intellect, but also articulated how the mystery of faith is central to our lives as Christians. And, in that regard, the single most moving moment for me happened when I was in my mid-30s. I was walking past the Pieta in St. Peter’s, and I remember being literally arrested in my tracks by a combination of four or five things all at once. You asked me about my relationship with the Blessed Mother of God — well, that moment in time was really important. That can be described as being the turning point.

Was it the beauty of the Pietà that struck you?

Yes — and the context. This is God, I thought. This really is God. You must remember that one of the big things when we look at traditional Islam is the heresy — in their opinion — of equating the mortal Jesus with God. And if there is ever an obstacle that a Muslim convert has to contend with, intellectually and emotionally, more than anything else, that is it. At that moment, in front of the Pietà, I realized, through sheer emotion, that the truth of our religion is so simple and so direct.

You mean the fact that Jesus is not just a prophet, but God Himself?

Yes, absolutely, and I think at that moment — I remember it distinctly; it still moves me to tears — there was no doubt in my mind. It was so clear. I’m afraid it would be impossible for me to articulate that feeling in mere words. If there was a “before” and an “after,” then that was my point of arrival, so to speak.

In terms of being concerned about the “apostasy” charge from Muslims — is it something that keeps you up at night?

No, not at all. It doesn’t keep me up at night. However, I can tell you where it becomes relevant: In various different forums — in articles, magazines and on radio and once or twice on TV — I have tended to get a fair degree of coverage in Britain, where I’m also well known as the owner of one of our best-known football teams. I get described with a standard tagline saying something like: “The most prominent recent Catholic convert.” Whilst there have been many times when I have been on the receiving end of threats from individual Muslims or Islamic organizations who might read and react to these articles and interviews, I have to say that those occasions have absolutely never kept me up at night. I have received my fair share of hate mail and threats of violence, but I conduct myself with what I hope is a simple dignity and refuse to be drawn into a life governed by fear or undue caution.

Conversely, what I am interested in is where Islam and Catholicism meet; here, there is a degree of commonality. And my attitude is to exhibit for those who are not Catholics the beauty, purity, wonder and the privilege of being a Catholic. I’m just very straightforward and calm about this issue, and that’s a reflection of my faith. 

Some prominent converts from Islam can be very negative towards their former religion, but you don’t seem to have that view.

My views have the benefit of being blessedly simple. I don’t think there’s any complexity in my faith, and, as I said earlier, I was pulled towards my Christian faith, not pushed away from Islam.

However, I must admit that I do have a great deal of sadness in my heart when I contemplate people who use Islam to justify their actions. These actions aren’t just un-Islamic — they are inhuman and have nothing to do with my view of Islam as a religion. Sadly, there appear to be a very large number of Muslims for whom anger and violence seem intuitive first responses to anything they don’t agree with. Beyond that, I feel that the two religions, Islam and Christianity, might be described as “distant cousins.” Remember, I was raised a Muslim, and I have been to Medina and Mecca, and I can see some of the inherent qualities. But we must also admit that the point of departure, the difference between the two religions, is vast. So while there are similarities, and I can see them, they don’t count really for very much. … I celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is love. It’s a simple statement. It is the defining difference.

And it is very simple in its totality.

Yes, it is; but then the thing we call “love,” that we as Christians concern ourselves (with) at the heart of our faith, is a living, real and tangible quality. Jesus is actually with us; we don’t need metaphors or vague conceptual examples of what love “might” be in order to inspire or inform us. We are blessed by the Holy Sacrament and nourished by the direct intercession of Our Lord through his sacrifice. In that regard, Von Balthasar has helped to change the basis of conversation about the relationship between the Church, Christ and the Holy Spirit. He created a new understanding around the semantics of “love” in a religious context. I, therefore, can’t really say much about the contrasts between Catholicism and other religions, be they Islam or Hinduism, for example, but simply affirm the unerring simplicity of my own faith.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/a-muslim-finds-the-catholic-faith-through-geography-and-theology#ixzz29rWfU2Z3

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