Wednesday, June 30, 2010

America My Home

I have a great love and appreciation for the country of my birth, the United States of America. I know I'm blessed to have been born here. Yesterday I spent the day with three of my young cousins, which always gives me joy. I was discussing with the two older ones the blessings we have in America.  Most middle-class and upper class children in America have no idea how blessed they are, (for the most part) and how fortunate they are to have been born in a great, first-world country, like the U.S. Like all children, they don't realize how most children in the world live, especially those in third world countries. When I asked my cousins (7 years old and 11) if they knew that many children in Haiti are living in tents, they couldn't quite understand that or what it meant. Tents are for camping, not for living in for long periods of time. It's hard for them to visualize that. And they're not alone. Years ago when I was teaching teenage girls in a Catholic high school in Brooklyn, I showed them a video about Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Missionaries of Charity. The girls were in disbelief. They couldn't believe that some people actually lived in those horrific conditions. They doubted what they were seeing. We take a lot for granted. 
So as the July 4th weekend begins, I thank God for the "land of the free and the home of the brave" (The National Anthem). And I thank God my Italian immigrant grandparents  made the arduous trip to America and settled here in New York. New York City, one of the greatest cities in the world, with a dynamic and creative energy that must be experienced to be fully understood. 
Sadly, America is going through a difficult time. We need an ourpouring of God's grace. When I heard yesterday (as the stock market plunged on Tuesday) that consumer confidence was down, it was no surprise to me. Confidence is down period, everywhere, not only for consumers, but also for job seekers, for retirees, for the people in the Gulf region of the U.S., for Europeans and many Americans as well. 
The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues. That's surreal in itself. And then there's all the job losses in America, so many people out of work, that may never work again. 
How do people live without prayer, hope and belief in God? I can't imagine, that's a mystery to me. I always have hope for a better tomorrow which stems from my deep faith and my relationship with God. Being a Christian means having hope in God's saving plan. America has always been a blessed country, many people feel that way, not just me. It's a country built on religious values and truths, religious freedom and belief. 
Happy July 4th Weekend! May God's grace be with us. It's needed.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Desecration of the Tombs

The Vatican called it a violation. Pope Benedict called the raids deplorable that were carried out by Belgian police. I call it the desecration of the tombs. Definitions of the word desecrate include"to render unhallowed" or to "profane." Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, the archbishop of Belgium said, "It was worthy of the 'The Da Vinci Code.'" Yes, it certainly could have been a scene from the movie. What he was referring to was the incident in Belgium when the tombs of two archbishops were drilled into, in the Brussels Cathedral as part of a police action last Thursday. Police also detained members of the Belgian Bishops' Conference for nine hours while searching for documents related to sex abuse cases. They also found it necessary to search the tombs of archbishops. 
What a bizarre turning point in the ongoing crisis in Europe over the sexual abuse crisis. This strange episode, which sounds like a fictional story, shows the extent to which the crisis has undermined the credibility of the Church in Europe. At another time in history, this action would have been unthinkable. 
According to an article in the New York Times that I read, "In the Cathedral of Mechelen north of Brussels, the police drilled into the tomb of Cardinal Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Cardinal Leon-Josef Suenens, two former archbishops of Mechelen-Brussels and used cameras to look for documents." 
In a statement expressing dismay over how the situation was handled the Vatican issued a statement reiterating "its strong condemnation of every sinful and criminal act of abuse of minors by members of the church as well as the necessity to repair and confront such acts in a way that conforms to the exigencies of justice and the teachings of the Gospel."
On Sunday the Belgian Justice Minister "stressed that the procedures used in the raids were correct and the bishops were treated normally." I didn't read what he said regarding the raiding of the tombs of dead archbishops. Surely he can't believe that the tombs were treated respectfully. 
In my opinion, this latest crisis makes it seem like the situation in Europe is out of control. The Church will need to do tremendous work to restore credibility in Europe and elsewhere. Much thought and prayer needs to be put into practical action which heals, transforms and helps the Church to move forward with hope. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Fascination With Fatima Prophecy

I recently read with interest an article from Brooklyn's diocesan newspaper, "The Tablet," from a May edition. I'm always saving newspapers, cutting  out articles I like and saving articles to read at a later date. I love the printed word. The article was titled, "Is Third Secret of Fatima Still A Secret?" by John Travis. It told about a small group of skeptics who recently met in Rome, not far from the Vatican, to discuss the third part of the Fatima message which the Vatican "explained" ten years ago. According to Vatican experts, the message didn't contain any apocalyptic message as "Fatimists" or members of the "Fatima Challenge movement" expected. This group was disappointed and insists there is still more to the prophecy. According to the article, "The pope's Vatican aides consider the 'Fatimists" a fringe element that is best ignored."
Fatimists believe that there was more to the third secret and they believe the explanation given of the third secret "removes the vision's apocalyptic scenario and lulls the faithful into a false sense of security." Looking at recent world events,  most especially at what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico and it's almost understandable why these skeptics might think there was something apocalyptic left out of the explanation. 
But anyhow, the prophecy or vision of the third secret was of a "bishop in white, who struggles up a hill amid corpses of slain martyrs, and then falls dead after being shot by soldiers." (Whether this bishop symbolized Pope John Paul II, who was shot and wounded on May 13, 1981 or a convergence of several 20th century pontiffs who helped the Church ward off the dangers, it doesn't mean someone must be killed." 
I'm just using my religious imagination......Perhaps the 'bishop in white' represents all the faithful baptized Christians struggling in modern times to grow spiritually and journey towards God. They struggle knowing they are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses", some of whom gave their life for the faith. All are united to them through the community of saints to which we all belong. What about the bishop being shot in the vision? Perhaps the bishop represents all the faithful who are "shot down," trampled over,  and persecuted in modern times, for the faith as they struggle to live the gospel message.
I guess there could be many interpretations of the vision. Vatican officials say there there is no cover-up, that there is no apocalyptic message that's being hidden or withheld. And more importantly, "The Fatima messages are not dogma and the Church does not impose belief or any single interpretation."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Uncharted Waters-When Will It End?

On Tuesday night I watched President Obama give a presidential address from the Oval Office in the White House thinking I would be reassured, when he finished speaking.  I, like millions of Americans who worry about the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the environmental and economic damage it is doing, desperately want reassurance. We want to believe that someone is in charge and somehow experts will shut this oil well down. But I wasn't reassured, even though it sounded like the President was declaring "war" and stating a "battle plan." He said that the oil spill was "assaulting our shores," and he used a lot of military language but I still wasn't reassured. He said, "The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet." But that's what it seems like to millions of Americans. Because if it wasn't too big or difficult to solve, it would have been solved weeks ago. It seems to me that the problem is out of control and it certainly looks that way when you see video footage of the oil still gushing from the well. I find this disaster, the loss of life and the environmental catastrophe that continues to unfold very disturbing.    
The President ended his speech with faith-filled language which I liked and which is greatly needed. That was somewhat comforting. He said we needed courage, "For a hand to guide us through the storm towards a  brighter day." We need faith and prayer in the midst of the storm, in the midst of every storm. 
I hope and pray the brighter day is coming, for everyone involved. Most especially for the wildlife that is under stress. In an article I just read on Huffington Post,  marine scientists who are studying the effects of the oil spill on animals are seeing unusual behavior. "Animals are fleeing the oil and clustering in cleaner water, closer to the shore. According to scientists, this means their habitats are badly polluted and this could result in massive die-offs, as fish run out of oxygen..." 
We are in uncharted waters.  I believe that America is a great country and somehow we will get through this, with courage, prayer and persistence as the President mentioned. And perhaps I worry too much (for a person of great faith), but one reason I wasn't reassured by the President's speech is that I thought I sensed a little fear (or perhaps it was anxiety) in the President. I found that unsettling. He seemed fearful or anxious to me, as if this was bigger than we think or even know about at this point.  


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dying A Slow Death in the Gulf

The sad news continues as thousands of gallons of oil continue to flow into the Gulf of Mexico though the latest cap is capturing approximately 650,000 gallons of oil a day. The nightmare doesn't seem to end for the Gulf Coast of the U.S. The Gulf of Mexico is still in crisis. The leak has lasted for 54 days. The fish and wildlife who depend on the clean waters of the Gulf for existence as well as the livelihoods of the fishermen in the area, are dying a slow death. Some scientists think it will take decades to clean up the mess and that's once they've stopped the flow of oil. It's an ecological disaster of apocalyptic proportions. In one article I read a rig worker said, "That oil rig and oil well gave us trouble from the start. It was one problem after another. It's as if Mother Nature didn't want it to be built." And now we know why. The worst case scenario has happened. The oil well was too deep to begin with-5,000 feet below the water's surface and that's one reason it's such a problem to control.
I made a comment at a meeting recently that people without faith or without belief in the power of prayer, would think ridiculous (I imagine). But it's not ridiculous to me or the believers at the meeting. I was wondering if large corporations who were going to have to alter land or the sea to extract energy, considered that they were dealing with a divine creation, God's creation and considered treating it carefully, considering every implication for the natural environment. After all, they would not only have to deal with the President or Congress, the shareholders of their company, or the Coast Guard or environmentalists, if something went wrong but they would also have to give an account to God.  What if leaders and administrators prayed to the Creator before plans are drawn to drill, dig or extract energy, praying for wisdom and God's guidance? I'm serious.  Do I think the outcome would be different if people would pray about these monumental decisions beforehand? Definitely.  Is consideration given to the sacredness of the natural world and the environment? Is it viewed as a divine creation, a gift from a generous and loving God? The Bible clearly states over and over again that God's creation is sacred and should be protected and cared for. There is much wisdom in the Bible, which is why I read it everyday and pray with it as well, as millions do. Sacred wisdom and guidance should not be ignored, even by the secular world, because to ignore the wisdom of the Bible or God's will, is to open the door to uncertainty, problems and even chaos, as we are seeing unfold. There are many warnings about that in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures as well.  
I know we need energy, I understand that for now, at this time, until other forms of renewable, "green" energy can be developed we have to depend on oil. But this catastrophe we are living through and the consequences of not giving a high priority to the environment, in all decision -making, are severe.  I can only imagine what the people who are directly affected are going through. And tragically, it's still not over. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Faith in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a "cool" place. That's just not my opinion, it's the opinion of the thousands of young people (some of them artists) who have made it a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood. It's a great mix of people and cultures-an older, established neighborhood made up of native Brooklynites mixing and living alongside young "hipsters," from all over the country who live and work there. Whenever I visit or go for lunch there, I'm amazed at the crowds walking along Bedford Ave. or eating in the restaurants, especially on the weekends. It's a very alive and "hip" place. I like to look at it as a thriving neighborhood, but also as a living, breathing "museum" of sorts.
A New York Times article on Monday titled, "Still Taking to the Streets to Honor Their Saints," by David Gonzalez, mentions the religious processions in Williamsburg which have gone on for decades in the Italian enclave in North Williamsburg. I attended a backyard party and watched a procession in honor of St. Paulinus of Nola a few years ago and it was a great experience-very Brooklyn. Similiar to the Brooklyn that I remember as a child. The Giglio feast at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg is a great collective effort on the part of the Church community and it raises money for the parish.
Gentrification is never without problems and apparently some "old-timers" in Williamsburg don't appreciate the lack of respect some young people show for the religious processions. I quote from the article, "For decades, the faithful who lived in the wood-frame houses along the route of an Italian enclave in North Williamsburg, Bklyn, knew their duty during the area's many religious processions. As the elaborately carved statues would approach, they darted out to the street to pay their respects or to join the procession. Today, another ritual has emerged: curious hipsters whipping out cellphones to take a snapshot. 'It used to be the whole street was waiting to give money,' recalled Lucy D'Alto, a longtime resident of Devoe St. 'We don't see that now. They don't understand. They see it as something superficial. They don't respect us.'"
Perhaps that's the problem, they don't understand the importance of religious processions for Catholics. They don't understand the saints that are being honored. Perhaps if there was greater understanding, they would be more respectful of the processions.  What about printing cards with information about the saints on them, so they could be given to anyone who wanted to know more? That might help. Sounds like an evangelization team might work to deepen understanding and do some "bridge-building."
Some of the onlookers at the parade last Sunday which honored St. Cono, made the observation, "It's kind of like a vestige of the old neighborhoods of Brooklyn." Well, that's true and I would guess that's one of the reasons young, creative people were drawn to the neighborhood in the first place. It's culturally, ethnically and spiritually rich with Italians, Hispanics, Orthodox Jewish people and other ethnic groups living side by side. Isn't that one of the reasons young people from all over the country (and even the world) are drawn to Brooklyn and have helped real estate prices go through the roof, in many neighborhoods. Brooklyn has great ethnic diversity, great food (the best bread and pizza), it's close to Manhattan and it's a short train ride to the ocean, the Atlantic Ocean that is. 
There will be about 20 processions in Williamsburg this year, honoring a variety of saints. The biggest and most elaborate feast and procession will begin in July for the Giglio Feast. Preparations are made throughout the year for the incredible event. You can learn more about it at their website at-
If you've never attended the Giglio Feast you should try to do so, if you are nearby. It's a great celebration of religious traditions, highlighting some of the great religious heritage of Brooklyn and it shows how a community of faith carries on a tradition for future generations of believers. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

The End Times... In Slow Motion

When I look back on the last decade and the beginning of this one, I can't help but think that perhaps we're living through the end times in slow motion. When I look at pictures of birds from the Gulf Coast covered in oil (these photographs are causing outrage throughout the world and understandably so), dying from the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I'm horrified, along with millions of others. Thinking of the harsh images we've all had to endure in the last decade and now in this one as well, such as the terrorist attacks, epic natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami and the destructive earthquake in Haiti, these have all been horrific events in history that have caused great suffering and despair. These images and the latest horrific ones of an uncontrollable and deadly oil leak in the Gulf, are unsettling. Also, the financial meltdown of the last couple of years, is still causing havoc on world economies and that doesn't seem to be over yet either. And now living through the worst environmental disaster in the history of our country makes me wonder if this is what all the end time prophecies were pointing to. Perhaps some of the passages in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation in the Bible, do have a literal meaning. And just perhaps we're living through some of those prophecies. I think it's possible. The end times in slow motion, here and there, that's what this has felt like to me when I think of the horrific images I've seen and devastating events that people have lived through, or sadly died from, in some places in the world. 
When I reflect on this crazy, unpredictable, uncertain world we live in, I thank God for my deep faith. That is why I nurture my faith, everyday, because it gives me inner strength and courage to deal with negative news here and in other parts of the world. 
Everyday when I open my daily missal, to recite prayer, I'm comforted by the words of the psalms, the Scripture readings, the gospel and I am renewed in my belief that God is in control, there is a plan of salvation that is unfolding (in spite of human failings and greed), even when things seem to be spinning out of control. "All will be well," I like to say those words of Julian of Norwich over and over again. 
I also find peace in simple pleasures, which have always given human beings joy, such as planting flowers in my garden, enjoying the beauty of Springtime and sunshine, listening and watching the bluejays and cardinals that come to eat their morning bread and fly from tree to tree effortlessly. Yes, I thank God for simple pleasures and all God's creatures. 
We live in a beautiful world, created by God for us to enjoy. It's so sad that we haven't been more respectful or careful with creation. As I've written before, I just hope and pray lessons are learned and future generations reap the benefits of a more just, caring and compassionate humankind, which protects human life and the environment at all costs and realizes that greed is a deadly sin that will destroy or corrupt everything in its path, if left unchecked.