The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Religion and Values Sun, 04 Dec 2016 18:19:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Reflections: Addressing a dark legacy – Martin Luther and the Jews Sat, 26 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The year 2017 will mark a milestone in German and in Protestant Christian history. It will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation launched by a renegade Roman Catholic monk, theologian and academic named Martin Luther (1483-1546).

There can be no doubt that Luther’s letter to his Roman Catholic superiors ,written on October 31, 1517,began a religious schism and conflict that would forever change the face and shape of Christianity. In it he denounced the sale of so-called indulgences and included 95 theses that were to be the basis for a discussion on the topic,

What is less well known is the positive reaction of Germany’s Jewish community of the time to this event and to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. For at least a decade, beginning in 1513, Luther identified with the persecuted Jewish communities of Germany and declared that both he and the Jews suffered from Catholic bigotry. He used the sad plight of the Jewish community as a means to further attack the Church.

Not only did Luther not hold the Jews responsible for the Crucifixion, but he wrote an essay in 1523 entitled “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew” in which he called on his followers to show only Christian love for the Jewish people and to abolish the social and economic restrictions against them.

There was an ulterior motive to Luther’s actions. His aim was to use such calls to convince German Jewry to convert to his anti-Catholic Christian movement, thus fulfilling a goal that had been denied to the Church for over a thousand years.

But the Jewish “no” to his conversionary mission was as loud as it had been in denying the Roman Catholic call for conversion. By the 1530s, Luther began to write and preach only criticisms of Jews and Judaism culminating in a vicious essay entitled “Concerning the Jews and Their Lies” (1543). In it he suggested, among other actions, that the princely authorities should “set fire to their synagogues or schools.” Jewish houses should be “razed and destroyed,” and Jewish “prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, [should] be taken from them.” In addition, “their rabbis [should ] be forbidden to teach on pain of life and limb.” Shortly before his death in 1546, an ill and dying Luther began to repeat the worst anti-Jewish charges of medieval Roman Catholicism. “We are at fault for not slaying them,” he fumed shortly before his death.

Martin Luther’s anti-Jewish sermons and writings joined a long list of those by German philosophers, theologians and professional politicians who shaped centuries of anti-semitic attitudes in Germany and beyond.

In 1933, a part of the Lutheran Church in Germany sought to create a Protestant Christianity entirely free of Jewish influence, a movement known as the German Christians, that was violently anti-Semitic and devoted to National Socialism and its racial and political goals and to Martin Luther’s anti-Judaism.

As one member of the German Christian movement put it during a celebration of Luther Day, an annual event that took place throughout Germany:

“And if Martin Luther had met the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler… he would peer deeply into his eyes and clasp both his hands and say: ‘Thank you, German man. You are of my blood, kind of my kind. We both belong together.”

When the gates of Auschwitz and other death camps were opened, both Protestants and Roman Catholics asked the unaskable and thought the unthinkable: “Could our churches and their teachings have contributed to the destruction of 6 million Jewish lives?”

It took several decades for the Roman Catholic Church to ponder that awful question and to issue an historic statement in 1965 on its relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people and to reject centuries of anti-Jewish teaching.

Nearly three decades later, in 1994, one of the most important Protestant denominations in the United States, the 5 million-strong Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, joined their Catholic brothers and sisters in declaring to the Jewish community that:

“In the long history of Christianity, there exists no more tragic development than the treatment accorded the Jewish people on the part of Christian believers … Lutherans belonging to … the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America feel a special burden in this regard because of certain elements in the legacy of the reformer Martin Luther and the catastrophes, including the Holocaust of the twentieth century, suffered by Jews in places where the Lutheran churches were strongly represented.

In the spirit of truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews … we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations ….

… we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people … Finally, we pray for the continued blessing of the Blessed One upon the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and Jews.”

As we enter the commemoration of 500 years of Protestant Christianity, one can only say amen and amen.

Abraham J. Peck is research professor of history at the University of Southern Maine. He is the co-author (with Gottfried Wagner) of “Unwanted Legacies: Sharing the Burden of Post-Genocide Generations” (2014).

]]> 3 Fri, 25 Nov 2016 20:17:46 +0000
Portland’s Bishop Deeley will chair key U.S. committee Mon, 21 Nov 2016 03:09:17 +0000 The leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is going to serve as chairman of a key committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

U.S. Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore elected Bishop Robert Deeley as chairman-elect of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.

The committee assists bishops by interpreting law and providing direction in implementation of church law. Deeley begins his duties in the fall of 2017.

Deeley has served as bishop in Maine since 2014. The Massachusetts native was ordained to the priesthood in 1973 at Sacred Heart Parish in Watertown, Massachusetts. He previously served in positions including auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston.

]]> 2 Mon, 21 Nov 2016 08:11:56 +0000
Augusta’s clergy will help city draft new zoning regulations Mon, 21 Nov 2016 01:53:38 +0000 AUGUSTA — A new ad hoc committee will tackle the most controversial aspect of several proposed zoning changes and seek to reach consensus on the contentious question of how to define and regulate places of worship and where they may be located.

City councilors approved four of six proposed zoning changes Thursday, tabling action on the other two more controversial proposals.

The two proposals tabled to allow time for additional debate are new definitions and regulations regarding meal centers and food pantries, including soup kitchens, and religious institutions and places of worship.

Area religious leaders have expressed concerns about the city trying to define religious activities and what constitutes worship, suggesting that the new zoning definition and rules could be an infringement on their right to freely practice religion. Of particular concern has been a proposal to limit new “associated uses,” which may occur at a church or other place of worship, such as soup kitchens, day care centers, food pantries and clothing drives, to no more than 16 hours per week unless those uses are permitted in the zone in which the place of worship is located.

Local religious leaders, including the Rev. Erik Karas, priest in charge of St. Mark’s Church and pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, have said feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and providing other services are parts of how they worship and parts of their primary religious function.

Mayor David Rollins said the ad hoc committee formed Thursday will try to reach consensus on a new place of worship definition and regulations for city zoning rules. He said the committee will include Karas, the Rev. Kristin White of Green Street Methodist Church, Ward 1 City Councilor Linda Conti and At-Large Councilor Marci Alexander. The proposal will be tabled until they have a recommendation.

“They’re going to work together, all parties, the neighborhood, clergy, city, to come up with proper language for this,” Rollins said.

He said that councilors will work on changing the proposed new definition and regulations for meal centers and food pantries themselves.

He said downtown merchants have asked that meal centers and food pantries be removed as “conditional use” in the downtown area. He said those uses are conditional uses in the current proposal, but councilors will discuss banning new ones from moving in to the downtown zone at their Dec. 8 meeting.

Conditional uses, generally, undergo a higher level of review and must win Planning Board approval.

Existing operations would be grandfathered from the new rules. Bread of Life Ministries currently has a soup kitchen downtown, which would likely fit under the definition of a meal center.

City Manager William Bridgeo said officials may want to consider making meal centers and food pantries an allowed use in some city zones where they are conditional uses now.

Councilors Thursday did vote to approve four zoning ordinance changes recommended by the Planning Board defining and regulating the location of dwelling units, group homes, rooming houses and shelters.

All six of the proposed new definitions were proposed to clarify city zoning rules after officials and residents expressed concern about the possibility that the St. Mark’s Church property, which is for sale, could be sold and turned into a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter or a similar use.

The zoning ordinance changes also were proposed to clarify the definitions of group homes and rooming houses, and to address definitions that the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals deemed too vague when it overturning a city code enforcement officer’s previous ruling denying an application for a female veterans’ home on Summer Street.


]]> 0, 20 Nov 2016 20:59:39 +0000
Pope warns against ‘virus of polarization’ Sat, 19 Nov 2016 23:05:09 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis warned against what he called a “virus of polarization” and hostility in the world targeting people with different nationalities, races or beliefs, as he led a ceremony Saturday giving the Roman Catholic Church 17 new cardinals from six continents.

The consistory ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica formally inducted the churchmen into the cardinals’ ranks.

Francis used his homily to caution the new “princes of the church,” as cardinals are sometimes called, to guard against animosity creeping into the church as well, saying “we are not immune from this.”

The pope spoke of “our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn,” and cautioned somberly against those who “raise walls, build barriers and label people.”

Earlier this year, when asked about the plan by Donald Trump, then a Republican U.S. presidential candidate and now president-elect, to build a wall to keep Mexicans from entering the U.S., the pope replied that anyone advocating building walls isn’t a Christian.

In Saturday’s homily, Francis commented how “we see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of the stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy.”

]]> 0, 19 Nov 2016 19:54:09 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 19 Nov 2016 21:40:47 +0000 Mehuman Jonson and Holly Joy Grant. Holy Grounds Coffee House. Free. Home-cooked food available for purchase. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Rejoicing Spirits. Special worship service for persons with cognitive or developmental disabilities, followed by fellowship and supper. Free. Trinity Lutheran Church, 612 Main St., Westbrook, 854 5653, 4 p.m. Sunday.

P.R.A.Y. Religious Award Program designed to help children become friends with Jesus, create games that reinforce Bible lessons and provide opportunities for families to explore God’s love together. $5, Bath United Methodist Church, 340 Oak Grove Ave., 9-10 a.m. Sunday.

Interfaith worship service: Counting on your blessings. Free, but donations gratefully accepted. Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Weekly Tibetan Meditation. Come and join us while we learn the principles of meditation. $10 suggested donation. First Parish Church United Church of Christ, 9 Cleaveland St., Brunswick, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Monday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. St. Augustine Anglican Church continues its Bible study series every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at 656 Route 1 in Scarborough where the parish shares worship space with the West Scarborough United Methodist Church. 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 19 Nov 2016 17:09:27 +0000
Reflections: Active giving of thanks can surpass mere gratitude Sat, 19 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The holidays are upon us, one each month of the last quarter year, creating a very busy stretch that all too frequently leaves us feeling spent, emotionally and financially. Increased spending on Halloween adds to Christmas in terms of cost and effort, so this week provides a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect on what we already have in our observance of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American festival that combines religious and civic sentiments. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sacred texts are filled with admonitions to give thanks to God, but the notion of a national day of thanks has historically been controversial. George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison each issued one-time proclamations, but Thomas Jefferson refused to do so.

It was in 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring an annual national day of thanks in hopes of “healing the wounds of the nation” through gratitude.

Whether in the midst of war or in the aftermath of one of the most contentious presidential elections in our history, we know that gratitude is good for us. Scientific studies have even been conducted on the beneficial effects of gratitude to happiness, frame of mind and overall wellness. So much has been said and written on the topic of gratitude that it defies originality and even threatens to be hackneyed and old.

But what if we try thinking of Thanksgiving as a verb rather than a noun? What if we think about the giving part as readily as the thanks? Religious texts call us to give thanks, and I would suggest this is not simply semantic. A study at Indiana University found not only that being thankful fosters happiness and a sense of well being, but further, that giving to others intensifies and strengthens feelings of gratitude and cements measurable and verifiable changes in the part of the brain known as the “neurological gratitude footprint.” Thankful giving strengthens our ability to live gratefully, and promotes the flow of goodness through us to others around us, actually making the world a better place.

In greater Portland, a free community Thanksgiving dinner is funded by donations and prepared by volunteers every year. It’s a great start, but just one day. Holiday giving may bring out our generosity, but again, it’s season specific. What about the rest of the year? Perhaps we can extend the season of giving thanks by resolving to live gratefully all year. This may include giving to others a portion of all that we receive – the principle of tithing (literally meaning 10%), giving to church or charity a portion of all income. My experience of this principle has shown me unfailingly that sharing from our abundance makes our lives more so. The more we give, the more we have. Living gratefully is living more fully, in every season. And the ripple effect of more grateful generosity would surely provide more well-being for us all, addressing persistent issues of income inequality and poverty across the land.

Maybe you don’t feel you have enough for yourself and your family, to say nothing of extra to give away. But the principle of giving thanks applies, and it works, no matter what. If money feels too tight your gift can be some of your time. Just a few hours a week will make a real difference for others and for you. Dozens of churches, projects, and agencies in Greater Portland depend on volunteers to do their good work. Greater Portland United Way ( or Volunteer Maine ( will happily refer you to one that needs what you have to give. I promise you, you will receive more than you give. Simply experiencing yourself as a person who gives to others enriches you in myriad ways. Whatever you give, whomever you give it to, giving is transformative for individual and community.

As we gather with friends or family this Thanksgiving to celebrate what we have received, can we be inspired also to celebrate what we can give? Can we open our hearts and our hands, becoming conduits of plenty for ourselves and for others? Could this help to “heal the wounds of the nation” at a time of deep discord and division? In hopes that it may, let’s resolve to make this Thanksgiving the beginning of Thanks-giving that lasts all year long.

Andrea Thompson McCall is a retired United Church of Christ minister who served as interfaith chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.

]]> 0 Fri, 18 Nov 2016 19:30:57 +0000
White evangelicals embrace unlikely champion Sat, 19 Nov 2016 00:37:06 +0000 For months, Rose Aller kept her support for Donald Trump a secret from colleagues at the Northern Virginia school where she works as a substitute teacher.

“You’re judged for your beliefs,” she said. “Our media branded you a racist, a bigot, a homophobe if you were Republican.”

So Aller stayed quiet. Only at church did she feel surrounded by people who think like her, people who were distraught over the changing values they perceived around them and were pulling for Donald Trump as their unlikely standard-bearer to bring their chosen Christian policies back into the White House.

Late last Tuesday, Aller discovered that she and other members of her church were far from alone. Eighty-one percent of white evangelical voters had voted for Trump. Aller, 46, went to school that Wednesday wearing a red-for-Republican T-shirt and beaming at a few other teachers who seemed jubilant instead of despondent about the election results. She wasn’t the only Trump supporter in school, it turned out.

And that night, at church, she was one of hundreds.

“Let’s take a moment,” Pastor Gary Hamrick exhorted about 500 uplifted congregants at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg that Wednesday night, “to pray for our President-elect, Donald Trump.”


Hands of praise shot into the air.

“Every church is going to be influenced by the culture,” Hamrick said. “The issue becomes, will the church rise up and become an influencer of the culture?”

During the eight years of President Obama’s administration, white evangelical Christians, who make up one-quarter of the American electorate, felt the dominant culture moving away from them.

They watched as same-sex marriage became the law of the land, and as Christians were reviled for saying they didn’t want to provide pizzas or cakes or photographs for those weddings. They heard “Black Lives Matter” and didn’t understand when they were demonized for responding “All Lives Matter.”

They witnessed their nation elect and reelect a president who had disparaged people like them who “cling to guns or religion,” and then later seemed to think that anyone should be allowed to use any bathroom they like.

And then on Wednesday, evangelicals woke up remembering what it’s like to feel victorious in American politics.

“Their deepest desires may be enacted into laws – or hated laws repealed. Their prayers were answered – by electing a rude, crude and morally unacceptable nonbeliever,” Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary professor who studies megachurches and nondenominational evangelical churches, wrote in an email. “I have interacted with a few evangelicals since the election … and every one of them were proud and happy to have had a part in Trump’s election – not exactly because of who Trump is, but what he stood for.”

To be sure, these white evangelical supporters knew Trump was an odd champion. He is a self-declared Presbyterian but never a churchgoer. He is thrice married with a history of boasting about his infidelity, and he leveled insults at people including a beauty queen, a disabled reporter and even the pope.

Exit polls showed that 49 percent of Trump’s voters said they had reservations about him, and almost 1 in 5 voters who considered Trump unqualified to be president still cast a ballot for him. Whenever they spoke in church about Trump, they, too, did it with caveats.

Of course he’s not a Christian like we are. Of course I wish he hadn’t said that thing about grabbing women by the crotch. Of course. But … .


“People wanted to vote for Hillary because they’re like, ‘Trump is a bigot.’ He is! But Hillary is 10 times worse,” Scott Risvold said, sitting on an overstuffed couch in the lobby at Cornerstone Chapel, where he was 45 minutes early for the Wednesday night worship service.

On the opposite couch, Rob Cole nodded. “My sister, I just wanted to unfriend her on Facebook today, because she’s a die-hard Democrat,” he said.

Cole told Risvold, who left a position in military intelligence last year at 29, about a video he watched online in which a Christian speaker abroad hailed Trump’s victory. “It really makes you feel great to be a Christian,” he said.

That’s how Aller, the substitute teacher, felt too. “There’s been a big attack on our Christian faith. I think Christians took a big stand this time and said we’re going to stand up for our faith.”

The morning after the election, Aller said, a black second-grader came into her school and declared, “Trump was elected, so we’re moving.”

Aller said she responded: “We’re going to miss you. Let me know when your last day is. We’ll throw you a goodbye party.”

She said she’s sure the boy knew she was joking.

Then a little girl, also from a minority racial group, said she was unhappy about the result of the election, too, Aller recalled. “I think you should have a more positive attitude about that,” Aller said she told the girl.


Sitting in the back row of Cornerstone’s huge sanctuary on the night after the election, Aller related these stories to fellow churchgoer Morgan Hamrick, who also works as a substitute teacher. “That’s what I was telling the kids. What do you think is going to happen that’s so bad? Like, make America great again,” Hamrick, 23, said.

Hamrick’s father-in-law is the pastor at Cornerstone, a bustling church almost 40 miles outside Washington. Cornerstone’s congregation, predominantly white and multigenerational, is growing fast, and that post-election service was the last Wednesday service before it moved into a new building with a sanctuary twice the size. Stripped for the move, the room was unadorned except for an eight-foot-tall wooden cross on one wall and a few gourds on the stage where a well-amplified band played rock-style hymns.

About 500 people had gathered for worship, and about 220 young people, from a year old through high school-age, met separately for services at the same time.

A number of these Leesburg churchgoers make the long commute to work in the District of Columbia, where many of them feel like the only conservative – and perhaps even the only Christian – at their workplace, Gary Hamrick said. Church is normally their refuge, their place for meeting with like-minded people. When he laid out the candidates’ platforms in a pre-election sermon and then preached that they should vote for the candidate who best matched their values, they almost all knew he meant Trump.

Hispanic Catholics, Jews and some from other faiths voted heavily for Clinton on Election Day. White Catholics and mainline Protestants split for Trump, by a much smaller margin than evangelicals did. But the people who worship at Cornerstone and similar churches turned out in legion for Trump. White evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate, according to the exit polls, and Trump won about 8 in 10 of their votes.

White evangelicals were crucial to Trump’s victory. Had no white evangelicals voted, Clinton would have won in a landslide, 59 percent to 35 percent.

]]> 3, 18 Nov 2016 21:00:03 +0000
Pope praises contributions of Latinos, immigrants Sat, 19 Nov 2016 00:03:54 +0000 BALTIMORE — Pope Francis on Tuesday sent a message to U.S. church leaders praising the contributions of Latino Catholics, a week after Donald Trump was elected president and on the day the bishops put a Mexican-born archbishop in line to be their leader.

Francis noted that the U.S. church has welcomed immigrants throughout its history and said the “rich variety of their languages and cultural traditions” had enriched the church and the country. He urged the U.S. church to “go out from its comfort zone” and heal a society facing “increasing polarization.”

“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experience; to break down walls and to build bridges,” he said.

During the campaign, Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals and pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The pope sent the message to the annual Baltimore meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Earlier Tuesday, the bishops elected Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez as the conference’s first Latino vice president. The vice president customarily becomes president after a three-year term, putting Gomez in line to be the first Latino head of the conference.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas who was elected president for the next three years, said, “we certainly respect the government. … But we also have the shepherd’s heart. If there’s somebody hungry, we’re going to feed them. … If there’s somebody who is a stranger, we want to make them welcome.”

]]> 0, 18 Nov 2016 21:01:10 +0000
Central Maine interfaith gathering counters election angst Wed, 16 Nov 2016 03:47:20 +0000 AUGUSTA — Representatives of more than a dozen local religious groups offered prayer and song Tuesday night in an effort “to rise above the rancor” of the recent presidential election.

More than 90 people listened and sang in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church during the interfaith service, which was called “We the People Rise up Singing: A Multi-faith Service of Healing, Hope and Unity.”

“I’ve seen all the discontent after the election,” said Tracy McNaughton of Farmingdale. “I came to be uplifted and to gather with people from different faiths and learn some different hymns.”

Marty Soule of Readfield said this is a time when people need to be together. She normally wears brown, she said, but on Tuesday she had some purple on to symbolize her belief that “the red and the blue in this country need to come together.”

“These are challenging times,” she said. “There is a lot of pain from the election and a lot of pain that led to where the election went. I think we need to take care of everybody, and (in particular) people who might be endangered.”

Soule said gathering people from many different faiths is a good way to increase love and openness.

“I’m here to stay happy,” said Edda Thiele of Hallowell. “I’m here to remember to feel good.” Thiele also said she belonged to several choirs, so she came to sing. She added that she represents four religious traditions: Buddhist, Episcopalian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist.

The service was organized by the Rev. Carie Johnsen of the Unitarian Universalist church; Rabbi Erica Asch of Temple Beth El, and Pastor Maggie Edmondson of the Winthrop Center Friends Church.

It began with “Call to Prayer” from the Islamic tradition, and at one point, Rita Moran, representing Immanent Grove, part of the pagan tradition, introduced the song “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream.” She said, “It starts with middle ‘C,’ neither to the left nor the right.” Moran, who is also chairman of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, said she wanted to dedicate the song to the men and women and children in Mosul, Iraq, who were not safe Tuesday night and who did not know when they would be safe.

Claire Cline of the Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is, read from the Tablets of Baha’u’llah, saying, “Our hope is that the world’s religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely afflicted world the remedy it requireth.”

As Johnsen was readying the sanctuary and answering questions before the service, she said she hoped that people of deep differences could come together to recognize and celebrate common ground.

She said the week between the election and the service gave people “time to process their own reactions,” and now they could come together to celebrate their diversity and find what they have in common.


]]> 1, 15 Nov 2016 23:27:35 +0000
Augusta parish will celebrate church’s 100th anniversary Sat, 12 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — When work began on the foundation of St. Augustine Church in June 1915, architects stopped construction because they feared the building would sink into Sand Hill.

Church lore has it that the Rev. Zenon Decarie held an all-night prayer vigil, and the next day, builders found the ledge they needed to continue construction of the granite church designed to hold more than 1,300 people.

And now, 100 years after the church was completed, St. Michael Parish will celebrate the anniversary of the church’s opening with a special Mass and reception Nov. 19.

The Mass begins at 4 p.m. at the church, the first stone church built by Franco-Americans in Maine, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

The Rev. Frank Morin said it will be a celebration of not only the building itself, but also of the community it created.

“It’s honoring the French Catholic expression of faith and remembering our roots in an appreciative way, because we’re the way we are today because of (them),” Morin said.

Several generations have experienced baptisms, communions, weddings and funerals inside the historic church, and Morin and David Madore, co-chairman of the celebration committee, hope that continues for generations to come.

“It should always feel like you’re coming home, no matter how long you’ve been gone,” Madore said.


]]> 1, 12 Nov 2016 00:26:31 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 12 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Letting Go of Anger. Mini-Meditation Retreat: Overcoming anger becomes easier the more we practice; this retreat is the perfect opportunity to learn how to do this. $25. The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Eastern Maine Pagan Pride Day. Free. Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, 120 Park St., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

P.R.A.Y. Religious Award Program, God and Me religious award program designed to help children become best friends with Jesus. Games that reinforce Bible lessons and opportunities for families to explore God’s love together. $5. Bath United Methodist Church. 340 Oak Grove Ave., 9-10 a.m. Sunday.

Making meaningful change: How God’s love can change your life and the world with Christian Science practitioner Mark McCurties, former educator and athletic coach. Free. First Church of Christ, Scientist, 61 Neal St., Portland, 1-2 p.m. Sunday.

Brunswick Weekly Tibetan Meditation. Come and join us while we learn about the principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation. $10 suggested donation. First Parish Church United Church of Christ, Brunswick, 9 Cleaveland St., 5:30-6:45 p.m. Monday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. The Rev. Jeff Monroe, St. Augustine Anglican Church, continues Bible Study series every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at 656 Route 1 in Scarborough.

Hallowell Buddhist Meditation. Learn the principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and philosophy. This is not a religious class. All are welcome. Class will begin with a short lecture, followed by guided meditation, group discussion and more meditation. $8 suggested donation. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 20 Union St., Hallowell, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Wednesday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 11 Nov 2016 18:42:23 +0000
Election may mean evangelical schism Sat, 12 Nov 2016 00:29:24 +0000 Teryn O’Brien has stopped calling herself evangelical. As a 28-year-old living in Colorado Springs, O’Brien has held concerns with the conservative brand of evangelical Christianity for years now, but she described this election as “the final straw.”

O’Brien said American evangelicals have historically held the upper hand in America and are seeing that power slip away. Searching to recapture it, many of them turned to Donald Trump, someone she sees as racist, misogynist and antithetical to Christian behavior.

Now O’Brien, who now attends an Anglican church, has dropped the “evangelical” label, simply calling herself a Christian. But she said it has become hard to distinguish “evangelical” from “Christian,” given that evangelicals make up about a quarter of the U.S. population.

Among evangelicals, which as a group are about three-quarters white, are definitely the loudest group by far, she said. And so they often get the most attention. Exit polls show 81 percent of white evangelicals across the country backed Trump.

“This election has truly shown the underbelly of the toxic relationship that can develop between politics and religion,” O’Brien said.


Political divisions have run deep within churches and families, and observers say this election cycle has exposed underlying political and racial divisions within Christianity as a whole, but especially among evangelicals. As a result, some religious leaders are afraid of damage done to the perception of the Christian faith in the United States during this election cycle.

Evangelical pastors say tensions have soared during the election season, and some are questioning whether they can even continue to use the label evangelical for fear of being associated with Trump.

“I keep trying to disavow that I am ‘that’ brand of evangelical but after tonight, I don’t know if I even want to have any association with that label anymore,” Helen Lee, who works for evangelical publisher InterVarsity Press, said on Tuesday.

Eugene Cho, a pastor of an evangelical church in Seattle, said that his church building was recently painted with “F– organized religion,” though he is unsure whether it’s connected to Trump or the election.

“The election has made things more hostile or given permission to people to be more aggressive on both sides,” Cho said.

Cho, who has pledged that he will never endorse a candidate from the pulpit, joined a group of evangelicals in the fall condemning Trump, arguing his campaign “affirms racist elements in white culture.”

“People just think that all evangelicals support Donald Trump or support particular platforms or a certain way of thinking,” Cho said. “This was just to communicate there isn’t a monolithic thought within the so-called evangelical wing of Christianity.”

After a video of Trump was released showing he joked about sexually assaulting women, some religious leaders said that while his comments were inappropriate, he was still the best candidate. Others rejected the idea that those leaders were speaking on everyone’s behalf.


“The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come,” Richard Rohr, a Franciscan author and teacher tweeted after those comments.

Some leaders are worried about the lasting impact this election will have inside churches. Russell Moore, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s political advocacy arm, is deeply concerned about the impact of Christian leaders who defended Trump and the potential damage it has had within churches.

“One evangelical woman said to me, ‘I’ve spent all my life saying the church is going to be a place where you can go when you face this sort of thing.’ Now I’m looking around, and a pastor is saying ‘This isn’t a big deal.’ That’s going to take a lot of work to undo,” he said.

The contrast between different groups of religious voters this election season is striking, said Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College. Polls ahead of the election showed Catholics divided, and that many Mormons abandoned the Republican Party compared with years past. But evangelicals voted for Trump in even greater numbers than they voted for Republican candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain.

“Trump has been a candidate where one could say, ‘Is there no point at which you won’t vote for the Republicans?'” Silk said. “I think that’s what’s given away the extent to which personal identity for religious conservatives and churchgoers has become wrapped up in Republicanism.”


In their book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam and Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell argue that the extraordinary rise of people who affiliate with no religion is due in part to their rejection of its entanglement with politics. Today 22 percent of the population says they have no faith.

“For many, their aversion to religion is rooted in unease with the association between religion and conservative politics,” Putnam and Campbell wrote. “If religion equals Republican, then they have decided that religion is not for them.”

Michael Wear, who did evangelical outreach for President Obama’s campaign in 2008, said that people have been talking about rebranding evangelicals or even Christianity in America for several years.

“The people I work with view Trump as a moment for Christians to actually separate themselves from towing a particular party line,” Wear said. “We’re going to have four years to test that theory.”

White Christian Protestants have dominated America’s political and social landscape for most of its history. But 2008 marked the last in which Protestants represented a majority of Americans, said demographer Robert P. Jones.

For most of U.S. history, mainline and evangelical Protestants have dominated the landscape, spiritually and politically. But as Protestants’ majority has waned, Jones writes in his book, “The End of White Christian America,” Young Americans are less than half as likely to be white Christians as those 65 and older.

This timer, there was a divided voice among Christian leaders as a whole, Jones said. Catholic bishops were much quieter than in elections past, while the so-called “values voters,” Christian conservatives who historically coalesced on issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, largely backed Trump.

“It’s going to be poignant that the group that has sold themselves as ‘values voters’ has abandoned those arguments and justifications,” Jones said.

]]> 0, 11 Nov 2016 19:32:29 +0000
To some evangelists, Trump a gift from above Fri, 11 Nov 2016 23:31:47 +0000 Evangelist Franklin Graham said that prayer – and God’s answer to it – helped Donald Trump and Mike Pence pull off “the biggest political upset of our lifetime.”

Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, did not formally endorse Trump, but he has shown his support for the nation’s 45th president.

“Did God show up?,” Graham wrote on Facebook on Thursday morning. “In watching the news after the election, the secular media kept asking ‘How did this happen?’ ‘What went wrong?’ ‘How did we miss this?’ Some are in shock. Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn’t have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor.”

Evangelical leaders from the religious right – including Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins and Ralph Reed – stood by Trump during a heated election season.

By Wednesday morning, Christian leaders across the United States also extended congratulations and prayers to the president-elect.

Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, showed support for Trump and his plans to “make America great again.”

Graham also congratulated the president-elect and vice president-elect on their win.

“One thing is for sure, we need to pray for our new president, vice president, and our other leaders every day – whether we agree with them or not,” he wrote Wednesday on Facebook.

“They need God’s help and direction. It is my prayer that we will trying be ‘one nation under God.’ ”

He reiterated that statement again Thursday.

]]> 3, 11 Nov 2016 18:44:19 +0000
Lawsuit filed in Wisconsin over teaching religion Fri, 11 Nov 2016 23:24:39 +0000 EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — A faith-based advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students whose community service doesn’t count toward graduation because it involved teaching religious doctrine at a church.

The university requires 30 hours of “service learning activity” before graduation.

“If the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire wants to require its students to perform community service, then it must treat all forms of community service as equally valuable and equally worthwhile.

“This kind of animosity toward religion, this kind of discrimination towards religion, in unconstitutional,” said the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the students.

Assistant Chancellor Mike Rindo told WQOW-TV that the university’s guidebook says time spent promoting religious doctrine or worship won’t be counted.

In this case, one student was assisting a second-grade religion class at Newman Parish. The other was teaching Sunday school at the same church.

Students are encouraged to work with their advisers to get prior approval of their service work, the university said. The lawsuit filed on behalf of students Alexandra Liebl and Madelyn Rysavy was filed in the Western District of U.S. District Court.

]]> 0 Fri, 11 Nov 2016 19:05:52 +0000
Pope asks homeless to pardon unsympathetic Christians Fri, 11 Nov 2016 23:24:14 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis asked homeless people during a moving ceremony Friday to pardon all the Christians who turn away from the poor instead of help them.

Francis stood silently in a Vatican auditorium with his head bowed as he let several homeless individuals place their hands on his shoulders or clutch his cassock.

Some 4,000 people from 22 countries who either are now homeless or who spent years living on streets filled the auditorium in one of Francis’ final events during the Catholic Church’s Holy Year of Mercy.

“I ask pardon,” the pope said, on behalf of Christians who, “faced with a poor person or a situation of poverty, look the other way.”

After some of the homeless recounted their difficult lives, Francis praised the poor for holding fast to their dignity.

He asked his homeless guests to stay seated while he stood to pray that God “teach us to be in solidarity because we are brothers.”

Rome daily La Repubblica on Friday published the pope’s response when he was asked on the eve of the U.S. presidential election what he thought of Donald Trump.

“I don’t give judgments on persons and political men,” Francis replied.

Instead, the pontiff reportedly told La Repubblica, “I only want to understand the sufferings that their way of proceeding causes the poor and the excluded.”

Friday’s audience with homeless people was scheduled for the day the church honors St. Martin of Tours, famed for cutting his cloak with his sword and giving half to a poor man shivering in winter. Francis has given medals depicting Martin to world leaders.

The church’s Holy Year of Mercy, which stressed attention to those on life’s margins, ends Nov. 20 with a Mass celebrated by Francis.

]]> 0, 11 Nov 2016 18:58:04 +0000
As election nears, Pope Francis warns against political use of fear, building walls Sun, 06 Nov 2016 17:31:42 +0000 Pope Francis on Saturday condemned the political use of fear and the building of walls, describing the refugee crisis as “a problem of the world” and urging political leaders to do more, according to America magazine.

The pope did not name names and did not refer to the upcoming U.S. presidential election, but he spoke about issues that have come up in the 2016 campaigns, including immigration and refugees. The speech, given in Spanish, included a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“No tyranny can be sustained without exploiting our fears,” the pope said, according to comments published by the Vatican Radio. “Citizens are walled-up, terrified, on one side; on the other side, even more terrified, are the excluded and banished.”

Fear “is fed and manipulated,” Pope Francis said. “Because fear – as well as being a good deal for the merchants of arms and death – weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others, and in the end it makes us cruel.”

Pope Francis gave his remarks Saturday evening during a meeting at the Vatican with participants in the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a collection of grass-roots organizations that include the poor and the unemployed. The pope urged the defeat of “false prophets who exploit fear and desperation, who sell magic formulas of hatred and cruelty or selfish well-being and illusory security,” according to comments published by Catholic News Service.

Francis said that mercy is the “best antidote” to fear, according to CNS. It works better than antidepressants, he said, and is “much more effective than walls, iron bars, alarms and weapons. And it is free.”

Trump has proposed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep undocumented immigrants from entering the United States. After he visited the border during a visit to Mexico in February, the pope said that politicians who propose building walls instead of bridges are “not Christian,” leading to a scuffle with Trump. Vatican officials said later that the pope was not speaking about specific candidates.

Trump has also proposed a ban on Muslims and refugees from countries experiencing terrorism. A newly named cardinal, Archbishop of Indianapolis Joseph Tobin, made headlines last year when he openly defied Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to try to block Syrian refugees from the state. Pence, who is Trump’s vice presidential running mate, joined dozens of governors last year in objecting to the federal government’s program to resettle refugees from Syria in the Unites States, citing security risks. The bishops, including Tobin, openly challenged the governors.

“No one should be forced to flee his or her homeland,” Francis said on Saturday, according to CNS. “But the evil is doubled when, facing terrible circumstances, the migrant is thrown into the clutches of human traffickers to cross the border. And it is tripled if, arriving in the land where he or she hoped to find a better future, one is despised, exploited or even enslaved.”

The Obama administration announced in September that the United States is planning to accept 110,000 refugees in 2017. A vice president at Catholic Relief Services said that aid organization welcomed the news, but that it was not sufficient enough to address “the 65 million globally displaced people around the world right now.”

On Saturday, Francis quoted from one of the sermons of King, the late civil rights activist. “Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe,” he said.

Francis said politics is not the place for “anyone who is too attached to material things or to the mirror, those who love money, lavish banquets, sumptuous houses, refined clothes, luxury cars.” Seeking power or money “sullies the noble cause” of politics as service, the pope said.

“Fight the fear with a life of service, solidarity and humility on behalf of the people, especially those who suffer,” he said, according to CNS. “Against the terror, the best remedy is love. Love heals all.”

]]> 2, 07 Nov 2016 08:01:57 +0000
Pope Francis denounces governments’ neglect of poor Sat, 05 Nov 2016 20:31:35 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has denounced the “scandalous” amounts of money that governments and world institutions have found to save ailing banks but not suffering people, including migrants who are dying as they try to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Francis denounced these policies as a “bankruptcy of humanity.”

The pope spoke at the Vatican to an international group including environmentalists, labor union activists and indigenous rights activists.

Francis said: “What happens in the world of today is that when a bank is bankrupt, scandalous sums immediately appear to save it,” while much smaller amounts of money cannot be found for the poor.

]]> 0, 05 Nov 2016 17:40:23 +0000
Reflections: Bible teaches the right time to speak and act is every day Sat, 05 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Mary came to my office in tears. Because of her illness, Mary knew she would not be living long and did not want to make the same mistake she made with her mother. As Mary’s mother’s health was declining, her mother said to Mary, “There are things I never told you.” Not wanting to distress her mother further, Mary replied, “You don’t have to tell me now.” Mary’s mother rapidly deteriorated over a few days. In the hospital, Mary asked her mother, “What did you want to tell me?” Slipping into a coma never to recover, her mother could not answer her. That was 26 years ago and it still bothered Mary. “I don’t have much time left. I want my daughter and my grandchildren to know who I am and what I believe and feel. When should I tell them what I want desperately to share with them?” she pleaded.

A recent column in The New York Times by Katie Roiphe suggested that nearly everyone has a fantasy about a “last conversation,” but few people actually have it. Roiphe claims this “may be the last chance for the dying person to clarify, but clarity doesn’t necessarily come. In this way, death is a lot like life.” In her research, she found that most “did not find their way to conversation that offered a satisfying ending. They left things messy, unresolved, dangling.” In her column, Roiphe does not offer any solution to this conundrum.

In the Bible, there is a character whose life may help us with this vexing problem. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for the rite of dedication required by the Law of Moses (Exodus 13:1-2). One of those they encountered at the Temple was Anna: “There was also a prophet Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was 84. She never left the Temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them (Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus) that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2: 36-38).”

Anna helps us in two ways in communicating who we are to our family and others: First, Anna spoke her mind about what she believed and did not wait until her final days: “(Anna) gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2: 38).” Secondly, she lived a transparent life so that her beliefs showed through her actions: “(Anna) never left the Temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying (Luke 2:37).”

Anna would counsel Mary not to wait until the very end of her life to speak her mind to her family. That day might not come in a fashion to allow Mary to speak coherently or extensively. There is often too much to say about a lifetime in just a few words or in a short time. Roiphe is insightful when she adds “the last conversation is perhaps just the feeling that there is something more to say.” It takes time to open up our hearts. Anna would recommend: Say something whenever you have the chance.

What if an individual does not have the opportunity to speak with her family at the end of her life? Another patient of mine said her family came together to celebrate her 90th birthday. Jeannette lamented to me, “They had no interest in my life, past or present. They asked me nothing!” Jeannette asked me how could she then pass on what mattered most to her family. Jeannette could also learn from Anna in the Bible. There was still time for Jeannette to pass on her legacy. Anna would counsel Jeannette to live openly so her family could see what was important to her by her actions. If Jeannette wanted to pass on what she considered what was good, she should live a good life.

The right time to speak and the right time to act is every day.

Dr. Delvyn C. Case, Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist, and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

]]> 2 Fri, 04 Nov 2016 20:52:06 +0000
Priesthood for women is unlikely, Pope Francis says Tue, 01 Nov 2016 23:12:18 +0000 Pope Francis said the Catholic Church will probably continue banning women from serving as priests forever, according to journalists who were traveling on a plane with him Tuesday.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, a Swedish journalist on the plane asked, “Is it realistic to think that there might be women priests also in the Catholic Church in the next few decades?”

When Francis said no, the journalist reportedly asked, “But really forever? Never?”

The pope reportedly replied, “If we read carefully the declaration made by St. John Paul II, it goes in that direction.”

Francis was referring to the earlier pope’s 1994 letter that noted that Jesus chose only men as his apostles. “The exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church,” John Paul II wrote in that letter.

Some advocates for the ordination of women saw a glimmer of hope in Francis’ decision earlier this year to create a commission to study the role of female deacons in the church. Deacons are clergy in the Catholic church, who can perform many of the functions of priests Women served as deacons in the early centuries of the church, but are currently banned from doing so.

Some saw the new commission, which Francis appointed seven men and six women to in August, as a harbinger of priesthood for women in the future.

Boston College theologian James Bretzke said when Francis created the committee, “If women can be ordained as deacons, then this is going to weaken – not destroy -– but weaken significantly the argument that women absolutely are incapable of being ordained as priests. So this is opening more than a crack in the door.”

This is not the first time Francis has stated his objection to the idea of women ever becoming priests. The subject came up again Tuesday because he was in Sweden to commemorate the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with Lutheran church leaders. The leader of the Lutheran church in Sweden is Archbishop Antje Jackelen, the first woman to fill the role.

]]> 1, 01 Nov 2016 19:19:14 +0000
Reflections: ‘The depth of your wrongness is so deep that it is unknowable’ Sat, 29 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There was a cartoon in the Aug. 29 issue of The New Yorker titled “When Monks Marry.” Two monks, both with shaved heads, are sitting in what appears to be the lotus position. It’s hard to tell because their robes are draped over them in identical ways as they face us. Each has a grimace and the smaller monk, perhaps the wife, says, “The depth of your wrongness is so deep that it is unknowable.” I laughed out loud.

The cartoonist is named Kim Warp. He or she, let’s say Kim is a she, has caught the spirit of our time, maybe in marriage but certainly in public discourse. It is a cruel and polarizing spirit I find painful and frightening. Warp’s cartoon is funny because that spirit is spoken in the language of mystics.

Where do we find a countervailing spirit? Warp is halfway there. Having her couple looking like Buddhist monks may suggest that even our sacred traditions have fallen prey to rigid and angry antagonism. Or she may be suggesting that in this faith tradition, words for angry feelings can be found to continue a dialogue. I suspect her intent is the former, but either way she gives us a picture that allows us to laugh at ourselves, which is the stuff of grace.

This is hopeful in the way that our ability to laugh at ourselves is hopeful. The hope is in grace, be it small or large portion. Grace or gracefulness leads us to whatever mutuality will be found by those increasingly fed up with our present political scatology grounded in its bitter either/or hyperbole. This is definitely not the both/and perspective of the mystical traditions.

Words of grace are the bedrock of our faiths’ oral traditions – words such as kindness, justice, humility, compassion, love, reverence, sacrifice, faithfulness, joy. The frightened spirit of our day, tempted to domination as the way to happiness, appears to categorize these words of grace as weak, boring, the practice of losers. And they are boring in the abstract, but courageous when practiced in the real world of a frightened culture. My church may have found a book full of such words.

The church I attend, The First Parish in Yarmouth, is, as are many others, a good church. One thing that makes it so is that in our search to understand God and grace in our lives we have found ways to tell one another stories of our fears, our vulnerabilities and our losses, and tell, if found, how and where love and forgiveness appeared in the midst of them.

Our church Library Committee looks for books for a “church read” three or four times a year that explore expressions of that spirit in our lives and the life of the world. The congregation is invited to read them. Each is then integral to a sermon preached on a Book Read Sunday. The book we have recommended for our next read, to be preached about and discussed on Nov. 20, is “The Book of Joy – Lasting Happiness in a World of Change.” It gives voice to the Spirit that moderates our fear, maximizes our hope and empowers the opening of our hearts and souls to and for one another and others.

“The Book of Joy” records a week-long conversation between a Tibetan Buddhist, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a South African Christian, Bishop Desmond Tutu. These are playful holy men who kneel tall in our world longing for grace-filled words. They are well aware of the struggles, brutalities and the bloody abuses of ego-driven power in our world. They know pain in their own lives and of the pain in the lives of all people. Yet in and through it and above all, as a consequence of their faiths and practices, they know joy.

One aspect of their delight is found in their laughter. The editor of their conversations, Douglas Abrams, comments in the foreword on the laughter coming from the rooms they shared. A story is told of their waiting in the wings to appear in conversation before an audience. As they were about to go on stage, the Dalai Lama grabbed Tutu’s neck as if to choke him. They wrestled playfully and Tutu admonished him with a wink, “Is this any way for holy men to behave?” Their laughter affirmed that it was. There are a number of significant themes dealt with in the interchanges of the two men, for example, beginning on page 193 “Perspective – there are many different angles.”

These days, good humor and mature perspective seem wanting in much of our political discourse. Thus happiness, which leans toward but is not joy, is thought to be found in infallibility and domination. Safety is sought by projecting blame and denying vulnerability. The cost of this strategy is the loss of intimacy, empathy and authenticity. In religious terms, this is a refusal to confess. The irony of this stance is that it prohibits forgiveness. Forgiveness, given and received, is the stuff of grace that opens the doors of our hearts to experience love and practice mutual aid, just where joy is found.

May the day come when The New Yorker’s married monks speak of their mutual forgiveness, acknowledging that it comes from an unknowable source and yet, at the same time, is of their making. This is one of the paradoxes found in mystical insight and, at least to mystics, is funny. That cartoon will not be as funny as its predecessor but it will speak of grace and show joy on their faces.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Fri, 28 Oct 2016 20:35:25 +0000
Don’t scatter, divvy up or hold onto cremains, Vatican instructs Tue, 25 Oct 2016 21:13:30 +0000 VATICAN CITY – The Vatican on Tuesday published guidelines for Catholics who want to be cremated, saying their remains cannot be scattered, divvied up or kept at home but rather stored in a sacred, church-approved place.

The new instructions were released just in time for Halloween and “All Souls Day” on Nov. 2, when the faithful are supposed to pray for and remember the dead.

For most of its 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church only permitted burial, arguing that it best expressed the Christian hope in resurrection. But in 1963, the Vatican explicitly allowed cremation as long as it didn’t suggest a denial of faith about resurrection.

The new document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith repeats that burial remains preferred, with officials calling cremation a “brutal destruction” of the body. But it lays out guidelines for conserving ashes for the increasing numbers of Catholics who choose cremation for economic, ecological or other reasons.

It said it was doing so to counter what it called “new ideas contrary to the church’s faith” that had emerged since 1963, including New Age-y ideas that death is a “fusion” with Mother Nature and the universe, or the “definitive liberation” from the prison of the body.

To set the faithful straight, the Vatican said ashes and bone fragments cannot be kept at home, since that would deprive the Christian community as a whole of remembering the dead. Rather, church authorities should designate a sacred place, such as a cemetery or church area, to hold them.

Only in extraordinary cases can a bishop allow ashes to be kept at home, it said. Vatican officials declined to say what circumstances would qualify, but presumably countries where Catholics are a persecuted minority and where Catholic churches and cemeteries have been ransacked would qualify.

The document said remains cannot be divided among family members or put in lockets or other mementos. Nor can the ashes be scattered in the air, land or sea since doing so would give the appearance of “pantheism, naturalism or nihilism,” the guidelines said.

It repeated church teaching that Catholics who choose to be cremated for reasons contrary to the Christian faith must be denied a Christian funeral.

The new instruction carries an Aug. 15 date and says Pope Francis approved it March 18.

The author of the text, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, was asked at a Vatican briefing if Francis had any reservations about the text, particularly the refusal to let family members keep remains of their loved ones at home.

“The dead body isn’t the private property of relatives, but rather a son of God who is part of the people of God,” Mueller said. “We have to get over this individualistic thinking.”

While the new instruction insists that remains be kept together, Vatican officials said they are not about to go gather up the various body parts of saints that are scattered in churches around the world. The practice of divvying up saints’ bodies for veneration – a hand here, a thigh bone there – was a fad centuries ago but is no longer in favor.

“Going to all the countries that have a hand of someone would start a war among the faithful,” reasoned Monsignor Angel Rodriguez Luno, a Vatican theological adviser.

]]> 3, 25 Oct 2016 18:37:41 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 22 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Operation Christmas Child Full Circle speaker. Alex Nsengimana, will share his story of receiving an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift as a child in Rwanda during the genocide in the 1990s. Free. Deering Center Community Church, 4 Brentwood St., Portland, 2-4 p.m. Saturday.

Maine Peace Walkers. Hosted by State Street Church, United Church of Christ. Potluck dinner followed by program. State Street Church, 159 State St., Portland,, 6-8 p.m. Saturday.

Operation Christmas Child Full Circle speaker. Alex Nsengimana will share his story of receiving an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift as a child in Rwanda during the genocide in the 1990s. Free. Evergreen Covenant Church, 1861 Main St., Sanford, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Ballot issue discussions: Education. Allen Avenue Unitarian Church, 524 Allen Ave., Portland,, Sunday.

Brunswick Weekly Tibetan Meditation. Come and join us while we learn about the principles of Tibetan Buddhist Meditation. $10 suggested donation. First Parish Church United Church of Christ, Brunswick, 9 Cleaveland St., 5:30-6:45 p.m. Monday.

Hallowell Buddhist Meditation, learn about the principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and philosophy. This is not a religious class, all are welcome. Class will begin with a short lecture, followed by guided meditation, group discussion and more meditation. $8 suggested donation. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 20 Union St., Hallowell, 805-8683, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. The Rev. Jeff Monroe of St. Augustine Anglican Church continues Bible Study series every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at 656 Route 1 in Scarborough, where the parish shares worship space with the West Scarborough United Methodist Church.

“Harvesting Hope.” A program sponsored by Interfaith Ministers of New England is a presentation of some of the Maine groups that have come together to help refugees make their way in Maine. Open to the public. Saturday, Oct. 29, from 9:30 a.m. to noon with potluck lunch to follow. Portland New Church. Stevens Avenue, Portland. For more information, call Jean Berman at 838-9000.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 22 Oct 2016 15:22:18 +0000
Reflections: God’s love and forgiveness can overcome even the deepest divisions Sat, 22 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Watching the worsening refugee crisis, I could no longer sit idly as 11 million Syrians – half of the country’s population – fled their homes. Of these, 4 million have sought protection in nearby lands, many of which have grown increasingly closed to accepting them.

Images of families trekking down endless roads, carrying their belongings and children, filled me with despair. What if they were our kids? But on a little budget with a big family, how could we help?

The answer was as close as my kitchen. Why not organize a Refugee Relief Dinner at our church, a small, somewhat elderly congregation. Granted, I’d never organized a church dinner or cooked – let alone tasted – Syrian food. But I could follow a recipe, and the Internet offered plenty. The big question: Would people come?

A recent poll by LifeWay Research found that Protestants are twice as likely to fear refugees as to help them. When I pitched my idea at church, one member asked whether the money would solely help Christians. If not, he said, people might not participate. Running through my head were Jesus’ words to love your enemies, “But if you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?” Matthew 5:46 (NLT).

“But we’re a church,” I said. “This is what we do, help people. All people.”

So that’s what we decided to do.

To better understand the refugee experience, we invited a former Liberian refugee, author Marcus Doe, to share his own story about losing his family and fleeing his homeland at age 11. Then we posted invitations all over town. Individual church members sponsored our speaker and donated ingredients for the meal. Local businesses and a farm did, too.

I had no idea how many to expect but cooked enough for 100. And, hey, if we ran out of food, maybe we’d all better understand the refugee experience. A week before our dinner, however, I’d received only one phone call, a gruff male voice asking, “Are you ready for a protest?”

“A what?” I answered.

“A protest,” he said.

Only then did I realize he meant in opposition to the dinner.

Not knowing what else to say, I invited him, too.

Five days before our meal, I dove in, kneading more than 80 rounds of Syrian flatbread; pureeing 11 pounds of humus; chopping 20 pounds of cucumber and tomatoes for Syrian salad; sautéing 10 pounds of garlicky green beans; simmering 240 Syrian meatballs seasoned with mounds of fresh-chopped parsley and pungent Baharat – a traditional blend of spices that I was more accustomed to sprinkling over pies than mixing in ground hamburger; and baking sticky-sweet yogurt and semolina cakes.

As I diced and mixed and baked and boiled, I noticed that in India and East Africa, the same ingredients used to make Syrian flatbread – water, salt, and oil – are called Chapatti. In South and Central America, it’s a tortilla. The same with Syrian salad – a blend of cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil – which I’d first tasted in Israel, where it is called Israeli salad.

Maybe we’re not so different, I realized. After all, we too come from the same ingredients – human beings created in the image of God – no matter what labels or languages divide us. Maybe this is why, at its core, the Bible’s message toward others is to love, to have compassion, to treat them the way you yourself want to be treated.

The night of the dinner, two Sunday school teachers and my mother-in-law helped set up. My 13-year-old daughter filled canning jars with flowers, and the spicy scent of cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and cloves filled the fellowship hall as people straggled in. One woman paid for a table of 10 – despite only one person accepting her invitation. Nearly every seat was taken.

We never did face a protest that night, but together we raised $580 to help those whose lives have been scarred by fear and hate. We heard a powerful message about how God’s love and forgiveness can overcome even the deepest divisions. And, as the sun set over the neighboring fields and folks lingered in the parking lot, I knew that it was true.

Meadow Rue Merrill writes and reflects on God’s presence in her everyday life from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her memoir, “Redeeming Ruth,” releases in May 2017. Find her at

]]> 1 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 20:51:08 +0000
Reflections: Repentence needn’t be served only on holy days Sat, 15 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I start almost every day at The Q St. Diner in South Portland. I first went there a few years ago to meet someone who told me the food was good. I liked it enough to go back and keep going back. The food is good, but that is not what brings me back there every day. This diner is a local equivalent of the famous bar in Cheers, where everybody knows your name. From the owner, to the waitresses, to the other patrons that I see almost every day, I always get a friendly greeting by name and a chance to get caught up on all of the day’s events.

These days I am somewhat preoccupied when I go there. I have been preparing for the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that are upon us. These special days for Jews throughout the world are in some ways like the Super Bowl for rabbis. We have to prepare sermons, review prayers and liturgy and prepare to meet our congregants, some of whom will not be seen in synagogue until next year’s High Holy Days.

This is also a time that we dedicate for personal reflection and introspection. We think of aspects of our lives where we have fallen short and where we might want to make changes. We also bring to mind all of the good things that we have accomplished and try to imagine doing more in those areas. We understand that fundamental changes do not happen instantly. If, however, we examine ourselves and identify issues where we need work, we can begin to see change occur. We believe that God created life and also gave us the power to change life. Our faith in God has to include faith in hope and faith in transformation. We must also have faith that we will be forgiven for past mistakes and faith that we can change.

It seems that the Jewish High Holy days are all about repentance, change and forgiveness. We believe that if we are sincere in our desires, God will forgive us our sins as Yom Kippur draws to a close.

There is one big exception. Any sins that we commit against other people cannot be forgiven by God. We must ask forgiveness from those against whom we have sinned to get atonement from them.

I begin to think about all of the people with whom I interact in the course of any given day. I run through a mental checklist … family, friends, congregants, business associates.

Have I done something, either knowingly or unknowingly, that has hurt or otherwise impacted negatively upon someone else? I can think of a few instances where I will need to make amends.

Have I thought of everybody? All of us deal with so many different people in the course of a year. My goal every year is not to wait until this time of year to make amends with those who are in my life.

If we live every day as if it were our last, we would be more likely to ask forgiveness and to forgive others every day of our lives.

It is often said that the secret to a happy marriage is to not go to bed angry with each other. To do so often requires a discussion that is followed by an apology from one and forgiveness from the other.

During these High Holy Days, I come back around to thinking about my friends and acquaintances at Q St. Diner.

My relationship with them is symbolic of all of the relationships in my life.

While some may be more meaningful than others, everyone I meet is important to me and should be treated with respect and honor. I hope this season, with its focus on reflection, change and faith in God who loves us and helps us, will help bring all of us closer together.

Rabbi Gary Berenson is the Executive Director of the Maine Jewish Museum and serves as the rabbi of Etz Chaim Synagogue in Portland. He can be reached by email at

]]> 0 Fri, 14 Oct 2016 20:46:34 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 08 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Ballot issue discussions: Sunday, marijuana; Oct. 16, minimum wage; Oct. 23, education. Allen Avenue Unitarian Church, 524 Allen Ave., Portland,

Brunswick Weekly Tibetan Meditation. Come and join us while we learn about the principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation. $10 suggested donation. First Parish Church United Church of Christ, Brunswick, 9 Cleaveland St., Brunswick, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Monday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. St. Augustine Anglican Church continues its Bible Study series every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. 656 Route 1, Scarborough, where the parish shares worship space with the West Scarborough United Methodist Church. The group meets in the library, which is in the white building adjacent to the church.

Hallowell Buddhist Meditation. Learn the basic principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and philosophy. This is not a religious class; all are welcome. Class will begin with a short lecture, followed by guided meditation, group discussion and more meditation. $8 suggested donation, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 20 Union St., Hallowell, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Film screening. The public is invited to a showing of “Sister Heart: the Story of an Indian Nun,” a 72-minute documentary film about Maher (“Mother’s Home”), a unique interfaith refuge for battered, at-risk women and children in India. $20, students $5. Maine College of Art, Osher Hall, 522 Congress St., Portland,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Harvest Ball. Tenth annual Harvest Ball at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. $55 per person, $400 for a table of eight, $500 for a table of 10., 6-11 p.m. Friday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 08 Oct 2016 18:14:52 +0000
Reflections: Mother-and-child moment teaches lesson in consolation Fri, 07 Oct 2016 22:31:24 +0000 One day, in my former job, as I was helping a young mother fill out paperwork for divorce, the grandmother was holding the 3-year-old daughter. The girl asked for a drink of water and the grandmother went out to her car to get a bottle of water. Since the mother was engrossed in her paperwork and conversation with me, the grandmother began to open the cap on the bottle. The child immediately went into a corner and started crying from the depths of her being yelling: “I wanted mommy to open it.” There was no consoling her. What immediately went through my mind was the thought that if I had tried that as a child, one of my parents would have said: “Stop crying or we’ll give you something to cry about.”

This mother and grandmother, very aware of the stressful situation they were in, could understand the child’s need for closeness to her mother. They spoke calmly and lovingly to her, as they let her cry a bit. Then the mother invited her into her lap and proceeded to open the bottle. She said: “See, I’m opening it for you.” The girl’s sense of security at being heard was palpable.

This incident has stayed with me for years. On the one hand, it was a healing experience because I was able to witness how a loving and understanding parent can react to a child. On the other hand, it was a reminder that being angry at God, or at life, for being in difficult circumstances will not bring me retribution as I was brought up to understand in my Catholic faith at that time.

So now, when I’m going through a difficult time, feeling like there’s no solutions to my problems, like I’ve been abandoned, I cry out, and curse, yelling at the unfairness of life. I tell God or the Universe about all the good I’ve done and how I don’t deserve these troubles and I’m sick of it. That is not a time to think about how others have it worse than me or that victims of random acts of violence don’t deserve it. I know that. During this period of darkness, it’s time to practice self-compassion. When I can allow myself to feel my pain, I’m emptying out feelings of anger, abandonment and the bone-weariness that sometimes arises from wanting to live life as fully and as lovingly as possible.

As a mental health issue, I know I need to feel my feelings, not bottle them up like I did for too many years causing emotional and physical pain. It also stunted my spiritual growth. So when I need to, I release all my inner pain and when my emotions are spent, I can then be quiet. I allow myself to just be and feel the release. In the quiet that follows, I usually get an idea or an answer to resolve my situation. Because I know, from experience, that the answers will come, I can wait. We have the wisdom within us that can speak to us when we are quiet. If our minds and hearts are in pain, and we try to suppress it, then we won’t get to that place where we can “let the mud settle and wait until the water becomes clear.” (Lao Tzu)

Helen Rousseau is an interfaith minister. Her website is at

]]> 0 Fri, 07 Oct 2016 21:17:59 +0000
Reflections: We must respond in some way to what is intolerable to us Sat, 01 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When I was a child, in the ’50s, there seemed to be a universal conspiracy of parents telling their children to clean their plates because there were starving children in China. China might as well have been Mars as far as I could tell. I never could make the connection to how what I ate or didn’t eat could have any impact on those nameless starving children. Now I wonder if my parents’ generation wasn’t desperately trying to instill empathy in a generation that, by the world’s standards, had everything.

Though I didn’t get the lesson then, I had the experience later in my childhood of living in Venezuela for three years and witnessing real and totally incomprehensible poverty at the same time that I was living in a community of wealthy Americans. That lesson stuck with me like no nameless Chinese child did. I remember the feeling of absolute helplessness in the face of what appeared to be totally random inequity.

The first precept of Buddhism is that life is suffering. As a young adult, I wouldn’t have believed that. My generation set out to change the world and truly believed that all we needed was love. We thought it was as simple as naming the problems and protesting the wrongs. We did not realize that the demons lived within us.

Now, some 40 years later, I know that the Buddhists were right about suffering. Of course, they do not leave it at that, but offer a way to transcend, as does every religion in the world. But the suffering the Buddhists talk about is not just the obvious of children starving or war or any number of tortures taking place around the world. I learned that no one escapes.

It is the friend struggling with cancer, the horror of senseless violence, the bigotry and hatred that seems to rise up anew in every generation. It is the terrible grief of losing one you love. It is children in your own town who go hungry and suffer abuse. And it is the demons inside us that prevent us from knowing and experiencing in every moment the incomprehensible unconditional love we are all made of.

I made a commitment almost 40 years ago to take a look at those demons and ask for healing from God and a number of amazing people. It has been an all-consuming and miraculous journey. Along the way I felt like I was able to share some of that healing with a number of people, whom I hope were helped in some way.

My gratitude for what I have been given knows no bounds and yet I seem to struggle sometimes with what I am not doing, which is basically not saving the world. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous and kind of pompous to think one could save the world, but I think that those of us who have worked hard to heal wounds and allow ourselves to be truly sensitive to the suffering within us and around us have a very difficult time with just what our role is in the alleviation of that suffering.

I do believe we are not just sent here to transform suffering in ourselves, but that our institutions and power structures can also be transformed to reflect a more compassionate way. I have only to look to Gandhi and Martin Luther King for inspiration. These two men gave their lives to teach us a way to say no to injustice without violence. And they did change the world. They were not the only ones, of course, but they are perhaps the most well known.

Then again, having such role models can be fairly intimidating for us mere mortals. It brings up that helpless feeling I had as a child. Where does one begin in the face of the magnitude of the problems in our world or even in our city or town? There are no easy answers to that question.

If we look at Gandhi and King, we see that while both had a passion for justice, neither set out to change the world. They simply responded in whatever way they could to what was intolerable to them. We also know that everything they did came from their compassion for others and a devotion to prayer and meditation in their own lives. For them, every decision no matter how big or how small was brought to God.

Again, it was not something they set out to do, it was something that was given to them, and at great personal sacrifice they said yes.

Using this example, each of us can ask ourselves what is ours to give. No matter how big or small, through prayer and meditation we too can discover what part we can play in the healing of our planet. As Gandhi said, “We must become the change we want to see.”

I once heard a young man speak about the day he tried to kill himself. He said that if just one person on the street had smiled at him that day he wouldn’t have tried it. It was a great reminder to me that even something as simple as my smile freely given can change the world.

The Rev. Cathy Grigsby is an interfaith minister who teaches at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and is the co-founder and coordinator of the Interfaith Ministers of New England. She can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Fri, 30 Sep 2016 20:16:43 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 01 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Baked bean supper. Homemade baked beans, brown bread, salads, pies, rolls, coffee and punch. Windham Friends Meeting House, 374 Gray Road, Windham. 4:30-6 p.m. Saturday.

November ballot issue discussions: Sunday, ranked choice voting; Oct. 9, marijuana; Oct. 16, minimum wage; Oct. 23, education. Allen Avenue Unitarian Church, 524 Allen Ave., Portland.

Dances of Universal Peace. Chants from world spiritual traditions with simple circle dances. All dances taught. All are welcome. $5-$15 sliding scale. Creating Space Yoga Studio, 1717 Congress St., Portland, 2-4 p.m. Sunday.

Blessing of Animals on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church, 280 Ocean House Road, Cape Elizabeth, 799-8396, 2 p.m. Sunday.

Hallowell Buddhist Meditation, learn the principles of meditation. This is not a religious class. All are welcome. Class will begin with a short lecture, followed by guided meditation, group discussion and more meditation. $8 suggested donation. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 20 Union St. 201-805-8683, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. Bible study every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. St. Augustine Anglican Church, 656 Route 1 in Scarborough, where the parish shares worship space with the West Scarborough United Methodist Church. The group meets in the library, which is in the white building adjacent to the church.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 01 Oct 2016 18:39:11 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 24 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. Bible study held every Wednesday. Sharing worship space at the West Scarborough United Methodist Church, 656 Route 1, Scarborough., 4-6 p.m. Wednesday.

Hallowell Buddhist Meditation. Learn about the principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and philosophy. This is not a religious class. All are welcome. Class will begin with a short lecture, followed by guided meditation, group discussion and more meditation. $8 suggested donation. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 20 Union St., Hallowell. 201-805-8683, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Wednesday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 24 Sep 2016 19:11:56 +0000
Were ‘subtle tactics’ used to block mosque? Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:59:07 +0000 CULPEPER, Va. — The small Muslim community here used to pray in the historic Amtrak station, where Lyndon B. Johnson kicked off a 1960 whistle-stop tour. When a local history museum moved into the space in 2014, they shifted to an empty home next to an auto business.

After years of drifting, the group of about 12 to 20 Muslims who show up regularly for Friday prayers want a more permanent place of worship. So they set out to build a mosque in a more rural area outside town.

But those plans were put on hold in April, when the county denied them a permit to haul waste from the property, which is too undeveloped for sewer service. Now the Justice Department is investigating whether that decision was based on more than the technicalities of development – and amounts to illegal religious discrimination.

“We just want our rights to be fulfilled,” said Fuad Abu-Taleb, who leads Culpeper’s Muslim prayers.

The investigation is one of 14 being conducted by the Justice Department into potential discrimination by state and local governments involving land use or jails. While the agency declined to provide details of those, more than a third of Justice Department investigations into land or institutional religious discrimination in the past six years involve Muslims – a striking statistic given that Muslims make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population.

In a similar case in July, the Justice Department filed suit against a township in Pennsylvania, alleging that it discriminated when it denied zoning approval to a group that wanted to build a mosque.

In June, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, noted that the department sometimes sees “overt animus” toward religious groups seeking to build. “But we also see people organizing to try to block construction of minority places of worship often adopting more subtle tactics,” she said.

There is no question that the decision on what would normally be a little-noticed development matter in Culpeper got a lot of attention. A crowd packed the county government meeting and cheered when the motion to deny the permit was introduced. Board members reported receiving scores of calls and emails on the normally obscure land-use concern. The decision, made in a 4-to-3 vote, was celebrated on anti-Islam websites.

Ira Lupu, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said the federal investigators will conduct interviews and examine the record to look for “anything to suggest that they have granted these permits in cases where there’s no animosity towards the people applying, and maybe even a preference.”

County Administrator John Egertson said he was “very confident that when they finish their review, they will find that we are completely compliant.” The board, he said, “acted within their policy, and they acted fairly and consistently.”

The board members who opposed the Islamic Center said they did so on technical grounds. Opponents noted that although county staff recommended approval, the pump-and-haul permits are designed for situations where no other option exists.

]]> 3, 24 Sep 2016 19:13:06 +0000
Father of Scientology leader has contentious departure from church Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:29:12 +0000 LOS ANGELES — After leaving the Church of Scientology and its secretive international base in the desert, Ronald Miscavige Sr. settled into small-town life in Wisconsin, his 40-year ties to the religion cut once and for all.

Or so he thought, as he spent his time hawking exercise equipment online and playing trumpet with Dixieland bands in the Milwaukee area. His suburban tranquility was shattered in July 2013, when police told him that two private eyes had been watching his every move for months – and that the church, led by his son David Miscavige, was behind it.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever hit your thumb with a hammer, but when it happens you go numb: It takes a little while for the pain to set in,” the elder Miscavige said in an interview. “I thought, ‘You have got to be kidding.’ ”

Miscavige, 80, has chronicled his life before, during and after Scientology in a book, “Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me.” It paints an unflattering portrait of his son and the church, and it echoes the views of other disaffected ex-members.

“David runs Scientology with an iron fist and, to my mind, it has become a cult, pure and simple,” he writes.


Miscavige’s book includes no blockbuster revelations, but it has evoked an unusually vehement response from the church, which has mounted an aggressively negative publicity campaign, including a website dedicated to discrediting him.

Dozens of testimonials and blog posts by Scientologists praise David Miscavige and lambaste his father for everything from his musicianship to his morals. He is cast as a liar and an opportunist, on the website and in a church lawyer’s letter to the Los Angeles Times.

“That is a father who is a despicable human being, simply trying to make a buck off of the good name, fame and kindness of his son,” attorney Monique Yingling wrote.

Miscavige said he expected the intensely personal criticism posted on the website.

“Clearly, all it is is a character assassination of me,” he said.

Other ex-members say the website is yet another example of the church’s long-standing efforts to dissuade current and former Scientologists from publicly discussing their experiences.

Ron Miscavige has been singled out for particularly harsh treatment because of his relationship to David, said Mike Rinder, once a top church official and now one of its staunchest critics. He said the elder Miscavige also has been targeted by an email campaign and negative online ads.

“This is stuff that is even beyond the normal smear tactics,” Rinder said.

Founded in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology has its own “study technology,” vocabulary and long-held secret story of Xenu, a soul-stealing galactic overlord. The church teaches that spiritual freedom – the state of “clear” – can be reached through one-on-one auditing, a form of counseling aided by a polygraph-like device called an e-meter and expensive training courses.

David Miscavige, 56, became the head of Scientology after Hubbard’s death in 1986. As chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center, he is the church’s ultimate authority and its ecclesiastical leader. He also is its most controversial living figure.

David and his three siblings were introduced to Scientology by their father, a musician and cookware salesman. At age 16 he left their home near Philadelphia to join the Sea Organization, Hubbard’s religious order.


In March 2012, Ron Miscavige and his second wife, Becky, drove off the base while pretending to run errands, and eventually wound up in Wisconsin.

Life there was unremarkable until July 2013, when West Allis police arrested private investigator Dwayne Powell on obstruction and prowling charges and found firearms and a homemade silencer in his rented SUV.

For more than a year, Powell told detectives, he and his son had followed Miscavige, eavesdropped on him and spied on his emails. They were paid $10,000 a week through an intermediary, he told police, explaining that David Miscavige was the “main client.”

Scientology attorneys dispute that account and last year said that David Miscavige had never spoken with Powell and had no connection to the surveillance of his father. They noted that they sometimes retained private investigators in “matters related to litigation” and have since acknowledged hiring Powell.

Church attorney Yingling said he was hired to follow the elder Miscavige but that it was for his own well-being and “out of concern that people with hostile intentions toward Scientology” would harass him.

“It would be naive to think that the father of the leader of a worldwide religion would not be at risk of harm from people inimical to Scientology,” she wrote.

Yingling also forwarded a signed declaration from Powell, recanting his statements to police about the phone call from David Miscavige.

Police in that Milwaukee suburb stand by their account: “There is no confusion in the statements that were made by Dwayne and Daniel Powell,” Chief Patrick Mitchell said in an email.

Now, in the latest twist in the saga of church-sanctioned surveillance, Powell says he was paid thousands of dollars to sign the declaration after church attorneys summoned him to a meeting last year in Atlanta.

“The whole meeting took less than 10 minutes,” he said. “They said, ‘This is what this is, and this is what it’s for. Goodbye and good luck.’ ”

He furnished no documentation, and Scientology attorneys deny that any such payment was made.

]]> 1, 24 Sep 2016 19:14:20 +0000
Vatican issues new rules to assess when healings qualify as miracles Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:27:47 +0000 VATICAN CITY – The Vatican issued new rules Friday for the process to determine if healings qualify as miracles for sainthood, including safeguards against possible financial abuses.

The rules deal with how a panel of medical experts scrutinizes potential miracles. Pope Francis has expressed determination to ensure the sainthood process, which attracts donations by faithful for canonization candidates, is rigorous and avoids scandals.

Among the new regulations, one stipulates a potential miracle can no longer be presented for consideration if it fails to pass before the board of medical experts three times.

Another rule says experts can only be paid via bank transfer, no longer in cash. Francis demanded more accountability after it was revealed in two books by Italian journalists that the saint-making process has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations per candidate with virtually no financial oversight.

The rules state that those dealing with a “presumed miracle,” including experts as well as postulators — those championing the candidate for sainthood — are held to secrecy. In addition, the medical experts cannot have any contact with the postulator of the cause for sainthood.

At the start of a session to evaluate the potential miracle, the medical “experts are obliged, with an oath, to examine the case according to science and conscience and to observe the secrecy” rules, the regulations state.

Noted Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, an official of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Causes for Saints, said that ultimately it’s the pontiff “who has the exclusive competence of recognizing an extraordinary event as a true miracle.”

As for presumed miracles involving phenomena such as “danger avoided,” the Congregation will select technical experts. The rule didn’t specify the “danger,” such as if it might refer to an escape from some natural calamity.

]]> 2 Sat, 24 Sep 2016 19:15:15 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 17 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Dan Schall Concert. Spreading the Gospel message through song. Thornton Heights United Methodist Church, 100 Westbrook St., South Portland, 774-0487, 6 p.m. Saturday.

Rejoicing Spirits. A special service for persons with cognitive or developmental disabilities, followed by fellowship and supper. Free, Trinity Lutheran Church, 612 Main St., Westbrook, 854-5653, 4 p.m. Sunday.

Pagans Celebrate Mabon. Ritual and potluck. Free. First Universalist Church of Auburn, 169 Pleasant St., Auburn,, 1-4 p.m. Sunday.

Restored Historic Rose Window Wall Unveiling and Choral Evensong. A celebratory unveiling of the restored east wall and its beloved centerpiece, the Rose Window, as part of a special Choral Evensong service. Sung by the Cathedral Choir, St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland,, 4-6 p.m. Sunday.

Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, a women’s spirituality group exploring pre-Christian goddess traditions and feminine theology. Free. First Universalist Church of Auburn, 169 Pleasant St., Auburn,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith Bible Study series. Held every Wednesday, Sharing Worship Space at the West Scarborough United Methodist Church, 656 Route 1, Scarborough,, 4-6 p.m. Wednesday.

Hallowell Buddhist Meditation. Learn about the basic principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and philosophy. This is not a religious class; all are welcome. Class will begin with a short lecture, followed by guided meditation, group discussion and more meditation, $8 suggested donation, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 20 Union St., Hallowell, 201-805-8683, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Wednesday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 17 Sep 2016 17:46:51 +0000
Reflections: Swimming in awareness means adapting to the waves Sat, 17 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We approach the barista for a refill as our morning chat expands into a robust conversation. Our light-hearted discussion moves to a more profound exchange as I share I am “swimming in awareness.”

I have been pondering this observation and affirmation for several days. Earlier in the week, a friend acknowledges and affirms my current state. While it is not obvious to me, her observation causes me to pause.

While my journey has been an intentional path to awakening, my experience has often felt more like waves of momentary clarity. These waves often leave as quickly as they arrive.

Sometimes waves move slowly, allowing us to prepare for the joy of the splash. We can see and feel the anticipation of the experience. Other times, waves arrive with a force that catches our attention in an unexpected way.

As a child, I recall standing at the shore filled with anticipation as the waves approach. There is a moment of clarity and pure joy as the salty ocean spray touches me and leaves me refreshed on a hot summer day.

This memory is quickly replaced by a recollection of a large wave quickly gaining momentum that knocks me off my feet. I am left in a momentary state of confusion before catching my breath and feeling the burn of the saltwater as it passes through my nostrils.

Whether we foresee waves or not, these moments of awareness bring us into the present moment. There is a break in our rhythm of life allowing us to become present in the moment and aware of what’s happening.

Buddhist teachings on mindfulness point us to the quality and power of a mind that is aware of what’s happening without judgment and without interference. Mindfulness is viewed as the key to the present moment.

Mindfulness serves as a mirror reflecting on what is happening while keeping us connected to everything around us. Mindfulness and awareness sit together, one sees the wave exactly and the other takes in the nearby beach, sky and clouds.

Most of us seek to increase our awareness, yet we often become distracted by noise, judgment, feelings or emotions. At times, we are resistant to the awareness that emerges as we search for a waterfall of awakenings while they emerge as drips, trickles or leaks.

During these times, we may also have periods of drought as we pine for the past or hope for the future. We often swim against the tide or resist the urge to float or refuse to be lifted by the water. If we are not careful, we may even drown in a river of awareness that feels too burdensome.

Even though we seek to be mindful and to be aware, when swimming in awareness, we may ask ourselves: Will our arms be strong enough to move the water? Are we comfortable with our own strength or frightened by it? Yet we may also ask ourselves: Can we be shaped by our awareness or adapt to it rather than resist it or be consumed by it?

There is a Taoist story about an old man who accidentally falls into a river. He is aware that the river rapids will lead him to a perilous waterfall. There are bystanders who fear for the man’s life as they watch the water carry him downstream. They are amazed as he reaches the bottom of the waterfall unharmed. When the bystanders ask him how he managed to survive, he shares that he adapted himself to the water. He allowed himself to be shaped by the water. He leaped into the swirl and he came out with the swirl.

While there are various accounts of this story, I always marvel at the man’s ability to swim in awareness, simply allowing himself to be carried and shaped by the water.

I’ve never been a strong swimmer and the ability to float has eluded me. Yet as an adult, I learned to swim in a pool on a rooftop deck in New Orleans, overlooking the Mississippi River. When I stopped resisting the water and allowed myself to adapt to it, I learned the joy of swimming.

As we finish our second cup of coffee, I share that my current state of swimming in awareness is a gift. It is a gift that provides joy and clarity as I continue to adapt and to be shaped by the movement of the waves. We both agree the wonderful thing about mindfulness is that we can keep beginning again with each new wave.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation (TILT) and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email at: blog:

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Sep 2016 19:38:59 +0000
Iranians stay away as Muslim pilgrimage begins Sat, 10 Sep 2016 21:40:49 +0000 MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Close to 2 million people from around the world began performing the first rites of the Islamic hajj pilgrimage on Saturday, which calls for entering into a state of physical and spiritual purity and circling the cube-shaped Kaaba with their palms facing upward in supplication and prayer.

Notably absent this year are Iranian pilgrims.

Last year, some 64,000 Iranians took part in the hajj, but disputes with the Saudi government prompted Tehran to bar its citizens from taking part this year.

Saudi Arabia has blamed Iranian officials for the decision and suggests it was politically motivated to publicly pressure the kingdom. Iran says Saudi “incompetence” caused a crush and stampede during last year’s hajj that killed more than 460 of its citizens out of more than 2,200 who died.

On Friday, thousands of Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities to protest Saudi Arabia, chanting prayers against the kingdom’s Sunni rulers after midday prayers.

The hajj is one of the world’s largest pilgrimages. It draws the faithful to the holy city of Mecca and areas around it for five intense days of rituals and prayers aimed at erasing past sins and drawing Muslims closer to God. The pilgrimage is required of all Muslims to perform once in their lifetime.

While following a route the Prophet Muhammad once walked, the rites of hajj are believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.

Most pilgrims will spend the evening outside Mecca in a valley called Mina that houses more than 160,000 tents.

They will head to an area called Arafat on Sunday for the pinnacle of the pilgrimage, an emotional day of repentance and supplication.

]]> 0, 10 Sep 2016 18:07:41 +0000
Reflections: Fifteen years after 9/11, we must turn the other cheek Sat, 10 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Fifteen years ago, we all remember where we were on a beautiful September morning when planes became weapons of terrorism and mass destruction. I was on route to a session with my spiritual director and our time was spent holding each other, weeping silently, as we watched the unthinkable unfold on the screen of her TV. Shocked and disbelieving, our prayers were limited to the words, “Oh, God! No!” It was a prayer echoed by many in that moment as the reality of what we were witnessing hit home.

Pre-9/11 America seemed safe and secure, even noble, but the events of that day rocked us out of our comfort zone, changed our perspective and shattered the beliefs we had about ourselves as a country.

Fifteen years ago, we came together as a nation, putting aside our many differences. We held each other as we also held our candles and our interfaith vigils in a rare show of unity and shared grief. President Bush, in a shining moment, declared Islam to be a religion of peace and Muslims our fellow citizens and neighbors.

Fifteen years ago, our leaders promised swift retaliation, and most supported it. What began as an effort to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice continues, but it has morphed into an indefinite “war on terror” that has spread way beyond the initial intent. Billions of dollars have been spent and untold lives, both military and civilian, have been lost or irreparably harmed.

Fifteen years later, the question still haunts us: Are we any safer? The world, by all measures, is a more dangerous place than it was. Statistically, however, America is a less violent place, with the crime rate down. There have been no repeat attacks on the scale of 9/11, and beefed up intelligence has thwarted some planned major terror events. Still, small-scale but horrific attacks have us on edge, so much so that we can overreact.

Recently LAX and JFK, two of our busiest airports, were shut down when people panicked after hearing loud banging noises. The same happened in shopping malls in North Carolina, Michigan and Florida. Cars backfiring, balloons popping and a glass door shattering sent people fleeing for exits. Others, who had not heard anything, assumed the worst and joined the stampede, injuring many, a few seriously, in their blind, fearful run.

Fifteen years later, psychologists describe us suffering a level of national anxiety that does not reflect the true level of danger. Terrorism specialist Dr. John Horgan stressed that in addition to physical violence, “terrorism is fundamentally a form of psychological warfare, and it’s one of the greatest ironies that we help give it its strength in our reactions to it.”

Two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke to a people living fearfully under the brutality of Roman oppression. Many wanted to fight back, to match violence with violence. In response, he uttered some of his most troubling and difficult teachings. He told his followers to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek when struck. That last one has always rankled me as it has been misused to quell any form of resistance to injustice and abuse.

Turning the other cheek, however, is not a call to passivity, but a call to a new perspective, to look in a different direction. What we have done over the last fifteen years has not ended the cycle of violence, and I wonder if it isn’t time to turn the other cheek, not in submission, but in the hope of gaining a new way of looking at this seemingly intractable problem.

Turn the other cheek and look not only at terrorists but at the conditions that produce them. Professor Sahar Aziz, of Texas A&M, once stated that a shift from a military strategy of counter terrorism to one focused on human development in the region would starve terrorist organizations of the chaos they thrive on. For us to feel safe and secure, others need to feel safe and secure as well.

Turn the other cheek to look back fifteen years at the moments when our best selves emerged amidst the death and destruction and then, in the words of the White Queen to Alice in her Wonderland adventures, remember them forward. Remember how we stood together and gave and received comfort from people we might otherwise avoid, how people from all religions and no religion gathered in Yankee Stadium for an interfaith prayer service. Remember how we tapped the deep wisdom and hope embedded in all faiths and gathered strength from it.

Fifteen years later, we can turn the other cheek and propel those memories forward and build upon them. We built on the ruins of Ground Zero, and we can build upon the ruins of our hearts and psyches something not tinged with revenge but with hope. Not riddled with fear but filled with faith.

Fifteen years from now, we might perceive a very different world.

The Rev. Janet Dorman is the pastor at Foreside Community Church, UCC, in Falmouth. She can be reached at

]]> 5 Fri, 09 Sep 2016 17:06:07 +0000
Iranians march against Saudi Arabia ahead of pilgrimage Fri, 09 Sep 2016 22:21:17 +0000 TEHRAN, Iran — Thousands of Iranians marched through the streets Friday to protest Saudi Arabia ahead of the hajj, a sign of soured relations between the two countries following last year’s crush and stampede during the annual pilgrimage.

Iranians won’t be taking part in this year’s hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, over tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, regional rivals divided over a host of issues.

Demonstrators waved signs after Friday prayers depicting Saudi King Salman holding a bloody sword, his head wrapped in an American flag and his shirt bearing a blue Star of David similar to that on the Israeli flag.

“Death to Al Saud and the traitors!” protesters in Tehran shouted. Demonstrators also shouted slogans against the U.S. and Britain, long targets of suspicion among Iranian hard-liners. State media reported similar protests across the country.

“We don’t have any problems with the people of Saudi Arabia. They are Sunnis and are our brothers,” protester Habibullah Abulfazli said. “But the Al Saud family are puppets of Britain and America. They are fighting proxy wars against Shiites and against all Muslims.”

Tensions soared in January after the kingdom executed a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric. Angry demonstrators later attacked two Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran and Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties to the Islamic Republic. The two countries also support opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

In their recent criticisms, Iranian officials have focused on the Sept. 24, 2015, stampede and crush of pilgrims at last year’s hajj that killed at least 2,426 people, according to an Associated Press count. Tehran has said the disaster killed 464 Iranians.

The official Saudi toll of 769 people killed and 934 injured has not changed since Sept. 26. The kingdom has never addressed the discrepancy, nor has it released any results of an investigation authorities promised to conduct over the disaster.

On Monday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei raised the stakes in the dispute by saying Saudi officials had “murdered” hajj pilgrims who were injured in the stampede. Saudi’s grand mufti countered by claiming that Iranians are “not Muslims.”

A member of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, meanwhile, said the Iran-backed Shiite militant group has asked its members to refrain from going on the hajj this year because of tensions with Saudi Arabia. He said the decision came after Saudi Arabia named Hezbollah a terrorist organization.Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran periodically have simmered and cooled since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution installed its Shiite cleric-ruled democracy. The hajj, which begins Saturday this year, hasn’t been spared.

In 1987, demonstrating Iranian pilgrims on hajj battled Saudi riot police in clashes that killed at least 402 people. Iran claimed 600 of its pilgrims were killed and said police fired machine guns at the crowd. Iran did not send pilgrims to the hajj in 1988 and 1989, while Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties over the violence and Iranian attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war.

Iran has called for an independent body to take over administering the five-day hajj, something the Al Saud family has refused. Its overseeing of Islamic holy sites, along with Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth, gives the kingdom major influence in the Muslim world.

]]> 0, 09 Sep 2016 21:05:50 +0000
Religion Calendar Fri, 09 Sep 2016 22:09:32 +0000 Vine and Branches, the outreach committee of St. Augustine Anglican Church, will hold a bottle drive to help homeless vets at 656 Route 1, Scarborough, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. Bible Study series held every Wednesday. Sharing Worship Space, West Scarborough United Methodist Church, 656 Route 1, Scarborough. 207-615-7989. 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Labyrinth Walk. Indoor Chartres-style labyrinth for meditative walks. Allow about 30 minutes. Free, Trinity Episcopal Church, 580 Forest Ave., Portland. 4-7:30 p.m. Thursday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 09 Sep 2016 18:26:59 +0000
Trump losing Catholic vote to Clinton Fri, 09 Sep 2016 21:15:01 +0000 Recent polls contain a finding that is devastating to Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy: He is losing the Catholic vote to Hillary Clinton by an astounding 23 percentage points. However, Trump retains the sort of support from white evangelical Protestants that is typical of recent Republican presidential nominees – around 80 percent.

This contrast doesn’t just matter for Trump’s candidacy. It reveals a startling political splintering of conservative Catholics and evangelicals, who have tracked side by side for decades.

This alliance of Catholics and evangelicals came about in the 1970s. Before that, Catholics were a solid Democratic Party voting bloc, comprised largely of the immigrant underclass. Economic and social status, not moral issues, determined Catholic voting.

In the 1970s, social issues drove many Catholics to question their steadfast loyalty to the Democratic Party. By the 1980s, many were voting Republican, due not only to social issues but also to their own improved economic and social status. Evangelical-led organizations, such as the Christian Coalition, in the 1990s made Catholic outreach a priority in their efforts at building support.

Throughout the long years of partnership, Catholics have continued to hold less conservative positions than white evangelicals on many issues: immigration, the death penalty, health care, social welfare and more.

Trump has pushed a lot of these Catholics over the edge, especially with his strident immigration stands. Issues surrounding Trump’s personal conduct also have turned away some leading conservative Catholics. Dozens of conservative Catholic thought leaders signed a letter that declared Trump “manifestly unfit to be President of the United States” and said that he does not represent Catholic values.

But white evangelical voters are standing firm for Trump. That is a significant contrast with the many normally Republican-voting Catholics opposing Trump.

For four decades, political and religious leaders worked hard to bring together evangelical and Catholic voters on key moral issues. They achieved for some time a truly powerful alliance. The Trump candidacy now threatens to pull these groups back away from each other.

]]> 21 Fri, 09 Sep 2016 17:53:18 +0000
As pope declares Mother Teresa a saint, her nuns rejoice in India Sun, 04 Sep 2016 12:26:55 +0000 KOLKATA, India — With solemn prayer mixed with joyful songs, Christians in the Indian city of Kolkata celebrated the sainthood of Mother Teresa on Sunday, honoring the nun who worked tirelessly for the poor here and indelibly shaped the city’s image in the eyes of the world.

A crowd of about 300 gathered outside the narrow lane leading to the modest Mother House of the order that Mother Teresa founded. They listened to a short service and watched the proceedings from Rome on a large television screen.

Inside, dozens of nuns – clad in the simple white-and-blue-trimmed sari of the order – also watched. They applauded as Pope Francis read in Latin the proclamation declaring Mother Teresa a saint and as her photo slowly unfurled over St. Peter’s Square.

An estimated 120,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square for the canonization ceremony. It was the highlight of Francis’ Holy Year of Mercy and quite possibly one of the defining moments of his mercy-focused papacy.

Francis has been dedicated to ministering to society’s most marginal, from prostitutes to prisoners, refugees to the homeless. In that way, while the canonization of “St. Teresa of Kolkata” was a celebration of her life and work, it was also something of an affirmation of Francis’ own papal priorities, which have earned him praise and criticism alike.

In Kolkata, some wept for joy.

“I’m feeling so lucky to have witnessed this. I’m overwhelmed,” said Sumitra Elizabeth Mondal, 26, a teacher in the tutoring center, who had burst into tears.

The nuns said they were happy this day had finally come – although, in their minds, the small Albanian woman who radiated strict love was saintly already.

“It’s not becoming a saint. She was always a saint,” said Sister Nicole, who oversees the order’s home for the destitute and dying in a clamorous temple neighborhood in Kolkata, once known as Calcutta. “Now she’s just recognized and proclaimed.”

They came with floral bouquets and placed them by a photo. The nuns also celebrated a thanksgiving service in her honor. Towering images of Mother Teresa were on billboards around the city, illuminated by lights. The celebrations were muted partly because the city plans its own program honoring her life next month.

Although Mother Teresa was revered here in this sprawling megacity of 14 million because of her work with the poor, the dying, orphans and leprosy patients, many Kolkatans – and indeed, many in India – feel ambivalent about her legacy.

After she won the Nobel Prize in 1979, some believe, she cast a long shadow over the city’s history, obscuring its vibrant cultural past with an image of a place teeming with dead bodies in gutters. The city of wide boulevards, crumbling buildings and quirky neighborhoods has long fostered some of the most important writers, artists and intellectuals in India – including filmmaker Satyajit Ray and the Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore.

The novelist and journalist Sandip Roy, who spent 20 years in San Francisco before moving back home to Kolkata in 2011, said the Mother Teresa narrative obscured other facets of the complicated city he grew up in – its vociferous soccer clubs, fish markets and busy cafes.

“She was a presence definitely as I was growing up. But it wasn’t until I moved to the West that I realized she overshadowed everything else in people’s perception of Calcutta,” he said. “It was a city where she lived, but it was not Mother Teresa’s city.”

The ethnic Albanian Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in 1910 Skopje, now the capital of Macedonia. She arrived in 1929 to teach high school as a young nun in the Loretto order and eventually secured permission from the Vatican to found her own order, the Missionaries of Charity.

She founded her first school under a tree in a Kolkata slum in 1949 and three years after that the religious order that now includes more than 4,500 nuns and brothers in about 130 countries.

After the Nobel Prize, her fame grew and she embraced an international role traveling the world to speak against abortion and contraception. She was criticized by former volunteers and others who became disillusioned with frayed conditions of many of her centers, even as millions in donations rolled in.

She once said: “We are not social workers, not teachers, not nurses or doctors; we are religious sisters. We serve Jesus in the poor. Our life has no other reason or motivation. This is a point many people do not understand.”

Within India in recent years, the Hindu right wing has also criticized her for conversion – a charge her supporters deny.

The elegant Kolkata artist Sunita Kumar knew the nun since 1967, when she met her while volunteering to make medicine packets for leprosy patients. She went on to serve as Mother Teresa’s spokeswoman until the nun died in 1997.

She said Mother Teresa was a “very much revered” figure in the city. Her car would be rushed by those seeking her blessings when she was at stoplights.

She also had a sense of humor, Kumar recalled. Once, when passing the Victoria Memorial Hall, the cavernous city icon built by the British as an homage to Queen Victoria, she leaned over to Kumar and said, “Why don’t they give me this monument to house my poor?”

On Sunday, Lincoln James Gomes, a 38-year-old Christian, waited with his mother, wife and child in a muggy monsoon heat to enter the Mother House – where Mother Teresa lived in a simple room – to pray by her marble tomb.

He remembered his mother bringing him as a child to seek the blessings of the nun, who patted his head and lightly ruffled his hair. Now, he said, “we just want to pay tribute to her.”

At the first school she founded in the Motijheel slum area of the city, which now does after-school programs, boys playing with handmade kites in the trash-strewn field out back were unaware of her legacy.

Inside, 13-year-old Joyti Bhuinya scooped water on a statue of the Virgin Mary as the school readied for its own program.

“She’s becoming a saint so she can finish her work in heaven,” the girl said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

]]> 34, 04 Sep 2016 23:31:29 +0000
Reflections: Twenty-third Psalm: ‘The Great Father above a Shepherd Chief is’ Sat, 03 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Years ago I met a young woman of Native American ancestry at Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; we were on staff for a summer youth camp. She shared a version of the Twenty-third Psalm common to the Paiute Native Americans of McDermott, Nevada. Here is the way the Native American version begins:

The Great Father above a Shepherd Chief is.

I am his and with him I want not.

He throws out to me a rope and

The name of that rope is love. And

He draws me to where the grass is green

And the water not dangerous,

And I eat and lie down and am satisfied.

At the time I copied those words upon one of the end-pages in my Bible, as the primitive phrasing of the Psalm gave it a poignant edge deepening my gratitude for the truths the Psalm embodied. How easily its words come alongside the humblest believer, speaking to our deepest needs, refreshing us who are weary of the world’s too-much. Still, I ask: Does the Psalm truly speak to us … children of a science-interpreted universe?

Please understand that folk of my ilk rest easy with the mingled currencies of theology and science. We’re not averse to marrying faith and knowledge with its nuances and ambiguities. For the most part we do not view science as an enemy of faith. The technology that settles upon the shoulders of science, however, is something more fractious and demands our discerning.

Still, science hasn’t changed the fact that we are born and age through the years, maturing toward a destiny that lies beyond our mind’s measuring. We leave home in the mornings with our lunch pails, labor for our daily bread, after which we walk the dog and lay our wearied bodies to rest.

In the midst of this dailiness of our lives God’s shepherding continues, as it has from the beginning of time’s creation. The topography of our pilgrimage may well require that we shall have to wrestle down doubt and despair. Meantime, our lives are involved elementally with the routines, the successes and failures that accompany this business of living. The knowledge that science brings in no way detracts from our need of God’s shepherding where our humanity rubs shoulders with reality.

Much about life makes believing in God as the Good Shepherd God an acceptable, even reasonable position. Still, it is impossible to sidestep the fact that we live on a doubt-producing planet.

Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov allowed that “Our life’s a cradle that rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” It is difficult to embrace the world’s pain, this “tragic sense of life” and hold to our belief in God as the Good Shepherd. God’s ways continue to elude us. Though we pray, we have also found that God does not dance to the music of our need or the ostensible needs of the planet regardless of the fervency of our prayers. Admittedly, it’s a strange kind of shepherding.

Relative to much in life, we shall always be passengers rather than chauffeurs. We are required to live with the mystery of God’s ways. Paradox, nuance, faith and doubt will always be fundamental pieces of our believing. Possibly, you have known times as I have when God has “sat up with you through the night.” It is in view of my conviction that God is indeed the Good Shepherd who purposes something in giving us being, that I am quite prepared to pray as Soren Kierkegaard prayed:

“Father in heaven! When the thought of thee wakes in our hearts, let it not awaken like a frightened bird that flies around in dismay, but like a child waking from its sleep with a heavenly smile.”

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Parish Church, Saco, and may be reached at

]]> 0 Fri, 02 Sep 2016 20:30:00 +0000
As Mother Teresa enters sainthood, Augusta group holds historic relic Fri, 02 Sep 2016 22:43:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — For 17 years, Ralph W. Ardito Sr. faithfully guarded an important piece of history for his fellow members of Knights of Columbus Abnaki Council 334.

The framed collage contains two original signatures of Mother Teresa, the woman who will be canonized Sunday by Pope Francis and become Saint Teresa.

In 1978, when Ardito was grand knight of the Augusta-based council, he proposed that the Knights dedicate the proceeds of their 80th Anniversary Charity Ball to Mother Teresa.

Ardito, now 84, had learned of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity through a friend and fellow member of St. Mary of the Assumption Church, Mathew George, who grew up in India, where Mother Teresa spent most of her life.

George agreed to describe some of Mother Teresa’s work to the Knights of Columbus, and they voted to donate the proceeds to her mission. Tickets sold for $7 a couple for the event on April 22, 1978, at the Augusta State Armory.

“We had liquor, so we made money on the cash bar, too,” Ardito recalled.

Ardito sent a letter to Mother Teresa.

“Enclosed please find our check for $1000.00 to help you to continue the work you are performing in helping the poorest of poor in India in the name of Brother Jesus Christ.”

The missionary signed a typed note dated Aug. 18, 1978, addressed to “Dear Friends” and saying, “Thank you for making it possible for us to bring God’s love to the poorest of the poor by your generous gift. It makes us very happy that you share in our work of love.

“If we pray – we will believe. If we believe – we will love. If we love – we will serve. Only then will we put our love for God into living action through service of Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor.

“We shall pray for you and your families as you try to make God’s love real to the poor in your community.”

“God bless you, M. Teresa MC” is handwritten at the end.

The note is in the collage, as is the check she endorsed with her signature.

“It’s a one-on-one deal,” Ardito said Friday as he viewed the collage after bringing it into St. Mary’s Church in Augusta. “She became famous after we did what we did,” he quipped.

Mother Teresa, born in August 1910 in Albania, died on Sept. 5, 1997. She founded the Missionaries of Charity and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003 – one step toward sainthood. The final step comes Sunday, when she is canonized by Pope Francis at the Vatican as St. Teresa of Kolkata.

That makes the items that she touched relics, including the items in the collage.

In acknowledgment of the local connection to Mother Teresa, members of the Knights of Columbus will carry the framed collage into the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday at St. Mary’s Church, and the Rev. Francis Morin, administrator of the Augusta-area St. Michael Parish, will bless it in a brief ceremony.

“By that time, she’ll already be declared a saint,” Morin said, citing the six-hour time difference between Augusta and Rome.

“There was no expectation that she would be declared a saint” back in 1978, Morin said Friday. “They were just helping her out. She had already been recognized in some ways for her work with the poor.”

Keith R. Richardson, deputy for District 8 of the Maine State Council, Knights of Columbus, told fellow members in the Abnaki Council how Ardito became the caretaker: “The note, along with the check, menu, news clippings, and sample dinner ticket were arranged into a collage, which was displayed at the Council Hall, on Riverside Drive in Augusta. In 1999, when the Council vacated the Riverside Drive location, the Council voted to appoint Ralph as the ‘guardian’ of this piece of Council history.”

Instead of being housed in a back room at Ardito’s Augusta home again, the collage with the relics of St. Teresa of Kolkata will be taken next month to the museum of the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Connecticut, and placed on exhibit there.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at

]]> 7, 02 Sep 2016 21:22:36 +0000
Mother Teresa not alone in rapid rise to sainthood Fri, 02 Sep 2016 22:15:41 +0000 Pope Francis canonizes Mother Teresa on Sunday, declaring the sainthood of a 20th-century figure renowned for her ministry to the poor and dying. Yet as the pope celebrates her sanctity, he will also be furthering a boom in the business of minting saints during his papacy.

Theologians and papal watchers say Francis is proclaiming new saints at a rate not seen since the heady days of John Paul II, the church’s canonization champion. In his 31/2 years as pope, Francis has presided over 29 canonizations – 11 more than Benedict XVI, his predecessor, at the same point in his papacy. If you consider that one of Francis’s canonizations involved 813 15th-century Italian martyrs, he may even hold the record – a record the pope is said to have jokingly embraced.

It is not just the number that is notable but, in some cases, the speed and manner of canonizations, as well as Francis’ willingness to bless the causes of candidates touched by controversy. By doing so, he has sparked a measure of controversy himself.


“When John Paul II died, there was a very strong feeling that there had simply been too many saints made, that the process was being cheapened,” said Austen Ivereigh, author of “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.”

“I think there’s a feeling that Benedict deliberately slowed the whole thing down,” Ivereigh said. “He canonized fewer. I suppose what’s happening with Francis is that the pace we saw before Benedict is being resumed.”

In the Roman Catholic Church, the path to sainthood can take decades, frequently centuries. Yet Mother Teresa – who will now be officially known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta – reached the threshold of sainthood a relatively quick 19 years after death.

Francis, in fact, has now presided over three of the fastest canonizations in modern church history – those of Mother Teresa, John Paul II and a Spanish nun who died in 1998 and was declared a saint last year. The blessing of such rapid sainthoods has irked critics who argue that the Vatican is in danger of becoming an assembly line of saints.

“A certain historical distance is required in order to properly examine the holiness of a person’s life,” said Edmund Arens, professor of fundamental theology at the University of Lucerne in Switzerland. “If a person led an exemplary life, why not take time to analyze it properly?”

Some also say that Francis may be favoring candidates who reflect his personal focus on inequality, mercy and the plight of the poor. They cite, for instance, last year’s beatification – an intermediary step to sainthood – of the Rev. Óscar Romero, a Salvadoran bishop assassinated in 1980.

Romero is seen by some as a leftist symbol in his native El Salvador, and his cause had been stalled for years. But in 2013, only a month after Francis assumed office, a senior Vatican official announced that the pope had “unblocked” Romero’s path to sainthood.

“This is very important, to do it quickly,” Francis said of Romero’s cause a year later.


Some Vatican officials privately concede that the pope is playing “pastoral politics” – utilizing the saint system to leave his mark. Yet others strongly counter that the pope is not cherry-picking saints, adding that the system simply does not work that way.

Yes, the pope gives the ultimate up or down on candidates he is presented with. But, they say, he does not select his own.

“The final word is the pope’s, but the pope does not act in a vacuum,” said the Rev. Robert Sarno, a senior official in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. “He does not just reach back in time and look for saints.”

Many Catholic scholars see an added benefit in faster canonizations, especially for contemporary figures such as Mother Teresa and John Paul II who can seem more relevant to the lives of modern Catholics.

Rather than study her life through arcane texts, the student of Mother Teresa can simply watch reruns of her television interviews on YouTube. Many Catholics still vividly recall the electric, stadium-size Masses of John Paul II.

“They lived under the same circumstances as we do, therefore they’re much closer to us,” said Manfred Becker-Huberti, a Catholic theologian at the Philosophical-Theological University of Vallendar in Germany. They “serve as role models. Someone like Mother Teresa can inspire people not just to worship her but to change their own lives.”

Like John Paul II, Francis has not shied away from candidates considered relatively controversial – including Mother Teresa, who labored for most of her life in the slums of the Indian city then known as Calcutta (now Kolkata). She became perhaps best known for her hospices, where the poor and dying could pass with dignity.

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of being unwanted,” she is quoted as saying in a 1971 biography.

Yet if her life’s work generated admirers and earned her a Nobel Prize, it also spawned critics who charged her missions with failing to embrace modern medicine to treat and ease the suffering of patients.

“The people she ‘saved’ were people in a graveyard waiting to be buried, people who were not given the right medications. People who suffered,” said Tariq Ali, a British journalist who co-produced a critical documentary on Mother Teresa in 1994. “That Francis is doing this is a regression in the sense that you just make all these people saints with dodgy records.”

Many theologians and Vatican watchers say Mother Teresa – a woman who often seemed to be canonized by public opinion while she lived – would have been on the fast track to sainthood regardless of who was pope.

Saints are lofty figures seen by practicing Catholics as figures who can intercede with God on their behalf. Typically a cause, or case, for sainthood can start only five years after death. Candidates are generally forwarded to Vatican City from the diocese where they died, with postulators in Rome compiling reports to submit to a panel of Vatican authorities. Most candidates generally require two “proven” miracles, though figures who died for the faith need only one. Such claims are verified through exhaustive, if secretive, reviews.


In the case of Mother Teresa, John Paul II initially lifted the five-year rule, allowing her process to start early. Although the second miracle attributed to her intervention – a Brazilian man who recovered from a brain infection after praying to her – is alleged to have occurred in 2008, Vatican officials say they were not made aware of it until 2013, following Francis’s official trip to Brazil.

All Francis did to further her cause, officials suggest, was sign on the dotted line.

Yet in other instances, Francis has effectively waved the two-miracle rule, accepting only one, or even none, no fewer than eight times. In select cases, that has served to speed up sainthood.

They include the case of Peter Faber, one of the founders of Francis’s own Jesuit order and a figure viewed as a personal hero of the pope. Francis, on his own birthday, canonized Faber, earlier telling the Catholic magazine America the reasons he found him so worthy.

It was, the pope said, because of Faber’s “dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents, his simple piety, a certain naivete perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”

]]> 0, 02 Sep 2016 19:57:35 +0000
Reflections: All faiths are called together to stop the politics of division and intolerance Sat, 27 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Old Testament’s story of Joseph; an epic in jealousy and betrayal, slavery, adultery, and ending in forgiveness and reconciliation can read like a Hollywood blockbuster. The central character, Joseph (Yusef, in Hebrew and Yosuf, in Arabic) is similarly revered in Islam; his plight of being favored by his father only to be hated by his brothers, who conspire to get rid of him by making up his death and selling him as a slave to a caravan headed for Egypt, where he rejects his master’s wife’s advances – the biblical version of sexual harassment – but ends up being accused of adultery and imprisoned is similarly repeated in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book. Once saved from the dungeon, Joseph – an immigrant, in today’s terms – is seen by Egypt’s Pharaoh as a wise man filled with God’s spirit and appointed to a position of power. Joseph, the outsider, advises the Egyptians to save food during the years of abundance, to use later when the seven-year famine hits Egypt. In short: It is the universal story of a grateful immigrant returning the favor offered him by the host nation by saving the Egyptians from certain devastation.

Columnist Michael Gerson’s often-quoted comment that immigrants “are not just mouths but hands and brains,” could as well be about Joseph!

There are other well-known ancient Middle Eastern refugees mentioned in the sacred texts common to Jews, Christians, and Muslims: Abraham, Moses, Mary, Jesus, Hagar (Hajar, to Muslims) and Mohammed, each crossing borders in one time or another in search of safety and security, food – or water in case of Hajar, Islam’s esteemed single mother – or following a divine promise. Mohammed, persecuted for speaking of the oneness of God in a city of idol-worshippers, was chased away from Mecca, Islam’s birthplace, to find refuge in Medina.

Millenniums later, we watch Syrian refugees fleeing horrifying violence only to face, with a few exceptions, a wary and hostile Europe and lately a divided America, unwilling to offer protection, spooked by a campaign of fear-mongering, a common tactic by the Republicans during elections (who could forget the case of Willie Horton, a black man, during the 1988 presidential election?) that nags us to see the displaced women and children of Syria as potential terrorists.

While the Republican presidential candidate, a self-declared conservative Christian, divides the nation and pits one community against another by dehumanizing refugees, people with disabilities and immigrants and exaggerates the fallacy of the American Muslims, a mere 1 percent of the total U.S. population, taking over America. There’s a need for us, the children of Abraham, Sarah and Hajar, to revisit the parts of the holy scripture common to us all, which asks us to show mercy and love to our neighbors, old and new, Mexicans and Muslims included.

The separation of church/synagogue/mosque/temple and state, itself a cherished American value, aside America’s diverse faith communities could find valid reasons; the Golden Rule principles dictating “bear no grudges against others”; protection of the society’s vulnerable; remembering the mass murder of innocents in the Nazi Germany; our genuine and common love for America and its values, to organize as a force to stop the politics of division and intolerance that’s gripping the nation, clouding the citizens’ judgment while staining the nation’s soul.

As Golden Rulers, we could set aside our theological differences, as significant as they are, temporarily to stand up to such tyranny. A coalition of like-minded people of all faith traditions, and atheists, could defy those seeking chaos. Change begins with us: Walls will be built should we fail to dismantle the walls encircling our own hearts, trapping the love stored there for others.

In Joseph’s story and those of other refugees in the Judo-Christian-Islamic traditions – Abraham, Moses, the pregnant Mary escaping King Herod’s soldiers, and Mohammed – the outcome could have been different if they were not protected from harm by strangers.

Often the mystery of religion is found in the stories and miracles, which have the magical power to help us escape, unscathed, the evil of the time we live in. With American society facing a famine of human decency during the current election season, we each could play the role of Joseph to save this great country from a possible political calamity.

Reza Jalali advises multicultural and Muslim students at the University of Southern Maine and Bowdoin College. He’s the author of “Homesick Mosque and Other Stories.”

]]> 0 Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:03:00 +0000
Neighbors rally around Jewish woman in suburban Philadelphia who woke up to swastika on her trash bin Fri, 26 Aug 2016 22:15:57 +0000 HAVERTOWN, Pa. — A Jewish woman in suburban Philadelphia woke up last week to a spray-painted swastika on her trash bin, and now her neighbors and strangers from other countries are rallying to support her by painting their own garbage cans with flowers, hearts, birds and butterflies.

It was a typical August morning for Esther Cohen-Eskin when she went outside and saw the Nazi symbol on her bin.

She said she felt horrible and knew she was targeted because the sign didn’t appear anywhere else in her neighborhood, where she’s lived for almost 20 years.

“It’s not like someone wrote some obscenity on my trash can or gave me the finger,” she said in a telephone interview Thursday. “The swastika is such a deep-rooted sign of hatred for everyone, especially Judaism, that I felt so targeted.”

She spoke to her husband and called police, who have begun an investigation.

She called a friend for advice and he told her: “The only way to triumph hate is with love.”

Hearing that, Cohen-Eskin, an artist, decided to paint over the swastika with flowers, and to stick letters in mailboxes asking her neighbors to paint their trash bins as well, turning symbols of hate into symbols of love.

“We decided that painting something over this … it kind of made the swastika completely meaningless,” Cohen-Eskin said.

In this tight-knit community of different religions and creeds, the searing symbol of hate made Cohen-Eskin’s letter electrifying.

“I still get goosebumps,” said Megan Connell, one of Cohen-Eskin’s neighbors. “I had to explain to my 3-year-old that someone could do something so ugly, and we took it as a family thing.”

A local bar, Connell’s mailman and others spread word across town, and people online started passing around Cohen-Eskin’s story.

After she sent the letters, she went out for an art show – and came back to hundreds of messages and phone calls from people as far afield as Canada, Germany and Ireland. Many sent pictures of trash cans they painted in a show of support.

A tough part of Cohen-Eskin’s request was that neighbors first paint a swastika, and then cover it with images of love and peace. Connell said that part of the task was “very, very difficult.”

]]> 1, 27 Aug 2016 18:14:13 +0000
Michigan church’s stained-glass windows could be rarity Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:47:06 +0000 ADDISON, Mich. — Stained-glass windows in churches are becoming a dying art because of changes in federal regulations regarding the use of heavy metals such as lead.

Richard Hanley is president of Omnibus Studios, which crafted and installed three windows at the 130-year-old Addison Congregational Church on Thursday. He told MLive that it’s more difficult and expensive to build windows under the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations.

Hanley said the EPA is concerned about metals going into the air as they are heated to the point of vaporization.

Hanley said the glass used in the new windows is from Indiana, Washington, West Virginia and Germany. Each window costs about $20,000.

“It is very traditional, European-style work, with traditional techniques and cutting,” he said. “The people cutting like this have been doing it for 10-plus years.”

Hanley said three people spent “hundreds of hours” making the glass paintings.

“There was color rendering for the approval of the pastor, then we made the patterns by hand,” Hanley said. “We take the original drawings and digitally blow them up, then put drawings on the light frame, then go back and refine them by hand.”

The Rev. Kevin Duffy said the new windows supplement the church’s original stained-glass window from the early 20th century.

“We had just built an addition that is a year old,” Duffy said. “The slots were originally exterior windows, and we really prayed that we would have something of this nature to come in here, but never imagined something of this level.”

]]> 1, 27 Aug 2016 18:15:05 +0000
Church outside Pennsylvania coal-fire town hosts pilgrimage Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:39:11 +0000 CENTRALIA, Pa. — Centralia is the spookiest and saddest place in Pennsylvania. An unquenchable 54-year-old underground coal fire compelled the relocation of virtually the entire population of the borough through federal government buyouts in the 1980s.

From a population of more than 1,000 in 1980, only a half-dozen holdouts remain in the Columbia County community – residents who struck an agreement with the government allowing them to stay until they die.

Improbably, however, there is life beyond their scattered homes.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church – perched on a hilltop just outside the borough line – is still active, drawing congregants from afar on Sundays and holy days.

This Sunday, the church will host a daylong event welcoming the faithful for liturgy and prayer. It’s the first such event since Assumption was declared a holy pilgrimage site.

“Everyone is invited,” said the Rev. Michael Hutsko, Assumption’s pastor of six years. “It’s not just for Eastern Catholics. It’s a call to prayer. We’re hoping people will leave with a renewed sense of God’s presence in their lives.”

Founded in 1911, Assumption has about 50 parishioners. Last year, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, primate of the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church, visited and marveled at how the congregation had endured despite the desolation of the borough, which is essentially an empty street grid slowly being reclaimed by nature.

Shevchuk likened the jarring emptiness to that of Pripyat, a Ukrainian town of 49,000 abandoned in 1986 after the Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe. But he saw a profound symbol of God’s presence in the persistence of the church.

“He thought (Assumption) was so holy and spiritual, he wanted to make it special,” said the Rev. John Fields, spokesman for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, explaining how the isolated church earned its designation as a pilgrimage site.

“It’s eerie,” Fields said. “There’s no town at all but there’s a viable church, in a day and age when churches are being closed.”

The people who left Centralia behind years ago “all went off in different directions,” Hutsko said, “but the church remained the common denominator.”

Sunday is the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God.

The holy day corresponds to what Western Catholics call the Feast of the Assumption, commemorating Mary’s bodily ascent to heaven. It is also the date of the church’s founding.

“We don’t have an idea of how many people to expect, but we’re getting a tremendous amount of media support,” Hutsko said. “We’re anticipating 300 to 400 people. It could be double that or it could be less than that, but that’s what we’re planning for.”

]]> 0 Sat, 27 Aug 2016 18:15:53 +0000
Portland congregation carries Torahs, traditions to smaller quarters Sun, 21 Aug 2016 20:12:23 +0000 Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh turned a new page in its 112-year history Sunday, downsizing from its sprawling synagogue at 76 Noyes St. in Portland to a smaller, more affordable and easier-to-care-for space at Temple Beth El down the street.

Several hundred members and friends of what was also known as the Noyes Street Shul attended the deconsecration ceremony. They prayed, ate and reminisced before forming a line to escort the synagogue’s Torahs to their new quarters in Temple Beth El at 400 Deering Ave.

The congregation will remain separate and will continue to observe its Modern Orthodox Jewish traditions.

“It doesn’t matter where we gather. It matters that we gather,” member Jim Lockman of Portland told the crowd.

Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh had been pondering its future for some time as its membership dwindled. The Saturday service was drawing 20 to 25 people at most, said Dr. Natan Kahn, the congregation’s president.

Meanwhile, the congregation was trying to cover the growing expense of maintaining its 62-year-old building.

“With changing demographics, it was no longer feasible,” Kahn said.

The congregation hasn’t been able to afford its own rabbi since Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld and his family left to live and work in Israel two years ago. The congregation has been relying on lay leadership and interning rabbis to preside over its services ever since.

Member Carol Aft of Falmouth said Herzfeld’s departure was a blow to her and others.

“He was very progressive in the way he led the whole synagogue and did test the limits,” Aft said.

Shaarey Tphiloh was founded in 1904 and for many years was located at 145 Newbury St. in the Old Port. It moved in 1954 to the Noyes Street building, a modern structure with sweeping interior beams and simple bronze decorations.

“Before this building was here, this used to be a field that filled up with water every once in a while,” recalled Phil Levinsky, 89, of Portland, a member of Temple Beth El whose mother grew up in Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh.

The building recently was offered for sale at a price of $1.2 million. It was sold to Portland Community Squash, which intends to open squash courts where Shaarey Tphiloh’s services were once held.

On Sunday, much of the synagogue’s contents had been packed up. Kahn said some items are being donated to other synagogues, some will go into storage and some will be sold through a religious artifacts company.

Many members said Sunday that it is not the building or the things that define Shaarey Tphiloh. They expressed optimism about the congregation’s future.

“We are sad and yet there is something to look forward to,” said Stan Pollack, whose parents joined Shaarey Tphiloh when they moved to Portland in 1955 to start what became a chain of jewelry stores.

“It has become like a home to my family,” Pollack said.


]]> 4, 21 Aug 2016 20:56:52 +0000
Mormon church opposes plan for futuristic, green communities Sat, 20 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — The utopic communities envisioned by a wealthy Mormon businessman near religious landmarks in Utah and Vermont would feature small homes clustered around community gardens and focus on walkability to reduce the need for cars.

David Hall’s effort to build sustainable communities is years away from reality but took a hit this week when the Mormon church denounced his plans, modeled after church founder Joseph Smith’s vision from 1833. Hall is unfazed, vowing to press ahead with the developments that will welcome non-Mormons and urge people to consume less.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Christ of Latter-day Saints has concerns about the communities affecting existing neighborhoods and the longstanding relationships the religion has with those residents, spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. The project is not associated with the church in any way, he said.

“The church makes no judgment about the scientific, environmental or social merits of the proposed developments,” Hawkins said. “However, for a variety of reasons, we are not in favor of the proposal.”

Hall said he’s not surprised because he believes church leaders are not forward-thinking and worry about their image. Their stance allows him to tout that his communities are not influenced by the church and not designed to be Mormon enclaves, he said.

“I’m not running for office and I’m not trying to be a missionary, so I don’t care what people think,” Hall said. “I’m looking for long-term good.”

And long term it is – Hall’s plans are years away from reaching fruition in Utah and decades in Vermont. But neighbors in both states already have expressed concerns about the communities causing drastic changes.

The Utopia in Vermont plan calls for housing for 20,000 people, offices, gardens, 48 basketball courts and 48 Olympic-size swimming pools. It’s planned near a monument at the birthplace of Smith, the founder and first president of a religion that now counts 15 million members worldwide.

A community near church-owned Brigham Young University and the Missionary Training Center in Provo, south of Salt Lake City, would be much smaller. Hall owns some of the land already.

The project closest to happening is in a neighborhood in south Provo, where Hall has a warehouse and owns many homes. He plans to build a hotel and several hundred houses to test some of his concepts.

Hall’s foundation’s website shows conceptual designs for the communities he envisions. Narrow, three-story homes with rooftop gardens would be built wall to wall around large, community gardens. People could get around by electric public transit. Energy-efficient multi-use buildings would provide space for meetings and business.

He ultimately hopes to create an entire town with 50 diamond-shaped communities of 15,000 to 20,000 people each near an economic hub so residents could walk or take public transportation to work.

Hall said he has committed much of his own money to the venture, spending $100 million on engineering and other research over the last 50 years. He sold a company last year specializing in synthetic diamond technology and is putting most of the proceeds toward engineering studies.

Hall said Mormon officials have reached out to him, but he does not call back. He says he’s in good standing as a church member but does not want faith leaders telling him what to do.

Besides, he believes those who would be interested in his green living effort will be non-Mormons.

“It’s all getting to one-tenth of consumption we’re at now,” Hall said. “That’s not going to go over well with LDS people, because they’re consumers. They’re free enterprise and right wing, that’s what they’re at.”

]]> 0, 19 Aug 2016 20:29:26 +0000
Burkini-banning mayors call garment incompatible with French values Sat, 20 Aug 2016 00:20:00 +0000 PARIS — Male officials are dictating what women can wear on French beaches – and people across a wide swath of French society say that’s a good thing.

Decrees issued by several mayors this month ban the body-encompassing burkini swimsuit, which France’s secular political class says subjugates women and is incompatible with a country whose motto celebrates equality and freedom.

To many Muslim women, that’s pure hypocrisy. They see the burkini bans themselves as sexist, not to mention racist and a reactionary backlash to terrorism fears.

Even though it’s only worn by a tiny minority, the burkini – a wetsuit-like garment that covers the torso, limbs and head – has prompted a national discussion about Islam and women’s bodies. At least five French towns have banned them this summer, and others are threatening to follow suit.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls says the swimsuit reflects a worldview based on “the enslavement of women.” In an interview published Wednesday in the La Provence newspaper, he said the belief that women are “impure and that they should therefore be totally covered” was part of an “archaic vision.”

“That is not compatible with the values of France,” Valls said.

Much of the French political class, from the left to the far right, agrees – including the government’s proudly feminist women’s affairs minister.

“The burkini is … a particular vision of the place of the woman. It cannot be considered only as a question of fashion or individual liberty,” Laurence Rossignol said on Europe-1 radio.

But Rim-Sarah Alouane, a religious freedom expert at the University of Toulouse, says the anti-burkini brigade is relying on outdated ideas about Islam to stigmatize France’s No. 2 religion.

“Women’s rights imply the right for a woman to cover up,” said Alouane, a Muslim who was born and raised in France. The burkini “was created by Western Muslim women who wanted to conciliate their faith and desire to dress modestly with recreational activities.

“What is more French than sitting on a beach in the sand? We are telling Muslims that no matter what you do … we don’t want you here,” she said.

Local mayors cite multiple reasons for their burkini bans, including the difficulty of rescuing bathers in copious clothing. But their main justification is security concerns after a season marred by deadly Islamic extremist attacks.

Critics warn the bans could inflame religious and social tensions in a country already on edge.

“It will accentuate tension within French society,” Leyla Dakhli, a French-Tunisian professor of Arab history, said. “We are teaching the French public to associate a woman in (a) burkini with the terrorist who assassinates.”

Before the brouhaha over burkinis, French laws banning face-covering veils in public and headscarves in schools – also based on view that they violate French secularism and oppress women – had alienated many among France’s 5 million Muslims.

Violent extremists also have cited the earlier bans as one of their justifications for targeting France.

Dakhli said the bans reflect a colonial-era view of Muslims. While some women today may wear burkinis at the behest of a man, others freely choose them for reasons of personal faith, she said

“It’s not a question of whether the veil signifies enslavement or independence. There are as many answers … as there are women in the world,” she said.

The bans, which carry small fines for violators, reflect an unusually fierce attachment to secularism in this country, and have perplexed people outside France.

“Politicians talk constantly about integration and inclusion, and then proceed to kick out to the fringes the very women they claim are oppressed and excluded from society,” Remona Aly of the Exploring Islam Foundation wrote in The Guardian this week.

In other European countries, burkinis are rare, though some public pools restrict them – like baggy men’s swim trunks – for reasons of hygiene.

In neighboring Belgium, however, Nadia Sminate of the right-leaning Flemish N-VA party, chair of the Radicalization Committee in the Flemish Parliament, wants burkinis off public beaches.

“I do not think women want to walk around on the beach with such a monstrosity in the name of their faith,” she told Flemish daily De Standaard.France’s prime minister said that while he supports local bans – “in the face of provocation, the nation must defend itself,” he told La Provence – he is not in favor of a national law against burkinis.

]]> 1, 19 Aug 2016 21:40:45 +0000