Religion and Values – Press Herald Fri, 20 Oct 2017 00:05:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 President trumpets Christian values anew Sat, 14 Oct 2017 01:50:42 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump’s evolution from twice-divorced casino owner viewed warily by Christian conservatives to evangelical favorite defending religious liberty was on full display Friday as he promised conservatives a return to traditional American values, including restoring “Merry Christmas” to the national discourse.

Trump, the first sitting president to address the Values Voter Summit, ticked off the promises he’s fulfilled to evangelical Christians and other conservatives, pledging to turn back the clock in what he described as a nation that has drifted away from its religious roots.

“How times have changed, but you know what, now they are changing back again, just remember that,” Trump told the cheering crowd.

It was a far cry from the skeptical welcome Trump received when he first addressed the group as a neophyte politician in 2015. With questions swirling then about whether he could appeal to evangelicals over conservative candidates like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Trump held a Bible aloft and declared: “I believe in God. I believe in the Bible. I’m a Christian.”‘

Trump appeared before the group again last September, in the electoral stretch run usually devoted to wooing undecided voters, and aimed his pitch toward his religious base. Though he avoided some hot-button social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, he vowed his support for Israel, an important issue for evangelicals, and said it was the “dream” of the Islamic State for his opponent Hillary Clinton to be elected president.

This time, he had the crowd won over before he stepped onstage.

He bemoaned the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” as a secular seasonal greeting and vowed a return to “Merry Christmas.”

He noted, as Christian conservatives often do, that there are four references to the “creator” in the Declaration of Independence, saying “religious liberty is enshrined” in the nation’s founding documents.

“I pledged that in a Trump administration, our nation’s religious heritage would be cherished, protected and defended like you have never seen before,” Trump said. “Above all else in America, we don’t worship government. We worship God.”

Trump stressed his move to weaken the Johnson Amendment, which limited political activity or endorsements by religious groups that received tax exemptions, as well as his administration’s effort to expand employer rights to deny insurance coverage for birth control.

]]> 0 Trump speaks to the 2017 Value Voters Summit on Friday in Washington. An unlikely religious favorite in prior years, he has promised to endorse the "Merry Christmas" greeting and tells the conservative gathering, "I believe in the Bible." Associated Press/Fri, 13 Oct 2017 22:29:14 +0000
Bishop takes ‘mobile Mass’ to rural Californians Sat, 14 Oct 2017 00:30:31 +0000 VISALIA, Calif. — Bishop Armando Ochoa begins the Mass outside a building that resembles a large red barn. He carries a hooked staff covered in animal fur and wears moccasins and a leather sash – a tribute to the nearby Tule River Tribe.

The recent service among old oak trees in Visalia’s Mooney Grove Park was one of nine stops on a yearlong “mobile Mass” tour to rural communities in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.

The clothing and location are unusual for the bishop, who normally celebrates Mass in the large, ornate St. John’s Cathedral in downtown Fresno.

In Mooney Grove, he points out the beauty of a statue of a Native American warrior riding a horse and talks about how tribes in the central San Joaquin Valley have long considered the land here sacred – and that he does, too.

This gesture is a nice surprise for Johnny Luna, a Native American listening to the bishop’s homily.

“When he said that, I smiled,” Luna says.

He says it “felt good” to hear because Native American history is seldom discussed.

The mobile Masses highlight local history and struggles facing people who are “sometimes forgotten or hidden from view,” says Monsignor Raymond Dreiling, the diocesan vicar general.

It’s also a way for the diocese to celebrate its 50th anniversary by getting back to its missionary roots. Clergy once preached to rural communities via “chapel cars.”

Church leaders have revived that practice with a new mobile chapel – a retrofitted trailer pulled by a truck. The words “siempre adelante” painted on its side mean “always forward” – the motto of Saint Junípero Serra in the 1700s when he founded a string of Catholic missions in California.

The mobile chapel, unveiled in December, should be put to good use in a diocese that covers eight counties. It was taken earlier this year to Manzanar National Historic Site, the location of an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.

Survivors of the camp attended the somber service. There were 200 Catholics interned there just because they had Japanese surnames, Ochoa says.

“We certainly shamefacedly have to pick up the pieces and say, ‘Never again,’ ” Ochoa says. “Never again should that happen.”

The church may not have directly caused that injustice or other dark chapters in history, but it still was part of a society that did, Dreiling says, and that’s important to acknowledge and to ask for forgiveness.

“There’s been a change of heart,” Dreiling says. “The church now stands very vocal and officially opposed to discrimination in all its forms.”

In that spirit, the Catholic Bishops of California issued a statement in September urging immigration reform for those enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and their families. Dreiling estimates about 70 percent of approximately 1.3 million registered Catholics in the Diocese of Fresno are Hispanic.

“DACA students are not the so-called ‘bad hombres,’ an insidious label used to instill fear in others and feed the racism and nativism that unfortunately is rearing its ugly head in our cities,” the statement reads. “Far from it, DACA-eligible youth are high school graduates, in school or working on their GED. Many are now in college. They may be honorably discharged members of the armed services.”

“People say, ‘Oh you bishops are involved in politics.’ This is not politics,” Ochoa says. “This is the doctrine of social justice that we’ll continue to proclaim.”

He says there’s a “mean spirit alive and well” in society today and unless people speak about Gospel values, others will not say anything about it.

The doctrine of social justice continued during a mobile Mass at Fresno’s Kearney Park on Sept. 19.

The bishop talked about how low-paid Chinese laborers called “coolies” helped to build the park and about how Latino farm workers contributed to the wealth of the area.

Dreiling’s homily is in line with direction from Pope Francis for the Catholic Church to “accompany” those who are suffering

Dreiling says breaking down “real or imagined barriers that enslave people again or hide them from view or shame them as worthless or having no dignity.”

]]> 0 a retrofitted trailer pulled by a truck, Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, Calif., gives communion during a mass at Kearney Park in Fresno as part of the diocese's 50th anniversary in September.Fri, 13 Oct 2017 20:40:23 +0000
Reflections: Loneliness takes toll on seniors – spiritually and physically Sat, 14 Oct 2017 00:00:00 +0000 While glancing at Beverly’s chart, I noticed that her birthday had been the day before.

“You’re 80!” I exclaimed, excited about her milestone. “How did you celebrate? Did you have a party?” Beverly shook her head “no.” I continued, “Did your family call?” Bev shook her head again.

Bev replied with a sigh, “It was like any other day. Nothing happened. I’m glad I had a doctor’s appointment today. At least it got me out of the house.”

Bev lamented, “This is WORSE than my cancer! I’m not important to my family. It’s like what Mother Teresa said, ‘One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.'” Bev was lonely.

Loneliness has been recognized recently as a growing problem in the elderly, especially as the number of retirees increases. Over 40 percent of people over 60 admit to being lonely, with percentages increasing successively in each decade of life. Loneliness is a health problem. In recent studies, loneliness has been found to lead to physical illness and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity as a major cause of early death, even adjusting for age, economic status and depression. Another study of 1,600 individuals found loneliness also produced a decrease in performing daily activities.

On the biochemical level, loneliness produces an increase in the body’s stress response, causing elevated blood pressure, decreased blood flow to internal organs, and impaired immune response. In mice, 24 hours of isolation produced changes in the areas of the brain linked to depression. These dopamine receptors become more active once the experimental mice are reunited with other mice.

How could Beverly be helped? Knowing Bev’s interest in Mother Teresa, I sought an example of another woman of faith. The Bible gives us many examples of loneliness and how to combat it. One particular example is Anna, who met Jesus and his family in the temple in Jerusalem only weeks after Jesus was born. This was the time when Jesus was presented to the Lord as prescribed in the Law, considered to be the first five books of the Bible. Anna had several characteristics similar to Beverly. Like Beverly, Anna was elderly and a widow: “Anna was very old; she lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was 84″(Luke 2:36). Yet there are differences in the way Anna and Bev lived. Anna is described as a prophetess who, as described in the Bible, studied the Word of God to interpret God’s will, and taught it to others. Not only was Anna mentally active with study, she was constantly out of her home: “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). In addition, Anna was not afraid to be engaged with other people and speak with them: “Coming up to them (Mary and Joseph) at 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 2:38).

Fortunately, Beverly was amenable to talking about her loneliness and considering solutions for it. Living arrangements may be having a significant impact. By age 70, one-third of people live alone. By 80, it is one-half. We discussed a number of steps she could take. Bev was already involved with a church and there were a number of activities at church that Bev could be engaged in. There was a book group in her neighborhood. There were interesting courses available at senior college at the University of Southern Maine. Bev also needed to reconnect with her family, and she wanted to make the effort. Though her daughters lived in another state and Beverly did not drive long distances, she could explore visiting them in Boston by bus or train.

I was pleased Beverly was willing to consider strategies to combat her loneliness. She had much she could change. In her age group, it is encouraging that 70 percent of women seek help for loneliness. But a big challenge remains. Studies reveal that loneliness is even more of a problem in elderly men, and yet only 30 percent of men seek help.

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.

]]> 0 Fri, 13 Oct 2017 20:32:33 +0000
Dalai Lama calls Trump’s focus on nationalism a step backward Fri, 13 Oct 2017 22:37:22 +0000 DHARAMSALA, India — The Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of the Tibetan nation, is known worldwide for his advocacy of non-violence, peaceful coexistence, environmental protection and human rights. But the 82-year-old Buddhist monk is worried about the rise of nationalism and selfishness around the world and in the United States.

In wide-ranging remarks to a unique conference of Tibet supporters in northern India, the Dalai Lama said he was concerned about President Trump’s “America first” policy, America’s stance on global warming and the use of military tools to solve international problems. He also praised the United States and expressed hope that the American people will continue to do the right things, including with respect to Tibet.

“Your ancestors really considered the importance of liberty, freedom, democracy, these things,” the Dalai Lama said in response to a question about his current view of the United States. “The present president, in the very beginning he mentioned ‘America first.’ That sounded in my ear not very nice.”

The Dalai Lama is concerned that the United States, despite being “the leader of the free world,” was becoming more “selfish, nationalist,” he said. But the American Congress and people have long supported the cause of Tibet and human rights, and he thinks that will continue, he said.

The Dalai Lama also lamented that Trump doesn’t pay more attention to the issue of global warming, which he said knows no borders and no religion.

“The present president is not much paying attention to ecology. So on that, I feel some reservation,” the Dalai Lama said. “But anyway, the American people elected him, so I must respect (that).”

The event, called the Five Fifty Forum, was hosted by the Tibetan government-in-exile, which is based in this northern Indian mountain town. The Dalai Lama has been living in India since he fled Tibet in 1959 and has not been allowed to return.

The Tibetan leader, who is believed by followers to be in his 14th reincarnation, criticized the use of military force around the world and called on nations to solve problems through diplomacy and negotiation rather than violence. He said the use of military power, even by the United States, never achieves its goal.

“Every problem on this planet, including our problem, must be solved with respect and mutually acceptable (solutions),” he said.

The Dalai Lama’s commentary on world events was not limited to the United States. He said that the Britain had erred in voting to leave the European Union, and he attributed that decision to nationalism as well.

The European Union should become the model for every region and then, when the world’s countries are all working together, they can demilitarize, the Dalai Lama said. “That’s my vision. That’s my hope.”

The Dalai Lama said he wants to engage with China to find a mutually acceptable solution for Tibet. He said that the Tibetan people must also be ready to talk to China if there’s an opening.

That doesn’t seem likely, considering that the Chinese government cut off dialogue with the Tibetans in 2010 and has pursued a brutal repression campaign in the region ever since.

]]> 0 Fri, 13 Oct 2017 19:54:50 +0000
Islamophobia alleged as Poles gather to pray along borders Sat, 07 Oct 2017 20:55:45 +0000 GDANSK, Poland — Polish Catholics held rosaries and prayed together Saturday along the country’s 2,000-mile border, appealing to the Virgin Mary and God for salvation for Poland and the world in a national event that many felt had anti-Islam overtones.

The unusual “Rosary on the Borders” event was organized by lay Catholics but was also endorsed by Polish church authorities, with 320 churches from 22 dioceses taking part. The prayers took place from the Baltic Sea coast in the north to the mountains along Poland’s southern borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and all along the border of this country of 38 million where more than 90 percent declare themselves Roman Catholics.

Organizers say the event commemorated the centenary of the apparitions of Fatima, when three shepherd children in Portugal said the Virgin Mary appeared to them.

But the event also commemorated the huge 16th-century naval battle of Lepanto, when a Christian alliance acting on the wishes of the pope defeated Ottoman Empire forces on the Ionian Sea, “thus saving Europe from Islamization,” as organizers put it.

While organizers insisted the prayers Saturday were not directed against any group, some participants cited fears of Islam among their reasons for praying at the border.

Halina Kotarska, 65, traveled 145 miles from her home in Kwiciszewo, central Poland, to express gratitude after her 29-year-old son Slawomir survived a serious car wreck this year. She described it as a miracle performed by St. Mary.

She said she was also praying for the survival of Christianity in Poland and Europe against what she sees as an Islamic threat facing the West.

“Islam wants to destroy Europe,” she said. “They want to turn us away from Christianity.”

A leading Polish expert on xenophobia and extremism, Rafal Pankowski, saw the prayers Saturday as a problematic expression of Islamophobia coming at a time of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Poland, a phenomenon occurring even though the country’s Muslim population is tiny.

“The whole concept of doing it on the borders reinforces the ethno-religious, xenophobic model of national identity,” said Pankowski, who heads the Never Again association in Warsaw.

His concern was underlined by support the event has received from far-right leaders and Radio Maryja, a nationalistic Catholic radio station that is often critical of Islam.

At the Polish-Czech border near the town of Szklarska Poreba, hundreds of pilgrims arrived in buses and cars to pray at the Karkonosze mountain range. The procession, which included young and old and families pushing children in strollers, was made up of pilgrims who held rosaries and constantly prayed to the Virgin Mary, braving the cold and rain.

“It’s a really serious thing for us,” said Basia Sibinska, who traveled with her daughter Kasia from central Poland. “Rosaries to the border means that we want to pray for our country. That was a main motive for us to come here. We want to pray for peace, we want to pray for our safety. Of course, everyone comes here with a different motivation. But the most important thing is to create something like a circle of a prayer alongside the entire border, intense and passionate.”

In the northern city of Gdansk, people prayed on a beach as gulls flew above. Krzysztof Januszewski, 45, said that he worries Christian Europe is being threatened by Islamic extremists and by a loss of faith in Christian societies.

“In the past, there were raids by sultans and Turks and people of other faiths against us Christians,” said Januszewski, a mechanic who traveled 220 miles to Gdansk from Czerwinsk nad Wisla. “Today Islam is flooding us and we are afraid of this too,” he added. “We are afraid of terrorist threats and we are afraid of people departing from the faith.”

]]> 0 worshipper holds a Polish national flag during a rosary prayer in Gdansk, Poland, Saturday. Hundreds of thousands of Polish Catholic faithful prayed the rosary around Poland's borders.Sat, 07 Oct 2017 17:28:24 +0000
Reflections: God’s greatest gifts often come when they are least expected Sat, 07 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Far from dreading turning 40, I was excited. After working from home for nearly two decades while raising a large family, this was going to be it. Finally! A decade just for me! I hoped to use it to fulfill my dream of publishing a book. To celebrate, I invited some of my closest friends to a dinner party.

We laughed. We ate. We talked about the challenges and joys of getting older. I sliced into the chocolate forest cake I’d bought from a gourmet bakery. Then I blew out my candles, wishing for ten uninterrupted years of productivity.

One month later, I discovered that I was pregnant: a gift I wasn’t expecting. Like my first pregnancy — after just two years of marriage – I was shocked. This was not the path I had planned.

Back then, I was working as a reporter for a small Maine newspaper while my husband, Dana, worked his way through college. I’d always wanted children. But so soon? I was just 23 years old, a baby myself by current standards. I marveled at the tiny life growing inside me yet fretted about how we would take care of a child. Over the following months, God miraculously provided for our needs – everything from hand-me-down baby gear to a house we could afford.

As Dana and I welcomed four more children, God continued providing – including during the whirlwind adoption of our daughter, Ruth, who had profound disabilities and came to our family from an orphanage in Uganda. But with the addition of each child, my time and energy shrank, limiting my ability to write.

So there I was, turning 40, with children ranging from 15 to 2, when I discovered that I was pregnant. Again.

I cried. For three months. Then things got really fun. Dana lost his job. After hearing the news, I wandered up the hill behind our house, fell to my knees beneath the soaring pines and cried out to God – overwhelmed by our circumstances and fearing the future.

Trouble comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s our own doing. Sometimes it’s not – an unplanned pregnancy, illness, financial difficulties, the challenges of getting older, anxiety, losing someone we love. Regardless of our situation, Scripture promises, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation,” Psalm 18:2 (NIV). The ‘horn of salvation’ is a reference to the architectural horns found on the four corners of the altar as part of early Hebrew worship. By grabbing hold of them, a petitioner was calling on God’s mercy. In the same way, when we are troubled, we can grab hold of God’s promises and cry out for his mercy and help.

I didn’t hear God’s answer right away. But slowly, as that new little life being began to grow and turn and kick inside me, God began to comfort my fearful, questioning heart. I could either trust God or trust my fears, I realized. I chose to trust God, believing that he who had met our needs in the past would continue to provide. And he did. The same month our son arrived, God provided Dana with a new job. Incredibly, as we adjusted to the new rhythms of our life, I still found time to write – and even published my first book. Although the challenges haven’t disappeared, God has deepened our trust through them by revealing his faithfulness.

And that baby we didn’t expect? As our older children head off to college and high school, our youngest, who is now 4, fills our family with love and wonder – wonder at the fragility of life, the unexpected twists and turns along the way, and the need to depend on God through them all. Sometimes the most unexpected gifts are the most miraculous.

Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Connect at

]]> 0 Fri, 06 Oct 2017 20:38:08 +0000
Commentary: Too often, offers of thoughts and prayers lack true conviction Sat, 07 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 It’s become a sort of twisted American ritual: A lone white gunman opens fire on a crowd of people. Americans cry out for someone to do something and are met with shoulder shrugs, mumblings about “the price of freedom” and assurances that the people elected to protect them are sending their “thoughts and prayers.”

Politicians have managed to make a once benign, if not comforting, phrase sound almost profane.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with praying for those who are suffering. In fact, if you are a religious believer, it’s an imperative. I’m not in the camp that dismisses prayer as superstitious mumbo-jumbo embraced only by the unenlightened. I’m a person who prays and who has been prayed for and knows its power.

But it’s not enough. Nor is it what we hire politicians to do. We elect them to fix problems, enact policies and keep us safe.

Instead, we have elected officials – many of them self-described conservative Christians who also happen to take money from the National Rifle Association – using cries for “thoughts and prayers” as some sort of inoculation against responsibility or action when it comes to gun violence.

In his address to the nation Monday, instead of offering specific action, President Trump and his White House team avoided any discussion of policy, as though it were only a spiritual matter.

“We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace, and we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.”

But Christians especially believe that our faith leads us to action.

“If we profess to follow Jesus, all of our talk must be indivisibly connected to all of our deeds. If there are no deeds, then the talk is meaningless,” the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III told me.

“The contrived, empty platitudes (from these politicians) are a public relations gimmick to avoid confronting this ideologically captive religion which bears no fruit.”

The “ideologically captive religion” to which Rivers refers is white evangelical Christianity, which has so intertwined itself with the Republican Party and conservative political ideology, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins.

Strangely, when it comes to other issues these same Christians don’t feign helplessness and limit solutions to “thoughts and prayers.”

If the gunman in Las Vegas had been named Mohammed, you can be sure that these same leaders would be offering a laundry list of “solutions” to keep more Mohammeds out of America.

For that matter, have you ever seen a politician just throw up his or her hands about legalized abortion – which has been the law of the land for 40 years – and say there is nothing that can be done, but “thoughts and prayers” all around?

For those of us who identify as Christians, it’s particularly painful to watch elected officials use their Christian faith to try to spiritualize mass murder, while their inaction leads to people traumatized, maimed, disabled or dead.

Mass shootings are not acts of God. They are not natural disasters. We know they are preventable, because no other country lives with this kind of madness.

]]> 0 Fri, 06 Oct 2017 21:39:09 +0000
Those bells tolling in Portland echoed nationwide gesture against gun violence Tue, 03 Oct 2017 13:21:07 +0000 The bell inside the Cathedral Church of St. Luke on State Street rang out at noon Tuesday. A dozen people – most in their 60s or 70s or older – bowed their heads and clasped their hands in silence. Outside, walkers who breezed past noted the sound and looked up toward the church but didn’t stop.

The bell continued to ring for an uncomfortable length of time, each toll of the bell representing a victim of Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas – the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

Linda Carleton reads a litany to end gun violence in the chapel at St. Luke’s Cathedral on Tuesday in Portland. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“It is discouraging,” said Bishop Stephen Lane. “There is a feeling that nothing can happen that would motivate us as a people to change. But we want to give hope. Things are dire, but they are not hopeless.”

The Portland Episcopal church joined hundreds of others across the country in tolling its bells before Tuesday’s service – a small gesture against the gun violence that has ravaged the United States. Lane is among an informal Episcopal advocacy group, Bishops United Against Gun Violence, that formed after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut nearly five years ago.

When the bells finally went silent, the Rev. Ben Shambaugh addressed those in attendance. He asked them to remember those who died in Las Vegas and the many more who die from gun violence every day in the U.S.

He then read a prayer attributed to St. Francis.

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Lane then addressed the audience.

“We seem to be in a season of disaster,” the bishop said. “Events pile up on top of each other and we can barely keep up.”

But he cautioned against despair.

“Let us bend the knee and say a prayer, but then stand up and, in God’s name, try to make a difference,” he said.

Lane then called upon a woman to read a litany he had written about giving wisdom to elected leaders, thanks to first responders and healing to victims’ families. At the end of each section, the attendants read a refrain in unison, “Make us instruments of your peace.”

After the service, Hank and Nancy Beebe of Portland said they didn’t come to Tuesday’s service specifically to reflect about gun violence. They come every Tuesday.

Hank Beebe of Portland bows his head while bells ring at St. Luke’s Cathdral. The group Bishops United Against Gun Violence coordinated the ringing of bells at Episcopal churches around the country Tuesday, with the bells ringing for the number of victims in the Las Vegas shootings, and one more time for the perpetrator of the violence. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The couple, both in their 90s, are the heads of a four-generation family that lives together. Hank Beebe said he doesn’t think about how the world will be for him or his wife, since their days are waning, but for their four grandchildren, who are all 7 or younger.

“We are aware that they are at-risk always,” he said. “In school, or on trips, there is always a chance. Risk seems to be a part of our way of life.”

Does he feel despair? “I have nightmares,” he said. “But at the same time, we have a faith and that holds us.”

Beebe said he has less faith in policymakers. He said he doesn’t understand how the gun lobby has grown powerful enough to essentially quash any rational debate about gun control.

Nancy Beebe, who, like her husband, has lived through World War II and the civil rights movement and Vietnam, said she hopes the country will come through times of trouble as it has many times before.

“It’s unfortunate to me that people go all the way to either side,” she said, referring to the sharp divide between gun supporters and those who wish to impose some restrictions on gun ownership. “There is sanity in the middle. Surely, we can work toward that.”

]]> 0 Rev. Ben Shambaugh starts a service in a chapel at St. Luke's Cathedral in Portland at noon on Tuesday after opening the church for a national time of prayer for the victims in the Las Vegas shooting.Tue, 03 Oct 2017 23:37:22 +0000
Mormon leader reaffirms opposition to gay marriage Sun, 01 Oct 2017 00:14:43 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — A top Mormon leader reaffirmed the religion’s opposition to same-sex marriage on Saturday during a church conference – and reminded followers watching around the world that children should be raised in families led by a married man and woman.

The speech by Dallin H. Oaks, a member of a top governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, followed a push in recent years by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to uphold theological opposition to gay marriage amid widespread social acceptance while trying to foster an empathetic stance toward LGBT people.

The Mormon church is one of many conservative faith groups navigating the challenges that arise from trying to strike the right balance.

“We have witnessed a rapid and increasing public acceptance of cohabitation without marriage and same-sex marriage. The corresponding media advocacy, education, and even occupational requirements pose difficult challenges for Latter-day Saints,” Oaks said. “We must try to balance the competing demands of following the gospel law in our personal lives and teachings even as we seek to show love for all.”

Oaks acknowledged that this belief can put Mormons at odds with family and friends and doesn’t match current laws, including the recent legalization of gay marriage in the United States. But he told the nearly 16 million members watching around the world that the religion’s 1995 document detailing the doctrine – “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” – isn’t a policy statement that will be changed. After the Utah-based Mormon church received backlash in 2008 for helping lead the fight for California’s Proposition 8 constitutional ban on gay marriage, religious leaders spent several years carefully developing a more empathetic LGBT tone.

That was interrupted in 2015 when the church adopted new rules banning children living with gay parents from being baptized until age 18 and clarifying that people in same-sex relationships are apostates. That policy drew harsh criticism from gay church members and their supporters who considered it a major setback from recent progress.

A year ago, church leaders updated a website created in 2012 to let members know that attraction to people of the same sex is not a sin or a measure of their faithfulness and may never go away.

But the church reminded members that having gay sex violates fundamental doctrinal beliefs that will not change.

Oaks on Saturday reiterated a church belief that children should be raised in heterosexual married households, not by gay parents or couples who live together but aren’t married. He lamented that fewer children in the United States aren’t raised in what the religion considers the ideal households.

“Even as we must live with the marriage laws and other traditions of a declining world, those who strive for exaltation must make personal choices in family life according to the Lord’s way whenever that differs from the world’s way,” Oaks said.

The twice-yearly conference going on without church President Thomas S. Monson, 90, who is dealing with ailing health. It’s the first time in more than a half century that Monson hasn’t spoken at the conferences. Before becoming church president in 2008, he served on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles starting in 1963.

Monson has scaled back conference participation in recent years and in May church officials said that Monson was no longer going regularly to meetings at church offices because of limitations related to his age.

Church presidents serve until they die.

Monson is the first church president since 1994 not to attend and make at least one speech.

]]> 0 H. Oaks, left, and Russell M. Nelson, members of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speak Saturday at the two-day conference.Sat, 30 Sep 2017 20:23:37 +0000
Reflections: Meetings with Hitler’s spokesman were confrontations of good and evil Sat, 30 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 In July 1935, a young American, Varian Fry, the editor of Living Age magazine, witnessed an anti-Jewish riot in Berlin. A few days later, seeking information about the causes of the riot, he paid a visit to the office of Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl, nicknamed “Putzi,” Adolf Hitler’s official liaison to the American press, among others. Both men had attended Harvard University, although at different times.

Perhaps that was why Hanfstaengl was so open with Fry about the “Jewish Question” and how Hitler and the Nazis were going to solve it.

Some days later, the New York Times published an article quoting Fry and what Hanfstaengl had to say about the future of German Jewry. “Mr. Fry,” the article read, “said that in his talk with Mr. Hanfstaengl he was told that there were two anti-Semitic groups in the Nazi Party, one the radical section that desired to solve the Jewish Question with bloodshed and the other a moderate group that wishes to segregate the Jews by law into a specified area.”

That may have been one reason why Varian Fry went to France in 1940 and helped more than 2,000 Jewish refugees escape the clutches of the occupying Nazi forces, including famous names such as Marc Chagall and Hannah Arendt.

In 1994, Fry was given the title Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem. He is the only Amercan to have been honored for his actions in saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

But a year earlier, at Harvard’s graduation in June 1934, another confrontation of sorts took place between two graduates of the Harvard class of 1909. One was Maine’s second Jewish judge, sitting on Portland’s municipal court, and the same Putzi Hanfstaengl who a year later would deliver his assessment of German Jewry’s fate under the Nazis.

In a sense, as with the meeting between Fry and Hanfstaengl, it was a confrontation between good and evil.

Judge Max Pinansky (1887-1951) has largely been forgotten except for a few brief mentions in studies dealing with Portland Jewry. But in the first decades of the 20th century, he played important roles not only in the religious life of Portland’s Jewish community but also in the political, legal, interreligious and interracial histories of Maine’s largest city.

Max L. Pinansky was born in East Boston. He graduated from Harvard College in 1909 and in 1913, after becoming a member of the Massachusetts bar, moved to Portland to set up his legal practice and to marry a local woman, Annie R. Bernstein.

Immediately after arriving, Pinansky formed an organization known as the Modern Synagogue Society, later called Temple Israel. It was an effort to introduce a form of religious modernization to a Jewish community that was strictly traditional in its religious observance. The religious services in this congregation were held mainly in English and most notably allowed men and women to sit together.

By 1919, in the face of fierce opposition from the Orthodox Jewish community, Temple Israel was forced to dissolve.

Pinansky was also a member of the Portland School Board for nine years and served one term as a Republican member of the Maine Senate, where he pursued a moderate to liberal agenda with a focus on education, especially the effort to create a policy of equal funding for all public school students in Maine which, unfortunately, failed to gain majority support.

Finally, Pinansky was the founder and president of an organization that was extraordinarily progressive for its time. The Inter-Racial Fellowship of America was made up of representatives of Portland’s Christian and Jewish communities as well as the religious leaders of its African American community. In a meeting of the group in 1937, a visiting speaker, Bishop W.J. Walls of the A.M.E. Zion Church, angrily declared that African Americans “were still slaves in an economic sense.” Part of that anger may have been heightened by the fact that Bishop Walls, as an African American, had been denied accommodations at several Portland hotels. He only found a hotel room after Judge Pinansky personally intervened on his behalf.

Putzi Hanfstaengl’s decision to attend his 25th Harvard reunion was the beginning of his fall from grace within the Nazi Party. An early and intimate adviser to Hitler from the 1920s, Hanfstaengl (1887-1975), who was descended from an old and wealthy German family known for their art publishing business, was literally a giant of a man, standing 6-feet-4 with a massive head and jaw.

At Harvard, he was a popular member of the class of 1909, regaling his classmates with his piano playing and his “good old boy” manner.

After graduation, he ran part of the family business in Manhattan until America entered World War I and he was forced to return to Germany after the end of the war.

In 1922, he met Hitler and soon became Hitler’s closest confidant. Putzi maintained that his description to Hitler of the cheers that accompanied the traditional Harvard-Yale football game resulted in the creation of the massive crowd demonstrations held by the Nazis and their shouts of “Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil.” – Hail Victory.

But for the most part, he functioned as Hitler’s piano player and spokesperson for the Nazi Party’s relationships with the foreign, but especially the American, press corps.

In June 1934, Hanfstaengl was greeted upon his arrival in New York by demonstrators protesting the Nazi persecution of its political opponents, especially the arrest and jailing of Ernst Thaelmann, the head of the German Communist Party.

But he managed to avoid direct confrontations until he was approached during the reunion by Rabbi Joseph Schubow, a Harvard graduate of the class of 1920, who asked Hanfstaengl if his comments to the American press that the Jewish problem would soon be restored to normal meant “by extermination.” Putzi refused to answer and joined his classmates who cheered and threw confetti at him as they marched in the alumni procession.

Suddenly, Hanfstaengl was marching next to a member of his class, a man he claimed he could not remember from his undergraduate days. It was Max Pinanksy, who as a Jewish student at Harvard, most likely one of the “grinds” who commuted to the campus, lived at home and excelled in his academic subjects, would not have been a part of Putzi’s crowd.

According to newspaper reports, Judge Pinansky asked Putzi if he would issue a statement regarding the condition of the Jews in Germany, but Hanfstaengl refused the request as he had done with Rabbi Schubow.

“If Hitler Could See Hanfy (Hanfstaengl’s nickname among his Harvard classmates) Now,” a newspaper headline read, displaying a photo of Putzi marching with Pinansky.

In fact, after Hanfstaengl returned to Germany, Hitler did see such a photo, one which Putzi claimed had him shaking hands with Judge Pinansky. It led to a sharp rebuke by the Nazi leader and perhaps the beginning of Putzi’s fall from grace as an apologist for the Nazi regime. Ultimately, he would flee Nazi Germany, be interned as an enemy alien in Great Britain and return to the United States to work for the American government analyzing Hitler’s potential political and military decisions.

It was a brief confrontation, but one which highlighted the human incarnations of good and evil: The Jewish judge and humanitarian concerned with the welfare of his Jewish and wider communities, and the racist and vicious anti-Semite who would tell the future American ambassador to Germany, James G. McDonald, in 1933 that “the Jews are the vampire sucking German blood. We shall not be strong until we free ourselves of them.”

Abraham J. Peck is research professor of history at the University of Southern Maine. He is extremely grateful to Paul Mills, Farmington attorney and a well-known analyst and historian of Maine politics, for his pioneering work on the meeting between Pinansky and Hanfstaengl.

]]> 0 Fri, 29 Sep 2017 18:28:01 +0000
Reflections: Things seen deeply and things grieved become your wisdom Sat, 23 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Life, love and their meaning are all about deep seeing.

It begins in the newborn’s gaze, its dawning recognition, fascination, first smile while looking into her or his mother’s eyes. It happens in Mom’s astounding recognition that she has been an integral part of the miracle of love and life and that this is her child and at the same time the child of the Universe.

I’m also here to say that something similar happens to fathers. It happened to me in the middle of a night some weeks after the birth of our first child. It was my turn to change her diaper, hand her to Nancy for nursing and put her back in her crib when she was ready for another few hours of infant sleep. It was while I stood by the crib.

Layne was again in deep sleep, burbling a bit, at peace. It hit me how much I was in love with this new one who had so much living and learning to do. In awe and an awakening understanding of responsibility I gave myself to her in wonder and a prayer of gratitude.

Deep seeing is confirmed in our experience of awe, wonder, and full heartedness.

I’m writing this on the day that the NASA satellite Cassini, after its spectacular thirteen year mission to explore the rings and moons of Saturn, its surface and storms, experienced what its programmers call its “Grand Finale.” This morning at 7 East Coast time Cassini, running out of fuel, was sent into the fiery pulverization of Saturn’s atmosphere rather than into endless drifting as space junk.

Can you imagine what they felt? They had built and named their machine, talked with it, tended to its every need. In return it had revealed secrets of the universe. They must have been awe-struck by what the eyes of Cassini opened to them. At the very least they must have felt joyful satisfaction at a job well done, and more.

I’ll wager they felt themselves grieving. Not only was the focus of their life’s work for the past twenty years over but the product of their creation, their science and their art, dead and cremated.

I’ll venture one more likely consequence for the people who created and ended Cassini. Salted by their grief, what they have been through and now see becomes more then knowledge. It becomes wisdom. This is the way of deep seeing.

I’m writing this twenty five days after the full eclipse of August 21. We in Maine were on its edge. Many who experience the full shadow of the moon this time around speak of more than watching, of deep seeing. Their words are still fresh in my mind and imagination, “It was a sight to see and more. It moved something primal within me. It was spiritual.”

Deep seeing involves moves beyond observation into a realization such as the new parent gets, the NASA team must have had and those who were moon shadowed experienced. It is a mind-blowing, heart filling experience of being a part of something immense. It is spiritual and leaves one humbled and blessed with grandeur.

In our Judeo-Christian Bible this deep seeing is called “knowing.” By those who “know” it has been seen in loving as in “You are a beloved child of God” and offered as invitation in “Love God and neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus looked around at his friends, his family, his culture and gentile cultures and lamented. “Would that you could see. Would that you could hear. Would that you saw the sacredness and recognized God.” I can hear him saying, “Take time, look and see it in the lilies of the fields, in our rivers and bays and lakes and oceans, in the sun and moon and planets, in the pet in the shopping cart of a homeless one and in its keeper, in the cardinal at the feeder, the garden refreshed in a summer’s rain, your neighbor, the sojourner, the asylum seeker, even in the one reflected in your mirror.”

Deep seeing takes time set aside. In that practice the sacred reveals itself and changes the direction of our lives. To see the sacred is to love it. To love it is to serve it. To serve it is our true freedom, free to be who we are for love’s purpose.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 22 Sep 2017 19:58:47 +0000
Pope: Church late to find its conscience on abuse Fri, 22 Sep 2017 22:52:28 +0000 ROME — Pope Francis acknowledged that the Catholic Church was slow to address the sex abuse crisis, including its widely criticized but not publicly acknowledged practice of moving priests who had abused children to other churches instead of reporting them to the police, saying “the church’s conscience came a bit late.”

The pope gave off-the-cuff remarks to a commission he created to tackle the issue, acknowledging the slow pace of church trials and an overall lack of awareness of the problem inside St. Peter’s walls.

“Pedophilia is a sickness,” Pope Francis said. “Today one repents, moves on, we forgive him, then two years later he relapses. We need to get it in our heads that it’s a sickness.”

The pope announced he would do away with Vatican appeal trials for cases where evidence of abuse against minors is proved. “If there’s evidence, that is final,” he said.

“Those who’re sentenced because of sexual abuses against minors can indeed appeal to the pope and ask for a pardon, but I’ve never signed one of those, and I never will,” he said. “I hope this much is clear.”

The pope’s rationale for ending the appeal process – according to Italian news outlets’ transcripts of his words – lies in his own experience. Faced with such a case at the very beginning of his papacy, he said he’d opted for “the more benevolent path” instead of defrocking a priest. “After two years, though, the priest relapsed,” he said, which became a learning experience for the pope.

A well-placed Vatican source confirms that these words convey the pope’s own “personal bitterness, as well as the difficulty of curing pedophiles, as it was once thought possible, which instead ended up being quite a failure.” According to the source, the pope was probably specifically referring to the case of Mauro Inzoli, whom he “definitively” defrocked earlier this summer. An appeal trial for Inzoli, who was convicted of child sex abuse in an Italian court, began Thursday.

The pope’s comments and recent events draw attention to his larger efforts to strengthen the church’s fight against abuse, as advocacy groups have called for sweeping changes within the Vatican hierarchy.

Last week, the Catholic Church recalled diplomat Monsignor Carlo Alberto Capella back to the Vatican because U.S. investigators suspected him of crimes involving child pornography.

And earlier this year, Cardinal George Pell, one of the most powerful officials in the Vatican, was charged by Australian police for “historical sexual assault offenses,” and returned to his home country “to clear his name,” according to a statement from the archdiocese of Sydney.

The Catholic Church in some countries, including in the United States, put systems in place to protect children, and after he became pope, Francis created an ambitious reform commission addressing sex abuse.

He appointed Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who inherited the clergy abuse scandal from Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, as president of the commission, calling him one of the church’s “prophets.”

Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has spoken of the horrors of abuse and spoken to survivors of abuse, asking for forgiveness several times.

Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clergy sexual abuse, quit Francis’ commission in March because she thought that few of the changes they recommended were being implemented by the Vatican hierarchy. She said that when the pope makes a statement like this, it helps to break down denial from many church leaders.

Collins believes this may be the first time the pope has addressed how the church handles priests. Some bishops would move priests accused of abusing children to other churches, allowing them to continue their abuse.

“We’re getting an admission of problems that were there,” she said. “The less denial there is, the more chance there is for change.”

Many people are beginning to wonder whether the pope’s rhetoric will turn into Vatican action, such as the idea of tribunals, said John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries.”

“The question is whether he institutionalizes some forms of closer control over bishops who have made bad decisions,” he said.

The pope’s defenders say he has made strides to hold bishops and priests accountable. Last summer, Francis issued a decree that diocesan bishops could be removed for failure to report suspected abuse. In 2014, he fired a bishop in Paraguay who was accused of covering up abuse, and in 2015, he accepted the resignation of a bishop in Kansas City who was convicted of covering up abuse.

]]> 0 Francis waves during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Wednesday. He said Friday that the church failed to accept pedophilia as an illness. L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via APFri, 22 Sep 2017 19:07:34 +0000
Young Vermont graduate chooses the church Fri, 22 Sep 2017 22:06:35 +0000 COLCHESTER, Vt. — “Edmundite priest” may not be high on the list of planned professions for Burlington High School graduates, but Michael Carter, the featured speaker of the Class of 2008, had been thinking about the priesthood since he was 12.

“I didn’t conceive of this as something that people still did anymore,” he said, standing outside the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel after being ordained.

“I thought about it seriously in high school, but felt like I was too young to make a decision one way or another,” he said. Instead, he went to get a degree from St. Michael’s College, the home of the Society of St. Edmunds.

An ordination for the Edmundite order who make the campus their home is a rare occurrence: the last one was in 2014, and the one before that was in 1996.

Carter, 27, was ordained by Vermont Bishop Christopher Coyne, who also gave the homily.

The Catholic population in Vermont has been declining since the late 1970s.

In 1978, over a third of the state’s population – 161,710 people – was Catholic, and there were 104 parishes in Vermont, according to church records. And as fewer men enter the priesthood, some parishes share priests.

A 2014 Gallup poll named Vermont the least religious state in the country.

“It’s something that is ancient and old, and like every aspect of humanity, it’s had its issues in the past,” Carter said about the church.

“It’s an imperfect institution but we are just striving through a spirit of hope and love to maybe bring something better to the world.”

Carter, who teaches at St. Michael’s and assists at the campus ministry, said he knows he may not look like everyone’s idea of a priest.

But, he said, his youth gives him a chance to connect with students.

“This is something that’s important to me and meaningful to me,” he said. “I don’t want to be forceful on people, but I want to offer the invitation.”

]]> 0 ordination of Michael Carter, who became a priest of the Society of St. Edmunds, takes place at the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel in Colchester, Vt. Jess Aloe/The Burlington Free Press via APFri, 22 Sep 2017 19:17:09 +0000
Richmond church ordination reflects burgeoning membership Mon, 18 Sep 2017 01:21:01 +0000 RICHMOND — Toddlers, babes-in-arms, and other young children populating the church yard and inside St. Alexander Nevsky Church showed just how rapidly the parish family of the Russian Orthodox congregation has grown.

Inside the sanctuary Sunday was another sign: the ordination of the Rev. Nathan Williams to the priesthood, the ordination of Joseph Kimball to the deaconate and the investiture of two tonsured Readers, Patrick Kimball and Matthew O’Donnell. Tonsured Reader is a first step toward priesthood.

The ordination was performed by Metropolitan Hilarion, who is First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, and informally referred to by congregation members as “the bishop.”

The event started with the celebration of the feast day – or in this case week – of the church’s patron saint, St. Alexander Nevsky, a Russian prince who lived and fought during the time of the Crusades.

Then there was the recognition of Archpriest Chad Williams’ 30 years of service as rector of St. Alexander Nevsky Church.

The elder Williams was ordained 33 years ago by Metropolitan Hilarion.

“Today is a remarkable day,” the metropolitan said after listing triple reasons to celebrate.

“When Father Chad came here 30 years ago, it was a dying parish,” the metropolitan recalled after Sunday’s services. “Now he’s brought in a new flock with many children.” He noted that the congregation had changed from one of predominantly Russian emigres to one that is more longstanding American.

“Two-thirds of us are not Russians,” said the elder Williams, who is referred as “Father Chad.” “It is a church for all of us, for all people, many of whom who have chosen the Orthodox Church as their spiritual home.”

He said currently the Orthodox Christian community is made up of some Americans, some Russians and some people with other ethic backgrounds. “There’s been an interesting transition over the past 30 years.”

The rector said the church has about 140 people listed in its congregation, with about 75 people for most services, some coming from as far away as Blue Hill, Scarborough and Bethel.

St. Alexander Nevsky Church is part of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

There are several orthodox mission churches elsewhere in the state, including Mother of God Surety of Sinners Chapel in Wytopitlock

On Sunday, given the triple celebration, more than 100 people, including young mothers with headscarves, circulated in and out of the church during the hourslong service conducted mostly in English and Church Slavonic.

The Rev. Nathan Williams, 35, the eldest son of the Williams family, wore shimmering white floor-length vestments toward the end of the ceremony, a contrast to the long black robes he donned afterward.

“I was asked by my father if I would consider ordination because the parish has grown and there is a need for a second priest,” he said, as his youngest brother, Andrew, pulled on ropes to start the church bells pealing. His mother, Cindy, conducted the choir Sunday.

Nathan Williams lives in Gardiner with his wife, Anna, and their three children. He’s a certified interpreter of Russian and does written translations of liturgy. He received congratulations from many in the congregation both inside and outside the church. “It’s really something, isn’t it?” he said to one well-wisher after receiving a bear hug.

Helen Raymond of Pittston spent some of the service sitting on a bench in the cool yard. “I was brought up Orthodox in Connecticut, so it was natural to seek out this church here.” A member of the Richmond church for 22 years, she too has seen it grow and attract what she described as “a lot of people who’ve been seeking a deeper knowledge of belief, tradition.”

Another woman sitting near her, Janet “Anna” Clement of Richmond, concurred.

“I grew up Methodist,” Clement said. “I walked into the church 15 years ago on the Feast of the Transfiguration and was totally overcome by the service and almost immediately became a catechumen.”

She saw others joining the church as well, becoming involved in the choir, as catechumens, being baptized and married and now bringing their children to the church.

“We just have people who are hungry for something else,” she said.

Joanna Willmarth, one of the Rev. Chad Williams’ daughters, returned home for her brother’s ordination to the priesthood. Her husband, the Rev. Ephraim Willmarth, was on the altar for the service and unable to help her chase their four children, ages 4 months to five years.

Willmarth is assistant dean at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, New York, which the Rev. Nathan Williams and his brother Anthony, an ordained deacon, attended.

“It’s a wonderful, rich life,” she said. “Our entire life revolved around the church.”

She recalled that when the Williams children were young, they were the only children at the church.

“Now it’s like there are more kids than I can count and many of them related to me,” she marveled, counting eight nieces within eyesight.

Jared Brewer, his wife, Natalie Zelensky and their son Nicholas, of Waterville, were among the congregation Sunday. They’ve been coming to Richmond for services for about five years and watched the growth, which Zelensky said has expanded beyond ethnic lines.

And while they mostly attend St. Alexander Nevsky, the family sometimes goes to Holy Archangels Orthodox Church in Waterville, which is also a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, but uses the Western Rite rather than Eastern Rite.

The Rev. Matthias Brookes, 85, parish administrator at the Waterville church, had come for Sunday’s ordination service as well.

A deacon from that parish, the Rev. Father Abraham Fortier, is to be ordained a priest Oct. 9 in New York. Metropolitan Hilarion will conduct that ordination ceremony as well.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

Twitter: betadams

]]> 0, Nathan Williams, second from left, is greeted Sunday by his mother, Cindy, after his elevation to the priesthood in the Russian Orthodox Church during services at the St. Alexander Nevsky Church in Richmond. At right, parishioners gather on the lawn of St. Alexander Nevsky Church during services to ordain Williams as a priest in the Russian Orthodox faith.Sun, 17 Sep 2017 21:25:18 +0000
Reflections: Milestones, tides chart life’s energies Sat, 16 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I turned 65 this week, and I haven’t had so much attention paid to a birthday since … well, ever.

Daily mail and phone calls offer me health insurance, hearing aids, emergency alert systems, and river cruises. I’m not interested in any of these, but I am interested in the fact that the world at large, or the part of it in which I live, seems interested in celebrating this birthday with me – or at least, profiting from it.

It is a milestone in my life, and it has me thinking about the markers that remind us where we are in the journey from cradle to grave, some of the rituals with which they are marked, and the shifting flow of energy that accompanies them. For as important as milestones on land and buoys on the water are in directing our travels, there is great power in the tides, the ebb and flow of the sea and of our life’s energies, and in knowing when and how they shift and change.

Religious rituals recognizing and celebrating life’s milestones include Jewish Bris, Christian Baptism, Muslim Aqeeah, and other ceremonies of dedication on the birth of a child. These often articulate the role of the community in helping to nurture the child, the tide of caring flowing into the life of the one celebrated.

Other milestone rituals, such as Jewish Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Christian Confirmation, Latin American Quinceanera, and in a secular but real sense, the attainment of a driver’s license at about 16, mark a level of maturity and readiness to accept more responsibility, as the tide of caring begins to turn and we need less active nurture.

Graduations mark the end of formal schooling and readiness to begin contributing to the community through full time work. The energy flow has turned outward, and we are giving, earning, putting into the commonwealth. Marriage, marked with ritual ceremony, articulates the flow of caring energy between spouses. And age 65 and/or retirement marks both milestone and tide change, as we leave behind the daily striving of our active careers, and begin instead to receive the care of the community in the form of Medicare, Social Security, senior discounts, and some modicum of deference.

What is the flow of life, after this milestone of age 65? My husband and I, happily married for over 30 years, with challenging and satisfying careers behind us, have certainly experienced a tide change. For the 40 or more years prior, we were putting out energy, working hard every day; now we are receiving it, in medical and income benefits, and in the way we receive each day as a gift. We often quote Maine writer E.B. White, who said: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Having spent our working years earnestly trying to save the world, on passing the milestone of retirement we’re pretty committed now to savoring the world, every day and every way we can, for as long as we can.

Journalist and author Hunter Thompson (no known relation to me) has written: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!'”

I may not go out in a cloud of smoke, but I will go out deeply satisfied and grateful for the ebb and flow of life energy that has blessed me.

I wish for us all milestones to mark and celebrate the stages of life’s journey, and mindfulness of the tidal flow of energy into, out of, and again into our lives. Reverence for the flow as an expression of the Divine Spirit hallows and blesses our days. Thus may we, celebrating and paying attention to life’s milestones and tide charts, live fully and gratefully, giving and receiving as ebb and flow dictate, all of the days of our lives.

Andrea Thompson McCall is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and served as interfaith chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.

]]> 0 Fri, 15 Sep 2017 18:39:24 +0000
Opposition to Latin Mass goes without saying Fri, 15 Sep 2017 23:27:44 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Fans of the old Latin Mass descended on Rome on Thursday for their annual pilgrimage, facing indifference to their cause, if not outright resistance, from none other than Pope Francis.

Ten years after Pope Benedict XVI passed a law allowing greater use of the Latin Mass, Francis seems to be doing everything possible to roll it back or simply pretend it never happened.

In recent weeks, he has affirmed with “magisterial authority” that the reforms of the 1960s allowing for Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than Latin were “irreversible.” Last week he gave local bishops conferences authority to oversee those translations, rather than the Vatican.

The moves underscored that the age-old liturgy wars in the Catholic Church are very much alive and provide a microcosm view of the battle lines that have been drawn between conservative, traditionalist Catholics and Francis ever since he declined to wear the traditional, ermine-trimmed red mozzetta cape for his first public appearance as pontiff in 2013.

The indifference seems reciprocal.

At a conference Thursday marking the 10th anniversary of Benedict’s decree liberalizing use of the Latin Mass, the meeting organizer, the Rev. Vincenzo Nuara, didn’t even mention Francis in his opening remarks. The current pope was mentioned in passing by the second speaker, and ignored entirely by the third.

The front-row participants honoring retired Pope Benedict and his 2007 decree were also telling: Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leading critic of the current pope whom Francis removed as the Vatican’s supreme court judge in 2014; Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, recently axed by Francis as the Vatican’s doctrine chief, and Cardinal Robert Sarah, appointed by Francis as head of the Vatican’s liturgy office but effectively sidelined by his deputy.

In fact, it was Sarah’s deputy, Archbishop Arthur Roche, who signed the explanatory note to Francis’ new law allowing bishops conferences, rather than Sarah’s office, to have final say on Mass translations.

Francis’ new law is a “pretty clear course correction from Pope Benedict’s line,” said the Rev. Anthony Ruff, associate professor of theology at St. John’s University in Minnesota and moderator of the progressive liturgical blog, Pray Tell.

Despite the sense of belonging to a previous era, the conference was nevertheless upbeat about the future of the Latin Mass even under a pope who has openly questioned why any young person would seek out the old rite and disparaged traditionalists as rigid and insecure navel-gazers.

Monsignor Guido Pozzo, in charge of negotiations with breakaway traditionalist groups, said more Latin Masses are celebrated each Sunday in some countries: France has seen a doubling in the number of weekly Latin Masses, to 221 from 104, in the past 10 years. The U.S. has seen a similar increase over the same period, from 230 in 2007 to 480 today.

“The old liturgy must not be interpreted as a threat to the unity of church, but rather a gift,” he said. He called for it to continue to be spread “without ideological interference from any part.”

The program for the 10-year anniversary pilgrimage began with chanted hymn at the start of the conference and ended with vespers Thursday evening celebrated by Benedict’s longtime secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein. Also on tap were a religious procession through the streets of Rome and multiple Masses. Conspicuously absent from the four-day program was an audience with Francis.

The current pope, though, let his thoughts be known during a recent speech to an Italian liturgical society. He said there was no need to rethink the decisions that led to the liturgy reforms from the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the Catholic Church.

“We can affirm with security and magisterial authority that the liturgical reforms are irreversible,” he said in one of his longest and most articulate speeches to date. It made no mention, in either the text or the footnotes, of Benedict’s liturgical decree on the Latin Mass.

Nuara, the conference organizer, denied sensing any resistance to traditionalists from Francis, saying in an interview that the current pope “is a respectful man, so he recognizes all the good that the old liturgy has given the church.”

“We are also absolutely respectful of Pope Francis,” he added.

Timothy O’Malley, director of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Liturgy, said Francis’ main beef with Latin Mass afficionados is with those “who see that this form of the liturgy must win at the expense of” the Mass in the vernacular.

But he said he saw no indication that Francis would do away with Benedict’s decree liberalizing use of the old rite, known by its Latin name Summorum Pontificum.

“He’ll continue to rail against those who think the (vernacular) Mass is invalid, but I don’t see him taking away Summorum Pontificum,” he said.

]]> 0 Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, center, shown at a recent conference on the Latin Mass at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, was fired as Vatican doctrine chief.Fri, 15 Sep 2017 20:12:39 +0000
Pope tells Trump to keep DACA if he’s a true ‘pro-lifer’ Fri, 15 Sep 2017 22:16:34 +0000 Speaking to reporters as he flew back to Rome after several days in Colombia, Francis said that Trump’s decision to end legal protections for people brought to the country illegally as children would split families, “the cradle of life.”

“I have heard the president of the United States speak,” the pope said, according to news accounts.

“He presents himself as a pro-life man. If he is a good pro-lifer, he should understand that the family is the cradle of life and you must defend its unity,” the pope said.

Trump said last week he had decided to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in six months. He urged Congress to replace it in that time.

The Obama-era measure provides work permits and other legal documents to 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, and protects them from deportation.

“Removing young people from their family is not a thing that bears good fruit, neither for the young person nor the family,” the pope said.

Francis has previously criticized Trump’s eagerness to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

During the presidential campaign last year, the pontiff said a person “who only thinks about building walls” is “not Christian.”

Trump responded that it was “disgraceful” for the pope to question his faith.

]]> 0 Fri, 15 Sep 2017 18:40:04 +0000
Pontiff, injured while riding in popemobile, honors slave-defending saint in Colombia Sun, 10 Sep 2017 23:10:15 +0000 CARTAGENA, Colombia — Pope Francis wrapped up his Colombia trip with a deeply personal final day Sunday honoring St. Peter Claver, a fellow Jesuit who ministered to hundreds of thousands of African slaves who arrived in the port of Cartagena to be sold during Spanish colonial times.

Francis’ visit to Cartagena got off to a rocky start, however, when he banged his head on his popemobile when it stopped short amid swarms of well-wishers. Francis, who only had a hip-high bar to hold onto, lost his balance and suffered a bruised, black left eye and a cut on his eyebrow that dripped blood onto his white cassock.

The cut was quickly bandaged with a butterfly patch and Francis carried on without incident with his program.

Once recovered, Francis visited the St. Peter Claver church, where he praised the 17th-century missionary for having recognized the inherent dignity of slaves.

Claver, self-described “slave of the slaves forever,” has been revered by Jesuits, popes and human rights campaigners for centuries for having insisted on treating slaves as children of God and worthy of love when others considered them mere merchandise to be bought and sold.

In a prayer Sunday in front of Claver’s church, Francis said the legacy of the Spanish priest should serve as a model for the Catholic Church today to “promote the dignity of all our brothers and sisters, particularly the poor and the excluded of society, those who are abandoned, immigrants and those who suffer violence and human trafficking.”

Like Claver, history’s first Latin American pope has insisted on ministering to society’s most marginal. He takes special care of the homeless who live around the Vatican, makes regular phone calls to prisoners, brought a dozen Syrian refugees home with him from a Greek refugee camp, and embraces the sick, the maimed and the deformed every chance he gets.

Francis prayed at Claver’s tomb after laying the foundation for new residences for homeless people in Cartagena, the city famous for its UNESCO-awarded colonial center but also home to slums and shanties.

He was to celebrate Mass in Cartagena’s port Sunday before returning to Rome, ending a five-day visit highlighted by a huge prayer of reconciliation that brought together victims of Colombia’s long-running conflict and demobilized guerrillas and paramilitary fighters.

Francis had refrained until Sunday from speaking out about the political and humanitarian crisis next door in Venezuela. But in remarks added to his Sunday prayer, he called for an end to political violence in Venezuela and protection for the poor.

]]> 0 Perez greets Pope Francis as he visits her home Sunday in Cartagena on the last day of his trip to Colombia.Sun, 10 Sep 2017 19:13:15 +0000
Reflections: We should continue the heroism shown in Hurricane Harvey Sat, 09 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” We have heard that phrase from political leaders, religious figures and so many “regular” people over the last few years.

Whether it was in connection with terrorist attacks in Orlando, Florida, at The Pulse Nightclub; the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris; the attack during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England; mowing down pedestrians with vehicles in Manchester, Nice, Frankfurt or Barcelona, we always hear from our leaders that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims. Although it is a nice sentiment, those words are beginning to ring hollow to me.

Most recently, we heard that phrase repeated in relation to the unbelievable devastation brought by nature to the Texas and Louisiana coastlines. In this case, people from around the nation showed that thoughts and prayers were not enough. There was an immediate need to jump into action to save hundreds, if not thousands, of people and animals before the rain and flood waters could claim their lives. Local, state and federal authorities initiated a disaster plan even as the storm approached.

It was clearly not enough. Private volunteers saw a need to get involved and did not wait for an invitation. Texas men and women launched a multitude of boats, trucks and high water vehicles in an effort to save as many as possible. Not to be outdone, citizens from neighboring Louisiana showed up in great numbers, towing so many boats behind that they were dubbed ‘The Cajun navy.”

What was the best part of these brave and inspiring efforts?

No one was asked about their political views before being rescued. No one inquired about others’ sexuality, no one was left behind because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs, no one was asked to show proof of citizenship. We witnessed blacks helping whites, gay people and straight people working together, immigrants and those born in the United States hand in hand. For a short time, the citizens of Houston and those who came to help came together as one people, one nation with a common goal.

The Talmud teaches us “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Many peoples’ worlds were indeed saved during these dark and trying days.

The question about how can God allow these events to occur comes up often in trying times such as those mentioned. The question cannot be answered in the space allowed in this column.

There is a concept, though, that God is, was and always will be a constant presence in the universe. Jews refer to it as Ein Sof, literally an unending God. Christians refer to God as the Alpha and the Omega, symbolizing that God is both the beginning and the end. God is the one constant in the universe and does not change. People, however, can and do change.

Wouldn’t this be a great time to pick up with what we witnessed during Hurricane Harvey and continue on with that behavior? How refreshing it would be to see neighbor continuing to help neighbor, to show with actions that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In the end, we all want the same things from life. We pray for good health and hope to see our children grow up safe and happy, with food on the table and a roof over their heads. That really is not too much to ask.

We have shown, if only for a short time, that we can put aside our differences to help one another. Can we learn from this experience and perhaps change how we approach those who have different beliefs, to try to help one another and treat each other with respect? We have already shown that we can do it when we have to do it. My thoughts and prayers hope that we still can.

Rabbi Gary Berenson is the rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim and also serves as the executive director of The Maine Jewish Museum in Portland. He can be reached at:

]]> 0 Fri, 08 Sep 2017 21:19:38 +0000
Reflections: The frog at my door becomes a symbol of cleansing Sat, 02 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 One morning, my neighbor asked me if I had heard the commotion outside my door the night before. I told her it sounded like a visitor was leaving and they were laughing and saying goodbye, so I thought nothing of it. “There was a frog at your door” she said. “It was sitting facing your door as though it wanted to come in.” They had a grand time trying to direct it outside. I wish someone would have taken a picture of it.

I long to have interspecies communication. I would have loved to ask the frog, “Why are you at my door? Do you have a message for me?” I always see an animal’s crossing my path as a sign, so I looked in my book “Medicine Cards” in the chapter on frogs.

I read that the frog symbol is about cleansing. “Frog medicine is akin to water energy; it teaches us to honor our tears. If you were to look at where you are today, would you use any of the following words to describe your condition: tired, overloaded, harried, frustrated, guilty, itchy, nervous, at a loss, empty or weakened?” Wow, was that me or what? “OK froggy,” I said, “I’m listening.”

I had been living in my apartment for only a month adjusting to the new normal. I was still recuperating from the previous year, which had been extremely exhausting: I published my book “Coming to the Edge: Fifty Poems for Writing and Healing,” worked too many hours, stressed about trying to refinance my condo, which I couldn’t qualify for, and finally deciding to sell. At first I felt defeated, but the process ended up being liberating. I sold my condo in four days and received more money than what I thought I could get for it. I was also able to go into senior housing right away, having been on the waiting list for over a year. I was relieved that I paid off all my debts, but I was still exhausted.

Transitions are challenging and are a cleansing as well. So much letting go making way for the new while staying open to guidance. The actual transition begins way before the fact and continues way after one is supposedly settled. It’s a long birthing process and we must allow ourselves to stay in the womb waters until we are ready to emerge on our new path. Time to surrender, to allow oneself to be held by the Divine Love that calls us. Time to retreat from Doing and give in to Being. I realized it was time to float and stop treading water. Time to take in the nourishment I don’t have to work for. Time to let the mud settle and wait for clarity.

Waiting is not an easy task. I napped a lot and set up my apartment slowly after each rest period. I was grateful for the many friends who helped me at different steps along the way. Yet, it was so easy to focus on what was not finished. Each time I took a nap, I had to allow myself to let go, to honor my exhaustion, and not worry about the future.

Recently, the more I read about the solar eclipse and its spiritual message, I realized how timely its message was for me. Everything I read affirmed my own path and that I am part of a greater energy. In the midst of the unsettling times we are in, it is more important than ever to stay centered and calm, to nourish our souls in whatever way feeds us. Sometimes it’s being in nature, sometimes it’s petting a cat on my lap. Whatever nurtures me humanly is nurturing me spiritually. I am so much more than my small life. I am part of an evolving cosmos subject to laws that are immutable. I am a spiritual being living a human life and not as I was taught: a sinful being desperately trying to flee the human to reach a spiritual goal. What I know for sure is that the less I fight my humanness, or to put it in positive terms: the more I become fully human, the more I fulfill my spiritual purpose.

Helen Rousseau is an interfaith minister. Her website is at

]]> 0 Fri, 01 Sep 2017 20:22:55 +0000
Reflections: A quiet tune and well-placed rest make for a quiet mind Sat, 26 Aug 2017 00:00:00 +0000 “Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”

– Etty Hillesum

I’m not so good at rest. I wake up at dawn: 5, 5:30ish. Before I even open my eyes, my mind chews on its boisterous contents. Can I do some sun salutations, read Rumi quotes, write that letter, fold laundry, answer emails, pop out for a power walk, weed around the doorsteps, scribble the Whole Foods list?

A friend raises her hand, “Whoa! The spaces between the notes make the music, you know. They’re called rests.”

I twitch, “Huh?”

“Rest. You know. It’s true for musical harmony and personal harmony.”

My eyebrows knit, “Huh?”

She explains, “Don’t snap the covers off and spring into action. For a few moments, stay tucked in. Allow yourself to pause, to rest, to gentle yourself awake.”

“First thing? Before I get up and get going?”

She laughs, “Yes, otherwise you’ll be out of tune with yourself.”

I don’t idle well, especially in pregnant mornings when my body surges into projects. I love a good project.

I know not to flick on my phone, boot up my PC, or check Facebook. Cleaning cupboards can wait, though I dust best at 6 a.m., too. But not follow the breath? Or repeat mantra? Would the wisdom teachers instruct us to do nothing? Sink into the mattress? Let go of doing? Of going?

I ask, “In stillness?”

My friend nods, “Mmm-hmm. In what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls the ‘wise silence within.'”

So I now start my day by stopping. I slip my flax-filled, lavender-scented eye bag onto my eyelids. Under the puffy comforter, T-shirt night-twisted at my shoulder, I calm the unruly inner riot. In this space between deep sleep and full-speed ahead, my bones settle, the exhale deepens and I ease into wakefulness.

But then my mind, like an untrained puppy, scurries to someplace else. Anyplace else: “I must drive to the dump, visit the nursing home, call Chris, meet with Pat.”

I remind myself about music and life, “Rest between two deep breaths.”

As if leading a stray toddler out of a city street, I say to my action-packed self, “Come here.” I guide myself back to that space, that rest, as kindly and firmly as I might steer that wild child away from oncoming cars. Untamed minds can be heavy-traffic dangerous. Brain chatter chirps once more; I drop my weight into the sheets. Again, my to-do list knocks for my attention; I unhook from it and slacken my muscles. My brainchildren scream to be heard. “Thank you,” I say to the mental activity, “but right now I am minding the gap.”

My thoughts line up like joggers at the start of a race, competing to whoosh out of the gate. My bright ideas huff, puff and sprint. Giddy, I used to roll out one thought after another to my father, a musician. “What do you think of this, Dad? Should I try that? Maybe you have a better plan. How do you feel about it? Can we start tomorrow?”

He’d take his fingers off the valves and his lips off the mouthpiece, then put his trumpet on the table and shake his head, “Doesn’t that make you tired?”

That was then, when my rhythm marched to the beat of an unyielding metronome. Do. Fast. Go. Faster. Now I take my friend’s and Hillesum’s suggestion to pause and apply my dad’s antidote: “Susan, stay put.”

In staying put, first thing I have found the truth in theologian’s Howard Thurman’s words: “In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.”

I wonder for all of us: Can we start from the quiet and wise stillness within from which life’s melodies flow? Can we work, plan, speak, love and play from those spaces? Can we listen? Is doing nothing a spiritual practice? I don’t have answers, nor do I always feel body-still and mind-silent, but I do know this for both life and music: to scale from up-tempo to rests does indeed take conscious, committed and consistent practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Susan Lebel Young, MSED, MSC, now teaches mindfulness. She can be reached through her website or at

]]> 0 Fri, 25 Aug 2017 20:14:08 +0000
Religious leaders plan ‘moral statement’ at Monday rally in Washington Fri, 25 Aug 2017 23:04:28 +0000 The Rev. Al Sharpton has organized more than 1,000 religious leaders from multiple faiths to rally Monday in Washington, D.C., saying he hopes to show that opposition to President Trump is not merely a political reproach, but also a moral one.

The “One Thousand Ministers March for Justice” in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial will come on the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

The rally was planned long before a deadly white supremacist protest earlier this month in Charlottesville, although Sharpton said the events in Virginia only intensified the mission of Monday’s march.

“Charlottesville gave it a new energy, and a lot of ministers called in saying that this is the time to make a moral statement,” Sharpton said. “The president called for unity, and we are going to show unity. The question is, which side is the president on?”

According to National Park Service permits, the rally will start at 10 a.m. near the MLK Memorial at West Potomac Park-Polo Field on the National Mall. The rally will include a prayer vigil and ceremony in which leaders will “recommit to being at the forefront of social justice and civil rights,” the permit says. Participants then will march to the Department of Justice.

Sharpton’s National Action Network organization is planning the rally, which will be attended by Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders. Former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett and King’s older son, Martin Luther King III, also are expected to attend.

“We want to convene ministers from all faiths to make a moral statement that no matter what party is in office, there are certain moral things that should be non-negotiable,” Sharpton said. “That is voting rights, health care, criminal justice reform and economic justice.”

In the wake of the Charlottesville protest – in which a white supremacist rallygoer allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman – Trump received condemnation from both parties after he said there was blame on “many sides” for the deadly violence. Under pressure the next day, he condemned neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, but later seemed to defend his original remarks.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said it’s critical for Jewish leaders to have a presence at Monday’s rally. Pesner was one of many rabbis who said he would not participate in an annual conference with the president ahead of the Jewish High Holidays because of Trump’s Charlottesville remarks.

He said Jews marched 5,000 years ago out of Egypt, they marched with Martin Luther King Jr. 54 years ago and would be marching Monday against Trump. More than 200 Jewish leaders are expected to march Monday, Pesner said.

“We Jews will march for 5,000 more years if that’s what it takes to make sure that all people experience compassion and justice and equality,” Pesner said. “We know that it’s our jobs as Jews to always show up and beat back the forces of white supremacy, racism and hate of all forms.”

Trump and Sharpton, two prominent New Yorkers, have a long and public history. During the 1989 Central Park jogger case, Sharpton stood by five black teens who were accused of attacking a white female jogger in Central Park. Trump, in an open letter published as an ad in The New York Times and other newspapers, called for the teens to be sentenced to death.

The teens were exonerated in 2002 after another man confessed to the crime.

Trump and Sharpton, according to Sharpton, have “always had an adversarial political relationship.” “It’s fair to say that we are doing this march because the basic tenets of Dr. King’s dream are at risk now by the policies being promoted by this administration,” Sharpton said. “Trump has kept the bust of Dr. King in his office, but what about the dream of Dr. King?”

]]> 0 organizing his multifaith rally in Washington, the Rev. Al Sharpton says "this is the time to make a moral statement." At left, the site of the rally Monday: the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Washington Monument. Associated Press/Patrick SemanskyFri, 25 Aug 2017 19:14:53 +0000
Trump lawyers undercut order on churches, religious speech Fri, 25 Aug 2017 22:33:41 +0000 President Trump promised a new world for the religious when he signed an executive order in May purporting to make it easier for churches to engage in politics without losing their tax-exempt status.

“You’re now in a position to say what you want to say,” he told religious leaders at a Rose Garden signing ceremony. “No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”

But many religious activists and experts on the relevant law said the order didn’t do much of anything, that it amounted to a symbolic gesture with little chance of shaking the status quo.

Now, the Trump administration’s own lawyers have essentially taken the same position.

On Tuesday, Department of Justice attorneys defending the so-called “religious liberty” order argued in court that it doesn’t change any existing laws or alter any policies to benefit churches or clergy. Rather, they said, it merely tells the government not to take any punitive action against religious groups that it wouldn’t take against other tax-exempt organizations.

“None of the remarks made by the president suggest that the executive order grants an exemption to religious organizations while denying the same benefit to secular organizations,” DOJ lawyers wrote in a brief filed in U.S. District Court in Madison, Wisconsin.

The order targets a provision in the tax code known as the Johnson Amendment that bars churches and other tax-exempt groups from speaking on behalf of political candidates. Trump vowed during the campaign to destroy the Johnson Amendment, and his executive order was billed as a fulfillment of that pledge.

But the prohibition is almost never enforced by the IRS and is widely disregarded by clergy. As a result, critics have called Trump’s order meaningless.

“It’s irrelevant, it’s offensive, it’s ignored by churches anyway,” conservative Christian scholar Robert P. George of Princeton University told The Washington Post after the signing ceremony in May. “He got enthusiasm in return for getting nothing.”

In another indication of the order’s apparent weakness, the American Civil Liberties Union, normally an aggressive litigant in church-and-state cases, decided not to challenge it in court. The order was “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome,” the ACLU’s executive director said in explaining the decision.

But a secular group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation did sue, arguing that the order favored religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The complaint alleged that the IRS would “selectively and preferentially” stop enforcing the Johnson Amendment against religious groups “while applying a more vigorous enforcement standard to secular nonprofits.”

In Tuesday’s brief, government lawyers asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs “misunderstand the Order’s purpose and effect.”

“The Order does not exempt religious organizations from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations,” the filing read. “Rather, the order directs the Government not to take adverse action against religious organizations that it would not take against other organizations in the enforcement of these restrictions.”

]]> 0 Fri, 25 Aug 2017 18:41:37 +0000
Irish bishops aim to end stigma for the children of priests Fri, 25 Aug 2017 22:25:58 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Bishops in Ireland have created detailed guidelines to address an issue the Roman Catholic Church has tried to keep under wraps for centuries: the plight of children born to Catholic priests and the women who bear them.

The policy, approved in May and made public recently, says that the well-being of the child is paramount. It says the mother must be respected and involved in decision-making, and that the priest “should face up to his responsibilities – personal, legal, moral and financial.”

The guidelines are believed to represent the first comprehensive public policy by a national bishops’ conference on the issue, which has long been shrouded in secrecy given the perceived scandal of priests having sex. While eastern rite Catholic priests can be married before ordination, Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy.

The policy is, in many ways, the fruit of a campaign by an Irish psychotherapist, Vincent Doyle, who discovered late in life that his father was a priest.

With the strong backing of the archbishop of Dublin, Doyle launched Coping International, an online self-help resource for the children of priests and their mothers. The aim, he said, was to help eliminate the stigma he and others like him have faced, and educate them and the church about the emotional and psychological problems that can be associated with the secrecy often imposed on them.

Those problems, which can include depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, were the subject of an exhaustive series last week in The Boston Globe.

There are no figures about the number of children fathered by Catholic priests. But there are some 450,000 Catholic priests in the world and the Catholic Church forbids artificial contraception and abortion.

Even without publicity, the Coping International website has been accessed by 13,500 different people in 175 countries since its December 2014 launch, Doyle said.

Doyle insists the exact number of priests’ children isn’t the major issue.

“The issue is the mental health of children who are suffering,” he said in a telephone interview this week.

]]> 0 Fri, 25 Aug 2017 18:33:04 +0000
Reflections: What kind of sacrifices are you willing to make? Sat, 19 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 What kind of sacrifices are you willing to make?

Sacrifice is a word that has fallen out of favor in the public discourse. Presidents used to be able to say things like “We all must make sacrifices” without being run out of town. Even in spiritual circles, the term “sacrifice” along with others like “obedience” and “discipline” have been relegated to the archives of religious thought, old-fashioned notions that no longer apply.

The term sacrifice seems like a loaded word. The first definition that the dictionary gives is “an act of offering a deity something precious.” The idea of the sacrificial lamb in the Bible may not mean much to us, but it could have meant starvation to the people who were ritually giving that lamb to God. This act was meant to show great devotion to God as well as trust that even in giving up something they desperately needed for survival, they believed that God would take care of them.

As Americans we do not want to be told to give something up. The myth is that more is always better. If cellphones are good, then the latest is better. Why give up something if you can have everything? And we are told we can have everything, at least in a material sense and maybe in other areas too: the prefect partner, the perfect job, etc.

Gandhi says, “The law of sacrifice is uniform throughout the world.” Our very survival depends on the sacrifice of plants and animals. It is so easy for us to take this for granted as our modern food economy means we do not have to kill the chicken, gut the cow, plant the seeds, etc. We are removed from the sacrifices being made for us every day.

It seems to me that a true sacrifice can only be made if whatever is being given up is done voluntarily with real loss to the giver for what is perceived to be the greater good.

I think the first time I became aware of sacrifice in my life was when I became a mother. It was abundantly clear on the very first day of my son’s life that my life was now in service to his. If I did whatever I felt like doing without thinking of his needs first, he would not survive.

I may have mourned my seeming “freedom” of days before his birth, or certainly at times wondered what I would have done or been had I not made this choice, but it was clear to me that this sacrifice was the best thing that ever happened to me.

You might think that a child is not the best example of sacrifice because a parent, in giving up their former life, gets something in return, a child to love, someone to help with the jobs on a farm, to take care of you when you age, etc.. This may be true, although there are no guarantees in the world of parents and children. But what about sacrifices where the benefit is not so clear? Does God ask us to sacrifice?

Many of our religious stories and practices are built on sacrifice: giving up something for Lent, fasting during Ramadan, making amends during the Jewish days of atonement, letting go of ego in Eastern traditions, etc. These practices are designed to shake us out of our habits and routines, to bring us to greater awareness of how we impact the world for good or ill.

When thinking about sacrifice, it might be easier to think about something exterior we can give up, which for me might be chocolate, but I am thinking of a sacrifice that has more to do with an interior giving over. Can you give up your need to be in control, or to think of yourself as being unworthy of God’s attention? Can you give up the cultural and religious biases you were raised with? Are you willing to take your most stubborn and persistent inner demons, those you are aware of and maybe some you are not yet aware of, and offer their healing over to God? Do you even believe this kind of healing is possible?

This kind of sacrifice is certainly more difficult to see and reminds me a little of Jacob wrestling with the angel. That story, to me, is clearly about an inner struggle. From this perspective, I believe God does ask us to sacrifice. (I’m pretty sure eating chocolate is not high on Her list). From the other side of the struggle, it may not look like a sacrifice, because room is being created inside us for tolerance, for love, for God. But on the side where we cannot see how to go forward without these inner structures we have either created or been given in response to what life has given us, this sacrifice can feel like mortal combat.

It may not seem like the Hollywood version of someone leaping into the freezing water to save a child, without thought of one’s own safety, but I believe this inner sacrifice to be of great importance in our world. How can we respond differently to the suffering of the world if we are locked into one way of being as individuals and as a collective society? If we have no room inside us to heal our own inner demons, how can we expect to help heal those of the world? Gandhi understood the importance of exterior sacrifice as well as inner sacrifice and I believe he was talking about both when he said, “Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to truth and a more perfect purity of conscience.”

The Rev. Cathy M. Grigsby is an Interfaith minister who teaches at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine, is the co-founder of the Interfaith Ministers of New England, an artist, a spiritual director and a retired art teacher.

She can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Fri, 18 Aug 2017 22:45:53 +0000
Clinton may take the pulpit as lay preacher Sat, 12 Aug 2017 03:32:46 +0000 RALEIGH, N.C. — Hillary Clinton wants to be a preacher, and a Duke Divinity School alum who served as her spiritual adviser during the 2016 presidential campaign says Clinton would be powerful in the pulpit.

“I think she would be a terrific preacher,” said the Rev. Bill Shillady, who has been a friend and a pastor to the Clinton family for 15 years. “She knows her Bible, and she loves people and she loves God.”

Shillady met Clinton in 2002 at a memorial service for 9/11 victims in New York. She was a New York senator at the time and Shillady was pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Shillady is a native of Reading, Pa., who studied religion and business administration at Lebanon Valley College. He earned a master’s in divinity from Duke in 1981 and a doctor of ministry degree from Drew Theological School in 1993.

Since 2008, Shillady has been executive director of the New York-based United Methodist City Society, which supports United Methodist churches.

After the memorial service, Shillady said Hillary Clinton brought her daughter, Chelsea, to Sunday services at his church. He became friends with the family and served in a pastoral role for the Clintons. He co-officiated Chelsea Clinton’s wedding in July 2010 and led the memorial service for Hillary Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, in 2011. He would have meals with the family from time to time, usually around holidays.

In 2015, he celebrated Easter with the Clintons. Shortly after, he said, Clinton announced she would make a second run for the presidency, and Shillady wanted to do something to support her. Shillady knew that Barack Obama’s “pastor-in-chief,” had provided Obama with a daily devotional during his presidency, weaving together scripture, song, prayer and reflection.


Shillady decided to do something similar for Clinton for the duration of the campaign.

“It was really just a movement of the spirit,” Shillady said. “I didn’t know how difficult the campaign was going to be, or how contentious. I just thought it would help her to have a scripture and a meditation on that scripture and a prayer each day.”

Beginning April 6, 2015, Shillady would start each day by looking at news headlines and finding a Bible verse appropriate to what was happening in the world or in Clinton’s life. He would write a short meditation on the verse, offer a prayer and email the devotional to Clinton by 5 a.m.

“She has said it was the first thing she read every day, and it helped to center her that day,” Shillady said.

About three months into the project, Shillady said, he enlisted the help of some church laity and other clergy members, including Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians.

“They were written specifically for her,” Shillady said. “Sometimes they were about strength and perseverance, qualities the campaign demanded endlessly. Sometimes I would write about joy, with a reminder to seek and savor the exciting and exhilarating moment, like the birth of her grandson.”

Some devotionals were about gratitude, or celebration, Shillady said. “And when there was a difficult day – when there was a shooting, or a terrorist attack – I would write about grief and hope.

“It helped her to stay focused on the values that were important to her, and have been since she grew up, in her Methodist faith: justice and dignity, compassion and love.”

Shillady said Clinton would respond to the messages if she especially liked a scripture passage or a devotional.

When Clinton lost to Donald J. Trump, she quoted a verse from Galatians that Shillady said he had sent her a few weeks before. “Let us not grow weary in doing good,” she said in her concession speech, “for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

Shillady continued sending the devotionals until Dec. 31, 2016, a total of 635 in all.

Earlier this year, Clinton suggested to Shillady that he make a book of the daily devotionals. He did, culling them to 365. Abingdon Press included email exchanges between Shillady and Clinton, news clippings from the long campaign, and photos.


The book, “Strong for a Moment Like This,” takes its title from the fourth chapter of the Book of Esther, about the Jewish queen who feared speaking out on behalf of her people when some members of her husband’s court planned to exterminate them.

The book is to be released Aug. 15.

Shillady said he and Clinton were together for a photo shoot for the book’s release when she said, almost offhandedly, “‘Bill, I think I’d like to do some preaching.’

“I said, ‘Oh, really? Are you serious?’ ” Shillady said he asked. He said she answered, “I am.”

Clinton did not immediately respond to a request for an interview made through The Clinton Foundation.

Clinton grew up in the Methodist church, attending First United Methodist in Park Ridge, Ill., as a child. After moving to Little Rock, Ark., with her husband, Bill Clinton, she joined First United Methodist Church there, and taught Sunday school and worked with the youth. When Bill Clinton was elected president, Hillary Clinton attended Foundry United Methodist Church in D.C.

In an address to the general conference of the United Methodist Church in 1996, Clinton said the church, with its emphasis on personal holiness leading to social holiness, had had a formative influence on her life.

“The church was a critical part of my growing up … not only on my own faith journey, but with a sense of obligations to others,” Clinton told the gathering.

“It taught me practical lessons as well: for example, how to recover from the embarrassment of passing out in an overheated sanctuary when I was playing an angel during the Christmas pageant,” she said. “That particular lesson has stood me in good stead on many occasions in my adult life.”

At 69, Clinton is not interested in attending seminary or becoming an ordained minister, Shillady said. But in the Methodist tradition, “The laity have been known to take the pulpit,” he said.

]]> 0 Clinton says the church was a big part of her youth, personal faith journey and sense of obligation to others.Fri, 11 Aug 2017 23:37:00 +0000
To some, Trump’s threats against North Korea are perfectly Godlike Fri, 11 Aug 2017 23:37:59 +0000 In President Trump’s war of words with North Korea lies a key to understanding some of the religious dynamics of the Trump era. It has to do with the character of God.

During the ongoing public back and forth with North Korea, the president Tuesday said the country would “be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before” if it threatens the United States. Later in the day, one of Trump’s evangelical advisers blessed the president’s rhetoric, saying “God has given Trump authority to take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Bible gives rulers “full power to stop evil … to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment, or evil punishment” to stop “evildoers,” Texas megapastor Robert Jeffress told The Washington Post.

Many Americans recoiled at this image of a threatening, authoritarian God.

Jeffress told The Post that a Christian writer asked him: “Don’t you want the president to embody the Sermon on the Mount?” The sermon is an epic collection of Jesus’ sayings that have to do with turning the other cheek, loving your enemies and the hell that awaits people who judge or are angry. “Absolutely not,” Jeffress said.

Views of God have become a fault line tearing through American religion, dividing people who emphasize God, and by extension morality, as being about authority, power, loyalty, drawing lines and setting rules from those who focus on God as loving, nonjudgmental and forgiving. Both attributes are found in Scripture of major faiths. Researchers have found that people who see God as more authoritarian are more likely to condemn others and to say being a good person means teaching others your morals and converting them to your faith view.

In recent decades, popular culture has favored the Benevolent God, eclipsing the reality that the Authoritarian God is very alive in America and always has been. The most popular Jesus art on Pinterest shows him laughing, smiling in a field of pink flowers and cuddling lambs. Billboard’s top Christian songs portray God as a friend and lover, associated with positive things. “In love, in freedom … bursting in living color,” sings Hillsong in “Wonder,” now at 11.

These two concepts of God as either benevolent or authoritarian shed some light on why Trump’s often harsh language to some seems blatantly sacrilegious, basically a disqualifier for a pious person, while others see it as an expression of hard power – a type of power that to them God approves.

These senses of God aren’t a conscious, thought-out thing. It’s not like religious conservatives watch Trump’s talk about “major losers” and himself as a winner, or about revenge, and think: “That’s so religious.” But they are statistically more likely to be comfortable with the idea of a God who can be angry and vengeful and perhaps with a president like that, too. We have pragmatic policy reasons we like certain leaders, as well as highly primal, emotional ones. Progressives last year cheered Pope Francis when he said, indirectly, to Trump: “Christians don’t build walls.” They felt good in their gut when he crafted the image of a welcoming God.

Since 2005, a team of sociologists at the Baptist school Baylor University has been studying this issue of God’s character. Of the four types of God – authoritarian, benevolent, critical and distant – they found initially that authoritarian was by far the biggest group, at 31 percent. They repeated the survey in 2014 and found Authoritarian God and Distant God – one who is not really involved in the world – polling about even at 30 percent.

A book coming out this fall called “God Is Not Nice” explores the history of U.S. popular views on God’s persona, and argues that the image of God as “undemanding” really rose in the last century or so. God became a good senile grandfather, author and theologian Ulrich Lehner says. We are no longer shaking in awe, with an open mouth, left speechless, he writes. However, there are different kinds of awesome Gods, says Lehner, who calls Jeffress’ argument that the ends justify whatever means “not theology.”

Many who see Trump and his supporters as irreligious do not interpret the president’s remarks and behavior as strong, but rather immoral. They point to him releasing a video of himself pretending to bash a journalist. Or smiling as he tells a police audience they don’t need to “be too nice” when putting suspects into vehicles (Trump’s spokeswoman later said that was a “joke”). Or commenting to France’s first lady on her body.

Last week, at a Trump rally in West Virginia, much of the merchandise could be viewed as either exhibiting toughness and strength, or crassness and cruelty, depending on which side of the Angry or Benevolent divide you fall on: Trump and guns, phrases like “suck it,” and perhaps the most popular image: A cartoon president urinating on a snowflake – the symbol to Trump-lovers of liberals, the weak.

This is not to say that every religious conservative who supports Trump approves of his behavior.

“We like some of the policies and the social agenda, but man, we don’t like how it’s packaged or how it comes across,” said the Rev. Gary Hamrick, pastor of Cornerstone Chapel in Loudoun County, Virginia, where many congregants are Trump voters. “I tell people: ‘Just take it like you would fish, just spit out the bones.’ ”

Even so, the issue of Trump’s suitability for religious conservatives emerged as far back as 2012, when the businessman gave a motivational speech to thousands of students at Liberty University.

At the end of the 35-minute talk, he toys playfully with the crowd, saying he has two core points he always closes with: Get a prenuptial agreement before you get married, and – here he raises his voice – “get even.”

“Don’t let people take advantage – get even. If nothing else, people will see that and say: ‘I’m going to let (those people) alone because they are tough customers.’ I always say it, but I won’t say it to you, because this is a different audience.”

Trump pauses. “You don’t want to get even, do you?” He smiles. “Yeah, I think you do.” His remarks were met with laughter.

Johnnie Moore, now an informal faith adviser to Trump, was a pastor at Liberty in 2012 and had invited the businessman to speak on campus.

He fielded media calls after the talk, challenging the appropriateness of Trump’s advice. Moore responded in an essay for Fox.

“Is it heretical to believe God is, and God wants us to be tough? Hardly. Read the Bible. It’s filled with God pursuing justice, settling scores with folks who messed with him, or who mess with his people,” Moore wrote.

]]> 0 Trump this week said North Korea would "be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before" if it threatens the U.S..Fri, 11 Aug 2017 20:09:05 +0000
Religion Calendar Fri, 11 Aug 2017 23:18:04 +0000 Interfaith Art Workshop Series, $60,, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Buddhism Unwrapped, open to both beginners and advanced practitioners. Teachings on the philosophy and beliefs of Buddhist practitioners, as well as on daily practices. Followed by a short meditation and open discussion about how each of us can integrate the teachings in our daily lives. $10 suggested donation. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Ani Jane’s home in Farmingdale. 805-8683. 10 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Mountaintop Summer Worship Services, at new amphitheater atop Sugarloaf Mountain. Load the superquad chairlift by 10:30 am. Discounted worship lift tickets available at the Sugarloaf Outpost. The bad weather location is the Sugarloaf Chapel. For more info, call Sugarloaf Christian Ministry at 236-2304. Sugarloaf USA, 5092 Sugarloaf Access Road, Carrabassett Valley.11 a.m. to noon Sunday.

“Before the Flood: Paintings and Video Installations by Anita Clearfield,” reflecting on the end of times: biblical, climate change and personal mortality. Free. Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St., Portland. mainejewish 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and Friday.

“Unlock Your Potential With Buddhist Monk Gen Dorje,” talk on the true source of happiness, inner peace. $15. The Woodfords Club, 179 Woodford St., Portland. -your-potential. 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday.

Backpacks for homeless children, St. Augustine Church asks young people to stuff backpacks for homeless children. West Scarborough Church, 656 Route 1, Scarborough. 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday.

]]> 0 Fri, 11 Aug 2017 19:26:12 +0000
Reflections: Answer often can be found in mind that’s asking question Sat, 05 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 As my friend anxiously typed another Google search into her iPhone, she became increasingly frustrated when an answer failed to appear. She frequently references Google in her quest to find answers. Most of the time she easily finds an answer and moves on. Yet today was different and it left her feeling unsettled. She threw her hands in the air and said, “I just need to know the answer!”

Have you ever wanted to know something? I mean really know something – the answer to a question that is unanswerable, the solution to a complex problem yet to be solved or the explanation for a friend’s life-changing decision that seemed out of character.

I am a curious person who is always searching – wondering, observing, exploring, analyzing and asking questions.

During this process, I frequently find myself on a quest for answers. This pursuit often entails resolving issues, solving problems, exploring options, analyzing data, assessing situations or acquiring new information.

Regardless of the process, the answers we seek are not always revealed to us. At some point, we may even be required to radically accept that a question is unanswerable. And yet, if we pause to reflect, we may find the answer is within the question itself.

In my own recent struggle to radically accept an unanswerable question, an exceptional young woman shared this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“… Try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rilke wrote this in 1903 in response to a letter from a friend. He begins his reply by sharing he left the letter unanswered for a long time – not because he forgot – but because it was the type of letter you read again and again recognizing the person as if he were nearby. He is touched by his friend’s “beautiful anxiety about life.”

Why do we become so anxious if we don’t have an answer? Most of us can identify with this in some way or at some level. Asking questions, particularly asking why, is often a matter of the heart. It is a theological question at its core as we are often seeking understanding, explanation or comfort.

If we don’t have an answer, it leaves us, like my friend, feeling unsettled. This may cause us to pause on our spiritual path or set out on a new journey as we experience deep questions about life. During these times of anguish, loss, pain or suffering, we ask if God exists and what role God plays.

Theology is defined as faith seeking understanding. As we seek understanding, we often invest in finding answers and finding them immediately. Yet if answers are not easily found, there is an opportunity to connect the human and the divine story. This is the unfolding of faith – belief and doubt.

Belief and doubt are central to faith; they provide knowledge and understanding. Doubt is at the heart of belief yet they can be difficult to connect. While questions may emerge from doubt, faith allows us to accept these questions as gifts.

These gifts open up possibilities and shift our thinking to reimagine the present moment. This is how we begin to live the questions. By focusing on the questions, we can let go of the answers and slowly live our way into deeper understanding.

Using my friend’s approach, I Google search the words question and answer. A question is about inquiry, uncertainty and doubt. An answer invariably provides a resolution, explanation or justification. We can understand why the absence of an answer to a question leaves us feeling anxious.

Yet if are open to Rilke’s point of view, to live the question, we may live our way into the answer. While it may not be immediate, our gradual living with the question, without even noticing, may help us to realize the answer is often in the mind that’s asking the question.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 04 Aug 2017 20:42:51 +0000
Cabinet Bible group leader controversial Sat, 05 Aug 2017 00:08:26 +0000 WASHINGTON — News from the Christian Broadcasting Network that members of President Trump’s Cabinet are attending Bible study sessions together didn’t come as such a shock in Washington.

The shock was who is teaching them.

That teacher, Pastor Ralph Drollinger, is well known to some members in the California congressional delegation. He is the evangelical spiritual leader who once counseled a group of Sacramento lawmakers that female politicians with young children have no business serving in the Legislature. In fact, he called them sinners.

Drollinger also declared that Roman Catholicism “is one of the primary false religions in the world” — precipitating his Bible study group’s move out of a suite of offices controlled by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Catholic.

But it was the remark about female politicians, made in a written Bible lesson distributed to his study group in 2004, that stoked the most controversy.

“It is one thing for a mother to work out of her home while her children are in school,” wrote Drollinger, a Californian who created a group called Capitol Ministries to teach evangelical interpretations of the Bible to politicians. “It is quite another matter to have children in the home and live away in Sacramento for four days a week. Whereas the former could be in keeping with the spirit of Proverbs 31, the latter is sinful.”

At the time, the commentary caught the attention of the legislative women’s caucus, where several members expressed mortification at what they flatly labeled Drollinger’s misogynistic teachings. State lawmakers protested by wearing aprons in chambers.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who was serving in the state Legislature at the time, said in an email Wednesday that she is alarmed to see Drollinger is now counseling the most powerful people in the Trump administration.

“I was a member of the California Assembly when Mr. Drollinger told the women legislators with children at home that they were sinners, and I remember the disbelief we had that someone would say such a thing in the modern era,” Chu wrote. “This administration already has a deeply troubling record of policy and speech that harms women, and so it’s concerning that this is the ideology the president and vice president hand-picked to help influence the thinking of the heads of our government.”

The group boasts that it “has planted biblical ministries of evangelism and discipleship” in 40 state capitols and established a study group in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.

The CBN report says the Trump administration study group includes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The offices of the Cabinet members who Drollinger told CBN are part of his Bible study did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment. Trump has not yet attended a session but he receives a copy of Drollinger’s teaching weekly, and Vice President Mike Pence, who is serving a sponsor of the group, plans to attend when his schedule allows, according to CBN.

Drollinger could not be reached for comment. A staffer at Capitol Ministries said in an email that the pastor is on his annual 200-mile hike of the John Muir Trail.

The goal of his two-decade-old ministry, according to its website, is to bring Jesus Christ to politicians “at every stop along their career paths, beginning with their first local elected or appointed positions and following as they ascend to higher office. By doing so, the impact of the Gospel will be increased in every strata of government as public servants who have been immersed in the word of God move from tier to tier.”

Drollinger’s Bible study with Trump Cabinet officials comes after many women have been rankled by Pence’s long-standing, faith-based policy of refusing to dine alone with any woman other than his wife, in a town where so much business happens at power lunches and dinners.

Trump, whose 24-member Cabinet includes just four women, has struggled to garner support from female voters. During the campaign he apologized after a decade-old videotape surfaced in which he boasted of groping women.

]]> 0 Ralph Drollinger discusses the theology behind Capitol Ministries on the Christian Broadcasting Network. His remarks about women have sparked a controversy.Fri, 04 Aug 2017 23:25:38 +0000
Christians more than twice as likely to blame poverty on lack of effort Thu, 03 Aug 2017 15:16:38 +0000 Which is generally more often to blame if a person is poor: lack of effort on their own part, or difficult circumstances beyond their control?

The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation asked 1,686 American adults to answer that question – and found that religion is a significant predictor of how Americans perceive poverty.

Christians are much more likely than non-Christians to view poverty as the result of individual failings, especially white evangelical Christians.

“There’s a strong Christian impulse to understand poverty as deeply rooted in morality – often, as the Bible makes clear, in unwillingness to work, in bad financial decisions or in broken family structures,” said Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The Christian worldview is saying that all poverty is due to sin, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the sin of the person in poverty. In the Garden of Eden, there would have been no poverty. In a fallen world, there is poverty.”

In the poll, which was conducted from April 13 to May 1 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, 46 percent of all Christians said that a lack of effort is generally to blame for a person’s poverty, compared with 29 percent of all non-Christians. The gulf widens further among specific Christian groups: 53 percent of white evangelical Protestants blamed lack of effort while 41 percent blamed circumstances, and 50 percent of Catholics blamed lack of effort while 45 percent blamed circumstances. In contrast, by more than 2 to 1, Americans who are atheist, agnostic or have no particular affiliation said difficult circumstances are more to blame when a person is poor than lack of effort (65 percent to 31 percent).


The question is, of course, not just an ethical one but a political one, and the partisan divide is sharp: Among Democrats, 26 percent blamed a lack of effort and 72 percent blamed circumstances. Among Republicans, 63 percent blamed lack of effort and 32 percent blamed circumstances.

A statistical analysis of the data showed that political partisanship is the most important factor in views on the causes of poverty, but religious identity stands out as one of several important demographic factors.

Theologians point to passages in the New Testament that shape Christians’ views on poverty, from the verse in Thessalonians that says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,” to Jesus’ exhortations to care for needy people including those who are sick and in prison, to the many interpretations of his statement quoted in Matthew, Mark and John, “The poor you will always have with you.”

Helen Rhee, a historian who studies wealth and poverty in Christianity, attributed Christians’ diverging viewpoint first to scripture and second to a theological divide in the early 20th century. At the same time that fundamentalists were splitting from modernists over whether Christians should accept Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, an academic split emerged: premillennialists versus postmillennialists.

The premillennialists think that the “Second Coming of Christ” is nearing, and with it the elevation of believers to heaven and the terrible tribulations of nonbelievers on earth promised in the Book of Revelation. The postmillennialists interpret Revelation differently, and believe that humans will achieve a blessed era of peace on earth, after which Christ will return.

As conservative evangelicals embraced premillennialism and more liberal Christians turned toward postmillennialism, their approach toward aiding the poor changed in accordance with their beliefs. The postmillennialists, who thought it was their responsibility to work toward a better epoch on earth, focused on dismantling harmful economic structures to create a more just world. The premillennialists, who thought the world might end imminently, wanted to save as many souls as possible to spare those individuals from the torment soon to come for nonbelievers.


To the premillennialists, Rhee said, “The world is already lost. Things are going to get worse and worse. . . . The betterment of society is very intangible. You don’t know whether it’s going to happen or not. It’s a very difficult thing to do. You’ve got to just focus on what is important – that is, salvation of the soul. That is, preach the gospel. Evangelism.”

Saving an individual’s soul by correcting his personal behavior will do him far more good than fixing an economic structure, if the world is about to end anyway, Rhee explained. “They are being compassionate.”

That thinking has influenced Christian culture to this day. Mohler, a conservative evangelical, said, “There’s a rightful Christian impulse to consider poverty a moral issue. . . . Evangelicals are absolutely right to look at the personal dimensions. No apology there.”

But he added that the sins that cause a person to be in poverty may be the sins of others, not of the person who is poor, and he said that conservative Christians need to acknowledge that more often. “I think conservative Christians often have a very inadequate understanding of the structural dimension of sin.”

Julisa Reed, 25, in rural Orangeburg County, South Carolina, answered the question, “I believe it’s mostly lack of effort on their part. Because, I mean, it’s very seldom that people put forth great effort only to receive no type of opportunities.”

That’s a view she has developed in her church, a predominantly African-American Baptist congregation. She said that her pastor has preached about people who try to earn money through criminal activity rather than hard work, and about people who go through financial difficulties but don’t turn to the church for spiritual support. “Not to say that if they come to the church everything will be perfect,” she said. “It’s just that belief system, the faith that you have that everything will work out – you’re less likely to give up because you’re doing things in the light of the Lord. Whatever is happening is his plan for your life.”

She said she speaks from firsthand experience: After graduating from college in 2014, she struggled for almost three years to find a stable job. Finally, a few months ago, a lawn-mower factory where she had worked temporarily gave her a full-time position as an inventory control analyst – an even better job than the one she had applied for, and one that allowed her to buy the car she had been saving up for.

“If you keep trying, you’ll get there,” she said. “If you put in the effort, it comes.”

The Post conducted a statistical analysis known as logistic regression to examine how closely different personal attributes are connected with whether respondents said a “lack of effort” is the main reason people are poor, and quantify the impact of each demographic attribute when other factors are held constant.

For instance, comparing men and women, the regression found the odds of a man saying people are poor due to a lack of effort are 1.9 times that of a woman, or about twice as likely.

When comparing demographics and religious factors, the odds of Christians saying poverty was caused by a lack of effort were 2.2 times that of non-Christians. Compared to those with no religion, the odds of white evangelicals saying a lack of effort causes poverty were 3.2 to 1.


Many people’s beliefs on the question have nothing to do with their faith. Some said that they hear one thing in church, then come to a different conclusion. Michael O’Connell of Rossville, Georgia, said he hears plenty about the need to help the poor at his evangelical church on Sundays. His pastor talks about people who, through no fault of their own, are in need of assistance: the elderly, the disabled.

Still, when asked if he thought people were poor because of circumstances beyond their control, O’Connell replied that they were more often poor because of their own lack of effort.

“There’s just too many that just rely on government or they rely on family. They just rely too much on other people helping them, rather than just going out and doing it themselves,” he said. “They don’t talk about that in church. They talk more about people in need in church than people who are just lazy.”

Regardless of their personal beliefs about what makes a person poor, almost everyone who discussed the question with the Post said that their church teaches them to help individuals who are in need, and that their congregations works hard at putting those teachings into action. Churches of every denomination and political persuasion run food banks, soup kitchens and shelters.

“Those are stereotypes,” Mohler said about the difference between conservative and liberal churches. “In reality, I think we all know what to do when a hungry person is before us.”

]]> 0, 03 Aug 2017 21:38:51 +0000
Reflections: Just let your better angels emerge from your inner struggle Fri, 28 Jul 2017 22:22:41 +0000 “My son, in all modesty, keep your self-respect and value yourself at your true worth. Who will speak up for a man, who is his own enemy, or respect one who disparages himself?” Ecclesiasticus 10:28-29

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

Who and what we are is not so much about reputation and heritance – the family into which we are born or where we get our mail. More likely it is consequent of what we choose to believe about ourselves. The self that is constantly checking where one is in line relative to others may fail to value itself as the matchless and awe-inspiring being one is. Shakespeare’s Caesar foresaw that the darkest problem of our humanity is our conception of ourselves. Who do we wish to be?

“It hath been taught us from the primal state That he which is was wished until he were.”

We may use all manner of tricks in presenting ourselves to others, even sometimes shaming ourselves with borrowed credentials. Truth be told, there is in you and me a “self-with-self” struggle, as the varying insistent parts of our being vie for place and station. From this wrestle come those wishes which govern in our lives. These wishes, however, are limited by our inborn gifts, our life’s circumstances and chance’s enigmatic offerings.

German poet Rilke called us to “…think of the world you carry within you, and call this thinking what you will; whether it be remembering your own childhood or yearning toward your own future.”

Indeed, we are selves dowered with memories and yearnings. Childhood, in turn, fosters a kind of dreaming certitude ferrying us unafraid into each tomorrow. Rabbinic literature allowed that when a baby arrives in the world its hands are clenched as though to say, “Everything is mine. I will inherit it all.”

Age and maturing mindset give the lie to this as the self realizes how uncertain the business of living is. Moreover, hustled by luckless ambition and a self-serving bias, one may become the contradictory self one never wanted to be, a self on the outs with itself now harnessed to a sullied self-respect.

A theologian several decades back championed the thought that our ability to love ourselves was bound to the belief that at all times we were accepted by a power greater than our own—a power greater than that of our friendships, greater than the authority of our counselors and psychological helpers. This faith of our being loved and accepted by God is what enables us to rightly love ourselves. In receiving Jesus’ words “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” we tend to neglect his add-on call to love oneself. Nonetheless, the wisdom in loving oneself often proves to be a ladder up and away from any self-created dungeons of despair, allowing us quite possibly to become the dream God is dreaming of us.

In “The Diary of a Country Priest,” Georges Bernanos’ novel of a cancer-ridden priest, we find the priest at the book’s ending musing on his own end, “Well, it’s all over now. The strange mistrust I had of myself, my own being, has flown, I believe forever. That conflict is done. I cannot understand it any more. I am reconciled to myself, to the poor, shell of me. How easy it is to hate oneself! True grace is to forget. Yet if pride could die in us, the supreme grace would be to love oneself in all simplicity—as one would love any one of those who themselves have suffered and loved in Christ.”

In the last and before time puts all of us to bed, we shall perhaps realize as did Bernanos’ priest that “Grace is everywhere.” It is God who gives us the power to forgive and love ourselves…God who accepts us who must finally settle to be reconciled to the imperfect persons we are…God who enables us in regaining our self-respect and then invites us to mirror the immensity of his love for both our neighbor and ourselves. I fancy that God’s final word to Adam may have been, “Best to you and the self-love for it.”

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Parish Church, Saco, Maine. He may be contacted at

]]> 0 Fri, 28 Jul 2017 20:19:50 +0000
Reflections: ‘Of course you can be a bigamist, and I’m glad you are’ Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Is bigamy always illegal? As I recounted to Barbara in my office her proposed chemotherapy program and potential side effects, I noted that her attention was wandering. Didn’t she realize what I was saying was important? I stopped and shook my head. Barbara, realizing I caught her looking away, said, “I wasn’t zoning out. I was listening to what you were saying – I can multi-task.

“But I was wondering: How do you think Paul would feel if I told him I was a bigamist?” I was shocked. Paul was Barbara’s second husband – Barbara had been a widow for 10 years. Did she have some mystery third husband no one knew about? Barbara could see I was stunned by her revelation. I could understand why she thought this news was important enough to interrupt my explanation of her cancer treatment! Was it because the police were coming for her at any moment? Barbara continued: “I don’t mean I’ve married a third time in secret.” I was relieved. “But,” she said, “I mean I still love my first husband. Is that OK?”

Barbara told me she had grieved over the death of her first husband a decade ago. Since that time, her loss had become more tolerable and less central to the course of each day. But the pain of his death had not gone away completely. “Does it have to?”

Barbara pined. Though Barbara had a new life with her second husband with new experiences and challenges, she still remembered the life she had together with her first husband: finishing college, starting jobs, having children and building a home. Most importantly, Barbara remembered how her first husband treated her, worked together with her in all their life experiences, and encouraged her with her career after the kids were off to school. “These experiences have made me what I am now and have equipped me to be part of a new relationship. I love my first husband for all that. I don’t want to give him up.”

Barbara’s comments made me think of the rich Bible passage so often part of a marriage ceremony: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-serving. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8). I realized these were the characteristics Barbara and her first husband shared and were supporting her in her new relationship.

This Bible passage then turns to human endeavors that will not last: “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13: 8-9). So is anything permanent? The passage continues with these stirring and encouraging words: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13: 13).

Barbara caught me with my attention wandering and remarked, “Doctor, you’re not saying much.” I told her what I was thinking about her relationship with her first husband and how it related to this famous Bible passage about love. “So the answer is?” she prodded me.

I answered, “Of course you can be a bigamist, and I’m glad you are.” Barbara was living out the concluding words of this passage from Scripture: “Follow the way of love” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“Barbara,” I added, “you’re doing the right thing – the thing that lasts.”

When Barbara left the office that day, I had not covered all the issues about her treatments – that could wait until the next visit. But I was glad I had the opportunity to witness in my patient the true love she had in her relationship with her first husband and to realize how that love had not been diminished or extinguished by death.

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.

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Jul 2017 22:08:36 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Be Still (Mental Peace Through Meditation). Weekly drop-in meditation classes. $10. The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland,, 10-11 a.m. Sunday.

Mountaintop Summer Worship Services. Load the Sugarloaf SuperQuad chairlift by 10:30 a.m. Discounted worship lift tickets available. Sugarloaf USA, 5092 Sugarloaf Access Road, Carrabassett Valley. 237-2304. 11 a.m.-noon Sunday.

Before the Flood: Paintings and Video Installations by Anita Clearfield. Free, Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St., Portland., 1-4 p.m. Sunday.

Service of Comfort and Hope. Monthly evening service of contemplation. Last Wednesday of each month. First Parish Congregational Church, UCC, 12 Beach St., Saco., 7:30 p.m.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Jul 2017 18:31:53 +0000
Vatican envoy Callista Gingrich faces challenge Fri, 21 Jul 2017 23:47:46 +0000 After President Obama took office in 2009, his administration floated two names for the position of ambassador to the Vatican: Caroline Kennedy and law professor Doug Kmiec. But members of the conservative wing of the church complained, Kmiec said, because the two supported a politician who backs abortion rights. Kmiec was sent as an ambassador to Malta instead.

But that controversy happened under Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, Kmiec said, Callista Gingrich, who is married to a twice-divorced man, will probably be welcomed by a pope who is seen as open to people of different backgrounds.

“Mrs. Gingrich, as a conservative, ends up benefiting from the blessing of inclusiveness that Pope Francis has exhibited to the entire world,” Kmiec said. “I know there have been objections raised. From the church’s standpoint, it’ll be consistent with the new attitude of the Holy Father, which is one of hospitality and welcome.”

She is married to Newt Gingrich, whose former wife Marianne said in 2012 that Newt wanted an “open marriage” as he had carried on a six-year affair with then-Callista Bisek when she was a congressional aide. He reportedly requested annulments of his earlier marriages, and Monsignor Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica and who prepared Gingrich to join the Catholic Church, said in 2011, “His (current) marriage is valid, so everything else is OK.”


On Tuesday during her confirmation hearings, Senate leaders asked Callista Gingrich several questions about issues where the pope and the president tend to diverge. The heated debates over abortion, contraception and gay marriage during the Obama administration have shifted under President Trump to issues like the environment, immigration, refugees, health care and poverty.

Gingrich is unlike previous ambassadors who have been mostly politicians or academics, and the Vatican is hoping for someone who can coherently express the Trump administration’s viewpoint on international affairs, said John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries,” who was a longtime correspondent for the Catholic News Service.

“(Gingrich’s appointment is) not going to be something that would shipwreck Vatican relations at all, but … I’m a little skeptical,” Thavis said. “The Vatican counts on the U.S. Embassy to give not just a brief soundbite answer, but they want position papers.”

Observers say Gingrich is an interesting choice primarily because she’s married to a former speaker of the House and an early supporter and close ally to Trump, so she should have good White House access. She sang in the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine for the past two decades and helped to convert Newt Gingrich, who was raised Lutheran, to Catholicism in 2009.

Callista Gingrich’s nomination proceedings take place as a confidant of the pope published an article last week condemning the president’s religious supporters.

“It’s clear there are tensions,” said Miguel Diaz, who was ambassador to the Vatican under Obama’s first term. “Her challenge is going to be to bridge the clear differences between the Trump administration and Pope Francis’s vision.”

When Diaz was ambassador to the Vatican, he said he was faced with questions about abortion and contraception when Obamacare debates were raging. He expects Gingrich to especially face challenges of Trump’s policy positions on the environment and immigration.

He said if the Vatican had any complaints about her nomination, leaders would have voiced them by now. “For us to go back and try to second guess whether this person or this other person should’ve been nominated, it’s not going to do us good,” he said.

Diaz, who is a theologian at Loyola University Chicago, said Gingrich has strengths that he as an academic didn’t have when he was ambassador.

“She has the strengths of the political world,” he said. “I couldn’t pick up the phone and talk to the speaker of the House and I certainly wasn’t married to the former speaker of the House.”

Diaz said he met with Vatican officials on a weekly basis and worked with the State Department and other ambassadors around the world. He said what she lacks in experience in working with the Vatican will be made up by the staff around her.

“I quickly realized … it is not just what you know and how qualified you may be for a particular assignment that can make a difference, but also who you know in the world of Washington and Vatican relationships,” he said.

Trump and Francis have clashed on issues in the past, especially on immigration reform. “I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges,” Francis said in February. The two leaders met in Rome in May and the pope gave the president a copy of his major document on the environment.

During Tuesday’s confirmation hearings, Gingrich said she was unsure whether Trump has read Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, saying she had read some of it.

“I think we’re all called to be stewards of the land,” she said, echoing a common Christian phrase for people to care for the environment.


Gingrich said she believes climate change exists and that some of it is from human behavior. “But I think as the president pursues a better deal for Americans, we will, indeed, remain an environmental leader in the world.”

The pope and the president share a great concern about our environment, Gingrich said. However, Trump upset environmental activists when he decided to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

“President Trump wants to maintain that we have clean air and clean water and that the United States remains an environmental leader,” she said. “As President Trump said, we will disengage and pull out of the Paris agreement, and either re-enter the Paris agreement or an entirely new agreement – one that is fair to Americans.”

Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., who served as Vatican ambassador under President George W. Bush during his second term, said Gingrich will find common cause from Vatican leaders on issues such as fighting Islamic terrorism and poverty around the globe. Her challenge, he said, will likely be related to environmental issues.

“Any American that goes to Europe in this era of ‘climate change religion’ is going to face the European all-or-nothing approach to climate change,” Rooney said.

“We have felt we can be good stewards of the environment … without wrecking our economy. That’s a fundamental difference we have.”

During her testimony, Gingrich said she would try to work with the Vatican on issues related to religious freedom, terrorism, human trafficking and diseases like HIV-AIDS and Ebola. She has been the CEO of Gingrich Productions, which produces documentaries often focused on religious themes. She authored “Rediscovering God in America” and a children’s series called “Ellis the Elephant.”

The Vatican has played middleman in international disputes both publicly and behind the scenes. During Obama’s administration, Pope Francis took a visible role in the thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States.

]]> 0 Gingrich takes her seat for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to discuss her nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the Vatican on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. At left, Callista Gingrich was frequently at Newt Gingrich's side as he campaigned for president in 2012.Fri, 21 Jul 2017 19:53:19 +0000
Professor loses teaching job for private post on Facebook Fri, 21 Jul 2017 23:07:25 +0000 Ruthie Robertson, 22, knew her private Facebook post would be controversial among her Mormon friends. After all, as a “huge leftist living in a completely red state,” she was used to criticism about her outspoken views on feminism and politics.

She knew the post contradicted the views of her employer, Brigham Young University-Idaho, a private college affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But Robertson, an adjunct professor of international politics, never expected to be fired because of it, she told The Washington Post.

“This is my official announcement and declaration that I believe heterosexuality and homosexuality are both natural and neither is sinful,” Robertson wrote in her post on June 5, in honor of Pride month.

“I will never support the phrase ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ because that ‘sin’ is part of who that person is. Homosexuality and transgenderism are not sins; if God made us, and those are part of who we are … then God created that as well.”

Robertson was not friends with any of her students on Facebook, and made sure to keep the post private. But she said one of her Facebook friends reported the post to her department head and another sent an email to the school’s president.

The next day she met with administrators, who she said implied that if she did not take down the Facebook post, she would lose her job. She refused, standing by her beliefs and maintaining that she never expressed her political or social opinions in the classroom.

A week later, after she still had not taken down the post, one of the administrators called her to inform her she would not be returning to teach classes in the fall. The university would allow her to finish classes through the rest of the semester, which ended Tuesday. But beyond that, her contract was terminated.

“Nothing in the contract says you can’t privately disagree with something with the church,” Robertson told The Post. “There is nothing in the contract that says I can’t express my personal opinions on my Facebook.”

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Jul 2017 19:17:26 +0000
Reflections: How often do we choose the vices that torment us? Sat, 15 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I’d only planned to buy seven chicks, one egg a day for each person in our family. But at the last minute, I reached into the bin at our local Maine feed store and pulled out a scampering black fluff ball, sure the extra eggs would be great for baking. Only instead of laying eggs that chick, which our oldest son named Pamela, grew up to crow!

At first discovering that we’d bought a rooster was funny – at least to everyone but our neighbors, who didn’t appreciate being woken up at 5 every morning. Still, we kept him. After all, we’d chosen this green-black Australian Australorp. Our children cuddled with him on the couch. For all his strutting and crowing, he was ours. And so Sir Pamela, as we now called him, became part of our family.

Then one day, Sir Pamela attacked, chasing our children down the driveway, leaping at their bare arms and faces with his hooked beak and razor talons. For protection, they carried garbage pail lids, sticks, and umbrellas while we continued feeding the rooster and penning him safely each night – all while making excuses for his behavior; after all, it was his nature. He was operating on instinct. And so we tried to make peace with him.

This went on for about a year. Then, early this summer while our 3-year-old son gathered eggs from the henhouse, the rooster charged, pinning our son to the ground and diving at his back and head. My husband, Dana, scooped up our wailing son and carried him inside. Blood seeped from deep cuts under this eye and on his head.

“The rooster has to go,” I said.

But getting rid of Sir Pamela turned out to be an even bigger problem. We offered him to friends and listed him online, but the internet was full of free roosters. We penned him, but he escaped. We called an animal processing plan, only to find they required a minimum of 100 birds per order. And all the while we kept feeding the rooster, who lunged at me whenever I fed him.

I grew up on a farm. My mom butchered our chickens, and my brother and I plucked. But I had never killed an animal and wasn’t eager to. But when the rooster once more escaped and spent the day swaggering about our yard while my children and I cowered inside, I could take it no longer.

I need you to get rid of or kill the rooster tonight, I emailed my husband at work.

Ok… Sounds like stew, he wrote back. Are you ready to show me how to pluck???

The next morning, after consulting chicken-owning friends, Dana carried Sir Pamela and an ax into the woods. Half an hour later, only Dana came back. I was horrified and grateful at the same time. The next morning, we all slept in. And our children safely played outside for the first time in months. The peace was so tangible I couldn’t believe how long we’d tolerated – and not only tolerated, but fed! – the beast that tormented us, making excuses for his behavior and going to great lengths to protect his freedom while we ourselves became prisoners.

Yet, how often do we do this in our own lives? The same way I chose that rooster, we often choose the vices that torment us, actively cultivating a lifestyle of worry, unforgiveness, hate, fear, deceit, negativity or abuse. While such habits hurt us, we routinely make excuses for our behavior all while protecting, feeding and nurturing the thing that harms us until we – and our loved ones – get hurt. Just as we could not make peace with our rooster, we cannot make peace with sin. To break free, we must terminate its power over us.

But how? The apostle Paul points the way: “So, do not let sin control you in your life here on earth. You must not be ruled by the things your sinful self makes you want to do… but offer yourselves to God.” (Romans 6:12-13 ICB). On my own, I’m incapable of controlling troublesome tendencies and choices. But by offering myself to God and accepting the life and grace of Christ Jesus, I am no longer a prisoner but free.

Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of “Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores,” writes stories of faith for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Connect at

]]> 0 Fri, 14 Jul 2017 20:03:39 +0000
In Amish country, love of God means welcoming refugees Sat, 08 Jul 2017 01:31:01 +0000 LANCASTER, Pa. — From the road, you would never guess what’s inside Habecker Mennonite Church in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, on a Sunday morning.

Surrounded by cornfields, obscured by trees, lacking a steeple or stained glass, the outside is unremarkable by design. It’s tucked into the heart of Amish country, where people put down roots and stay, often for generations. It’s a politically and religiously conservative area, and in the 2016 election, the county – as it has every year in recent memory – voted for the Republican candidate.

Some things inside Habecker are typical for the area: A pile of handmade blankets; several women wearing prayer caps; a program that reads, “Come let us bow down and worship.”

A few dozen faithful locals attend the church. Many have been going for decades.

But the pews hold an unexpected gathering, too, on Sunday mornings – they’re filled with more than 100 South Asian refugees.

“It’s a gift from God . it’s just a precious gift,” said Miriam Charles, who’s been attending Habecker for 70 years.

The church uncovered a need and responded – by welcoming a refugee family into its congregation nine years ago. Then more and more families joined, until the Sunday service became bilingual.

The call to help refugees is particularly strong in Lancaster County. The city of Lancaster has been called the refugee capital of the nation, resettling 20 times more refugees per capita than the rest of the country, according to the BBC.

The area’s primary resettlement agency credits the support of the county’s strong religious community for its success: More than 85 percent of refugees – people fleeing their homeland because of famine, war, persecution or other causes – are self-sufficient in six months or less.

“Why Lancaster? It’s sorta simple: It just really comes back to the community,” explained Stephanie Gromek, a community resource coordinator with Church World Service, a faith-based organization with local headquarters in Lancaster that holds a government contract to resettle refugees in central Pennsylvania. “This is not new to Lancaster County. This is who the community is. It’s who we are,” Gromek said.

The organization’s goal is to help refugees to assimilate into American culture. “We never proselytize,” said Gromek. Sharing faith should happen in the context of friendship.

Support is particularly strong in Mennonite churches, a diverse community of believers with a faith tradition that has loose similarities to the Amish.

Even so, some in the area are resistant to helping refugees, said Habecker co-pastor Dawn Landis. “It’s sad when we see Christians be too afraid or be too swayed by the culture or the politics of the time, and then they compromise their witness, in my opinion.”

On Oct. 1, 2016, about 10 miles down the road from Habecker, Lancaster County welcomed a different guest – then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

A crowd of Trump supporters cheered with their candidate’s promises, booed with him as he critiqued his opponent.

Among those criticisms: “And now she wants a 550 percent increase in Syrian refugees to pour into our country?”

He looked baffled. In the next breath, he spoke of “radical Islamic terror.”

The county handily voted for Trump in November. Since then, he’s overseen a clampdown on refugee acceptance, documented in a USA Today Network investigation.

From the outside, Lancaster County might seem a paradox: A religiously and politically conservative community that simultaneously welcomes refugees and embraces a candidate suspicious of refugees.

That’s how it looks from the outside.

Craig Coble has a sign in his front yard: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

It’s written in three different languages: English, Spanish and Arabic.

Sitting on his front porch on a sunny June day, Coble mused dryly, “I’ve not gotten very far in life. … About 2 miles across town.”

He was being modest – that’s what people do around here.

It was clear his life was full: A career chemist at a Fortune 500 company; a family of four children and six grandkids; a lifelong church family – Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren.

Labels frustrated him, especially when it came to the issue of refugees: “I don’t know what ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ means anymore.”

His faith taught him to help those in need when he can. After hearing the stories of refugees who many come from war-torn, famine-stricken lands, he looked around lush Lancaster County, and the right thing to do seemed clear.

“It can be a ministry for some people. It can be just plain human decency to many other people,” said Coble. No need to overthink it.

Something else that Coble doesn’t overthink: The number of refugees now coming to the United States. “I can’t do a whole lot about what the government sets as a quota, so we do what we can for the people who can make it.”

Rachel Bunkete is one of those new neighbors.

When she first arrived in the United States in 2013, she cried for days. And not for joy.

Her hope was fading: She might never see her family again. She missed her husband and three children. She had waited five years to get to the States, to flee the land where her parents were killed. When she arrived in Lancaster County, an ocean separated her from the Congo. She didn’t know the language and the customs.

But her tears didn’t last. She was welcomed into her new home. “Love. Only thing: Love. Everybody show me their love,” she recalled.

She found a new family, the people of Keystone Church in Paradise, Pennsylvania, who drove from the Lancaster County countryside to the city to help her with, as she put it, “everything.”

And soon a global church family she had first connected with in Africa would help her with something that meant everything to her: Reuniting with her family.

Today, there’s only one Bunkete missing from Rachel’s home – her oldest son, nearly 30, who’s in limbo awaiting approval to join his family.

The Rev. Keith Rohrer helped lead the efforts to welcome Rachel, Keystone Church’s first refugee.

He’s also a Republican (but not a straight-ticket Republican, he’s quick to note). It’s important to him that the United States remains secure – for his family, for Rachel.

That’s probably the most important part of the president’s job, he thinks.

But Keith Rohrer is not the president.

Instead, he sees himself in a different role: “If (refugees) get here and I have an opportunity to help, I want to do that.”

Since 2002, more than 4,000 refugees have had the opportunity to call Lancaster home, with over 75 percent having come since 2010, according to USA Today Network data.

The majority come from south Asia, but Iraq, Somalia, Cuba and the Congo have also sent hundreds. Less than a hundred fled Syria, the subject of political controversy in the Trump administration.

“I think we do have a lot of religious conservatives who take their political views as a package and maybe don’t scrutinize them as hard as they should,” he said. That happens on both sides of the political aisle, Rohrer said.

]]> 0 Charles, center, prays beside Paday Shee, left, and Paw Shee at Habecker Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa. Paday, 25, and Paw, 10, are not related but are part of the group of ethnic Karen refugees from South Asia who attend the church.Fri, 07 Jul 2017 21:58:00 +0000
Reflections: How Portland’s Jewish Community Center helped heal tensions Sat, 08 Jul 2017 00:23:04 +0000 The 1920s and 1930s were tumultuous decades in American and in Maine Jewish history. By the late 1930s, American Jewry was a community that faced severe economic depression, unprecedented social anti-Semitism, and deep political impotence.

Portland was known as the “Jerusalem of the North,” a designation that did not refer to an atmosphere of learning and study, but rather to a traditional piety that allowed no Judaism to flourish except an orthodoxy dominated by East European Jews.

But Orthodox Judaism’s domination was not the only issue that concerned Portland Jews. Maine’s native Anglo-Saxon Protestant population, Portland included, would allow little or no challenges to its centuries-long social, political and religious dominance.

Portland’s Jews saw a clear example of that dominance in 1923. In that year the established Protestant community had had enough of a sizeable Jewish and Catholic representation on the Portland City Council, especially from the heavily Jewish Third Ward.

In September 1923, Portland voters threw out the old form of government and voted in a new council-manager government made up entirely of Protestants.

For the next several decades, Maine’s largest Jewish community had little input into the struggles that defined the politics of political power. The Jewish focus was on the development of economic status and the building of communal organizations that were especially designed to increase social activities for Jewish adults and young people increasingly isolated from their non-Jewish neighbors and, because of infighting between Orthodox congregations, themselves.

To make something positive out of an exclusion from non-Jewish society in Portland, the Jewish community sought to create separate but equal facilities for its members. The community had owned a building on Wilmot Street since 1923, in which organizations such as the Young Women’s Hebrew Association (YWHA), founded in 1907, and the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), founded in 1905, sought to provide a meeting place for Portland’s second-generation American-born Jews.

By the late 1930s, these organizations no longer held the same appeal as they had a decade earlier. Portland’s Jewish leadership, as well as many parents, was concerned that the embrace of American culture by the younger generations would lead to a loss of Jewish identity.

The answer, it seemed, was to build a bigger and better environment in which young Jewish men and women could feel Jewish but in a setting that allowed for physical recreation, social relationships and cultural activities.

On November 1, 1937, Louis Bernstein, a prominent member of Portland’s Jewish community and a future judge, held a meeting at his home for the Wilmot Street center’s board of directors. The meeting was followed by a meeting of the entire Jewish community to approve the idea of a new Jewish Community Center building.

Within weeks, a structure that had housed the former Pythian Temple became the new home of the Portland Jewish Community Center. Purchased for $17,500, the building at 341 Cumberland Ave., was an ideal location: within easy walking distance of numerous Jewish neighborhoods, and a major improvement on Wilmot Street: five floors containing a gymnasium, a bowling alley, a theater, a 300-seat auditorium and numerous meeting rooms.

The new JCC was from its very founding a secular Jewish institution. It was, in many ways, an alternative to the synagogue, a place where Jews could socialize without wearing a label. One was simply Jewish and not an Orthodox Jew, or if the other movements in American Judaism had existed in Portland, a Conservative or Reform Jew.

The uniqueness of such a communal institution was distinctly American and a departure from the traditional form of Jewish religious and communal life. That uniqueness was not lost on Portland’s Jews, especially not on Norman I. Godfrey, the legendary first executive director of the JCC. Godfrey spoke at the dedication dinner of the new JCC in November 1938. His speech focused on the twin aspects of Jewish identity and a commitment to democracy and Americanism:

“Consecrated to the noble purpose of perpetuating Jewish life upon the highest possible plane, in consonance with the traditions of the founding fathers of our great democracy, the Jewish Community Center enters now upon its course of service devoted to the enrichment of the individual personality and the enhancement of American Jewry.”

For Portland Jewry, this was an historic moment.. Norman Godfrey’s dream, as recounted by his wife, a dream “to bring … the very best of Jewish life and combine it with the American life and the American way in this community,” would be realized, even though his early death in 1947 deprived Godfrey of seeing its full implementation.

But while Godfrey lived, and for more than 40 years of its existence until it was sold in 1979, the Jewish Community Center building on Cumberland Avenue was a unique experience for thousands of Portland Jews.

With classes and presentations in music, drama, dancing, art and crafts, an Institute of Jewish Studies as part of its focus on education; with classes in “weight normalizing and slenderizing,” and facilities that offered a full gymnasium, handball courts, exercise rooms, bowling alleys, a billiard and golf driving net, the JCC was truly separate but equal to the best facilities offered by the non-Jewish community.

By the early 1970s, most of Portland and Maine’s social barriers for Jews had largely, but not entirely, fallen. Jews were not only able to join once-exclusive and discriminatory country and social clubs, but they now provided important leadership roles for numerous civic and philanthropic organizations in the greater community.

Additionally, Portland’s Jewish community had moved from its downtown locations to a more suburban existence and the Cumberland Avenue facility began to demand repairs to its aging structure, demands beyond the means of the community.

Most interestingly, the growth of Conservative Judaism in Portland through its representative institution, Temple Beth El, meant that the synagogue was now able to offer numerous social as well as religious activities for younger Jews. Beth El began to replace the JCC as the focus of a large portion of the community’s Jewish identity, reversing a trend of previous decades.

For Portland’s Jewish community, the tension that had once existed between being a Jew and being an American could now be lessened and translated into an understanding that being a better Jew was important in becoming a better American.

Abraham J. Peck is research professor of history at the University of Southern Maine and the co-author (with Jean M. Peck) of “Maine’s Jewish Heritage” (2007).

]]> 0 Fri, 07 Jul 2017 22:09:05 +0000
Pope fires head of Vatican office that processes sex abuse cases Sat, 01 Jul 2017 20:34:28 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis sacked the head of the Vatican office that handles sex abuse cases Saturday, just days after he released another top Vatican cardinal to return home to stand trial for alleged sexual assault.

The developments underscored how the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis has caught up with Francis, threatening to tarnish his legacy over a series of questionable appointments, decisions and oversights in his four-year papacy.

Perhaps sensing a need to change course, Francis declined to renew the mandate of German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that processes and evaluates all cases of priests accused of raping or molesting minors.

Francis named Mueller’s deputy, Monsignor Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit, to run the powerful office instead.

During Mueller’s five-year term, the congregation amassed a 2,000-case backlog and came under blistering criticism from Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, who had been tapped by Francis in 2014 to advise the church on caring for abuse victims and protecting children from pedophile priests.

Collins resigned from the papal commission in March, citing the “unacceptable” level of resistance from Mueller’s office to heeding the commission’s proposals.

In May, Francis said her criticism of the slow pace in processing abuse cases was justified and announced he was adding more staff to handle the overload. Earlier this year he also named Cardinal Sean O’Malley as a member of the congregation in hopes of ensuring better cooperation.

Mueller’s ouster was the second major Vatican shake-up this week.

On Thursday, Francis granted another Vatican hardliner, Cardinal George Pell, a leave of absence to return to his native Australia to face trial on multiple charges of sexual assault stemming from years ago.

Pell has denied the charges. Still, Francis has come under criticism for having named him to the powerful position of the Vatican’s money czar in 2014 in the first place, given that accusations of wrongdoing had dogged him even then. Pell has been widely denounced at home for mishandling abuse cases while he was a bishop and of having treated victims harshly in seeking to protect the church from abuse-related civil litigation.

“In the church’s current emergency, with its third-ranking prelate soon to appear in an Australian court on child abuse charges, Pope Francis needs a CDF prefect who will work with Cardinal Sean O’Malley on the church’s abuse crisis, not against him,” said Terence McKiernan of, an online resource of abuse documentation.

Mueller and Pell were two most powerful cardinals in the Vatican, after the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Their absences, coupled with Francis’ earlier demotion of arch-conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke as the Vatican’s chief justice, will likely create a power vacuum for the conservative wing in the Holy See hierarchy.

The week’s events could be seen as an attempt by Francis to turn the page, given his legacy has already been sullied by repeated failings to make good on his “zero tolerance” pledge for abuse.

Take for example the case of the Rev. Mauro Inzoli, a well-known Italian priest defrocked by the Vatican for having abused children as young as 12. He had his sentence reduced on appeal to a lifetime of penance and prayer in 2014 after what his bishop said was a show of mercy from the pope.

But in November, an Italian judge convicted Inzoli of abusing five children aged 12-16 and sentenced him to four years, nine months in prison. The Vatican opened a new church trial against him and his bishop announced this week that he had been definitively defrocked.

Aside from the sex abuse case backlog, Francis and Mueller had sparred over Francis’ divisive 2016 document on family life in which the pope offered a cautious opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion.

Church teaching holds that unless these Catholics receive an annulment, or a church decree that their first marriage was invalid, they are committing adultery and cannot receive Communion unless they abstain from sex.

]]> 0 Gerhard Ludwig Mueller's ouster was the second major Vatican shake-up tied to the handling of sex abuse cases this week.Sat, 01 Jul 2017 17:12:22 +0000
Reflections: Since creation, we have been called to be stewards of the Earth Sat, 01 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The first creation story in the book of Genesis tells of God creating human beings in God’s image, male and female God created them. (Gen. 1:27)

In the process, God gives humanity charge over the life of the Earth. The English translation of the Hebrew word telling of God’s charge is most often “dominion,” which can be misunderstood as implying ownership. A more accurate understanding of the word is stewardship as a gardener is given charge over a community garden.

This passage comes to my mind frequently these days.

I’ve been checking in with what has been going on in Washington, D.C., these past months. Like you, I’m keeping an eye on the most bizarre and dangerous president I’ve known in my lifetime.

But healthier than that, I’ve been checking in on since early April. Two adult eagles built a nest in a high tree in D.C.’s National Arboretum this past winter. Nest level and overview video cameras broadcasting 24/7 were installed.

On Feb. 10, the female laid her first egg. A second egg followed on Feb. 11. The first hatched a male on March 29. The second, a female, on March 30. Video watchers were invited to choose names. “Honor” and “Glory” topped the choices.

I joined the observations in early April when the two were unsightly, scrawny bags of skin, beak and bulging eyes. They huddled for warmth near one another and mom or dad who in turn kept watch, found food, and posed majestically staring over D.C., watching whatever eagles watch with their astounding eyesight.

Both chicks survived, although early on Honor got her leg stuck in the side wall of the nest, to be rescued by an intrepid arborist. Of late, fully feathered, seldom in the nest, they stand on different limbs taking in the world beyond the nest on the brink of instinct’s launching.

I and others have been fortunate to be watching this natural wonder. A significant decline in the numbers of bald eagles has been reversed since the EPA, established in 1970, responded to environmentalists’ appeals and banned the use of DDT in 1972. Scientific studies agree that not all bird eggs are thinned by ingesting DDT, but the eggs of raptors are.

Last December, our bizarre and dangerous president appointed Scott Pruitt as director of the EPA. Pruitt, as attorney general of Oklahoma, was closely related to the oil, gas and coal industries and filed numerous lawsuits to reject President Obama’s efforts to curtail fossil fuel emissions. He may turn out to be an environmentalist’s nightmare, or he may not follow the path our president seems to have set for crippling environmental protection policies. Trump says climate change is a hoax. Pruitt says it might be real. Still Pruitt’s early instructions to delete mention of global warming from the EPA web site still stand.

What are we to do in these bizarre and dangerous days to protect future eaglets and other life forms from the disasters yet to be unpacked from global warming’s bag of death? What does stewardship ask of us in these days?

It turns out that it is much like good citizenship.

Timothy Snyder, Yale historian, has been writing books for 25 years on how democracies perished in eastern and central Europe in the 1930s. His latest book, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” offers some suggestions summarized by Gary Dorrien, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary, in the June 21 issue of The Christian Century.

“Take responsibility for the face of the world” is about hate symbols, and “Be kind to our language” regarding hate speech is a plea to think and speak for oneself.

Some lessons focus on personal habits that turn out to be crucially important, because institutions – that bulwark education, our justice system, our religious communities, etc. – survive only when individuals do the little things that make them work.

“Establish a private life, stand out, listen for dangerous words, contribute to good causes.” One lesson, “Remember professional ethics,” is a reminder to lawyers, physicians and bureaucrats that their obligation to a professional code of ethics outranks civil obedience as a virtue.

Lessons 1, 2, 5, 19 and 20 are especially important: “Do not obey in advance,” “Defend institutions.” “Believe in truth.” “Be a patriot,” and “Be as courageous as you can be.”

Tyranny mangles truth and robs us, individuals and community, of our integrity, compassion and courage. Tyrants sacrifice the common good which is founded on protection of the well-being of the vulnerable for their personal power and gains.

Resistance to tyranny stands on the foundation of love of one another, the creation and the Creator. Its work is called stewardship. Stewardship has to do with the way one fosters the life of lakes, streams, rivers, bays and oceans. It has to do with how we garden, recycle, diminish our uses of fossil fuels. It includes protest, petition and voting. Stewardship develops conversations with our elected representatives that identify our concerns and demonstrate appreciation of our mutual humanity. It has much to do with standing for life and not on others who don’t see things our way. Finally stewardship is learning to see the image of our Creator in all people and the whole creation and loving and serving it.

The eaglets of the future as well as our own newborn call us to Earth stewardship now.

Bill Gregory is a writer and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at

]]> 0 Fri, 30 Jun 2017 19:25:11 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 01 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Mountaintop Summer Worship Services. Sugarloaf Mountain amphitheater. 11 a.m. Sundays through Sept. 3. Board the Sugarloaf SuperQuad chairlift by 10:30. Discounted worship lift tickets are available. The bad-weather location is the Sugarloaf Chapel. Sugarloaf USA, 5092 Sugarloaf Access Road, Carrabassett Valley, 237-2304. For more information, call Sugarloaf Christian Ministry at 236-2304.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 30 Jun 2017 19:26:16 +0000
Younger evangelicals show LGBT support Fri, 30 Jun 2017 22:57:48 +0000 A new survey shows a dramatic shift in attitudes toward favoring gay marriage among a younger generation of white evangelicals, a group considered to be one of the most conservative on the issue.

Just a decade ago, the gap between younger evangelicals and older evangelicals on the issue was not wide, according to the Pew Research Center. But a new survey suggests that the generational divide has grown much wider, with about half of evangelicals born after 1964 now favoring gay marriage.

According to Pew, 47 percent of Generation X/millennial evangelicals (those born after 1964) favor gay marriage, compared with 26 percent of boomer and older evangelicals (those born between 1928 and 1964).

“I think a shift is inevitable. It’s just a matter of how long,” said Julie Rodgers, a lesbian who once worked for evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois.

Rodgers was once part of an ex-gay ministry and ran in Southern Baptist circles. She was seen by some as a poster child for celibacy while she was a staff member in Wheaton College’s chaplain’s office. The college received backlash for hiring her and she became gay marriage affirming while she was there, so she resigned from her position in 2015. She said she looked to people like Christian ethicist David Gushee, who changed his views and began to affirm same-sex relationships in 2014. Rodgers said her views began to shift when she saw another way of interpreting the Bible.

“When pastors and leaders begin to come out (as LGBT affirming), people are going to move. They just need permission,” she said. “It gives people another perspective and permission to say, ‘I feel that way, too.'”

Earlier this month, Rodgers got engaged to Amanda Hite, an entrepreneur based in D.C., whom she met after she left.


Two years after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, support for it is at its highest overall, with 62 percent favoring gay marriage and 32 percent opposing it. In 2010, according to Pew, a little less than half of Americans supported it.

When young people see an issue legalized, they begin to believe it must be right, said Glenn Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family.

“We see that with pot in Colorado,” he said. “There’s a legitimizing and institutionalizing when you make something legal.”

But Stanton believes the attitude shifts don’t really reflect a change in young evangelicals’ conviction on the issue, which he said was “paper thin.”

“A quality of youth is being idealistic and wanting to believe the world can be a certain way,” Stanton said. “Why can’t we all get married?”

Support for same-sex marriage has risen across all religious groups in recent years. As a whole, white evangelicals still stand out in opposition to gay marriage; 35 percent of white evangelicals favor gay marriage, compared with about 60 percent who are opposed.

Most megachurches do not marry gays and lesbians, but some people think that attitudes might be shifting in some churches. Most evangelicals believe gays are welcome as members and leaders in their churches – as long as they remain celibate.

In May, a megachurch in Orlando called Northland, A Church Distributed, hosted a public forum by the Reformation Project, an organization that wants to change churches’ attitudes on LGBT issues.

Northland’s pastor, Joel Hunter, told the Orlando Sentinel that his church has no plans to change its position that the Bible prohibits gay relationships, but his church hosted the forum as a response to the Pulse shooting last year to build bridges with the LGBT community. Hunter said via text message that his elders have asked him to decline more press inquiries.


Matthew Vines, who dropped out of Harvard University to start the Reformation Project, said Northland was the biggest church yet willing to host a conversation with his group. Vines believes there’s a slow, steady trajectory toward evangelicals affirming gay marriage.

When popular author Jen Hatmaker said last fall she affirms same-sex relationships, her books were pulled from Lifeway Christian Resources stores. But Vines thinks that Hatmaker and others who have become LGBT affirming still retain their influence. “I don’t think they were as successfully farewelled as they would have been three to five years ago,” he said.

Attitude shifts won’t happen overnight, Vines said. “It’s important that young evangelicals have changed their mind, but it’s not enough to create institutional change,” he said.

The question for many evangelicals has been whether LGBT issues are matters where they can agree to disagree and still work together, perhaps like the question of when children should be baptized or whether women can be ordained.

When the issue came up for World Vision, one of the largest Christian nonprofits in the country, in 2012, the answer was a sharp no – it lost thousands of donors right away. And InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a major ministry, announced last fall that its employees must affirm its views that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Some evangelicals believe there’s a difference between supporting gay marriage as a public policy matter and gay marriage as sanctioned by churches. A large majority of white evangelicals (including younger generations) continue to see homosexual relations as morally wrong, according to the General Social Survey.

The 2016 survey found 75 percent of white evangelicals saying homosexual sexual relations are always or nearly always wrong. That number is down from 82 percent in 1996 and 90 percent in 1987. The survey does not show a large generational gap, however. In 2014-2016 surveys, 70 percent of Generation X/millennial white evangelicals said same-sex sexual relations are nearly always or always wrong, compared to 81 percent of baby boomers/older generations.

]]> 0 Christians pray during the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting last month in Phoenix. Research suggests that the non-secular world is evolving with the secular when it comes to same-sex issues and overall support for LGBT issues.Fri, 30 Jun 2017 19:23:03 +0000
Mormons will allow women to wear pants Fri, 30 Jun 2017 22:46:03 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — Women who work at Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City will be allowed to wear pantsuits and dress slacks instead of only skirts or dresses, the church announced this week, in a move that one Mormon women’s group called a step in the right direction.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent employees a memo Wednesday about several changes that also include expanded maternity leave and allowing men to remove their suit coats in hot weather.

The religion’s leaders made the decision about women’s clothing to help employees feel more comfortable, said church spokesman Doug Anderson. He declined to say how many people, or women, the church employs, saying only it’s in the thousands.

The church last year began allowing female missionaries to wear dress pants in parts of the world with mosquito-borne diseases.

The role of women in the conservative religion has been an ongoing debate for years with some members of the faith pushing for more equality and increased visibility and prominence for women.

Women hold leadership positions in the Mormon church but aren’t allowed to be bishops of local congregations or presidents of stakes, which are geographic areas similar to Catholic dioceses. The church’s highest leaders, including the president and his support group called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, includes only men.

Debra Jenson, executive board member of the Mormon women’s group Ordain Women, called the clothing change a small step toward breaking down rigid gender roles.

She said she’s heard complaints for years from women who work for the church.

“Gendered dress expectations are one piece of a culture that views women as different or differently capable,” said Jenson, of Ogden, Utah. “So when we can break down those symbolic requirements it gets us closer to actual substantive change.”

The push for equality by Mormon women’s’ groups has escalated in recent years, fueled by growing online and social media communities that allow women from around the country and world to unite and discuss the causes they want to champion.

In 2012, a women’s group urged women to wear pants to church to draw attention to what they perceived as inequality.

Women aren’t barred from wearing pants to Sunday services, but in some areas it can send ripples of surprise and raised eyebrows, Jenson said.

]]> 0 - In this April 4, 2015, file photo, Mormon women wear dresses on their way to the religion's twice-yearly conference in Salt Lake City. Church leaders announced Wednesday, June 28, 2017, that women who work at church headquarters in Salt Lake City can now wear pantsuits or dress slacks instead of only skirts or dresses. Men who work for the church will also now be allowed to remove their suit coats in hot weather. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)Fri, 30 Jun 2017 19:33:06 +0000
Australian police charge top Vatican cardinal with sex offenses Thu, 29 Jun 2017 02:27:51 +0000 SYDNEY — Australian police charged a top Vatican cardinal on Thursday with multiple counts of “historical” sexual assault offenses, a stunning decision certain to rock the highest levels of the Holy See.

Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ chief financial adviser and Australia’s most senior Catholic, is the highest-ranking Vatican official to ever be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.

Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said police have summonsed Pell to appear in an Australian court to face multiple charges of “historical sexual assault offenses,” meaning offenses that generally occurred some time ago. Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but gave no other details on the allegations. Pell was ordered to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.

Pell, 76, has repeatedly denied all abuse allegations made against him. The Catholic Church in Australia, which issues statements on Pell’s behalf, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have, obviously, been tested in any court yet,” Patton told reporters in Melbourne. “Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process.”

The charges are a new and serious blow to Pope Francis, who has already suffered several credibility setbacks in his promised “zero tolerance” policy about sex abuse.

For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney. His actions as archbishop came under intense scrutiny in recent years by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children. Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – the nation’s highest form of inquiry – has found shocking levels of abuse in Australia’s Catholic Church, revealing earlier this year that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children over the past several decades.

Last year, Pell acknowledged during his testimony to the commission that the Catholic Church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. And he vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his Australian hometown of Ballarat.

But more recently, Pell himself became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican last year to interview the cardinal. It is unclear what allegations the charges announced Thursday relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican. That leaves two likely outcomes: Either Pell volunteers to return to Australia to fight the charges, or the Vatican could tell the cardinal to do so, said Donald Rothwell, an international law expert at the Australian National University.

The charges put Pope Francis in a thorny position. In 2014, Francis won cautious praise from victims’ advocacy groups when he created a commission of outside experts to advise him and the broader church about “best practices” to fight abuse and protect children.

But the commission has since lost much of its credibility after its two members who were survivors of abuse left. Francis also scrapped the commission’s signature proposal – a tribunal section to hear cases of bishops who covered up for abuse – after Vatican officials objected.

In addition, Francis drew heated criticism for his 2015 appointment of a Chilean bishop accused by victims of helping cover up for Chile’s most notorious pedophile. The pope was later caught on videotape labeling the parishioners who opposed the nomination of being “leftists” and “stupid.”

When Francis was asked last year about the accusations against Pell, he said he wanted to wait for Australian justice to take its course before judging. “It’s true, there is a doubt,” he told reporters en route home from Poland. “We have to wait for justice and not first make a mediatic judgment – a judgment of gossip – because that won’t help.”

“Once justice has spoken, I will speak,” he said.

Francis appointed Pell in 2014 to a five-year term to head the Vatican’s new economy secretariat, giving him broad rein to control all economic, administrative, personnel and procurement functions of the Holy See. The mandate has since been restricted to performing more of an oversight role.

It remains to be seen how Pell – and the pope – will respond to the developments.

Given Francis’ credibility is on the line, any decision to keep Pell on as prefect while facing charges would reflect poorly on Francis, given he remains one of the pope’s top advisers.

At the same time, the Vatican has a history of shielding its own: When Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in disgrace in 2002 over his cover-up of abuse in Boston, victims expressed outrage that St. John Paul II gave him a plum position as archpriest of a Rome basilica.

The transfer spared Law what would likely have been years of litigation and testimony in U.S. courts as victims sued the archdioceses for their abuse, though Law himself was never criminally charged with wrongdoing.

In the 1980s, the Vatican refused to cooperate with Italian investigators when one of its officials, Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, was indicted over a banking scandal. The Vatican successfully cited his diplomatic immunity.

]]> 0 George Pell, left, reads a bible during the blessing of a statue of John Paul II at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, in 2011. Associated Press/Rob GriffithWed, 28 Jun 2017 22:39:29 +0000
Israel reneges on pledge to create mixed-gender prayer space at Western Wall Mon, 26 Jun 2017 00:33:44 +0000 JERUSALEM — Israel’s government on Sunday nixed an ambitious plan approved last year to allow mixed-gender religious services at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, angering many American Jews, who said they felt insulted and abandoned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

Israel’s holy Jewish sites are managed by ultra-Orthodox Jews, and in keeping with their traditions, the Western Wall plaza is divided according to gender. Women are not permitted to read aloud from the Torah, wear prayer shawls or sing there.

Non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, including the Reform and Conservative denominations that are prevalent in the United States, allow men and women to pray side by side, and female rabbis regularly lead services.

Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders in the United States and Israel have long pressed for an area of the Western Wall where fathers can stand beside daughters and mothers beside sons for prayer and religious services.

A 2016 plan approved by the government to provide such an area was described as a “fair and creative solution” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It’s a place that is supposed to unite the Jewish people,” he said at the time.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center published in March 2016, more than half of American Jews identify as either Reform or Conservative, while only about 10 percent observe Orthodox practices.

In Israel, only a small minority are affiliated with those movements.

Sunday’s decision to cancel the new Western Wall arrangement has drawn denunciations from liberal Jews in Israel and the United States. It also appeared to threaten Netanyahu’s fragile coalition, with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman – head of a faction that represents secular Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union – vowing to fight back.

“It actually causes terrible harm to Jewish unity and to the alliance between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry,” Israeli media quoted him as saying.

The prime minister said in a statement that he would seek an alternative solution, appointing senior minister Tzachi Hanegbi to look into the matter.

“The prime minister’s decision came from the realization that over the last year and a half nothing has progressed with this plan, so another solution needs to be found,” Hanegbi said.

Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, a feminist group that has been pushing for a solution at the site, described Netanyahu’s decision as “shameful.”

“It’s a terrible day for women in Israel when the prime minister sacrifices their rights while kowtowing to a handful of religious extremists, who want to enforce their religious customs while intentionally violating the rights of the majority of the Jewish world,” she said.

Even though the new prayer space had been approved by the government, the plan stalled because of ultra-Orthodox opposition. In September, Israel’s Reform and Conservative movements, together with Women of the Wall, filed a legal petition to force the government to divide the plaza.

]]> 0 Sun, 25 Jun 2017 20:37:06 +0000
Video of Mormon teen revealing she’s gay sparks debate Sat, 24 Jun 2017 20:09:51 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — A video of a young Mormon girl revealing to her congregation that she is lesbian and still loved by God – before her microphone is turned off by local church leaders – is sparking a new round of discussions about how the religion handles LGBT issues.

Savannah, 13, spoke on May 7 in Eagle Mountain, Utah, about her belief that she is the child of heavenly parents who didn’t make any mistakes when she was created. Her comments came during a once-a-month portion of Mormon Sunday services where members are encouraged to share feelings and beliefs.

“They did not mess up when they gave me freckles or when they made me to be gay,” she said, wearing a white shirt and red tie. “God loves me just this way.”

Her mother, Heather Kester, said Friday that her daughter was passionate about coming out in church to be a voice and example for other LGBT children who struggle for acceptance within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She asked that Savannah’s full name be withheld to protect her privacy.

The Mormon religion is one of many conservative faith groups upholding theological opposition to same-sex relationships amid widespread social acceptance and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage. At the same time, the Mormon church is trying to foster an empathetic stance toward LGBT people.

The video, which Kester said was taken by a friend of Savannah who came to support her, generated buzz after it was circulated online this month and featured in a Mormon LGBT podcast.

While some consider Savannah a hero, other Mormons are upset that it was videotaped and is being circulated by church critics to try to paint the church in an unflattering light.

Judd Law, the lay bishop who leads the congregation south of Salt Lake City, said in a statement distributed by church headquarters that Savannah is a “brave young girl” and that the congregation is making sure that she and her family feel loved.

But he called problematic the unauthorized recording and the “disruptive demonstration” by a group of non-Mormon adults who were there.

Law said they exploited the events to politicize worship services and violate church decorum.

“We do not politic in our chapels, and exploiting this recording for political purposes is inconsistent with the nature of our worship services,” he said.

Law didn’t address or explain the decision by two of his counselors to cut the microphone. Law wasn’t at the service that day.

Savannah read from written notes from the pulpit. Kester said she is not Mormon, but her husband is and Savannah has been raised in the religion.

“I do not choose to be this way and this is not a fad,” Savannah told the congregation. “I cannot make someone else gay. … I believe that God wants us to treat each other with kindness, even if people are different, especially if they are different.”

Her microphone was muted after about two minutes – shortly after she said she’s not a “horrible sinner” and that she someday hopes to have a partner, get married and have a family. She turned around to listen to something a man in a suit told her and then was walked down from the pulpit.

Kester said her daughter came and cried in her lap. She told her she was beautiful and that God loved her, Kester said.

“I was devastated for her,” Kester said, adding, “I was angry at how that was handled.”

]]> 0 provided by Heather Kester shows her daughter Savannah, a 13-year-old Mormon girl who told her congregation during a Sunday service that she is gay.Sat, 24 Jun 2017 18:49:50 +0000
Reflections: Think of travel as a spiritual act, for we are one human family Sat, 24 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Since my husband and I were happily able to retire four years ago, one of our chief joys in life is travel. We’ve enjoyed road trips and ocean cruises, winter idylls in tropical places, and spring and fall explorations of different parts of Europe. We almost always have at least two trips in the works, and we do most of the planning ourselves – it’s part of the fun! In each European city we visit, we walk and use public transportation, because it gets us closer to the people who live and work there. We travel light, with only a 21-inch carry-on each, and we bring home almost no souvenirs except pictures, and the personal transformation that getting out of one’s domestic comfort zone offers.

After each trip, we talk together about our memories – the beauty of the landscapes, the wonders of art and history and culture in great museums, churches, synagogues and mosques. But more than any of these, we recall the personal encounters with people, both locals and fellow travelers, around things mundane and profound, particular and universal.

There was the hotel clerk in Amsterdam who considered being fluent in English, but also German, French, Spanish and Portuguese, and of course Dutch, unremarkable, and in fact necessary in order to work. There was the friendly group of young people who made room for us on the patio of a Brussels beer hall, including us in the celebration of the 30th birthday of one of the young men, a rite of passage with dubious overtones because he is, at this advanced age, unmarried. There were people in Berlin going to work and school, running mundane errands and carrying home groceries and children, amidst the Brandenburg Gate and remnants of the Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, reminders of a history that is in books for us, but in the daily lives of Europeans. There was the German couple on vacation in Switzerland, who, when I shared that I was born in Germany, my father an American officer who was part of the occupying force after the war, told us about his father, conscripted into Hitler’s army at gunpoint and killed three days before the war’s end, their family then ostracized because they’d been on the wrong side of history.

And everywhere, there were immigrants: the server in Belgium whose parents were from Syria, the guide in Prague who had followed a job opportunity from Italy; the Scottish historian who found work in Switzerland; the Iranian family running a shop in Augsburg; the American living in Amsterdam because professional opportunities in the art world are there.

Friends at home sometimes ask if we’re worried about terror attacks, given the explosions in Brussels, the Christmas market attack in Berlin, the knife attacks in London, the concert bombing in Manchester. But frankly, we’re more concerned about gun crime in the U.S. than these far less frequent incidents, and we refuse to allow them to keep us from traveling. Our favorite travel writer, Rick Steves, has written about “Travel as a Political Act,” but we think of it also as a spiritual act – an act of solidarity with people whose lives and loves, whose hopes and dreams, whose struggles and joys are in countries and cultures and languages different from our own. For truly, we are one human family, as Lloyd Stone’s stirring lyric says so well:

This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine;

this is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:

but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;

but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:

O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Jun 2017 19:16:09 +0000
Holy month of Ramadan enriches believers Sat, 24 Jun 2017 00:03:37 +0000 NAPERVILLE, Ill. — Not one bite of food or sip of water from sunup to sundown. No alcohol. No sex. No tobacco.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began this year on May 26 and will end June 24, is hard. It’s supposed to be. It’s a time of sacrifice but also a time to focus on God and faith and family.

“We keep reminding people that we do not view Ramadan as a burden,” said Aadil Farid, former president of the Naperville Islamic Center. “We view Ramadan as an opportunity, as a platform, as a tool that enriches our mind, body and soul. It provides us an opportunity to stop and think and reflect. By refraining from food, it allows us to think that we are connected with the entirety of humanity through very basic needs.”

For healthy adults, fasting begins at sunrise, which was 5:24 a.m. on the first day of Ramadan and 5:19 a.m. on the last. Any meal must be consumed before that time. Then it’s no dinner until sunset at about 8:30 p.m. The only people excluded are the elderly, pregnant women, children and those who are ill, although all must still participate in daily prayers and reading from the Quran and can abstain from other things, such as watching television.

Ramadan is divided into three parts that each last 10 days. The final 10 days are considered the most blessed and the most important. “Within those last 10 days is when the first verses of the Quran were actually revealed,” Aadil Farid said.

The month of fasting and prayer is meant to be a time in which people re-assess their lives and improve their relationship with God and others, said Safa Farid, Aadil Farid’s 22-year-old daughter.

“When you’re not focusing on things meant to survive like eating, sleeping and drinking, then you’re more focused on the spiritual side of you,” Safa Farid said. “Then you can focus more on looking into the word of God and seeing what he said and working on your soul essentially.”

During Ramadan, many mosques and Islamic centers offer fast-breaking meals, called iftar, and prayer after sunset. Around 8 p.m. Thursday, people began trickling into the Islamic Center of Naperville in preparation of the end of that day’s fast.

Charity and generosity are particularly emphasized during Ramadan, so many volunteer to set up tables and serve food. “People compete to the extent that everybody wants to serve,” Aadil Farid said. “It is said this month that the reward of any good deed gets multiplied by 70 times normal.”

And for those who cannot fast, “anyone who assists in helping someone break their fast gets the reward that’s like the reward if they were fasting as well,” Safa Farid said.

The fast is traditionally broken with the consumption of dates, which the Prophet Mohammed consumed to break his own fast after God revealed the first verses of the Quran to him. Women eat and pray separate from the men, and the Islamic Center serves dinner to about 450 or 500 people each night.

Because the dates of Ramadan are set by the lunar calendar, the times of meals and prayers will change with the time of year. This year, dinner is served at about 8:45 p.m., and people eat and socialize until about 10 p.m. The food is catered and the menu changes every day.

The last prayer of the day begins about 10:20 p.m. Women pack various rooms in the mosque—those with children under the age of 10 and those who need to sit in chairs while they pray—have their own rooms. Some people leave after the first set of prayers, which this week ended at about 11:15 p.m. Others continue praying until after midnight.

Attendance for the nightly prayers in the first week of Ramadan drew nearly 1,500 people each night, Aadil Farid said. In the last few nights, close to 2,000 people are expected to attend.

Although the message is reinforced that the holy month is a time for self-evaluation, self-improvement and rededication to the faith, many will experience the “Ramadan slump” in the middle of the month, Safa Farid said.

The beginning of Ramadan draws excitement and a sense of community as people get to see their friends and family every day for the nightly prayers that are specific to Ramadan, Farid said.

“After the first week or week-and-a-half, the fatigue kind of starts to kick in from your lack of energy and your lack of sleep,” Farid said. But things kick into high gear at the end, Farid and her father agreed.

]]> 0 Muslim worshipper prays during the holy month of Ramadan as pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 20:10:33 +0000
Pope seeks to encourage Colombian reconciliation Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:20:55 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will preside over a reconciliation ceremony between Colombian victims and former guerrillas during a September visit aimed at consolidating the peace process to end Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict.

Francis will also pay homage to the patron saint of slaves, the 16th century Jesuit priest St. Peter Claver, when he travels to the former slave-trading hub of Cartagena.

The Vatican on Friday released details of Francis’ Sept. 6-11 trip, his fifth to Latin America and the first papal visit to Colombia since St. John Paul II’s pilgrimage in 1986.

Highlights include a Mass in Bogota’s Simon Bolivar park that is expected to draw up to 1 million people. A day later, the pope is scheduled to preside over a prayer for national reconciliation in Villavicencio, a traditional stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Earlier this week, FARC members began the final handover of individual weapons as part of the nation’s historic peace accord, which was signed last year after an initial one was rejected by Colombians in a referendum.

Francis had said he would only come to Colombia once a peace agreement was sealed. He gave a strong push to Colombian negotiators when he visited Cuba in 2015, telling them they didn’t have the right to abandon peace efforts.

In addition to the main peace and reconciliation thrust of the trip, Francis is likely to use his time in Colombia to touch on drug trafficking and Colombia’s cocaine trade, the environment given Colombia’s location in the Amazon rainforest, as well as poverty and social inequality.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Jun 2017 20:13:00 +0000