[Editor's Note: John Allen is posting daily reports from Brazil during Pope Benedict XVI's May 9-13 to São Paolo and Aparecida, in conjunction with the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM). Read Allen's daily reports at his Daily News and Updates column on NCRcafe.org.]
All Things Catholic
Editors Note: May 9-13, Pope Benedict XVI will visit São Paolo and Aparecida, Brazil, in conjunction with the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM). John Allen will be travelling on the papal plane, and will be posting reports on the trip to his Daily News and Updates column on NCRcafe.org.
For a pope often styled as Euro-centric, the Brazil trip offers a vital opportunity for Benedict XVI to convince the people of the southern hemisphere, which includes two-thirds of the 1.1 billion Catholics in the world today, that they, too, stand at the center of his pastoral concern.
When people pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news, they generally aren't looking for a Sunday school lesson. This creates a challenge for journalists covering religious leaders, since most of their public utterances are devoted either to expounding their faith, or urging people to behave. The way reporters solve the problem is by combing through those utterances to find statements presumed to have broad, non-sectarian significance, normally because they apply to matters of politics or culture.
To the growing list of indications that something is imminent with regard to the long-awaited document from Pope Benedict XVI authorizing wider use of the pre-Vatican II Mass, I can add one item this week.
An April 3 letter from Cardinal Walter Kasper, who among other things heads the Vatican's Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, responds to concerns from the International Council of Christians and Jews about the pre-Vatican II Mass, in light of controversial passages it contains regarding Judaism. The last sentence of Kasper's letter, the text of which I have, is the key line: "While I do not know what the pope intends to state in his final text, it is clear that the decision that has been made cannot now be changed."
Perhaps the boldest Easter message in the world this year came from the Catholic bishops of Zimbabwe, who unambiguously told their country's aging dictator, Robert Mugabe, that he either has to go, or face "open revolt." The warning came in a pastoral letter posted in Catholic churches across the country, improbably transforming parish bulletin boards into popular gathering places.
Imagine a media outlet running a "breaking news" story that the earth was completing its nocturnal rotation, and that dawn would shortly be breaking. Given that we all pretty much expect the sun to come up, I suppose most of us would wonder what exactly the news is.
If any corner of the globe should bear the imprint of Catholic values, it's Latin America. Catholicism has enjoyed a spiritual monopoly in the region for more than 500 years, and today almost half the 1.1 billion Catholics alive are Latin Americans. Moreover, Latin Americans take religion seriously; surveys show that belief in God, spirits and demons, the afterlife, and final judgment is near-universal.
Although Roman Catholicism may be a boy's club on top, it's an open secret that without women at every other level, the church would grind to a halt. Often these contributions come behind the scenes, but every so often a particular Catholic woman's vision and accomplishments make her a celebrity. Such was the case with Mother Teresa, and in the small Central American nation of Honduras, such is the case with another formidable nun: Franciscan Sr. Maria Rosa Leggol, founder of the Sociedad Amigos de los Niños.
I suspect the most common reaction to news this week that the Vatican has censured Jesuit Fr. Jon Sobrino, a pioneer of liberation theology and a former advisor to Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, will be, "Why now?" After all, the titanic battles over liberation theology were fought during the 1970s and '80s. Should we also expect the Holy See, some may wryly ask, to condemn eight-track tapes, or "Miami Vice"?
For three years in the mid-1990s, James Wuye, a Pentecostal preacher and former leader of an anti-Muslim Christian militia, worked tirelessly to launch a pioneering new effort in Christian/Muslim harmony in his blood-soaked region of northern Nigeria. And for almost every day of those three years, he harbored a secret, burning urge: to smother his Muslim partner, Imam Muhammad Ashafa, with a pillow.