Provocative art put Catholic nun in the middle of 1960s maelstrom

WASHINGTON -- Combining images and words from advertising, pop culture and religion, the bold graphic art of Sr. Mary Corita was as deeply representative of the spirit of the 1960s as it was ubiquitous in church basements, dorm rooms and urban communes of people involved in the struggle for civil rights and the campaign to end the Vietnam War.

After years of struggle, churches cheer anti-nuke pact

When President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in Prague today a new agreement on nuclear weapons, it marks one more step in the religious community's long campaign to reduce, if not end, the threat of nuclear war.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, aims to reduce each country's deployed strategic warheads to about 1,550 each, and cut the number of launchers from the currently permitted 1,600 to 800. It would also cap nuclear-armed missiles and bombers.

For Christian denominations both at home and abroad, it will represent a major victory in a campaign that has waxed and waned since the first atomic bombs were dropped at the end of World War II.

On August 20, 1945, just days after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Protestant leaders issued a statement expressing their "unmitigated condemnation" of the attacks.

Less than a year later, a commission that included theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and John C. Bennett issued a full-bodied report that declared, "We have sinned grievously against the laws of God" in using nuclear weapons.

40 years later, Merton's legacy looms large

TRAPPIST, Ky. -- Around the country for the next few weeks, many Roman Catholics will remember and honor the life of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who died 40 years ago on Dec. 10, 1968, in a freak electrocution accident.

Merton, who influenced generations of believers with both his monastic lifestyle and his prodigious writings -- some 60 books were published during his lifetime, and about as many in the 40 years since his death-- is especially noted for bringing spirituality to the laity.

A documentary on Merton's life and legacy, "Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton," will air on PBS stations nationwide on Dec. 14.

"The essence of Merton's spirituality is, I think, the humanity of it, that he really speaks to ordinary people," said Paul Pearson, director and archivist of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.

"He knows so well the great classics of Christian spirituality, but he can interpret them in a way that people in our world today can understand and relate to."

At the time Merton rose to prominence, the church was still firmly hierarchical.