Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights confirmed that it is investigating allegations that Catholic University violated the human rights of Muslim students by not allowing them to form a Muslim student group and by not providing them rooms without Christian symbols for their daily prayers. The investigation alleges that Muslim students “must perform their prayers surrounded by symbols of Catholicism – e.g., a wooden crucifix, paintings of Jesus, pictures of priests and theologians which many Muslim students find inappropriate.” A spokesperson for the Office of Human Rights told Fox News they had received a 60-page complaint against the private university. The investigation, they said, could take as long a six months. The complaint was filed by John Banzhaf, an attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School. Banzhaf has been involved in previous litigation against the school involving the same-sex residence halls. He also alleged in his complaint involving Muslim students that women at the university were being discriminated against. Banzhaf said some Muslim students were particularly offended because they had to meditate in the school’s chapels “and at the cathedral that looms over the entire campus – the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It shouldn’t be too difficult somewhere on the campus for the university to set aside a small room where Muslims can pray without having to stare up and be looked down upon by a cross of Jesus,” he told Fox News. A spokesman for Catholic University released a statement to Fox News indicating they had not seen any legal filings — but would respond once they do. “Our faithfulness to our Catholic tradition has also made us a welcome home to students of other religions,” said Victor Nakas, associate vice president for public affairs. “No students have registered complaints about the exercise of their religions on our campus.” In a 2010 interview with National Public Radio, university president John Garvey acknowledged that they don’t set aside prayer rooms for Muslim students. “We make classrooms available, or our chapels are places where they can pray,” he told NPR. “We don’t offer Halal meat, although there are always meals that conform to Halal regulations, that allow students to do what they want.” Banzhaf said that it is technically not illegal for Catholic University to refuse to provide rooms devoid of religious icons. “It may not be illegal, but it suggests they are acting improperly and probably with malice,” he said. “They do have to pray five times a day, they have to look around for empty classrooms and to be sitting there trying to do Muslim prayers with a big cross looking down or a picture of Jesus or a picture of the Pope is not very conductive to their religion.” As for the creation of a Muslim student group, Banzhaf said the university has an association of Jewish students – so why not a Muslim group? “I think they are entitled as a matter of law to be able to form a Muslim student association and to have the same privileges as associations,” he said. “I think that most of them would much prefer to have a place to pray – that they are not surrounded by various Catholic symbols – a place that is more conductive to their religious beliefs than being surrounded by pictures of Popes.” Garvey, in his 2010 interview with NPR, addressed that issue. “It’s just not something that we view as an activity that we want to sponsor because we’re a Catholic institution rather than Muslim,” he said. Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization that promotes Catholic identity among Catholic schools, seemed stunned by the complaint. “I don’t know what the attorney wants them to do – if he wants them to actually move the Basilica or if the Muslim students can find someplace where they don’t have to look at it,” he told Fox News. Catholic University, he said, is a Catholic institution. “One wouldn’t expect a Jewish institution to be responsible for providing liturgical opportunities for other faiths and I wouldn’t expect a Catholic institution to do that,” he said. “This attorney is really turning civil rights on its head,” he said. “He’s using the law for his own discrimination against the Catholic institution and essentially saying Catholic University cannot operate according to Catholic principles.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Helping people understand how the sin of racism undermines society's ability to overcome violence and economic injustice is the top priority for Sister Patricia Chappell as the new executive director of Pax Christi USA. "People really have to acknowledge that racism is a deep integral sin in our country and we have to admit it continues to be an institutional sin," Sister Patricia told Catholic News Service October 24, shortly after the organization announced she would succeed David Robinson as head of the nationwide Catholic peace organization. "We have to acknowledge that, but then we have to be able to find ways to move forward, not just get stuck on the emotional piece of it all," said Sister Patricia, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Connecticut province. Her appointment closes Pax Christi's year of transition, which also saw the organization move its national headquarters from Erie, Pa., to Washington in order to work more closely with many Catholic and other faith-based organizations on a variety of justice issues. The role of racism in injustice has been a concern of Pax Christi USA for 20 years and has been the motivating factor for the organization's leader to undertake a years-long initiative to become a multicultural, anti-racist Catholic peace and justice movement. Sister Patricia also said she wants to reach people in the pews to understand that Pax Christi's work is rooted in Catholic social teaching. "We have to try to find some kind of way of having the priorities make sense to the ordinary people in the pew. We've got to move it from an abstract theoretical concept to making it real for the people in the pews and trying to find practical ways where we can invite people to be part of this movement," she explained.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The pictures of death this week were very disturbing. First were the pictures of the animals killed in Ohio. Appraently their owner took his own life after releasing the animals from their pens. I was especially saddened by the pictures of the tigers who were killed. Their situation in the world is so precarious as their numbers continue to dwindle. It is too bad that the law enforcement officials couldn't have tranquilized them instead but I understand the seriousness of the situation and they appear to have made the right decision based on protecting human life. The second more disturbing picture was that of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's lifeless body. Equally disturbing was the chorus of cheers when the images appeared to the public. The world seems to be embracing what Pope John Paul II described as the "Culture of Death." We know that President Obama is an adherent of this ideology as he demonstrated on his first day in office by allocating funds to murder babies. He also trumpeted the death of Gadhafi in a press conference. A pattern has emerged with him as this is the second national leader that Mr. Obama has claimed to have facilitated the operation and approved of the method. I understand the rules of engagement for war. Is this what we really want our world to be? I can't help but think of Jesus imploring us to be peacemakers in his sermon on the mount. Let me be clear. Gadhafi was an evil man. His atrocities have been well documented and he should not have been leading a country. His actions have led to misery and sadness for many people and it should have been ended a long time ago. That being said, we must stop and think deeply about how he was killed. Does this point to a more brutal world that handles its problems with violence? In John 16:33 Jesus says, "I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." Jesus' way is not the way of the world and we are called to make a difference in this world. I pray that more peacemakers stand up and say "enough" to this culture of death.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Newsday is reporting that Susan Sarandon referred to Pope Benedict XVI as a Nazi in an interview this past weekend. The actress, who portrayed Sister Helen Prejean in the movie Dead Man Walking, repeated the comment later in the interview. That indicates that she was fully aware of what she was saying. How can she ever be taken seriously again? Referring to the Pope as a Nazi? She was apparently making this remark because Pope Benedict, as required by Adolph Hitler, joined the Hitler Youth. It has been well documented that the Pope also deserted from the organization at his own peril. I am not sure of the motives of Ms. Sarandon. I am also not aware of her spiritual life although I would love to sit and have a conversation with her. I do know that Sr. Helen has not only met with her but apparently maintains a ongoing friendship with her. I pray that Sr. Helen has a frank conversation with Ms. Saradon about her recent comments. Vilifying the Pope to garner press coverage seems to be a desperate plea for attention. This situation reminds me of the internal struggle that we all experience. The self-doubt and inner critic is always at work. That is what is so comforting about having the Holy Spirit to counter-balance this negativity. Taking the time to quiet ourselves and remove ourselves from all of the world's noise is essential if we are to honor our commitment to God. He is always there to aid our spiritual growth. He wants to see us be successful and to love ourselves. It is key to being able to love others. So the incident with Ms. Saradon and her deplorable comments merely reflects what is happening in her life. We can all learn from this very public mistake.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Slowly and carefully, the Vatican is setting the stage for the third edition of the interreligious "prayer for peace" encounter in the Italian pilgrimage town of Assisi. The October 27 event marks the 25th anniversary of the first such gathering. As in 1986, it is expected to draw representatives from many Christian denominations and more than a dozen other faiths. In convening the prayer summit, Pope Benedict XVI is clearly reaffirming the ecumenical and interreligious outreach of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II. But the German pope has also marked out his own course, with modifications and additions that, in the Vatican's view, leave the event less open to misinterpretation. For one thing, the participants will not pray together -- at least, not in a formal fashion. They will gather at the end of the day for a moment of silence and testimonials to peace. Although the border between prayer and reflection may be ambiguous in such encounters, it appears that Assisi 2011 will not repeat the formula of 1986, when representatives of each major religion offered a prayer at a final joint service. Just as 25 years ago, participants will break off during the day for separate prayer services. But the difference is that this time around the prayers will be private moments in a cloistered monastery, not public performances throughout the town of Assisi. In 1986, what generated the most interest among the media troops who went to Assisi were these very colorful and distinct forms of prayer, many of which took place inside Catholic places of worship. Buddhist monks chanted to the sound of a bronze gong. An animist from Ghana started a fire in a cup. A tribal chief from Togo invited spirits to enter a bowl of water. A Native American "blessed" people on the head with eagle feathers. For a few hours, Assisi seemed like a spiritual kaleidoscope, with clouds of smoke, sheep-hair amulets, tambourines and multi-colored robes. And it left some critics with the impression that Christian and non-Christian elements were being mixed together inappropriately. The program for this year's encounter appears designed to ensure that the private prayers will not have a public audience.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I love going to the beach. Not to sit out and bake in the sun, although if you are careful, that is a perfectly acceptable reason to go. No, I love the beach for the sand and water. Is there anything more relaxing than sitting and listening to the waves crash against the shore. It never stops and it can send you into a wonderful lull. It is a great place to clear your mind and hold a conversation with God our Father. There is a song that tells us that God knows how many grains of sand exist in our world. Isn't that amazing? When you look at the beech, have you ever imagined how many grains of sand there are? Besides the fact that new sand is being creating each second as the water continues to pound the shore. If God knows how many grains of sand exist, it reveals a deeper point about our relationship with Him. Clearly God knows everything about each one of us. Another interesting point is that God is constantly thinking of us. I know that He thinks of each one of us at least once a day. That is a comforting thought. I know that my God loves me and that He is thinking of me. Over the course of a lifetime, that is a lot of care and thoughtfulness. Do we ever acknowledge this type of support from God? Are we thinking about God each day? Some of us can go weeks or months without ever thinking of God. But God constantly thinks about us. We also know that God was thinking of us before we were born. Truly our God is marvelous and wonderful. God was invested in our lives even before we were born. It is comforting to know that God never has too much on his mind and is always thinking of us. That fact is something that should give us courage and strength. It should allow us to live our lives without fear and it should inspire us to live our lives in a new way starting today.