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Happy Anniversary PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 05 February 2008 09:45

Today my parents, Melba and Ted, celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary! They've been through a lot together, including three children, all of whom are practicing Catholics, and four grandchildren. My parents have always been wonderful examples of faith for me, and I am grateful for that - eternally so, I hope!

My mom is currently in a nursing facility which is part of the senior living campus where they live in Green Valley, AZ. She had not been eating well for some weeks and had lost weight and strength. She's eating more (I'm told) and doing some physical therapy to regain some strength and balance. Please keep her and my dad in your prayers.

The picture above was taken about five years ago when I was living in a small apartment at the University of Arizona Catholic campus ministry.
Extraordinary Grace in Cairo: The Garbage Village of Muqattam PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 05 February 2008 06:25

Simply extraordinary. A riveting story that gives some sense of what God can do when one person answers and is doggedly faithful to a challenging call over a lifetime, even in one of the most difficult places on earth.

I have heard tales of an amazing work taking place among the garbage workers of Cairo since I was an undergrad. So it was
very encouraging to read this article from the February Lausanne World Pulse: Transforming Lives in Cairo's Garbage Villages.

Villagers collect garbage from city apartments and recycle it. They are the most despised group of people in Egyptian society. They are not paid by the government; however, they receive small tips from the people whose garbage they collect. The rest of their income comes from recycling garbage. It is one of the most ecologically efficient operations in the world as 90%of the garbage is recycled. But the human cost is terrible. Muqattam, now a thriving town of 30,000 began in 1970, when a community of several thousand Coptic garbage workers were forcibly resettled in an abandoned quarry at the foot of a small mountain.

Thirty years ago, Fr. Samaan, a Coptic Orthodox priest "gave up his job in the city to become an ordained priest in the garbage village. When he began, the village had no churches, schools, electricity, water, medical care or markets. It was just garbage, people and pigs. When thousands were brought to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, the first thing they wanted to do was build a church—and Father Samaan became their priest. Today, the garbage collectors are filled with love and motivation from God. This is what changed their village. The village is a bustling, hopeful community of thirty thousand people. They still collect garbage; however, they now have three schools, a hospital and many churches.

Blessing in Caves

The churches are located in caves that were blocked by rubble. It was only when one small cave was discovered that residents realised they were surrounded by caves. While that first cave was being converted into a chapel, residents found another one that is now used for church services of up to four thousand people. They soon realised that another cave could be transformed into an enormous amphitheatre to seat fifteen thousand people. “Regular church services are held there and people come from all over Cairo—not just from the garbage village—to worship with other Christians,” Rebecca explains. “It is the only place, other than the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where Christians can meet in large numbers in Egypt.”

Father Samaan now pastors the largest church in the Middle East and one of the best known in Egypt: St. Simon the Tanner Coptic Orthodox Church in the Mokattam garbage village.

The cave churches have become something of a tourist attraction as you can understand when you see this series of pictures of this extraordinary place and its extraordinary community.

Take A Virtual Medieval Pilgrimage to the Holy Land PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 04 February 2008 14:25
Via Boise State, a wonderful virtual medieval pilgrimage to the Holy Land, with lots of pictures, following the adventures of Count Fulk from start to finish.

It is intended to take hours to browse, so don't say I didn't warn you . . .
Good Friends are Like That PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 04 February 2008 10:16
There is a field with two horses in it.

From a distance, each horse looks like any other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing.

Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him.

This alone is amazing. If you stand nearby and listen, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field.

Attached to the horse's halter is a small bell. It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is, so he can follow.

As you stand and watch these two horses, you'll see that the horse with the bell is always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse will listen for the bell and then slowly walk to where the other horse is, trusting that he will not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stops occasionally and looks back, making sure that the blind friend isn't too far behind to hear the bell.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges.

He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives.

Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way....Good friends are like that... you may not always see them, but you know they are always there.

hat tip: Andy Lambros

Give thanks today for the people whose bell you've heard and followed. For whom might you be wearing a bell? Have you looked around to see how they're doing in their walk with Christ, lately?
An Unorthodox Joke PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 04 February 2008 10:07
A man appeared before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. "Have you
ever done anything of particular merit?" St.Peter asked.
"Well, I can think of one thing," the man offered.
"On a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, I
came upon a gang of bikers who were threatening a young woman.
I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn't listen.

So, I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed biker and smacked him in the face, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, and threw it on the ground.
I yelled, "Now, back off, or I'll make you all wish you'd never been born!"

St. Peter was impressed. "When did this happen?"
"Couple of minutes ago."

Note: Just don't go getting the idea that we earn our way to heaven...

hat tip: Patricia Mees Armstrong
An intra-Orthodox Debate: Christ at the Center and the Revolving Door PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 04 February 2008 09:26
A important debate is going on in Orthodox blogdom (which I have become aware of through Fr. Gregory Jensen's fine Koinonia blog)

The topic sounds, oh, so familiar. it is clearly not an issue unique to Catholics.

As articulated by theologian Bradley Nassif in a hard hitting article: The Orthodox Christian Opportunity.

The most urgent need in world Orthodoxy at this time is the need to engage in an aggressive internal mission of spiritual renewal or outright conversion of our clergy and people to Jesus Christ. All of us—bishops, priests, and people—need to make the Gospel crystal clear and absolutely central in our lives and in our parishes. We must constantly recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church.

Read the whole article. As Nassif puts it with considerable passion:

Still, an untold number of converts are coming through the Church like a revolving door: They enter with zeal, but quietly leave depressed and disappointed. Few take notice, and even fewer seek to retrieve them. In some cases, the converts are even blamed by Orthodox for not really knowing the Church or its ways. Good and godly Anglicans, evangelicals, charismatics, and mainline Protestants who could strengthen the Church end up being shunned by Orthodox fundamentalists within it. Legalism replaces love; mere church attendance gets counted as godliness; some priests control their parishioners through fear instead of leading them with a gentle spirit; and the pulpit disagrees with the altar by focusing on moral reform rather than spiritual healing. Now this is not true of all Orthodox parishes, to be sure. But it is true of too many of them not to say something about it.

Converts are leaving our Church in increasing numbers. Not because of a disagreement with Orthodox doctrine, but because of the distortions of Orthodox practice. They or their families are simply not being fed the Gospel, despite all the liturgical celebrations that go on. They are finding our Church to be more about Orthodoxy as a religion than about the life-changing power of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

This past year I have received more letters acknowledging this problem than at any other time in my life—and I’ve been preaching about it for the past 35 years. Orthodox people throughout North America and abroad are asking me how they can help change the Church for the better. They ask, “What can we do to regain the central message of the Gospel in our churches? What needs to be done to make the faith relevant to our everyday lives?”

I don’t have easy answers, but I do know where the answers lie. The Scriptures give us the cure, and their message is not complicated. So I say this every chance I get:

The most urgent need in world Orthodoxy at this time is the need to engage in an aggressive internal mission of spiritual renewal or outright conversion of our clergy and people to Jesus Christ. All of us—bishops, priests, and people—need to make the Gospel crystal clear and absolutely central in our lives and in our parishes. We must constantly recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church.

If that happens, watch out! It will lead to a revival within Orthodoxy itself, and the Church will grow in unprecedented ways. We will figure out how to evangelize the unchurched people of North America, and not just disillusioned Christians of other denominations. We will all recognize that true Orthodoxy is indeed about the Church, but at the center of it all is a life-giving relationship with Christ, who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:17).

As Fr. Gregory observed:

Convincing someone of the truth of the Orthodox faith, in my experience at least, is relatively easy. it is much harder to take people through the often long and labor intensive process of being inquirers, catechumens and then provide them, as newly illumined members of the Church, with the spiritual formation that they need to grow into mature, committed Orthodox Christians who place Christ at the center of their lives.

In every generation, in every tradition, in every one of our lives and vocations, the fundamental question is still the same: is a "life-giving relationship with Christ" at the center?
The Parish as a School of Vocation Discernment PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 04 February 2008 08:50
Hurrah for Russell Shaw and this great article in America (2004) on the "vocation crisis".

D espite all the talk about a vocation shortage, there is in fact no such thing in the Catholic Church. The real shortage is that of vocational discernment, and that is a very different problem. The shortfall in the number of candidates for the priesthood, the consecrated life and other forms of Christian witness and service would quickly disappear if many more Catholics, and ideally all, made it a practice to discern, accept and live out their unique, irreplaceable callings from God—their personal vocations.


Personal vocation puts this matter in a radically different light. Everyone has a personal vocation, an unrepeatable call from God to play a particular role in his redemptive plan and the mission of the church. The task of each is to discern God’s will, accept it and live it out. That is responding to the universal call to be holy.

Contrary to an elitist view of vocational discernment, which tends to treat it as an exercise for a select few, discernment is for everybody. “The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it out,” Pope John Paul II says in his post-synod document on the laity, Christifideles Laici (1989).

To carry out this mandate, parishes need to become schools of vocational discernment—places where liturgy, catechesis and spiritual direction encourage parishioners to engage in continuing, prayerful reflection on what God is asking of them. The effort should start with children (in an age-appropriate manner) and continue with adolescents, young adults and adults at every stage of their life journey. Special opportunities—retreats, days of recollection—should be provided for those who have major vocational choices to make. The aim is discernment, not recruitment.

But, someone might object, won’t emphasizing personal vocation distract people from heeding calls to the priesthood and consecrated life? Won’t it make the real-life vocation shortage worse?

The answer is no. If many more Catholics practiced ongoing discernment regarding their personal vocations, many more would discover that they are called to the priesthood or consecrated life. The best solution to the dearth of new candidates—and to many other problems in contemporary Catholic life as well—is personal vocation. Indeed, it may be the only one.

Yes, yes, yes! a thousand times yes!

As Shaw points out, one possible reason for Catholic distrust of the idea of personal vocation is that it became associated with Martin Luther. Although it is a thoroughly Catholic concept, it has been thought of as "Protestant" and therefore, "not Catholic".

Imagine what would happen if the 19,000 parishes in this country were 19,000 centers of vocational discernment for all the baptized throughout their lives? What if - as we tried to articulate to the seminarians in Houston - priests and pastors were formed to govern - a central part of which is to call forth the charisms and vocations of all the baptized?

The possibilities boggle the mind. And means that the Institute won't stop its traveling ways anytime soon.
Time, Space, and the Computer Age PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 04 February 2008 08:44
And on a related note:

This editorial in today's New York Times about how German teenagers view the collapse of Communism. They don't.

“Communism? What’s that?” said Ricardo Westendorf, 17, a student at the Carl-von-Linné school in what was East Berlin. “I think we talked about it in a history lesson, but I was ill.”

Three other students, born in 1989 and 1990, emitted withering sighs, the kind reserved by kids for parents who can’t get computers to work. Their teacher, Heike Krupa, 45, who lived communism and its East German police enforcer, the Stasi, was taken aback: “I’m a bit surprised they seem to know nothing about it.”

Felix Blanke, 17, another student, said he spent up to 20 hours each weekend on his laptop, holding group conversations via TeamSpeak or using MySpace. These kids’ friends are scattered from the Philippines to Seattle.

“For our parents, it’s all East or West, but for us it’s Germany and the world,” said Pia Von Cossart, 17. “They don’t realize their stories about the old times are boring.”

Hopefully, they will learn, as they grow older, about those who sacrificed so much so that they might grow up ignorant of communism - but there will never have the existential resonance that it has for their parents. The computer age has changed their sense of time and space.

Another symptom of this reality: the last 100 visitors to Intentional Disciples included visitors from 20 countries beside the US.
The Russians and Nigerians and Vietnamese and Sengalese are Coming and Coming and Coming . . . . PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 04 February 2008 07:46
Abolutely fascinating.

The New York Times highlights the small but mighty Migration Information Services, the foremost source of information about migration around the world.

The short version?

Migration is growing everywhere - due to cheap travel, the internet age, the growing wealth of those in the developing world - in short - globalization.

There are 200 million migrants in the world today - probably a historical record and 80% are outside the US. While US wages are about 4 times those available in Mexico, wages in Spain are 15 times those in Senegal - which is why Spanish immigrants have grown 600% over the past 10 years.

One fascinating article about refugee resettlement in the US:

Of the 10 countries that carry out resettlement programs, the United States accepts more than double the number of refugees accepted by the other nine countries combined, resettling approximately 2.5 million people since 1975.

Though comprising only 10 percent of annual immigration to the United States, refugees are a distinct component of the foreign-born population in many US metropolitan areas.

And there are so many implications of this global reality for the debates within the Catholic community in this election year. For instance:

"over 1.4 million Indochinese have been resettled, and together with those from the former Soviet Union, they make up nearly 77 percent of the 2.4 million refugees who have been resettled in the United States since 1975."

My first job out of college was in refugee resettlement. Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Miao, Mien, Black Thai, ethnic Chinese from all over. Now I'm running into the children of those immigrants in seminaries

A couple of reflections:

1) We cannot discern rightly the application of Church teaching in this area unless we have a better understanding of the global reality, of which our experience in the US is only a part and not necessarily the most dramatic example. If globalization means that world-wide migration continues to climb and is a universal reality, what implications does that have for how we understand and implement Catholic social teaching in this area?

2) Multi-culturalism is the future of our clergy - and our parishes - in the US, especially in certain areas of the country. And no group - except possibly Hispanics, is going to be the overwhelming majority. (One of our priest C & C teachers has just been made pastor of the largest parish in his diocese, which is 80% Spanish-speaking!)

That means that the debates that have riven the Anglo Catholic world over the past 40 years - especially those that rose from the implementation of Vatican II - will take their place as one concern among many. The debates and concerns of these new immigrant groups are different because their historical experience is different.

The New York Times article about Migration Information Service ends with this anecdote provided by MIS's one staff person:

As for the difficulties that migration can bring, Ms. Kalia encountered them early when her uncle, who is Dutch and a Catholic priest, flew to California to baptize her baby brother. Her Hindu grandmother lived with the family, and locked herself in her bedroom, beside a Lord Krishna poster, until the uncle promised to desist.
Tag. You're It! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 03 February 2008 21:44
I was tagged by Fr. Gregory Jensen while in Houston.

Here are the rules:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

The nearest book was sitting on my deck next to my computer: The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin. Honest.

p. 123:

that you may stand before God with as much zest as reverence, not sluggish, not drowsy, not yawning, not sparing
your voices, not leaving words half-said or skipping them, not wheezing through the nose with an effeminate stammering, in a weak and broken tone, but pronouncing the words of the Holy Spirit with becoming manliness and resonance and affection,
and corrently; that while you chant you ponder on nothing but what you chant

Many spiritual directors, including some of the saints, offer suggestions concerning methods in prayer. Francis de Sales, very
much influenced by his own experience of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, offers some suggested structures and formats for the practice of meditation and prayer. He suggests six steps as a guide to moving through a time of prayer.

1. Play yourself in the presence of God. Remember that God is near, not far away. He is in the very depth of your heart, your spirit. Being all your prayers, whether mental or vocal, in the presence of God.

Now I'm supposed to tag 5 people:

I tag Mark Shea, Fr. Mike, Gashwin Gomes, Aimee Milburn, and Tom Kreitzberg.

Elder Brothers and Sisters PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 03 February 2008 11:06
A Cuban-born Jewish banker calls John Paul II "his hero" . Interesting.

15 years ago, Bernardo Benes received a copy of Letter to a Jewish Friend. Letter to a Jewish Friend was
written by longtime Vatican observer Gian Franco Svidercoschi and tells the story of the friendship between the young Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, and his Jewish school buddy, Jerzy Kluger. But for Benes, it revealed much more: The story of a childhood that foreshadowed the pope's efforts to build bridges to the Jewish community.

'By the time I finished reading this little book, John Paul had become a hero of mine,'' Benes says. ``I saw how he had had a lifetime commitment to better relations with Jews, and as a pope he had changed 2000 years of injustice.''

When John Paul II died in 2004, Bene attended the Pope's funeral in Rome where he met Jerzy Kuger. When Bene returned home, he felt that he had to continue the work that John Paul II had begun. Bene founded Our Elder Brothers and Sisters to do so through education.

If you are interested in Catholic-Jewish relations, this is a great group to check out.
Back PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 03 February 2008 10:12
We had a great trip to St. Mary's. A very hospitable and even occasionally rowdy crowd. Good reception and lots of good conversations with the international student body. More Anglo students than some seminary groups I've encountered but still lots of students from Nigeria, South America, Ireland, all studying for various Texas and Arkansas dioceses. etc.

St. Mary's has a most interesting event scheduled next week: the Institute for Priestly Formationn out of Creighton is offering a symposium on the priest as spiritual healer at St. Mary's. How I would love to be a fly on the that wall and listen in!

Relentless schedule. Only problem was no sound system Thursday evening which mean I had to strain my voice shouting to 60+ guys (and one woman - a sister) in an acoustically dead classroom. This greatly exacerbated the remnants of the cold I picked up in Seattle and my voice and throat became very irritated.

Got back at 11 am yesterday and went to bed. Have slept 13 of the past 23 hours. Plan to do as little talking and high energy stuff as possible over next 5 days until I leave for my next trip: three events in three states over 9 days.

But I can still blog! More in a bit.
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