“Abortion is bad karma”

That was only one sign seen at the March for Life in Washington D.C. Friday, carried by the Hare Krishnas. Feminists for Life were there, Atheists for Life, and members of the gay Republican group GOProud joined the March this year, because they’re all against abortion. And for human dignity. For all human beings.

That’s the message, the one Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘got’ and stood for and dedicated themselves to in their work in whatever way they could. Which is why this momentous week that opened on Martin Luther King Day was a very big one for the national debate on human rights. Especially since the most pro-abortion president in American history was sworn in on Dr. King’s day, with his hand on a Lincoln Bible and a King Bible. If only he dedicated his presidency to that cause of just laws for “all God’s children” as Dr. King said, and “the millions as yet unborn” as President Lincoln said, he could serve the  great and noble  “common good” to which politicians refer so often, loosely.

Something different was in the air this year at the March for Life, participants said all day through their Tweets and Facebook posts and text messages and radio interviews. The cause was the same, the determination and dedication were the same, certainly the bad weather was the same (bitter cold), even the growing numbers of pro-life ralliers continued the consistency of growing, this year to over half a million strong. And mostly young people. So very many young people, with countless buses of high school and college students from all over the country converging on the Mall of Washington and student organizations carrying banners and chanting with zeal that they’re the pro-life generation.

‘Maybe it’s the 40th anniversary of Roe that made it seem different,’ several said. But I heard more than a few wonder out loud what else it was, because they felt invigorated and fortified in a new way.  The Washington Post suggested there would be a significant difference this year because of the changing of the guard, the new head of the event who brought a new focus to the cause.

[Jeanne] Monahan embodies the movement’s transition. The photogenic, warm former federal government policy worker was picked in November to take over the March for Life after the death of Nellie Gray, the hard-line, media-unfriendly 88-year-old who ran the massive event almost single-handedly out of her home. Despite being an event primarily of youth, until last year the march had a bare-bones Web site and no accounts on Twitter or Facebook…

Monahan’s charge is to modernize the march for a country that is becoming more conflicted about abortion even as it remains steadfastly committed to the Roe ruling and the value of personal choice. For the movement’s next generation of leaders, the question is whether those two things can coexist. Should the focus remain on Roe and changing laws to limit access to abortion, or has that left a legacy too judgmental for younger Americans? Should the emphasis shift to changing minds and hearts, particularly of women who are pregnant and don’t want to be?

It’s not either/or for the wide pro-life movement made of many different intiatives and organizations. It’s both/and. Pregnancy help centers continue to spread all over the country, always near abortion clinics, offering women a real and true choice, with any help she may need in a crisis pregnancy, whether medical. financial, legal, material or emotional. They’re doing heroic work.

So are many, many others, trying to change laws and hearts and minds.

The Silent No More Awareness Campaign gives voice to women who regret their abortions and finally want to speak out about the reality of its ravages.

Rachel’s Vineyard has steadfastly supported women and does amazing work helping women and families heal.

Women are individually helping other women and the culture in general by sharing their very personal experiences in columns and blog posts, and writing opinion pieces like this, about the beauty of maternity and what Pope John Paul II called the “feminine genius,” recalling women to important truths in a ‘theology of the body’ way.

This was a beautiful thing that came together for the terrible reason that ending the life of an unborn child on demand for any reason at all is the law. And the sea of humanity at that March showed the happy faces of just about every demographic and profile that makes up America and many from beyond these shores. They were there because every human life has dignity. No exceptions.

And Pope Benedict sent out a tweet to encourage them all, each and every one.

“I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.”

Pope says ‘we’re all in this together’

Though paraphrased and abbreviated, that message isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Pope Benedict found a characteristically nice way of saying the destiny of each of us is inextricably linked to the destiny of all of us. His message is not exactly stating the obvious. So it calls for some attention.

“The challenges we are currently facing are numerous and complex, and can be overcome only if we reinforce our awareness that the destiny of each of us is linked to that of everyone else. For this reason … acceptance, solidarity and legality are fundamental values”.

He made these remarks to an annual meeting with Roman and provincial officials.

The Pope went on: “The present crisis can, then, be an opportunity for the entire community to verify whether the values upon which social life is founded have generated a society that is just, fair and united, or whether it is necessary to undertake a profound rethink in order to rediscover values which … not only favour economic recovery, but which are also attentive to promoting the integral good of human beings”.

That’s the Pope’s nice way of saying we need a profound rethink at this time.

Benedict XVI expressed the view that the roots of the current crisis lie in “individualism which clouds the interpersonal dimension of man and leads him to close himself into his own little world, concerned first and foremost with satisfying his own needs and desires with scant concern for others”. The consequences of such a mentality are “speculation in housing, increasing difficulty for young people to enter the world of work, the solitude suffered by so many elderly, the anonymity which often characterises urban life, and the sometimes superficial attention paid to situations of marginalisation and poverty”.

The first step towards creating a more human society is “to rediscover relationships as the constituent element of our lives”.

This little address is loaded.

Acceptance must be accompanied by solidarity, because “charity and justice require that, in times of need, those with the greatest resources should look after the disadvantaged”.

Over the past year of global financial crises, I’ve been looking for the human story at the center of it all. Most major media neglect that aspect. But I’ve found a kindred spirit in finance expert Lydia Fisher, Cinderella of Wall Street, who I’ve made a frequent guest on my radio show. Our conversations are as compelling as her insights, which appear in her business blog on Huffington Post. This latest one converges with the humanistic message Benedict emphasized.

Industrialized nations face a humanistic challenge — big debts, stalled or slow growth, maybe for years to come. Yet, promises and obligations remain.

A while back, I watched an interview with Mortimer Adler. One of many interviews and writings, covering topics such as justice, truth, beauty and much more.

Mortimer Adler was an American philosopher, best remembered for editing the Great Books of Western Civilization. I was particularly struck by what Adler said at the end of this interview which derived from a quote of his:

“Everyone is called to one common human vocation — that of being a good citizen and a thoughtful human being… — and that, to discharge the obligation common to all human beings, schooling should be essentially humanistic…”

These messages are converging, and I’m happy to say it’s about time we hear this side of the global crisis story.

Humanistic means keeping the interests and welfare of others in mind. If we’re taught the humanistic, it’s likely that we’d aspire to integrate this into our professional lives and lives at large. After all, we seek coaches and mentors for just about everything else.

Take the late Czech President Vaclav Havel as an example of a “good citizen.” He was a moral voice and beacon of hope for many.

He notes that:

“Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance….”

The thrust of his later writings and speeches was that Communism had made everyone morally ill, or “spiritually impoverished,” in another phrase of his, and it was humanity’s task to recover what had been forfeited.

When you’re on the track of human dignity and pursuit of a just and moral order, things converge in surprising ways. I was just given the opportunity to interview Vaclav Havel’s former General Secretary next week, on his new book that has at its core the message that crisis leads to change. How exquisitely timely.

Pope and Queen address their people

They both faced the somber realities of 2011, which took no break for the holidays.

Queen Elizabeth’s message centered on hope amidst crises, and the whole world has experience with both, though it’s short on the former. But her focus on family and community is important and good to hear.

“We’ve seen that it’s in hardship that we often find strength from our families; it’s in adversity that new friendships are sometimes formed; and it’s in a crisis that communities break down barriers and bind together to help one another,” she said.

“Families, friends and communities often find a source of courage rising up from within.

“Indeed, sadly, it seems that it is tragedy that often draws out the most and the best from the human spirit.”

The Queen, who is a great-grandmother, also talked about the Commonwealth’s “family”, with its “shared beliefs” and “mutual values”.

She added…

“The importance of family has, of course, come home to Prince Philip and me personally this year with the marriages of two of our grandchildren, each in their own way a celebration of the God-given love that binds a family together,” she said.

She spoke of the importance of forgiveness and said the world was “going through difficult times”.

“Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas,” she said.

“Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people’.”

The monarch also said: “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.”

And blind hatred that leads to violence, evident even on Christmas Day, as Pope Benedict addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s and the world listening in.

Pope Benedict XVI issued pleas for peace to reign across the world during his traditional Christmas address Sunday, a call marred by Muslim extremists who bombed a Catholic church in Nigeria, striking after worshippers celebrated Mass.

The assault on the Catholic church left 35 dead in Madalla, near the Nigerian capital. A failed bombing also occurred near a church in the city of Jos, followed by a shooting that killed a police officer. The blast came a year after a series of Christmas Eve bombs in Jos claimed by Islamist militants killed 32.

Benedict didn’t refer explicitly to the Nigerian bombings in his “Urbi et Orbi” speech, Latin for “to the city and to the world” in which he raises alarm about world hotspots. But in a statement, the Vatican called the attacks a sign of “cruelty and absurd, blind hatred” that shows no respect for human life.

It’s been a year for radical acts and measures. Queen Elizabeth and Pope Benedict emphasized what most other major public figures miss: pride, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Times and climate changed with Pope’s visit

This World Youth Day seemed different.

They each have their own unique character and memories of the big moments. But this time, the cultural climate and the natural one were more drastic.

The Irish Times:

WORLD YOUTH Day pilgrims struggled against wind, rain and lightning storms in Madrid overnight on Saturday during an outdoor vigil and Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI and attended by more than a million people.

Even the Pope was affected, briefly losing his zucchetto (the white hat he wears) in the high winds midway through the vigil.

The sudden change in weather after sundown was a cruel twist of fate following, as it did, a scorching day where pilgrims had chased fire trucks circling inside the Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome just to be sprayed with cool water.

Temperatures had reached 40 degrees at one stage in the afternoon and some 700 people suffered from heat-related problems, according to medical teams.

All that changed as the Pope took to the altar at 9pm when the winds that blew in the storm reached such a high level that one of the temporary chapels on the site collapsed, injuring several people.

“Pretty much everywhere you looked there were patches of lightning and then this horizontal rain started, so umbrellas were no use – not that we had any,” said Maeve Delargy (23), from Mount Merrion in Dublin.

After a break, during which Pope Benedict had to leave the altar, the vigil continued and the festival-like atmosphere that had permeated the event throughout the week returned, despite the occasional showers.

“The more important thing is that everyone is here and that everyone is in the same spirit – it is about a community atmosphere and that’s what we have now,” said Síofra Kelly…

The size of the crowd was breathtaking, stretching as far as the eye could see. Flags from countless countries and dioceses dotted the skyline…

Crowd estimates were between 1.5 and 2 million.

The New York Times paid attention.

Pope Benedict XVI closed the religious ceremonies of World Youth Day on Sunday with a giant Mass in which he told young people to “swim against the tide” and abide by the principles of the Catholic Church despite broader changes in society. 

…the huge and ebullient welcome for the pope provided a powerful demonstration of his influence, even at a time when church attendance has been dwindling in Roman Catholic countries like Spain.

At the end of Sunday’s Mass, the pope announced that the next such event would be in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. Until then, he told those at the service, in Portuguese, that they “will be swimming against the tide in a society with a relativistic culture, which wishes neither to seek nor hold on to the truth.”

While about 70 percent of Spain’s residents consider themselves to be Catholics, the percentage attending church has fallen sharply, and the number of civil weddings overtook religious ones in 2009.

Still, the economic downturn has shown the importance of religious charities, at a time when the government has imposed severe austerity cuts to help resolve its debt problems. About 800,000 people in Spain fell into poverty from 2007 to 2010, according to a report published last month by Cáritas, a Catholic charity.   

Besides being an opportunity for the Catholic Church to strengthen its support, the event should be seen as a call for “greater social engagement,” said Cristóbal Fones, a priest and musician visiting from Chile.

Still, most of the teenagers, dressed in the event’s official yellow T-shirt and waving their national flags, said the highlight had been seeing the pope…

This is remarkable.

News media skip World Youth Day

And thus, one of the biggest stories on the planet right now. Certainly, the most positive and hopeful one at the moment.

Where are all the social commentaries now? After weeklong rioting and violence in London by hostile youth mobs seized world media attention in continuous news cycles filled with political and social analysis, we have a weeklong ‘event’ in another European capital with a million young people pouring in from all over the globe and it’s largely and intentionally ignored by big media.

Never mind them. Here’s the story.

On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival in Madrid, the young people of the world gathered to welcome their Holy Father to the third World Youth Day he has presided over since his election in 2005.

This started with the ‘John Paul II Generation,’ but the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid designated this WYD as a turning point, marked by new realities young people are facing and answering in the ‘Benedict Generation.’

A massive Festival of Reconciliation, where confessions were heard in more than 10 languages, was inaugurated in Retiro Park — Madrid’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park — all fulfilling Pope Benedict’s desire that this World Youth Day be marked by a dedication to the formation of the young in the truths of the Catholic faith.

(more on that point in a moment…) 

Prior to the Holy Father’s arrival, the night of Aug. 16 belonged to both Pope John Paul II, the great friend of the world’s young people, and the Catholic faith of Spain…

It was marked by recalling the past and continuing spiritual presence of Blessed Pope John Paul II in the lives of young Catholics throughout the world. Cardinal Ruoco also called his fellow citizens of Spain to remember their Catholic roots and to see the week ahead as an opportunity to renew and strengthen their ancient faith. 

(again, hold that thought…)

In his homily during the “Mass of Blessed Pope John Paul II,” the newly approved liturgy since the late Pope’s beatification in May, the 74-year-old cardinal invoked the name of the Polish Pope more than a dozen times…

I’m talking about the unforgettable, venerable and beloved John Paul II — the Pope of youth! With John Paul II begins a new historical period, unprecedented, with respect to the Successor of Peter’s relationship with the youth, and, consequently, a relationship that until then did not exist between the Church and her young: direct, immediate, heart to heart, imbued with a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, enthusiastic, hopeful, joyful, contagious.”

With these words, a spontaneous and lengthy applause broke out across the plaza, and hundreds of national flags were waved in the steamy, 90-degree evening air, including two flags representing communist China, flags which are not normally seen at large Catholic gatherings.

Get that? This is a hugely important human event. Benedict is talking to them about ‘the full measure of what it means to be human’, about totalitarianism, lack of reference to God, utilitarian ideologies closed to reason, and the authentic idea of a university and the search for truth. He quoted Plato: ‘Seek truth while you are young, for if you don’t it will later escape your grasp.’

And much more….

So about those references to calling these young people to renew and strengthen their heritage in an ancient faith, John Allen sketches out this early but accurate and finely detailed ‘big picture’ of what’s happening in Madrid this week.

This is an important analysis.

The big picture is the following: World Youth Day offers the clearest possible proof that the Evangelical movement coursing through Catholicism today is not simply a “top-down” phenomenon, but also a strong “bottom-up” force.

“Evangelical Catholicism” is a term being used to capture the Catholic version of a 21st century politics of identity, reflecting the long-term historical transition in the West from Christianity as a culture-shaping majority to Christianity as a subculture, albeit a large and influential one…

Historically speaking, Evangelical Catholicism isn’t really “conservative,” because there’s precious little cultural Catholicism these days left to conserve. For the same reason, it’s not traditionalist, even though it places a premium upon tradition. If liberals want to dialogue with post-modernity, Evangelicals want to convert it – but neither seeks a return to a status quo ante. Many Evangelical Catholics actually welcome secularization, because it forces religion to be a conscious choice rather than a passive inheritance. As the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, the dictionary definition of an Evangelical Catholic, once put it, “We’re really at the dawn of Christianity.”

Paradoxically, this eagerness to pitch orthodox Catholicism as the most satisfying entrée on the post-modern spiritual smorgasbord, using the tools and tactics of a media-saturated global village, makes Evangelical Catholicism both traditional and contemporary all at once.

This is a most incisive piece, to be taken seriously.

You’ll get Evangelical Catholicism badly wrong, however, if you think of it exclusively as a top-down movement. There’s also a strong bottom-up component, which is most palpable among a certain segment of the younger Catholic population.

We’re not talking about the broad mass of twenty- and thirty-something Catholics, who are all over the map in terms of beliefs and values. Instead, we’re talking about that inner core of actively practicing young Catholics who are most likely to discern a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, most likely to enroll in graduate programs of theology, and most likely to pursue a career in the church as a lay person — youth ministers, parish life coordinators, liturgical ministers, diocesan officials, and so on. In that sub-segment of today’s younger Catholic population, there’s an Evangelical energy so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Needless to say, the groups I’ve just described constitute the church’s future leadership.

….

For the most part, it’s a mistake to diagnose this trend in ideological terms, as if it’s about the politics of left vs. right. For today’s younger Catholics, it’s more a matter of generational experience. They didn’t grow up in a stuffy, all-controlling church, so they’re not rebelling against it. Instead, they’re rebelling against a rootless secular world, making them eager to embrace clear markers of identity and sources of meaning.

It’s not that this is utterly fascinating writing, it’s that Allen has so deftly studied, analyzed and correctly explained the church today, at this moment in history, its role in the world and its future in the hands of this young generation in the midst of the world.

World Youth Day is perhaps the lone international venue where being faithfully, energetically Catholic amounts to the “hip” choice of lifestyle. To be clear, this passion isn’t artificially manufactured by party ideologues and foisted on impressionable youth, like the Nuremberg rallies or Mao’s Red Guard brigades; it’s something these young believers already feel, and WYD simply provides an outlet.

In that sense, World Youth Day is the premier reminder of a fundamental truth about Catholicism in the early 21st century. Given the double whammy of Evangelical Catholicism as both the idée fixe of the church’s leadership class, and a driving force among the inner core of younger believers, it’s destined to shape the culture of the church (especially in the global north, i.e., Europe and the United States) for the foreseeable future. One can debate its merits, but not its staying power.

Nor its power to communicate, through the new ‘gatekeeper media’. No wonder the old guard don’t want to give them attention.

More than 1 million Catholic kids from across the world are converging on Madrid, Spain, for World Youth Day 2011, and every one of them seems to be tweeting, texting and Facebooking home…

The official World Youth Day website has more than 400,000 members. Facebook is hosting national World Youth Day sites in 21 different languages. There fans who are not able to attend the event in person will be able to light a virtual candle.

“The whole world is online, the church and the Internet, belong together,”…

No denying that, nor counting the ways, people are being reached.

Media’s role in world peace

This is interesting. It’s not that a pope encouraging the communications media to be responsible is exactly headline news….

But it’s the text beneath the headline and the story behind the news release that are worth pursuing.

Here’s the news release from the pope addressing the European Broadcasting Union:

“In today’s society”, [Pope Benedict] continued, “the basic values of the good of humanity are in play, public opinion … is often found disoriented and divided”. In this context he noted that “it is a duty to provide every day, correct and balanced information and a profound debate that seeks the best shared solutions regarding these questions in a pluralistic society. It is a task that requires great professional honor, correction and respect, an openness to different perspectives, clarity in treating problems, freedom from ideological barriers, and an awareness of the complexity of problems”.

I’m wondering at this point how well they’re listening and whether they’d take this message to heart, but what he said was really for a global audience.

Religion contributes by ‘purifying’ reason, helping it not to fall prey to distortions, such as manipulation by ideology or partial application that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person”. In this sense the Pope invited the professionals in communications to “seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason, with a view to serving the common good of the nation”.

While emphasizing the difficulties that need to be faced in their service, the Pope stressed that “the challenges of the modern world on which you have to report are too great and too urgent for you to become discouraged or tempted to give up in the face of such difficulties”.

The Holy Father concluded by encouraging them to put their “contacts and activities at the service of reflection and commitment” with the aim of “ensuring that the instruments of social communication promote dialogue, peace and development of peoples in solidarity, overcoming cultural separation, uncertainties and fears”.

This reminds me of a letter I received not long ago from a young Rwandan woman studying journalism in London, who followed some of my writing and asked me to contribute thoughts on the media handling of the Rwandan genocide for her research. Here’s how she described the intent of her paper: 

This dissertation will be written by a critical journalism student, who wants to understand the role of the International media when it comes to wars in developing countries and its role in preventing the genocide in Rwanda.

She said she wanted to

explore the role of International media, its intervention and strategies in tackling genocides and other conflicts in the third world countries.

My aim is to understand the media’s responsibility in such a delicate situation where it should play a role of prevention, protection and education. And for future journalists like my classmates and future academic work, I hope this will help to use our journalistic role responsibly and never use it to spread hatred, thus making our journalistic powerful position a second weapon to crimes against humanity.

This dovetails exactly with what Pope Benedict said (and keeps saying) about the role of media in the world. Pope John Paul II said “Communications is a moral act.” It’s reassuring and encouraging that young adults entering the media are taking that responsibility seriously.

Vatican’s role in space mission

I have been an avid follower of the NASA program and followed its missions since childhood. So I found this last one particularly poignant.

So did Pope Benedict.

The shuttle Endeavour and space station crews gathered on Saturday for an unprecedented conversation with Pope Benedict, who asked how the space program could promote peace and if the astronauts prayed while in orbit.

“I think it must be obvious to you how we all live together on one Earth and how absurd it is that we fight and kill each one,” the Pope said.

“When you are contemplating the Earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here, about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?” he asked via a televised link from the Vatican.

This is a sweet story. The pope spoke with members of the crew about their own personal dramas as they carry out this universal one. (funny…the word catholic means universal…but I was referring to the nature of the space mission) Personal dramas like commander Mark Kelly’s, whose wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is still recovering from being shot in January. Kelly thanked Benedict for thinking of her.

The Pope also had a personal message for space station flight engineer Paolo Nespoli, whose mother died on May 2.

“How have you been living through this time of pain on the International Space Station? Do you feel isolated and alone, or do you feel united amongst ourselves in a community that follows you with attention and affection?” the pope asked, speaking in Nespoli’s native Italian.

“Holy Father, I felt your prayers and everyone’s prayers arriving up here,” Nespoli replied in Italian.

“My colleagues aboard the space station were very close to me at this important time, for me a very intense moment,” Nespoli said. “I felt very far but also very close.”

Astronaut Roberto Vittori, also from the Italian Space Agency, demonstrated microgravity by flipping a coin given to him by the Pope, a symbol of the Vatican’s involvement in the mission, the next-to-last for NASA’s space shuttle program.

The coin will be returned to the Pope after Endeavour lands, now scheduled for June 1.

“To live aboard the International Space Station, to work as an astronaut is extremely intense, but we all have an opportunity when the nights come to look out and, more, to look down at Earth. Our planet, the blue planet, is beautiful,” Vittori said.

“I do pray,” he added. “I do pray for me, for our families, for our future.”

This story is amazingly human, and global, and larger than each of us. Because it’s about what holds together all of us. And I know that sounds corny, but….

I’ve said it here on this blog before, a while back, that a long time ago I was thinking about ‘fanhood’ and loyalty to a small town school or sports team, then a larger one…and how the rivalries disappear and new alliances form when those circumferences spread to wider territories. The ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ grows into much larger bodies of individuals the bigger the contest and state or nation. Then my thoughts rolled forward to an odd idea….that one imaginable force that would cause otherwise hostile factions on earth to suddenly unify as a planet and work together (imaginable thanks to science fiction) is if earth were attacked by aliens from another planet and we faced destruction unless we were able to fend them off.

I would never have shared that, but then I heard one day that Ronald Reagan one time said the same thing! (or something similar, though more eloquently, to be sure)

Anyway, that thought came back to me while reading this story, and I found this conversation between the astronauts and the pope very touching.

The Pope asked the astronauts about the environmental health of the planet, as viewed from space.

“On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is, but on the other hand we can really clearly see how fragile it is,” said NASA astronaut Ron Garan, a member of the live-aboard station crew.

“For instance, the atmosphere, when viewed from space, is paper-thin. And to think that this paper-thin layer is all that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space and is all that protects us is really a sobering thought,” Garan said.

What the astronauts find hopeful, Garan added, is the space station itself, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that took more than a decade to build 220 miles above the planet.

“That just shows that by working together and cooperating, we can overcome many of the problems that face our planet,” he said.

Now, how to apply that here

Joan of Arc

The feast day of this fearless woman is May 30. So why was Pope Benedict devoting attention to her  in his Wednesday audience this week?

Because she was such an outstanding example for current times. 

“This young French peasant girl’s compassion and commitment in the face of her people’s suffering were made even more intense through her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of her sanctity was this bond between mystical experience and political mission,” said Benedict XVI…

“Liberating her people was an act of human justice, which Joan performed in charity, for love of Jesus, hers is a beautiful example of sanctity for lay people involved in political life, especially in the most difficult situations”.

No shortage of opportunities there.

Which is what makes her a model for public officials today.

She’s been one of the great historical women I’ve followed with new interest in recent years, one who’s made an impact on my work.

I was happily surprised to see a chapter devoted to her in Profiles in Audacity: Great Decisions and How they Were Made by Alan Axelrod.

The author notes that Mark Twain, who was capable of penning acid observations, “wrote adoringly of Joan.”

“There is no blemish in that rounded and beautiful character.” He thought so highly of her that, in 1896, he devoted a long and rather tedious novel to the life of Joan of Arc. The author of Life on the Mississippi and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain believed his greatest work to have been Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by the Sieur Louis de Conte, which few read during his lifetime and no one reads today.

As Profiles in Audacity notes…

Nevertheless, as Mark Twain and so many others have discovered, whatever else it may be, the story of Joan is an intensely human story. It is about the power of a decision.

What was that decision? “Joan decided to believe,” wrote Axelrod, and then he tells her tale.

Really, it is hard to imagine that it could have ended any other way. Joan of Arc’s is a story of what happens when a decision is built on faith and absolute conviction. It was not an easy decision for her to reach, and it came from nothing in her background or education…and even less from any inborn desire for glory. Once the decision had been reached, however, it became easier for Joan to decide to accept the mission she believed had been assigned to her. Driven by these cumulative decisions, she overcame the resistance of a world populated by the undecided and the unfaithful.

Benedict found in her a very timely reminder.

“With her shining witness St. Joan of Arc invites us to the highest degree of Christian life, making prayer the motif of our days, having complete trust in achieving the will of God whatever it may be, living in charity without favouritisms or limitations, and finding in the Love of Jesus, as she did, a profound love for His Church”.

Dr. Martin Luther King has been celebrated in the news lately. He had uncanny similarities.

Pope and change

Benedict always has an incisive but gentle message for any country he visits, any culture he addresses. Which he really intends for larger society as a whole….

He just visited Spain. And keeping with a trend he established, the pope gave an interview to the press on the plane, along the way…

And unlike some politicians, the pope doesn’t call on specific, pre-determined reporters. These aren’t choreographed events. He doesn’t spin his message.

“What significance can consecrating a church such as the Sagrada Familia have at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Is there some aspect of Gaudi’s vision that has struck you in particular?”

asked a reporter.

In Gaudi’s vision there are above all three elements that call my attention. The first is the blending of continuity and novelty, tradition and creativity. Gaudi had the courage to make himself part of the great tradition of the cathedrals. Using a completely new approach, he dared in his own time to make the cathedral a place for the solemn meeting between God and man. And this courage to remain within tradition, but with a creativity that renews tradition and shows the unity and progress of history, is a beautiful thing…

The great treasures of Western art – music, architecture, painting – were born from the faith of the Church. Today there is some dissent, but this harms both art and faith. An art which loses its transcendent roots no longer tends towards God, it is a truncated art without a living root. A faith which only has the art of the past, is no longer faith in the present, and today it must again express itself as everlasting truth.

In Barcelona, he consecrated the church. It’s about time. It’s only been under construction for about 128 years, and is still unfinished. I loved what he said about the famous…infamous…creator of this cathedral…

…the man who was the soul and the artisan of this project, Antoni Gaudi, a creative architect and a practising Christian who kept the torch of his faith alight to the end of his life, a life lived in dignity and absolute austerity.

Gaudi expressed in this cathedral a unique blend of nature and sacred liturgy, which Benedict loved.

Indeed, beauty is one of mankind’s greatest needs; it is the root from which the branches of our peace and the fruits of our hope come forth. Beauty also reveals God…

But the world’s attitude toward God has changed in these geo-politically charged times. Benedict deftly addressed that.

This is the great task before us: to show everyone that God is a God of peace not of violence, of freedom not of coercion, of harmony not of discord.

“In this sense”, the Pope added, “I consider that the dedication of this church of the Sagrada Familia is an event of great importance, at a time in which man claims to be able to build his life without God, as if God had nothing to say to him. In this masterpiece, Gaudi shows us that God is the true measure of man; that the secret of authentic originality consists, as he himself said, in returning to one’s origin which is God. Gaudi, by opening his spirit to God, was capable of creating in this city a space of beauty, faith and hope which leads man to an encounter with Him Who is truth and beauty itself. The architect expressed his sentiments in the following words: ‘A church [is] the only thing worthy of representing the soul of a people, for religion is the most elevated reality in man'”.

But European society is losing its religion.

God is the origin of our being and the foundation and apex of our freedom, not its opponent.

Now there’s a radical culteral message.

How can it be that there is public silence with regard to the first and essential reality of human life? How can what is most decisive in life be confined to the purely private sphere or banished to the shadows? We cannot live in darkness, without seeing the light of the sun. How is it then that God, Who is the light of every mind, the power of every will and the magnet of every heart, be denied the right to propose the light that dissipates all darkness?

That’s a challenging question that requires a response. To take it further…

The Europe of science and technology, the Europe of civilisation and culture, must be at the same time a Europe open to transcendence and fraternity with other continents, and open to the living and true God, starting with the living and true man.

Europe is not doing too well with that right now. But Benedict proposes the change they need, which is nothing less than recalling who they are….or were.

New York Times unhinged

Saturday Night Live used to feature a skit in which comedian Jon Lovitz played “The Pathological Liar” who enjoyed weaving fantastical tales which he enjoyed delivering as truth. That comes to mind, thinking through the audacity of the latest New York Times’ wildly spun tales about the pope. Only this is no joke…

Untethered to anything grounded in truth, the once great broadsheet that claims it carries “all the news that’s fit to print” has plunged into a parallel universe where facts are whatever they say they are, all distortion that’s print to fit…an agenda. And they’re on a rampage against Pope Benedict and the Vatican.

Because the “paper of record” is now a broken one, and because so many other media outlets still lack the manpower or veracity to fact-check the Times before re-running their stuff, we have to take the Times’ war on the pope seriously. Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture does, and provides perspective.

Abandoning any sense of editorial balance, journalistic integrity, or even elementary logic, the Times looses a 4,000-word barrage against the Pope: an indictment that is not supported even by the content of this appalling story. Apparently the editors are relying on sheer volume of words, and repetition of ugly details, to substitute for logical argumentation.

He calls it “comically absurd”, “a mess of contradictions”, and illustrates examples of both points. And the ultimate irony…

The Times story, despite its flagrant bias and distortion, actually contains the evidence to dismiss the complaint. Unfortunately, the damage has already done before the truth comes out: that even a decade ago the future Pope Benedict was the solution, not part of the problem.

To understand how, read Lawler’s piece and other stories on that site. And by all means, check in with Just B16 regularly. Not just for balance, but for the center of gravity.