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Pope Francis delivers 'little encyclical' in Bolivia.

Pope Francis's address to the World Meeting of the Popular Movements in Bolivia on Thursday was described as a "little encyclical" by the editor of L'Osservatore Romano. Given its breadth and rhetorical power, that seems about right. Initial reports emphasized the pope's apology for the church's "many grave sins...committed against the native peoples of America," and of course that would receive some attention, given that it plays into the idea of the Catholic Church as unyielding. But the remark came late in the speech, following a withering critique of a globalized economy that operates on the "mentality of profit at any price" without concern for "social exclusion or the destruction of nature."

Do we realize, Francis asked, "that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farmworkers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?" He referred to these "three Ls"--land, lodging and labor--as "sacred rights." And, lest anyone wonder whether the Argentine pope was laboring under a benighted idea of capitalism, Francis made it clear that he was not just talking about the economies of Bolivia and its neighbors. No, "I am speaking about problems common to all Latin Americans and, more generally, to humanity as a whole." This system is "intolerable," he continued, echoing his encyclical on the environment, Laudato si': "Farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable… The earth itself--our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say--also finds it intolerable."

Time is short, the pope declared. The planet and its people are suffering; we need change now. "Behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea--one of the first theologians of the church--called 'the dung of the devil.' An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the 'dung of the devil.'" Pace David Brooks, Francis failed to mention the free market's wonderful ability to "harness self-interest" and put it to good, that is to say profitable, use. No, he has witnessed the system's failures firsthand, in the slums of Buenos Aires, in his travels as the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, "I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world."

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Farewell Pune, Hello Bangalore

Before leaving Pune, I attended a meeting that Sr. Julie George hosted for some diocesan leaders to discuss ways to engage parishes in Pune on Laudato Si’.  Specifically, they designed plans to help parishes be prepared for Pope Francis’ UN General Assembly Address on the environment on September 25th.

Sr. Julie, a lawyer and activist, heads Streevani (meaning, “the voice of women”), a legal aid center that advocates for domestic workers.   Julie gets things done.  7 years ago she helped start the “Women’s Religious Lawyers Forum.”  She helped to recruit over 90 Indian sisters working in law.  The forum “Pursuit of Justice: Prophetic Response to our times” was so successful that it just finished its seventh annual gathering.  Her partner in crime is Raynah Braganza Passanha, the leader of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement, dedicated to gender equity.   We will continue to work with one another virtually.

Yesterday, I arrived in Bangalore, the IT capital of India, where everyone is young.  In 2001, the city had a population of just over 5 million.  Today, 14 years later, it has more than doubled, with nearly 11 million of India’s 1.3 billion residents.  The city is a work in progress, a microcosm of the development across India.  When I first came here in 2007, I arrived in a tiny airport with one waiting hall.  When I last left here in 2012, the hour long trek to the airport included dirt and unpaved roads.  Yesterday I arrived in a major airport and the ride into the city was on a seamless highway.

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Pope Francis's U.S. itinerary.

As you may have heard, the bishop of Rome will be vacationing in the United States in a few months. This morning, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops finally released his itinerary. Should you want to go full groupie, here are the relevant details:


9:15  a.m.  Meeting with President Obama at the White House
11:30 a.m. Midday Prayer with the bishops of the United States, St. Matthew's Cathedral
4:15  p.m.  Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra, Basilicia of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception



9:20  a.m.  Address to Joint Session of the United States Congress
11:15 a.m. Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington
4:00 p.m.   Depart from Joint Base Andrews
5:00 p.m.   Arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport
6:45 p.m.   Evening Prayer (Vespers) at St. Patrick's Cathedral



8:30  a.m. Visit to the United Nations and Address to the United Nations General Assembly
11:30 a.m. Multi-religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center
4:00  p.m.  Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem
6:00  p.m.  Mass at Madison Square Garden



8:40  a.m.  Departure from John F. Kennedy International Airport
9:30  a.m.  Arrival at Atlantic Aviation, Philadelphia
10:30 a.m. Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia
4:45  p.m.  Visit to Independence Mall
7:30  p.m.  Visit to the Festival of Families Benjamin Franklin Parkway



9:15   a.m.  Meeting with bishops at at St. Martin's Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
11:00  a.m. Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
4:00  p.m.   Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway
7:00   p.m.  Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families, Atlantic Aviation
8:00   p.m.  Departure for Rome

Calm, collected.

Faced with the Supreme Court's decision to make same-sex marriage the law of the land, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, predictably expressed his displeasure:

Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.... Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children.

Other bishops, however, took another tone. Calling the majority decision in Obergefell "particularly painful," Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston urged Catholics to "both protect our own deeply held values and participate with civility and charity in the continuing national discussion about this decision."

In a longer reflection on the decision, Cardinal Donald Wuerl reminded his people that "Christians have the responsibility to learn and to grow in their faith in order to share it with others"--without barring the church door to those who struggle with the church's definition of marriage. They too must be welcomed.

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Carbon Fasting

In my last post, I remarked that the archdiocese of Bombay had started the practice of carbon fasting for its Lenten practice of 2014 and repeated it in 2015.  I received in a variety of ways many positive responses to the blog.  While I know we are a long way from Lent, still in the wake of Laudato Si,’ we are being asked to change our ways immediately and carbon fasting seems like an exercise that can get us started.

In 2014, the Bombay archdiocese posted on their website a booklet, entitled “40 earth-saving ways to fast this lent.”  It is a simple set of reminders to reduce one’s carbon foot-print each year.   The archdiocese also made an app available that would text daily very specific practices to follow. 

Carbon fasting brings us into the world of an asceticism that’s mindful of our place in our environment.  This mindfulness helps to develop, I think, a new humility.  Prompted by the Magnificat, I have long defined humility as knowing one’s place in God’s world.  Carbon fasting helps us then to develop a 21st century humility, making us more mindful of our place in God’s creation.

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Forgiveness & the Flag

Hearing the names of the nine victims in Charleston read at Mass on Sunday, it was hard not to hear as well the statements of forgiveness from their survivors made at last Friday’s bond hearing for the shooter, Dylann Roof. “I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you” – the words of Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance – became the headline of Saturday’s print edition of The New York Times, but it’s the clips of Collier and others in court that truly convey the power of the moment, the grace of those whose loved ones were taken. It’s impossible not to be moved, or even awed—as a number of pundits admitted to being when the footage was aired.

Inevitably, much has been written and said about “forgiveness” in the days since, some of it by Cornell West. In an appearance Monday on New York public radio he called the survivors’ statements of forgiveness, and the favorable response to them, “bad theology.” The forgiveness, he said, “is premature… We have to put love at the center of this but forgiveness is something that comes further down the line… [This] has remnants of the niggerized Christianity that has been operating in the history of the black church….” Of course, provocation is West’s main mode. But his co-guest on the segment, Amy Butler of Riverside Church, allowed that he was getting at something important. The survivors’ words of forgiveness, she said, “are deeply moving but they call us to something deeper, and they remind us of a sin in our country that cannot be ignored anymore… [A] voice of remorse also needs to come from a system and a nation….”

The possibility of forgiveness from family members is one issue; the possibility (if not the likelihood) of its appropriation and use as absolution from any further responsibility for or concern with the underlying causes of the attack is another.

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'Peripheral' Sources for 'Laudato Si’ '

Pope Francis’s new environmental encyclical cites the usual sources. In addition to Scripture, we find the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the encyclicals and addresses of his papal predecessors, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, his own Evangelii Gaudium, and others.

Most surprising, however, is Francis’s turn to the documents of national and regional bishops’ conferences.  He cites one USCCB document (no. 52), one from the Canadians (no. 85), two from the Germans (nos. 48 and 69), and one from the Portuguese (no. 159). I counted twenty-one references to environmental documents from episcopal conferences.  Only the five mentioned above represent North America and Europe. The remaining sixteen refer to documents from bishops’ conferences in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.  Twice he cites the Latin American Bishops’ 2007 Aparecida document, on which he worked (nos. 38 and 54).

These references are doubly striking.  First, Pope Francis is the self-proclaimed “man from the end of the world,” who appoints new cardinals from places many Americans have never heard of.  As the pope of the periphery, Francis does not treat such questions as the environment and the family exclusively, or even primarily, in terms of perspectives dominant in Washington, Bonn, London, or even Rome. He wants to hear the voices of the churches from the Global South. Americans are going to have to get used to the fact that they make up only about 4% of the world’s Catholics. As this encyclical makes clear, Pope Francis does not map easily on to the landscape of cultural and political strife in the United States. His upcoming visits to Washington and Philadelphia will, I suspect, make this even clearer.

Second, these twenty-one references to teaching documents of episcopal conferences signal Francis’s own vision that the church of which he is chief pastor and teacher is a collegial body.

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“Indian Ambassadors of the Environment” or “Reading Laudato Si’ in downtown Pune”

In this morning’s Sakaal Times, Pune’s Bishop Thomas Dabre, while promoting Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, added that his diocese would promote greater austerity and sustainability measures across Pune.

His response caught the general reaction of Catholics here in India. In fact all the major newspapers, The Times of India, The Indian Express, and The Sakaal Times covered the encyclical’s launch favorably. Interestingly the only dissenting voice reported in the newspapers was Jeb Bush’s!

Indian Catholics already recognize the need to respond to climate change. For instance, Sr. Julia George, SSPS, a lawyer who advocates for women domestic workers told me that women bear the brunt of environmental challenges in India. In rural and urban areas, women are the ones who need to find and carry the water, for instance, that is needed for their families or for those for whom they work. As the environment worsens, so does the plight of women throughout India.

Sr. Nameeta, OCV, a physician from Mumbai, asks, "Can we sing a Canticle of Praise to the Lord, when we wound Mother Earth everyday? This is an enigma. The encyclical exposes our hypocrisy."  Like other Catholics, she believes deeply that the time for the encyclical is now.

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A Tale of Two Churches

Understanding last night's massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white man entered one of the city's oldest historically black churches and shot to death nine people who were participating in a prayer meeting, requires understanding the intersection of race and religion in the American South, and that is no small matter.

I know this difficulty firsthand: about two years ago I moved with my family to Tallahassee, Florida, and in the past few months we stopped attending the large, predominantly white parish on the north side of town where we enrolled as parishioners when we first moved in, and are now going instead to a small parish on the city's south side where the congregation at the English-language Mass is so predominantly black that ours is often the only white family in attendance.

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'Laudato Si' ': Response Roundup

Here’s a mid-day roundup of response to Laudato Si’ from around the web (if you've already made sure to read Anthony Annett, David Cloutier, Michael Peppard, and Massimo Faggioli on Commonweal). Start with E. J. Dionne Jr., who, in a column posted to our website, says anyone who claims Francis is inventing radical new doctrines

will have to reckon with the care he takes in paying homage to his predecessors, particularly Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II. He cites them over and over on the limits of markets and the urgency of environmental stewardship. Laudato Si’ is thus thoroughly consistent with over a century of modern Catholic social teaching, and if it breaks new ground, it does so within the context of a long tradition -- going back to St. Francis himself.

Similarly, Emma Green in The Atlantic:

Historical references  …  are peppered throughout the document, and they serve as an important reminder to an often-giddy media that loves to write about today’s revolutionary pope: In the Church, precedent is everything. Francis’s argument is deeply grounded in Catholic teachings dating back to the late-19th-century writings of Pope Leo XIII (and before that, Jesus). … This is far from the Church’s first foray into environmentalism. “I always remind my environmental friends that St. Francis was ours before he was theirs,” said John Carr, a professor at Georgetown and former staffer at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This didn’t begin with Earth Day or Al Gore. It began with Genesis.”

R. R. Reno at First Things:

In this encyclical, Francis expresses strikingly anti-scientific, anti-technological, and anti-progressive sentiments. In fact, this is perhaps the most anti-modern encyclical since the Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX’s haughty 1864 dismissal of the conceits of the modern era. … Francis has penned a cri de coeur, a dark reflection on the systemic evils of modernity. Like the prophet Ezekiel, Pope Francis sees perversion and decadence in a global system dominated by those who consume and destroy. The only answer is repentance, “deep change,” and a “bold cultural revolution.” If Francis continues in this trajectory, Catholicism will circle back to its older, more adversarial relationship with modernity.

But Josiah Neely, also at First Things, calls Laudato Si' “a more measured affair” that deserves fuller reading: “[T]here seems to be a fairly large disconnect between the criticism of (much of it made prior to the release of the actual text) and the encyclical itself.”

Francis X. Rocca in the Wall St. Journal zeroes in on “passionate language likely to prove highly divisive” and characterizes Laudato Si’ as abroad and uncompromising indictment of the global market economy.” 

What, George Weigel asks, does Francis write in the encyclical?

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Pope Francis's Earthquake

Laudato Si' offers two long-lasting gifts to the church. Through the body of the text, Francis first exhorts us to examine and renew our commitments to God, one another, and "our common home" on earth through an "integral ecology." But the footnotes of the text tell another story, related but distinct from the first. Francis has shown how the Pope can honor and foster collegiality and synodality among the world's Christian leaders.

Those aren't household words, but the concepts are simple enough. Collegiality refers to "the Pope governing the Church in collaboration with the bishops of the local Churches, respecting their proper autonomy."  Synodality is "the practical expression of the participation of the local Church in the governance of the universal Church, through deliberative bodies."

The extent to which Francis manifests these concepts in Laudato Si' is breathtaking. He cites seventeen different bishops' conferences or regional meetings (some of them more than once) from six continents. In order of appearance, they represent: Southern Africa, the Philippines, Bolivia, Germany, Argentina, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, New Zealand, the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, Portugal, Mexico, and Australia.

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The Theological Heart of Laudato Si'

The overwhelming immediate importance of Laudato Si’ is to call both church and world to respond to the “urgent challenge to protect our common home” (13). As Tony Annett has already ably pointed out, Francis is not mincing words here, even if he is careful. Above all, the encyclical suggests we are home-wreckers, yet we also have a chance for a deeper conversion from our “internal deserts,” (217; one of the many quotes from Benedict XVI) to a more joyful and more challenging way of life: “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom” (205). Such a response, the pope makes clear in chapters 1 & 5, requires international cooperation because of the nature of the problems. That Francis chose to highlight the atmosphere, water, and the diversity of species is telling – these are all problems where global cooperation is absolutely necessary. Your car, lawn, and hardwood flooring may very well be implicated, but “nevertheless, self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today” (219).

Chapters 1 & 5 contain a lot of the material that will grab attention in the larger media. But the heart of the encyclical theologically and spiritually is chapters 2-4. It is important to highlight that this document is firmly and clearly theological. If we contemplate the broad structure of these chapters, we can see an elegant scheme of creation, fall, and redemption. This fundamental pattern of the Christian narrative is so easy to forget – to sing “Canticle of the Sun” while forgetting the cross, or to offer the cross as an escape hatch from creation, rather than a tree of life that makes way for the Spirit’s renewal of creation. To read the encyclical as a whole – not always easy given its length and its incredible detail! – is to be reminded of this basic pattern: God’s gift, our human sinfulness, and the everlasting covenant sealed by the Spirit, promising a vision of renewal to the ends of the earth.

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Laudato Si' Press Conference: Twitter Roundup

This morning Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si' was released and presented by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace.” Alongside Turkson were other presenters: Metropolitan John Zizioulas, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church; Professor John Schellnhuber, founder and director of the Institute for Climate Impact in Potsdam; Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the Mendoza College of Business of the University of Notre Dame; and Valeria Martano, a teacher from Rome. The following is some selected Twitter coverage of the event as it happened.

The conference begins:

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Massimo Faggioli on 'Laudato si''

Just posted to the homepage, Massimo Faggioli's reading of Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato si'.

In some ways, Laudato si’ picks up where Evangelii gaudium left off. Francis decries the “culture of waste,” abuses of technology, and profit-mad globalization. As expected, he affirms the scientific consensus on global warming. In order to better listen to what the earth is telling us, Francis writes, the church must advocate for the poor—the first to suffer the effects of climate change. The pope rejects “demographic solutions” (like Paul VI in Humanae vitae, but Francis does not quote that text here), such as population control. He criticizes wealthy nations that leverage the needs of poorer ones for political control. Particularly strong is the pope’s analysis of the relations between politics, the global economy, and information, which is manipulated by business interests. Francis laments that in the debate on the environment, the role of politics is largely absent.

The Gospel calls the church to speak out against whatever threatens the dignity of every human being, including inequality. In this sense, the ecology of Francis is fully prolife: respect for people and respect for other creatures are closely connected. The strongest section of Laudato Si’ is its critique of technocracy (a skepticism shared by Benedict XVI). The “technocratic paradigm” is reflected in our failure to grasp the fact that many of the earth’s resources are finite. For Francis, technology is never neutral—it can be used to ill effect. The market itself will not correct this on its own. Therefore the church itself should offer a unifying voice in order to help us break free from the technocratic paradigm. To that end, Francis urges us to rethink our consumerist excesses: a good relationship with creation presupposes a good relationship with the Creator.

Ecology, according to Francis, always includes care for the poor, for the marginalized, and for nature. It also means protecting culture: the word “inculturation” does not appear in the text, but for Laudato si’ true ecology must be inculturated, not imported with a colonialist mindset. Authentic “human ecology” does not ignore sexual differences: accepting masculinity and femininity is a way of respecting creation, the pope writes, rather than imposing our will on it. In this Catholic presentation of ecology, society has a role in defending the common good, as do nations and governments.

Read the rest right here.

Joseph A. Komonchak Receives the John Courtney Murray Award

Joseph A. Komonchak has received the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society of America, the organization’s highest honor. Regular readers of Commonweal are no doubt familiar with Joe’s work: He is not only a longtime friend and contributor, but also (of course) a leading scholar on Vatican II, the editor of a five-volume history of the council, and the author of more than one hundred and fifty articles. The award was presented June 13 at the CTSA convention in Milwaukee. Please join us in congratulating Joe on winning such well-deserved recognition from his fellow theologians.

Was the encylical leak a violation of journalistic ethics?

Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, widely seen as skeptical of the Francis papacy, has published an Italian draft of the pope's encyclical on the environment, which is scheduled to be released Thursday morning. One Vatican official called the leak "a heinous act." As word of the leak spread, my Twitter feed blew up with complaints that Magister had violated journalistic ethics by writing about an "embargoed" document. And Holy See spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, seemed to agree. Emphasizing that Magister's copy is not the final draft, Lombardi suggested that L'Espresso's decision to run with it was unprofessional. "The rules of the embargo remain in place," Lombardi said in a statement.

Magister got his copy from an unofficial source (obviously curial) who imposed no restrictions on its use. An embargo obtains when a source gives a journalist (or journalists) information with the understanding that it cannot be reported until a certain time. The Vatican, for example, is allowing accredited journalists to read the encyclical two hours before it is officially released. The embargo doesn't begin until Thursday morning, when reporters receive their advance copies. If one of them publishes on that text before at 11 a.m. local time, then the embargo will have been broken.

So Lombardi is mistaken. Magister didn't commit any journalistic sin. He got a legitimate scoop, decided making the Holy See Press Office crazy was a price worth paying, and wrote it up. What's unfortunate about the leak is that it will make the Holy See more wary of providing advance warning of the publishing dates of papal documents.

Archbishop Nienstedt resigns. (UPDATED)

This morning, ten days after the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was criminally charged with child endangerment and five days after Pope Francis announced a new tribunal for bishops who mishandle cases of abusive priests, the Vatican announced the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt, along with one of his auxiliary bishops, Lee Piché. Prosecutors charged the archdiocese with failing to protect the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer, the now laicized priest who is serving a five-year sentence for molesting children and possessing child pornography. (The criminal complaint also named several other accused priests whose cases were mishandled by the archdiocese.) Nienstedt's replacement has not yet been named. In the meantime, Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Bernard Hebda as apostolic administrator (not the Twin Cities' remaining auxiliary bishop, Andrew Cozzens)--an unusual move, given the fact that Hebda is already the coadjutor archbishop of Newark, where he lives.

Nienstedt has been buffeted by calls for his resignation ever since his former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, provided Minnesota Public Radio with troubling information about the archdiocese's responses to cases of accused priests. As recently as last July, Nienstedt pledged not to resign. "The resignations were both prudent and necessary," Haselberger told me. "The Holy See has acted wisely by appointing an apostolic administrator."

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11th day in Asia: Greetings from Pune, India

I arrived in Asia on June 3rd for Lucas Chan’s memorial and burial.   I left Hong Kong on the 10th, saying farewell to that city, but not to my friend who was born and raised there. 

I arrived in Pune (the Indian spelling of what the English called Poona until Indian Independence in 1947) by the invitation of one other of my doctoral students, John Karuvelil, S.J.

Pune is the nation’s center of higher education, commonly referred to as, the “Oxford of the East.”  

In 1942 the Jesuits opened its residence, De Nobili College (DNC), for the formation of Jesuit scholastics.  By 1955, the Pontifical Athenaeum for diocesan seminarians came to the campus where the DNC was, and became the school for all students living on the campus.  By 1972 the Athenaeum was renamed Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth.

Today over 850 students are doing graduate degree programs in theology and philosophy at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth. Among its students, over 70 are women, and that group is growing.  Moreover,160 Jesuit students, living with 30 other Jesuit faculty and administrators under one roof, make De Nobili College the largest Jesuit community in the world.

I live here with my host John Karuvelil, who is, I think, a perfect representative of what moral theologians in India are doing today.

He finished his dissertation in 2010, on how the Catholic social justice tradition could positively influence the enormous Indian health care industry.  Karuvelil emphasized how the tradition and its teachings on the common good, option for the poor, subsidiarity, equity, participation, and solidarity, could guide the enormously developing genetics industry in India a segment of its ever-growing pharmaceutical industry.

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Discussing the encyclical

"The whole human race faces a moment of supreme crisis in its advance toward maturity."  Those words opened the Second Vatican Council’s evaluation of modern warfare.   They might well be applied to the question that Pope Francis is addressing in the forthcoming encyclical on climate change, the environment, and sustainable development. 

The U.S. bishops quoted those words at the beginning of “The Challenge of Peace,” their 1983 pastoral letter on war and peace in an age of nuclear weapons.  Like that pastoral letter, the Pope’s new encyclical is sure to raise once again abiding questions about the relationship of religious authority to disputed matters of fact and public policy.  Once again thoughtful Catholics will have to respond to standard accusations that the Pope has no business speaking about global warming, just as the bishops were said to have no business speaking about nuclear strategy.  And once again Catholics sympathetic to the thrust of the document will have to resist the temptation simply to bash those less convinced with hierarchical authority and papal proof-texting. 

So it might be wise to look back to that earlier letter and consider what was one of the most careful treatments of those questions in any recent episcopal document. 

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Mailer, Buckley & My Alma Mater

I recently went to a memorial service at my hopelessly politically correct alma mater for a former mentor and dear friend. He had died last November at 89, after a half-dozen torturous years in a nursing home. The son of a Methodist minister, he had been a commanding presence on campus, with a voice that was made for the unamplified lectern, if not the pulpit. His interest in churchgoing had atrophied many years before I knew him, or so I understood. Melville seemed to have replaced Scripture, although Wordsworth took on much of that burden as well. The service was well attended, and I had an opportunity to say hello to several former teachers. On such an occasion one is uncomfortably reminded that the college teachers who seemed to possess so much gravitas at the time were much younger than I am now. Where have all the years gone? The answer is both obvious and yet often hard to grasp.

Several of my mentor’s academic colleagues as well as a former student of his spoke. The former student had been a leader of the African American community and quite a fire-brand. I remember an inflammatory speech he gave one night when the campus gathered to debate joining the national student strike. It was the spring of 1970. Nixon had invaded Cambodia and the Ohio National Guard had killed four student protesters at Kent State. A tense time. This was also the heyday of the Black Panthers, and racial tension was pervasive on campus. There were several violent incidents. This former “revolutionary” is now the pastor of a non-denominational church, and speaks with a modest, self-deprecating sense of humor. How crazy, in retrospect, things were back then.

When I arrived at my small liberal arts college/university in the fall of 1969, all students and faculty were asked to read Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, about the 1967 antiwar march on the Pentagon, and Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Momentous things appeared to be in the offing, and events surrounding the student strike seemed to confirm that suspicion, at least to some of us eighteen-year-olds. Richard Wilbur, the university’s poet in residence, felt called upon to issue a note of caution. In his poem “For the Student Strikers,” he wrote: “It is not yet time for the rock, the bullet, the blunt/Slogan that fuddles the mind toward force.” Blunt slogans were hard to avoid.

Remarkably, Mailer turned up on campus during the student strike. Blunt he could be, but slogans were not high on his list of rhetorical tools.

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