With the unpredictability of Pope Francis, some Catholics have wondered if he would call another council -- a Vatican III. It appears not.
Something that big won't do for Francis. He's thinking even bigger: the church universal will be getting a Nicea III.
According to reporting from AsiaNews, His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, has announced that an ecumenical "gathering" will be held in Nicea in 2025.
Speaking exclusively with AsiaNews, Bartholomew says that together with Pope Francis "we agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries, the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated."
The exact nature of the planned meeting at Nicea (now Iznik, Turkey) is not known. But how could it be, over a decade in the future?
The ongoing Catholic-Orthodox dialogue will be intensified in preparation for the event. What began in Jerusalem in 1964 and was celebrated last week at the Holy Sepulchre will continue in the holy city this fall, when, in Bartholomew's words, "a meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Commission will be held hosted by the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III. It is a long journey in which we all must be committed without hypocrisy."
In all the attention to the Pope's gestures toward political peace in the Holy Land last week, the joint event with the Orthodox got a bit lost in the mix.
But Francis and Bartholomew didn't lose focus. And they've got a date on the calendar to prove it.
Queen Alia Street, a main thoroughfare in Amman, was packed with traffic on May 24th, the day of the Pope’s visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Vertical posters depicting important places in Jordan, like the site of Jesus’ baptism or the massive, blue King Abdullah I mosque, read “Joy and Hope” in Arabic and English. The flags of Jordan and the Vatican lined the overpasses and the walls of the Amman International Stadium where the Pope would say Mass later in the afternoon.
These decorations appeared just days before the Pope’s visit, but signs of his impending arrival were visible throughout Amman for the preceding weeks: curbs received a fresh coat of yellow and black paint, and images of Jordan’s King Abdullah and Pope Francis shaking hands were posted throughout the city. Jordanians, both Christian and Muslim, were excited not only to receive Francis—the fourth pope to visit them in fifty years—but also to use the opportunity to showcase their country’s long history of Muslim-Christian coexistence.
Along with 30,000 other Jordanians—mostly Christians but some Muslims—I attended the Mass over which Francis presided. Because I taught religious education classes for our English-language parish in Amman, I was able to sit on the grassy, ground level of the stadium with the families of the First Communicants, who would be receiving their First Eucharist at the Mass. I had a clear view of the altar and its big, yellow tent, and was able to walk around the field easily, greeting friends and fellow parishioners in the four hours before the liturgy.
As we waited in the hot sun for the Pope to arrive, Fr. Bashir Badr, a friend and Roman Catholic priest, served as an emcee, leading the congregation in chanting and singing. We yelled, “Long live the king!” and "Viva il papa!", sang along to well-known Arabic liturgical hymns, and learned the words to songs written especially for the visit of the Pope. Children let balloons fly into the sky, including two large balloon rosaries, one blue, one pink.
When the Pope arrived, we all ran to the edge of the track that encircled the field.Read more
...can prayer hurt?
Today's NYTimes does a run down on Francis's invitation to Presidents Peres and Abbas to come to the Vatican to pray. Amdist the story's general skepticism about prayer, there are those who think it could help....and proabably won't hurt.
"Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli author, said he thought for some time that “what we’re missing around the negotiating table are chaplains....I’d like to replace some of the diplomats with genuine religious leaders, people who understand that this conflict is primarily about intangibles and not a line on a map,” said Mr. Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. “The problem is, how do you separate politics from prayer, how do you get prayer to influence politics rather than politics intruding on prayer.”
In a previous post, I mentioned a book I've just read: Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes by Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem (published by Orbis). It is a theological, scriptural, geo-political meditation on the long history of empire in Palestine, includng the current empire. Raheb's weekly preaching task must have helped him create this thought-out and accessible way of seeing the conflict without being conflictual himself. A short piece is excerpted after the break.
Bonus link: Forty maps that explain the Middle East.Read more
...and other nearby countries. The Pope referred to the "State of Palestine" in his meeting with Palestinian President Abbas. In an unexpected and unplanned gesture he stopped his car to get out and pray at the security wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and the Palestinians from the Israelis.
He has invited Israelie President Peres and Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace. From the NYTimes story: "Father Jamal Khader, head of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala and a local spokesman for the pope’s visit, said the invitation on Sunday to a joint prayer session was “taking the negotiations to another level – a meeting in front of God.” Who knows!? Can't hurt!
Reminds me of ideas from a book I just finished, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes, by Mitri Raheb, the pastor of a Lutheran church in Bethlehem. Maybe Francis has read it too.
As Francis arrives in the Middle East on May 24, there are continuing concerns both about the diplomatic to and fro, and about security.
The New York Times reports on the trip's several pitfalls, suggesting that the visit acknowledging all the major players will please few of them. "At each stop on the orchestrated itinerary, the Vatican’s focus...could be overshadowed as all sides dissect Francis’ every action. Already, his effort at ecumenical outreach, traveling with a rabbi and an imam from his native Buenos Aires, has led to criticism that he is not fully engaging local religious leaders."
And from Loblog a run-down of the security concerns about his visit to Israel. "The section of the [U.S.] State Department’s 2013 County Reports on Terrorism dealing with Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza drew attention to the growing threat posed by “extremist Israeli settlers.” It cited “399 attacks by extremist Israeli settlers that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage” and deemed them “violent extremists” — mostly over “price tag” attacks against Palestinian Arab homes and property. “Price tag” is a code-term used by Jewish extremists to justify what they claim are retaliatory actions against Arabs or proposed policies of the Israeli government — policies that would restrict the expansion of settlements in “Judea and Samaria,” the preferred settler term for the occupied territories in the West Bank. “Price tag” has been appearing prominently in the Hebrew graffiti defacing Christian sites."
Almost fifty years ago, the conciliar document Nostra aetate removed a cancer from the heart of Christianity. Its central section, on Jews and Judaism, overturned centuries of faulty interpretation regarding the main "teaching of contempt" for Jews that was part of Christian culture, doctrine, and liturgy.
Surgery is one thing; rehabilitation another. The first is relatively quick and anesthetized; what follows is more challenging, sometimes painful, and often a test of perseverance and endurance.
So as the Pope prepares for the Holy Land, how healthy is the Jewish-Christian relationship? And how is Israel preparing for the Pope?Read more
The small but dedicated world of Jewish-Christian relations is busy this morning trying to figure out what's going on. The Times of Israel reported yesterday that the Pope's trip to Israel has been canceled due to a labor dispute.
A source at the [foreign] ministry confirmed to The Times of Israel on Thursday that the pontiff’s trip was cancelled because Foreign Ministry workers are currently on strike and are unable to make the necessary arrangements for the high-profile visit.
The cancellation is likely to cause “large, measurable economic damage, with all the lost tourist revenue that would have accompanied the visit,” the source said.
The strike within Israel's diplomatic service would also endanger a visit from British PM David Cameron.
But a few hours ago, the Jerusalem Post countered yesterday's news:Read more
On a bright, sunny morning in central Jerusalem, two friends and I approached a domed house of worship. A sign outside the door asked us to remove our shoes, so we slipped off our sandals and walked inside, where elaborate carpets covered the floors. A woman wearing a long floral skirt and a sweeping white headscarf bowed and prostrated in prayer, her forehead and lips touching the ground. These images and practices were ones I was used to encountering in Muslim communities, both in the United States and the Middle East. If it weren’t for the icons and crucifixes on the walls, I would have thought I was visiting a mosque.
But this place was an Ethiopian Orthodox church, a Christian sanctuary. Many of its features—a shrouded altar for consecration, images of Mary and St. George, and twisting crosses that reminded me of Celtic ones—gave away its Christian affiliation. But other qualities, like the practices and attire of those who prayed there, to me were reminiscent of Islam.Read more
As Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to present the U.S. framework for two-states in Israel and the Occupied Territories, the rhetoric is heating up. And so is the politics. There is a rich trove of news and opinions this week-end some of it focused on the impact of BDS on Israel and on the Israeli government's reaction; some of it focused on U.S.-Israeli Relations.
PM Netanyahu and Israeli cabinet members: "strongly criticized groups who are threatening a boycott of Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians. Their remarks were a sharp retort to Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned a day earlier that the risk of boycotts would intensify should the current Middle East peace effort fail."
The State Dept retort: "Secretary Kerry has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well-being, including staunch opposition to boycotts,... At the Munich Security Conference yesterday, he spoke forcefully in defense of Israel’s interests, as he consistently has throughout his public life. In response to a question about the peace process, he also described some well-known and previously stated facts about what is at stake for both sides if this process fails, including the consequences for the Palestinians. His only reference to a boycott was a description of actions undertaken by others that he has always opposed.” Even a little wishy-washy there at the end sent Netanyahu off the cliff. NYTimes.
And there are these: "Israeli Official Paints Bleak Scenario of Failed Peace Talks" / "Israel Needs to Learn Some Manners" / "Loosing the Propaganda War" / "Why Israel Fears the Boycott" / "A Star Stumbles in the Settlements"
In the State of the Union, President Obama said he would veto any effort to increase sanctions on Iran. Previous White House threats seemed a bit oblique, now his direct threat has pulled some Democratics back from the brink of voting for the "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act" introduced by Senators Mendez (D.) and Kirk (R.). Rand Paul, one of the few Republicans to stand back from supporting the bill, now opposes it. All to the good.
Paul Pilar, senior fellow at Georgetown and The Brookings Institutions as well as a former CIA officer, has a long memory. He enumerates all the ways over the years in which relations with Iran have come under fire, and not just for their nuclear program. In the National Interest. He expects that as negotiations continue other and older reasons to bring down Iran will emerge.
My nickname is Pat, but the Egyptians named me Mr. Bat, since Arabic has no “P” sound and they liked to pretend that they couldn’t pronounce the letter.
When I went to Cairo in 1976 to visit my high school friend Ken (known to the Egyptians as Mr. Kent), I was an uptight Catholic working class boy. Although I had grown a beard to annoy my boss at work (and to hide what I thought were my overly youthful features) and although I had long hair like everyone else in 1976, I was no hippie. I certainly wasn’t a confirmed pot or hash smoker. I was very straight-laced for the time.
I expected the Egyptians to be straight laced too. If I can put a word to what I expected, that word would be austere. Although I was aware that Egypt was a more open society than, say, Saudi Arabia, I expected it to be chaste and humorless, rather like Massachusetts in the 17th century.
This is probably why it took me about two weeks to get the first joke that was played on me. The morning after I had arrived, I noticed that Ken was still wearing a gallabiyah (a robe like outfit that most non-Westernized Egyptians wore). He usually did so in the apartment. It seemed cool in both senses of the word, and I asked him if I could borrow one. He readily agreed and he loaned me three of them for my own use. I was delighted and I put one on immediately.
What he didn’t tell me was that the three that he loaned me had belonged to his ex-girlfriend Shelley. There are subtle (to a Western eye) differences between a man’s and a woman’s gallabiyah that I didn’t see and for two weeks Ken and his friends and neighbors enjoyed the spectacle of me dressing up as Ken’s girlfriend. I now understood why I got such strange looks from the postman, the doorman, the garbage collector, and the laundry man.
Robert Gates memoir, Duty, has gotten a rough reception in the media. But considering his view of the media, and of Congress, and of Obama staff, that should be no surprise. That's why Tom Rick's opening paragraph in his front-page review at the NYT Books is refreshing with just the right splash of vinegar.
"As I was reading “Duty,” probably one of the best Washington memoirs ever, I kept thinking that Robert M. Gates clearly has no desire to work in the federal government again in his life. That evidently is a fertile frame of mind in which to write a book like this one."
Duty seems to be the story of a dutiful guy who has served, it says, eight administrations and went to the Department of Defense in the nadir of the Iraq war. I am a few chapters in and what I find is instructive so far:Read more
The White House and the U.S. Senate are in a game of chicken. Senate Bill S. 1881, "Nuclear Free Iran Act," now has more than 59 co-sponsors. If it came to the floor, it would pass. The President has said he will veto the bill. Supporters reposte: we will override the veto. The White House has said if these Senators want war with Iran, come out and say so. Senate proponents claims it is an insurance policy against Iranian failure to rid itself of its nuclear program.
What's going on? It depends on who you ask. Tuesday's New York Times offers this: "Behind these positions is a potent mix of political calculations in a midterm election year. Pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, have lobbied Congress to ratchet up the pressure on Iran, and many lawmakers are convinced that Tehran is bluffing in its threat to walk away from the talks."
Maybe it's the "blank check" the U.S. has long given Israel. In that case it's Kaiser Wilhelm's doing; as I discuss in my current column.
In an anticipated moment for ecumenism with the eastern churches, Pope Francis will meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during his three-day trip in late May. He made the announcement today, the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras.
Visits to Bethlehem in the West Bank and Amman, Jordan, had already been revealed. The announcement of his plans in Jerusalem was what many were anticipating. A few weeks ago Israeli officials were concerned that Pope Francis might not celebrate Mass in Jerusalem during his trip. Now in today's reports there seems to be ambiguity about the function of the meeting at the Holy Sepulchre.Read more
From Yediot Aharonot yesterday and The Tablet today come some tentative details about Pope Francis's trip to the Holy Land. The Israeli newspaper reports that the short trip's proposed schedule has "dashed hopes" of a Papal Mass in Jerusalem.Read more
Last week reports were that Congressional action on further Iran sanctions had faded. Apparently not so. The "Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013," has been introduced by Senators Schumer, Mendez, and Kirk. It is likely to be taken up after Congress returns in the new year.
Jim Lobe has a run-down of its major provisions. You can read it here: Lobe Log.
The bill's provisions ham-string diplomatic efforts to negotiate with Iran over it's nuclear program. It would require that Iran give up the program, which is unlikely. It undermines the goal of the current negotiations cutting back and ending any potential nuclear bomb program. The bill will have none of that.
Then there's this: "…if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence…"
The qualifying words and phrases notwithstanding, that looks like blanket permission for Israel to bomb Iran. If Netanyahu decides to do so the United States will be forced to join in.
Lobe calls it the "Wag the Dog" bill. But why not "Let's Give Israel a Blank Check"?
Muslim immigration to Italy. Persecution of Christians in Syria. Anti-Muslim rhetoric in the Netherlands. Anti-Christian rulings in Malaysia. Mosque burnings in the United States and church burnings in Egypt. These sad events are some of the most obvious points of contact between Catholics and Muslims in the modern world. Thus, it’s unsurprising that Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel,” makes mention of Islam and Catholic-Muslim interaction. In his familiar style, Pope Francis smartly roots his commentary on Islam in the tradition of the Church and his predecessors, while at the same time forges new theological territory.
In our time
Fifty years ago, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council published Nostra Aetate (“In our time”), which spoke in new ways about the Church’s relationship to non-Christian religions, including Islam. This document was prompted by the important events of that era, when the world was coming to grips with the reality of the Holocaust and the increased interaction between people of different faiths. In his exhortation, Francis responds to the signs of our own time—the issues and events that are salient for Catholics and Muslims today.
Francis begins his three hundred-word discussion of Islam by highlighting the phenomenon of increased Muslim immigration to Europe. No doubt aware of the challenges and prejudices faced by Muslims in Europe, Francis writes that “we Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries.” His visit to Lampedusa, an Italian island where many African immigrants make landfall, indicated his own personal concern about the plight of refugees—including non-Christians. Yet, Francis describes the situation in Europe in overly idealistic terms—saying, “they can freely worship and become fully a part of society”(252) —seeming to understate the impact of often-racist policies that keep Muslim immigrants confined to ghettos and low-paying jobs.
Francis also addresses the recent spike in persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries: “I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!”(253) This statement is only one of many he’s made on the plight of Christians—and all those suffering—in the Middle East.Read more
...the rest of the world went on without a Thanksgiving celebration. So to catch you up, here's a wonkish analysis of where the Obama-Netanyahu struggle stands. It is written by an Englishman, so it should be read with a grain of salt. On the other hand, he has an optimistic take on what Obama (and Kerry) might pull off in Middle East diplomacy.
...Bibi-watchers are focused now on how the Israeli leader will play the next six months, in which the Geneva agreement will either blossom into a lasting accord or break apart. But it prompts another question: what will be the impact on Israel's conflict closer to home? Could the breakthrough with Iran somehow presage a breakthrough between Israelis and Palestinians? The wisest bet would be on no....
But there's another, riskier bet to make. It says that Obama now has momentum in the Middle East, using diplomacy to solve problems previously deemed soluble only through military action. Perhaps it's true that he stumbled on a remedy for Syria..... And now there is Iran....
Intriguingly, Obama's policy of restraint found a supportive echo in the Israeli securocracy: it was the loud, sometimes public opposition of current and former military and intelligence chiefs that made it all but impossible for Netanyahu to contemplate air strikes against Iran. It turns out that it was the fruit of a deliberate, planned effort by Washington, patiently creating what one anaylsis calls a "United States lobby" within the Israeli security elite. Now established, there is no reason why that same US lobby could not be mobilised to pressure Bibi again – this time on the Israel-Palestine track.
Will the sky fall? Chicken Little: Thank you for asking, Apparently not for 6 months. Check back in June.
UPDATE: 11/24 An agreement between the P5+! was reached. President Shimon Peres of Israel welcomed it: “the success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words,” and he called on the Iranians “to reject terrorism” and to stop the nuclear program and the development of long-range missiles.
“Israel, like others in the international community, prefers a diplomatic solution,” Mr. Peres said. “But I want to remind everyone of what President Obama said, and what I have personally heard from other leaders: The international community will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. And if the diplomatic path fails, the nuclear option will be prevented by other means. The alternative is far worse.”
PM Netanyahu does not agree with Peres or Obama, on the merits of the interim agreement. And perhaps many in the U.S. Congress will second Netanyahu. But scuttling the agreement by imposing more sanctions rather than helping to control Iran's nuclear program would look like an act of revenge against Obama and Kerry for succeeding at diplomacy instead of starting a war.
Yesterday's post below:Read more
Now featured on the website, the editors on negotiating with Iran, and the first in our special series on raising kids Catholic (more on that below).
From the editorial “The Threat of Peace”:
Iran insists that its nuclear industry is intended only for peaceful purposes. But it would be irresponsible to take Iranian promises at face value. … Still, almost by definition, most efforts to avoid war involve dealing with dangerous and untrustworthy foes. Consequently, confidence-building steps are necessary. Led by Secretary of State John Kerry, the international community has proposed an interim agreement to test the regime’s real intentions…. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a vociferous opponent of any interim deal, claiming that if sanctions are lifted even temporarily it will be impossible to re-impose them. Netanyahu and some in Congress want the sanctions tightened further, arguing that only the harshest pressure can force the Iranians to make meaningful concessions. Given his previous objections to the administration’s Iran policy, Netanyahu’s new-found faith in sanctions is curious, to say the least. …
Diplomacy rarely succeeds unless each party offers the other a way to save face with hardliners at home. In that light, the sort of interim agreement Secretary Kerry is proposing seems worth the limited risks involved.
Also live, the first in our multipart series “Raising Catholic Kids,” in which we asked parents to discuss and reflect on their experiences in “rooting family in faith.” We’ll be posting new installments on a regular basis in coming days, and we’ll be packaging the series so that as new articles go live they’re collected all in one place. Featured today, J. Peter Nixon:
I have two children of my own now. Many parents react to perceived deficiencies in their own childhood by leaning violently in the other direction. I am no different. I have done everything in my power to give my children the deep roots in the Catholic tradition that I did not have. My wife and I have made the financial sacrifice to send our children to Catholic school, a sacrifice that will become all the more difficult as they enter (God willing!) the local Catholic high school. Both of us pursued graduate work in theology and we are deeply involved in a wonderful parish where we are active in a variety of ministries.
Aside from the investment in their education, I did not do most of these things for my children. I did them because they seemed at least a meager return for what God has done for me in Jesus Christ. But I have also tried to live my faith in a way that would make it truly attractive and credible to my children.
Every now and then I feel that it’s working.
Read the whole thing here, and remember to check back at the homepage as we post additional pieces. And as the series concludes, we’ll be featuring as an online exclusive some reflections by young people (who to some might still count as kids) on what they learned being raised in Catholic families.