Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary parish on Wolfe Island, and chaplain at Newman House at Kingston, Ont.’s Queen’s University.

On Oct, 3, Fr. de Souza was invited to address a consultative meeting of Canadian religious leaders convened by John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, about the decision of the federal government to establish an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. What follows is an adaptation of what he said.

Just last spring I offered on Parliament Hill, in my capacity as chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society — an informal association of Catholic parliamentarians — a memorial Mass for Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain Pakistani minister, killed for his advocacy of the rights of religious minorities. That Mass, obviously Catholic, was attended by MPs and Senators of different parties, including many who were not Catholic, or even Christian. It was a sign that religious liberty is not an issue of special pleading by religious believers alone, much less religious believers of only one kind or another.

This morning I only speak for myself, but I would note that Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his annual message for the World Day of Peace 2011 to the importance of religious freedom.

It’s not right to characterize a people by their elected representatives. Who among us would advise our visitors that the Canadian character is what one witnesses, say, in the House of Commons during Question Period? So the fact that many members of the German federal parliament (Bundestag) boycotted Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in that chamber last week ought not be held against the German people.

But it should be noted for what it says about the German political culture. That so many — perhaps as many as a hundred members from the Green, Left and Social Democratic opposition parties — could be so rude and so closed-minded is a discouraging sign that all is not well in the heart of Europe. Remember that last year in Great Britain, the Queen extended a most gracious welcome to the Holy Father, and the entire assembled ranks of British political life — including all former living prime ministers — did Benedict the honour of welcoming him to the Palace of Westminster. Or a few years back, when President George W. Bush gave an extraordinarily warm and festive welcome at the White House, and even gave a formal dinner for the Pope, despite the fact that popes don’t attend such dinners. So the cool reception from a significant part of the German parliament is certainly not the normal courtesy the Holy Father is usually shown.

September 20, 2011

A tale of two funerals

Enough has been written about the Jack Layton funeral, but indulgent readers may permit me to add a final thought to what I have written elsewhere. Not so much about how Mr. Layton chose to organize his final parting, but rather to note the contrast between two funerals.

A few days after Jack Layton was feted at Roy Thomson Hall, the funeral Mass for Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic was offered at St. Michael’s Cathedral. The difference was like black and white.

In the concert hall, Rev. Brent Hawkes and others went on at great length about carrying forth Mr. Layton’s vision of an “inclusive” social movement. And the massed ranks of the proudly progressive stood and applauded lustily, all the while patting themselves on the back for their broad-mindedness — which is anatomically hard to do at the same time, but the spirit of the occasion demanded it.

Last week was all about 9/11. This week should be about 9/12.

Five years ago, on the day after the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Pope Benedict XVI gave his famous — or infamous in some quarters — Regensburg address. He spoke frankly about the role of faith and reason, the question of violence in religion and the challenges facing both Islam and Christianity. The subsequent eruption of violence in the Islamic world to protest the Pope’s suggestion that there might be a problem in the Islamic world punctuated the urgency of the questions engaged.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, presidents, prime ministers and princes visited mosques, hosted Ramadan fast-breaking dinners and loudly proclaimed that Islam is a religion of peace. All well and good, but fraternal goodwill and Christian charity is not a replacement for dealing forthrightly with the theological justification advanced for such violence. Bad theology is answered not by breaking bread together. It is answered by good theology. On 9/12 five years ago, Benedict did what he does best, namely, highlight the theological issues at stake, the most pressing of which was the status of violence in Islamic theology.

The picture hangs in my home. At first glance it is easy to overlook him. He is slumped down, being lifted out of the rubble in a chair. The men carrying him dominate the scene, their uniforms covered in soot and plaster and ash. They are straining. He is dead.

The photograph of Fr. Mychal Judge being carried out of the World Trade Centre is one of the most enduring images from 9/11, a day when even the most vivid imagination was unequal to the unfolding reality. A Franciscan priest, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, Fr. Mychal rushed to the World Trade Centre after it had been hit.

He was tending to the wounded in the lobby, blessing, comforting, administering the sacraments. In the photograph his right hand is hanging limp, as though exhausted from the blessing, the comforting, the anointing. When the neighbouring tower collapsed debris struck Fr. Mychal. They carried him out and laid him in St. Peter’s Church, just around the corner from the World Trade Centre. A photographer caught the moment, and it appeared immediately everywhere. Just as immediately it was recognized as a religious image. This was the deposition from the cross in Manhattan.

A culture expresses itself in what it chooses to build. Ancient Egypt gave us the pyramids, tombs of their god-kings. Medieval France gave us the Gothic cathedral. Twenty-first century Texas gives us a $1.2-billion football stadium.

Recently the Quebec provincial government and the Quebec City municipal government announced $400 million in funding for a new hockey arena. It will be the new home of what remains, as of now, an imaginary Quebec City NHL team.

Juxtapose that with the news, reported in The Catholic Register last week, that Quebec’s Catholic bishops have asked the province to assist with the maintenance of the hundreds of historic churches that are no longer sustainable by the dwindling number of Quebeckers who practise their faith.
One of the brightest lights in the Catholic episcopate died suddenly in Rome on Feb. 10, at only 62 years old.

I just met Archbishop Jozef Zycinski once — almost 17 years ago now. It was July 1994, and he was then the bishop of Tarnow, a rural diocese just outside Krakow. I was a student on the celebrated seminar led by Fr. Maciej Zieba, the Polish Dominican, and his American friends, Michael Novak, George Weigel and the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Bishop Zycinski came to speak to us about religion and public life in the newly liberated Poland.
MIAMI

Alberto Cutié is back — not that he really ever went away. He has a small Episcopal parish here in Miami, and is flogging his new book, getting ready for his own TV show.

You remember Fr. Oprah, no? Ordained for the archdiocese of Miami in 1995, the photogenic and bilingually articulate priest developed a successful radio and television ministry, becoming something of a Latino celebrity — hence the nickname. In May 2009 a tabloid newspaper published photographs of Cutié on the beach with his mistress, conducting himself in a manner contrary to his priestly promises.
What will the Apostolic Visitation of Ireland accomplish?

In response to the sexual abuse crisis there, Pope Benedict XVI decided last spring to send five bishops to carry out a visitation — ecclesiastical parlance for an investigation — of the archdioceses and seminaries of Ireland. He chose quite a high-powered team: Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster (retired), Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa. They have each been assigned one Irish archdiocese, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been assigned the Irish seminaries. The visits are ongoing in these months, and final reports are due at the Vatican by Easter.
In the nearly 10 years since 9/11, the preoccupying question has remained: Was the jihadist violence of that day representative of Islam or a perversion of it?

From Sept. 12 onwards, everyone from U.S. President George W. Bush to the Prince of Wales has assured us that Islam is a religion of peace. The vast majority of commentators in general, and Christian thinkers in particular, have accepted that. After all, there have been long periods in history of peaceful Islamic rule, and across the Islamic world today, jihadist extremism is fought against by Muslim leaders themselves.

Daniel Pipes, one of the strongest critics of radicalized Islam, makes the point clearly: “It’s a mistake to blame Islam, a religion 14 centuries old, for the evil that should be ascribed to militant Islam, a totalitarian ideology less than a century old. Militant Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution.”