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.

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.”
The beatification of Pope John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday this year has brought joy to both Catholics and non-Catholics the world over. At the same time, questions have been raised about the speed of the process, and whether there was a rush to judgment in this case.

Anticipating such questions, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints released a summary of the process last week, outlining that all the usual procedures were followed in John Paul’s case. The only difference was that Pope Benedict XVI gave permission for the process to begin in 2005, lifting the usual five-year waiting period. John Paul himself had done the same thing for Mother Teresa.

The point of the five-year waiting period is to ensure that there is a genuine, enduring devotion among the faithful to the potential candidate. In a few rare cases, the five-year period is unnecessary as such devotion was already present at the time of death.
Religious freedom cannot be reduced to freedom of worship.

That’s the subtle, but essential point at the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the annual World Day of Peace. For nearly 50 years now, the Holy See has designated New Year’s Day as a special day to pray for peace. Each year the Holy Father selects a theme for his annual message, and for 2011 he selected religious liberty.
An annual highlight arrives in the last days of the year. That’s when Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) holds its annual conference for university students. They call it RiseUp, and it begins each year on Dec. 28 and runs through New Year’s Day.

I first went in 2004 in Toronto, in my first year as chaplain of Newman House at Queen’s University. Completely conquered by the experience, I have returned every year since as it has travelled around the country — Vancouver, Quebec City, Calgary, Toronto again, Winnipeg, and this year in Montreal.

Not all Catholics in Canada know about CCO, but they should. It is one of the most powerful works of the Holy Spirit in our country and a testament that the Gospel has not lost its power to attract souls — even those of the young. Andre and Angele Regnier founded CCO in 1988 in Saskatoon, realizing that the university campus was indeed mission territory. While in previous generations it would have been enough to merely provide services for practising Catholic students, the current situation requires evangelization. CCO’s premise is that most students on campus, including those from Catholic homes, have never heard the “Gospel preached simply and clearly.” So they do it.

CCO full-time missionaries are usually recent university graduates themselves, and they raise all of their own income personally. Can you imagine the zeal for the Gospel and the trust in Providence required to accept that mission? There are dozens of them at campuses from Vancouver to Halifax, and they are evangelizing thousands of university students. To be with some 500 of those students in Montreal was a pure gift and why I have already booked the 2011 RiseUp in Vancouver on my calendar.

“CCO is a university student movement dedicated to evangelization,” says the mission statement. “We challenge students to live in the fullness of the Catholic faith, with a strong emphasis on becoming leaders in the renewal of the world.”

A key word there is fullness. They invite students to be more Catholic, not less. They understand that at the heart of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ. They teach people to pray. They encourage reception of the sacraments, especially promoting confession. Eucharistic adoration is central. The Holy Spirit is not neglected. They read the Scriptures devotedly. They present the magisterial teaching of the Church with confidence in the truth, not a grudging attitude. They present the Catholic faith as a joy to be embraced, not a burden to be borne.

They are a model for how the Church should evangelize a culture where God is at the margins. And if all this can be done on the university campus, where hostility to religion and scepticism about truth often dominate the local culture, then there are sure grounds for hope that the Gospel has not lost its power.

Bringing 500 faithful young Catholics to Montreal is a challenge. Montreal is likely the least-practising major city in the Catholic world. For generations in Montreal the only real question has been whether the Church would withdraw from the culture before it was pushed out, or vice versa. The grand Notre Dame in Old Montreal now charges admission, exempting those who come to pray. Just like the admission charge at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s signals the collapse of the Church of England as a culture-shaping institution, so too does Notre Dame indicate a general attitude that what used to be is not and never shall be again. A culture that cannot support its principal shrines converts them to de facto museums, but they stand as tombstones — markers of places where the faith is dead.

So when a number of students at RiseUp went to Notre Dame for Mass, the cashier was sceptical that so many young people would actually want to do so. Surely it was some kind of trick to avoid paying the fee. Yet they prevailed, and it stands as a symbol of what these marvellous young Catholics do — overcome the scepticism of so many in the Church that the fullness of the Catholic faith still attracts souls to Jesus Christ.

To see the Oratory of St. Joseph and Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral both filled with young people on fire for their faith, this is what the Church in Canada needs. Whatever travails each year brings, at RiseUp the year ends full of Christian hope.