Abstinence, fidelity and the church on AIDS prevention

{mosimage}On a plane last month taking him to Yaoundé, Cameroon, Pope Benedict XVI was asked whether the church’s approach to AIDS and HIV in Africa was realistic and effective.

First, the Holy Father explained the church’s holistic program. He pointed out how the church’s approach of dealing with ignorance and misery on many fronts is naturally different from the necessarily narrower approach of public policy. Then the Holy Father critiqued the further reduction of public policy to a single means and method: “the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.”

Youth can lead today rather than tomorrow

{mosimage}Last year I wrote about my eldest daughter’s life-changing school trip to the Dominican Republic to build houses in an impoverished mountain village. She vowed it would be the first of many such endeavours.

That experience led to her involvement with Free the Children , a charitable organization involving “a network of children helping children through education.”

What would Jesus text?

{mosimage}Imagine how rapidly Christianity or any socio-political movement would have swept across the breadth of the ancient world if given the benefit of today’s ubiquitous communication technologies.

The Vatican’s recent announcement of a new YouTube channel to communicate its message to the world, and its exploration of other ways to use new media, if not surprising, is certainly an astute and pragmatic move.

A military career in not un-"Christian"

{mosimage}Over the past few weeks I have read and re-read the articles in The Catholic Register beginning with Sheila Dabu’s article on Capt. Joseph Nonato and his feelings on faith and the circumstances in which he found himself in Afghanistan. The subsequent rebuke of Capt. Nonato by two letter writers left a rather sour taste in my mouth.

There seems to be a lack of knowledge and understanding of soldiering and the role that faith plays in the lives of soldiers.

Every person has the right and freedom to choose what they believe is best for them in their lives. The “armchair theologian” approach of those who believe a military career is un-“Christian” purports that those who choose to serve their country in uniform are condemning themselves in the eyes of God.  If, in reaching that conclusion, they think that any Christian, let alone a Catholic, wilfully seeks violence as an occupation, then they are grossly and sadly mistaken.

Pope Benedict not the enemy of AIDS prevention

{mosimage}For those working in media education and advocacy, news and comment about papal statements tend to follow a predictable pattern. Within a lengthy speech or series of speeches, there will be mention of church teaching on sexuality. Regardless of what else was said, response will be swift, negative and sneering, sometimes not without an implication that really, perhaps celibate old men should not be addressing such matters at all.

So it was with Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Africa. During a press conference en route, in answer to a question of which he had advance notice, he confirmed the church’s belief that condoms are not the answer to stemming the AIDS crisis. Reacting immediately, the Toronto Star quoted Stephen Lewis, chairman of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, who said the Pope must be “living on the moon” to reject such sound science as condoms as an AIDS preventative. The Halifax Chronicle Herald was perhaps more balanced, stating that condoms are not the complete solution, but editorializing that “Personal responsibility, as the Pope says, is the key. That, however, includes condom use.” In the Edmonton Sun, Lynn Cockburn advises that “the Pope’s attitude toward condoms, abortion and women has got to be significant in the field of paleontology.” Similar comment was available in most newspapers.

The new evangelization

{mosimage}It is a truism among ecumenists that the pressing importance of Christian unity derives from the mission entrusted by Christ to the Church: to bring the Gospel to all people. Unity, in short, is our mission, but our divisions generally get in the way of effectively working together.

Our present challenges, however, present us with new opportunities for collaboration. This was brought home when I was in Geneva, Switzerland, in early March among my Swiss ecumenical colleagues, most of whom are Protestant and who have been heavily involved in church work.

Lessons learned from foreign lands

Annual meetings of the Administrative Board of the International Federation of Catholic Universities might not be expected to generate a great deal of media interest.  After all, discussions about policy, statutes, bylaws, applications for membership, budgetary matters and issues of scheduling and personnel are the general meat of most such comparable meetings: dull fare for everyone save those empowered to care.

The meetings — which I have been attending now for a decade — are, however, more than simply banal and managerial in their design. Among the key benefits of the week-long sessions are the rich opportunities that arise because of exposure to other university constituencies and challenges, the recognition of the common themes that unite us and the common threats that lurk ominously on our collective horizon and the energizing possibilities inherent in academic collaboration, student exchanges and shared research projects.

Helping our community for more than three decades

{mosimage}For more than 30 years, the Lenten season has been marked in a special way in the archdiocese of Toronto, with thousands of Catholics demonstrating their faith through a massive act of charity known as ShareLife.

In March 1976, then Archbishop Philip Pocock attracted the attention of the country with a major announcement about the Catholic Church in the archdiocese. Based on principles of faith, the archbishop removed Catholic Charities from the mainstream appeal. In making this announcement, he said, “I am prepared to take the responsibility of sustaining the services of Catholic Charities to the community.” Thus, ShareLife, the annual charitable appeal of the archdiocese of Toronto, was established.

Children will better, not hinder, our world

{mosimage}This just in folks, children are bad for the environment — because humans are bad for the environment. But of course! I guess that makes some sense if the environment is the universal ultimate good of the world. And is that so? Do we value the world more than we value human life?

Even if the environment is the ultimate good, how does this argument work? Jonathan Pitt, the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission chair, states that “Couples who have more than two children are being ‘irresponsible’ by creating an unbearable burden on the environment.” He, of course, leads by example, and has only two children. The assumption is that every couple with reproductive capacity will have only two children and thus this reaches, apparently, the level of replacement for the world population.

Sexual authenticity

{mosimage}It was the Marquis de Sade who first put into writing the idea that homosexuality is, for some, an inclination that emerges in childhood and remains more or less fixed throughout life. This view developed, over several centuries, into the modern notion of sexual orientation: same-sex attraction ceased to be a temptation or inclination from which some people suffered at various points in their lives and became something fixed, immutable and fundamental to the personality.

This understanding of same-sex attraction is held more or less universally in mainstream modern culture. Looking at the writings of the press, the gay and lesbian organizations and the North American psychological establishment, one gets the impression that the matter is very simple. Some people are born gay, some people are born straight and some people are born bisexual. It is as unnatural and unhealthy to expect a gay person to have heterosexual relationships as it would be for a straight person to seek out same-sex partners. Whatever your orientation is, it’s that way for life and it cannot be changed.

Making sense of Lent in economic turmoil

{mosimage}Lent is back big time and in a wholly unexpected manner. There is an odd, though understandable, confluence of pop culture, economic trends and the liturgical calendar this year that makes the essence of the Lenten season appropriate to Christians and non-Christians.

In the theatres Confessions of a Shop-a-holic (the film treatment of the Chick-Lit book whose title says it all) and The International (the thriller about a truly killer bank) each speak in their own way to a mood that has swept the world: true discomfort at unfettered greed at the personal and corporate level. Combine the movies with mounting job losses and continual admonitions that everything is just going to get worse and some of us could be forgiven for concluding that Lent, a time of abstinence, sacrifice and reflection, began some time ago.