Baby steps

{mosimage}Sometimes progress has to be measured in baby steps. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a dance, two steps forward, one step back. That’s how Canadians could view the state of free speech in this country. In late November, there was a bit of progress, along with evidence that one of our most cherished freedoms is still under assault.

We’ll get to that, but first a bit of backstory. Despite what you may think — and what our Charter of Rights and Freedoms says explicitly — freedom of speech has been eroded in recent years. Human rights tribunals, unaccountable quasi-judicial bureaucratic bodies charged with ensuring we all live in harmony, have been slowly expanding their turf. From originally being concerned with rooting out discrimination in job markets, housing and other essential parts of life, they have moved into adjudicating between various people who have found ways to offend each other with their words. Their rationale for moving in this area can be found in Sec. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

A regrettable conflict, again

{mosimage}Once more Congo is burning and the world is watching. After five years of civil war (1998-2003) in which more than five million people were killed and another million dislocated, the war-weary people of Congo are facing the prospect of another preventable war.

The Congo conflict is the longest and most devastating conflict in Africa. It is also central to resolving the horrors in Darfur because these conflicts have led to the weaponization of this African sub-region and the surrounding countries extending to Sudan and Chad. The vast and ungoverned territories in this area provide the route for the transportation of all kinds of weapons to the African hot spots in Uganda, Somalia, Congo and Sudan. They are also fertile grounds for very angry and disinherited Africans who are tools for burgeoning terrorist cells and rogue groups and militias.

Virtues demand the highest of us

{mosimage}In the Oct. 18 Register appears a picture of some high school students holding up giant letters spelling out DIVERSITY. Now “diversity” is one of those weasel words, so beloved of multiculturalists, that frequently conceal animus towards religion generally, and hostility to Catholicism in particular. 

The accompanying article, by Sheila Dabu, raised concern about a $2-million Ontario Education Ministry initiative called “Character Development.” There is reason for concern.

He is coming

{mosimage}Advent is a religious season that sneaks up on us. Its quiet arrival is drowned out by the noisy commercial hype for Christmas, the Santa Claus parades, shopping, seasonal parties and frenzied preparations for travel and visiting.

Yet, as with so many things in life, Advent is the more important occasion, transcending all those other “must do’s” of this time of year. It, too, is a time of preparation, but of the heart.

Obama the right man, despite pro-choice stance

{mosimage}Along with a clear majority (54 per cent) of American Catholics who voted in the recent U.S. presidential election, I cast my ballot for Democratic candidate Barack Obama. And along with at least some of these Catholic voters, I picked Obama after a time of soul-searching.

I agreed with his liberal, interventionist policies on the economy, his ideas about America’s relationship with its friends and enemies, health care reform, the deplorable war in Iraq and other matters. I disagreed with Republican candidate John McCain’s stands on virtually every issue, from economics to Iraq.

Leaders like Merton embody the struggle into holiness

{mosimage}This Dec. 10 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the celebrated monk-poet Thomas Merton (1915-1968).

By the time of his death, Merton, born in Prades, France, a citizen of the United States and a monk for 27 years in the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, had an international following of enviable proportions, a publication record of staggering range and an influence by no means limited to the Catholic world. Merton was, and remains, a phenomenon, an utterly engaging figure, controversial, iconic, the paradigmatic monk for our century.

Sober reflections on a night of change

{mosimage}It was just after 10:15 p.m. on Nov. 4 when I began walking with my wife and brother-in-law along Michigan Avenue toward Grant Park in downtown Chicago. For much of the evening, we had been at the Hyatt Regency waiting for U.S. election results to come in. We passed the time watching members of the media position themselves for a possible interview with Sen. Barack Obama, who was reportedly in a suite with his family waiting for a concession phone call from Sen. John McCain.

When we left the hotel, which was shortly after Sen. McCain had begun his concession speech, only the staked-out reporters, who missed their scoop, seemed to be unhappy by the news that Sen. Obama had been declared the next president of the United States and that he was already on his way to Grant Park to address a jubilant crowd of some 250,000 people.

Great expectations

{mosimage}The global Obama lovefest after the Nov. 4 U.S. presidential election suggests that much of the early days of President-elect Barack Obama’s tenure will be taken up with managing expectations.

Around the world, people are comparing his election to that of John F. Kennedy’s in 1960 — the first time a Catholic became president — or the day Nelson Mandela was freed from a South African prison, or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And it is true, the election of an African American to the presidency is an historically momentous occasion; it marks a watershed in the long struggle to heal the deep-seated wounds of slavery and racial violence in the American psyche. It is a moment of great rejoicing.

Faith shines through disaster

{mosimage}They came in flashbacks — snapshots of memories from an unexpected tragedy. Before I went to the Middle East to pursue an internship there, I was told that Jordan was the safest country in the region. It was, until three years ago when Jordan had it’s own 9/11.

Just before 9 p.m. on Nov. 9, 2005, triple suicide bombings rocked Amman, Jordan’s capital, including a wedding party at the Radisson SAS hotel. The attacks were blamed on al Qaeda and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian national who became a top al Qaeda leader based in Iraq. About 57 people were killed and 100 injured in those attacks.

As the Pope sees us

{mosimage}Every now and again it is useful to look at ourselves through the eyes of others. Our own faults, as well as gifts, take on revealing hues when they are presented to us from a more arm’s length point of view.

In late October that perspective was offered by Pope Benedict XVI. He was commenting on Canada in his official greetings to the new Canadian ambassador to the Vatican, Anne Leahy, when she arrived to present her official credentials.

Love for God, neighbour, antidote to fundamentalism

{mosimage}The first decade of the 21st century will be remembered as a good one for the sacred books of the West’s great religions, but not so good for those getting the Book thrown at them.

Women in the sheikdoms and Islamic republics, for example, beat up by Qur’an-quoting police for accidentally flashing an inch of ankle, and moderate Muslims having their TV sets snatched away and destroyed by their more righteous brethren. Arabs thrown off their land by Jews obsessed by some pages in the Old Testament promising their ancestors most of the known world. These, and myriad others, have been victims of militants mouthing the same justification for wreaking holy terror: The Book told them to do it.