The Pope’s latest book shows he is the most learned man alive

Why does Pope Benedict XVI bother to write books? Long before his election to the See of Peter he was established as a leading theologian of his generation. Being universal pastor of the Church is a crushing job, so why add to it by embarking on a massive scholarly project?

Evidently the Holy Father enjoys writing theology. The deeper reason though is that Benedict knows, with all humility, that he is better at it than anyone else. Just as the soon-to-be-Blessed John Paul II knew that he had a special gift for leading massive, history-changing public manifestations of the faith, Benedict likely concludes that if the Lord wanted him as Pope then he should do what God gave him the talent to do.

Words are not enough

Shahbaz Bhatti predicted his murder. In Ottawa last month, Pakistan’s minister of minorities explained to Jason Kenney that he never married because it would be unfair to leave behind a widow and children. He told our correspondent Deborah Gyapong of death threats and said he was ready to die for his beliefs.

“I was struck by how resigned he was about his expected martyrdom,” Kenney would later say.

Bhatti was ambushed March 2 as he got into his car in Islamabad. A Catholic, he died because he refused to hide beneath a cloak of silence that shrouds Pakistan’s detestable blasphemy laws. He was a man of profound faith, principle and courage who would not be cowed by the religious bigots and zealots who abound in Pakistan.

Taking on secularism

In a subtle nod to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, some Quebeckers are calling the case of Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay the “Prayer Trial.”

In the Scopes case a small-town Tennessee high school teacher, John Scopes, faced charges of teaching evolution in a trial that pitted church against state and traditionalists against modernists. The trial sparked a local furor and national debate that made international headlines.

Tremblay’s case is unlikely to attain such notoriety but, from the perspective of church vs. state, the two cases do indeed bear some resemblance.

The exceptional criminality of Linda Gibbons

I have never met Linda Gibbons. I’m not sure I’d want to. After all, this 63-year-old grandmother must be a very dangerous person. She has spent almost all of the last 20 years locked up in jail.

Gibbons’ story began in 1994 when the NDP formed the Ontario Government and then Attorney-General Marion Boyd obtained a court injunction to prevent anyone from offering up a public protest within a 60-foot “bubble zone” around abortion clinics.  

Gibbons believes abortion is tantamount to murder. You do not have to share her view to recognize the moral imperative it creates. So Gibbons stands on the sidewalk outside abortion clinics and prays silently. Sometimes she goes further; sometimes she goes so far as to hold up a sign that says: “Why, Mom, when I have so much love to give?”

Quebec struggles to deal with its spiritual death

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.

Personal animus comes through in artist’s nonsensical works

Toronto artist Peter Alexander Por is an angry man.

As I found on a visit to his controversial show of paintings and sculptures at Toronto’s Bezpala Brown Gallery (which ended Feb. 25), Por is angry, in a general way, with the mostly 20th-century tyrants who have killed millions of people and made life miserable for many millions more. Most of the 30 canvasses on display are crudely sketched portraits of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and other modern political monsters, emblazoned with the numbers of those who, Por claims, died as a result of their wars and persecutions. Though we have heard such statistics before, these numbers still have the power to stagger and amaze: Mao (4.5 million dead), Ayatollah Khomeini (700,000), Rwandan leader Theoniste Bagosora (one million), Pol Pot (two million), and so on.

Plunging necklines, lingerie parties and the new family restaurant

Before becoming a mother, I never realized the job description included letter writing, but over the years I have written many of them — to teachers, principals, directors, priests and camp counsellors.

Most recently I wrote a letter to the president of SIR Corp., a Canadian company that operates 46 restaurants in Canada. Their brands include Jack Astor’s, Alice Fazooli’s, Canyon Creek, Reds, Far Niente, Four, Petite For and Loose Moose. Judging from their online financial statements, they are doing well.

My letter concerned a troubling dining experience at Jack Astor’s. I was there with family to celebrate a new publishing contract. I have been a good customer — dining there since the day it has opened.

Hope in Egypt

During the extraordinary days that culminated in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Christians and Muslims set aside religious differences to march together as Egyptian citizens demanding reform.  

Thus the protests that caused Mubarak’s resignation were not so much an Islamic uprising as they were a broad popular revolt that crossed deep religious divides. There were stories from Cairo of Christians forming protective circles around Muslims during Friday prayers, and Muslims reciprocating when, remarkably, Christians prayed in public. Christians held crosses next to Muslims carrying Qurans. Some protesters waved signs that had the Christian cross mingling with the Muslim crescent in a unified symbol. When the radical Muslim Brotherhood shouted “Allah Akbar!” they were drowned out by chants of “Muslim, Christian. . .  we’re all Egyptian.”

The passing of Archbishop Zycinski is a great loss for the Church

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.

Hollywood keeps dumbing-down the demonic

“What were you expecting?” the veteran demon-fighter Fr. Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) asks his young apprentice Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) after an uneventful exorcism in The Rite, now playing in movie theatres across southern Ontario. “Spinning heads? Pea soup?”

At those lines, you could almost feel a satisfied smile go around the audience. The vivid allusion, everybody knew, was to The Exorcist (1973), Hollywood’s first and best attempt to do a film about Catholics casting out devils. It was director Mikael Håfström’s heavy-handed way to remind movie-goers of what was already, by that point, perfectly obvious: that The Rite is meant to be a serious contribution to that horror sub-genre, the demon movie, created by The Exorcist almost 40 years ago.

It isn’t, but certainly not for lack of trying.

‘Fr. Oprah’ has become a bore, not some noble man fighting the evil Church

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.