National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
August 12, 2005

Letters Reminiscing about Rome

The “Rome Tourbook” special section in your July 15 issue almost drove me crazy with nostalgia for Rome, where I lived for 11 glorious years. As an experienced veteran of Rome, I can tell that John Allen has caught the fever known as romanità (which is unshakeable). Rome has a way of romanizing people. Pope John Paul II recommended that seminarians and others imparare Roma -- “learn Rome.” After five exhilarating years in Rome with his wife, Shannon, John Allen has more than “learned Rome,” judging from his three essays in “Rome Tourbook.” John and Shannon are having more fun than human beings should be allowed to have!

Stone Park, Ill.

Fr. Gino Dalpiaz directs the Italian Cultural Center in the Chicago area.

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As a GI in 1944 in Italy, I had the opportunity to spend a memorable one-week R and R leave in Rome. I visited the Sistine Chapel and the various famous churches. Some 40 years later, my wife, Jean, and I took an Italian tour including Venice, Florence, Rome (two days), Capri, and so on. It, too, was memorable but I didn’t realize what we were missing until I read John Allen’s article “Food to dream about” in the “Rome Tourbook.”

I read that mouth-watering article prior to dinner and swore if I ever get back to Rome I’m taking it along as a guide.

Clinton, N.J.

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John Allen’s reports from Rome are the first articles I read when I receive NCR. His well-sourced, well-written and knowledgeable reportage and comments are the hallmarks of the ultimate insider.

But that doesn’t make him a trustworthy restaurant guide. I am sure the four restaurants he recommended are OK, but his taste buds need some sophistication. To make a big thing over that tired old dish buccatini all’amatriciana is like an Italian in America raving about hamburgers.

Obviously a devoutly practicing carnivore, Mr. Allen skips over the Italian culinary genius when it comes to vegetables. Served as antipasti, accompanying main courses or as a main course itself, the variety and wonderful taste of vegetables in an Italian kitchen is equal to what a chef can do with pasta.


East Hampton, N.Y.

Jesus is the way

I was troubled by Tissa Balasuriya’s essay “An Asian view of Benedict’s words” (NCR, May 27).

He states, “A second reality is that the church has a theology and practice that claims an exclusive divine revelation, a monopoly on the path to salvation, and therefore an exclusion ... of other religions from knowing or seeing the light.”

Christ has told us, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

The unfathomable richness of this truth, the boundless generosity of his way, and the brilliant fullness of his life underscore the miracle that is our salvation. Once in, how could anyone leave the church if they truly understood the meaning of that salvation? Once understood, how could one be silent about it?

This truth is what empowered Peter and the apostles to preach Jesus’ name “to all the nations.” Confidence in this truth is what led countless unnamed missionaries to risk or lose their lives in order to share that gift with the world.

If we don’t comprehend this truth, then Christianity is just another religion among many and sinks beneath the waters of relativism, where all religions are equal. Aztec sacrifices, pagan naturalism, even the Roman deities -- are these not all worthy of a place in such a system?

This is not to endorse triumphalism, or to suggest that we should not in Christian charity respect all persons in all their diversity, or to say we should defend the excesses that have been perpetrated in Christ’s name.

This is to say, however, that we Christians must not forget that we do have the unique way to God: a God who loves us in all our diversity; a God who will manage to save all the good of whatever religion, Christian and non-Christian alike, but a God who saves us all not through a plethora of religions but through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Ripon, Wis.

Protests in Spain

My heart sank when I learned about the massive protest June 18 decrying gay marriage rights in Spain (NCR, July 1). I was nurtured in the Roman Catholic tradition in a loving home, yet I am a lesbian ... a Christian lesbian, but homosexual nonetheless. (To Fr. Juan Camino, homosexuality is “pre-political” too.) I am deeply concerned that so many Catholics (and Protestant fundamentalists) feel “attacked” and “threatened” and are compelled to “defend” their rights and families. I do not understand how a heterosexual couple is harmed by the legal recognition of a gay couple. Do people think that one’s sexual attractions are chosen, and, if given the opportunity, everyone would choose to be in a homosexual relationship? I do not mean to diminish the seriousness of these feelings. It’s just that I (and every gay couple I know) love and respect their heterosexual families and neighbors. Likewise, gay folk and their allies are not “antichurch.” Indeed, many are standing outside the church door waiting to be welcomed inside.

Georgetown, Texas

Magdalene and friends

Just a word on your lead article “Resurrecting Mary Magdalene” (NCR, July 15). Your author refers to what he calls an encyclical written by John Paul II, titling it Dignitatum Mulieris.

John Paul II wrote in 1988 the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem. Besides misnaming that letter, it is also a mistake to call it an encyclical. Encyclicals are of another order than apostolic letters. Encyclicals are the more authoritative writings of a pope.

Reading the pope’s letter, one might also note that calling Mary Magdalene “Apostle to the Apostles” is a much older tradition than your author seems to suggest. In a footnote (#38), the pope’s letter reminds the reader that St. Rabanus Maurus (776-856), writing Mary Magdalene’s biography, did that in the ninth century, calling her Apostolorum Apostola, and that St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) gave her the same title in the 13th century.


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Regarding NCR’s feature “Resurrecting Mary Magdalene”: Australian writer Donovan Joyce wrote in his 1973 book The Jesus Scroll (published in the UK but never in the United States) that the story of the wedding feast of Cana in John makes no sense unless Jesus was the bridegroom. He wrote that Mary Magdalene was the bride, that they had a son and that Jesus and his son died at the Roman siege of Masada.

Silver Spring, Md.

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The reflections on Mary Magdalene in the current issue of NCR touch on multiple problems. That so many are aghast at the idea -- however fictional -- of her marriage to Jesus reinforces my concern at the lack of a well-developed theology of matrimony. We have a plethora of rules and regulations, but little real understanding of the sacrament and of the relationship of the sacrament to the Eucharist. For if the Eucharist is central to our faith, then we need an understanding of how all the other sacraments relate to it.

The great fault line that has opened beneath us in the current dearth of “priestly vocations” certainly brings the issue to the fore. Yes, we need a prayerful and thoughtful reevaluation of the role of women in the church. We also need a well-developed theology of how the relationship of men and women as equal partners in a sacramental marriage creates a significant element in church faith and practice.

Glen Rock, N.J.

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The Eastern Orthodox churches have been honoring Mary Magdalene with the title “Apostle to the Apostles” for many centuries.

San Francisco

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I would like to make two observations concerning Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code.

One: Leonardo da Vinci may well have painted St. John’s version of the Last Supper, in which there was no Passover supper and so no “chalice” or cup in the first place.

Second: A friend of mine posted on his Web site recently his defense of priestly celibacy, in which he concluded, “It would be unthinkable that hands which touch the Body of Christ in the Eucharist should touch the body of a woman.”

That sort of thinking makes me wonder what priestly (or more properly clerical) celibacy conveys to people’s thinking. It is enough to make me wish that Jesus had married Mary Magdalene, or at least someone!

What does it do to people’s sense of their married holiness? If my friend’s sort of thinking is a common example, priestly celibacy seems to mess up their thinking and spirituality.

Santa Barbara, Calif.

‘Myopic’ bishops’ meeting

Anthony de Mello, in his wonderful book The Song of the Bird, relates how the Russian Orthodox church, at its October 1917 conference, passionately debated whether funeral vestments should be purple or black. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks were turning the world upside down in the brewing Communist revolution.

Cardinal Edward Egan and others’ passion about what is appropriate in the eucharistic acclamation displays the same myopia (NCR, July 15). The Iraq war bleeds on while global poverty and national disease grow. Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?

Fayetteville, N.Y.

Royal column critiques

I visited Bratislava and other parts of Slovakia four years ago. I saw few people out and about even in the capital, no places to eat or stop for coffee, dull and collapsing public structures, and learned that the unemployment rate was quite high, the churches were empty as a result of many years of communist culture and that the Czech Republic was glad to see Slovakia go because it was a drag on its recovery. Could things have changed that much in four years? Is Robert Royal giving us a story with “spin” (NCR, July 15)? Were we in the same country? Just wondering.

Roseville, Minn.

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My first impression reading Robert Royal was one of amusement. I just wanted to let you know I actually subscribe to NCR to get an alternative point of view rather than one I can access at any time through the “mainstream media.” I wonder, now will magazines such as Crisis start carrying Sr. Joan Chittister?

San Jose, Calif.

Middle-class struggle

I am a regular reader of NCR, and I am amazed you ran the strange article headlined “What ‘crisis’ of the middle class?” (NCR, July 1).

Brian Kantz says that the middle class has never been so well off; that it has more money than ever; that both parents work to beef up the family’s bank account. He then says that the median middle class income is $42,000 annually, and that that is enough money to own a house, pay the bills and save for the children’s education.

Most people who make this kind of money (myself included) have barely enough money to squeak by. Many people are using their credit cards to the maximum; others are in debt.

Kantz then ends up by saying that it is up to the upper and middle classes to help people in poverty, especially the middle class. Huh?!? It is government policies that make increasing numbers of people end up in poverty.

I am amazed with his last sentence, which talks about poverty barely getting mentioned in the media. What kind of conclusion is that? And to think that this guy is based in Buffalo, N.Y., where the population has decreased by half because of jobs being outsourced. How is he missing the real world?

I believe that NCR has done a disservice to its readers in running this article. People increasingly are going bankrupt and having their houses foreclosed. It is not up to the middle class to save the poor. It is up to the government that makes the policies that make people poor. You missed it.

Erie, Pa.

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, August 12, 2005