National Catholic Reporter
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September 16, 2005

Letters Eyewitness to Taizé slaying

I was present at the evening prayer Aug. 16 when Br. Roger of Taizé was slashed by the knife of a poor and clearly unstable woman (NCR, Aug. 26 and Sept. 2). I have never been so scared in all my life, and yet the grace of God flowed though the brothers to us.

Some time ago, Br. Roger was asked by his brothers what they were to do if he collapsed at the prayer. This was a clear possibility for him at age 90. He told them to continue with the prayer. And that is what we did. As soon as we realized that there was something very wrong with Br. Roger, the community started singing Laudate Omes Gentes, or “Praise God, all you Peoples,” a slow and meditative chant that succeeded in calming and soothing a very frightened and scared group of people. We then continued with the prayer. At the end, we were told that he had died after this attack.

What followed in the rest of the week of my stay, I will never forget. We found peace of heart, calm and consolation in the prayers, three times a day. We accepted the resolve of the brothers not to condemn in any way this act of a very lost woman and to forgive her wholeheartedly. That a man of dialogue and peace is struck down is terrible, but the gift of this act was that we truly began to understand what the spirit of Taizé is: It is not a form of music or movement, but a lived-out reality of Christian community and love with the risen Christ at the center of all we do, no matter what denomination, group or faction you belong to.

I have stayed in Taizé for many summers and I can say it was a humbling and moving privilege to have met Br. Roger. I hope people will now go to his writings and the writings of these wonderful brothers to find consolation for lives that might be broken and lost. In these days of violence and war, this murder has convinced me that living the Christian life is truly about love, peace, forgiveness and understanding. Br. Roger would want nothing less. Most say that he was a holy and good man. I know he would not allow this to be said of him, but he would send us to find consolation in the Holy Spirit. That I am now doing.


Women religious

I found Rebecca Beyer’s recent article “Studies illuminate trends in new religious life” (NCR, July 29) interesting and insightful. Having been born prior to Vatican II, I observed the struggles and profound changes that women’s religious communities went through. Unfortunately, for many communities, “renewal” seemed to be synonymous with a determination to put as much distance as possible between themselves and anything that resembled their lives prior to Vatican II. These choices resulted in their imperceptible presence in society, a dearth of vocations and an average age of 70 within the community. Even close friends of mine consider it anathema to suggest that perhaps their take on aggiornamento was a bit off the mark. Instead, they have resigned themselves to the eventual dissolution of their communities and a hope that someone will be there to turn off the lights.

While the aforementioned might be understandable, it is more disconcerting to observe communities that retained some traditional aspects of religious life after Vatican II (and continued to attract vocations) embrace in the 1990s the very practices that sounded the death knell for their sister congregations. It seems incredible that individuals would knowingly choose a path that unnecessarily leads to extinction.

Long Beach, Calif.

Passion of Dilawar

I read the opinion piece by David Townsend in the Aug. 12 issue of your newspaper and was so impressed with its eloquence that I sent it to many others. “The Passion of Dilawar of Yakubi” is one of the most heart-wrenching pieces that I have ever read, one that I cannot get out of my mind. But I do believe that it is necessary for us citizens of the United States to be aware of what war encompasses, even if it does damage to our minds and hearts. Mr. Townsend does an excellent job in his presentation of this incident, of which I was aware through other sources. His extraordinary journalistic ability, however, has embedded it into my mind forever.

Plymouth, Mass.

Rome overkill

As a counter to the unbridled enthusiasm for Rome and everything Roman displayed in your “Letters” column of Aug. 12, I want to point out that in the ninth-century manuscript Codex Boernerianus, Irish monks (probably in the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland) wrote several lines of verse in Gaelic that refer to the making of a pilgrimage to Rome. These lines are quoted in Bruce Metzgen’s Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography.

The translation reads, in part:
“To come to Rome, to come to Rome,
Much of trouble, little of profit,
The thing thou seekest here,
If thou bring not with thee, thou findest not.”

Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland

Boston churches

Your cover story and accompanying editorial on the state of the church in Boston (NCR, Aug. 26) makes one proud to be a Catholic Bostonian. The laity are rising out of the pews in rebellion. As Capt. John Parker of the Lexington Minutemen said in 1775, “Let it begin here.”

Swampscott, Mass.

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In the article “Digging in to stay and pray,” I saw courage on the part of those parishioners who have declared that their church belongs to them and not to the clergy; and honor being paid to those artisans, many of whom immigrated to Boston, who built the historical churches that are being defended. I was struck by the pictures of the churches and noticed the beauty of these buildings, with their arches, stained glass windows and wooden pews and floors. Sure, these buildings need maintenance and care and that takes money, but why not spend some of the money being paid in litigation to preserve these beautiful, historic buildings rather than sell them to be converted to restaurants, shops or, worst of all, torn down?

Potomac, Md.

Robertson and Chávez

Bravo for your editorial condemning Pat Robertson’s words (NCR, Sept. 2). He is off the charts, and his latest spout-off only confirms this.

New York

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The Rev. Pat Robertson has become the personification of nationalistic pseudo-Christianity. During his television program, “The 700 Club,” he proposed an act of terrorism in calling for the assassination of Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela.

This is the Christianity of anyone who makes an idol out of the state. This is the Christianity that was popular in the Third Reich as Adolph Hitler manipulated Catholics and Lutherans to the Nazi cause.

This is the Christianity of the Crusades, the Inquisition and the conquistadors. This is the Christianity for which Pope John Paul II apologized.

Pat Robertson previously supported the terrorism of our illegal contra war in Nicaragua, which was one of the greatest scandals in United States history. And now he joins the mob that shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!”

It takes a warped and putrefied conscience to call for the murder of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. And what might be the motive for this murder? The motive is that the empire does not approve of Hugo Chávez. This servant of empire represents everything that Jesus disdained.

The ministry of Pat Robertson has been to betray the one he claims to serve. Remember what Jesus said of the traitor in his midst: “It would be better for him had he not been born.”

There are 30 pieces of silver waiting for you, Pat.

Los Angeles

Blase Bonpane is the director of Office of the Americas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading justice and peace in the hemisphere through educational programs.

* * *

I guess Mr. Robertson was an easy target for the editorial board. I am in agreement with the opinion that his remarks should be condemned, but I am disturbed at how easy it was for your editorial to condemn him, not just his remarks, calling him names such as “charlatan” and referring to his “elfin smile.” It is sad, because, as you stated in your editorial, he does not speak for all evangelicals or all Christians. I was someone who worshiped in an evangelical church. The ease with which you condemned/bashed Mr. Robertson raises concerns of how you view others who would identify themselves in that same vein. He has always been in the sideshow for me anyway.

San Antonio

Levada and birth control

We read with interest your article in the Aug. 26 issue. Wow! Feminists, Michael Novak and the Catholic League agreeing on something? Clearly we have a miracle here! Archbishop Levada’s lawyer blames the woman impregnated by a seminarian for having unprotected sex, and says the good archbishop was entirely out of the loop. So, Mom is left to raise the child, and Dad -- now Father Dad -- is off the hook, his religious order footing the bill for the child’s upbringing. Can we now expect that there will be some development of doctrine relative to the use of condoms issuing from the new prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? Has a precedent been set?


Mary Ann Cunningham is on the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

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Wimpy Adam is alive and well, as the tired Genesis excuse is trotted out yet again: “It’s the woman’s fault!” Apparently birth control is wrong for married couples, but, according to Archbishop Levada’s legal argument the woman is expected to be responsible for providing birth control measures when her partner is a member of the “celibate” irresponsible clergy.

Palm Harbor, Fla.

Embryonic stem cells

Patricia Schudy in her Viewpoint, “An embryo by any other name?” (NCR, Aug. 26), trivializes the biological fact that a new human life begins when the male sperm fertilizes the female ovum by saying it is only an “opinion” and therefore she is “more willing” to consider killing embryos necessary for embryonic stem cell research.

Given that embryonic stem cell research has hurt some but benefited no one -- not even a mouse -- despite many years of trying, with many millions of dollars spent in many locations the world over, the question arises: Why does Ms. Schudy want to even consider enabling legislators to fund more of the same futile research when there have been tremendous benefits to people from adult stem research? Embryonic stem cell research is the contemporary version of the fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Despite all the hype, there is nothing to see. Even worse is that some embryonic stem cell research funding bills (e.g., Maryland’s) include provisions for cloning beyond the embryonic stage and gestating the clone to develop the brutally inhumane practice of fetal farming for body parts and more Nazi-like experimentation.

Adult and cord blood stem cells have cured and treated more than 70 diseases, and researchers are finding stem cells from umbilical cord blood and placenta that are showing all the flexibility of embryonic stem cells. They will be able to fulfill the unrealized hopes of embryonic stem cells without more killing.

Silver Spring, Md.

Catholic parents

Regarding Kris Berggren’s column “Catholic parents set hierarchy straight on gay children” (NCR, Aug. 26.): Thanks for another great article on a subject that a lot of our institutional church leaders would like to relegate to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” category. If we as a church institution can reach out to all other faiths, Christian and non-Christian alike, what is so hard in reaching out to “all our children”? Let us hope and pray that our institutional church leaders will find the courage to replace what one parent in the article referred to as “the violence of the rhetoric” with love and compassion.

Media, Pa.

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National Catholic Reporter, September 16, 2005