Category Archives: Church Commentary

What has happened to our schools

Good morning, good people!
From Deacon Dennis, OFS

If the school year hasn’t started in your area, it will soon. Many of us are older and no longer have school aged children, but many have grandchildren and/or nieces/nephews of that age.

If you haven’t had this experience, I have.  In fact I had the experience of having my children in a Catholic grammar school whose Religion teacher wasn’t even Catholic and later in a (very expensive) “Catholic” high school in our area run by an un-named religious order of women (Mercy me!) whose curricula both in the religion spheres and civil spheres were anything but Catholic. In fact, due to the complaints of many really Catholic families to the diocese (I wasn’t one of the school’s favorite people), the school no longer touts itself as a “Catholic” high school but simply as a “Private” high school, in spite of it’s being named after a Catholic Saint.

The books used in the American History curriculum, for example, completely passed over, discredited, or eradicated any mention of Catholic influences in the United States.  Catholic explorers (and Missionaries), if named at all, had their names secularized (for example, Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette who explored the upper Mississippi River was simply “Marquette” and the picture depicting him was airbrushed to have him dressed in buckskins [a la Davy Crocket] in lieu of his Jesuit habit).  No mention at all of the efforts of Blessed Junipero Serra, OFM, in California or other Catholic Missionaries or even Spanish secular efforts in the American Southwest.  American History only began in 1620 with the Pilgrims setting foot on Plymouth Rock to escape Religious (Anglican) persecution in England and later Catholic persecution in Holland (any time the word “Catholic” showed up it was always in negative terms).  Earlier Spanish explorations by DeSoto, Ponce de Leon, and other Conquistadors were mentioned only because their names were so familiar in Florida and the Caribbean, but again the concurrent Catholic missionary efforts were depicted in negative terms vis a vis the Native Populations.  Christopher Columbus was vilified for bringing Catholic missionaries to these shores.

Any mention of Catholic social principles in the Social Studies courses? – ZIP.

The Religion Teacher that they had was terminated mid-year the year my daughter began at this school (his first year of teaching) because he was “too Catholic” in his efforts to instill not only basic doctrine but also to fill-in the gaps with Catholic principles in other areas. 

As a result, despite anything we did at home, because of what they learned in school (children are so malleable at those tender school ages, they believe what they are taught by trusted adults) my children no longer practice their Faith, to the heartbreak of both myself and Cathy. (Remember also, the school has these kids longer during their waking hours than we do).

Deacon Dennis, OFS

After reading Deacon Dennis’ email, above, my research led me to “Common Core” …

Sending your children to a Catholic school? Caveat emptor…
Published Thursday, September 5, 2013 A.D. | By The Motley Monk
 
With the new academic year having gotten underway, it’s always good for parents to assess what their children will be learning, especially with the curriculum being nationalized.
In 2009, the National Governors Association launched the Common Core State Standards Initiative (“Common Core”) which is an attempt to nationalize the curriculum so that high school students who graduate in every state that adopts the Common Core will “be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”
Who possibly could be against that goal?

In her book, Don’t Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid: Confronting the Left’s Assault on Our Families, Faith, and Freedom, Marybeth Hicks tells parents who enroll their children in Catholic schools they should be very wary, if not opposed to the Common Core.
Why so?
Not for the usual reasons conservatives assert: who’s really behind the Common Core (e.g., the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with David Coleman, President of the College Board and architect of the Common Core) as well as the content it requires students to learn (e.g., social justice mathematics, using class and race conflict to explain American history).
Hicks tells her readers how the Common Core [that has infected the public school system] now is infecting Catholic schools nationwide because, although dioceses are not required to adopt the Common Core, they must do so if students are to demonstrate mastery on the tests measuring what students have learned (as that is measured using the standard of the Common Core designed by Coleman whose company makes the tests).  Hicks quotes Sarah Dalske, a Catholic school parent living in Sacramento:
My children go to Catholic school, and over 100+ [d]ioceses have adopted the [Common Core] because it’s what “has to be done” if we want our kids to get into college and be prepared and also be prepared to enter the “workforce” and earn a “living wage.”
In a letter Dalske wrote to the Diocese of Sacramento, she argued:
[Are] you telling me in future grades my kids will be reading such books as “Freakonomics” and “The Tipping Point,” learning that *abortion is one of the [things that would] lower crime…?  How would Catholic school teachers reconcile this while simultaneously teaching that all life is sacred and every baby has the right to life, that every person is given a soul at the moment of conception by God and has the God-given right to be brought into this world?….After all the new and confusing math and reading lessons, and the “literacy” lessons through science, history and technology, after all the testing, where will the time be to teach our children their faith?
The lesson for parents who send their children to Catholic schools?
Lest they believe Catholic schools provide immunity from the infection of a curriculum that’s opposed to Catholic teaching, they had better—like Sarah Dalske—investigate precisely what their children are being taught and when they are being taught it.
In Catholic schools, the goal of training the nation’s youth for the workforce is not antithetical to the goal of educating their souls in the faith of the Catholic Church.  If Dalske’s statistic is correct, in many dioceses the former may become more prominent than the latter…if it hasn’t already.
See more at: http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/09/05/sending-your-children-to-a-catholic-school-caveat-emptor/#sthash.zMUsnfEt.dpuf

Note: *About the statement that “abortion would lower crime,” isn’t it intresting that the UN believes abortion would lower the poverty level in the world.

Three Moms against Common Core Christel Lane Swasey, Renee Braddy and Alisa Ellis
http://youtu.be/Mk0D16mNbp4 By Christel Lane Swasey

Question to the Three Moms: Joanne Tolles April 16, 2013 at 3:24 pm

There is no doubt that Ayers is a scarey dude with high powered friends and a destructive agenda. However, I am looking for the connection between Ayres and Common Core. Is he directly involved with CCSSI or PARCC? Does he have some influence over specific individuals involved? I need help connecting the dots.

Reply
One of the connecting dots is that the Smarter Balanced test will replace the standardized tests in all the states. It was designed by Linda Darling Hammond, a colleague of Bill Ayers. The Common Core has it’s beginnings in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge; Bill Ayers was one of it’s 3 co-authors. Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education and a whole host of other individuals are influenced by Ayers. Teachers are being taught strategies by Ayers proteges. Just google Bill Ayers and the Common Core. Stanley Kurtz and Danette Clark are two excellent sources on how over the last 30 years radical Marxist communists have gained control of American education.]

Unrepentant anti-American and former terrorist Bill Ayers is highly respected in certain circles. He’s welcomed with open arms to speak to university students nationwide.  His writings are welcomed at the New York Times.  He’s gets magazine  interviews and is glamorized by Hollywood .
He’s an important associate of the powerful Linda Darling-Hammond, she who calls the big shots as an Obama education advisor and for Common Core testing consortia SBAC.
Many teacher’s colleges  roll out the red carpet for him  – it’s incomprehensible, but true.
Ayers has never swayed from preaching against Americanism and fighting for the overthrow of America and the implementation of communism. He’s never apologized for the violence he caused in America during the Vietnam War. He’s never actually discussed education much; it’s only a tool to him, a useful one to create the end of capitalism and the beginning of American socialism.
Yet people listen to him.
He was the keynote speaker at this year’s Association for Teacher Educators conference.   
Here’s his University of Southern California speech: http://youtu.be/XbvKS0Adqg0?t=1m32s . 
He’s been invited as a featured speaker at the University of Nebraska, Minnesota State, Georgetown University Law Center, New York University, University of Wyoming — the list is long.
At last year’s “Change the Stakes” meeting he told listeners to grab control of political power by using schools and local communities.
And here’s a super scary one: an interview about Ayers’ original plans for “re-education centers” and “elimination” of people who would not be re-educated in the Anti-American philosophy.  The interview is with Larry Grathwohl, who worked with Ayers during their violent Weather Underground days. http://youtu.be/VlN2t0oERHk
Then there’s an unbelievable Ayers in an out of control radio interview with Larry Elder that was also rebroadcast on Hannity.
What’s Ayers’ message? He wants students to help him overthrow America as we know it and become global (communist) citizens, free of the U.S. Constitution and traditional values.  His message has nothing to do with education reform and everything to do with using teachers and schools as change agents for socialist indoctrination. He’s open about it.  He says:
“The great challenge for our generation to find a way not just to live differently as individuals, but to find a way to think differently about what work means, to think differently about citizenship means, to think differently about what it means to be a ‘citizen of the world.’  One of the great dangers that we live in right now, is I don’t think there’s any question, and I don’t think any of you would question, that the American Empire is in decline–that economically, and politically, and inƒ some ways culturally, that we are in decline.  And yet, the United States remains the most powerful, weaponized military system the Earth has ever known.
That’s a treacherous combination.  A declining economic power, and an expanding military power.  And we are going to have to find ways to re-imagine what it means to live in this coun–  in this world.  And here we are 4% of the world’s population, 4.5% of the world’s population, consuming vast amounts of natural resources, consuming vast amounts of finished goods, and no politician will say that the empire is declining and that the game is over. ” 
America, stop inviting this man to teach our teachers.  Please.

Like this:
Posted April 8, 2013 by Christel Swasey in Uncategorized
MSNBC Video: Your Children Belong to Us
Judy Park Introduces Common Core SAGE Tests to Wasatch School District »

Wow, pretty frightening. They’re going after our children, trying to indoctrinate them with their social agendas in the schools. How do we stop this? I guess the same way they’re trying to do it, on a local level, by getting involved, speaking out, getting informed and fighting back and standing up to it in our schools and communities.


Tom Lidiak April 23, 2013 at 6:23 pm

I had a teacher in college who used to say, “The problem with democracy is that it will eventually embrace the poison that will kill it.” Bill Ayers is just such a poison.

Education News

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND, BILL AYERS, CSCOPE, LUCY CALKINS, CCS

Posted by Donna Garner Education Policy Commentator EducationViews.org on January 6, 2013 in Commentaries, Daily, Insights on Education, Teachers | 1 Comment
Linda Darling-Hammond and Bill Ayers are closely associated with Columbia Teachers’ College where the social justice agenda is heavily enmeshed throughout the College.

1.6.13 — Info. on Linda Darling-Hammond, Bill Ayers, Lucy Calkins, CSCOPE, Common Core Standards – from Donna Garner:

Linda Darling-Hammond is listed in CSCOPE materials (Ector County ISD website) as one of those who developed CSCOPE. Darling-Hammond is Obama’s education consultant who helped to establish the parameters for the Common Core Standards and is shaping the national assessment.

Early in Obama’s presidency, it looked as if he was going to appoint Linda Darling-Hammond as his Secretary of Education. Instead, Obama decided to empower Darling-Hammond to complete the federal takeover of the public schools by authorizing her to help develop the national tests (i.e., assessments). These assessments are the centerpiece in Obama’s plan to put the federal government in charge of what gets taught each day to public school students.

Guest Post by Dr. Gary Thompson

Forward by Christel Swasey: Dr. Gary Thompson is a valiant defender of children, (if you don’t know anything about him you must go to Goggle) not only in his clinic, but also in the public square. He’s written and spoken extensively about the damages to children via Common Core testing and standards.

Dr. Thompson took on a reporter at the Deseret News, calling his reporting on Common Core “a case study of deception and lies by omission.” He points out that the reporter has omitted key facts such as the biggest elephant-in-the-room: the fact that huge financial interests are driving the marketing of Common Core in Utah. Thompson points out that the reporter did not follow up to fact-check the School Improvment Network’s (Common Core proponents) claims that opponents of Common Core are “misled”.

Thompson points out that Deseret News readers deserve to know what’s motivating Common Core proponents who throw out accusations against those questioning Common Core: they’re defending their financial interests, tooth and nail. They fight the idea of allowing full and legitimate public debate about Common Core to happen. It’s their rice bowl.

But it’s OUR KIDS.

The fact remains that there are serious questions about Common Core that remain unexplored by the general public despite the fact that the Common Core standards, tests and data collecting now governs their children’s lives.

Many more dots to connect. … Dennis

http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/08/27/various-sundry-82713/
Few people are talking about common core, but we should be, as it poses a serious threat to American education.
Common Core, now adopted by 45 states and DC, is a set of national standards and goals related on the surface to English and math that have far-reaching implications into who controls curriculum (teachers teaching to the national test), along with implementing data-mining for a jaw-dropping universe of facts provided to the federal government about your children and you. Can I implore you to watch this video of a Common Core creator celebrating the collaboration with Obama’s data team and how to use data to achieve political ends?
Common Core has dismal quality, puts us behind other countries, views teaching as job training and not the development of our children’s minds, and has backers that would make your head swim were you to conduct even a perfunctory search.
– See more at: http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/08/27/various-sundry-82713/#sthash.F2FEJ2Ll.dpuf

The Help Given the Demoniac

MEDITATION

The Help Given the Demoniac

The devil ceaselessly sets his snares against a person who is so hardhearted as to despise God’s help in resisting him; for then he sees a blackness of iniquity rising up in that person, bringing such bitterness into his whole body that its strength dries up. Hence, when a person begins to contemplate his evil and so crushes himself in despair, deeming it impossible for him to avoid evil and do good, the devil sees this and says, ”Behold a person who is like us, denying his God and turning to follow us. Let us hasten and run swiftly to him, urging him by our arts so that he cannot escape us. For to leave God and follow us is what he wants.”

But a person who is assailed by these evils through the devi|’s agency, and polluted by murder, adultery, voracity, drunkenness and excess of all vices, will fall into death if he continues in them impenitent; while one who resists the devil and withdraws repenting from these vices will rise again to life. For if a person follows the longing of his flesh and neglects the good desires of his spirit, the Maker of this globe says of him, “he despises me and sinfully loves his flesh, and reiects the knowledge that he should turn away from perdition. And therefore he must be cast out.” But if a person loves the virtuous ardor of his spirit and reiects the pleasure of his flesh, the Creator of the world says of him, ”he looks toward me and does not nourish his body on filth, and desires the knowledge of how to avoid death. And therefore help will be given him.”

Saint Hildegard of Bingen

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (t 1179) was a German Benedictine nun, physician, composer; and mystic. She is a Doctor of the Church,

What is a Cardinal?

The Role of the College of Cardinals in History and Today
By: Msgr. Charles Pope

See more at: http://blog.adw.org/2013/03/what-is-a-cardinal-the-role-of-the-college-of-cardinals-in-history-and-today/#sthash.14qBmMNM.dpuf

Now that attention shifts to the College of Cardinals, it might be good to spend a brief time reflecting on what a Cardinal is and how the College of Cardinals functions. Perhaps it is good to start with a little history and then describe the present realities.

History [1]- Originally the term “cardinal” simply referred to any priest who was attached to a particular church or diocese. Even to this day we speak of diocesan priests as being “incardinated” (or attached) to a certain diocese, and this is required for every priest. There are not to be “free-ranging” priests. Later however, from about the 4th Century through the late Middle Ages the term “cardinal” came to be used only of certain more prominent priests in the larger and more prominent dioceses of antiquity such as Constantinople, Milan, Ravenna, Naples, Sens, Trier, Magdeburg, and Cologne and of course, Rome. In more recent centuries the term came only to be used of Rome.

And thus we find the term cardinal used in the Church at Rome (from at least fifth century) to designate priests permanently serving in the Roman parishes and ministries under the Bishop of Rome, the Pope— These were the “cardinal priests.” However, as the number of priests grew, not all the priests attached to these Roman parishes were known as cardinal, but only the first priest in each such parish—i.e. the Pastor or Rector.

Cardinal priests attended not only to their own ministry or parish but also convened regularly to oversee matters of Church discipline in the diocese of Rome. These might include matters of disciplining the clergy, filling vacancies and so forth. But it also involved matters pertaining to the laity insofar as they interacted with the Church. Thus the Cardinal priests assisted the Pope in the administration of the Diocese of Rome. There are some echoes of all this in every diocese through a mechanisms known as the College of Deans and College of Consultors who assist the Bishop in administrative details and matters of Church discipline.

Cardinal Deacons – During all this time just described there also existed a group known as the cardinal deacons. The Roman Diocese was divided into seven regions and a deacon was assigned to each. They performed numerous duties but chief among them was record-keeping and the coordination of the care of the poor, cemeteries and the like. Given their elevated status over a deacon who only served a parish, they came to be called cardinal deacons. These cardinal deacons would also assist the Pope liturgically whenever he was in that region of the diocese. The number of these cardinal deacons gradually rose over the years.

Cardinal Bishops – Yet again, during all this time there also emerged the cardinal bishops. As the worldwide Church grew in size, the duties of the Pope, and the administrative concerns of the Roman Church (diocese) grew. The Pope increasingly came to call on bishops of nearby dioceses (esp. Ostia and Velletri, Porto and Santa Rufina, Albano, Frascati (Tusculum), Palestrina (Præneste), and Sabina) to represent him in an official capacity and to give him counsel. In a way it was like the modern notion of a local synod.

Thus we see that the Cardinals had varying ranks and functions. They were, assistants of the pope in his liturgical functions, in the care of the poor, the administration of papal finances and possessions, and met in synod over the disposition of important matters to include Church discipline.

By the 11th Century the College of Cardinals took on more importance as they began to oversee the election of a new pope when this became necessary. They not only saw to the election but they also ran things during the interregnum. From this time on their functions and importance grew. The Pope met regularly with them in something called the “consistory,” i.e. the reunion of the cardinals and the pope. In these meetings were regularly treated doctrinal questions of faith, disciplinary matters, canonizations, approvals of rules of new orders, indulgences for the Universal Church, rules for papal elections, the calling of general councils, appointing of Apostolic legates and vicars etc. The consistory also oversaw matters concerning dioceses and bishops, creation, transfer, division, the nomination and confirmation of bishops, also their transfer, resignation, etc.

The Modern Scene – More could be said of the history but allow this to bring us to modern times [2].
Although we see historically that there are three ranks of Cardinals (bishop, priest and deacon) it is now the practice that only bishops are elevated to the College of Cardinals. Since 1962 all cardinals have been required to receive episcopal consecration unless they are granted an exemption from this obligation by the Pope. Most recently this happened with Cardinal Avery Dulles who was elevated to Cardinal but remained a priest.

Though all the Cardinals are now bishops, the traditional distinctions are maintained. The title of “Cardinal Bishop” only means that he holds the title of one of the “suburbicarian” (nearby dioceses of Rome listed above) or that he is the Dean of the College of Cardinals — or that he is a patriarch of an Eastern Catholic Church. Cardinal priests are the largest of the three orders of cardinals. Cardinal priests today are generally bishops of important dioceses throughout the world, though some hold offices in the Curia. The cardinal deacons are either officials of the Roman Curia or priests elevated after their eightieth birthday (such as Cardinal Dulles was).

As for the functions of the College of Cardinals, we have already seen much of this in the history above. In modern times the function of the college is to advise the Pope about Church issues whenever he summons them to an ordinary consistory. The cardinals not only attend the meetings of the College but also make themselves available individually or with small panels of cardinals if the Pope requests their counsel in this way . Most cardinals have additional duties, such as leading a diocese or archdiocese. Others run a department of the Roman Curia.

The College of Cardinals also convenes on the death or abdication of a pope as a papal conclave to elect a successor. The college has no ruling power except during the sede vacante (vacant see) period, and even then its powers are extremely limited.

Those who attain to this office have proven their worth as stable and wise counselors, good bishops of the Church. May our Cardinals experience many graces and blessings in their work of electing a new Pope, likely from among their own number.

Christianity at the Crossroads

Islamic Studies Professor on the Reality of Christianity in the Mideast
ROME, MAY 4, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need interviews Jesuit Fr. Samir Khalil Samir SJ, professor of History of Arab Culture and Islamic Studies, and an expert in interreligious dialogue in Rome and Beirut.

Q: I want to give an understanding of the situation of Christians in the Middle East. What kind of the numbers are we talking about? And what would be the different experiences that Christians are undergoing in the different countries in the Middle East.

Father Samir: It’s difficult to be exact about numbers. I would say about 16 million. The greatest number is in Egypt, around 8 million to 10 million. The Patriarchate says much more but the government says much less. In Lebanon, we have the greatest proportion of Christians – the ratio of Christians to the general population, even if it is small in number, is around 2 million. Then we have Christians in Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq; this is the area where there exist the native Christians. The great numbers of Christians outside of Egypt are in Arabia in fact; these are Filipinos, Sri Lankan, and Indians…

Q: …foreign workers coming in

Father Samir: …foreign workers who are imported and they are suffering a lot because of the situation in these countries.  In Egypt, the situation is difficult but there is no persecution, we would say discrimination. And then we have the wartorn areas like Iraq and for over 60 years in Palestine. These two situations make it very difficult for Christians. In Palestine, the Christians have lost hope and they leave the country if they can. We find the same situation, more or less in Iraq. The Christians are migrating from their area to the north, the Kurdish north of Iraq.

Q: Let us leave the question of war to the side for a moment.  How would we grade, if you will, when we are talking about discrimination and when it is an outright persecution?

Father Samir: War is the worst situation and the discrimination in Egypt is the second level. For example, the whole day and during the whole year, you are bombarded with Islamic propaganda starting at five in the morning. They start their preaching using megaphones and this is five times a day. Then you have the radio and television; often your neighbours play these programmes at a high volume. You cannot complain because your neighbour will justify by saying that its God’s word. The television and film are also inundated with Islamic propaganda. In the schools, the boys and girls start their day with Islamic teaching. It starts when the students are outside they are again inundated by Islamic propaganda; it is called Khutbah. When there is a transition from one teacher to the next the same ritual is again repeated. In terms of employment when one is looking for work particularly in the public sector, you are asked for your name, which is normal, but in Egypt, you are asked your name; this is the system, and through your name particularly in Egypt your name, your father’s name and your grandfather’s name and if there is no mention of Mohammed in your series of names then you are known to be a Christian.

Q: And in fact, in your ID card religion is mentioned.

Father Samir: Exactly, but they will not ask for your ID card, just your name, but then you will know that you have been classified and it could be a reason for a refusal of a job and things like that. You feel that you are treated differently. The atmosphere is the Islamizing of society. And during Ramadan the whole running of the system is altered. The hours are changed. The transit system stops running from 5pm until 8am; life is dependent on one’s religion and because it is Islamic in nature, being a Christian one feels not being counted or one feels marginalized. These are simple things but you also find discrimination in the university. A Christian cannot be a gynaecologist, or teach Arabic because their reasoning is that being Christian, how can one teach Arabic when it is based on the Koran and how can you teach the Koran if one is not a Muslim.

Q: …and a gynaecologist obviously because as a Christian how can you be looking at a Muslim woman …

Father Samir: Yes, or if a Christian girl is outside without wearing a veil, the criticism will be so strong that in the end it is better to acquiesce. There is this pressure. In the cities this is not a problem but in the small villages this is more apparent.

Q: Can we say that this is a mirror reflecting across many of the countries in the Middle East?

Father Samir: No, not so much, obviously in the Arabic peninsula this is reflected. I am speaking of these countries where Christianity existed before Islam like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine where native Christians have always existed; Egypt is the worse. On the other end you will find Lebanon, which is not a Muslim country. It is an Arab country. It is the only Arab country, which is not Muslim but a religious one where Christians and Muslims are equal; that means that we recognize that religion is an essential part of society, the system and the state, so that in the Lebanese parliament you will find 64 Christians and 64 Muslims, Christians from different denominations and Muslims from their three or more denominations.

Q: So this, in fact would be the model of what an ideal situation of living together would be…

Father Samir: …and in between you have countries like Syria and what was once Iraq which pretends to be secular and under the political party, the BAATH party which is still the situation still in Syria. The state is aware of your religion but you are free and politics does not change. The president of Syria is certainly a Muslim but the system is secular.

Q: Although there is no freedom of religion only the freedom to worship.

Father Samir: Yes, but it is not so bad. A Muslim can convert but it is not easy because of family and social pressure and not because there is a law or it is entrenched in the state constitution; that is the difference. In Egypt you will be punished because of the Shari’a law which is a basis of Egyptian constitution. The same situation in Syria exists in Jordan. The king and the kingdom is open minded especially towards the Christians and actually welcomes, with great esteem, the Christians. The Christians, most of them of the Latin are from Arab tribes. So they cannot say that they are westerners. They speak like the Bedouins; they are after all Arabs.

Q: They are from the roots of the country.

Father Samir: Yes, like Bishop Twal the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the Bishop of Algiers, both belong to Arab and Jordanian tribes. In Saudi Arabia, you cannot do anything. You cannot even pray.

Q: I want to come back to question now of the emigration of Christians as a consequence of this horizon of discrimination to outright persecution. What kind of numbers are we talking about?

Father Samir: This is difficult to say. We have to take it by country, but what is sure is that the migration is growing and the number of Christians annually is dwindling everywhere. I just heard from the Bishop of Tier, Lebanon, where there is no discrimination and he said: “When I was a child in the 50s in Tier, there were 10,000 inhabitants, 5000 Christians and 5000 Muslims. Today 3000 are Christians of the 80,000.

Q: Here we must say then that economics is playing a role because you say Lebanon is not under discrimination. 

Father Samir: Absolutely; there is no discrimination and let me emphasize that the dwindling number is primarily due not always to religious reasons; my family emigrated to the US and Canada. My brothers are still there and nobody constrained them from migrating, they simply and I, feel that it is not anymore our country. The atmosphere is changing; it’s a psychological thing. You feel that there is no freedom as we used to have before. The Christians are more amenable to freedom than Muslims are; they do not support it. So, if for cultural, political and social reasons the Christians have the possibility of migrating, they will migrate.  They may also have families who migrated in the 19thcentury or the beginning of the 20th century or they speak fluently the western languages. My family at home spoke French fluently and a little English so the adaptation and enculturation to the US was not so difficult. In other countries, the reason could be religious.

Q: What you’re saying is extremely pessimistic; the trend is growing. Is it irreversible?

Father Samir: If we leave it to take a natural course then it is irreversible because this situation will not change in twenty years. Democracy suddenly will not come from heaven. You need to build a generation of freedom-loving people and this is an important element, freedom. This Islamic movement, which tries to Islamize, the societies will grow and will not stop within our lifetime.  So it will grow and if it comes to a certain point, we have seen this in Turkey, how the proportion of Christians at the beginning of the 20th century was over 20% to 24 %. The number today is 0, 2% a hundred times less as a proportion to a century ago, because when you reach a certain point, 1 % or 2 % there is a movement…

Q: It feeds on itself.

Father Samir: Yes, yes. That is why it is important to stop it now and maybe propose to those who have left to come back. It is difficult.

Q: It’s impossible. I mean in a certain way, at the same time as we are seeing this natural, if you will, tendency to leave the country, it is being further provoked by the reality of violence, the war in Iraq, by the situation in Palestine, which is provoking a further radicalization among Muslims and consequently a further pressure on Christians?

Father Samir: Yes, yes, but I will give an example to show that it could be stopped. Let me show Lebanon as an example. I remember that Hezbollah, about 10 to 15 years ago, wanted an Islamic society based on the model of Iran. They even said that they are more dependent on Iran than from Lebanon. The great figure of the Shia Muslim in Lebanon at that time was Imam Chamseddine (Imam Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams ad Din) who died three years ago. Chamseddine in his biography which he dictated during the last week of his life said; “I was convinced that an Islamic society was ideal but now after 10 to 15 years I must confess that the society as it is now, in Lebanon, is better because Christians bring a contribution;” another approach to us living together, and Hezbollah for some other reason said the same, they do not want an Islamic society. So here is my point: is it possible to stop this trend in the Arab world and to show to the Muslims that we, the Christians, are a chance for you to move towards a more open society. If you want, we will work together.

Q: But that is the question: do they want? There is within the Muslim society a new term that has surfaced which is “Islamist”. What is a difference between a Muslim and an “Islamist” and how does this play into what we are just talking about?

Father Samir: This word was unknown twenty years ago. In Arabic we distinguish very clearly, between: Muslim” that means Muslim and “Islami” which is a neologism because the reality is new. “Islami” plural “Islamiun” means those who have the intention of Islamizing society which is also connected to Salafism ; Salaf [Arabic “predecessor” or “forefather”] being the ancestors: We want to go back to the ancestors; that means to early Islam; but early Islam nobody knows how it was, what they wore… but we can predict.

Q: There is even an external appearance as indicated by the “Islamiun” for both men and women, isn’t?

Father Samir: Yes, They say the prophet certainly had a beard… So they wear a beard. They all wear a beard and when the beard is not trimmed the better it is. The more Islamic it is in their mind. They also do not wear trousers but wear the long white robe. You also recognize them with their teeth. They chew a root from a tree, the miswak, because they believe that the prophet was using this to clean his teeth. He certainly did not have the Japanese made toothpick. He just used what he could find and for the women the veil. In Lebanon where there are different Muslim denominations, you can see which denomination these Muslim adhere to. With some practice, you will recognize these variations whether one adheres to Shia, Sunni or Alawites. In fact it is a political sign not a religious sign that indicates ones political affiliation and to a specific group, for example if you are “Hezbollah” you wear yellow and if you are from Hariri you wear blue etc., You are not wearing these colours for religious choices but political reason. That is why I say to the European and the West, particularly about Lebanon, that it is true that every one has the freedom of religion but it is more political and not religious because religion and politics are so convoluted in the subconsciousness of the Muslims.

Q: But even in the religious field the Muslim is not free to worship?

Father Samir: The reality, especially amongst these Islamist, is their ideal and vision: We respect people but we push everyone to be a good Muslim. A good Muslim must pray five times a day and if you are working during prayer time, you will be punished so that you will learn to be a good Muslim. A religious police comes and closes the shop. If you are eating during the time of Ramadan, you will be punished, put in prison and beaten, so that you learn to be a good Muslim, it is for your own good. But they cannot understand freedom, that I am free to do something, which you consider bad, but in itself is not bad, it’s neutral. Here we have two visions of society. The ideal society for them is from God. We have to learn the inner freedom and here again, I think, we Christians, we have no merit. This is more in our tradition whether we learn that from the Gospel or from our Western Christian friends. And the fact is that it is an essential point.
* * *
This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Jews reclaim Jesus

Jews reclaim Jesus as one of their own
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

The relationship between Jews and Jesus has traditionally been a complicated one, to say the least.
As his followers’ message swept the ancient world, Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah found themselves in the uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, position of being blamed for his death.
Mainstream Christian theology’s position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.
Jews, for their part, tended largely to ignore Jesus.
That’s changing now.
In the past year, a spate of Jewish authors, from the popular to the rabbinic to the scholarly, have wrestled with what Jews should think about Jesus.
And overwhelmingly, they are coming up with positive answers, urging their fellow Jews to learn about Jesus, understand him and claim him as one of their own.
“Jesus is a Jew. He spent his life talking to other Jews,” said Amy-Jill Levine, co-editor of the recently released “Jewish Annotated New Testament.”
“In reading the New Testament, I am often inspired, I am intrigued. I actually find myself becoming a better Jew because I become better informed about my own history,” she said.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a media personality who recently launched a bid for a U.S. House seat, argues in his own new book, “Kosher Jesus,” that “Jews have much to learn from Jesus – and from Christianity as a whole – without accepting Jesus’ divinity. There are many reasons for accepting Jesus as a man of great wisdom, beautiful ethical teachings, and profound Jewish patriotism.”
And Benyamin Cohen, an Orthodox Jew who spent a recent year going to church, admitted that he’s jealous that Christians have Jesus.
“He’s a tangible icon that everybody can latch on to. Judaism doesn’t have a superhero like that,” said Cohen, the author of the 2009 book “My Jesus Year.”
 “I’m not advocating for Moses dolls,” he said, but he argued that “it’s hard to believe in a God you can’t see. I’m jealous of Christians in that regard, that they have this physical manifestation of the divine that they can pray to.
“There could be more devout Jews than me who don’t need that, but to a young Jew living in the 21st century, I wish we had something more tangible,” he said.
The flurry of recent Jewish books on Jesus – including this month’s publication of “The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ” by Daniel Boyarin – is part of a trend of Jews taking pride in Jesus, interfaith expert Edward Kessler said.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, Christian New Testament scholars rediscovered the Jewish Jesus. They reminded all New Testament students that Jesus was Jewish,” said Kessler, the director of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, England, which focuses on relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
A generation later, that scholarship has percolated into Jewish thought, he said, welcoming the trend: “It’s not a threat to Jews and it’s not a threat to Christians.”
For Jews in particular, he said, “It’s not so threatening as it was even 30 years ago. There is almost a pride that Jesus was a Jew rather than an embarrassment about it.”
Boteach agrees, writing in “Kosher Jesus” that “Jews will gain much from re-embracing him as a hero.”
“The truth is important,” Boteach writes. “A patriot of our people has been lost. Worse still, he’s been painted as the father of a long and murderous tradition of anti-Semitism.”
Boteach aims to claim, or reclaim, Jesus as a political rebel against Rome and to exonerate the Jews of his death. But Boteach’s book has attracted plenty of criticism, for instance for blaming the Apostle Paul for everything he doesn’t like about Christianity, such as hailing Jesus as divine and cutting his ties to Judaism.
“Paul never met Jesus, and Jesus certainly never would have sanctioned Paul’s actions and embellishments,” Boteach argues about the apostle who wrote much of the New Testament. “Jesus … would have been appalled at how his followers would later define him.”
“Jews will never accept his divinity. Nor should they,” Boteach writes, in one of many instances of presuming to know what Jesus really thought and meant. “The belief that any man is God is an abomination to Judaism, a position that Jesus himself would maintain.”
He cherry-picks the Gospels to to suit his arguments, writes in casual modern idioms (calling Pontius Pilate a “sadistic mass murderer” and comparing him to Hitler), and gets wrong the most basic details of the Passion story, such as the amount of money Judas took to betray Jesus.
Other experts in the field label Boteach’s book “sensationalistic,” and call him a “popularizer,” but Kessler sees “Kosher Jesus” as part of the trend of Judaizing Jesus. Cohen, the “My Jesus Year” author, offered some support for Boteach even as he expressed doubts about the book.
“I understand what Shmuley is trying to get at there,” he said, but added: “I don’t think anyone has the right to say ‘This is the definition of Jesus,’ especially a rabbi. He’s not ours to claim.”
Levine, who teaches New Testament and Jewish studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, also framed Jewish efforts to study Jesus in terms of mutual respect.
“Speaking personally as a Jew, if I want my neighbors to respect Judaism, which means knowing something about Jewish history, scripture and tradition, I owe my Christian neighbors the same courtesy. It’s a matter of respect,” she said.
She urged Jews to “become familiar with the material and make up their own mind as to how they understand Jesus.”
Ironically, she added, Jews can understand their own history more thoroughly through studying the life of Jesus.
“The best source on the period for Jewish history other than (the first-century historian) Josephus is the New Testament,” she said.
“It’s one of those ironies of history that the only Pharisee writing in the Second Temple period from whom we have records is Paul of Tarsus,” she said. ” ‘The Jewish Annotated New Testament’ is designed in part to help Jews recover their own history.”
But she also wants Christians to use it to understand Judaism more deeply, she said. While many Christian leaders acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew, she said, not many know much about what that means.
“Many Christian ministers and educators have no training in what early Judaism was like,” she said. “Not to take seriously first-century Judaism seems to dismiss part of the message of the New Testament.”
Cohen, the “My Jesus Year” author, found that Christians were very interested in Judaism during the 52 weeks he spent going from church to church.
“Many Christians look on Judaism as version 1.0 of their own religion. Because of that historical relationship, they’re interested in a lot of the theology of Judaism,” he said.
For his part, Cohen learned much that surprised him. “I was shocked when I went to church and heard them give sermons about the Old Testament,” he said. “I had no idea Christians read the Old Testament.”
“One week, I went to church and the pastor gave exactly the same sermon my rabbi did the night before about Moses and the burning bush, and the pastor did it much better,” he continued.
Cohen came away from his Jesus year with a clear understanding of what he believes.
“People ask me all the time if I believe in Jesus. Do I believe he exists? Sure. Do I believe he’s your God? Sure, I have no problem with that,” he said he tells Christians who ask.
“I understand Christians’ love for Jesus and I respect that,” he said. “If anything, I learned a lot from them and did become a more engaged Jew, a better Jew, and I appreciate my Judaism more because I hung out with Jesus.”

Richard Allen Greene – Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire