Author Archives | Maria Wiering

About Maria Wiering

Maria Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit.

Transition day: Bridging the World Meeting and papal visit

September 25, 2015


Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

The World Meeting of Families has wrapped up Part I: the congress, a series of keynote addresses and breakout sessions in multiple languages, daily Masses with extraordinary processions of miters, and 20,000 people trying to navigate a convention center. It has been well-managed chaos, making it seem like that huge number of participants can’t actually be real. It’s the most people the World Meeting has attracted since its founding by St. John Paul II in 1994.

Part II begins tomorrow, when Pope Francis arrives for the World Meeting of Families. Anticipation is thick. This morning, security set up a perimeter around the area Pope Francis will be tomorrow, and getting in and out appears daunting, although right now it’s easy. (Although one Philadelphian just called it “a police state.”) I have no idea what to expect tomorrow when our group arrives. We’re scheduled to visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa tomorrow for Mass tomorrow, but it sounds like other groups in the Minnesota contingent are changing plans to get to downtown Philadelphia earlier.

Nobody’s really certain what to expect. My husband asked if I’m going to try to take a selfie with Pope Francis. I’ll just be happy if I glimpse him with my own eyes.

For me, there’s a definite perceived disconnect between the Holy Father’s visit and the World Meeting of Families, even though I’m completely aware that the World Meeting is why he’s here. He’s made that clear, too, through his emphasis to Congress on the importance of the family and his concerns about young adults’ fear to form their own families, as well as his overtures to children throughout the trip so far.

Sister Candace Fier, a Schoenstatt sister and the director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of New Ulm, said that disconnect isn’t supposed to exist.

“I would hope that people would see it as one,” she said. “I’ve talked to people who have attended other World Meeting of Families, and I’ve gotten the impression that the United States is really the only one that has separated the papal visit from the World Meeting of Families. We’ve kind of made them two separate events. I think the Holy Father was coming for of the World Meeting of Families, he was coming to address our families. He was coming to make this a worldwide encounter with the father of the Church, and in that sense I hope that people don’t see it as two separate things, because we take away from the beauty and the depth of what this experience is meant to be.

“He came to see our families together,” she continued. “He came to give a message to our families here — not individuals here or there. It’s not another speaking engagement, another thing that was put on the agenda for his visit to the United States. He came to give a message to this group as the Holy Father has done every three years since John Paul started it. I hope we don’t lose sight of that, because I think we need to listen carefully. The message is specific to us as families, as Church.”

At the core, that’s why Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

“It’s the World Meeting of Families — not the World Meeting about Families,” Michael said. “We just thought it was important to bring them, plus the sense of getting the larger Church, the global Church for them. They’re not going to remember a whole lot about what people say, but they will hopefully have some memory of a bunch of people.”

People’s reaction? “The weirdest thing is that a bunch of people will take pictures of us with our kids, like, ‘Look — a real, live family!’,” he said. “Other than that, it’s been fine, everyone’s happy to see kids.”

Kristen has a backpack of crayons, coloring books, toys and prizes for good behavior.

“It keeps them entertained for at least 10 minutes,” she joked.

I’ve maybe been among those weird, oggly pilgrims Michael mentioned. I really miss my husband and toddler, and seeing families together makes me think of them.

There have been many families at the World Meeting; it includes a youth conference for school-age kids, and plenty of mothers have been nursing their infants. This morning during Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s address, I walked past a few siblings playing on the convention center floor with Legos. Smart mom, I thought.

But the challenge put forth during the World Meeting for so many moms and dads is far beyond keeping kids quiet in Church or a bishop’s presentation. It’s making the home a domestic church.

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On pilgrimage, pizza and walking 108 miles

September 24, 2015


Pilgrimage, in the traditional sense. CNS

Pilgrimage, in the traditional sense. CNS

I have to admit, when I think “pilgrimage,” I think of throngs making their way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their knees. I think of the steady flow of men and women into Santiago de Compostela, Spain, after weeks or months of hiking. I think of the seven-church walk in Rome and the inevitable blisters.

Frankly, I think of pain, suffering, sacrifice, hunger and thirst. I don’t think of a king-sized bed at the Holiday Inn Express, which is where I’m sitting after enjoying an all-you-can-eat pizza dinner.

Yes, I am on pilgrimage, but it’s one where the hardships have been subtle, less self-inflicted, and, for me, more about squashing impatience, annoyance, self-centeredness or sarcasm, in favor of a spirit of solidarity with those around me, whether they be fellow Minnesotans or from a continent on the other side of the globe.

They, too, arrived by plane. For others, it was train, bus or car, and it is no less a pilgrimage. But there is at least one group that is reclaiming a core aspect of the medieval pilgrimage on their journey to see the Holy Father — a long, hard walk.

On Sunday, a group of 22 left the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in downtown Baltimore, better known as America’s first cathedral. Wearing neon yellow shirts, they started walking north to Philadelphia. It’s a trek of 108 miles. At night, they rely on parishes and schools for shelter and showers, but it’s safe to surmise that when they arrive Sunday in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, they’re going to be sweaty and tired.

The leader is Father Jack Lombardi, a soft-spoken pastor from the narrowest stretch of Maryland’s panhandle. A frequent pilgrimage leader to Europe’s sacred sites, he decided to take up a U.S. cause in 2012 and gathered dozens of pilgrims to walk 100 miles from his parish in Hancock to Baltimore in support of religious freedom. The U.S. bishops, with Baltimore Archbishop William Lori at the helm, had taken up the fight against the federal health care mandate for all employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients. The walk was Father Lombardi’s show of support and a fundraiser for local charities.

The following year, Father Lombardi led another pilgrimage, this time from Baltimore to Washington. In 2014, he brought a group to France, where they walked with shirts reading “We’re walking for YOU!” in English and French.

When Pope Francis announced he would be in Philadelphia, so close to Baltimore, there was no way Father Lombardi was going to turn down the chance to get to him on foot.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Father Lombardi several times as a staff writer for The Catholic Review, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a position I left last year to return in January to The Catholic Spirit. One of my earliest assignments was in Hancock, where Father Lombardi, a respected retreat master, told me about his love of pilgrimage. Last summer, I sat on the porch of his parish house listening to pilgrims describe adventures in several of France’s holy sites.

This year, Catholic Review editor Paul McMullen will have his own tales, as he’s part of the pilgrimage to Philadelphia. He posted on Facebook yesterday that they had crossed into Pennsylvania and shared a story of the group comforting a woman who was shaken up after the group happened upon her car accident.

Calling their walk “A pilgrimage of Love and Mercy,” paired with a charitable “Feet for Francis” shoe drive, the pilgrims are keeping the intention of religious freedom in prayer as they make their way north. I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to be part of their welcoming committee when they break into the crowd before Pope Francis’ Mass Sunday on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

It’s a serious undertaking, this 100-mile walk, but it’s a reminder that pilgrimage is not a relic of the past. I was reminded of that last year, when a friend invited me on a pilgrimage to the Baltimore Basilica. At first, I thought it was odd. It was less than a mile from where I lived; I walked there regularly. But we did it, praying a rosary on the way there, asking for Mary’s intercession in the undercroft, and adding another rosary on the way back. It was so simple. And while we walked, it became clear that the pilgrimage was about disposition, not destination.

So, here am I, a pilgrim, who will sleep well tonight in a comfortable bed. And there’s Paul, who is likely on some mat on a parish hall floor. Hopefully for both of us there will be other pilgrimages, and among them, those that are physically demanding, and those that are emotionally demanding. Both can be spiritually demanding, and both can compel conversion.

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Solving the mystery of pilgrim swag: What’s in the clear WMF backpacks?

September 22, 2015



Pilgrim swag from the WMOF. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Swag from the WMOF Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

When we walked into the Pennsylvania Convention Center lobby this afternoon to sign in for the World Meeting of Families, cheerful volunteers handed us a T-shirt and a clear plastic backpack. Nevermind that we were already equipped with backpacks; now we had two. As I watched thousands of pilgrims sport this new accessory around the convention center — and to opening events including an address by Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles and Mass with Archbishop Charles Chaput — I grew more and more curious about exactly what was in these bags of mystery. Yes, we could see in them, but their contents were like a kaleidoscope, always changing, never quite in focus.

In the safety of my hotel room, I dumped the bag. The following are its contents:

  1. A navy blue cap with the World Meeting of Families logo. This might come in handy Saturday during the Festival of Families. Two days ago, forecasted perfect weather for this weekend and the outdoor events on Benjamin Franklin Parkway with Pope Francis. Tonight, the 10 p.m. news meteorologist painted a much darker picture — one that involves rain and wind.
  2. WMOF official T-shirt. I like it because I love green. Thank you, WMOF, for making these shirts green. Maybe chalk that one up to the intercession of WMOF co-patrons St. Gianna Molla and St. John Paul II?
  3. A WMOF official pin. Kind of like the Hard Rock Cafe, but it’s actually the World Meeting of Families.
  4. The Gospel of St. Luke. I’m not clear why a lone Gospel is in the pack, or why one of the evangelists was favored over the other. My guess: St. Luke’s Gospel may be the most family-centric, based on its inclusion of the Visitation and the longer Nativity narrative. That narrative contains this gem about the Blessed Mother’s reaction to people meeting her son: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
  5. Holy Cards. Not one for Blessed Junipero Serra, who will be canonized tomorrow. That was definitely a miss. However, one of them is actually a magnet, so it evens out.
  6. WMOF official pen. Which is good, because I lose pens. Double points if it works, because it’s hard to trust a free pen these days.
  7. Publications. OSV Newsweekly and Family Foundations among them! Both insightful reads, but I’m biased.
  8. Water bottle. I brought my own, but this one is also green! #LaudatoSi’
  9. Official schedules. Critical, because there’s a ridiculous amount of stuff going on. And that’s just the kids’ congress.
  10. Pope Francis Fan. This idea was clearly pilfered from the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity.
  11. Pope Francis poncho. Again, helpful in the event that the weather decides to test our pilgrim dispositions, but now I’m feeling guilty for packing the only umbrella in the house.

Not included: ALL THE PAPER. Namely, flyers for every Catholic organization under the sun, including a clothing company hawking “popeful” shirts — you know, “hopeful,” but with added pope for pop. Now, to plan which talks to attend tomorrow, and assess whether or not I’ll need the poncho…

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11 things to know about Archbishop Hebda

July 7, 2015

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Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Newark, N.J., and a priest pose for a photo Nov. 5, 2013, following a Mass of welcome for Archbishop Hebda at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. CNS

Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Newark, N.J., and a priest pose for a photo Nov. 5, 2013, following a Mass of welcome for Archbishop Hebda at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. CNS

After two quick trips to the Twin Cities since his June 15 appointment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda is spending his first full week in Minnesota. He plans to say the 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul July 12 — which can be heard on Relevant Radio 1330. Here are 11 things to know about our new apostolic administrator.

  1. His last name is Polish. His paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from southeast Poland. “Hebda” was also a common last name of people who lived near the medieval Norbertine Monastery of Our Lady of the Assumption in Hebdów, in southern Poland near Krakow. Hopefully his first tour of the archdiocese includes a stop at Holy Cross and lunch from Sikora’s in Nordeast.
  1. He’s an ivy leaguer. Archbishop Hebda studied political science at Harvard and law at Columbia, both ivy league schools. As an undergraduate, he was on staff of the Harvard International Review, a publication of the Harvard International Relations Council, and was an editorial board member and articles editor for the Harvard Yearbook. It was while he was attending daily Mass at Columbia that he rediscovered an interest in the priesthood he first had as a child.
  1. He’s steeped in the law. He earned a degree in civil law from Columbia and practiced in a law firm for a year before joining seminary in 1984. Six years later, he earned a licentiate in canon law from the Pontificial Gregorian University in Rome. From 1992 to 1996, he served as a judge for Diocese of Pittburgh’s tribunal, which deals with canon law matters including marriage annulments. In 1996, he returned to Rome to serve on the Pontifical Council for Legal Texts, which interprets Church law, being named in 2003 its undersecretary, or third-ranking official. He left the position in 2009 to serve as the fourth bishop of Gaylord, Michigan.
  1. He loves Cardinal Newman and the Missionaries of Charity. For his coat of arms, Archbishop Hebda chose the motto “Only Jesus,” a phrase based on the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9. According to an explanation of his coat’s heraldry, the motto was inspired by a prayer written by Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom Archbishop Hebda admires. The prayer is prayed daily by the Missionaries of Charity, as was the practice of their foundress, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. While he was working for the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in Rome, Archbishop Hebda served as a confessor for the Missionaries of Charity postulants and their sisters who worked in a home for unwed mothers. The sisters made a deep impression. The archbishop chose the motto as a reminder of their “exemplary humility, obedience and fidelity” and “that the episcopal ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing is ultimately to lead the faithful to an encounter with Christ himself.”
  1. He also loves the Capuchin Franciscans. In an interview published in the November 2013 edition of The Catholic Advocate in Newark, he attributed his priestly vocation in part to a vocations club the Capuchin Franciscans ran in his Catholic grade school. He wanted to go to their seminary after high school, but they steered him to Harvard instead.
  1. He has a devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary. Archbishop Hebda was named a bishop on Oct. 7, 2009, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, to whom he entrusted his ministry as a bishop.
  1. He does the electric slide. Or so says Rocco Palmo, the uncannily observant Philadelphia-based Church chronicler at his blog, “Whispers in the Loggia.”
  1. He’s one of seven sitting bishops who call Steel City home. The others are Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo, Michigan; Bishop Edward Burns of Juneau, Alaska; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit; Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. In seminary, Archbishop Hebda studied one year under Cardinal DiNardo, then a patristics scholar at the St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh.
  1. He’s done urban and rural ministry. The Diocese of Gaylord is small and rural, and Newark, well, is not. The Diocese of Gaylord covers 21 counties of Michigan’s northern lower peninsula and includes about 66,000 Catholics with 80 parishes. The Archdiocese of Newark covers four counties, more than 1.3 million Catholics, and about 220 parishes.
  1. He loved his mom’s cooking. He told The Catholic Advocate, “Nothing compares with my mom’s pierogi or potato pancakes. Now that my Mom has gone to God, there’s nothing that I would prefer to a plate of carbonara. After 18 years in Rome, I love anything Italian.”
  1. His friends call him “Bernie.”
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Long time coming: 130-old church by ‘God’s architect’ consecrated

November 4, 2010


When Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was asked to hurry along his work on Barcelona’s famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia, he was known to reply, “My client is not in a hurry.”

Of course, he wasn’t talking about the archbishop of Barcelona. He was taking about God, and that’s how he viewed his imaginative, soaring work — as something built for God, not man. Gaudí was known for piety, and he’s been dubbed “God’s architect.” A cause is underway for his sainthood, which is pretty impressive, since few artists have been given the honor.

Now, almost 130 years after Gaudí began his church, it’s finally being consecrated — and they pulled in the big guns to do it. No less than Pope Benedict XVI himself will pray the ritual Nov. 7 for its consecration during a papal trip to Spain.

The consecration of a church formally distinguishes the space as sacred, rather than “profane,” or common. Usually, churches are consecrated at the beginning of their use, after the buildings are finished. Although Sagrada was dedicated to the Holy Family, it was never consecrated, probably because it was never finished.

In 1926, Gaudí was hit by a tram, and he died a few days later. His art nouveau church was unfinished, and his vision was so grand that its actual completion was no small task. It remains unfinished today, although it’s hoped to be finished in time for the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death in 2026.

If you’ve never seen it with your own eyes, the thing worth knowing about Sagrada Familia is that it’s absolutely wild. I mean it — it’s the kind of thing that gives the imagination of Zaha Hadid a run for her money. With its eight telescoping spires, flying buttresses and sculptural forms that look like wax sliding down a 394-foot candle, it’s simultaneously grotesque and beautiful, medieval and futuristic. If completed according to Gaudí’s plans, it will have 18 towers, the tallest of which could soar to 560 feet.

Mass has been celebrated in the cathedral despite its construction status, and it draws an estimated 10,000 visitors each day. It’s also an UNESCO World Heritage site. People are attracted to the cathedral’s harmony, beauty and symbolism, Cardinal Martínez Sistach, the archbishop of Barcelona, told Zenit. It also converts, he added.

“I think the church evangelizes. Gaudí wanted all his buildings to lead people to God. I think he has more than achieved this with the Church of the Holy Family. There have been conversions, and we know some of them.

“The building of the church increasingly converted the architect himself, until he gave himself completely to this work, refusing proposals for new buildings offered to him in Paris and New York.”

According to the cardinal, Japanese sculpture Etsuro Soto, who was working on the church, and his wife, became Catholic because of Gaudí’s work in 1991.

“We know other examples of conversion, but no doubt they happened because a visit to the church helps to reflect on creation and salvation as works of God,” the cardinal added.

It’s hard to judge what’s going to be more impressive — the pope’s Nov. 7 consecration Mass, which is expected to include 1,100 concelebrating priests, or the cathedral itself when it’s completed in 16 years.

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Norman Rockwell: Sacred Artist?

October 18, 2010

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A few weeks ago, I was in D.C. and decided to join those wandering through the Smithsonian American Art Museum on their lunch hour. The big exhibit was Telling Stories, which linked Norman Rockwell and his snapshot style to major motion pictures. The painting and sketches on display were from the personal collections of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and the placards included their take on the tales the artworks conveyed.

It’s no surprise that Rockwell’s illustrations have inspired Hollywood. Most of them convey with a single frame a raw experience of humanity — the same experience, or maybe even broader, than what a movie does in 106 minutes. Rockwell’s brilliance lies in his ability to set the scene, incorporating details like an unruly hat or earned pilot wings pinned just so, so that the viewer can look at the still life and she her own life reflected back at her. People see themselves — or their neighbor, their father, their hero — in Rockwell’s work. He captured an era in an incredible way.

For me, the most profound part of looking at Rockwell paintings is that you’re invited into a silent moment with the people depicted. Often, the subjects are not speaking, and it as if the viewer is stealing a look, like glimpsing a scene through a door accidentally left ajar. In “Girl at Mirror” (1954) a barefoot girl about 11 practices a pout in front of a large mirror, her chestnut hair maturely twisted back, and a picture of Rita Hayworth on her lap. A doll is tossed to the side; uncapped lipstick suggests haste. But there she sits, looking at herself, and — at least for any woman — the image resonates. You can read her thoughts on her face because they’re your thoughts: Am I pretty? Could I be glamorous? When will I grow up? Why do I have to be young? Am I anything at all like my hero?

Rockwell himself said, “In my opinion nothing should ever be shown in a picture which does not contribute to telling the story the picture is intended to tell.”

In “The Storyteller’s Art” from the May issue of America, Terrance W. Klein calls Rockwell’s oeuvre “incarnational” and “art that reveals” — a body of images that accurately expresses the human condition while nourishing the spirit. This is what is so enduring about Rockwell’s illustrations, which included covers for The Saturday Evening Post from 1916 to 1962. Rockwell’s straightforward approach, rather than simply painting a scene, tells a story, and this method of giving the message, rather than hiding it, has friends like Michelangelo, Giotto, and other greats. And, it’s for exactly this — the “unsophistication” of direct storytelling — that critics have belittled his work.

Yet, Norman’s art deserves a much deeper — and longer — look, Klein argues.

“Unlike conceptual art, which seeks to evoke only a notion or an emotion, the nature of illustration embraces narration and storytelling, an attribute it shares with medieval stained glass windows, which taught the Gospel my means of imagery,” he writes.

“Good art helps us to perceive something of this world’s truth and, this world’s beauty,” he adds.

The author links this idea to Los Angles’ Cathedral of the Angels presence within the city sprawl — the real, gritty, beautiful presence of art in the real world. This comment reminded me of that cathedral’s saint tapestries, showing holy men and women lined in a perpetual procession toward the altar. The artistry itself is astounding, but what I found most compelling is the way the saints were shown — not airbrushed, effeminate or aloof, but real, worn, and lifelike. Totally Rockwellian.

They could have been the kid next to you at Mass, or the woman you passed on the street. For once, it really struck me that saints were real — are —people, and they didn’t walk around with light emanating from their heads. And in that moment, when one thinks, “They were like me,” he is simultaneously impelled to ask, “So, could I be like them?”

I think it’s the best contemporary Catholic artwork out there right now.

And, it’s good because it’s incarnational. And its artist John Nava could say the same thing Rockwell did: “I paint human-looking humans. . . . All of the artist’s creativeness cannot equal God’s creativeness.”

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A Crowbar in Loveland: The ugly side of art

October 11, 2010


Man, oh, man. First of all, thank you, readers, for tolerating my hiatus. Suffice it to say, due to a few changes around the office, there were not enough hours in the day for my regular writing, so this had to take back burner. I missed it (and hopefully you did, too).

Second, despite the city’s idyllic name, there’s a mess to be addressed in Loveland, Colo. On Oct. 6, a truck driver drove from Montana to the Loveland Museum Gallery, where she approached a hanging lithographic print, smashed its protective glass with a crowbar, and ripped the print to pieces.

And she did it in the name of Christianity.

The print depicted Jesus in a lewd act. Its creator, Stanford prof Enrique Chagoya, intended it to be a commentary on the corruption of the Catholic Church, not a sex act involving Christ, he said in a New York Times story.

But that’s not what 56-year-old, crow-bar wielding Kathleen Folden and others who protested the surrealist piece saw. After Folden had destroyed the lithographic print, she told onlookers why she did it. “Because it desecrates my Lord,” she is reported to have said.

Of course, Folden’s action has stirred the timeless vat of controversy involving free speech, censorship, indecency in art, and the use of religious symbols. Those who opposed the artwork’s display, including a local deacon, called the piece pornography and “deeply offensive.” Those who supported it called it activism, and creative expression.

The print was part of a series the artist called “The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals,” an obvious insult to Catholics, who, since the first century, have been accused of cannibalism for believing the Eucharist is Jesus’ actual body and blood.

According to the NYT, Chagoya has been getting hate mail for a week, and said he fears for the safety of the museum and those who associate with it.

“I think religion should be about peace and loving, especially Christianity,” it quoted him saying.

And so, it seems to me that Chagoya’s unspoken assumption is this: He can use his art to offensively depict Son of God, and because Christians profess peace, they’ll turn the other cheek.

It seems to me that Kathleen Folden had enough, and, with the vigor of a knight defending his king, went out to slay a dragon. She was wearing a T-shirt that read, “My Savior is Tougher Than Nails” when she went to get rid of the art, and she proved she was pretty tough, too.

I’m conflicted about the righteousness of Folden’s action, but it stirs within my mind an image of Jesus in the temple, overthrowing the moneychanger’s tables, chasing them out of the most sacred place, and making a generally raucous scene.

This incident, known as the Cleansing of the Temple, is recounted in all four Gospels. He was appalled at the profane act, and he did something about it. He didn’t approach the head moneychanger and ask for a dialogue. He didn’t start a petition with the pious Jews, or make a sign and stand outside in protest. He went in and got rid of the profanity.

And it seems that Folden did kinda the same thing.

What do you think? Did Folden defend the church’s honor, or did she violate free speech?

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Summer lemonade for the soul

August 19, 2010



This is so tempting — “Spontaneous Hooky,” ala MinnPost. Stop what you’re doing this afternoon and get down to Field Day at the Minneapolis sculpture garden (it starts in 39 minutes!). So much more interesting than anything else you’re doing right now, like working at a desk. And if you go, take a moment to appreciate the Basilica’s mansard dome on the skyline. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

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Art heists = good summer reading

August 18, 2010

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Summer at least has the reputation of being this lazy season of laying by the lake, reading paperbacks and consuming copious amounts of barbecue. But, as you and I know, summer is a liar,  because the only thing I’ve had in that list is a copious amount of barbecue, and that was a lot of work to prepare.

Now, like every good Minnesotan who suddenly realizes it’s August and the impending gloom of winter is glowing on the horizon, I’m looking back on these few months of warm-weather bliss and wondering where it all went.

Unlike most good Minnesotans, I can tell you exactly where it went: to researching and writing papers for my summer graduate school class and internship.

Yes, I spent summer inside a library.

However, should the day ever come that something called “reading for fun” is part of my life again ( I have a vague memory of this from my high school years), I’m going to pick up this book that Dan Browning reviewed in the StarTribune. It’s called “Priceless: How I went Undercover to Rescue to World’s Stolen Treasures” by Robert K. Wittman, and Browning describes it as exactly the kind of book you’d want to read lying by the lake.

It’s not just about art and artifacts. It’s a memoir about (FBI agent) Wittman’s experience, and it’s apparently hard hitting on the the federal investigative agencies, and it also explores the racial prejudice the author, who has a Japanese mother, felt after WWII.

It was this graph in the review that piqued my interest, however:

Hollywood depicts art thieves as debonair cat burglars — think Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief” — or as techno-sleuths — Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Entrapment” come to mind. “Priceless” introduces the reader to some thieves like that, but also to simple fools who snatched an opportunity. The one thing that ties them together, Wittman writes, is “brute greed.”

“They stole for money, not beauty,” he said.

What? An unromantic heist? Could it be? Either way, this one looks worth a read.

If you pick it up, let me know how it turned out. I’ll be in the library.

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City beautiful (and religious): DC statues include Catholics

August 9, 2010


A statue of Cardinal James Gibbons is seen through the trees in a small public plaza in Washington Aug. 6. The son of Irish immigrants, Cardinal Gibbons served as archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 until his death in 1921. He wrote the popular treatise "T he Faith of Our Fathers," a defense of the Catholic faith. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

A statue of Cardinal James Gibbons is seen through the trees in a small public plaza in Washington Aug. 6. The son of Irish immigrants, Cardinal Gibbons served as archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 until his death in 1921. He wrote the popular treatise "T he Faith of Our Fathers," a defense of the Catholic faith. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Funny today, when, after spending my weekend paging through stacks of books on the relationship between two American Catholic monuments and their role in their civic societies that Catholic New Service would feature this story.

It looks at the statues and symbols of Catholicism scattered around Washington, D.C., like the statues of St. Damien de Veuster and Blessed Junipero Serra, who symbolize Hawaii and California, respectfully, in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

The story focuses on the role of Knights of Columbus played in creating Catholic institutions of learning and worship, like Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

However it also addresses the role of religious art in DC broadly. The writer interviewed Father Eugene Hemirck, who published “One Nation Under God” in 2001 on the religious symbolism found in Washington, D.C. (It’s already on my Amazon wish list.) The story goes on to say:

There are all kinds of religious symbols integrated in the art, architecture and statues in the capital, according to Father Hemrick.

“They are inscribed in halls, painted on ceilings, represented in wall panels, enshrined in lunettes, and pieced together in mosaics,” he wrote in his book.

When asked the motives people have for contributing to public memorials, he said sometimes it is to reconcile America’s past mistakes or to honor influential people who have helped shape our nation.

While this is certainly true, and it is also the case that many of America’s founders held Christian beliefs, and that the artists were Christians as well, this also points to the idea of civil religion, a sociological phenomenon best explained by Robert Bellah. In one of his famous essays, Bellah points out that although our nation’s founders often referred to God, or Providence, or the Creator, they never refer to Jesus Christ, even if they themselves were Christian. Unlike today, when such a generic term might be used so that Americans of non-Christian faiths do not feel discrimination, this was not the purpose of this rhetoric. Rather, the god described by our nation’s leaders from President Washington through JFK to this present day is one concerned with virtue, social action, and abiding by right law — and not so interested in mercy, compassion and meditative prayer. In sum, it’s a god who fits America’s progressive, active vision, which may be a distortion of the God who actually Is. Whether you buy it or not, Bellah’s a fascinating read.

Anyway, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in D.C. these past months, and I plan be spending quite a bit more in the future, so I’ll have to be on the lookout for these religious representations as I go about town. The city was a forerunner in the City Beautiful movement, which promoted the building of classically inspired (European like) monuments as a means for encouraging citizens to act in a virtuous manner.

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