16 April 2009

Ten Hard Facts Confronting Benedict XVI in the Holy Land

By Deal W. Hudson

The Holy Father, his entourage, and the international media are preparing to visit the Holy Land May 8-15. Pope Benedict XVI will undoubtedly encourage further peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

But the prospect of a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict has become more remote, as the situation on the ground is constantly changing. Here are the facts as they stand now, and which will confront the Holy Father when he arrives in Amman, Jordan on May 8:

1. The world's oldest Christian community -- the Christians of historic Palestine -- will be gone within two generations if the Church does not act to protect them.

2. Estimates show that more than 10 percent of the Palestinian Christian community on the West Bank has immigrated in the last five years alone. There is a corresponding number of Palestinian Christians leaving from towns like Nazareth and East Jerusalem located within Israel.

3. Tension with Muslims is not the primary reason for the exodus -- only 11 percent of Palestinian Christians cite it as a reason for immigration. In fact, these communities have historically coexisted peacefully, along with indigenous Jewish communities, for centuries before the birth of the modern Israeli conflict.

4. Palestinian Muslims are also leaving the West Bank for the same reason as Palestinian Christians: Living under a military occupation reflecting an unresolved geopolitical conflict destroys any hope of a future for their children.

5. Palestinian Christians have very little freedom of movement. Most have never worshipped in Jerusalem's holy places, even though Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only a few miles apart and were historically connected for years. A system of segregated roads exists for Palestinians and Israelis, and checkpoints prevent Palestinians from traveling even between their own communities entirely within the West Bank. Many Israelis and official international observers say that these checkpoints and segregated roads are not there for Israel's legitimate security interests, but to enable its illegal settlements to continue expanding.

6. Palestinians have been the subject of frequent attack -- often with civilians and their homes in the direct line of fire. Since 1967, the Israeli army demolished more than 20,000 Palestinian houses, uprooted more than 3,000,000 trees, revoked residency rights of more than 6,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem, imprisoned more than 700,000 Palestinians for various periods of time, and killed or assassinated 15,000.

7. Since Israel removed its settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2004, Israeli settlements have expanded at their fastest rate in history. Moreover, Israel has issued plans to build more than 150,000 illegal housing units in Israeli settlements. In 2008, amidst the "settlement freeze" agreed upon in the 2007 Annapolis framework, tenders for new settlement building increased by 550 percent. Actual settlement construction has increased by 30 percent since the launching of the new round of peace talks.

8. After Israel removed all of its settlers and its permanent military presence from Gaza, it actually tightened its control over the area, devastating the economy and destabilizing the political situation, and then increased its settlements at the fastest rate in history. Since it removed 8,000 settlers from Gaza, over 50,000 new settlers have come to the West Bank in less than 3 years. The Israeli army is still in effective control of 24 percent of the land along Gaza's northern and eastern borders.

9. Since negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians began in 1993, Israeli GDP has increased by an estimated 250 percent, while Palestinian GDP has decreased by more than 40 percent. Palestinians have been locked in a series of virtual, disconnected, and militarily controlled "cantons." This makes a fertile soil for extremists.

10. Israel's 21-day incursion into Gaza left an immense humanitarian crisis: More than 50,800 Gazans were left homeless; 80 percent of the population are now dependent on assistance; between 35 and 60 percent of the agriculture industry was wrecked (60 percent of the agricultural land in the north of the Strip may no longer be arable); 219 factories were destroyed or severely damaged; 48 percent of the 122 health facilities assessed were found to be damaged or destroyed; 15 of Gaza's 27 hospitals and 41 primary health care centers suffered damages; 14,000 homes, 68 government buildings, and 31 NGOs were either totally or partially damaged -- as a result, an estimated 600,000 tons of concrete rubble will need to be removed.

The communities of Israel and Palestine are historically interdependent. Each must have the ability to live in dignity within its own community. The Church must offer a universal message of hope, while not neglecting to care for its own. Indeed, the fate of Palestinian Christians and the Holy Land itself are irrevocably linked to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Benedict XVI, more than anyone else, understands the transformative power of faith and will bring that message to all the children of Abraham in the Holy Land.

Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).


Liberty, Authority, and the Good of Religion

By Christopher Tollefsen
February 27, 2009

Religious liberty and religious authority are frequently seen in tension, but they need not conflict. In fact, a proper understanding of both shows that they are equally necessary for full human flourishing.

Contemporary culture is often hostile to the idea of authority in general and to religious authority in particular. Religious liberty, on the other hand, is readily grasped as a core value of the West. How the two can be harmonized strikes many as an insurmountable difficulty. But properly understood, religious authority need be in no conflict with religious liberty. That proper understanding, however, requires a prior appreciation of the distinctive value of religion.

One foundational judgment of practical reason is that religion is a basic good to be pursued. That is to say, any human being thinking clearly about the range of possibilities that could make him well-off will recognize that being right with—i.e., conforming one’s will to—whatever greater than human source of meaning there might be is an intelligibly attractive possibility.

Most people, recognizing the good at stake, seek to discover whether there is such a source. But not every agent who makes this judgment and acts upon it believes that there is such a more than human source of meaning. Concluding that no such source exists, some people seek to realize the good of religion by making their peace with the absence of this source of meaning. But for the many who consider it more reasonable to believe that such a being exists, it is then necessary to ask who and what such a being might be, and to ask how one is to be “made right” with that being in one’s life and action.

These deliberations involve a mix of speculative and moral considerations. While the existence of a creator can, plausibly, be known through the use of natural reason, this creator is not entirely and unmistakably present to us as the God of some particular revelation or religious tradition. How then have some people arrived at such robust conceptions of God? After arriving at the reasonable conclusion that God exists, many people further judge that God has offered mankind signs and opportunities by which we may come to know and love Him. He has, in other words, extended to us the possibility of a personal relationship. Such a relationship is itself a human good, and its desirability—and the desirability and even necessity of accepting that offer—is recognized by practical reason in a concrete judgment: That I should, for example, accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and henceforth strive to act as he would have me act. Or that I should submit to Allah and follow the teachings of the Prophet. Similar practical judgments, albeit to different conclusions, are made by others who have accepted different possible revelations as true, and have acted accordingly.

Conscience and its acts are thus at the root of our pursuit of the good of religion and of our acceptance of—our faith in—some particular religious tradition (and surely, that faith’s perfection will be found where the revelation accepted is true, and human flourishing will be compromised to some extent insofar as the revelation accepted is false). Considerations of this sort are at the root of sound thinking about freedom of religion: There is an obligation to seek religious truth and choose in accordance with what one acknowledges as religious truth. But the seeking, the judging, and, especially, the conforming, all require freedom. Such freedom is both existential (the freedom of being a person) and social/legal (the freedom of political liberty in a non-threatening, non-coercive context).

The results of one’s deliberations and acts of faith when considering one’s possible relationship to a supreme being can play a unique role in the rest of one’s practical deliberations. Consider the illusion that, in being self-constituting, we are self-sufficient, reliant only upon ourselves for successfully actualizing our possibilities. Such a thought is truly illusory: we are not responsible for our own existence; nor are we responsible for existing as the kinds of beings we are, with the particular set of goods that are beneficial for us.

Further, our success in pursuing those goods through judgment, choice, and action, is not of our own making. By my own power, I do not have the capacity to ensure the continued existence of the world through to the completion of any act I perform, much less the particular set of conditions necessary for success, rather than failure, in my actions. Indeed, I can no more ensure even the existence of my acts of judgment and will while exercising those powers. Literally everything that I am, everything that I do, and every measure of my success must be seen as accomplished in overwhelming reliance upon something, or someone, else.

It is natural, from the standpoint of one who has answered questions about the existence of a transcendent source of meaning affirmatively, to identify this source as the cooperating agent and to see thereby every endeavor as part of a potentially cooperative relationship with this being. It is likewise natural to see that being’s revelation as an invitation to us to accept His guidance in that cooperative relationship. One’s every action, from this standpoint, will be suffused with both gratitude, for the gift that has been given, attentiveness, to what God is asking of us as regards our participation in the relationship, and profound significance, insofar as everything that we do will either contribute positively or negatively to the building up of that relationship. We may call that relationship to which we are called our vocation.

What, then, justifies religious authority? There are two justifying reasons: one primary, the other secondary.

The primary reason for religious authority must be that some set of persons are believed to be in a special epistemic position as regards what God wishes of human beings in order that the human-divine relationship be protected and promoted. Call this magisterial authority. The secondary reason is that some form of quasi-political authority—call it ecclesial authority—is necessary in order to coordinate the actions of those persons who together take themselves to be oriented towards God and his purposes by way of some magisterial authority or other.

When some set of persons are believed to possess, and believe themselves to possess, a special awareness of, or access to, the divine plan for human-divine relationships, and it is believed, including believed by those persons themselves, that part of the divine plan involves their promulgation of that plan, then those persons’ assertions and other acts related to the divine plan will be taken to be authoritative in a strictly religious and magisterial sense. What those persons proscribe and prescribe, as regards actions and beliefs, will be taken to give believers good, and indeed overriding reasons for action and belief, even in cases in which the believers might otherwise have thought some other belief or action justified.

Absent magisterial authority, there might be the authority common to other voluntary associations, all of which also need some locus for authoritative decision making in order that a common way of proceeding be initiated and maintained by the members of the association. But, while a religious club might indeed need and have such an authority, there seems no particular point in calling this “religious authority.” Moreover, a political authority might have religious functions without being taken to have the special epistemic position characteristic of religious authority. Again, I see no need to think of this as religious authority in the primary sense.

Now it appears that, under these conditions, it is not the case that a non-coercive religious authority—that is, an authority which cannot punish with the sword—is ever in a position to violate the conscience or religious liberty of its members or its alleged members. For those members are either believers, in which case they look to the magisterial authority for guidance and, receiving it, take it to be authoritative for the formation of their conscience, or, they are not believers, perhaps because, having consulted their consciences and exercised their reasoning capacities, they no longer believe in the privileged epistemic position of the magisterial authorities. These agents, whom the magisterial authority is unable to coerce, are free to leave the set of believers, or accept what non-coercive—because avoidable at will—punishments, such as excommunication or lighter discipline the ecclesial authority may mete out, just as agents in any other voluntary association are free to leave, or accept that association’s non-coercive punishments.

At the same time, it is also clear, based on what has been said, that a mingling of religious authority and political, or coercive authority, is inappropriate, given the nature and importance of conscience and the good of religion. Yet it is important to see this as the locus of abuse, not the exercise of magisterial authority as such. Religious authority that is exercised with genuinely coercive power—the sort of power characteristic of the political state—is a perversion of both religious and political authority, and is inadequate to the tasks of either. Magisterial authority need pose no threat to religious liberty; and if the claims of some magisterial authority are true, then such authority must be considered essential for the fullest participation in the good of religion.

Christopher O. Tollefsen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and a fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. His latest book, co-authored with Robert P. George, is Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (Doubleday, 2008). Tollefsen sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse.

Copyright 2009 the Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved.


Politics and Science

By James Stoner
March 20, 2009

The “rightful place” of science is not as obvious as the President thinks.

You don’t have to be a political scientist to know that when a politician talks about taking the politics out of a scientific issue, there is apt to be—dare one repeat the word yet again—something political going on. Commentators such as Charles Krauthammer and Yuval Levin have been quick to notice this in the remarks President Obama delivered last week when he lifted by executive order the funding restrictions put in place by President Bush on research involving human embryos and embryonic stem cells. The new president had promised in his inaugural address to “restore science to its rightful place,” and he reiterated that theme in his remarks, calling his new order “an important step in advancing the cause of science in America”:
It is about letting scientists . . . do their jobs, free from manipulation and coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda—and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

There is nothing terribly wrong with this formulation of the principle of “scientific integrity”—the term used in an accompanying memorandum—but it raises rather than answers the question of what is the scientist’s job, what are scientific data and decisions, and what is the proper place of politics.

Let’s start by clarifying what we mean by politics, for like most words it is not free from ambiguity. First, we sometimes talk about politics as the struggle over who gets offices and honors and benefits: politics in this sense is likened to a game in which there are players and teams, rules and game-plans, winners and losers, triumphs and defeats. Second, we see politics in deliberation about public policy, in making decisions about the best means to achieve agreed-upon ends; today we generally agree, for example, that we need an economic policy that will ensure the return of prosperity, but our political parties show characteristic differences in the sorts of policy they are inclined to endorse toward that end. Finally, political dispute sometimes reaches beyond issues involving the means to agreed-upon ends to include debate about the ends themselves: Should public policy favor excellence or equity? Should the law encourage justice or protect freedom?

All can agree, I think, that scientific integrity requires that the determination of the truth of facts and causality in matters properly within the domain of scientific inquiry ought to be free from political interference. There might be “politics” in every lab or every agency, but it is the duty of scientists to set considerations of gain and celebrity aside when determining whether a scientific paper ought to be published or whether a scientific theory is true. The standard is evidence and argument, not power and influence, and the evidence and argument ought to be such that it is publicly available and contestable, for in that way error can be discovered and corrected. In deciding whose evidence is best and whose arguments are sound, it should not matter what powerful forces in society wish the truth to be: whether the icecaps are melting; whether if so the cause is human activity (such as burning fossil fuels) or natural events (such as storms on the sun); whether intelligence can be measured and, if so, whether it varies by ethnic group; whether animal embryos are living organisms that develop on their own given favorable conditions or are clumps of cells that behave like cultured tissue. If truth is suppressed because one or the other political team finds it “inconvenient,” to use the President’s language, something has gone wrong.

Things get complicated when we have to deliberate about which means to choose in the formulation of public policy. Here science often has a useful role to play. Sometimes it takes the form of scientific studies that document otherwise uncertain dangers to the public, for example the health risks of tobacco use. Sometimes scientific instruments and technology provide the government with essential tools for important services, for example weather forecasting or space exploration or a thousand military purposes. Sometimes social science evidence informs policy-making, for example economic analysis or the assessment of student achievement. In all these matters it can never be said that science dictates rational policy on its own without additional human judgment.

Whether tobacco harms human health is a scientific question, but whether government should ban its use, ban its advertisement in certain venues, or merely warn the public of its dangers is not a question that can be answered scientifically, only politically. The risks of air or water pollution might be scientifically calculated, but how much risk is acceptable and who should have to bear it are political issues. It is not a political question whether a scientific instrument measures what it is supposed to or executes the operation for which it is designed, but the use to which it should be put and whether its cost is worth its benefit can only be answered by politics. Here the temptations to compromise scientific integrity may be great, but they can in principle be resisted by scientifically literate administrators and an informed public, able to distinguish judgments of fact from judgments of value. When the question involves the social sciences, fact and value are inevitably tangled, requiring even more vigilance to distinguish empirical findings from political interpretations; perhaps the best that can be expected is that scientific results be kept in perspective and not be asserted by political figures to prove more than the researchers who discover them can scientifically claim.

What makes science inadequate to settle debates over means is the fact that human goods are plural and incommensurable. Usually for any individual, and always for complex communities, there are many competing goods and no simple or universal formula by which they can be weighed against one another. Disputes over ends need not be irresolvable in principle, however. There is a long tradition in philosophy that aims to do precisely that, and religion and other forms of culture have often claimed and sometimes succeeded in fostering a widespread consensus on fundamental things that limits political disagreement. The reason that these disputes become political in our society is because by embracing religious freedom and free speech, we have accepted heterodoxy on first principles and thus have left to political ingenuity the forging of public opinion even on matters of fundamental concern. Much more can be said on this score—pointing, for example, to the role of constitutionalism in holding society together, or, as Tocqueville pointed out, to the unofficial but nevertheless tyrannical pressure of democratic majorities over thought. For our purposes here what is essential is to note that modern science has nothing, or almost nothing, to say about the human good.

This bears underlining. Whereas classical science asked about the essences of things and about their ends, modern science is empiriological, classifying and measuring phenomena in their observed relations. Its form is logical rather than ontological; rather than asking what things really are or what they are for, modern science typically aims to describe reality mathematically. Modern science answers how events happen, not what is the substance of things. Its spectacular achievements come as a result of its narrowed scope. But even that is only part of the story, for practicing scientists are usually convinced that they have made discoveries about the way things really are, not just that they have described mathematically the relations of appearances; except for the sake of maintaining an argument, no practical physicist believes that “physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world,” as Nietzsche said. Scientists confidently acquire real knowledge by limited but effective means, and sometimes claim that what they know is all that can be known about the things they study. To them—and, frankly, to our culture at large—all claims to knowledge are either ‘scientific’ or ‘unscientific,’ the latter including everything from ethics to prejudice. Perhaps for peace in the university scientists concede some dignity to nonscientific disciplines, but it is hard not to think that, except for those who draw on resources of personal faith, they consider it all to be nonsense and treat it with silent contempt.

On the other hand, humanists and other non-scientists lazily rely on Nietzsche’s adage or on Nietzschean philosophers of science, thinking they can treat scientific knowledge as optional in itself and not essential to their own concerns. They rarely understand science or what drives it and so are surprised when scientists ignore their concerns. To the humanist, science should pause before ethical imperatives, or at least human experience, which includes, as Levin and Krauthammer remember, harrowing tales from the twentieth century of science going horribly astray. But to the scientist, the humanist himself treats ethics or religion as interpretation, not knowledge, so proposed restrictions on scientific research seem arbitrarily imposed. As a physicist friend has pointed out to me, to a modern biologist the embryo is today what the atom was to physicists a few generations ago: the central, most powerful thing within their field of study, and just beginning to be truly understood for the first time. This is why, as scientists, they consider it irrelevant that pluripotent stem cells can be produced by other means: they want to know what makes the embryo work and resent anything that stands in their way, confident that the knowledge gained will in the long run yield the greatest benefits to well-being.

Hence our current predicament: scientists who want to really know, but are only half aware of the limits of their empiriological method; humanists (not to mention religious believers) who have abandoned claims to comprehensive knowledge even of their appointed spheres; and politicians eager as ever to exploit the opportunities that ambiguity creates. Though laws remain in place that still restrict the grasp of science—for example, regulating the composition of federally mandated boards to review research on human subjects—the problem is more fundamental and not to be resolved without serious intellectual work. It is not enough, for either liberals or conservatives, to rest democracy on “values voters” as able to resist the authoritarian claims of modern science. Not unexplained values, but genuine knowledge, is needed to establish that the “rightful place” of science in its modern form is not above the people and their faith and their Constitution, but in their service, for the questions of substances and ends retain authority over instrumental questions concerning processes and systems. In other words, the inconvenient political fact is that law must restrain scientists within ethical boundaries so long as their method itself is amoral, but the better way in the long run is toward recovery of a serious science of human being.

James Stoner is Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Louisiana State University. He sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse. He gratefully acknowledges his reliance on the writings and conversation of Anthony Rizzi of the Institute for Advanced Physics in developing this essay.

Copyright 2009 the Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved.


15 April 2009

Uskup Terpilih Prioritaskan Pembinaan Iman di Wilayah Agama Asli

JAKARTA (UCAN) -- Pastor Edmund Woga CSsR, yang diangkat menjadi Uskup Weetebula di Pulau Sumba, mengatakan ia akan memprioritaskan pembinaan iman umat Katolik di keuskupan itu, dimana agama asli masih berpengaruh.
Pada 4 April Paus Benediktus XVI mengangkat administrator keuskupan Weetebula itu sebagai uskup untuk keuskupan yang sama di tenggara Indonesia. Uskup Agung Leopoldo Girelli, Duta Vatikan untuk Indonesia, memberitahukannya tentang penggangkatan itu pada hari yang sama.

”Saya terkejut saat Uskup Agung Girelli menelepon saya apakah saya bersedia menjadi Uskup Weetabula," kenang Uskup-terpilih Woga, 58. Ia memberikan saya kesempatan sehari untuk berpikir tentang pengangkatan itu, namun saya meminta dua hari." Tanggal penahbisan dan pelantikannya belum diputuskan, katanya dalam wawancara melalui telepon selulernya.

Berbicara tentang prioritasnya sebagai kepala keuskupan itu, ia mengatakan: ”Saya akan menekankan secara khusus pada persoalan iman umat karena pengetahuan iman mereka sangat minim, pendidikan masih rendah, sehingga perlu ada kegiatan pastoral khusus. Dengan itu mereka tidak hanya mengetahui doa-doa Bapa Kami, Salam Maria, atau Aku Percaya.”

Ia mengakui pentingnya Merapu, agama asli warga Sumba, dalam kehidupan umat di sini. ”Pertemuan khusus dengan agama asli bisa cepat membantu mendalami pengetahuan mereka tentang iman Katolik” karena Merapu memiliki nilai-nilai yang sama dengan nilai-nilai Kristen, kata uskup-terpilih itu.

Menurut data Gereja 2003, dari 603.305 penduduk pulau itu sekitar 260.000 adalah Protestan, 200.000 adalah penganut Merapu, 120.000 adalah Katolik dan 20.000 adalah Muslim.

Uskup-terpilih Woga juga berjanji ia akan melanjutkan program-program untuk membangun Komunitas Basis Gereja (KBG) yang telah dilakukan penggantinya, Uskup Gerulfus Kherubim Pareira SVD, yang kini melayani sebagai uskup Maumere di Pulau Flores. Uskup-terpilih mengatakan ia berharap semua imam dan religius yang melayani keuskupan itu bekerjasama untuk memperdalam iman umat Katolik lokal.

Seorang imam lokal, Pastor Kristianus Bernardus Breda, kepala Paroki St. Petrus dan Paulus di Waikabubak, ibukota Kabupaten Sumba Barat, mengatakan ia telah mengumumkan pengangkatan itu kepada para umat paroki pada Misa-Misa 4 dan 5 April. "Umat sangat senang mendengar berita pengangkatan itu" karena mereka tidak memiliki uskup selama hampir setahun, kata imam itu melalui telepon.

Ia menambahkan bahwa ia mendukung rencana uskup-terpilih itu untuk memprioritaskan pembinaan iman umat Katolik lokal.

Uskup-terpilih Woga lahir pada 17 November 1950 di Hewokloang, Flores. Ia belajar di Seminari Tinggi St. Paulus di Kentungan, Yogyakarta, dari 1971 dan ditahbiskan menjadi imam tahun 1977. Ia kemudian melayani selama sekitar setahun sebagai direktur Lembaga Pelatihan Guru Agama di Waingapu, Kabupaten Sumba Timur, dan tahun lain sebagai pastor Paroki St. Clemens di Katikuloku, Kabupaten Sumba Barat.
Tahun 1979-1982, ia menjadi direktur Asrama Pada Dita di Waingapu, Sumba Timur. Ia bergabung dengan Redemptoris tahun 1980.

Dari tahun 1982, ia belajar di Sankt Augustin di Jerman, dimana ia meraih licentia dalam bidang misiologi dua tahun kemudian. Tahun 1986-1992, ia belajar teologi fundamental di Monaco.

Dari tahun 1993, ia melayani sebagai dosen misiologi di Fakultas Teologi Wedhabakti di Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Tahun 2002, ia menjadi provinsial CSsR Indonesia, berbasis di pusat kongregasinya di Sumba, hingga ia menjadi administrator keuskupan Weetebula tahun 2008.

2009-4-7 | IJ07010.637b | 480 kata

Palestinian Christians Look Toward the Papal Visit

By Deal W. Hudson

Palestinian Christians are wondering aloud whether the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land will bring greater media attention to their dwindling numbers. They fear that, at the top, the pope's agenda will be dominated by his continuing effort to smooth the ruffled feathers of Muslims (after his2006 Regensburg speech) and Jews (following the recent trouble over the anti-Semitism of Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X).

Building better relations with Israel, the international Jewish community, and Muslims is the "story line already written by the media for the papal visit," one Vatican observer told me.But the real motive behind the visit, according to the same observer with close ties to the Vatican, is the pope's desire to make a "personal pilgrimage" to the holy sites. His message will be a message to the Church, he continued, and should not be expected to target "specific problems" on the ground.

It's impossible, however, for a papal visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan not to be scrutinized from every possible angle. Everyone in the region, and many around the world, will be listening for any possible comment on the ongoing occupation by Israel of the West Bank and its impact on the historic Christian communities of places like Bethlehem, Nazareth, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour.

Opinions differ on the primary cause for the departure of Christians out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some point to the rigors of the occupation, especially restrictions on the freedom of movement imposed by checkpoints and security walls. Others talk about the mounting tensions between Christians and Muslims in towns like Bethlehem, where their families once lived side by side without rancor as far back as anyone can remember. Indeed, on this, my fourth trip to the Holy Land in six years, I have heard more about Muslim hostility to Christians than ever before.

My own observation is that, when people are locked in a prison with little hope of ever getting out, they turn their gaze inward. Divisions that once didn't matter become very relevant. Similarly, when two peoples live together under an occupation without the freedom of movement, they start finding more fault with each other.

Bernard Sabella, a professor at Bethlehem University and a Christian member of the Palestinian legislature, offers another explanation for the exodus. "The main reason is unemployment. If the young people can't find work, they leave, it's that simple."

Sabella's research has found that in good economic years, about 200 to 300 Palestinian Christians between the ages of 25 and 30 leave the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In bad economic times, the numbers shoot up to between 900 and 1,000 a year. With only 50,000 Christians in those areas, the net result is a steadily shrinking community whose recovery is dependent on the return of a robust economy. Sabella adds, "How can you have a strong economy with plenty of jobs for young people out of college when they cannot, for example, even leave the city of Bethlehem but only rarely?"

Without freedom of movement, Sabella argues, the economy cannot grow, more and more Palestinians will depend on foreign aid for subsistence, and young Christians will choose to leave in search of better lives. Sabella's analysis, although beginning with the problem of unemployment, points back to the impact of the Israeli occupations and, particularly, the more stringent measures taken since theintifada that began in 2000.

If Benedict addresses the root causes for the declining Christian presence in the Holy Land, he will very likely offend both Israelis and Muslims, the very parties with whom he might have hoped to strengthen ties. Yet this is the moment when Christians living under the occupation need a word of support from the leader of the Church. After the Gaza campaign and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, they have little hope that Israel will pursue a two-state solution. They also put little faith in the promises of the Obama administration -- not because of Obama himself, but because of their disappointments in previous U.S. presidents.

One frustrated Christian put it to me bluntly: "The pope must do something for his Christians here in the Holy Land, or there will be none of us here in 20 years." This father of two young children, living in Bethlehem and struggling to keep his family on the West Bank, is considering the option of immigrating for the first time in his life. His attitude, I am told, is becoming widespread among educated Palestinian Christians.

Benedict has already shown himself capable of rising to the occasion to overcome controversy, as on his trip to the United States a year ago when he defused the criticism awaiting him about the priest sex scandal. His proactive comments to the media on the flight to Washington, D.C., let the air out of the balloon of invective that was ready to burst upon his arrival.

The Holy Father may well find a way to navigate through the more rocky shores of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Palestinian Christians caught in the middle.

Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).


The Pope Should Go to Gaza

By Deal W. Hudson

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"The Holy Father should not be coming to the Holy Land without visiting Gaza." The bitterness in his voice was obvious as the professor at Bethlehem University talked to me about Pope Benedict XVI's visit next month. I found that his attitude is the rule, rather than the exception, among Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.
In interviews conducted with over twenty Palestinian Christian leaders last week, I was surprised to discover no enthusiasm whatsoever for the upcoming papal visit. "The pope's visit here will only legitimize the recent Israeli operation in Gaza and the intentions of the right-wing government elected in February," the professor explained.

Palestinian Christians have expressed their concerns directly to Benedict. In a little-noticed letter of February 20, 40 members of the Christian community in the Holy Land told the pope his visit would only serve to endorse Israeli government policies, "leading to more cooperation from the United States and Europe."
Nidal Abu Zuluf is associate director of the YMCA in Bethlehem and coordinates a network of Christian organizations. As he gave me a copy of the letter, he asked, "Why now? It's a bad time for the pope to come, and there is no clear message, unless he goes to Gaza."

From what I saw and heard there, adding Gaza to the papal visit to the Holy Land would indeed send a message to all concerned, including Hamas, which some Christians fear was strengthened by the three-week Israeli offensive. Benedict could visit Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, where Msgr. Manuel Musallam and his parishioners lived through the bombing that began on December 28 and the ground invasion a week later on January 3, 2009. Monsignor Musallam and his parish minister to the 200 Catholics remaining in Gaza (there are approximately another 3,000 Christians, most of whom are Greek Orthodox).

Unfortunately, the itinerary of the trip, set for May 8-13, does not include Gaza -- it basically repeats the schedule of Pope John Paul II from March 2000. Benedict arrives in Amman, Jordan, before visiting Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. The problem, according to Abu Zuluf, is that the Holy Land is a "very different place" than it was in 2000. Ever since the uprising (Second Intifada) that followed the visit of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in September 2000, the West Bank has been in a state of lock-down enforced by hundreds of miles of security walls, checkpoints, settlements, settler roads, and harsh restrictions on freedom of movement.

Palestinian Christians have virtually no access to the holy sites in East Jerusalem, Galilee, and Nazareth. Abu Zuluf, a native of Bethlehem, has not been able to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem since 1993, even though it is just a few miles away. Sadly, his situation is typical for Christians in Bethlehem and the adjacent, largely Christian cities of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

According to Br. Jack Curran, vice president for development of Bethlehem University, students in religion classes are routinely denied permits to travel out of the city. Even worse, he told me, "We can't get permission from Israel for any students to attend the university from Gaza." In spite of the government obstacles, Bethlehem University has mounted a new effort to engage students from Gaza. Brother Curran told me, "The university needs help from American Catholics both politically, to get Israeli permission for these young people to come to Bethlehem, and financially, to support their living and educational costs."

The Christians living in the Holy Land will view Benedict's visit through the lens of the recent Israeli offensive, which left 1,417 dead in Gaza, including 313 children. With the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, Christians in Bethlehem expressed fear that their city could become another Gaza. "We already live surrounded by walls and checkpoints. Why shouldn't we think that what happened in Gaza could happen to us?" said a young woman in her mid-20s, who comes from one of the oldest and most prominent Christian families in Bethlehem.

Palestinian Christians will be deeply disappointed and demoralized if Benedict simply repeats the itinerary of John Paul II. Imagine the power of the Holy Father speaking from a Catholic parish in the midst of the devastation of Gaza. Benedict could not only speak to the issue of the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but could also issue an invitation to Catholics around the world to follow his example and visit the Holy Land.

A significant and lasting increase in Catholic pilgrims would provide financial help for both Israel and Palestine, moral support for Palestinian Christians, and an opportunity for Catholics to see the situation on the ground for themselves. The Palestinian Christian community is on life support, and the pope cannot ignore it.

Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).


Benedict XVI and the State of Israel

By David P. Goldman
Monday, March 30, 2009, 12:01 AM

May 14 is Israel’s Independence Day (celebrated according to the Jewish rather than the Gregorian calendar), recalling the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. For Palestinian Arabs the following day, May 15, is a day of mourning, “Disaster (Naqba) Day.” It has gone unmentioned that Pope Benedict’s Holy Land pilgrimage falls on just these days. On May 15, the final day of his visit, the pope will share a podium in Israel’s capital Jerusalem with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The pope’s appearance in Jerusalem with Israel’s head of state on Naqba Day underscores his commitment to the State of Israel. From the founding of the State of Israel to 1993, when the Vatican at length established diplomatic relations with the Jewish State, the Holy See has had to balance its commitment to Middle Eastern Christians with its efforts to improve relations with the Jewish people. Christians endured in the birthplace of their religion under Muslim rule as a dhimmi, or subject people, anxious to avoid giving offense to the far more powerful majority.

With the advent of the State of Israel and the hostile Muslim response, dhimmitude became less viable. It is estimated that thirty-five percent of the Christians in the West Bank and Gaza have emigrated since the 1967 war, mostly in response to harassment by radical Islamists. Although Arab Christians have suffered at the hands of Muslim militants who oppose the existence of the Jewish State, many of them blame the Jews for rousing the Muslim militants in the first place.

Well before the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993, then Cardinal Ratzinger repeatedly explained to Jewish representatives that the delay in diplomatic recognition solely reflected the concern of the Holy See for the vulnerable Arab Christian communities. His pilgrimage this May devotes considerable time to pastoral meetings with the Arab Christian community. Nonetheless, Benedict has made clear that his concern for Arab Christians is embedded within an unwavering commitment to the Jewish community in the Holy Land.

It is hard not to see an evolution in Vatican policy towards Israel, from a pragmatic approach to the problems of religious constituencies, to explicit theological sympathy for the Jewish State. Benedict XVI is first of all a theologian, and he views the Jewish presence in the Holy Land as a theological matter.

In 2008, on the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s independence, Benedict XVI told Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, “The Holy See is united with you and thanks God for the full realization of the Jewish people’s aspirations to live in its homeland, the land of its forefathers.” Meeting with the Israeli rabbinate on March 12, the Pope affirmed the election of the Jewish people “to communicate to the whole human family knowledge of and fidelity to the one, true and unique God.” Theologically it is difficult to separate the election of the people from the promise of the land, and Benedict’s commitment to Israel seems strongly grounded in theology.

The Magisterium of the Church does not take an explicit position on the question of Jewish statehood. Officially, the Catholic Church instructs, “The existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law,” in the formula given in “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church” (1985.

But the Church also knows that Israel is more than just another small country like Finland or Ecuador, for the very next sentence of the 1985 document cites John Paul II’s recognition of the theological significance of Jewish survival: “The permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God’s design. . . . It remains a chosen people, ‘the pure olive on which were grafted the branches of the wild olive which are the gentiles.’”

Middle Eastern Christians remain an important constituency opposing Vatican support for the Jewish State. Their position is difficult. On March 25, the Holy See expressed “profound concern” about Middle Eastern Christians in the Middle East in the wake of the Israeli incursion into Gaza. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and Archbishop Antonio Maria emphasized the pastoral function of the pope’s visit, nothing that he “constantly comforts Christians, and all the inhabitants of the Holy Land, with special words and gestures, coupled with his desire to make a pilgrimage in the historical footsteps of Jesus . . . The wounds opened by violence make the problem of emigration more acute, inexorably depriving the Christian minority of its best resources for the future . . . The land that was the cradle of Christianity risks ending up without Christians.”

That is not quite true, for although Arab Christians are indeed leaving areas controlled by Muslims, Christians are immigrating to Israel itself, whose Christian community has doubled in size in the past fifteen years. Nearly 300,000 Eastern European immigrants are Christians, as well as many Filipinos and others who came as guest workers and have settled in Israel. Hebrew-speaking Israeli Christians are becoming a more numerous constituency than Arab-speaking Palestinian Christians. The retirement in 2008 of Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, a vocal critic of the Jewish State, was symbolic of the generational change that shifted the balance of Christian life to Hebrew-speaking Israelis. Patriarch Sabbah belonged to an older generation that blamed Israel for the disruption of Christian life in the Holy Land.

The most important issues outstanding between the State of Israel and the Holy See involve the practical life of Church institutions ministering to Catholic citizens of the Jewish State, including taxation, the status of Church property, and so forth. It is possible to look forward to a happy day in which the most important source of antagonism between Catholics and Jews will be tax treatment of Church property—provided, of course, that the Holy Father’s theological sympathy for the existence of the Israeli state prevails in the Church. His predecessor John Paul II transformed Catholic–Jewish relations during his pilgrimage nine years ago, and the image of the pope praying at the Western Wall did more to persuade Jews of Christian goodwill than all the conference resolutions in history. Benedict’s presentation of the theology of election adds an inestimably important dimension to the story. But nothing strengthens the bond between the Church and the Jews as plainly as the pope’s appearance in Israel on the anniversary of its independence.

David P. Goldman is a writer in New York.


Abortion and the Consumer Society

By Joe Hargrave

Pro-life Catholics fall into two camps on the issue of abortion: those who see it first and foremost as an individual moral failing, and those who consider it primarily a social moral failing.

There is nothing mutually exclusive about the two positions, of course, but that isn't the problem. The real issue here is emphasis; that in turn determines how we prioritize our resources and efforts, where we believe the pressure points are, and how to strike them.

Since I myself lean toward the social explanation for abortion, I want to clarify it for those who disagree. At times we are accused of -- and are indeed guilty of -- materialist reductionism. There are some within the Church (and on the pro-life side of the spectrum in general) who focus almost exclusively on social concerns. Similarly, there were many Catholics who thought supporting Barack Obama's candidacy during the 2008 election was a morally acceptable choice, because they believed his economic policies would strike at the root causes of abortion.

Unfortunately, the facts do not entirely support the argument. While it is true that some abortions -- perhaps a significant number -- might be reduced through economic policies that address the problems facing young, single mothers, the majority of abortions are sought by people living comfortably above the poverty line.

Of course, this argument was premised on another -- that Obama would necessarily pursue policies that would serve the interests of women likely to get abortions. Even assuming that his intentions are sincere, he is still limited by the economy, especially in the midst of a recession. If the "reduce abortion through social spending" argument was plausible before the financial crisis, it has become less so now. There is therefore no good reason to expect a quick solution to the problem of abortion, whether or not one believes the economy is at the root of it.

On the other hand, those who believe deliverance lies in the mere reversal of Roe v. Wade should consider how much the culture and political landscape have changed in the last 40 years. Even if it were true that abortion fell into our laps because of what a cabal of judges decided in 1973, we have nevertheless had nearly four decades of what Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae described as a vast, orchestrated conspiracy against the sanctity of life (12, 17).

The culture of death is here, and it is both powerful and growing. Consider, for instance, that as voters flocked to the polls in November to reject gay marriage in the state of California, they also rejected by a solid margin a simple parental notification law for minors seeking abortions. Pro-life ballot measures failed in other states as well -- red states. If one's hope is entirely placed in politics, it's a bad sign.

Abortion will go away when the majority of Americans wants it to go away. According to one study, "At least half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45 and, at current rates, about one-third will have had an abortion." This of course does not include the millions of men who will push their girlfriends or wives into getting abortions, or the parents who do the same with their daughters.

Having moved past both the quick-fix economic and political solutions, we see that the fundamental issue is chiefly an economic one, though not in the way the typical left-liberal Catholic conceives of it. The problem is not too little wealth and income, but rather too much.

In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the United States adopted some of the economic theories of the British economist John Keynes, who argued that the key to avoiding another depression was increased consumption by the masses. The war-time industry was converted into production of consumer goods, and a semi-official theory of consumerism became a part of American life. The importance of this development is highlighted by John Paul II as he explained the phenomenon of consumerism in Centesimus Annus:

A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man (36, bold emphasis added).

What comprehensive picture of man was Western society guided by as it turned to consumerism?

Since the 1950s we have been "The Affluent Society," and we considered it our patriotic duty to build a consumer paradise to one-up Soviet communism. During this time a generation was born that would hardly know material want and would take for granted the sort of freedom from toil that was formerly reserved to the wealthy. It was a reality for which no one was prepared, a case where sweeping economic change had a profound cultural effect. As conservative commentator Robert Bork explained in the opening paragraph of his classic work, Slouching towards Gomorrah:

What did they want, these students? What conceivable goals led them to this and to the general havoc they were wreaking on the university? Living in the Sixties, my faculty colleagues and I had no understanding of what it was about, where it came from, or how long the misery would last. It was only much later that a degree of understanding came.

Bork is right to identify both rampant egalitarianism and individualism as both chief symptoms and further causes of many problems in our society, up to and including abortion. But he lacks a coherent explanation for the origin of these currents. I would argue they emerged out of the relative material independence made possible by the conversion of vast swaths of the economy to the production of consumer goods, as well as the application of science and technology to the needs facing the everyday person and household. In other words, Americans have grown accustomed to freedom from physical necessity, wherein, to quote John Paul II once more, "needs were few and were determined, to a degree, by the objective structures of [man's] physical make-up." This is true with respect to children and family life as well.

The fact is, the bearing and raising of children has lost a certain objective necessity that it once had; historically, children were not only objects of familial love but also economic resources. Boys became workers, and girls were married off to create advantageous social connections between families. Today, by contrast, we live in a culture where many of the children lucky enough to be born at all are idealized, coddled, and pampered to a degree hitherto unknown in history. As a result, their adulthood is often unnaturally delayed by a thousand laws and social conventions that premise "growing up too fast" as the worst of all possible fates (see Hara Estroff Marano's A Nation of Wimps for an excellent overview of this phenomenon).

Abortion and delayed adulthood are two sides of the same coin, the displacement of children from their earlier position in society and their replacement into a role that accommodates the consumerist mentality. Failing to recognize the historically shaped economic underpinnings of the family unit leaves us flabbergasted when those same underpinnings dissolve, and human behaviors and desires change as a result. This is not to say that human beings should ever be regarded merely as objects of economic utility, but simply that they do (or did) possess that utility, in addition to their inherent dignity and value as children of God.

I have no objection to a greater degree of social equality, a wider sphere for individual creativity and initiative, or the application of science for the betterment of our lives. Nevertheless, historically, these things arrived after the entire social structure of the Middle Ages had disintegrated. Progress came violently and with overt hostility toward the Church and its "comprehensive picture of man." Yet Pope Pius XI, in Quadragesimo Anno, argued that there is no logical connection between social and technological progress on the one hand, and the destruction of the essential principles of the old social order on the other:

For there was a social order once which, although indeed not perfect or in all respects ideal, nevertheless, met in a certain measure the requirements of right reason, considering the conditions and needs of the time. If that order has long since perished, that surely did not happen because the order could not have accommodated itself to changed conditions and needs by development and by a certain expansion, but rather because men, hardened by too much love of self, refused to open the order to the increasing masses as they should have done, or because, deceived by allurements of a false freedom and other errors, they became impatient of every authority and sought to reject every form of control.

Who today can fail to see the seeds of the "pro-choice" mentality in what the pope describes: men and women "hardened by too much love of self," "deceived by the allurements of a false freedom," "impatient of every authority," and who "reject every form of control"? It should not be shocking, then, that a progress founded upon these flaws should culminate in a total rejection of parental responsibilities (which is what abortion boils down to).

Can the trend be reversed? Yes. Since there is no logical link between progress and evil, there is no reason we cannot envision a society where science and technology are put at the service of life. But many of us still need to come to terms with the extent to which even we are infected by those same errors and deceptions (if we fail to see the link between consumerism and abortion in America, we might look at what is taking place in China). The creation of a culture of life requires more than political activism: It demands a transformation of lifestyle.

Joe Hargrave writes from Phoenix. He blogs at A New Catholic Paradigm, Vox Nova, and American Catholic.


Be Not Afraid

By Danielle Bean

Four years ago, I was in the hospital, laboring to deliver our seventh child. My husband paced the floors, and a television tuned to Fox News blared from a corner of the room.

Terri Schiavo was dying. And the world was watching.

I watched, too. Between contractions, waves of nausea, and breathing exercises, I listened to lawmakers debate the legality of withholding food and water from a dependent human being simply because she hadn't yet had the decency to die on her own.

But Terri Schiavo wasn't the only person whose last days were chronicled on the cable news channels that early spring. Pope John Paul II was dying, too.

It seemed especially fitting that this man, who had spent a lifetime waging battle against the forces of what he called the "culture of death," should offer such a fearless, contrasting example of embracing suffering at the end of his life.

John Paul II was the only pope I ever knew. I was just six years old when white smoke wafted from the chimney in the Sistine Chapel and my mother stood before the television, mesmerized and clutching a dishtowel, as Karol Wojtyla was elected pope decades ago.

Though I paid little attention at the time, the famous opening lines of John Paul II's inaugural sermon came to have more meaning for me as I grew older:

Be not afraid. Open wide the gates to Christ. Open up to his saving power the confines of the state, open up economic and political systems, the vast empires of culture, civilization and development. . . . Be not afraid!

It can be hard not to fear.

In the face of pervasive cultural forces that encourage us to avoid suffering at all costs and to rid ourselves of "burdensome" human beings in the womb, in hospital beds, or at the brink of death, it can be hard to feel brave.

As parents raising the next generation of Catholics in a world that often mocks our values and offers all manner of godlessness presented in seductive packages, it can be very hard not to fear.

And sometimes, just knowing that death and pain are real, and that none of us can control when they come for us or for our loved ones, is the most fearsome fact of all.

That day in the hospital, when my unborn son's heartbeat slowed unexpectedly and became erratic, one nurse ran to the hall and shrieked for the doctor while two others threw me roughly onto my side and forced an oxygen mask onto my face. When my eyes met my pale-faced, stoic husband's, fear pressed hard against my heart.

Hours later, when I held my healthy, pink-faced newborn son, traced my finger along the gentle curve of his dimpled elbows, and felt his sturdy legs kick hard against the swaddling, I thought of our beloved, dying pope. I recalled his abiding love for families and unfailing confidence in the next generation.

John Paul II once said, "As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live."

And that's just what I fear.

We are the families in whom he had such confidence. Ours was the generation he predicted would bring about a "new springtime" in the Catholic Church.

But I am no pope. How can I raise up a new generation to wage war against a culture of death that devalues human life, perverts the priesthood, mocks marriage, and forgets its dependence on God?

John Paul II had no patience for such paralyzing fears. I think this is what he had in mind when he reminded us, "The future starts today, not tomorrow." I think he intended that we should establish a culture of life by forgetting our fears, "opening wide the doors to Christ," and letting Him take care of the more worrisome details.

And I am grateful for the reminder.

Today my son Raphael, born into this world just as John Paul II was leaving it, is a barrel-chested four-year-old boy with soul-searching, chocolate eyes. He spends his days in the springtime sun, collecting worms in buckets, hitting trees with sticks, and dreaming of baseball.

Yesterday he approached me with a hand-hewn wooden sword his older brother whittled for him from a tree branch.

"Can you attach this to my belt?"

As I worked the sword through his belt loops, Raphael wiped his sun-kissed face with a dirty hand and squinted toward the trees.

"Where can I find some bad guys to fight?" he wondered aloud.

I watched Raphael march boldly into our open field with his sword at his side.

If we raise up soldiers for Christ, if we place the future of our Church in such capable hands and hearts as these, we will have nothing to fear.

Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is senior editor of Faith & Family magazine and author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Visit her blog at www.daniellebean.com.



If Christ Has Not Been Raised: The Evidence for the Resurrection

By Mark P. Shea

"Jesus came to give us moral guidance, and to prove he meant business, he let himself be killed and seen after death, so we would listen and be good." Not being raised in any particular religion myself, it wasn't until later that I discovered that this view of Jesus' death and resurrection (which I heard from my grandmother) had more in common with The Day the Earth Stood Still than it did with the historic faith of Christianity. But this view of Jesus-as-Klaatu, impressing the yokels with spiritualist stunts to wow them into listening to His preachments, is but one of many "alternative" views of the resurrection of Christ. In this view, it isn't particularly important whether Jesus was raised bodily, just so long as His disciples knew He was "really alive" -- more likely as a particularly impressive ghost.

To others, it isn't important whether Jesus is alive even as a ghost so long as He "lives in the hearts of his countrymen." This is more or less the position of alleged "Christian theologians" like John Dominic Crossan, who cheerfully relates this happy news in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994):

What actually and historically happened to the body of Jesus can best be judged from watching how later Christian accounts slowly but steadily increased the reverential dignity of their burial accounts. But what was there at the beginning that necessitated such an intensive volume of apologetic insistence? If the Romans did not observe the Deuteronomic decree, Jesus' body would have been left on the cross for the wild beasts. And his followers, who had fled, would know that. If the Romans did observe the decree, the soldiers would have made certain Jesus was dead and then buried him themselves as part of their job. In either case, his body left on the cross or in a shallow grave barely covered with dirt and stones, the dogs were waiting. And his followers, who had fled, would know that too. Watch, then, how the horror of that brutal truth is sublimated through hope and imagination into its opposite.

In other words, Jesus' corpse was dog food long ago, but since the idiot-savant apostles were particularly adept at religious psychosis and making lemonade out of lemons, then we can say the Resurrection is full of "hope" in a sense intelligible only to extremely advanced theologians like Crossan.

Then again, there are others who solve the problem of the Resurrection by not letting Jesus die. In this view, somebody else was crucified on Good Friday (somebody who really deserved it, like Judas Iscariot), while Jesus went off to a well-earned pension someplace else. Depending on which legend or Shocking Book (e.g., Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent) you choose, "someplace else" could be anywhere from Japan to France. Frequently, "Jesus didn't die" scenarios go for the hearts-and-flowers conclusion favored by Hollywood, in which the retired Son of Man finally gets the girl, like Clark Kent in Superman II, and no longer has to pursue His unrewarding task of proclaiming platitudes. Typically, they pack Him off to some vineyard with Mary Magdalene, there to found a dynasty of Merovingians or something. Instead of having Him escape crucifixion entirely, some scenarios grant that He was crucified but insist that He only swooned (possibly with the help of some drugged wine) and regained consciousness later. But the central claim of all such scenarios is that Jesus didn't really die on the Cross.

Still other theorists, often involved in the New Age movement, solve the problem by allowing Him to be only a spirit (divine or angelic, depending on the preference of the author) appearing as a man, a sort of holy vision. This solves the problem of His death by making it an illusion: a tidy disposal of a messy crucifixion that preserves the happy ending.

Meanwhile, others have much simpler and cruder explanations: Disciples stole the corpse, lied about it, and founded a cult for their own selfish gain and power. Slightly kinder than this is the Hysterical Hallucination Theory, which says the well-meaning apostles hallucinated the Resurrection. Others say it was a later generation of Christians who added the Resurrection to the New Testament. Originally, it was just a collection of apostolic memoirs about the Dead Master and His witty sayings. Many think St. Paul is behind the whole thing (see, for instance, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam Maccoby). Under the influence of pagan myth, St. Paul allegedly transformed this ordinary Jewish rabbi into a Cosmic Christ figure. The original apostles, according to this school, would be horrified at what Paul did to the teaching of the gentle and witty Y'shua.

One of the obvious difficulties with all these theories is that they don't fit together well. If later generations are to blame for importing Resurrection myths, then earlier ones aren't. If it's all Paul's fault, then it's not Peter's. If the Eleven are body snatchers, then they're not well-meaning hallucinators, and vice versa. Such theories demonstrate what C.S. Lewis once referred to as the "restless fertility of bewilderment" so much in evidence when debunkers try to overturn the mountain of solid evidence for the truth of the Christian claims. This is unsurprising, since these "alternative explanations" are all much harder to believe than the Christian explanation of the Resurrection, which is nicely summarized by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-14:

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

This, the earliest creedal summary of the Faith, gives the lie to my first ignorant notion of the meaning and nature of the Resurrection. For it shows clearly that the real heart and soul of the New Testament teaching about Jesus is not that He was primarily a preacher, wonder-worker, reformer, sage, or deliverer of profound truths and happy thoughts, nor that the Resurrection was a special effect performed to wow us into following good advice.

The first fact of the Christian Gospel, according to the New Testament, is the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Without the Resurrection, you don't have an "original" Gospel of witty sayings, wise saws, and modern instances. You have no Gospel whatsoever. This is why one-fourth of each of the Gospels focuses on a 72-hour period in the life of Jesus of Nazareth: His Passion and Resurrection. It is why the rest of the New Testament is overwhelmingly focused on the meaning of that death and Resurrection, not on His signs or sayings (almost none of which are preserved outside the Gospels). It is why virtually nobody but the most ignorant TV host these days holds the once-popular notion that the Resurrection was tacked onto the New Testament by later generations of Christians after the death of the apostles. The simple fact is that trying to account for any of the New Testament without placing the Resurrection at the absolute core of it is like saying that the real truth of Abraham Lincoln consists of platitudes about peace and justice and that the "Civil War" was just a myth concocted by later hagiographers that forms no part of the original story. If the "original Gospel" was just a collection of tales about Jesus going around saying "Niceness is nice," the question that arises is what, exactly, was so interesting about Him?

The only answer is found in the actual documents of the New Testament, which began to be composed within 20 years of Jesus' death. These already contain things like the creed previously mentioned and the insistence that the Gospel is about nothing other than Jesus and the Resurrection (Acts 17:18).

Very well, we can't blame "later generations" for coming up with the Resurrection story. So, some say, let's blame Paul. The problem with this theory is that Paul himself and witnesses who know Paul, such as Luke, as well as witnesses uninfluenced by Paul, such as Matthew and John, seem to be under the impression that the basic core of the story Paul has to tell is not Paul's invention.

"I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" -- or, more prosaically, "I'm handing on to you the Tradition I was taught." Taught by whom? In Paul's case, taught by the apostles (Galatians 1:18-21) and by the normal primitive catechesis given in places like the Church at Antioch where Paul lived for many years before he started any mission at all (Acts 13). Paul says this sort of thing repeatedly and seems to take for granted not only that what he has to say about Jesus is common knowledge to all Christians (not just the ones he's converted) but that none of the other apostles bopping around the Mediterranean -- and none of the churches they founded -- are going to have any quarrel with him when he says that Christ is risen. If Paul alone had come up with this myth about the Risen Christ while the rest of the apostles were just wandering hither and thither, sharing Anecdotes about Their Friend the Martyred Nazarene, you might think somebody would have noticed.

In short, if faith in the Resurrection is as old as Paul, it is as old as the apostles themselves. He preaches it for the same reason they do: He really believes he saw the Risen Christ, just as they say they saw the Risen Christ.

Ah, yes. They say. But why should we believe them? What if the Eleven were just body snatchers, stealing the corpse of Christ in order to portray themselves as the martyr's best buddies and found a cult with Jesus as putative head but themselves as the adored big cheeses?

The difficulties with this are numerous. First of all, they don't act like any cult leaders we know. The records they leave behind do not describe fearless, shiny, happy, faith-filled dynamos of apostolic courage, theological acumen, and intellectual agility. They show us a group of men whose chagrined honesty compelled them to carefully incorporate into the public record the fact that they were snobbish, spiteful, cowardly, factional nitwits who were slow on the uptake, ambitious, blind, selfish, and, when the supreme test came, quite willing to bolt and run in the hour of their Master's terrible trial. Compare this with the adoring exhalations of the North Korean press on the Manifold Virtues of The Fearless Leaders, or the flawless perfection of Stalin according to the Stalinist press of the 1930s, or the Nazi hagiography of Hitler. The apostles make sure that their public preaching and the public record include a faithful recitation of their many, many sins. Moreover, they continue to preach the Resurrection for decades, despite separation, persecution, poverty, threats, torture, and martyrdom (except for John, who had the pleasure of watching his brother James executed for his testimony). In short, they speak and act like honest men, not like men out to make a buck or acquire power.

Indeed, so honest are they that they even make Jesus look rather ungodlike at first blush. Jesus is recorded displaying weakness, showing fear, confessing ignorance, and asking questions. He is described as unable to do certain things. The disciples' official record has Him saying things that sound dangerously like denials of deity, such as "Why do you call me good? There is none good but God alone" (Mark 10:18) or "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Yet we are to believe that cunning liars who carefully doctored history to make Jesus appear to be the Risen Lord also managed not to notice such unsettling details in their account?

No. What comes across with terrific force in the New Testament is that the testimony has been given by people who tell the truth, even about awkward facts not instantly advantageous to their claims. They come across as people who genuinely believe Christ risen, not as people who lie about a body that they know perfectly well was stolen or eaten by dogs. For the rest of their lives (right through to their torture and execution), the apostles behaved like men utterly convinced that they had met the Risen Christ. Indeed, so convinced are they that they include numerous details that, frankly, no liar would ever make up. So, for instance, no first-century Jewish liars would call as their first witness Mary Magdalene. For the Magdalene was prima facie incredible to a first-century Jewish audience on two counts: First, she was a woman; second, she was a woman out of whom seven demons were supposed to have been driven -- a rather shady psychological profile (Mark 16:9). The Gospels read like accounts by honest people who are stuck with the facts -- including the fact that one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection was a woman of uncertain reputation.

Of course, some will retort that this proves too much: We would not normally bother with the testimony of a psychotic (i.e., "demoniac"), so why bother with Mary's? Because Mary is among the first, not the last, witnesses. The records point to hundreds of witnesses -- most still alive at the time 1 Corinthians was written -- and give an account of the Resurrection that is, in the main, coherent. An appearance to the women, to the Twelve at various times in and around Jerusalem, and to various others in Galilee, followed by an appearance to Paul some years later (not counting various vision phenomena that are of a different order). Nitpickers are fond of talking about the discrepancies among the Gospel accounts (books written decades apart for different audiences and for differing theological purposes). But what really stands out is how similar the tale is in all of them. If the minor discrepancies that distinguish them really mean they are false, then we must also conclude that JFK was never assassinated since witnesses have as many discrepancies in their testimony.

Indeed, it's often the details that are so persuasive. Thus, another fact nobody would ever make up is the burial place of Christ: the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. It's exactly the sort of detail that gives the Gospels the ring of truth. If you're making the story up, you put the body in the tomb of some devoted disciple, not in the final resting place of a member of the ruling body that is most bitterly opposed to your message.

The mention of the tomb leads some people to another favorite theory: namely, that the disciples went to the wrong tomb and leapt to the conclusion that Christ was risen. One can only wonder what such theorists think people are made of. For the apostles to conclude that Jesus was the risen and glorious Lord of all on the basis of such a blunder would have required preternatural stupidity not only on their part but on the part of the Jerusalem authorities. Even if all the early Church was too obtuse to find its way back to the final resting place of the Man who was the focus of their devotion, surely somebody in the Jerusalem elite who opposed the growing sect of Nazarenes could have said, "Uh, guys? Here's the corpse. You were looking in the wrong place. Next time ask for directions." Joseph of Arimathea might have been of some help here. So might the women, who saw where He was laid. And such a theory becomes doubly silly when the early Church's fascination with relics and tombs is factored in. Early liturgies tended to be held at grave sites, yet there is no cult that develops around the most important grave of all. Why, it's as if the tomb had been empty or something.

Which takes us, in our taxonomy of Resurrection alternatives, to the various escape-from-death/swoon theories: the notion that Jesus somehow avoided death, either by skipping town and leaving a stooge to take the fall for Him or by enduring crucifixion and then escaping the tomb. It's hard to say which version of this theory is more preposterous. If there's a fact of history that's not disputed even by hard-core atheist historians, it is the fact of His death. If we know nothing else about Him, we know that He died by crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem circa 30 A.D.

And yet some insist that He didn't. Like a sort of first-century Elvis, He went into sudden and mysterious retirement, in sharp contradiction to everything He had ever said or done, and founded a dynasty or studied philosophy or something in some far-off land. What is the evidence for this? Well, there is none really, just hints, supposings, surmises, and what-ifs. It's rather like the thinking behind Chariots of the Gods. It's a case of a theory in search of evidence, not of evidence giving rise to a theory. Meanwhile, the people who were there give testimony, not that Jesus left town right after the Last Supper (a supper at which He specifically prophesied His Passion with a strange accuracy that would reduce Peter to tears when it all happened), but that He went to betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. And again, why would lying cult founders make up the story of that prophecy and its very embarrassing fulfillment? Indeed, eyewitnesses like John saw Jesus at both His trial and crucifixion. So there aren't many ways for Jesus to have skipped town and left somebody else holding the bag.

Ah! But John only thought he saw Jesus die. Really, the Nazarene received a drugged wine, passed out, and awoke in a freezing-cold tomb on a chilly morning in April. The perfect setting for a dramatic recovery from scourging, crucifixion, massive blood loss, shock, and a spear wound to the heart, as nine out of ten doctors agree. He then stumbled out (after somehow freeing Himself from the bandages sealed to His torn flesh) and, shoving the zillion-ton stone that sealed the tomb out of the way, limped up to the disciples on His bloody feet, showed them His hands (complete with permanently immovable thumbs due to irreparable nerve damage), and gasped out a greeting between the stabs of agonizing pain from the spear wound. Most people, faced with such a ghastly spectacle, would dial 911. The disciples, naturally, greeted Him as the glorious Conqueror of Death and Lord of the Universe and founded a religion instead.

"Okay, fine," the diehard skeptic says, "Jesus died. And the disciples didn't steal the body and lie about it. They just hallucinated. Together. All 500 of them. For 40 days. No, really…"

Even if we put aside that troublesome matter of the empty tomb (with empty grave clothes in it), there's still a problem concerning the nature of hallucinations. Mass hallucination is extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that it's usually only invoked to explain away things like, oh, the Resurrection. The rest of the time, when 500 people say they saw somebody and spoke with him, we believe them, particularly when they have nothing to gain by saying it -- when they are routinely put to death for saying it.

And we have other problems to deal with if we want to entertain the Mass Hallucination Theory. First and foremost is the curious fact that hallucinations like this are supposed to be the fruition of intense wish-fulfillment fantasies. The witnesses supposedly wanted Jesus to be alive so bad that they freaked out and thought they saw Him. On at least three occasions, however, His disciples failed to recognize Him when they did meet Him. We are told they were so desperate to see Him that they might have tricked themselves into believing they had seen Him, but they walked for half a day with Him and did not notice. Strange. More to the point, what hallucination can be touched and eats fish?

Which leaves us pretty much with the Jesus-was-a-divine-illusion school of Gnostic or New Age thinking. But if the Risen Christ was really a purely spiritual illusion sent by the divine to teach us higher truths about the unimportance of the body and the need to transcend our humanity, what could be more certain to obscure this lesson than a body that Thomas could touch, a body that breathes the air and eats fish? The apostles, at any rate, don't seem to have picked up on these higher truths at all. They teach instead that the Risen Christ is raised bodily and is not only fully God but fully human, albeit glorified.

A resurrected body. Glorified. Fully God and fully man. When the alternatives have all spent themselves in fruitless clamor for our attention, it's the old Christian story that still persuades. It's the story of the Conqueror of Death who has Himself borne the sting of death and raised our dead human nature out of the grave so that we, too, may be resurrected. You can read all about it -- without crackpot alternative explanations -- in the New Testament. A most convincing book, especially when so many skeptics drive you to murmur, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian!"

The Resurrection is the factual cornerstone of Christian faith. Without it, you do not get a Gospel purified of superstition. You get a litter of low-rent "real" conclusions to the story of Christ that are vastly harder to buy than the Christian explanation. At the end of the day, the fact remains that "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" and "we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:14, 19). But that never seemed to worry Paul, for "in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Mark P. Shea is a senior editor for www.CatholicExchange.com and a columnist for InsideCatholic. Visit his blog at markshea.blogspot.com. This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Crisis Magazine.


6 April 2009

Palm Sunday in Rome

By Irene Lagan

Posted on April 06, 2009, 3:40 AM

As Deal mentioned, Palm Sunday in Jerusalem is an experience not to be missed if the opportunity arises. That being said, I will always relish the beauty of yesterday's Palm Sunday liturgy in Rome. There's something about praying the highest prayer of the Church with the pope on a sunny but not hot day at St. Peter's in Rome. The choir was masterful, and the sung gospel still resounds in my ears, as does the almost absolute silence during the part of the Gospel where Jesus breathes his last, and again, when the sacred species were lifted. It's a real experience of the Church universal, with old and young, and virtually every nationality represented. (The one thing missing might be our Eastern brothers and sisters.)

I have to say I love Pope Benedict. He inspires such joy, quiet as it might be (especially if you're thinking in comparative mode). But as I've mentioned before, is he is a man whose presence speaks loudly. Thousands upon thousands endure the mosh-pit crowd crush experience to get closer to him. I think he draws people, young and not young, in part because he is so authentic. He draws people in because he reveals something of himself and relies on our prayers. His homily is something I will go back to throughout the week. He is a theologian, teacher and pastor - a rare combination.

Because I now live on the top floor of a building and enjoy a terrace and lots of sun, my flatmate and I were able to host people for an impromptu and all-day brunch.

To top off the day, sometime during the night we had felt the strong aftershocks of a 6.3 magnitude "terremoto" just 53 miles from Rome. That was not so much fun, just freaky. For some thirty seconds, I felt like I was on a ship at sea. It was just a little too close for comfort,especially given a still-rising death toll. It's one thing to report on these things that happen in Indonesia and other far away places, but this made me rethink the advantages of finding a great deal apartment on the top floor of an old Roman building.

Benedict XVI and the Future of the Holy Land

by Deal W. Hudson

Over dinner at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, I talked with Danny Seidemann, a Jewish man from upstate New York who moved to Israel as a youth more than 30 years ago. Danny is recognized worldwide as an expert on the religious and cultural differences that divide, and potentially unite, Jerusalem. "The Christian community of Jerusalem is the canary in the coal mine," he told me. "When it starts dying, we know all of us are going to die."

Seidemann, himself a Zionist, believes preserving the Christian presence in the Holy Land is crucial to its future. That underscores the importance of the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land in early May. "The Church can have enormous influence here. The pope can address people above the heads of their leaders."

But Seidemann believes that time is running short for any type of two-state solution. After the recent conflict in Gaza, the window of opportunity has closed further: "We have one to three years to get it done, after that there will be nothing left to engage." He is confident the Vatican understands the urgency of the situation.

When I asked him about the impact of the December bombing and invasion of Gaza, Seidemann moved the subject back to Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is the key," he told me. More than a decade ago, Seidemann drew the proposed boundaries for Palestinian-controlled East Jerusalem that would be necessary for the creation of two sovereign states. "The boundaries I drew for the Clinton administration can still be drawn," he said. I asked him about the controversial Israeli settlements in that part of the city. "That dispute can be settled by a one-for-one exchange of land -- it can be resolved."

Seidemann is surprisingly upbeat because he senses that "people are ready for something to happen." Six weeks ago he met in Washington, D.C., with key members of the Obama administration tasked with the Middle East. He believes the Obama team, led by George Mitchell, has the expertise and the will to make progress. One obvious obstacle is that the new Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is dedicated to the settlements and has beenless interested in pursuing the two-state solution agreed upon at the 2007 Annapolis Conference, hosted by President George Bush.

There would be more support from the United States for a two-state solution, according to Seidemann, if those primarily heard on the topic of Israel and the Palestinians were not either Christian Zionists on the one hand, or Israel bashers on the other. He believes there is an untapped resource of people in the middle who are ready to be heard and who want to move forward to stop the escalating conflict.

"Jews, Muslims, and Christians have been maintaining their identity in Jerusalem for over 1,300 years." For Seidemann, Jerusalem must maintain its tradition of ecumenism and set an example for Baghdad and Beirut -- otherwise, the habits of those cities will take hold and "pollute" Jerusalem.

Seidemann knows as well as anyone that the Christian presence in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories on the West Bank has been shrinking for years. In the past, the shrinking numbers could be attributed to the harsh realities of Israeli occupation, but more and more it is conflict with Muslims in towns like Bethlehem -- where they once lived peacefully together -- that sends Christians packing. Add to that the attraction of young people to prosperous Palestinian enclaves in Chile, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Australia.

Is the Christian "canary" in Jerusalem already in the process of dying a slow death? Seidemann did not say. But when he said that politicians must realize that "it's five minutes to midnight," the implication is clear. There can be no more delay, no more missed opportunities.

The Obama administration, which is alienating Catholics with its pro-abortion policy, may find itself on the same page with Pope Benedict on this issue if he urges Israelis and Palestinians toward the two-state solution during his May visit.

Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).

April 6, 2009
source : http://www.insidecatholic.com


Tuan Ma dan Kota Reinha

Oleh P Alex Beling SVD

KATAKAN saja, di seluruh dunia ada hanya satu Tuan Ma dan ada hanya satu Kota Reinha. Orang Larantuka atau Orang Nagi pasti senang mengakui bahwa ini memang benar. Tidak ada tempat lain kecuali di Larantuka, ibu Kota Flores Timur di mana orang berbicara mengenai Tuan Ma dan Kota Reinha sebagai milik pusaka sendiri. Tentu juga orang-orang Nagi yaitu orang-orang asal Larantuka yang tinggal di mana saja di luar Larantuka pasti berbicara mengenai Tuan Ma dan Kota Reinha sebagai harta puska sendiri.

Pada memasuki masa Puasa Katolik atau masa Prapaska kita bisa merasakan di Larantuka suatu suasana di mana orang mulai berbicara mengenai istilah-istilah, nama-nama dan lain-lain yang diangkat dari tradisi agama menyangkut Semana Santa. Di tengah-tengah seluruh tata Liturgi ( upacara resmi) Gereja Katolik terletak perayaan Paska atau Kebangkitan Yesus Kristus dari alam maut. Itulah puncak atau perayaan inti iman Katolik. Untuk menekankan makna luhur dari perayaan Paska itu disusunlah kerangka perayaan-perayaan, baik sebagai persiapan maupun sebagai penyudahan atau penerapan. Persiapan khusus dilaksanakan selama 40 hari masa Puasa atau Prapaska, dimulai pada Hari Rabu Abu dan berakhir pada Hari Jumat Agung. Sedangkan hari-hari Minggu sesudah Paskah adalah masa mengenang, bersyukur dan menerapkan makna Paska dalam kehidupan. Dengan demikian Paska mendapat tempat sentral dalam kehidupan kristiani.

Dalam Liturgi Gereja Katolik dikenal Minggu Kudus, yang disebut juga Pekan Suci ialah waktu satu minggu menjelang pesta Paska untuk melangsungkan perayaan-perayaan peringatan kejadian-kejadian pada akhir hidup Yesus Kristus terutama penderitaan, wafat-Nya serta kebangkitan-Nya. Di Larantuka, di luar perayaan liturgis sebagaimana berlaku dalam Gereja Katolik di seluruh dunia, ada yang disebuat Semana Santa (bahasa Portugis, artinya Minggu Kudus). Dengan nama Semana Santa dimaksudkan bukan hanya segala perayaan yang berlangsung dalam Minggu Kudus sebelum Paska, melainkan juga mengenai banyak hal lain yang dilaksanakan selama masa Puasa, seperti doa bergilir, latihan-latihan dan pertemuan-pertemuan. Semana Santa dalam arti semput dimulai pada Hari Minggu Palma. Lalu menyusul hari Rabu yang disebut Rabu Trewa.

Selanjutnya pada hari Kamis yaitu Kamis Putih selain upacara liturgis di gereja ada upacara tersendiri di Kapela Tuan Ma : kapela dibuka dan patung Tuan Ma disiapkan. Hari Jumat Agung (disebut juga Sesta Fera) adalah hari besar mengenang wafatnya Yesus Almasih, dan pada malam harinya dilangsungkan perarakan besar memperingati pemakaman Tuhan Yesus. Hal-hal khusus ini dilaksanakan menurut peraturan-peraturan tradisional keagamaan yang ketat dan yang berlaku turun-temurun. Tradisi Semana Santa itu sedemikian tertanam dalam hati orang Nagi (orang Larantuka) sehingga sudah merupakan bagian integral dari suatu kebudayaan religius atau Adat Serani.

Tuan Ma
Dua objek religius dalam kompleks perayaan Semana Santa yang mendapat perhatian istimewa ialah Tuan Ma dan Tuan Ma (Tuan Mama) ialah Santa Bunda Maria, sedangkan Tuan Ana ialah Tuhan Yesus atau Tuhan Anak Alllah. Tuan Ma dan Tuan Ana masing-masing dikenal dalam rupa dua patung khusus yang disimpan dan dihormati dalam masing-masing kapela yang dikenal sebagai Kapela Tuan Ma yang terdapat di Larantuka di Kampung Batu Mea, Kapela Tuan Ana di Kampung Lohayong. (NB. Dalam Kapela Tuan Ma ada lagi satu patung Santa Maria yaitu Maria Reinha Rosari yang disebut juga Maria Alleluya.

Dalam beberapa tahun terakhir dua kapela yang tua sudah diganti dengan bangunan-bangunan kapela-kapela yang indah. Selama masa Puasa dilaksanakan kegiatan-kegiatan Semana Santa sesuai peraturan yang berlaku, yang disebut dengan istilah serewi-serwisu Deo (layan-melayani Tuhan).

Tentang patung Tuan Ma yang disebut juga patung Mater Dolorosa (Bunda Berdukacita) ada cerita, bahwa patung yang kira-kira satu setengah meter tingginya adalah patung Bunda Maria yang konon 500 tahun lalu terhayut dari laut dan diketemukan terdampar di Pante Ae Kongga Pante Besar Larantuka. Setelah dikenal bahwa itu adalah patung Bunda Maria, maka umat Katolik telah mengambil dan menempatkannya dalam sebuah kapela di mana orang berdoa dan memuji Allah dan Bunda Maria. Patung itu biasa kelihatan terbungkus dengan sebuah mantol indah yang besar berwarna biru tua, dan yang nampak hanya wajah dan tangan kanan yang terbuka. Sejak ratusan tahun sudah ada kegiatan devosi rakyat turun-temurun dan berada di bawah perlindungan dan pimpinan penguasa setempat yakni Raja Larantuka yang mempunyai juga fungsi dan kewajiban tertentu dalam upacaya-upacara menyangkut Tuan Ma. Sebagai seorang raja yang beragama Katolik, Raja Servus I, dia telah menyatakan kesetiaan pada tugasnya itu dengan menyerahkan tongkat kerajaan secara resmi kepada Santa Bunda Maria. Dengan demikian secara simbolis dia mempercayakan keselamatan dan kesejahteraan rakyat kerajaannya dalam tangan Santa Bunda Allah yang dilantik menjadi Reinha (Ratu) kota dan kerajaan Larantuka.

Untuk mengungkapkan cinta kepada Santa Maria istilah Tuan Ma terasa lebih manis dan mesra, sedangkan Reinha (bahasa Latin Regina) atau Ratu lebih bernuansa penguasa.
Penghormatan terhadap Tuan Ma sudah mantap sebagai suatu tradisi terhormat dan terbukti oleh kesetiaan umat dan oleh siapa saja yang menunjukkan respek terhadap milik rohani ini. Kesetiaan hormat dan cinta kepada Santa Bunda Maria ini berdasarkan ajaran Gereja Katolik tentang Santa Maria dalam peranannya yang sangat erat berkaitan dengan hidup serta karya Yesus Kristus. Santa Maria adalah Bunda yang melahirkan Yesus Kristus, dan dia adalah juga Bunda Gereja yaitu umat yang percaya kepada Yesus Kristus. Kesetiaan menghormati dan mencintai Santa Bunda Maria (Tuan Ma) mempunyai dasar dalam pengalaman-pengalaman, baik yang nyata dan dapat dibuktikan maupun yang tidak nampak dan bersifat spiritual.

Ambil sebagai contoh, sudah jutaan jumlah orang yang berziarah ke Lourdes di Perancis, di antaranya sangat banyak yang pergi sebagai pasien dan penderita macam-macam penyakit, untuk berdoa memohon penyembuhan. Jumlah mereka yang benar-benar secara ajaib sembuh dengan perantaraan Bunda Maria, tidak seberapa kalau dibanding dengan jumlah yang jauh lebih besar dari mereka yang pulang dengan hati dan jiwa yang disembuhkan oleh rahmat pertobatan dan belaskasihan ilahi serta kegembiraan batin. Kita patut percaya bahwa tak terhitung pengalaman-pengalaman kesembuhan dalam hati dan jiwa dalam arti ini telah terjadi dengan perantaraan Tuan Ma.

Hal itu dibuktikan oleh semangat devosi ini yang menyebar sangat luas dan menarik minat para pencinta Santa Maria khusus dalam perayaan Semana Santa. Di samping itu dalam pelbagai peristiwa di kawasan ini seperti bencana alam, wabah penyakit dan lain-lain, baik pengalaman umum maupun privat, orang dapat membaca tanda-tanda yang mencolik dari intervensi Bunda Allah yang tak pernah meninggalkan siapa pun yang berseru meminta pertolongannya.

Tuan Ma patut di anggap sebagai anugerah Allah untuk menjadi sarana identifikasi iman serta cinta yang hendaknya disebarluaskan guna menyembuhkan banyak penyakit jasmani dan penyakit rohani dalam masyarakat kita. Semua orang yang dating dari mana saja untuk memberi hormat kepada Tuan Ma dalam perayaan Semana Santa hendaknya kembali sebagai pelaksana cinta, persaudaraan dan damai. Dengan demikian nilai dan makna yang benar dari devosi kepada Tuan Ma tetap dijunjung tinggi dan dibersihkan dari setiap unusr yang menodainya.

Kota Reinha
Ibu Kota Kabupaten Flores Timur, Larantuka, dengan suatu rasa bangga menggelar dirinya sebagai Kota Reinha atau Kota Santa Maria Ratu. Dalam dokumen-dokumen sejarah dapat ditelusuri tahap-tahap tumbuhnya tempat pemukiman di mana sekarang terdapat Kota Larantuka yang menunjukkan variasi-variasi ekologis yang indah dan menarik. Gunung Ilemandiri dengan tinggi 1502 meter nampak bagaikan sebuah tugu pelindung dan merupakan lantar belakang alami dari panorama sebuah kota yang hanya menempati wilayah pesisir yang sempit.

Di situlah Larantuka telah bertumbuh menjadi sebuah kota di pantai. Selat Larantuka di depannya yang memberi kesan sebagai sebuah danau besar karena di semua sisi tertutup, juga oleh pulau Adonara dan Solor. Sebenarnya Larantuka hanyalah sebuah kota kecil dengan fasilitas umum terbatas. Namun justru sebagai kota yang kecil dapat dipelihara sedemikian sehingga menjadi “kecil tapi indah”.

Dokumen-dokumen sejarah menyimpan amat banyak kisah peristiwa dan pengalaman Kota Larantuka, di antaranya yang berkaitan dengan penyebaran agama Katolik oleh para misionaris dari Portugal. Dari merekalah orang-orang pribumi yang dipermandikan menyimpan pelbagai peninggalan berharga yakni iman akan Yesus Kristus dan Injil-Nya, serta devosi kepada Santa Bunda Maria di samping kebiasaan-kebiasaan kehidupan Kristiani yang terpelihara dalam tradisi turun-temurun, hingga hari ini. Semuanya ini menjadikan Kota Larantuka sebuah kotra tradisi Kristiani. Devosi yang khusus kepada Santa Maria merupakan kekayaan rohani tersendiri sehingga Santa Perawan Maria mendapat tempat istimewa dalam kehidupan masyarakat Kota Larantuka dengan gelar Reinha atau Ratu dan kota Larantuka mendapat kehormatan disebut Kota Reinha alias Kota Santa Maria.

Kehormatan Menuntut Kewajiban
Gelar Ratu untuk Santa Maria sebagai Pelindung Khusus kota Larantuka buka hanya hiasan mulia dan indah. Tuan Ma juga bukan hanya sebuah patung atau gambar kudus. Menjalankan devosi kepada Santa Maria yang bergelar Reinha atau Ratu harus menghasilkan nilai-nilai kultural terhormat dalam tata kehidupan Kota Larantuka yang pantas dan cocok dengan gelar kehormatan itu. Artinya, ada tuntutan dan kewajiban untuk memberi suatu wajah yang indah terpelihara, ayu dan manis kepada kota yang disebut dengan nama khusus Kota Reinha.

Kalau berbicara tentang kota ini sebagai tempat pemukiman manusia pada saat ini, dengan amat menyesal harus diakui bahwa banyak sector dari tempat diam ini nampak menjengkelkan : sangat jorok, kotor, dan berbau busuk. Di tengah kota, di antara rumah-rumah kediaman terdapat sampah-sampah berhamburan dan tidak pernah ada usaha untuk menertibkan. Tempat-tempat yang penuh dengan sampah adalah selokan-sekolah (got) di mana air tak pernah mengalir. Selanjutnya, satu tindakan yang harus disebut sebagai kejahatan ialah coret-mencoret pada tembok-tembok, dinding-dinding rumah, pada jalan-jalan, ya pada apa saja. Satu tanda jelas bahwa tidak ada suatu disiplin dan peraturan hidup bersama, sepertinya ada suatu budaya kotor yang mengandung ancaman penyakit-penyakit bagi kehidupan di Kota Reinha. Kita tidak minta suatu Dinas Pemerintah untuk membersihkan dan membasmi kejahatan ini. Yang wajib dan dituntut adalah warga penduduk sendiri untuk memelihara Kota Larantuka, Kota Reinha yang bernuansa bersih, indah, segar, dan sehat.

Kota Larantuka dan lingkungannya yang indah memesona bersama kekayaan ritual keagamaannya dapat memikat hati lebih banyak orang dari luar yang suka dating mengambil bagian dalam perayaan Semana Santa. Sebagai tuan rumah yang baik dan ramah Orang Nagi boleh saja mengundang, tapi harus memperlihatkan wajah kota ziarah ini selalu sebagai tempat yang sangat layak bergelar Kota Reinha.*