Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

Director of Laity Council’s Sports Section Speaks on Prayer and Role Models

By Kathleen Naab

ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The director of the “Church and Sport” section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity admits that the “Tim Tebow phenomenon” has heightened his interest in the NFL playoffs.

Legionary of Christ Father Kevin Lixey works in the Roman Curia helping the Church make a contribution to the world of sport, with the aim of promoting a sports culture suitable to the integral development of the individual.

ZENIT spoke with Father Lixey about the Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow, after Tebow led his team to an overtime win in last Sunday’s playoff game.

Those familiar with the NFL — and even those who are not — might have heard of Tebow for more than his unique style as a quarterback. His outward expressions of his Christian faith are being talked about by all sorts of commentators, in the world of American football and beyond. Though certainly not the only athlete to publicly express his faith on the field, Tebow is drawing more attention than usual. We asked Father Lixey what he thinks about that.

ZENIT: Do you see Tim Tebow’s public expression of faith as a positive or negative phenomenon? Certainly it is drawing a lot of attention to Christ, in one form or another …

Father Lixey: The hype over Tim Tebow is certainly an interesting phenomenon in an ever more secularized world. I consider it something very positive. Even at the college level, while quarterback for the Florida Gators during the 2009 Bowl Championship Series title contest, Tebow wrote “John 3:16” on his eye black. The Palm Beach Post reported that 92million people Googled the verse following the game … impressive!

But, it is not the mere public expression of faith — as Tebow drops a

knee to give thanks after a touchdown, or prays with other players who include teammates and opponents after the game — that is attracting people; it is his entire person.

I had the chance to speak with the offensive coordinator who coached Tim at the Florida Gators. He said he was a very unique player who was spiritually on another stratosphere with respect to the rest of the team. Yet, Tim was respected by his teammates because he was genuine. And this is the point I would like to touch on. As one reporter noted (Chuck Klosterman, Dec. 6, 2011): “This, I think, is what makes Tebow so maddening to those who hate him: He refuses to say anything that would validate the suspicion that he’s fake (or naïve or self-righteous or dumb).”

While Tebow certainly sticks out for these external manifestations of his faith, not to mention his unorthodox playing style as an NFL quarterback, his personal background is also not typical for an NFL quarterback. It is a real “Cinderella” story — although those who have to tackle Tim would not consider him a Cinderella.

First of all, Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines to American parents who were serving as Baptist missionaries, as his father is a pastor. His mother, while pregnant, suffered a life-threatening infection and was advised to have an abortion but she decided not to, and both Tim and his mother survived a difficult pregnancy. Another unique aspect is that Tim, like his four older siblings, was home-schooled. Thanks to legislation that was passed in Florida in 1996, home-schooled students were allowed to compete in local high school sporting events.

ZENIT: OK, but does prayer really have a place in football? Surely God doesn’t care about who wins the Super Bowl — or does he?

Father Lixey: Judging from his public statements, Tebow is one of the few and most prominent religious athletes to recognize that God does not care about the score of football games. Tebow considers his missionary and philanthropic work much more important than football, but at the same time, possible, because of it. We all too often equate prayer with only asking good things from God, where prayer is only used “to obtain something” i.e., victory, health, or a miracle. The Catechism reminds us that prayer is also “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God” and that we “we must remember God more often that we draw breath.”

Certainly there are moments and places more conducive to prayer, but there is no reason that all religious manifestations be entirely banned from the public square. These external manifestations of one’s beliefs are impressive precisely because they are public. Just as Christians once fell to their knees at the sound of the Angelus bell to remember the Incarnation, or just as the cab driver makes the point of getting out of his car to bow down toward Mecca in prayer, I see no reason why a professional football player cannot offer a prayer of thanksgiving or point to heaven instead of doing a lewd victory dance in the end zone.

Nonetheless, these external manifestations can make some people feel uneasy and it is not certain how long this will be “allowed” in the NFL. The Danish Football Federation complained to FIFA for permitting members of the Brazilian national to gather together in prayer after their victory of the 2009 Confederations Cup. FIFA’s president responded by warning that any religious manifestation would not be permitted in the 2010 World Cup.

ZENIT: Along those lines, the Tebow “phenomenon” comes at a time when the U.S. bishops are particularly concerned about religious freedom. Is reaction to Tebow’s public expression of faith a sign that their concern is warranted? Or misplaced? Or is religious freedom on the playing field one thing, and in the public square something else?

Father Lixey: Pope Benedict XVI is also particularly concerned about religious freedom and touched upon this point Monday in his address to members of the diplomatic corps, noting: “In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes.”

Obviously the Holy Father was not speaking about the FIFA decision to sideline religion. But it does raise the question: “What is the public square today?” Is it literally that quaint square in front of a town hall somewhere in New England, where perhaps it is no longer permissible to display a Nativity scene? Or is it the Internet, a person’s desk at work, or the professional football stadium?

I think many are impressed with Tim Tebow’s courage in professing his faith for he certainly is mocked for it. When he received flack for doing a pro-life ad with “Focus on the Family” that ran during the 2010 Superbowl, he said: “I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe in.” This is all Tim is asking. Whether it is standing up, or taking a knee, for what he believes in, many people do respect this, that he stands up for what he believes. Yet, others become infuriated as they consider Tebow guilty of breaching the line that all are supposed to respect, namely, that which separates the secular from the religious, the holy from the profane, the sacred from the everyday.

ZENIT: As Catholics, what can we learn from this situation — from Tebow himself, perhaps, and from the reactions he’s causing?

Father Lixey: Blessed John Paul II once reminded a group of top professional soccer players: “The eyes of sports fans throughout the world are fixed on you. Be conscious of your responsibility! It is not only the champion in the stadium but also the whole person who should become a model for millions of young people, who need ‘leaders,’ not ‘idols.’ They need men who can convey to them the zest for challenge, a sense of discipline, the courage to be honest and the joy of unselfishness.”

I believe Tim Tebow is trying to live up to these words of John Paul II and his example can prompt other athletes to be “leaders” and not idols, being a model on and off the field, especially of the corporal works of mercy. As Tim shares in his own words: “When I was a student at the University of Florida, I found great joy in taking time to encourage children suffering from cancer in hospitals or visiting a prison or juvenile detention center, or doing mission work with my family at Uncle Dick’s Orphanage in the Philippines. … Football is so popular (that) it enables an athlete like me to establish a platform for doing good deeds … to take this experience to an even greater level of outreach and influence. … After my professional career, I plan on giving my life full time to this outreach.”

That’s not a bad role model for the youth. … It’s not a bad example for us to follow either.

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BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Nicaragua is a country that has been ravaged by civil war, dictatorships and natural disasters. Today it is one of the poorest countries in the Western world.

Capuchin  is the auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, which serves almost all of the eastern half of the country, including what is known as the Mosquito Coast.

The 62-year-old prelate is a native of East Chicago, Indiana, and he recently spoke of the life of the Church in Nicaragua with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.

The transcription of the interview will appear in two parts. Part 2 will appear Monday.

Q: Bishop can you tell us, how did a Polish-American ended up in Bluefields, Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: My grandparents were the ones who came over from Poland about 100 years ago. I was interested in becoming a priest and I was attracted to the Capuchins. They seem to be a very happy group.

I went to the seminary and I heard stories about the missions in Nicaragua, and so I volunteered. My superiors responded, “We need you there.” I was ordained in June 1974, and in January 1975 I was in Nicaragua.

Q: What was your first impression when you arrived?

Bishop Zywiec: When I arrived I was a little surprised. I came with a classmate of mine. We came driving down in a jeep that was a donation. We were bringing it down to Nicaragua and I thought we’d get a kind of heroes’ welcome.

But the thing is, about a week before we came there was a kidnapping and the president imposed Marshall Law and a curfew in the country. We didn’t know that. So, we arrived at about 9 p.m. We are crossing the border right before it closed.

The other Capuchins said: “What! You’re coming in at this time? Don’t you know that there is curfew? Some half-crazy soldier could have shot you and left you for dead on the side of the road.”

So it was a realization of the violent reality there, and that was our first impression.

Q: Have you ever been threatened or felt threatened at all during your time in Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: Well, one time when I was working in the jungle. When I first arrived they sent “the older missionaries to the towns, the younger ones to the jungle.”

That was also at the time the Sandinistas, the organization rebelling against the government; they were hiding there [in the jungle], and I heard there were bombings over there and I was kind of afraid.

I said to myself, “My mom and dad are paying taxes to help the U.S. government, and the U.S. government is helping the Nicaraguan government, and they are dropping bombs on this area here, against the guerrillas.”

Well I never saw any of these bombs, but it made me a little afraid. But God is good, and I am here right now.

Q: What was the most difficult thing that you had to overcome or adapt to in your new life in Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: I arrived in 1975, and this was right after the Second Vatican Council. When I went through the seminary — studying theology — I felt pretty good, you know, because we had new theology, something about pastoral counseling. I felt I was up-to-date compared to these old missionaries.

But then the government army came and took some of the people prisoners and tortured them. Some “disappeared,” or we found out later they were killed. Over a two-year period of time we found that there were 300 people who were missing because of the government.

What do you do in situation like that? We never even had training for that!

Q: You never dreamt to you would confront this.

Bishop Zywiec: No, we never talked about this in theology class! We talked about pastoral counseling, and youth apostolates and so forth, and this was a crisis. The only thing I was able to do is just take the information and pass it to the bishop — Bishop Schlaefer — and I felt very supported by him.

Q: In the Bluefields Vicariate there is what is called the “Mosquito Coast.” Where did this name come from?

Bishop Zywiec: The Eastern part of Nicaragua, which is in the Bluefields’ Vicariate, was never conquered by the Spanish, and so the Miskito Indians who lived there were autonomous.

And they also were able to, you might say, have an empire that went all the way from the Caribbean Coast of Panama through Costa Rica along Nicaragua into Honduras. So they were powerful back then, in the 1700s.

Q: Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields is an area of 22,825 Square Miles. It’s enormous! What does a typical pastoral visit look like for you in your travels to the villagers — in seeking out your parishioners?

Bishop Zywiec: Usually what I tell the people is that I like four things: I like time to hear confessions. Then I celebrate Mass and then a confirmation or some other sacrament is requested, such as a baptism or a marriage.

And then I like to have a meeting with the church board: It gives me more of a chance for dialogue.

Then I say: “I’d like something to eat.” Generally, you know, when the bishop comes — since there is no electricity — lots of times they’ll kill a cow or a pig because there is no refrigeration. So there is food for everybody, and everybody eats!

Q: Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields is almost half of all of Nicaragua. You are 25 priests. Are you not a bit overwhelmed?

Bishop Zywiec: Yes, that’s a problem. We have roughly 1,000 chapels and 14 parishes. A small parish would have one priest with about 30 chapels to take care of. There is a priest from north of Milwaukee; he is in his late 70s and he visits over 100 chapels.

Every Sunday in the chapels, we’ll have a celebration of the Word, so those who lead these celebrations are called “Delegates of the Word.” Usually we’ll have two of them in each chapel so in case one gets sick or one can’t make it, we always have a back up.

Then we have a catechist for baptism, a catechist for first Communion and confession, catechist for confirmation, and catechist for marriage.

We have training courses usually once a year for these different catechists. Some parishes will have courses for musicians. And then there are movements — we call them retreat movements — and it’s a way of helping the faith grow, you know, preparing leaders. So we depend a lot on the laity.

Q: How many missionaries are you? You mentioned that you have a number of missionaries that are getting older. Where is the new generation of priests coming from? Are there vocations coming from Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: The priests that we can count on would be the priests who come from the Vicariate of Bluefields; there are missionaries and there are people who help, but our native diocesan priest are the ones we are able to count on more, and we find that a lot of our vocations come from families that are leaders in the community.

For example, where there is a married deacon, or a Delegate of the Word, there is this Christian commitment and that’s fertile ground for vocations, not just to the priesthood but also to the religious life. For example, in one town of about 10,000, in the past 20 years, 15 girls have gone to the convent. I think that’s a beautiful thing to see something like that.

Q: What expressions of popular faith or devotions are there in the vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: We have lots of processions. In my experience in the United States processions are usually held inside, but in Nicaragua it’s a warmer climate and the people are use to having processions outside, such as during Holy Week.

For Holy Week in some of the towns they have processions for the Way of the Cross, and for the Easter Vigil there is the blessing of the Pascal candle outside and then the procession into the church.

For our patronal feasts as well we have a procession with the statue of the patron saint going through town, singing songs, praying the rosary. This is a normal, normal part of church life. We just pray it doesn’t rain too much.

Q: Other than the size of the territory, what would you say is the greatest challenge to evangelizing the Miskito people?

Bishop Zywiec: Although the territory is big, it is perhaps not so much a problem of size, but of transportation and communication. I think in that whole area, we have about 100 kilometers (62 miles) of paved road and the rest is gravel road. It rains a lot, and lots of times there are places where you get stuck.

Another thing is that of the 1,000 chapels, 100 are Miskito-speaking; the rest are Spanish-speaking. They are mainly farmers — subsistence farmers — involved in dairy farming or cattle farming.

Perhaps one of our main concerns is that people are not only able to receive the sacraments — to be baptized — but also that they learn their faith and what it means in their daily lives to live a deeper evangelization. I believe too, vocational promotion is an important thing for us so that we have available priests for the future.

And human promotion is an important thing in the form of schools, in the form of our health programs so that people not just hear the Word of God, but are able to live a human life and be able to be involved in the national life, and not be, you might say, forgotten — to be able to participate and participate conscientiously.

* * *

This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

By Tony Assaf

ROME, MARCH 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Christians and Muslims in Lebanon are looking forward to sharing the Feast of the Annunciation as a national holiday, says the secretary general of the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue.

Mohammad Al-Sammak said this in an interview with ZENIT while he was in Rome for a Feb. 22 conference on the theme, “The Future Is Living Together: Christians and Muslims in the Middle East in Dialogue.”

It was organized by the Sant’Egidio Community, an international Catholic organization that focuses on prayer, spreading the Gospel, ecumenism, and dialogue with other religions and non-believers.

Al-Sammak, who also serves as a political counselor to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, became the first Muslim to participate as an active member in a Synod of Bishops in 1995 when John Paul II convoked a special assembly of the prelates of Lebanon.

Al-Sammak is also one of the 138 Muslim leaders who signed the open letter “A Common Word Between Us and You,” addressed to Benedict XVI and various heads of other Christian churches and confessions.

He worked for three years on a project with the Lebanese government to make the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, a holiday for both Christians and Muslims. Last week the authorities issued a decree making that day a national feast day.

In this interview with ZENIT, Al-Sammak spoke about the past, future, and other elements shared by Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.

ZENIT: What do you think of the crisis in Islamic and Christian relations in the Middle East and the fact that after 14 centuries of living together we are once again participating in a conference on dialogue?

Al-Sammak: Basically, the Muslims and Christians in the Middle East are condemned to decide to live together.

There is no third way: either they choose to live together or they are forced to live together.

Let us say that the coexistence between Christians and Muslims is not something premeditated but it is a choice. And since we have built a common life on the basis of a choice, we must be aware that there are differences between us and create a culture founded on respect for these differences and acceptance and living with them.

Neither of us can abolish nor impose our own way of life on others.

The diversity and plurality of our Arab societies — Christian and Muslim — are a vital and fundamental component and even an historical component. At the same time, they are also a formula for the future if there is a future for this region.

ZENIT: What could the future of the Middle East be if the Christians disappeared?

Al-Sammak: There is no future for the Arab region if the Muslims and Christians do not live together.

What is happening now in that region in regard to the diminishment of the number and role of Christians is a disaster not only for Christians but also for Muslims, and will lead to the disintegration of that society and the loss of the wealth of diversity and the scientific, economic, intellectual and cultural expertise of the Christians who emigrate.

Emigration is not so much a loss for the Christians as it is for the Muslims and at the same time it is a defeat for Islam-Christian coexistence.

ZENIT: To what extent are Muslims aware of the danger of a disappearance of Christians from the Middle East?

Al-Sammak: I must admit that the Christian preoccupation for the future is greater than the awareness that Islam has of this danger.

It must be our duty to broaden the circle of Islamic consciousness about the emigration of Christians and the gravity of the exodus of Christians for Islam in that region and the rest of the world.

The Christian exodus brings an indirect message to the world: that Islam does not accept the other and cannot live with others.

At this point the other world, or the Western world in general, following this logic, would have the right to say: If Muslims do not accept the presence of Christians among them, in reality an authentic and historical presence, why must we accept [Muslims] in our societies?

This reflects negatively on the Islamic presence in the world and so it is in the interests of Muslims, for the image of Islam in the world and for the interests of Muslims in different parts of the world, to maintain the presence of Christians in the Arab world and to protect this presence with all its might not only out of love for Christians but because this is their right as citizens and inhabitants of the region, who were there before Muslims.

ZENIT: Speaking of Muslims in the world, especially in the Western world, one often hears talk of Islamophobia. What, according to you, are the causes and solutions to this phenomenon?

Al-Sammak: Some of these causes stem from historical circumstances inherited from Western culture, which has a negative vision of Muslims that has its roots in literature and is reflected day after day in the media in one way or another.

But what feeds this phenomenon is the behavior of some Islamic extremists in the Western societies and when I speak of unacceptable behavior, I am not necessarily talking about terrorism, which is in itself dangerous, negative and catastrophic, but I am also talking about the confusion between religion and tradition.

Tradition is not religion and some of these persons of whom I am speaking unfortunately come from Muslim societies [that have] local customs and traditions that they say are part of the religion even if they are not, and perhaps they are contrary to the religion itself.

They live in Western societies clinging to those traditions because through them they think that they are expressing their independent personalities. And so they come to these Western societies that do not accept them, and they understand themselves to be different in culture, in language, in religion, in food in “halal” and in “haram,” etc. and begin to feel themselves marginalized from social life; and to develop their own personality they cling to the traditions that they practiced in their countries and sanctify them, that is, they elevate them to the level of the holiness of religion in such a way as to give the impression to Westerners that if this is Islam, one cannot live with it.

But this is not Islam, these local traditions that come from African countries, from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, from India, etc.; the confusion between what is really religious and what is a social tradition to which a religious identity is given, leads to an increase in Islamophobia, understood as hatred of Islam based on ignorance.

Because ignorance about Islam derives from two things: The first is an erroneous interpretation of Islam by some Muslims and the second is the lack of understanding of Islam by some non-Muslims.

The basis of this social behavior practiced by some Muslims who come from underdeveloped or poor or primitive societies is not only in the fact that they ignore the social traditions of the West in the societies where they go to live, but that they also and above all ignore a large part of the constants of their faith and they negatively project this in such a way as to cause this situation of Islamophobia.

ZENIT: There is a growth in the currents of Islamic extremism. What is the impact of this growth on the Christians of the Middle East?

Al-Sammak: I think that these movements have already gone beyond the growth phase and that perhaps today we are witnessing the beginning of the phase of their decline.

This growth reached its height a short time ago but the drop in numbers has begun.

These movements do not only have an impact on Christians in the Middle East but above all they have an effect on Muslims.

Extremism is an attempt to monopolize the truth and an attempt to monopolize God and to monopolize the sacred; it is also an attempt to interpret religion according to the interests and concepts of certain movements and so the way of relating to Muslims is determined by these interpretations that are a threat to Islam, for Muslims and for Christians.

Thus we need a process of correction of these concepts through cultural and educational projects, and I can say that Arab countries are already conscious of this aspect after having paid a high price for the spread of the extremism that has begun to fade due to the courageous steps taken by different countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria and others.

All of these countries have begun a new and courageous reflection to revive the practice of the true faith in a correct and positive way.

ZENIT: What do the Muslims of the Middle East expect from the next Synod of Bishops? Will you participate?

Al-Sammak: I participated in the previous Synod and I am grateful to His Holiness John Paul II not only for inviting Muslims to a Synod but also for having insisted on us participating as active members and not just as observers.

I, personally, was a member of working commissions and this was a fact without precedent in the history of synods in general and in the history of Muslims at Christian meetings.

In reality, the next Synod is very important because it will discuss the topic of Christians in the East; and this is not an issue that only regards Christians but an issue that is also of interest to Muslims because they have the same fate in the East.

What affects Christians in the Middle East also affects Muslims.

Therefore we are very interested in what will happen and what will be decided in the next Synod. So far we have not received any invitation to participate but I hope that this will happen and I hope too that the Islamic participation will bring about something similar to what it did in the Synod on Lebanon.

Also because if we Muslims participate, we will assume the responsibility for implementing what will be decided at the Synod in view of a common Christian-Muslim responsibility.

We have said this many times because we are responsible for implementing what was established by the post-synodal declaration, at least for what regards Lebanon. A similar declaration will also be issued by this Synod and so the Muslims could have a responsibility for implementing it.

ZENIT: In your opinion, is there a continuity between the path taken by John Paul II and that of Benedict XVI?

Al-Sammak: I think that in restoring the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which was once annexed to the Pontifical Council for Culture, Pope Benedict XVI wanted to return to dialogue with the other religions, including the Muslims.

In fact, we have all seen how the Pope welcomed the Islamic initiative “A Common Word Between You and Us,” which regards love in Islam and Christianity. I had the honor of being among the first signatories of this document.

The Pope’s visit to Palestine and Jordan and his conversations with Muslim leaders opened new and broad perspectives to reactivate the dialogue launched by John Paul II in Assisi in 1986.

We have followed this work and we consider it among the most important missions that the Vatican is undertaking in relation to the Muslim world. We cannot however not take account of what is happening in some Muslim countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia and Malaysia.

There are some pathological aspects of Islamic-Christian relations that can only be dealt with through a culture of dialogue and a culture of respect for differences.

The role that the Vatican can play is clear in the process of openness toward the Islamic world to encourage and promote this culture and establish it in Islamic societies.

ZENIT: The Lebanese government decreed the Feast of the Annunciation as a common feast for Christians and Muslims. In what measure can such initiatives, especially when they are promoted by the state, promote coexistence?

Al-Sammak: This is one of the achievements that we are proud of and that we have been working on for the past three years.

For three years we have been organizing on March 25 a Muslim-Christian gathering centered on Mary, reciting verses from the Gospel and from the Qur’an that regard Mary, seeking to show what is common to Islam and Christianity.

Last year from the podium of the former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, I personally declared his agreement and his approval of the declaration of March 25 as a Muslim and Christian feast day. The idea was that on this day everyone must continue to work, because the former prime minister said: “I want the Lebanese to work one day more not one day less.”

My brothers and I of the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue (of which I am the secretary general) accepted the decision, because we wanted in any case to dedicate this day to Muslims and Christians.

Last week we met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and we again proposed this idea to him, and he immediately supported it. And 48 hours later a decree was issued that declared March 25 a national holiday and a day of celebration: a day of [interreligious] work for both Muslims and Christians.

Interview With Archbishop of Accra

ACCRA, Ghana, APRIL 11, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church in Ghana is now just over 125 years old, and it is making the transition from being a missionary Church to one that is truly Ghanaian, with local languages being used for the Bible and worship.

Though this process is well under way, there are still many challenges to overcome.

In this interview given to the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, the archbishop of Accra, Ghana, considers the progress and the work still to be done.

Q: Your Excellency, the refrain of the missionaries was: “That Africa must be evangelized by Africans.” How much is this the reality now in Ghana?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In fact it was Pope Paul VI who sometime in 1969, I think, at the foundation of what we call the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of African and Madagascar, said: “You must have an African Christianity.”

Q: And is this happening in Ghana?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very much so, very, very much so. We have now 19 dioceses in Ghana, and all the bishops are Ghanaian. In fact there are dioceses in Ghana that have had a fourth generation Ghanaian bishop. The last foreign bishop I think left the shores of Ghana in the early 70s.

Q: What was the importance of these early missionaries for the Church in Ghana?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: We have to thank God for them. You know they began in 1880, the SMA Fathers — the Society of the Missionaries of Africa were the first ones to come to the south, Elmina near Cape Coast, the shores and they started the evangelization gradually along the coast and northward.

Q: With great physical suffering … I mean for these Europeans to come to Ghana must have been…?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Actually Ghana in those days was called the graveyard of the white man because many died of malaria within six or eight weeks of their arrival there. But we must thank God for the persistence, perseverance. … The missionaries kept coming. The men came, the women, the Lady of Apostles, that’s the female congregation of the SMA, they also came in 1882, I think, and they accompanied them, gradually to evangelize the south. In the north they had the SMA, who descended at that time from Ouagadougou, in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, and they settled in 1906 in Navrongo and they started the evangelization of the northern part also gradually descending into and meeting in the middle belt of the country. Today if you look at the statistics of Ghana, there must be I think roughly about 1,400 priests, and of these 1,400 about 1,000 are Ghanaian, are indigenous.

Q: So it’s a good foundation?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very much so, we have about 800 sisters, religious, of whom I think half or more are also indigenous, they are Ghanaian. We have about 600 religious brothers more than half are also Ghanaian.

Q: So there is great hope for the local church?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Well, very great hope, in fact many more challenges because the people … the country has a population of about 22 million. The Catholic population is a little bit below 20% of the overall population. The Protestants — the Anglicans, Methodist, Presbyterians, the Baptist and the rest — they are about 18% also, a little bit more than the Catholic population. The Muslims are about 16%. The Pentecostals are even more now. They got in only somewhere in 1929…

Q: But they are growing fast?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very fast they are about 24% of the population. So Ghana can boast of 68% of the population being Christians.

Q: The Ghanaian people have a deep love for the Word of God. In fact it is stated or reputed that if somebody comes to the market place and starts preaching, those in the market will stop and listen because it’s the Word of God. Where does this love for the Word of God come from?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Not only do they preach the Word of God, you’ll find it even on vehicles, written on vehicles Exodus 14:14 or Mathew 7:7: “Ask and you shall receive” and people know the Scriptures quite well. I would have to say that we must give credit to the Protestant churches and particularly to the Pentecostals for heightening the love of the Word of God, the Scriptures, the Bible, but I must also say that we’ve been working together in an ecumenical setting. For instance: Last year Ghana celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent country, and one of the projects of the Christian Council and the Ghana bishops’ conference was to distribute a million Bibles to young people who are in the junior high schools. We’ve already distributed about 250,000 – not [just] the Catholic Church, [but] the whole Christian family and we are still distributing further because our people love to read the Scriptures. They love to go to the Bible.

Q: Ghana is not only Christian, but there are still a lot of traditional religions in Ghana. What would be the different expression of traditional religion still existing in Ghana today?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: From our last census which took place in the year 2000 only about 8% of the population still belong steadfastly to the traditional religion.

Q: Would this be animist? What kind of religions would we be talking about?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Well, the word “animism” is no more being used very much because animism means believing in spirits. We believe in the Holy Spirit, but we are not animist are we? But what is the difference is that they believe that the forest has a spirit, the waters have spirits, the rocks have spirits, you know all of creation has spirit and they are still living in those things and what we admire them for is their respect for creation, their respect for the ecology which, unfortunately we Christians can blame ourselves for watering it down. So it is one of the things that we are now taking up: the protection of creation, the conservation of the environment which we have taken from them, and we are heightening it and there is a good resonance with the traditional religion it seems.
Another thing that we have to give credit to them for is that they have maintained our traditional governance: most of our chieftaincy rites rituals, which are embedded in their religious culture, and they’ve kept them going. They have also kept the family together, the sort of respect in the family between father, mother, parents, and children; they have maintained quite a lot of it and we are beginning to see that Christianity, at a point in time, emphasized more the individuals’ salvation as against the communitarian, community, social perspective of the history of salvation. We are taking that also from them and heightening it you know.

Q: Becoming a Christian sometimes means abandoning some one or more of these traditional aspects. Where and how is the Church trying to find a balance in this regard?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: We’d have to admit that from about 1880 to about Vatican II the mentality was that everything traditional was pagan, was very demonic, and was not good. Thanks to Vatican II, the Church has allowed us to appreciate the values in our culture. We are now beginning to realize that there is a lot of similarity, for instance, the rites of our people. I come from Accra; they have a rite for outdooring of a child when the child is born. They outdoor the child on the eighth day…

Q: What is that?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: That means giving a name. They bring the child out to the public. They give it a name, and the name is normally the name of one or the other ancestor who had lived a good life so it is believed that the ancestor then protects the child. The child becomes a property no more of his or her parents alone but of the entire clan, and the clan takes its responsibility toward the child. This is a beautiful rite. In fact I had to do my doctoral thesis on that to show its similarity to baptism, through which a person is born anew into the family of God and then is given a name, which identifies him or her with Christianity.

Q: Baptism is integrated into this traditional ritual?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In many places what they do is they have the traditional ritual very early in the morning because it must happen before sunrise and then they have the baptism in the afternoon on Saturday.

Q: There are some elements of traditional religion that the Church has to redress like polygamy and issues like this. How does the Church work with the local and the traditional cultures to try and address these kinds of problems?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Not only for polygamy, we also have very violent widowhood rites and other rites that we are now trying to deal with for example…

Q: What would be some of these examples?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: When a woman’s husband died, she was maltreated, and she was subjected sometimes to some form of cruelty in some cases she was driven out of the house…

Q: Because they thought that somehow she was responsible for the death of her husband or?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In some cases ignorantly it was so thought, in other cases it was some sort of a shock therapy for her to get over the pain of having lost her husband. There are very positive aspects and negative aspects — because of human wickedness sometimes the negatives have overshadowed the positive, but I must say that, above all the good rites, as you say polygamy for instance where a man married two or three wives, had children; they all farmed with him on the farm, they acquired property together, the kids were more or less farm hands and everything. Now, the difficulty of Christianity has been to come in and tell the man: send 2 of your wives away, send your children away…

Q: What do you do?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: What do you do? Just like Abraham had to, in the book of Genesis to send away Hagar and her son Ishmael, and if you look back today you have to admit that some of the present problems go further back to those who trace their origins to Isaac and those who trace it to Ishmael. It’s very sad so we have been caught up in the Church; we know how to deal with this particular situation.

Q: Practically, a man comes to you: I want to become a Christian, I want to be Baptist, I’m in a polygamous relationship, I have four wives. How does the church respond to a situation like this?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Officially we tell them what the Church says: One man one woman. We normally advise them, the man to choose the oldest wife, the one with whom he is at, but we also try to help them to take care of the children and the women without necessarily making use of what we call the marital offices that offend Christian morality of adultery and the rest of it. And it’s not easy. There have been cases where the offspring of these women, together with the man, have blamed the Church for ruining their family system because in many, many places they have lived at peace with one another: The boys have identified with the three women as their mothers, in the absence of their father, the women have taken care of all the children. This is an ideal situation of course. There have been other situations where it wasn’t too ideal, with a lot of rivalry between their mothers and their children and that has created a lot of pain.

So what we try to do is to accompany them through growing. Once they accept Christ, you must accompany them to grow in their faith, and as they grow in the knowledge of their faith, by the grace of God, those who have been baptized do away with what we call the sinful remains of a thing like polygamy or like the widowhood rites or other rites that may not be in consonance with the Catholic or the Christian faith.

Catholic Schools in the Spotlight

Role of Faith and Education Debated

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, OCT. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- State funding of Catholic schools has been a hotly debated topic in the lead-up to Oct. 10 legislative elections in the Canadian province of Ontario.

John Tory, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, raised the issue when during the campaign he questioned why Catholic schools in the province are state-funded while other faith-based schools are not, reported the National Post newspaper Aug. 25.

Tory, who is hoping to unseat the ruling Liberal Party Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty, proposed extending public funding to other faiths, at an estimated cost of 400 million Canadian dollars (US $407).

The newspaper article explained that the decision to fund provincial Catholic schools dates back to the 1867 Constitution Act, which established in Canada two systems of publicly funded education: government and Catholic. Other provinces have since changed their education funding, but this has not been the case in Ontario.

In reply to Tory’s proposal some critics proposed simply eliminating any public funds for all faith schools. “The best course of action would be to simply eliminate public funding for Ontario’s Catholic schools,” opined an editorial in the Globe and Mail newspaper on Sept. 6.

The editorial echoed a censure heard with frequency in some quarters, saying: “As we struggle to avoid the polarization of ethnic and religious minorities, governments should not be contributing to it by encouraging kids to interact only with members of their own faith.”

An opinion supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in an open letter dated Sept. 21 written to Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, said: “Public funding of religious schools will drain resources from the public system and promote private schools at the expense of public schools.”

Parental rights

The province’s Catholic bishops had their say in the altercation, reported the Ottawa Citizen newspaper on Sept. 10. “The public funding of Catholic schools recognizes that parents have the right to make educational choices for their children, and that the state should assist them,” said a statement issued by Bishop James Wingle, head of the Diocese of St. Catharines and president of the Ontario conference of bishops.

“The primacy of parental rights in education is a value which should be realized not only by Catholic parents, but also by others,” the prelates’ continued.

The bishops also stated that they “respect and support the wishes of parents in other faith communities for religion education in the public school system or for alternative schools which reflect their beliefs and values.”

Faith-based education was also criticized in England recently, by columnist Zoe Williams, in a commentary written Sept. 19 for the Guardian. Her article came after the decision of Catholic schools in Northern Ireland to disband their support groups for Amnesty International, owing to its adoption of a pro-abortion stance.

Williams accused Christians of “prosecuting an agenda that is repugnant,” through their schools and argued that they should not receive any public funds.

Times opinion columnist Alice Miles previously expressed similar sentiments. In a May 23 article, she accused the middle classes of using the faith schools “as a barely covert form of social and academic selection.”

Selecting on belief

Schools run by Anglicans or the Catholic Church, Miles argued, should not be allowed to select pupils on the basis of belief, but should simply accept anyone who applies to enter.

The question of using religious criteria to select pupils also came up recently in Ireland, reported the Irish Times newspaper on Sept. 15.

Replying to criticisms of Catholic schools, Bishop Leo O’Reilly, chairman of the Irish bishops’ education commission, said that the schools were founded by the Church to provide a Catholic education for its members.

Parents have a right to have their children educated in Catholic schools, and having contributed through taxes to fund public education, it is not unfair that the faith schools receive government funds, argued Bishop O’Reilly.

The right of parents to choose what sort of education they wish for their children, he added, is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Shortly afterward, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh spoke about the topic of faith schools in a speech given Sept. 21 for the launch in Belfast of a Web site for the Consultative Group on Catholic Education.

At a time of moral confusion, he argued, Catholic education defends the dignity of the human person and offers a set of values based on the Gospel.

Labeling such an education as divisive is simply not the truth, Archbishop Brady maintained. “Reconciliation, love of neighbor, respect for difference: These values are intrinsic to Catholic education because they are intrinsic to the message of Jesus,” he said.

“We do not abandon children to the ‘whatever you think yourself’ approach to morality so often associated with a purely secular or state-based education often found in other countries,” the archbishop added.

Catholic values

The advantages of a Catholic education were enough to persuade even an atheist to make a large donation, as an article posted May 23 on Bloomberg.com explained. Retired hedge-fund manager Robert W. Wilson announced he was giving $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York to fund a scholarship program for needy inner city students attending Catholic schools.

“Let’s face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization,” Wilson said.

Nevertheless, Catholic schools face trials in some areas. In Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald Wuerl is proposing to convert eight out of the 28 Catholic schools into charter schools, due to financial pressures, reported the Washington Post on Sept. 8.

The plan means the schools lose their religious identity, as they would be run by a secular body. Archbishop Wuerl said this was the only way to continue providing education for many low-income families.

Chicago is also facing a time of transition, as an article published Sept. 11 in the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported. Chicago’s Catholic schools educate 98,000 students, but responsibility for this task now depends on laypeople instead of members of religious orders.

Citing data from the National Catholic Education Association, the article noted that while in the 1950s about 90% of the Catholic teaching staff was made up of religious brothers and sisters. Today, there are only 206 religious teaching in Chicago’s Catholic schools, or 4% of the staff.

Numbers up

Meanwhile, Catholic schools in Australia face a different kind of situation. Private schools, many of them Catholic, are flourishing. An article published Feb. 27 by the Australian Associated Press reported that the number of students at independent and Catholic schools had risen by 21.5% since 1996.

Over the same period, numbers in government schools increased by just 1.2%. By the end of last year, 66.8% of Australia’s 3.36 million full-time school students went to government schools, down from 70.7% in 1996.

In spite of the numerical success there are concerns over the Catholic identity of the Church schools. On Aug. 8 the bishops of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory issued a statement titled “Catholic Schools at a Crossroads.”

In it, they observed that over the past two decades the proportion of children in their schools from non-practicing Catholic families has risen considerably. As well, enrollments from non-Catholics have more than doubled to 20% from 9%.

The bishops urged school leaders to study how to maximize enrollment of Catholic students and also to work in order to maintain the religious identity of their institutions. The document recommended a greater space for prayer and liturgy, along with sound religious education. Maintaining the Catholic identity of schools in clearly no easy task in today’s world.