Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

Institute’s New Director on Speaking Truth in Understandable Ways

By Kathleen Naab

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, JAN. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A Philadelphia-based educational institute focused on promoting Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body has named a new executive director.

The 7-year-old Theology of the Body Institute picked Damon Owens, a successful businessman turned marriage promoter. Included on his extensive resume is his work as the Archdiocese of Newark’s Natural Family Planning and Marriage Preparation Coordinator, and leadership with the Life Education And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), the largest African-American, pro-life ministry in the country.

Owens is himself a certified Natural Family Planning instructor who has counseled more than 20,000 couples over the last 16 years. He often appears on Catholic television and radio, sharing various aspects of the theology of the body, as well as commentating on topics related to marriage and family. He and his wife, Melanie, have been married for 18 years and have eight children.

ZENIT spoke with Owens about the Theology of the Body Institute and its work, and the difficulties facing those who promote Blessed John Paul’s message.

ZENIT: The Theology of the Body Institute exists to promote John Paul II’s theology at the secular level, too. Is that truly possible and if so how?

Owens: Our mission is to train and educate men and women to understand, live and promote Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body. While most of the individuals who come in contact with our programs are Catholic, our on-site and Certification courses regularly draw non-Catholics and non-Christians. It is not only possible, but it is critical that we evangelize the broader culture. Our preparation as believers for the “springtime of the new evangelization” includes a deeper grounding not only in the “what’s” of our faith, but the “why’s” behind them.

As believers, we accept even what we cannot fully understand about God’s revelation, because we love and trust him. Still, our faith is reasonable. There is a tremendous amount of truth that can be encountered before an assent of faith. There is a tremendous amount of beautiful and compelling meaning that can be successfully proposed even to a darkened intellect and hardened heart.

Rooted in objective truth, the theology of the body provides a personalistic approach that is well-suited for evangelizing in the modern culture. Our sexuality — masculinity and femininity — carries deep meaning for the identity and vocation of every human person. It is also the place of deep wounds for so many. The Theology of the Body Institute desires to help persons in every state of life gain an understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image and to live out their call to love as he loves. Only from this foundation can an authentic culture of life and love take root and flourish.

ZENIT: Linked to the previous question, statistics about Catholic married couple’s use of artificial contraception seem to indicate there is plenty need for Catholics as well to hear and accept John Paul’s theology. What are your thoughts in this regard? Must we first clean up our own camp before engaging the secular world?

Owens: Beginning with your last question, evangelization is, of course, intimately connected with catechesis (the head) and conversion (the heart). It is always a messy, personal, and inefficient work! Our witness is hurt by our own sin, ignorance, and lack of faith. On one hand, our ongoing conversion strengthens our witness. On the other hand, we have to be careful about setting too high a standard of personal perfection before witnessing to perfection. Without question, contraception is a tap-root of nearly every modern evil. Moreover, the prevalence of Christians contracepting is both a cause and an effect of the rise of other grave evils such as pornography, divorce, violence against women, abortion, fornication and homosexuality. These were the predicted consequences of their widespread use, and the subsequent result of their widespread acceptance.

The question remains, however: How do we reach people’s heads and hearts to reject the evil of contraception? It cannot just be emphatic instruction on the mortal sin of contraception (the head). It must include a compelling invitation to a true conversion of heart. Their hearts must “see” how contraception is a withholding of themselves that deforms the marital act and stifles the very love they long for. Theology of the body is a means to illumine the immutable meaning of things (natural law) in the heart of the person.

Fortunately, the great majority truly desire love. Whether they are in a pew or at the mall on Sunday, they deserve to hear the truth in a way that they can understand it. It is in our heart — or inner life — that we as unique and unrepeatable persons encounter the One True God. While we certainly wish there were a more authentic faith witness from Catholic married couples today, we at the Theology of the Body Institute have been just as awed by conversions in the Faith as by those to the Faith. We remain passionately committed to the simple mission of educating and training men and women to understand, live, and promote the Theology of the Body.

ZENIT: Tell us about the institute and plans you have for it as the new executive director.

Owens: The Theology of the Body Institute was formed in 2004 with the simple mission to educate and train men and women to understand, live and promote the theology of the body. Each of the founders experienced a profound conversion through Blessed John Paul II’s great work and continue to be animated by the desire to make it accessible to the world — Christian and secular — in an understandable, engaging and attractive manner. Ours is an integrated educational approach that presents the rich intellectual theology in an environment that encourages a real encounter with Our Lord. As we often say, it is an immersion of the head and the heart!

Our certification program with its retreat-format courses is the heart of our mission. These courses include Theology of the Body I, II, & III, Love & Responsibility, Catholic Sexual Ethics, Writings of John Paul II on Gender, Marriage, & Family, The Thought of Karol Wojtyla, and Theology of the Body & the Interior Life. Our on-site events at schools, parishes, seminaries and conferences around the world complement these courses and have grown in number and size every year.

We have a world-class faculty that includes Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Michael Waldstein, Christopher West, Bill Donaghy, Dr. John Haas, and beginning for 2012-2013, Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV. To date, more than 1,600 individuals have come to Pennsylvania for our week-long certification courses, and thousands have attended our on-site events around the world. We also held the first Theology of the Body Congress in 2010 bringing together leaders from around the world to explore the diverse applications of TOB. So, I begin with an organization that I consider successful in its mission.

My plans are to build on this success with an enhanced Clergy Enrichment Program for priests and seminarians that enriches both their priestly identity and vocation as fathers. We also plan to expand both our faculty and our Certification course offerings to reach even more lay and clerical leaders. The fact remains that only a small percentage of people in the world are familiar with this profound teaching. I see my role as expanding this success, as opposed to any real change in direction.

ZENIT: You are taking over leadership of the institute when the push for same-sex marriage and adoption is unprecedented. What do you hope to contribute to this battle?

Owens: We are an educational apostolate, so our contribution to social issues such as these is teaching the meaning of things. What is marriage? What does our sexuality mean? What is love, truth, freedom, or joy? What does it mean to be a human person? How do I choose, act, and live in accord with these truths and meanings? These cultural issues ultimately represent a critical loss of the meaning and dignity of human personhood. God bless those who are taking up these issues in the public square. I did that for years and deeply appreciate the need for, and difficulty of, these urgent defenses. It is abundantly clear, however, that these issues incubated long-term in a culture steeped in a disintegrated concept of human personhood. Sexual complementarity devolved into sexual difference, now sexual difference has been denied all together. Equality is argued as sameness. So, the argument continues, since men and women are the same, there is no difference between a husband and a wife or a mother and a father.

This is an identity crisis that requires long-term reformation and restoration. If we don’t know who — and whose — we are, we won’t know how to behave in a way that is in accord with our dignity and brings us true joy. Sexuality, sexual morality, love, marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, family, and life itself are integrated realities that flow from who God has revealed himself to be — a Trinitarian Communio: Three Divine Persons in such union that they are truly One.

The Gospel is “good news” precisely because it reveals to us the deepest truths of our identity created in the “image and likeness” of God, and subsequently our vocation to love. The language, approach, and appeal of the theology of the body gives us a means to understand and embrace the Gospel by rereading the language of the body. Simply put, as the body reveals the person, masculinity and femininity reveal the original, enduring, and eternal meaning of personhood as a call to communion. Love is self-gift. By rereading the language of the body in truth, we see love as not simply something we do, but as a universal human vocation that flows from who we are.

With regard to the specific question of redefining marriage, students of theology of the body are equipped to articulate not mere disagreement, but why it is simply not possible.

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Escaping Poverty: Interview With Archbishop Silvano Tomasi

GENEVA, OCT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Intelligent use of the economy, market and culture is needed to attain objectives coinciding with our values as Christians and members of the human family, says a Holy See representative.

In this interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva, spoke of the necessary avenues to help developing nations escape poverty.

Q: What tools does Vatican diplomacy use to evaluate the most underprivileged in the world?

Archbishop Tomasi: The Holy See works within the international sphere, with the United Nations and in the U.N.-related agencies, as an “observer” state; this gives the Holy See the right to intervene and take part in non-voting activities, thus allowing the Holy See to act more freely than other states.

Furthermore, the Holy See endeavors to promote a line of discourse to support and aid the least developed countries, particularly those suffering in conditions of extreme poverty.

Specifically, the Holy See tries to generate a public culture, a world opinion within the international sphere, by declaring that developed countries are not only in a position to choose to support poorer populations, but that they bear the ethical responsibility to do so.

Then, the Holy See tries to offer actual help to these populations, not only in the form of financial support, which sometimes contributes to corruption, but, above all, through technical training, the exchange of information and licenses, all to help facilitate production.

And, with the aid of existing international structures and U.N.-related entities, such as the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development, we try to equip less wealthy countries with the ability to take part in trade, keeping in mind that participation is one of the most important concepts in the Church’s social doctrine.

According to this concept, everyone is entitled to take part in international life, to have access to common goods in a fair, proportionate and justified manner.

Q: What is your position in the debate about debt forgiveness for poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: For years, particularly since the Jubilee of the year 2000, several private organizations, the Church, and the Holy Father himself, have issued exhortations on the subject of debt forgiveness for poor countries because even payment of the interest is so burdensome that it obstructs development.

Therefore, I am in favor of debt forgiveness for the poorest countries as soon as possible, so that some of the resources that thus become available can be channeled toward social development, health care, children’s education, drinking water systems, all for a gradual improvement of living standards.

Q: Do you consider the developed world to be adequately informed and involved in the problems of poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: Public opinion is often distracted by many things that are not so essential. Occasionally, great tragedies or humanitarian campaigns draw attention for a while.

Some time back, we had the tsunami in Southeast Asia, which brought about people’s very constructive, positive and generous response. But we have other “tsunamis.” We have thousands of people dying of hunger, malaria or AIDS every day while nothing is said about these silent tragedies.

The media sometimes reports on these, issuing information, but it is then lost because the news items are not dramatized, and public attention wanders.

The fact that there are wars going on, people dead as the result of conflicts in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, is viewed with a certain degree of indifference. It is almost as if we have grown accustomed to the normalcy of these tragedies.

In my opinion, for people to see on the news that 100 people have been assassinated in Baghdad, another 20 in Mogadishu, and 50 refugees have died in a tragedy in Africa, is sometimes not very different from watching an entertainment movie after the news bulletin.

Therefore, it is important for Christians to sensitize people through the network of parishes, groups and movements, about the need for solidarity toward the most disenfranchised, to work together toward peace, for a bit of progress and for a better standard of living for these distant people.

Q: What are your thoughts on multilateral diplomacy versus bilateral dialogue in the international community?

Archbishop Tomasi: I would say, above all, that there is still a strong desire to struggle and negotiate in order to continue on a multilateral level, to seek solutions to current problems, particularly in the field of trade.

For example, the director general of the World Trade Organization insists on the fact that we must definitely continue to grow together in the same direction in order to be truly effective in the long term, even in the case of developed countries.

However, at the moment, there is the temptation in Europe and in other states to try to bypass common action through bilateral negotiations. This tendency can have very dangerous consequences because the stronger party tends to impose its terms on the weaker one, so that the negotiation is not really equitable.

In the long term, this can just lead to the maintenance of the status quo, in other words, the coexistence of rich and poor countries, which, in fact, does not succeed in combating poverty.

Q: As permanent observer of the Holy See in Geneva, do you consider international organizations in the field of economics, especially the World Trade Organization, as directing their course of action toward the sustained development of Third World nations?

Archbishop Tomasi: I attended the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference at the end of 2005, when the WTO tried to evaluate the “Doha Development Round” [from November 2001].

On that occasion, it became clear that, despite the extremely tough bargaining, it is possible to reach agreements that are beneficial to all concerned. Therefore, these international structures, which are necessary to achieve the globalization of the economy, the market, and culture, must be used intelligently.

We have to make an intelligent use of these structures in order to attain objectives that are truly in line with our fundamental values as Christians and as members of the human family.



Interview With Stephen Ray

SAN FRANCISCO, California, SEPT. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Following in the footsteps of St. Paul of Tarsus, one realizes what a manly man he was, according to the director of a documentary on the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Stephen Ray and his crew traveled through six countries to film “Paul: Contending for the Faith,” from the 10-part video series “Footprints of God,”, produced by Ignatius Press. 

“Paul was no weakling,” Ray told ZENIT in this interview, in which he discusses the making of his documentary, and how to better get to know the Apostle to the Gentiles during the Year of St. Paul. 

Q: You are the narrator of a DVD on the life of St. Paul, visiting the places where he lived. What do you hope people will take away from it?

Ray: The night our plane landed in Damascus, Syria, to begin work, the first bomb of the war fell on Baghdad. That got an exciting project off to an exciting start.

We traveled through six countries to film this documentary and covered all the major locations associated with St. Paul.

Why do all this? Because we have a target audience we want to reach and I don’t think they just want another “talking head.” The Catholic faith is real, exciting, full of adventure and, most of all, rooted in real history. 

Our target audience is the Catholic family — which includes educated adults, young people, children, college age — and even Protestants in many cases. We try to reach a wide audience. From the letters and emails I receive, I think we have exceeded our expectations.

I want my viewers to be rooted in the historical truth and theology of the Catholic Church. I don’t want to see Catholic kids leaving the Church. I want them to stay and love the rich history and truth of our Church.

Bottom line: I started this project to help Catholic kids stay Catholic especially when they hit college age. I also wanted adults to learn their faith and also for Protestants to have a fun and informative explanation of why we Catholics believe what we do.

I also know it is being used by troops in Iraq, girls’ schools in Australia, seminaries, schools, and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, CCD, classes, and parish Bible studies across the country and in countries around the world.

Q: As a former evangelical Protestant, how important was St. Paul to you? Did his importance change when you became a Catholic?

Ray: We used to joke around — somewhat seriously — that Peter was the Catholic apostle and Paul was the Protestant apostle. We felt Paul was a “lone ranger,” so to speak, and set out to establish his own churches, emphasizing a message of salvation by “faith alone.”

We thought Catholics had institutionalized Christianity and ignored the true way of salvation. My hero had been Martin Luther who had supposedly “rediscovered the truth” and Protestants had the teachings of Paul to thank for it. 

I was wrong back in those days, of course, not only that Paul was the Protestant apostle, but also about what he taught. Paul was certainly not a Protestant, but richly faithful to the Catholic idea of the Church, and the Church in turn has been richly faithful to Paul’s teaching. 

Paul was exciting and important to me back then, but far more so today. I liken my Protestant days to living in a house with one wall filled with windows. Light came in and I could see.

But when I entered the Catholic Church it was like the other three walls blew out and light was now pouring in from all four sides. The writings of Paul took on a whole new and deeper aspect.

I had to start reading Paul again with the context in place, and I discovered Paul’s life and theology was far richer than I had ever imagined. And then to walk in his sandals through the original sites … what can I say!

Q: People often speak of a specific kind of theology related to apostles or saints. What do you think are St. Paul’s unique contributions to theology? 

Ray: When I give talks about Paul or the New Testament, I like to start by holding up an ancient flint knife. I tell people that in a certain sense, the whole New Testament is about this knife. After I get the shocked reaction, I explain.

The God of Israel had required circumcision that marked the Jewish people — no pun intended — for centuries. But God wanted Jews and Gentiles to be in one flock, in one Church.

How does he accomplish this? Answering that question was at the heart of Paul’s life and writings. The Gentiles could now become children of God too, not by circumcision and slavish obedience to the Mosaic law and ceremonies — but by faith in Christ and all that went along with that, like repentance, baptism, good works and more.

Though Peter brought the first Gentile convert into the Church, to a great degree it was Paul who really broke down the barriers and took the good news to the Gentile nations and he did so without the flint knife.

Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and as a Gentile myself, Paul is significant beyond measure. For me, this is the main significance of the Apostle sent to the uncircumcised.

Q: In your time in the Middle East and Turkey filming the DVD series, were there elements about St. Paul’s life that struck you in a new way once you were in the actual places?

Ray: Masculinity has suffered in our modern age. When I traveled along the roads and seas of St. Paul, I realized what a manly man he was.

Paul was no weakling as he traveled the estimated 6,000 miles recorded in Acts. It was surely much more than that during his whole lifetime.

Life was tough back then — no Nike hiking shoes or Hilton Hotels. Paul was rough and tough and manly. I found, by the way, that Jesus was too!

One can easily get the vision of Paul the theologian sitting around with scholars, writing and discussing. But the reality is that Paul wrote while in prison, by candlelight, and usually while deprived of many creaturely comforts. He was a tough man and suffered much for Jesus Christ.

I say, “If you wanted to know how much Paul suffered for Jesus Christ, all you had to do was ask him to take off his shirt!”

He had been whipped, flogged, beaten, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, snake-bitten and much more. His body was a mass of scar tissue.

I was also repeatedly amazed at the distances between cities. We read of Paul going from Tarsus to Antioch, or going from Jerusalem to Damascus, to Sinai and back to Syria.

It is one thing to read this, quite another to go over and travel between these locations. They are a long way apart, hundreds of miles in many cases. Yet Paul never flagged in energy or determination or spirit.

I am impressed by his courage and tenacity — and more so after following him around through six countries in blistering heat and often with sand in my teeth!

Through it all, Paul maintained a remarkable balance between brilliance and simplicity, toughness and gentleness, joyful hope and righteous indignation.

He was a godly man who lived the faith to the fullest as an example for us, to practice heroic virtue ourselves in this modern age.

Q: St. Paul’s life offers many examples of humanness, especially human failure. Can you explain some of these and how he offers hope to those struggling to live a moral life?

Ray: Brothels and bathhouses, sin and vice!

Like today, wickedness abounded and confronted Paul every time he entered a city or disembarked from a ship. He was human and, like us, had to resist temptation and turn from sin.

Just because he was an apostle and is now a saint, does not mean that Paul was immune from problems that the rest of us face daily. He was an example of heroic virtue.

He had physical ailments. To prevent the lurking sin of pride, God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble. Paul was not immune to pride.

I think the ailment was with his eyes since they had been affected by the blinding light at his conversion and he said to the Galatians, “I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”

Q: In the “Year of St. Paul,” what ways can people come to know the real person of Paul? 

Ray: There are a lot of books I have on St. Paul, but most of them are examining his theology. Some of the best books on St. Paul are out of print. I hope the Year of St. Paul brings them back into the light of day and that new books will appear.

There is one good book I really enjoyed reading, though I think it is out of print, titled “Paul the Apostle” by Giuseppe Ricciotti. It follows Paul’s life and ties in the theology at the appropriate places. Another that is in print is “Paul of Tarsus” by Joseph Holzner. 



Interview With Author Paul Thigpen

SAVANNAH, Georgia, SEPT. 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Those who don’t believe in hell are living with a very dangerous kind of wishful thinking, or a comfortable fantasy, says author Paul Thigpen.

In this interview with ZENIT, Thigpen discusses his new book “My Visit to Hell,” published by Creation House.

Thigpen is editor of The Catholic Answer, director of the Stella Maris Center for Faith and Culture, and an award-winning journalist and best-selling author of 34 books.

Q: You have written a novel, “My Visit to Hell,” about just that — a young man’s visit to hell. What prompted this?

Thigpen: The Holy Father recently lamented the fact that so few people in our day ever talk about hell. Maybe this book can contribute in some small way to changing that situation.

Why should people talk more about hell? Many of our contemporaries, including some Catholics, refuse to believe that hell truly exists.

And several surveys show that even among those who believe in the existence of hell, the great majority think they have little or no chance of ending up there.

Nevertheless, in the Gospels Our Lord has warned us solemnly and repeatedly about the terrors of hell. So what we have here is a very dangerous kind of wishful thinking, a comfortable fantasy that needs to be challenged.

We should be thinking about hell, and heaven as well, because our destiny profoundly shapes our identity.

The more we know about our possible destinations, the more we’ll know about who we are, why we’re here, and which way we should be headed.

I certainly don’t enjoy thinking and writing about sin and its tormenting consequences, but given the widespread denial of hell in our day, and the avoidance of any discussion about it, the time seems right for a book such as this.

Q: How has your book been received? Do you think it has appeal to those who do not claim to be Catholic?

Thigpen: Catholic readers often comment that the book has sent them running to the sacrament of confession, and for that I’m grateful.

It’s not intended to condemn people for their sins, but rather to encourage them to flee to God for forgiveness and healing.

As for non-Catholic Christians, I’ve had an enthusiastic response from readers representing a variety of religious backgrounds.

The main themes of the story — the horror of sin, the hope of grace, the dignity and danger of human freedom — lie at the heart of the Gospel that all Christians embrace.

As for atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians, my hope is that they can identify to some degree with several characters in the book who share their situation.

The main character is in fact an agnostic who must reconsider his position in light of what he encounters on this terrifying journey.

Anecdotal evidence encourages me that the book is stirring readers to think seriously about the matters it touches upon.

One reviewer said he plans to make the book a part of his annual readings for Lent. Another reader composed a series of songs about the story.

Some book clubs are choosing it to read and discuss. It’s required reading in at least one college course, and a new scholarly study of contemporary Christian fiction devotes a chapter to it.

Q: Why did you choose the novel as a format, over poetry or simply a theological discourse on the topic?

Thigpen: Dante’s “Inferno,” the 14th-century poem about an imaginary visit to hell from which my account draws heavily, convinced me that a narrative approach to this subject could be quite powerful in ways that a straight theological discourse could not.

This isn’t to say, of course, that Dante’s vision isn’t theologically informed; his portrait of the infernal regions actually embodies the moral theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, as does mine.

Dante’s book was only one in a series of what are known as “tours of hell” that go back to ancient times, all using narrative fiction to paint a chastening portrait of sin and its eternal consequences.

Even Our Lord himself spoke of hell using a parable whose stark imagery awakens in us a sense of dread: see Luke 16:19-31.

Few people today will read lengthy poems of the sort Dante wrote; they prefer novels.

So the contemporary genre of speculative fiction seemed especially appropriate for this subject matter. You might think of it as a book-length parable.

Q: In some ways your novel is like Dante meeting Walker Percy, put in a contemporary setting. Is this partially what you had in mind?

Thigpen: You’re right — or even more precisely, Dante meets Flannery O’Connor, who is one of my literary heroes.

She and I are from the same hometown, Savannah, Georgia, and my mother went to college with her. So I’ve always felt a certain kinship with her and with her vision of the world.

O’Connor masterfully portrays sin in all its revolting ugliness. Yet always she reveals a “moment of grace,” a divine light that shines all the more brightly because the surrounding darkness is so deep.

My intent was similar: to show that even though sin deforms us into something grotesque, God still labors to reconcile and heal us.

Q: In your depiction of hell, you describe layers of it rapidly filling up from sins more readily committed in our cultural climate, for example, abortion, destroying fetuses for scientific or medical research, assisted suicide, striving for bodily perfection. In what ways do you categorize and describe some of these?

Thigpen: What I call the “moral topography” of hell — its structure of descending circles, each one punishing a sin worse than the one above it — I borrowed from Dante, who based it on St. Thomas’ moral teaching.
Below “limbo” lie the circles of “upper hell,” which punish sins of weakness.

Next is “middle hell,” punishing sins of the intellect; and finally “lower hell,” punishing sins of malice, both injury and fraud.

The lower you descend, the more serious the sin and the worse its punishment.

When I considered the sins you’ve noted, I realized that they are simply more contemporary versions of ancient sins already identified and positioned in Dante’s hell.

Like abortion, destruction of embryos for research is murder of a particularly loathsome type — a betrayal of the tiny innocents that God has given us to protect.

So those who are guilty of this sin aren’t punished with other murderers; they end up much farther down, in the lowest circle with some of the fiercest punishments, where traitors are tormented.

Or consider the idolatry of bodily perfection: It’s actually a form of gluttony, a narcissistic addiction to the pleasure of looking physically attractive.

So those who are guilty of this sin are ironically punished alongside the gluttons, whom they detest as undisciplined slobs.

Of particular interest to many contemporary readers, I think, is the circle punishing sins of the intellect.

Those holding to the popular notion that sincerity of belief is all that counts will find plenty here to challenge their assumptions.

Q: You mention in the preface that you were reluctant to write this book given the gravity of the topic. Are there ways in which meditating about hell has changed your own life?

Thigpen: Spending several months thinking deeply about hell, and writing down the fruits of that reflection for others, cultivated in me a healthy fear of the Lord, and “the fear of the Lord is hatred of evil”: Proverbs 8:13.

I came to a new understanding of how repugnant, how despicable, how corrosive sin truly is, with the result that I wanted all the more to avoid it and cling to God instead.

It also made me more deeply grateful for divine grace.

I deserve the everlasting misery of hell because of my sin, but God sent his son to make it possible for me to live with him forever instead in the joy of heaven.

I can never cease to marvel at such a gift!

“The Most Difficult Moment Was in Cairo”

ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Though Cardinal Renato Martino wanted to be a missionary, his poor health prohibited him from following that dream. Instead, he joined the Holy See’s diplomatic service and in this way, he says, fulfilled his great desire to evangelize.

Cardinal Martino is now the president of two pontifical councils: the Pontifical Councils of Justice and Peace, and the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers. This summer he celebrated the golden anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, a vocation with which he says he is “still enchanted.”

In this interview with ZENIT, the 74-year-old prelate reflects on some of the milestones of his ministry.

Q: Your Eminence, how did you discern your vocation?

Cardinal Martino: I come from a family marked by faith and Catholic tradition, with a wonderful mother, who was also an artist. The holy card marking my 50th anniversary to the priesthood, with the Virgin and Child, was painted by her. [I had] a strict father and four brothers and sisters. A large family, totaling 56 people at Christmas gatherings; I have 13 nephews and nieces and 26 great-nephews and nieces.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a missionary. I was fascinated by the Jesuit missionary preachers who came to Naples, to our parish.

Unfortunately, the dream very soon vanished, because I was too frail and the doctors told me clearly that my constitution would not endure in missionary lands.

My desire to carry the Gospel to the world took on another path. Through a number of circumstances, I frequented the Vatican Diplomatic Academy, the oldest in the world and, since 1962, I have worked with the nunciatures of Nicaragua, Philippines, Lebanon, Canada and Brazil.

Between 1970 and 1975, I was in charge of the section for international organizations in the Secretariat of State. Subsequently, on Sept. 14, 1980, the Pope at that time, John Paul II, sent me as pro-nuncio to Thailand, as apostolic delegate, to attend to the relations with Singapore, Malaysia, Laos and Brunei.

In 1986, I was appointed permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York and, in that capacity, I took part in the major international conferences promoted by the United Nations during the 90s, particularly in New York, 1990, at the World Summit for Children; in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992, at the Conference on Environment and Development; in Barbados, 1994, at the Conference on Small Island Developing States and, that same year, in Cairo, at the Conference on Population and Development.

In Beijing, China, 1995, at the World Conference on Women; in Istanbul, Turkey, 1996, at the Conference on Human Settlements; in Rome, 1998, at the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court; in New York, 2000, at the Millennium Summit;

In Monterrey, Mexico, 2003, at the International Conference on Financing for Development. Also, in Madrid, Spain, at the World Assembly on Aging, and, that same year, in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Conference on Sustainable Development.

Q: You have had to face many difficult situations, including frequent disagreements with United Nations offices and delegations that, particularly in the 90s, were especially critical of the Holy See, above all with regard to demographic policies, abortion, contraception … Could you comment on this experience?

Cardinal Martino: The most difficult moment was in 1994, in Cairo, during the Conference on Population and Development. President Bill Clinton’s administration, together with a greater part of the developed countries, were determined to get the conference to recognize abortion as an international right.

Some nongovernmental organizations even requested that the Vatican delegation be expelled from the United Nations. But with the Lord’s help and thanks to the support, on that occasion, of Latin American and Islamic-majority countries, we succeeded in rejecting the attempt to approve abortion as a contraceptive method.

As head of the Vatican delegation, I managed to obtain the support of 43 delegations and to ensure that paragraph 8.25 of the final document adopted by the conference should declare that “on no account may abortion be invoked as a family planning method.”

This regulation remains in force to this day, despite frequent and continuous attempts to eliminate it. So far, voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which, unfortunately, is still a dramatic phenomenon these days, has never been approved by any United Nations body.

Q: What mission to you look back upon with most satisfaction?

Cardinal Martino: From May 15 to 21 this year, at the express request and in representation of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, I visited Ivory Coast, a country torn by a long period of strife and bloodshed.

During my stay, I celebrated the Eucharist in several cities and parochial communities; I met with the bishops and highest authorities in the country. Particularly, I attended a meeting with the President, Laurent Gbagbo, who appointed as his prime minister former rebel chief, Guillaume Soro, a brilliant 34-year-old Catholic.

In order to give consistency and solidity to the peace agreements, I invited both of them to the solemn Mass I celebrated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Abidjan, on May 20.

The cathedral was crowded with faithful, together with the bishops and civil authorities. I encouraged the people of Ivory Coast to continue along the way of peace and to promote national reconciliation and the participation of all the country’s living forces, without any form of political, religious, cultural or ethnic exclusion.

When the time came to exchange a gesture of peace, I invited the president of the republic and the prime minister to come up to the altar to receive my peace gesture. After that, I invited them to exchange peace with each other: They hugged each other, assuring that this would last — a great gesture of reconciliation, before the applause of several thousand people.

All this was transmitted live by the national television channel. I instructed them never to forget that day, should difficulties arise in the future, because this was a historical gesture, a commitment of peace and concord sealed in the cathedral, before God. To all the people of Ivory Coast, to the numerous innocent victims, to the groups of those displaced, to those wounded, and to so many others, I expressed the spiritual closeness of the Holy Father and, in his name, I offered some financial help toward the primary needs of those in most dire hardship.

This was the most effective way of presenting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and its practical application.

I have also been thanked for this meeting and for the reinforcement of the peace process by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who I had met before he took on that position, because he represented South Korea before the United Nations during the same period as my stay in New York, where I attended to a group of South Korean Catholics.

For 18 years, I administrated confirmation to members of this group. I saw Ban Ki-moon in Rome, when the promotion of his candidature had not yet begun, and I told him I was sure of his election. He looked at me in surprise, incredulously. I assured him: We’ll talk about it after your election. I’m sure you will do a lot of good.

Q: On Oct. 1, 2002, John Paul II called you to Rome, to take over the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, but as head of this dicastery, you continued your travels throughout the world …

Cardinal Martino: Taking on the direction of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and, since March 11, 2006, also that of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers, allows me to sustain and prolong the task of evangelization which I wished to carry out from the days of my youth.

The publication and diffusion of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was a stimulating task. As I noted in the introduction to the volume, “transforming social realities with the power of the Gospel, to which witness is borne by women and men faithful to Jesus Christ, has always been a challenge and it remains so today at the beginning of the third millennium of the Christian era.”

I am fully aware that the announcement of Jesus Christ is not easily swallowed in the world today, but precisely because of that, the people of our time are in need, more than ever, of faith that saves, of hope that enlightens, and of charity that loves.

These are the reasons that move the Church to intervene with its teachings in the social field, in order to help and accompany Catholics in serving the common good.

Q: Is there something that you would like to accomplish but which you have been unable to?

Cardinal Martino: I have no regrets. I am still enchanted with the priesthood. I thank the Lord every day for the grace of the priesthood. I have celebrated more than 19,000 masses, and each one of them has been a real gift to me, because, even if my role had only been that of celebrating the Eucharist alone or for a small community, I would, however, be grateful to the Lord for having had the opportunity to serve him.