Archive for the ‘media’ 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.

‘ DVD Promotes Godly Fatherhood

By Genevieve Pollock

ALBANY, Georgia, JAN. 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Thousands of men are answering the call to rediscover God’s plan for fatherhood, inspired by a new movie, “Courageous,” due to be released on DVD on Tuesday.

The film, which debuted in theaters Sept. 30, follows four men striving to fulfill their mission “to serve and protect,” both as law enforcement officers and fathers.

Stephen Kendrick, producer and co-writer of the film, told ZENIT that every day he sees some 200 e-mails from “people sharing how the movie has impacted, inspired and blessed them.”

“The stories they share are so heartfelt and moving,” he said. “Countless dads are now reaching out to win the hearts of their children.”

Kendrick continued: “One man realized he needed to step up and reconnect with the daughter he’d abandoned.

“Many have chosen to forgive their dads.

“Wives are saying that ‘my husband was a good dad, but now he’s becoming a great dad after seeing this movie.’

“Couples heading for divorce have reunited and said that they must resolve to leave a legacy of faithfulness to their children like the men in the movie. We thank God for this!”

Waging war

As policemen, the main characters must team up against gang members and drug dealers to protect the community. Yet even as they battle evil with their guns and Tasers, they learn to use Scripture to fight the demons within in order to become the men of integrity their families need.

“There is so much in Scripture about what fatherhood means, but most men have not taken time to search it out and then live it out,” Kendrick stated. “‘Courageous’ shows it to them in living color.”

He continued: “It is so incredible to see how a message about the importance of strong fatherhood is so deeply resonating with audiences.

“The issue of fatherhood touches the core of who we are. Millions of people have seen this movie and have gone on the emotional roller-coaster of laughter and tears as they watch five men trying to figure out what it means to be a great dad.”

For actor Ken Bevel, who portrayed the cop Nathan Hayes, the movie was an opportunity to “help serve in turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”

He explained to ZENIT: “As I look at the consistent decline of families and the minimal involvement of fathers in our communities, my heart is challenged — challenged to the point of action. So, when God provided the opportunity to address biblical fatherhood through film, I was humbled that he would allow me to be used in such a task.”

This role, Bevel said, “caused me to examine my own life and my role as a father.”

He added: “I asked myself the question, ‘Am I being completely intentional about fatherhood and leading my children to the Lord?’ Unfortunately the answer was no. So, ‘Courageous’ has also challenged me to spend more time in Bible study with my family, while praying for wisdom in leading my children to the Lord.”

Kendrick expressed the hope for this “life change,” not only for all who worked on the movie, but also for all who view it.

The film’s release on DVD will allow its viewing by greater audiences. Parishes, ministries and other groups are encouraged to show the movie and utilize the corresponding resources to help effect this life-changing experience.

Tremendous opportunity

One group, the Philadelphia-based Fatherhood and Leadership Initiative, sponsored a showing of the movie that drew the players of two football teams with their fathers, in addition to other families.

Jim Gabriele, one of the group’s founders, told ZENIT that “the response was tremendous.” People were moved not only by the film, he said, but also by “the underlying message of love of Christ and faith in him as the foundation of a man’s most important vocation — his family.”

“This movie clearly brings people together,” added Gabriele, “and challenges men in particular to be men of the kingdom, the Godly husbands and fathers we are all called to be.”

He added that the “widespread release of the movie provides a tremendous opportunity to put the emotion we all felt at the end of the movie to practical use in our daily lives.”

“It is an unbelievably easy tool to use for ministry, and the producers have provided outstanding resources to bring the movie to life via Bible studies, small group sessions, etc.” Gabriele noted.

He continued: “Men are notoriously hard to reach in ministry, but the ability to invite men to an engaging movie, followed by structured discussions and the ability to delve more deeply into their faith and how it applies to marriage and fatherhood is an incredible gift.”

He revealed to ZENIT that his group will be sponsoring an eight-week study series, available through the Internet as well, on scriptural fatherhood.

Kendrick expressed the hope that many of this generation of men will see “Courageous” and “learn that the role of father is irreplaceable.”

He underlined the hope that the audience will see that God created fatherhood “to introduce the next generation to what their loving Heavenly Father is like: a loving Provider, a strong Protector, an honorable Authority, a great Example, a wise Teacher, and an intimate Friend.”

The producer continued: “We hope that men get a vision for this and begin to step up with courage and begin to lead their families by example as God intended. This will positively affect the next generation in countless ways.”

“We produced a movie,” he concluded. “But only he can change a heart. To him alone be the glory!”

Canadian Study Calls for Greater Responsibility in Use

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, OCT. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- An explosion in media technology means both parents and society need to be more alert to the dangers children face. This was the warning contained in the Oct. 15 report entitled “Good Servant, Bad Master: Electronic Media and the Family,” published by the Ottawa-based Vanier Institute of the Family.
Author Arlene Moscovitch reviewed Canadian and international research on the media, and in her report she acknowledged the positive side of the media, which is a useful source of education and entertainment. As well, new technologies also help families stay in contact with greater ease.

At the same time the report warned of some more negative consequences.

— Heavy users of electronic media in all age groups spend less time interacting with partners, children and friends.

— Researchers fear that excessive exposure to media among very young children may lead to problems of attention control, aggressive behavior and poor cognitive development.

— With growing problems of obesity and diabetes among children, it is a concern that the vast majority of food advertisements during children’s programs are for foods high in sugar, salt and fat.

— Many parents worry about children being online for long periods and the kinds of things to which they are exposed.

Technology overflow

Moscovitch noted that according to the Consumers Electronics Association of America, the average U.S. home now boasts 26 different electronic devices for communication and media. In Canada only 1% of the population owned a DVD player in 1998, now they are present in 80% of households.

Also in Canada, 94% of young people have Internet access at home. Half of grade 11 students, and surprisingly even 20% of those in Grade 4, have their own Internet-connected computer, separate and apart from the family.

Mobile phones are used by 44% of young Canadians to surf the Internet, and 22% have webcams.

Citing data from a time use survey carried out in 1995 by the government body Statistics Canada, the report noted that Canadians aged 15 and over spent just over 2 hours each day watching television, compared to more than 3 hours in 1998.

Radio use remained relatively stable between 1998 and 2003, at about 3 hours a day, but 30-45 more minutes a day is going to telephone usage, and time spent on the Internet has risen.

A study of 5,000 youth carried out in 2005 by the Media Awareness Network found that on an average weekday, Canadian students spend — sometimes simultaneously — 54 minutes instant messaging; 50 minutes downloading and listening to music; 44 minutes playing online games; and only 30 minutes doing school work.

Overall, in Canada and the United States many young people are spending less time with print and television media, and more time plugged into interactive media like mobile phones, video games and Internet-connected computers. Moreover, this media activity is increasingly done in their own bedrooms, rather than in communal family spaces.

Infants at risk

One of the main forebodings in the Vanier Institute’s report is how very young children are exposed to the media. Moscovitch cited a recent study that showed 50% of U.S. infants and preschoolers live in homes with three or more TVs, 97% have clothes or toys based on media characters and three-quarters share their living space with a computer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for children under the age of two years, yet a 2003 study of the media habits of U.S. children from birth to six years of age found that almost 70% of children under two years spend on average two hours every day watching either television shows or videos. In fact, 26% of toddlers under the age of two had a TV set in their bedroom.

Other recent reports confirm the deleterious effect of television for the very young. On May 27, the Boston Globe reported that a study by pediatric researchers found that about 40% of 3-month-olds watch television or videos for an average of 45 minutes a day, or more than five hours a week.

The study was based on 1,009 random telephone interviews with families in Minnesota and Washington, and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine journal.

This early exposure can have a negative impact on an infant’s developing brain and put children at a higher risk for attention problems and diminished reading comprehension, according to the researchers.

Social sites

Turning to older ages, the Vanier Institute reported that media usage evolves to become more active and socially oriented. A 2005 study of young Canadians carried out by the Media Awareness Network found that among young people, 28% have their own Web site, 15% have online diaries and blogs, and that by grade nine, 80% of all teens are listening to music online and instant messaging daily.

By late 2006, 55% of all U.S. online teens were using social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, and 55% had created online profiles.

The dangers of social networking sites was confirmed by a report dated Oct. 14, published by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The study entitled “Teens and Online Stranger Contact” reported that 32% of online teens had been contacted by someone with no connection to them or any of their friends, and 7% of online teens say they have felt scared or uncomfortable as a result of contact by an online stranger.

Those who have posted photos of themselves and created profiles on social networking sites are more likely to have been contacted online by people they do not know, according to the study.

Among teens who have been contacted by someone they do not know, girls are significantly more likely to report feeling scared or uncomfortable as a result of the contact compared with boys.

Parental concerns

Many parents, the Vanier Institute report observed, are uneasy about the media’s impact on their children. Apprehensions include not knowing who their children are in contact with, what sort of songs they listen to, and if they are falling prey to temptations such as online gambling and pornography. Moreover, many parents are unskilled in the technologies being employed by their children.

Parents can, however, influence their children’s media habits. The report recommends a number of steps.

— Limit the number of individually owned devices and move them out of bedrooms and into public spaces.

— Limit the times at which they can be used. For example, don’t have the television on all the time, particularly during meals.

— Limit also the total amount of time kids spend with their devices on a daily basis.

— Make rules about giving out personal information or visiting certain sites on the Internet.

— Help children, particularly those who are younger, to distinguish between fantasy and reality by talking with them about the content they encounter in the media.

— Discuss with children their experiences on the Internet and ask them about the games they play, the sites they create and the way they interact socially.

Forming consciences

The report also recommended that parents help instruct their children in the values they need, and not just leave it to chance through the values that the media communicates. By doing this young people will be more prepared to critically judge the information and goals coming from the media.

“Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media,” recommends No. 2496 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences.”

A responsibility that becomes more indispensable than ever in this age of rapidly developing media technologies.

 



Catholics Journalists Rallying the Faithful

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, OCT. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Our modern media age has given us much to be skeptical about. Poorly informed scandal-mongering often seems to rule the day, and we tend to view journalists with a jaundiced eye, particularly in what often passes for Catholic journalism in the secular press, where the norm seems to be an ill-concealed and anti-magisterial position.

In the space of one week I met two remarkable Catholic journalists, one based in Ireland and one in Italy. These two men not only provide intelligent reporting and commentary on Church news, but have pursued their vocations to make lasting contributions to Catholic culture.
Andrea Tornielli hails from Venice and has been covering Vatican news for the Italian daily Il Giornale for 11 years. Surprisingly, he has avoided cynicism and maintained a refreshing buoyancy that many journalists quickly lose.

But beyond his well-informed coverage of everything from papal trips to the latest questions in the Italian bishops’ conference, Tornielli has taken an interest in the case of Pope Pius XII, producing four books on the man Eugenio Pacelli, who reigned as Pontiff from 1939 to 1958.

The 1998 Berlin commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Kristallnacht sparked Tornielli’s interest in Pius XII. The Night of Broken Glass took place on Nov. 9-10, 1938, and opened the era of Jewish persecutions in Germany.

On that occasion in 1998, Yisreal Meir Lau, then chief rabbi of Israel, asked during his impassioned speech the damning question: “Pius XII, where were you? Why were you silent during the Kristallnacht?” Two Italian newspapers the next day ran that as their headline, with the subhead “The Shameful Silence of Pius XII.”

The evident problem with this, Tornielli pointed out, was that Pius XII was not elected until March 1939, four months after the Kristallnacht. This event vividly demonstrated to the Italian journalist that when it came to Pius XII, anything goes. “The black legend around him had become so great that anything negative, including lies, would get newspaper space,” wrote Tornielli.

Andrea spent several years investigating documents, records and Vatican archives working with Italian history professor Matteo Napolitano to learn more about this much-maligned Pope.

Tornielli came out swinging in 2001 with the 400-page book “Pio XII. Papa degli ebrei” (Pius XII: The Pope of the Jews), tackling the origins of the blackening of Pius XII’s name. This was followed by “Il Papa che salvò gli Ebrei” (The Pope Who Saved the Jews), written with Napolitano.

Tornielli points out that after World War II the state of Israel officially recognized Pope Pius XII’s efforts to help the Jews, and that unheard-of honors were accorded to the Pope before and after his death.

“The Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel,” Andrea observed, “which refused to play Wagner, considering him Hitler’s inspirational composer, asked permission to perform before Pope Pius XII. How can one imagine that they would go and play for ‘Hitler’s Pope’!”

Tornielli noted that a dark cloud gathered over Pius XII during the turbulent years of the Cold War as well as during the progressive movements of the late 1960s.

Yet this new anti-Pius wave was not caused by the discovery of new information regarding his papacy. In fact, no new documents had come to light since the encomium of the 1950s. And in those years, Andrea points out, “everyone knew what the Pope had said, and more importantly what he had done, during World War II.”

Rolf Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy” debuted in the Proletarian Theater of Berlin in 1962. Tornielli describes it as “written by a mediocre playwright, seven hours long and intended to purge the German conscience for having democratically elected Hitler.”

Despite its tediousness, the play was staged in Paris and London within the year, and the world learned to condemn Pius XII for “his silence.”

Tornielli points out that “The Deputy” was actively sponsored by the Soviet Union, which was intensely hostile to the Church. At the same time, many Catholic progressives saw the defamation of Pius XII as a way to divide the old Church regime from the “new Church” they expected to emerge from the Second Vatican Council.

Once Tornielli realized this, he studied the life of Pius XII even more closely, producing two more books, the most recent published this year, a 661-page biography of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII. This work includes unpublished material from the Pacelli family archives.

Tornielli’s book illustrates the continuity of the Church through the period from the first to the second half of the 20th century, as well as the extraordinary modernity of Pope Pius XII.

The journalist observed that “television has affected a great deal of how we perceive John XXIII and Pius XII.” Little footage of Pius XII exists, but John XXIII was elected in the age of television. “When John XXIII brought Christmas gifts to the sick children at Bambino Gesù hospital, the televised event moved the world,” he wrote.

But he adds, “When Pius XII went in 1943 to the Gregorian to visit 2,000 orphaned children and distributed gifts, no television camera was present.”

Tornielli’s work has uncovered documents recognizing Pius XII’s early understanding of the anti-Catholic nature of the nationalist parties, as well as refreshing details about his pontificate. He reported, “After John Paul II, Pius XII canonized more women than any other Pope, and percentagewise he actually canonized the most — at 54%.”

Pius XII also continued with the topic of liturgical reform and was open to the hypothesis of evolution, which he cited in his encyclical “Humani Generis.” He met and addressed all sorts of scientists from astrophysicists to plastic surgeons; reading and learning about their work to be able to discuss their work with them from a more informed position.

Last May 8, Pius XII received a proclamation of heroic virtue, the first step up the ladder of sainthood. I asked Tornielli whether he thought he would live to see Pope Pacelli canonized. He shrugged with a wry smile, “All we can do is pray.” And in Tornielli’s case, publish.

Knight of the Round Table

Last week I met with David Quinn, an Irish journalist who for years served as editor of the Irish Catholic, the principal Catholic paper in Ireland. He still contributes columns to both the Irish Catholic and the Independent, but he has turned his journalistic talents in other directions as well, using his quick wits to grapple with the many-headed hydra of anti-Catholicism.

Although he was baptized Catholic in his native Ireland, it took several years in Australia, working and meeting with the lively evangelical community, to reawaken his Catholic faith and convert him “from a nominal Catholic to a committed one.”

Returning to Ireland, Quinn started his career as a journalist in 1994, working for the Sunday Business Post, but as the sexual scandals involving Irish priests swelled into epic proportions, he noticed that not one word was said or written in defense of the Church.

As people used the scandals to promote the question of married priests or simply to bash the Church for any of its positions, no one was prepared to answer. Quinn, probably drawing from his experience among the evangelicals, pugnaciously stepped into the breach.

As the lone Catholic journalist willing to explain and defend the position of the magisterium, Quinn was soon invited to debate on a myriad of subjects from priestly celibacy to same-sex marriage to atheism.

With his clear presentation, good old-fashioned common sense and, well, truth on his side, Quinn has done much to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of the Church.

How does he prepare for the diversity of topics he is called on to debate? “I’m fortunate enough to work in my area of interest — current affairs — so my work reading is also pleasure reading,” he said.

But Quinn soon realized that playing defense to the volleys of attacks wasn’t enough. Catholics in Ireland needed a presence that would study, analyze and defend the institution of marriage and the family.

In 2006 he founded the Iona Institute, dedicated to the defense of marriage, which so far has produced important studies documenting the effects of divorce, single parenting and same-sex marriage. He adamantly insists that those who claim that all forms of “family” are essential equal, must bear the burden of proof.

“Children cannot be used as a social experiment,” Quinn protests. “One can’t just wait and see how the children of these arrangements will be affected; the advocates of alternative families must demonstrate their claims.”

The institute also encourages the practice of religion, which is regarded with disdain by most of the Irish intelligentsia. But Quinn argues that the exaggerated personal authority of the modern age has led to higher crime, drug abuse and suicide rates than ever before: “It is far more difficult to have a strong civil society without a certain level of religious practice.”

Quinn has also jousted his foes firsthand, debating with atheists such as Richard Dawkins, author of the best-selling “The God Delusion,” and Christopher Hitchens, who has stooped so far as to denigrate Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. One senses that the chivalric spirit of the days of Knights of the Round Table may be slowly returning to the Isles.

“There has been a modest revival of Catholic apologists since I’ve started with the public debates,” Quinn admits. “Plenty of good people are covering bioethics and others have started to take an interest in defending the Catholic position on marriage.”

As the so-called Dark Age loomed after the fall of the Roman Empire, the papacy in Italy rallied the Christians while the Irish monks saved civilization. Andrea Tornielli and David Quinn remind us that we can still hope for great things from these two nations.



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!