Priesthood and the inistry of Women in the R.C. Church

Path to priesthood leads Ohio woman to create community at Hildegard Haus

May 28, 2020by Don ClemmerParishPeople

Shanon Sterringer is seen alongside an image of St. Hildegard of Bingen at Hildegard Haus, the church community she leads as a Roman Catholic woman priest in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. (Don Clemmer)Shanon Sterringer is seen alongside an image of St. Hildegard of Bingen at Hildegard Haus, the church community she leads as a Roman Catholic woman priest in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. (Don Clemmer)

FAIRPORT HARBOR, OHIO — Fairport Harbor, about 30 miles east of Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie, has a naturally ecumenical flavor. The village covers 1 square mile and is home to some 3,000 people and nine churches.

The newest addition to the village’s faith communities is Hildegard Haus, open since September, a community modeled on the spiritual vision of St. Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century German Benedictine abbess who was canonized and named a doctor of the church in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Community of St. Hildegard is led by Shanon Sterringer, a woman beloved to many village residents due to her decades working in ministry at Fairport Harbor’s Catholic parish, St. Anthony of Padua. Sterringer opened Hildegard Haus as the Hildegarden, a nondenominational retreat center in 2016, after purchasing the property from the Byzantine Catholic Church, which had closed the parish there in 2012.

Her work to transform that rundown building into a center for the whole community contributed to her being named Fairport Harbor’s Citizen of the Year in February 2019. That honor came in the middle of a nine-month sabbatical Sterringer took after exiting her role at St. Anthony, an interlude that culminated in her being ordained in Austria through the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

The move prompted a Dec. 17 letter from Bishop Nelson Perez, then head of the Cleveland Diocese, urging her to respond by Jan. 3, at which point he would communicate her “refusal to reconcile” to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Sterringer did not respond and openly admits she has effectively excommunicated herself under canon law.

“Most of us don’t set out saying, ‘I want to be excommunicated,’ ” said Sterringer, 47. “We’re on the margins, really, and kind of outside of [the Catholic Church]. At the same time, I still see us as part of a bigger body — of Christ.”

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Shanon Sterringer celebrates the Eucharist at Hildegard Haus in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. (Rick Sterringer)Shanon Sterringer celebrates the Eucharist at Hildegard Haus in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. (Rick Sterringer)

Sterringer’s story offers an insight into where the church in the United States finds itself, at a time of transition marked by the vision of reform modeled by Pope Francis, which includes major questions about the role and dignity of women in the church. Sterringer’s services at Hildegard Haus have drawn about 35 people on a given Sunday, more than a few of them from her former congregation at St. Anthony, which is visible just two blocks up the road.

Hildegard Haus has transformed the former Byzantine church, with the altar brought down from the sanctuary space and along one wall, with seating moving out from it in a semicircle. Depictions of St. Hildegard’s art line the walls of the bright, repurposed space, which Sterringer’s husband, Rick, helped to renovate.

On Sunday mornings, Sterringer leads a worship service modeled on Catholic Mass, but which is also a collaborative work in progress.

Journey in the church

“I’m not threatened by it,” said Fr. Pete Mihalic, longtime pastor at St. Anthony and Sterringer’s mentor, friend and godfather to her youngest daughter. “She was like an associate pastor here. I mean, she just did it all within the scope of what she was able to do and just transformed this place beautifully. The people love her very, very much.”

Sterringer, who began in the parish as sacristan at age 25, extended the reach of her duties over 22 years at St. Anthony by pursuing various degrees and certifications. She recognizes now that she felt a call to ordination from the beginning and was “trying to do everything I was allowed to do and hoping that would fulfill my call.”

This included a 2003 bachelor’s in religious studies from Cleveland State University; a 2007 master’s in theology from the diocese’s St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology; a second master’s degree from Ursuline College in 2011; a 2012 doctorate in ministry at St. Mary Seminary on women’s leadership in the church; and a 2016 doctorate from Union Institute and University. She also received certification as a diocesan master catechist, lay ecclesial minister, eucharistic minister, lector, marriage preparation minister and procurator in annulments.

She notes that people have since said to her, “What did the diocese think you were going to do with that kind of education if you didn’t have a call?”

Sterringer also participated in parish liturgies as fully as the church allows, wearing an alb as liturgist/master of ceremonies, to the point that people were used to seeing her at the altar. “Seeing a sanctuary that’s not just full of men forms people,” she noted. “There’s always a desire first to bring about as much positive change as you can within the fold.”

Sterringer took six months off during her studies for her first doctorate to give a look at the Episcopal Church. She recalled a decisive piece of advice from a mentor: “You need to discern if you’re called to the Episcopal Church or if you’re called to be Catholic in a new way.”

Sterringer added, “In my heart, I’m a Catholic.”

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A sign adorns the garden outside of Hildegard Haus. (Don Clemmer)A sign adorns the garden outside of Hildegard Haus. (Don Clemmer)

As she tried to figure out how to be Catholic in a new way, she discovered St. Hildegard. “She gave me hope. Here’s this strong woman who didn’t mince her words when addressing clergy or injustices, clericalism, and yet here she is a doctor of the church,” Sterringer said. “Based on what we know of history, it’s shocking she wasn’t burned on a pyre.”

In purchasing and renovating the former Byzantine Catholic church building into the Hildegarden retreat center, Sterringer saw herself paving a way for future generations, by lifting up the power of Hildegard’s charisms while knowing that she would never be ordained. She also saw it as an outlet for staying in a positive relationship “with an institution that’s not there yet.”

But as time wore on, Sterringer found something bigger kept throwing up roadblocks and pushing her further out.

“I felt like I was suffocating. I felt like I just wasn’t being who I was called to be,” she said of her last year at the parish.

Her work and ministry fell away, piece by piece. Conflicts with the diocese left her crying, feeling like she wasn’t living her vocation with integrity. The decisive moment came for her in August 2018, the night before she was to give the diocesan pastoral ministry retreat, when she learned that a friend, the bishop of Cuddapah, India, had been accused of misappropriating diocesan money to fund a luxurious double life with a wife and son.

“That just devastated me,” she said, noting that the sense of betrayal led her to realize, “I have nothing else to give here.”

When St. Anthony faced a budget shortfall the following year, she told her pastor to solve the deficit by eliminating her job. She recalls telling him, “I think God is calling me somewhere else.”

Her job ended in September 2018, leading to her sabbatical, a period of spiritual darkness and, ultimately, her decision to move forward with ordination.

“I didn’t want this place to be a zoo. I thought, that’s not what it’s about,” she says. Donations have included custom furnishing, banners, statues and other artwork.

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The statue "Shepherd Girl" by Dee Toscano was donated to the Hildegarden in 2018. (Don Clemmer)The statue “Shepherd Girl” by Dee Toscano was donated to the Hildegarden in 2018. (Don Clemmer)

“It’s been nothing but positive,” Sterringer’s husband, Rick, said of the reaction from the community. Shanon affirmed that support comes from unlikely types, such as older people who’ve stuck with the church all along.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride, that’s for sure,” Rick said of the experience of accompanying his wife through the discernment of her path.

Weathering COVID-19

Despite the community’s newness and small size, the COVID-pandemic hasn’t been deleterious to Hildegard Haus.

“When this pandemic first hit, I was very concerned,” said Sterringer. “It has really been enriching in a way I did not expect.”

Taking their community online, Sterringer has found that the numbers of people signing on for weekly vespersBible study and rosary are triple the church’s live congregation. The same goes for Sunday liturgies.

“Our weekly numbers have increased; collections have remained steady,” Sterringer said, adding that shortly after the community went into stay-at-home mode, they received an unexpected donation to help provide the resources they need “to weather this storm and secure our future.”

She likens her experience to how early church communities were formed, but now with Wi-Fi and electronic devices.

She has retained a good relationship with the local Catholic parish.

“Initially, she saw [Hildegard Haus] almost as a halfway house for disenfranchised Catholics to come home, but there’s so many from my experience,” says Sterringer’s former boss, Mihalic. “People are leaving. You don’t always have a context, an atmosphere in which to deal with that. She has that context, and they feel welcome there. And she can talk on that level with them.”

“We have a lot of people looking for healing,” said Mary Rininger, a former St. Anthony parishioner who attends Hildegard Haus with her husband, David. “They have been so hurt by the structured churches in their life, and not just the Catholic Church.”

“The church broke my heart” says Marty Hillyer, chair of the Hildegard Haus board, who says the abuse crisis first drove him away before Sterringer brought him back to church in 2017. “I really feel the love of God through her. … She is the poster child of what a priest should be.”

Patricia and Morgan Spiker, a couple from St. Anthony who’ve been married for 43 years, began attending Hildegard Haus in addition to St. Anthony as a way of supporting Sterringer. But Patricia notes, “We just fell in love with here. This is a wonderful place,” adding that it’s not unusual to find themselves talking about Shanon’s homily “all afternoon.”

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Patricia and Morgan Spiker at Hildegard Haus in Fairport Harbor, Ohio (Don Clemmer)Patricia and Morgan Spiker at Hildegard Haus in Fairport Harbor, Ohio (Don Clemmer)

“Her message, her homilies, have been phenomenal,” says Tim Kalista, a former priest of the Cleveland Diocese. “She’s trying to balance inclusivity with tradition.”

The “crime” of women priests is regarded as worse than sexual abuse in terms of the way it has to be resolved under canon law, Sterringer noted. “And I think most of the people sitting in the pew, whether they agree with women’s ordination or not,” and with friends and family attending denominations that ordain women, are asking themselves, “How can it be worse than a child being raped by a priest?”

This leads to a discordance people sense at a gut level, she says.

Approaches to reform

One curiosity of the timing of Sterringer’s move is that it comes nearly seven years into the pontificate of Francis, who is widely viewed as a reformer and who has even, for the last several years, sponsored commissions to explore the question of opening the diaconate up to women, even as he’s stated that he sees Pope John Paul II’s ban on ordaining women priests as forever binding.

“I think Francis introduces hope,” Sterringer said. She cited his recent comments that he isn’t afraid of schisms and noted that the change she hopes to affect runs deeper than the single issue of women’s ordination.

“If tomorrow Pope Francis said, ‘I’m ordaining women to every level of holy orders,’ our problems aren’t going to be resolved. They’re actually probably going to be a nightmare. And it’s probably going to be a war, really, because the respect isn’t there between the sexes.”

It’s unusual for Roman Catholic women priests to have their own physical church structure. (Sterringer currently owns Hildegard Haus, but is in the process of transferring ownership to the community via its board.)

“A lot of the women priests tend to respond once they’re retired,” Sterringer said, because it’s essentially a career-ending move. “One of the comments a friend of mine made … is, ‘You know, Shanon, you’re unemployed and unemployable. All of your degrees, all of your credentials are through an institution that has now blacklisted you, in a sense.’ ” (Sterringer is still paying off student loans from her two doctorates.)

She has heard similar sentiments from her family. Her oldest daughter, 26, is no longer affiliated with any organized religion. “She was very supportive, but she said, ‘Mom, why would you invest any more of yourself in the church? It’s taken already so much from you, and it’s just hurt you time and time again. Why would you give it anything else of yourself?’ “

Mihalic credits his friend for how she’s conducted herself on an otherwise fraught journey. “I think that’s Shanon’s biggest grace here is her transparency. She puts it on the line and says this is who I am, and this is how I feel God is calling me and, in a sense, take it or leave it.”

“I resisted it for well over a decade,” Sterringer said. “And when you finally get to that place when you know it’s time, it’s very heart-wrenching, because you know that there’s going to be a lot of loss and lot of grief and a lot of broken relationships and changed relationships. And yet I think when you’re at that place — ‘I lost everything. What else do I have to lose at this point?’ — that’s where that liberating grace comes through.”

[Don Clemmer is a writer, communications professional and former staffer of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Indiana and edits Cross Roads magazine for the Catholic Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter: @clemmer_don.]

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This article, from the U.S.-based NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER, describes the struggle of a Roman Catholic lay-assistant to be recognised for what she believes is a calling from God to become a priest.

From the unfolding of this story, it becomes obvious that the people whom she has served in her ministry at the church of St. Anthony of Padua, Fairport Harbor, in Ohio, have a high opinion of her participation in the activities of the local community.

Shanon Sterringer and her husband, Rick purchased and entirely renovated a redundant former Byzantine Catholic church building, incorporating it into the local Hildegarden retreat center. Sterringer saw herself paving a way for future generations, by lifting up the power of Hildegard’s charisms while knowing that she would never be ordained. She also saw it as an outlet for staying in a positive relationship “with an institution that’s not there yet.”

After her priestly ordination by a community of a dissident Community of Women Priests in Austria (where there is a movement for the Ordination of Women in the Roman Catholic Church) the local parish and the Bishop of the Diocese in Ohio have not succeeded in trying to get Shanon to renounce what they see as a spurious’ ordination’, and to seek resoration to the fold of the local Roman Catholic Church.

After a slow start, the renewed St. Hildegarde Centre has received visits from those in the Parish of St. Anthony who believe her priestly vocation to be authentic. Some of these have even moved away from the local parish to become part of the growing congregation served by The Revd. Shanon and her husband.

This movement, though reactionary to the unwillingness of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church to admit women to the prieshood; may yet convince Pope Francis (and others in the Vatican) that women have a right to priestly minitry on a par with men.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Do Christians and Muslims worship different Gods?

Is Allah a Different God Than the Biblical God?

by Gabriel Said ReynoldsMay 26, 202042327

1100 Kaaba Masjid Haraam Makkah

Islam is on the rise in the United States. According to a 2017 Pew Study, the Muslim American population is “growing rapidly” through a combination of immigration, conversion, and a high fertility rate. The growth of Islam in America means that Christians are interacting with Muslims more than ever before. How are Christians responding? The media often suggests that American Christians (especially Evangelicals) have turned Islamophobic, but at the talks I give around the country I encounter more curiosity about Islam than hatred or fear. Most questions I address are not about jihad or sharia, but about Allah. Christians regularly ask whether the God of Islam is the God of Christianity. Should Muslims, like Jews, be counted as fellow believers? Or is Allah a different God, the creation of Muhammad and fundamentally unlike the God of the Bible?

In his 1984 book Muhammad and the Christian the Anglican bishop Kenneth Cragg writes, “The answer to the vexed question, ‘Is the God of Islam and the God of the Gospel the same?’ can only rightly be ‘Yes!’ and ‘No!’.” The concern that led Cragg to this answer, or rather this failure to answer, is one shared by many orthodox Christians interested in friendship with Muslims. Muslims disagree with Christians on a number of things, including the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and the authority of the Bible. Yet many Christians are eager to emphasize what we hold in common with Muslims. Many hold up the piety of Muslims, particularly in their fidelity to prayer, as an example to be emulated.

The urge to recognize commonality with Muslims is felt more strongly by many Christians these days in the West, as the number of “nones” continues to grow and religion is pushed out of the public sphere. During a recent seminar on Islamic Origins at Notre Dame a Christian student raised some concern with “ideas that will inevitably antagonize Muslims,” adding, “Muslims are our allies against secularism.”

Yet other Christians feel the challenge from Muslims more acutely than they do the challenge of the nones. The God of Islam cannot be the true God, they hold, and the spread of Islam is necessarily a threat to the Church. Nabeel Qureshi, a Muslim-background Christian believer and author of Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, argues that the problem begins with the Qur’an’s position on Jesus:

Let’s start with the obvious: Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Quran is so opposed to this belief that it condemns Jesus worshipers to Hell ([Qur’an] 5.72). For Christians, Jesus is certainly God, and for Muslims Jesus is certainly not God. How can it be said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Qureshi (who died at the age of 34) was responding to a controversy that started with a Facebook post by Larycia Hawkins, the first female African-American tenured professor at evangelical Wheaton College. On December 10, 2015, Hawkins posted a picture of herself wearing an Islamic headscarf and wrote: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Now, Muslims generally do not consider themselves “People of the Book,” but instead reserve this title for Jews and Christians. And Christians usually do not adopt this title. For Christians, in fact, the center of the religion is Christ, not any book. It is also not clear what statement of Pope Francis Hawkins was referring to, although she was right about his belief that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

In a March 20, 2013 address to representatives of churches and world religions (after addressing some comments to Jewish representatives), he declared, “I greet and thank cordially all of you, dear friends belonging to other religious traditions; firstly the Muslims, who worship the one living and merciful God, and call upon Him in prayer.”

Hawkins’s post led to trouble with Wheaton. In part because of angry response by benefactors and alumni, she was put on leave for her statement, which the College held violated the statement of faith that she, like every other faculty member at Wheaton, had signed. Eventually Hawkins left Wheaton and was hired by the University of Virginia (her story is now featured in a documentary film entitled Same God).

Miroslav Volf, a prominent evangelical professor at Yale Divinity school (and author of a book entitled Allah: A Christian Response) entered the fray with a Washington Post editorial entitled: “Wheaton professor’s suspension Is about anti-Muslim bigotry, not theology.” Volf argues that only bigotry against Muslims could have motivated Wheaton’s move. After all, Jews hold a teaching on God that is not far from that of Muslims. Jews, too, deny the Trinity and the Incarnation, and yet Christians have no problem affirming that the Jewish God is their God. It was Volf’s editorial that provoked Nabeel Qureshi to intervene on the other side of the question.

Volf’s argument faltered on the fact that Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike know God not only through reflection on the created order and the human person, but also through his self-disclosure as transmitted in scripture. There’s the rub: Christians and Jews share a Scripture. Christians and Muslims do not. Muslims do not recognize the Old or the New Testament. They judge the Bible muharraf, or “falsified.” This does not mean that they do not know God, but it does mean that getting to a “yes” answer on the same God question is not as easy as pointing to the case of the Jews. One cannot simply say, “Jews also reject the Trinity, but Christians have no problem there!”

The Catholic Church since Vatican II has taught in different ways that Muslims and Christians do worship the same God. Lumen Gentium §16 includes the line: “Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind [nobiscum Deum adorant unicum, misericordem].” Pope Saint John Paul II, speaking in front of a soccer stadium filled with young Muslims in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1985, famously declared:

We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.

More recently Pope Francis implied as much when he signed the Declaration on Human Fraternity in early 2019, together with the grand imam of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi. Therein the two religious leaders mutually declare: “We, who believe in God and in the final meeting with Him and His judgment.”

Yet while the Church has affirmed that Muslims and Christians worship the same God it has never explained clearly its reasoning. Just as it is not enough to point to the case of the Jews, it is not enough simply to affirm that both Muslims and Christians worship one God. A question lies before us: does the Islamic understanding of that one God correspond closely enough to how God has revealed himself to Israel and the Church?

A thought experiment might prove this point: Suppose I were to start a new religion today, teaching a 21st version of Marcionism, that the one God is evil and created the world because he enjoys watching humans suffer? Or, perhaps, that the one God is a physical being who lives in the next solar system? Most Christians (and Muslims) would deny that my god is their God, even though we both believe in one God.

Yet believers do not have to agree on everything about God to affirm that we share belief in him. My wife’s understanding of God is no doubt different from mine in certain ways although we are both Catholics. Nevertheless, we hold so much in common in regard to God that neither of us doubt that we worship the same God. The relationship of Christian and Islamic conceptions of God presumably lies somewhere in between these two cases. But which does it resemble more? Is there enough in common between Islamic and Christian conceptions of God to affirm that we worship him together?

The first step is to examine the presentation of God in the Qur’an, and the first thing a curious reader will find is how the Islamic scripture repeatedly emphasizes the mercy of God. Every chapter, or Sura, of the Qur’an (except for one, Sura 9), begins with the invocation (known as the basmala in Islamic tradition): “In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.” In four passages (all involving Biblical characters: Q 7:151; 12:64; 12:92; 21:83), God is described in the Qur’an as “most merciful of the merciful.” And on 56 occasions the Qur’an simply names God “The Merciful One” (in Arabic, al-Rahman, a name that was used already in Ancient South Arabian to refer to God).

A number of scholars have argued that mercy is the primary or fundamental attribute of the Qur’anic God. In a recent article the Pakistani-American scholar Mustansir Mir writes, “I would like to begin by making a statement that, I hope, will not be taken as too radical, namely, that the God of the Qurʾān has, essentially, only one attribute—that of mercy.” Another Pakistani-American scholar who taught at the University of Chicago in an earlier generation, Fazlur Rahman, similarly once commented: “The immediate impression from a cursory reading of the Qurʾan is that of the infinite majesty of God and His equally infinite mercy.”

A careful reading of the Qur’an, however, suggests that God’s mercy may not be infinite after all. A phrase in Qur’an 7:156 famously has God declare: “My mercy embraces all things.” Rahman, like many others, cites this phrase to make a case for the mercifulness of the Qur’an’s God. In so doing, however, he leaves out what God says just before: “I visit My punishment on whomever I wish.” The Qur’anic God is thus more complicated (and more interesting). Divine mercy does not exclude divine punishment. Indeed, Q 7:156 suggests that God can act in an inscrutable manner. He punishes “whomever” he wishes.

Even Pope Francis has emphasized divine mercy in the Qur’an. In his papal bull, Misericordiae Vultus, which announced a Jubilee year in the Catholic Church (from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016) dedicated to the theme of mercy, he wrote:

Among the privileged names that Islam attributes to the Creator are “Merciful and Kind.” This invocation is often on the lips of faithful Muslims who feel themselves accompanied and sustained by mercy in their daily weakness. They too believe that no one can place a limit on divine mercy because its doors are always open.

A closer look at the Qur’an, however, suggests that there are times when the doors of mercy are closed. The Qur’an speaks of a God who is unpredictable, who is both merciful and vengeful. On four occasions (3:4; 5:95; 14:47; 39:37) the Qurʾan describes God as “avenger” or “vengeful,” in Arabic, dhu intiqam. It is true that God guides humans by sending them prophets in the Qur’an. But he also destroys people who deny those prophets. In a number of Suras (notably 7, 11, 26, 37, and 54) the Qur’an tells tales—known to scholars as “punishment stories”—of Biblical (Noah, Lot, Moses) and non-Biblical (Hud, Salih, Shuʿayb) prophets whom God sends to offer instruction to their peoples on proper faith. Every time, however, the people disbelieve, and every time they are destroyed by a flood, by a rain of stones, or by a cosmic “shout.”

There is something more interesting, too, about the Qur’anic God’s enmity towards unbelievers. He does not simply judge them. He does not simply punish them. He actively leads them astray. In Q 13:27 the Qur’an explains, “Surely God leads astray whomever He pleases and guides to Himself whoever turns (to Him).” Elsewhere the Qur’an declares: “Those who deny Our signs are deaf and dumb, in a manifold darkness. Allah leads into error whomever He wishes, and whomever He wishes He puts him on a straight path” (Q 6:39). The first Sura of the Qur’an has the believer pray to God, “Guide us on the straight path (sirat)” (Q 1:6). This prayer makes sense because God is capable of guiding humans elsewhere. In fact in Sura 37 we find God (speaking of the wrongdoers—and their wives) telling the angels, “Guide them on the path (sirat) of hell” (Q 37:23).

The God of the Qur’an is also not above using tricks. In its third Sura the Qur’an alludes to some enmity among the Israelites surrounding Jesus and declares, “They plotted and God plotted. God is the best of plotters” (Q 3:54). This cryptic declaration is usually explained with a story connected to the famous Crucifixion verse of the Qur’an (Q 4:157), which speaks of something “appearing” to the Israelites on the day of the Crucifixion.

Muslim commentators tie these verses together by explaining that when God saw Jews “plotting” to kill Jesus he transformed someone else into a likeness of Jesus (some traditions make this a friend, even Peter, while other traditions make this an enemy of Jesus: Judas). This “someone else” was crucified while God raised Jesus through a hole in the roof of the house where he was staying up to him in heaven. This was God’s “counter-plot” against the Israelite enemies of Jesus.

The Qur’an also speaks of how God and Satan “adorn” or “decorate” (the Arabic verb is zayyana) bad works to make them look good. A number of passages have Satan responsible for this sort of deception. In Sura 6:43 the divine voice of the Qurʾan asks why the unbelievers do not turn to God, and then gives the answer: “Then why did they not entreat when Our punishment overtook them! But their hearts had hardened and Satan had made what they had been doing seem decorous (zayyana) to them.”

But God can “decorate” evil deeds too: In Qurʾan 27:4 it is God who declares: “As for those who do not believe in the Hereafter, We have made their deeds seem decorous (zayyanna) to them, and so they are bewildered.” He purposefully deceives them, for He does not love them: “God does not love any sinful unbeliever” (Q 2:276) and “God does not love the faithless” (Q 3:32). One passage (Q 40:10) even suggests that God hates the unbelievers (depending on how one interprets the Arabic word maqt).

In thinking through this jarring language, however, readers should keep two things in mind. First, it is important to distinguish between the fundamental disposition which the God of the Qur’an manifests towards humanity: first, in creation itself, and, second, in the sending of prophets. Time and again the Qur’an speaks of the goodness of creation, describing that goodness as a gift from God that should provoke gratitude (tellingly, the Arabic word for an unbeliever, kafir, can also mean an “ingrate”). The Qur’an’s job is to call attention to this goodness. In one passage it does this simply by asking man to think about where his food comes from:

“Let man consider his food: We pour down plenteous water [from the sky], then We split the earth making fissures in it and make the grain grow in it, as well as vines and vegetables, olives and date palms, and densely-planted gardens, fruits and pastures, as a sustenance for you and your livestock” (Q 80:24-32).

Creation itself is thus an act of divine beneficence, and so is the act of reminding forgetful humans of creation’s goodness. In a class I once taught in an Indiana state prison, a Muslim inmate explained why he believed in God by pointing out the barred window and exclaiming, “God made everything in the world for us.”

Islamic tradition makes an interesting distinction between the two words which describe God in the opening invocation of the Qur’an: “compassionate [rahman]” and “merciful [rahim].” According to some theologians God is compassionate (rahman) in extending to all of humanity the gifts of creation. God is merciful (rahim), meanwhile, in forgiving believers (and believers alone).

Second, the wrath of the God of Islam is not so different from the wrath of the God of the Bible, who, too, can be vengeful and carry out plots against unbelievers. As Ulrich Lehner has recently put it in the title of his book . . . God is Not Nice. How else is one to understand the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the drowning of the Egyptians in the Sea? True, the New Testament communicates clearly the tender love of God for all of the world (“For God so loved the world,” John 3:16 says, not “For God loved some people in the world”). But the New Testament certainly leaves a place for divine vengeance. Quoting Deuteronomy, Paul warns the Romans, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom 12: 19).

It is a common belief in divine goodness, however, that best supports the same-God position. Alluding to certain Qur’anic turns of phrase, Nostra Aetate says of Muslim, “They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men.” The Council Fathers were right to emphasize these divine attributes that Muslims hold in common with Christians, but the attribute of goodness stands highest. Among the ninety-nine names of God in Islamic tradition is latif, “kind,” “gracious,” or “good” (another is al-malik, “the king”). It is the fundamental aspect of divine goodness, of divine mercy manifested in the gifts of creation and the sending of prophets, that allows us to answer “yes” to the same God question.

This is not to mean that theological controversy will or should end. Muslims through the years have attacked Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. It did not prevent the high court of Malaysia in 2014 from banning the use of the word “Allah” by Christians. Still, while it is none of my business to make theological propositions on behalf of Muslims, it is right to point out that the Qur’an itself agrees that we worship the same God. In Q 29:46 the Qur’an has God announce: “Say: ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us, and what has been sent down to you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we have surrendered.”

Nor should this “yes” answer compromise the missionary impulse that Jesus gave to the Church in the Great Commission. Christians rightly hold that the Church has something to teach Muslims. God has revealed his nature in a special way through the course of salvation history. In a special way he has humbled himself to be “God with us” in the Incarnation. Yet, we can also recognize that the Qur’anic description of God fundamentally agrees with what the Church knows of the goodness and sovereignty of God. For this reason Saint John Paul II proclaimed in front of that crowded Moroccan soccer stadium, “We believe in the same God!” For this reason Christians can rightly see Muslims as brothers and sisters, and, yes, allies in a struggle with aggressive secularism. We are brothers and sisters not only because of our shared humanity, but also because of our shared faith in God.

Featured Image: Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Kaaba Masjid Haraam Makkah, December 2018; Source: Wikimedia Commons, Free Art License.

Posted in Theology

Author

Gabriel Said Reynolds

Gabriel Said Reynolds is Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology at the University of Notre Dame and author of Allah: God in the Qur’an. He is the host of the Minding Scripture podcast.

READ MORE BY GABRIEL SAID REYNOLDS

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This article, from the ‘CHURCH LIFE JOURNAL’ (University of Notre Dame) addresses the oft-debated question of whether, or not, Muslim and Christians actually worship the same God. Despite manifest differences in emphasis on the character and nature of God’s Being and Provenance, the similarities between the Koranic and the Biblical understanding of God – the ONE TRUE GOD for both religious traditions – could be seen to far outweigh the philosophical differences.

First and foremost, the understanding of God as ONE – shared by both Muslims and Christians – is yet different in the Christian understanding of God as Triniy of Persons: One God in Three Persons – Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Christians still speak of God in the Creeds in this way: “We believe in ONE GOD….” – going on to express their belief in the 3-fold nature of God in ways that explain that, though God is One; God is also capable of encompassing 3 discrete identities. Perhaps one way of trying to come to terms with this might me to speak of one person with 3 different passports (not a perfect way of explanation of a matter that may seem to defy rational explanation).

The overarching nature of God, as shown in both the Bible and the Koran, expresses God’s compassion and mercy – two aspects of God that are paramount in God’s dealing with humanity. That there is also a Divine Wrath is expressed in both Biblical and Koranic stories is undeniable. But if one were to try to equate the exercise of Mercy with that of God’s Wrath (in either the Bible or the Koran) they would not balance one another in action but rather God’s Wrath is outweighed by evidence of God’s Mercy – a matter most important for religious understanding of the One True God believed in by both traditions.

Recent Popes have stated their belief in a Common Deity – the One True God of Christians and Muslims – not to deny the uniqueness of the Trinitarian understanding God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but, rather, to identify the Fatherhood of God as distinguishing the God of All Creation, in Whom and through Whom the Cosmos came into being. This God is primarily the God of Mercy, to Whom we all owe our worship and our fidelity as human beings – created in the Divine Image and Likeness.

We. here in Christchurch, New Zealand – because of the devastating carnage that took place recently in our history, that claimed the lives of manyMuslims as they were at worship in their mosques – have come to a better understanding of the humanity we share with a class of people whose spiritual devotion to the One True God is not so very different from that of those of us who are Christians. Since that time, many of us have discovered a commonality with one another in tragedy, that we might never have discovered in any other circumstances when going about our busy lives.

A wave of Compassion was brought into being that might never have been otherwise expressed or experienced – a situation that has made us step back and review what we have in common with one another as human beings, rather than any differences we may have experienced as worshippers of what we might have thought of as ‘different Gods’.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Catholic and Orthodox Sharing Eucharist in Pandemic?

A proposal for Catholic-Orthodox eucharistic sharing during the pandemic

May 25, 2020by John D. FarisOpinionTheology – NATIONAL CATHOLUIC RECORDER –

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis smile during a meeting at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana in this Feb. 12, 2016, file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis March 27 characterized the worldwide trauma as: “God’s call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on.” Can this occasion also be a time of deeper communion among us?

Catholics, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox hierarchs, pastors and faithful agree that the Eucharist, the body and blood of the Son of God, is the most precious gift of God to the church.  It is of paramount importance to us!

Nevertheless, while sharing the same belief in the supreme importance of the Eucharist, we still refrain from sharing the bread and cup with each other because of doctrinal divergences.

Perhaps this pandemic is an occasion for those committed to fostering the unity of Christians to consider a leap forward: Would the Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches consider an expansion of sacramental sharing, especially eucharistic sharing, on a reciprocal, ordinary basis?

Pope Francis talks with Archbishop Stefan of Skopje, spiritual head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, at the Vatican May 24, 2019. (CNS/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters)

A basis for such consideration can be gleaned from the common declarations and statements already issued by the churches. For example, the 1996 Armenian and Catholic Common Declaration stated that the leaders of the two communities, Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I, recognized “the deep spiritual communion which already unites them and the Bishops, clergy and lay faithful of their Churches.”

“Because of the fundamental common faith in God and in Jesus Christ, the controversies and unhappy divisions which sometimes have followed upon the divergent ways in expressing it … should not continue to influence the life and witness of the Church today,” said the declaration.

Additional doctrinal agreements may not be required for the provisions of sacramental sharing to be expanded. The phrase “almost perfect unity” and similar language have been used for decades in various forms in common declarations.

The mere existence of the current provisions in Catholic canon law allowing eucharistic sharing with the Orthodox under certain conditions is an indicator that the Catholic Church believes that there is sufficient doctrinal agreement for some form of sacramental sharing (known in Catholic parlance as communicatio in sacris), albeit it on an exceptional basis.

Doctrinal accords should not be the only concern used as an accurate indicator of when full communion has been achieved.

We must recall that doctrinal and disciplinary accords were reached between the East and West at the Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1431-1449), only to disintegrate shortly thereafter because real full communion had not been achieved. Accords had been articulated and signed, but communion had not been established. In the modern world, the Holy Spirit has seen fit to restore “almost perfect communion” without having yet achieved complete doctrinal consensus.

Pope Francis offered a similar approach in a May 2018 audience at the Vatican with a delegation from the Patriarchate of Moscow.

“Ecumenism is made by journeying,” said the pontiff. “We walk. Some think — but this is not right — that there must first be doctrinal agreement, on all the points of division, and then the journey.”

“We must continue to study theology, to clarify the points, but in the meantime let us walk together, let us not wait for these things to be resolved in order to walk,” he said.

Bulgarian Orthodox men take part in a Good Friday liturgy at St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral in Sofia April 10, 2015. (CNS/Stoyan Nenov, Reuters)

Catholic canon law in the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (and its counterpart the 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church) already provides for sacramental sharing in extraordinary circumstances:

  • Canon 670Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Paragraph 1 provides that Catholic Christian faithful for a just reason can attend the liturgical worship of other Christians and participate in the same, observing the other requirements of law.
  • Canon 670, Paragraph 2 gives the eparchial bishop the power to grant the use of a Catholic building, cemetery, or church to non-Catholic Christians if they lack a place in which divine worship can be celebrated with dignity.
  • Canon 671, Paragraph 2 allows for Catholic Christians to approach a non-Catholic minister to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick on an exceptional basis if they cannot approach a Catholic minister and the dangers of error and indifferentism are avoided.
  • Canon 671, Paragraph 3 allows for Catholic ministers to administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick to Eastern non-Catholic Christians on an exceptional basis if these faithful request for them on their own and are properly disposed.
  • Canon 681, Paragraph 5 permits the licit baptism of an infant of non-Catholic Christians if their parents or at least of them or the personal responsible for them requests it and it is morally or physically impossible for them to approach their own minister. In such as case, the child would ordinarily be ascribed to the church of the non-Catholic parents or the one taking their place.
  • Canon 833, Paragraph 1 permits a local hierarch to give any Catholic priest the faculty of blessing the marriage of the Christian faithful of an Eastern non-Catholic Church if those faithful cannot approach a priest of their own Church with grave difficult and they voluntarily request it, provided nothing stands in the way of a valid and licit celebration.

These pastoral accommodations are consequences of the Second Vatican Council and truly mark a notable transformation in the relations among our churches. Nevertheless, these norms of the Catholic Church are deficient in certain ways.

The first deficiency is that they are the unilateral canonical provisions of the Catholic Church. Of course, the Catholic Church would not presume to legislate on behalf of the Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox Churches. In the 1993 Ecumenical Directory, the Catholic Church is clear that the Orthodox Churches may not accept or even expressly reject such eucharistic sharing practices and advises its own pastors and faithful to be sensitive to their position.

What is still needed is a reciprocal arrangement whereby the Orthodox and Catholics permit their ministers to administer the Eucharist to faithful from the other church and their faithful to receive the Eucharist in the other church.

While discussions would best take place in the context of the ecumenical dialogues, perhaps a bilateral approach, i.e., the Catholic Church along with another Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox Church, is the best that can be achieved at this time that would allow for a gradual expansion of sacramental sharing.

It should be understood that an expansion of sacramental sharing with one church would not be indicative of a greater degree of communion with the Catholic Church. Such an approach would recognize the distinct issues of each church. In any case, a differentiated approach to sacramental sharing (e.g., baptism, Eucharist, and marriage) is actually the current arrangement.

The second deficiency is that they are exceptional. Prescinding from issue of concelebration among bishops and priests, could not the faithful be permitted to receive a sacrament from the minister of another church simply for a just cause?

Indifferentism and false irenicism are to be avoided. Nonetheless, in this present worldwide crisis, could receiving communion in Orthodox and Catholic Churches by the faithful of these churches be a new sign of closeness and desire for full communion?

The hierarchies of our respective churches will continue to teach that our churches are not yet in full communion nor are all the doctrinal disagreements resolved, and that they will commit themselves to journey together seeking a common understanding of the mystery of salvation.

Nonetheless, we should pray that Divine Providence will transform some of the disagreements into mere differences.

An expansion of sacramental sharing would mean that the Eucharist would no longer be a bellwether of division, but rather a sign of the ecclesial communion that already exists. We shall continue the journey together — to use the image of Pope Francis — to full communion, knowing that it will be achieved only ultimately when we see the Lord.

[John D. Faris is a Chorbishop in the Maronite Catholic Church. He is a member of the Catholic delegation on the national ecumenical dialogues with the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox, and a member of the Vatican’s delegation on the international dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox.]

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Is this Pandemic offering an opportunity for Inter-Communion of Catholic and Orthodox Believers? From this article by John D. Farris, featured in the American NCR, it would seem to be a disctinct possibility.

What has taken centuries of speculation between Orthodox and Catholic theologians may – because of the adverse effects of congregational worship occasiones by COVID 19 – at last be though of as a possibility.

The question might be asked; why has it taken a world-wide crisis to bring about the sort of Christian reconciliation that across-the-border ecmunenists have been looking for? It is surely significant that at the heart of this proposed convergence should be the Celebration and Partaking of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist!

Is this the beginning of a new era of Christian Unity, in which all who believe in the efficacy of the Sacrament of Christ’s Presence in the Holy Communion/Mass/Eucharist can agree on the efficacy of the ‘Body of Christ’ ministry it signifies?

The agreement of Pope And Patriarch (Orthodox and Catholic) would be only the beginning of what could be an expression of the Unity of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, that all Christians claim to be their spitritual inheritance.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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France’s Council of State ends religious gathering ban

  1. CathNews NZ Pacific

Thursday, May 21st, 2020 – CATHNEWS (NZ)

France’s religious gathering ban must be lifted within eight days, says the French Council of State. The Council is France’s highest administrative court.

Currently, all gatherings in places of worship are banned except for funerals, which are limited to 20 people.

After receiving many complaints, the Council ruled on Monday that the ban on religious gatherings is a disproportionate response to the coronavirus (COVID-29) pandemic “…and therefore constitutes a serious and manifest violation of the freedom of worship.”

There has been a religious gathering ban in France for eight weeks, since the country’s shelter-in-place lockdowns were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Council’s decision overturns the country’s 11 May policy that banned all indoor religious gatherings except for funerals for funerals.

It remains to be seen what move the government will take to respect the decision while retaining a safe environment in churches, mosques and other places of worship.

It is not yet clear how many people will be permitted to attend Masses and other religious gatherings in France as a result of the decision.

It is also not clear whether French Catholics will return to Mass.

Although 41 percent of people in France identified as Catholic in a survey last year, fewer than five percent say they attended Sunday Mass before the pandemic struck.

Nearly 180,000 people in France have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 28,000 died from the disease. Among those, were many who became infected from a cluster in February that originated at an evangelical church. Thousands of people gathered in Mulhouse for a week of activities. More than 2,500 cases are said to have been linked to it worldwide.

Although France has one of the highest reported death rates from the virus in the world, new diagnoses and fatalities have slowed in recent weeks.

(See also:) https://cathnews.co.nz/2020/05/21/mass-rome-coronavirus-covid-19/

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Although here in New Zealand our situation re the COVID 19 pandemic is less serious than that in Europe, we still have gatherings in our church buildings restricted to 10 people at any one time. It is hoped that, after government meetings with various religious leaders here, more people will soon be allowed to take part in worship.

Christians are not alone in their inability to worship in their religious buildings. In New Zealand, Muslims and other Faith communities are also restricted to a limit of 10 people to gather in public worship.

In the meantime, Faith Leaders are challenging the N.Z.Government’s decision to allow more people to gather in other places of public meeting – cinemas, restaurants, and bars are now open to the general public, with a more generous allowance of up to 100 at any one time to be on the premises – while maintaining the 10-person restriction on religious gatherings.

One of the arguments put forward by the N.Z. Government is that Churches are places where the people gather for purely social reasons, while other gatherings are for a more utilitarian purpose. This argument, though, seems unreasonable – certainly when one considers the object of religious gatherings is, primarily, to worship God. Of course there is also an objective of meeting together in fellowship, but then, is that really any different from the motivation of people gathering in a bar or restaurant?

Now that European Churches are being allowed to open up for larger gathering – as shown in the article here about churches in France, and in Italy – both of which countries have far more threat of infection from COVID 19 than we here in New Zealand – it is to be hoped that our own government might be persuaded that, with proper precautions, we too could open our churches up to larger congregations that currently allowed.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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African Women Theologians incorporate both tradition and modernity.

Four African women share wisdom for a suffering world

Visiting famous hanging monasteries in Meteora, Greece, are, from left to right, Nontando Hadebe, Annastacia Mphuthi, Pride Makgato and Sagoema Maredi. (Courtesy of Dale Halladay)

Two months ago, I was privileged to accompany a remarkable group of people touring ancient Christian sites in Greece. While our focus was on women leaders in early Christianity, I could not help but notice some impressive female leaders traveling right alongside us.

The witness of four women from South Africa was especially compelling. They helped us appreciate diverse understandings of God in an African cultural context.

At a pilgrimage prayer service dedicated to the “God Beyond all Names,” Nontando Hadebe, reflected that in most African languages there are no pronouns: “So for our understanding of God, it is more the mystery, the greatness of God. … The gendering or masculinization of God is not something that you find in African traditional religions.”

Further, “African religions are diverse and communal in origin. … They don’t have a founder such as Mohammed, or Moses or Jesus.” African traditional religious “emerged over centuries from communities gathering together, acquiring wisdom and reflecting on life.”

For Africans, said Hadebe, “You express your faith in God in the way you treat your fellow human beings. … The understanding of what it means to be human is you are human in your relationship with others. Descartes says, ‘I think therefore I am,’ but African traditional religions say, ‘I relate, therefore I am.’ ”

The African bishops’ synodal document, “Ecclesia in Africa,” and the work of African theologians greatly benefited inculturation and evangelization, she said. Cultural values from African traditional religions have been appropriated and reflected in African Christianity “so that Christianity has an African face.” For example, the idea of the church “as the extended family of God” incorporates African communal values.

Born into a Catholic family in Zimbabwe, Hadebe teaches systematic theology, pastoral ministry and African spirituality at St. Augustine College in Johannesburg, South Africa.

A member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, she is passionate about gender equality, Africanization and social justice. These she brings to her weekly radio program with Radio Veritas, which is the only Catholic radio channel in South Africa and reaches 4 million people.

Thanks to Hadebe’s initiative and encouragement, three other South African women — including two millennials — joined our pilgrimage. Their stories are fascinating.

Annastacia Mphuthi heads the Office of Divine Worship and Liturgy for the Johannesburg Archdiocese. In this capacity, she gives workshops in faith communities throughout the archdiocese, training people to be communion ministers, lectors and in other liturgical ministries.

Because of tribal beliefs about female menstruation, one problem Mphuthi frequently faces is that parish leaders — including priests and pastoral council members — sometimes resist permitting women to distribute Communion or proclaim the Word. “They believe the women are not supposed to be entering the sanctuary,” she says.

With the support of her archbishop, Buti Tlhagale, Mphuthi works with communities telling them they “need to respect women” and that while inculturation is a value, “they must understand the church culture as well,” and the church culture is to include women. Other liturgical elements that sometimes require education and intervention include appropriate times for dancing and drumming — fine at the “Gloria,” but not at the “Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).”

 

Sagoema Maredi, Pride Makgato, Nontando Hadebe and Annastacia Mphuthi (Courtesy of Russ Petrus)

Two millennial women, Sagoema Maredi and Pride Makgato, blessed us with their youthful energy and fresh vision.

Maredi describes herself as a “born and bred” Catholic from South Africa. She studied theology with Hadebe, an unusual choice for a millennial woman. “It’s a very embarrassing story,” she laughs. The impetus came from reading “the buzz book” at the time, Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code: “I went to watch the movie ‘Angels and Demons’ with my sister, and there was Tom Hanks in the Vatican, able to interpret all those ancient languages and statues and history. … I decided ‘He’s very smart, I want to be able to do that.’ I guess I’ve lived my life wanting to be like Tom Hanks.”

After majoring in the Old Testament and Hebrew in college, Maredi had an opportunity to continue graduate studies but chose to enter the workforce instead. She now works at Baptist Theological College in Johannesburg, where she was recently promoted to academic program administrator, the first black woman to hold that position. She hopes to expand awareness of the need for pastors to address social ills which she finds “too rarely thought of” in South African seminaries.

Makgato describes herself as “a 24-year-old proud black woman” and cradle Catholic who “did all my sacraments,” although her mother gave her the option of waiting to be confirmed. After having a spiritual experience one Christmas, Makgato changed from her initial career path as a beautician: “I don’t know if I can call it a religious experience, but I think I had one. And being a beautician or becoming a makeup artist just didn’t make sense to me anymore.”

Makgato’s grandmother had asked the family to attend Mass together before Christmas dinner.

“And just being in a church after I hadn’t been to church in so long, really moved me,” said Makgato. “It changed me, I guess. I don’t know, maybe it was the service that was held, but it evoked something in me.”

After the meal, Makgato found information about St. Augustine College in her grandmother’s church newspaper. She is now pursuing a bachelor of theology degree, an experience she says is “quite amazing.”

 

A food line at a school near Cape Town, South Africa, May 4. (CNS/Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

 

One of the things Makgato loves about the Catholic Church is that it is different from other churches in her culture that do not allow women to be in a room with men or with the tribal elders without a head covering and a long skirt: “So I think I also love the Roman Catholic Church because I’m allowed to be myself. And although it has not progressed to what we want it to be, I’m not told what I should wear.”  She was confirmed last November.

Since returning home in mid-March I have been in regular communication with each of these South African “soul sisters.” Like ours, their country is suffering greatly in lockdown from the coronavirus. Thankfully each of them is healthy, if anxious about their families and worried about the poverty stricken who have even fewer options than the poor in the U.S.

After a generous benefactor helped with her fees, Makgato is thrilled that she will be able to continue theology studies in June, but worried because classes will be online and her internet access is unreliable. She is also dismayed that so many government officials are “stealing food parcels that are meant to be given to the poor.”

Because of the quarantine, neither Mphuthi nor her husband are working, so they are financially struggling. They are also concerned about their son who is frustrated by the pace of online classes and poor internet access. “But we give it all to God,” she writes.

The peripatetic Hadebe is up to her usual good works including joining with the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians “to respond to gendered aspects [of COVID-19] such as the rise in domestic violence” and aiding an ecumenical effort to help grassroots pastors who have lost income due to church closures. A week ago, on Soweto TV, she joined a panel of religious leaders addressing domestic violence through the story of the biblical Tamar.

Hadebe’s reflection on COVID-19 is inspiring:  “It challenges us to answer the call that we are each other’s keepers, the pain of the other is my pain — reflected in the African teaching of ubuntu — I am because we are, my humanity is tied up with yours. COVID-19 calls us to renew our commitment to each other for the common good.”

[St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk, an NCR board member, served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. Her recent book, Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity, was awarded first place in the history category by the Catholic Press Association. She holds master’s degrees in nursing and theology.]

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How refreshing, in our world where women still struggle for an equal place in society, to find women from South Africa who are not only competent theologians but also helping their African sisters to understand that they have a place in re-educating their menfolk – and the hierarchy of the Christian Churches – to overcome the sexist prejudice that has so often held back the valuable resources that women possess as fellow human beings.

What is also refreshing about this story, is the willingness of these women to be ready to acknowledge the value of their own folk religion’s tendency to recognize God as Creator and Redeemer of ALL whom God has created. While not denying the uniqueness of Jesus, they are also stressing our human need for solidarity with one another as fellow human beings – regardless of race, religion,  nationality, gender, or social status.

This outlook is refreshing at a time when some world leaders are becoming more alienated from nations different in ethnic and social status from their own. In a world where Donald Trump can isolate America from countries he suspects as threatening the security of Americans; we have here women from Africa, who recognize the need for international human solidarity and interdependence, based on precepts of the Christian Gospel: “In Christ, there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew….”.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Joe Biden – Preferred Candidate for POTUS

ELECTION

Two major LGBTQ rights organizations endorse Joe Biden

Joe Biden, Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality

Joe BidenPhoto: Shutterstock

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) have both endorsed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for president.

Their endorsement comes on the eighth anniversary of Biden’s historic 2012 Meet The Press interview in which he voiced support for marriage equality before President Barack Obama had.

Related: HRC announces Alphonso David as first person of color to helm the veteran LGBTQ organization\

At the time, Biden said, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women… entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties [as heterosexual couples.]” Though his spokesperson later tried to claim that Biden hadn’t actually come out for same-sex marriage, he undeniably had.

HRC’s 26-member Board of Directors “unanimously and enthusiastically” voted to endorse Biden for president.

“Vice President Joe Biden is the leader our community and our country need at this moment,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “His dedication to advancing LGBTQ equality, even when it was unpopular to do so, has pushed our country and our movement forward.”

“This November, the stakes could not be higher,” David continued. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence have spent the last three and a half years rolling back and rescinding protections for LGBTQ people. Joe Biden will be a president who stands up for all of us.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the NCTE Action Fund, similarly praised Biden while condemning Trump.

“Joe Biden is the advocate and president we need at this consequential moment,” Keisling wrote. “The Trump administration is really the discrimination administration. President Trump has attacked transgender health care, put transgender students unnecessarily at risk and led a consistent and unrelenting effort to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans.”

Keisling continued, “Biden has a strong agenda for addressing the issues that face transgender Americans, a record of getting big ideas done during his time as Vice President in the Obama-Biden administration and a history of ensuring that transgender people are protected, including protections for transgender women as part of the reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act he authored.”

“With Joe Biden, we know we will be engaged, we will be seen, and we will not be erased,” Keisling concluded.

In 2012, Biden called trans rights the “civil rights issue of our time,” saying something few Democratic politicians or Obama administration members dared to. He also helped staff various administration positions with trans people, and assisted with the repeal of the military ban on LGBTQ service members.

During his 36 years as a Delaware’s senator, Biden helped establish the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which provides federal funding for HIV-related healthcare, and helped reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief
(PEPFAR), an international plan for reducing HIV infections worldwide. He also helped repeal the travel ban on HIV-positive people.

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This latest endorsement by two LGBT+ organisations in the USA helps to focus the attention of North Americans on the conversely repressive activity of Donald Trump’s presidency – that threatens their specific human rights if Trump is re-elected for a further term as President of the USA (POTUS).

Since Trump’s epic program of collusion with the American Religious Right, wherein he has teamed up, for instance, with the conservative Roman Catholic Cardinal Dolan and those of the US Catholic Bishops who want to make abortion illegal in the U.S., as well as openly campaigning against Same-Sex Marriage and other established rights of  America’s  Gay Community ( one of which is to enlist in that country’s armed services) – the country is in great danger of an extension of the current President’s ambition for more power in his presidential role. His autocratic appointment of conservative judges and governmental legal officers is now becoming a source of worry for those concerned for the American Justice system.

Trump’s open association, also, with Pentecostal Church Leaders – in association with whom, he has appointed a controversial team of Presidential  Religious Advisors to influence his colleagues from the White House – is another outstanding feature of his bid to use conservative Christian Leaders to support him at the next Presidential Election.

However, with Democratic Leadership now rallying behind Vice-President Joe Biden, it is eminently possible that Trump’s ambitions for the next Presidential term might yet be thwarted – a situation that must surely benefit the people of the United States as a whole. The United States was founded upon a principle of democratic freedom, quite contrary to the sort of presidential dictatorship that currently flourishes under the present incumbent.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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A Word to The Church in Lockdown

In this critical time for the Church and the World, we all need to try to understand the situation facing both communities. We who are part of the Body of Christ, The Church, have to find new ways of coping with what is and what is to come in the future – not only for ourselves and the Institution but also how what we are called to be and to do may be in many ways different from what we were and did before the arrival of Coronavirus.

The Episcopal Church in North America’s Presiding Bishop +Michael Curry has, here, something important to say to all of us. He reminds us that – as always – God is in charge of The Church, which God has commissioned, through His Son Jesus Christ. to be Light and Salt.

(Fr.Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand)

 

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Word to the Church: What Would Love Do?

Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs
Posted Apr 29, 2020

[April 29, 2020] A Word to the Church regarding the rubric of love during the COVID-19 pandemic from the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church:

Word to the Church April 2020
In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we are now at another one of those threshold moments when important and significant decisions must be made on all levels of our global community for the good and the well-being of the entire human family. In this moment, I would ask you to allow me to share with you a Word to the Church: What Would Love Do? (Way of Love companion resources available here.)
A Word to the Church
The Easter Season A.D. 2020
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Throughout the Book of Common Prayer, there are rubrics, those small or italicized words that don’t always catch our eye, that provide direction and guidance for how a liturgy or service is to be conducted.  Rubrics tell us what must be done and what may be done.  They limit us and they give us freedom.  They require us to exercise our judgment.  And when we are at our best, we exercise this judgment under God’s rubric of love.

Jesus tells us things like:  Love your enemies; Bless those who curse you; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; As you did to the least of these who are members of my family you have done to me; Father, forgive; Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the way of unselfish, sacrificial love – love that seeks the good and the well-being of others as well as the self – that love is the rubric of the Christian life.

This rubric of love is seen no more clearly than in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel according to John.

When [the disciples] had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.  But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”  (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.)  After this he said to him, “Follow me.”  (John 21:15-19)

The death of Jesus had left his followers disoriented, uncertain, and confused, afraid of what they knew and anxious about what they did not know.  Thinking that the movement was probably dead, the disciples went back to what they knew.  They tried to go back to normal.  They went fishing.

They fished all night but didn’t catch a thing.  Normal would not return.  When the morning came, Jesus showed up on the beach, alive, risen from the dead.  He asked them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered, “No.” Then he told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat.  They did and caught more fish than they could handle.  And then, Jesus invited them to breakfast.

After having fed his disciples, Jesus turned to Peter and three times asked him, “Do you love me?”  Three times Peter said, “Yes.”  And Jesus said, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.”  In this, Jesus told Peter what love looks like.  Love God by loving your neighbors, all of them.  Love your enemies.  Feed the hungry.  Bless folk.  Forgive them.  And be gentle with yourself.  Follow me.  You may make mistakes, you may not do it perfectly.  But whatever you do, do it with love.  The truth is, Jesus gave Peter a rubric for the new normal – God’s rubric of love.

Today, like Peter and the disciples, we must discern a new normal.  COVID-19 has left us disoriented, uncertain, and confused, afraid of what we know and anxious about what we do not know.  Our old normal has been upended, and we hunger for its return.

I do not say this from a lofty perch.  I get it.  There is a big part of me that wants to go back to January 2020 when I had never heard of COVID-19, and when I only thought of “Contagion” as a movie.  Looking back through what I know are glasses darkened by loss, I find myself remembering January 2020 as a “golden age.”

But of course, January 2020 wasn’t perfect, not even close.  And anyway, I can’t go back.  None of us can go back.  We must move forward.  But we don’t know for sure what the new normal will be.  Fortunately, God’s rubric of love shows us the way.

In her book The Dream of God the late Verna Dozier, who was a mentor to me, wrote:

Kingdom of God thinking calls us to risk. We always see through a glass darkly, and that is what faith is about. I will live by the best I can discern today. Tomorrow I may find out I was wrong. Since I do not live by being right, I am not destroyed by being wrong. The God revealed in Jesus, whom I call the Christ, is a God whose forgiveness goes ahead of me, and whose love sustains me and the whole created world. That God bursts all the definitions of our small minds, all the limitations of our timid efforts, all the boundaries of our institutions. [1]

Kingdom of God thinking is already happening.  God’s rubric of love is already in action.  I’ve been watching bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people of our church following Jesus in the practices that make up his way of love and doing things we never imagined.  The creativity and the risk-taking – done with love – is amazing.

We’ve been trying, making mistakes, learning, regrouping, trying anew.  I’ve seen it.  Holy Week and Easter happened in ways that none of us dreamed possible.  I’ve quietly read Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline online with you.  I’ve seen soup kitchens, pantries, and other feeding ministries carefully doing their work in safe and healthy ways.  Zoom coffee hours, bible studies, and small discipleship groups.  I’ve seen this church stand for the moral primacy of love.  I’ve seen it, even when public health concerns supersede all other considerations, including in-person worship.  That is moral courage.  Who knows, but that love may demand more of us. But fear not, just remember what the old slaves use to say, walk together, children, and don’t you get weary, because there is a great camp meeting in the Promised Land.  Oh, I’ve seen us do what we never thought we would or could do, because we dared to do what Jesus tells us all to do.

As our seasons of life in the COVID-19 world continue to turn, we are called to continue to be creative, to risk, to love.  We are called to ask, What would unselfish, sacrificial love do?

What would love do?  Love is the community praying together, in ways old and new.  Love finds a path in this new normal to build church communities around being in relationship with God.  Love supports Christians in spiritual practices. Prayer, meditation, study. Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest.

What would love do?  Love calls us to care for our neighbors, for our enemies.  Love calls us to attend to those in prison, to those who are homeless, to those in poverty, to children, to immigrants and refugees.  Love calls us to be in relationship with those with whom we disagree.

What would love do?  Love calls us to be gentle with ourselves, to forgive our own mistakes, to take seriously the Sabbath.  Love calls us to be in love with God, to cultivate a loving relationship with God, to spend time with God, to be still and know that God is God.

Jesus says, Simon, son of John, do you love me?
Jesus says, Michael, son of Dorothy and Kenneth, do you love me? 
Jesus says, Do you love me?

Jesus says, Follow me, and take the risk to live the question, What would love do?

This, my friends, is God’s rubric of love.  This, my friends, is God’s very way of life.

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.
Text of Hymn 549, verses 4 and 5 – Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-95), alt.

God love you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

Amen.   +Michael

The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

“What Would Love Do?”Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea,
day by day his clear voice soundeth,
saying, “Christian, follow me”Text of Hymn 549, verse 1 –

Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-95), alt

[1] The Dream of God, Verna Dozier, Cowley Publications (1991), Seabury Classics (2006)

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Giles Fraser comments on C. of E. Decision to Close Churches for Podcast Worship experience.

The C of E has retreated to the kitchen

When bishops retire they get braver. Freed from collective responsibility when they hang up their miters, in retirement, they find their prophetic voice. To be fair, Peter Selby, former Bishop of Worcester, is an exception that proves this rule. Never a member of the awkward squad, he has always been resolutely independently-minded. And long respected in many quarters of the church.

So when someone of Bishop Selby’s stature pens a stinging rebuke of the current lockdown policy of the House of Bishops — and in the Roman Catholic magazine The Tablet — one can be sure that many will sit up and take notice. Indeed, when he writes that “many in the C of E feel let down by the official response,” he is possibly even understating the matter. There is deep discontent with the church at the moment, and even with the House of Bishops itself.

The “official response” that he refers to is the policy of not allowing clergy to enter their churches on their own for personal private prayer or to live-stream services. This is not a Roman Catholic policy — only a C of E one. Selby has no argument against closing churches for public worship.

But when a priest lives right next door to the church, or when their vicarage is even physically attached to the church and connected by an internal door, even then the priest is not allowed in to pray or to record worship on behalf of the community.

Of course, he or she is asked regularly to go into the church to make sure everything is OK for insurance and safety purposes. But absolutely not for prayer or to broadcast prayer. Even when the Vicarage is stuffed full of screaming stir-crazy children, that is still where we are supposed to be Zooming our peaceful, meditative services from. As Selby argues:

“Foremost among the reasons given why clergy could not enter their churches was the need to “set an example” of clergy as law-abiding citizens staying at home. The case was never made that clergy are key workers, exercising an essential public function, one rooted in the architecture and layout of their churches and the liturgical function they carry out within them, especially in Passiontide and Eastertide”. – PETER SELBY, THE TABLET

It is clear that Bishop Selby sees this as an historic moment in which the church reveals how much it has lost confidence in its own distinctive values, looking instead to the government to set the moral tone. This loss of confidence could well be related to the churches’ historic failure to deal with internal safeguarding issues. But whatever the reason, a criticism that the current church leadership sees itself as little more than the perfect prefect of the bureaucratic (secular) state is now growing. Selby goes on:

Livestreaming from within our churches and cathedrals would have showcased their message to a wider public, reassuring them that the fundamental fabric of our common life and history – of which our large and small churches (including the historic Lambeth Palace chapel) are an integral part – had not succumbed to coronavirus fear”

“The Archbishop of Canterbury could easily broadcast from the historic Lambeth Palace chapel. No one would be at risk if he did that on his own. And all he has to do to get there is to walk downstairs from his flat. But instead, he conducts national services from his kitchen. And so, Selby concludes, the Church of England’s bishops:  “seem to have accepted the idea that Christianity is a matter for the domestic realm, that our cathedrals and parish churches are just optional when useful and available, no longer the eloquent signs of the consecration of our public life and public spaces. The conviction that the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the places of beauty set apart is an “essential work” undertaken by “key workers” will have become a wistful “BC” [Before Coronovirus] memory.” – PETER SELBY, THE TABLET

Over at The Critic magazine, Fr Marcus Walker, Rector of St Bartholomew’s, Smithfield, puts it even more succinctly: “Church buildings narrate the development of a community more than any other. … But this time round the church has written itself out of the story.”

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As a member church of the worldwide Anglican Communion (ACANZP) and resident in the Diocese of Christchurch – where our local Bishop +Peter Carrell is now, in concert with Government policy (with the eexpected return to Level 2 to our NZ Rules of Lockdown) going to allow local clergy to podcast worship Services from our parish churches, with proper provision being made for the observance of Government Health Rules – it is very interesting to read of Canon Giles Fraser’s comments about the reluctance of the Church of England to allow its clergy, at present, to podcast worship services from any of its official church buildings.

The ABC’s reason for this – that clergy should personally have to identify in this way with the members of their local congregations – would seem to discount and dismiss the possible benefits arising from any social and spiritual capital that might be gained from the prospect of services of worship being carried out in buildings specifically erected for, and dedicated to, this activity during the history and posterity of the Christian Church.

What is at stake here, in the question of whether, or not – given the restrictions needed for the safety and proximity clergy and any others involved in the conduct of worship – the carrying out of such worship would constitute a breach of the conditions applicable to any other activity providing a public service in and to the community.

Television broadcasts, for instance, provide one such example, where a national public broadcasting service remains available to everyone without let or hindrance, without limiting the origin of such broadcasts to the private homes of the presenters  – with no access to their normal studio environments.  

A further point being made by Canon Giles is that a category of people who would not normally have access to any worship activity in a church building – the housebound, or those in an institution for the care of the sick or disabled – could now, in the current environment, have access to the worship that other people are able to enjoy during the current situation of the closure of Church buildings to the general public.

What also seems to have been forgotten by the ABC and the Church hierarchy is the fact that a public broadcast of Church Worship on a Sunday provides access to an experience of Anglican Worship to many more people than might otherwise be either be disposed or able to attend such an activity  – at a time when most people are confined to their homes.

At a time of sensory deprivation for everyone, this opportunity for spiritual refreshment by means of televised worship broadcast from their local parish church – maybe with the help of a virtually-assembled choral group – could be a means of encouragement and nourishment of community togetherness that could be valuable in helping us all to face whatever confronts us into the future.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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US Cardinal cozying up to Donald Trump

New York’s cardinal praises President Donald Trump

  • Latest News

New York’s cardinal, Timothy Dolan,  praised President Donald Trump last week during a group telephone call with 600 Catholic leaders and key White House staff.

Responding to Trump’s request for their political support, Dolan thanked him for his leadership on pro-life and religious liberty issues.

Trump responded by tweeting that he would be watching Sunday Mass on 26 April live-streamed from New York’s St Patrick’s cathedral.

Taking note of this, Dolan began his sermon on Sunday by welcoming the president’s virtual attendance and promising to pray for him.

Although the group telephone call discussion rambled over many topics, it was supposed to focus on the plight of Catholic education. Many religious schools have seen registrations plummet as a result of economic hardship caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

However, Trump repeatedly turned the subject to other issues.

He reminded the listeners of his pro-life record, even recalling a debate with his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton.

“We probably helped out the pro-life [cause] more than anything you can imagine,” he said.

Looking ahead to this coming election he added, “I hope that everyone gets out and votes and does what they have to do.”

“You’re going to have a very different Catholic Church,” if he wasn’t re-elected, he warned those on the phone call.

Despite being brought back to the matter of Catholic school funding and the need for federal assistance to sustain them, Trump persisted in focusing on political issues.

“The other side [the Democratic Party] is not in favour of it,” the president warned.

“What a similarity we have and how the other side is the exact opposite of what you’re wanting, so I guess it’s an important thing to remember.”

Trump was similarly distracted the week before during a call with religious leaders from various denominations to discuss the role of faith-based organisations in helping people cope.

On neither call, nor in his sermon on Sunday, did Dolan discuss the president’s treatment of immigrants, even though the US bishops’ conference has made it’s views clear on this issue.

“We are extremely concerned about how the proclamation will impact immigrant families looking to reunify, as well as religious workers,” a statement from the conference says.

Source

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This article, from the U./K. Catholic Newspaper ‘THE TABLET’, reveals the extent to which the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, has responded to the invitation of the U.S. President for Roman Catholics in the US to support his bid for re-election.

Whether all or even a major proportion of Roman Catholics in the US actually do support the President’s bid – Trump’s shameless courting of the Catholic vote is based on his own public support for Abortion to be returned to the Criminal Courts, and his militantly open opposition to the human rights of the LGBT+ Community.

Trump can hardly be considered as a model of ‘Catholic’ morality, having his own highly publicized negative views about women and his treatment of them (with several failed marriages in his past history). This makes Cardinal Dolan’s acclamation of Trump’s claims to best represent the people’s choice for President all the more reprehensible.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Life After Lockdown in the USA

CDC compiles new guidelines to help organizations reopen

This article appears in the Coronavirus feature series. View the full series.

WASHINGTON — Businesses should close break rooms. Restaurants should consider disposable menus and plates. Schools should have students eat lunch in their classrooms.

These are some of the recommendations offered in new federal plans designed to help restaurants, schools, churches and businesses safely reopen as states look to gradually lift their coronavirus restrictions.

The draft guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been sent to Washington but still could be revised before the Trump administration unveils it to the public. The recommendations were obtained from a federal official who was not authorized to release them publicly.

The CDC put together so-called “decision trees” for at least seven types of organizations: schools, camps, childcare centers, religious facilities, mass transit systems, workplaces, and bars/restaurants.

White House officials previously released a three-phase reopening plan for the nation that mentioned schools and other organizations that come back online at different points. But it hadn’t previously offered more specific how-to guidelines for each kind of entity.

The new guidance still amounts to little more than advice. State and local officials will be the ones to adopt and enforce them. Some state and local governments have already put rules in place for businesses that are operating. For example, Michigan requires businesses to limit how many customers can be in a store at one time.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 26 said that each business that wants to reopen will have to submit a plan to the state on how to do that.

The new guidance could give state officials cover if their requirements for businesses are challenged in the courts, said Lindsay Wiley, an American University public health law expert.

“It allows the state to say ‘well the CDC said to do it this way,’ and the judge then is very happy to say ‘well yes you consulted CDC and that’s the appropriate body,’ and then uphold the restrictions and say they’re appropriately evidence-based.”

Some examples from the guidance:

—In the initial reopening phases, schools should space desks six feet apart, nix any field trips and school assemblies, and have students eat lunch in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria.

—Churches should hold services through video streaming or at drive-in or outdoor venues as much as possible. They should also encourage everyone to wear cloth face masks, use a stationary collection box, and schedule extra services if necessary to make sure church pews are not packed and congregants stay at least six feet from each other.

—Restaurants should consider using throwaway menus, single-service condiments, and disposable forks, knives, spoons, and dishes. They should install sneeze guards at cash registers, limit the number of employees on a shift, and avoid having buffets, salad bars, and drink stations.

The guidance for religious groups includes providing congregants spiritual and emotional care “on a flexible or virtual basis or refer them to other available resources.”

Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said that as much as worship in synagogues is “one of the most fundamental aspects of Jewish life,” his faith also believes that “the sanctity of life is more important than any other aspect of observance.” Application of any guidelines are likely to have significant regional and demographic variation, Fagin added. “There’s going to have to be a great deal of both training and soul-searching in particular communities to make certain the guidelines are understood and will, in fact, be adhered to, to the letter,” he said.

Various trade groups have also started coming out with their own recommendations. For example, the National Restaurant Association last week put out guidance to restaurants considering reopening. The association said restaurants should clean and sanitize reusable menus, while the CDC suggests using disposable menus. And the CDC recommends that employees use cloth masks when interacting with customers, but the association doesn’t. But some guidance is similar. The association and the CDC both recommend seating dining parties at least 6 feet apart.

Larry Lynch, a senior vice president at the trade group, said the restaurant industry is already heavily regulated in order to prevent foodborne illnesses. So he doesn’t think additional guidelines from the CDC are onerous.

“The fact is we’re probably already 80% of the way there with the mandates coming out of the food code,” he said.

Lynch said the biggest concern for restaurant owners isn’t federal guidelines, but convincing people that it’s safe to return to restaurants.

Many companies, especially those with strong remote work capabilities, are already drawing up plans that go beyond the CDC’s guidelines, said Bhushan Sethi, global people and organization leader at PwC, a consulting firm. He said many companies are considering keeping their employees working from home well after authorities lift stay-at-home orders.

“It’s a bare minimum compared to the playbook that many firms are putting in place,” Sethi said of the CDC guidelines on workplaces. “Firms are acknowledging that people are going to be fearful.”

About 65% of companies recently surveyed by PwC are planning to reconfigure work sites to allow physical distancing. Some 52% are planning staggered shifts or alternating crews, according to the April 18-22 survey of chief financial officers at 305 U.S. companies.

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Now that we in Aotearoa/New Zealand have moved cautiously into a lower phase of the current COVID 19 Lockdown – from Stage 4 to stage 3 –  with the prospect of a further opening up to Stage 2, with the expectation of further relaxation of the strict rules about personal distancing and gradual movement towards a more open society; this report from the USA could help us all to understand what is involved in any relaxation of the rules.

Many of the servicing industries are already getting used to working from a home base, a situation which may become much more common after the present emergency recedes. However, there are people in the sort of work environment that needs a hands-on approach that will continue to need a higher standard of sanitary protection than was the case before the eruption of COVOD 19.

Restaurants and food outlets are already gearing up for an escalation of the need for social distancing and a standard of hygiene and cleanliness that measures up to the strict new guidelines that will be put in place after the lockdown is lifted. 

Child-care nurseries, schools, and places of education will have to be brought up to a new standard of oversight that will guard against the recurrence of a population-based spreading of germs and bacteria that could cause a resurgence of COVID 19 – or any other pandemic that might occur in the future.

Churches will have to find a new way of coping with problems associated with their normal community-based worship events. The following paragraph, from an Orthodox Jewish spokesperson (above), has something important to say about that: 

Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said that as much as worship in synagogues is “one of the most fundamental aspects of Jewish life,” his faith also believes that “the sanctity of life is more important than any other aspect of observance.”

This ought to be the view of all religious communities that respect the health needs of their communities. And this is what causes most concern about certain Christian Church leaders who are currently urging their congregations to continue to gather, contrary to the advice of both civil and religious leaders who are concerned for the greater public good.

While the present situation of ‘Podcast Worship’ may cause some distress to worshippers it is infinitely preferable to the prospect of large-scale infection that could follow on the opening up of public gatherings – like that of the Church congregation in more normal times. Total relaxation of the present rules may time some time to be put into practice.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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