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Archive of December 9, 2011

On Civil War's 150th anniversary, historian reflects on religion's role

Tuscaloosa, Ala., Dec 9, 2011 (CNA) - Religion had a “pervasive” role in American life at the time of the United States’ Civil War, one historian says, explaining his “fascinating” discoveries about the roles Catholics played.

“One of the things that surprised me was that there were certain dominant ideas, regardless of particular religious affiliation. Ideas about providence, ideas about sin, ideas about judgment. Those were common themes that crossed religious traditions,” George C. Rable, a history professor at the University of Alabama, told CNA on Dec. 7.

“Religion was absolutely pervasive when Americans tried to explain the causes, and the course, and the consequences of the Civil War.”

The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.

The conflict remains a central event in American history. It preserved the union of the states and emancipated the slaves, both actions which Christians saw at the time as providential.

Differences about slavery and whether it was a divinely inspired institution helped divide the Protestant churches before and during the war. Some contemporary Catholic observers saw these divisions as a religious fault.

Prof. Rable, author of the 2010 book “God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War” (Univ. of North Carolina Press, $35), read many northern Catholic newspapers from the period for his research.

“One argument that they make is that essentially Protestantism caused the war. You might say that that is a peculiar idea, but their point was that Protestants are inherently divisive and schismatic. Had the nation been entirely Catholic, they said, the nation would never have divided.”

Catholics were a relatively small minority and tended to side with the people in their own section.

Contemporary Catholics, especially in the North, were “especially fascinating” to Rable because they did not speak in one voice and became increasingly divided as the war went on.

“Some remained very conservative, almost Copperhead in orientation, while somebody like Orestes Brownson came out against slavery early in the war and became a strong supporter of the Lincoln administration,” he said.

The anti-Catholicism of the 1850s accompanied the rise of the nativist Know Nothing Party, which contributed to Catholic fears.

“One of the things more conservative Catholics say during the war is, ‘you can’t trust the Republicans, because after they are through with the Confederates they’ll turn on the Catholics,’” Rable explained.

A variety of Catholics came to prominence within the Church and in American public life.

Orestes Brownson was a “very important Catholic intellectual” in the 1850s. He was also a “late Catholic” who held many religious and philosophical positions before his conversion.

Archbishop John Hughes of New York was very important among the Irish population and went on a recruiting trip to Europe on behalf of the Lincoln administration. He was perhaps the leading Catholic figure of the United States and he supported the Union, but he took a “conservative” position on slavery.

James McMaster, the “most conservative” Catholic spokesman in Rable’s view, was “bitterly anti-Lincoln and anti-war.”

He edited the Freeman’s Journal newspaper in New York. At one point he was arrested and his newspaper was suspended because of his attacks on President Lincoln.

Bishop William Henry Elder of Natchez, Miss. ran afoul of federal military authority when he refused to tell his priests to pray during Mass for the U.S. president, rather than the Confederate president.

General William Rosencrans, a Union commander in the war’s western theater, had mixed success in battle. He was a “very ardent Catholic” who ensured that Mass was held on a regular basis in his camp.

“Rosecrans liked to stay up late discussing theological questions, including with a future president of the United States, James Garfield,” Rable said. “Garfield was an ordained Disciples of Christ minster and he and Rosecrans would talk long into the night about theological questions.”

The shortage of Catholic chaplains was always an issue. Though they sometimes had tension with Protestant chaplains, there were also examples of cooperation.

“One of the things the war did, especially in the armies, was that it lessened the importance of denominational differences. Some thought that it lessened anti-Catholicism among Protestants,” Rable explained.

Religious women also had a part. The Sisters of Charity worked in the military hospitals and cared for everyone regardless of their political affiliation.

“They were there to serve as nurses. Soldiers on both sides were impressed with the Sisters of Charity,” added Rable, whose book recounts the story of one soldier so impressed by a sister that he converted to Catholicism.

Though the armies had a reputation for irreligion, there were also religious revivals during the war in both armies, especially the Confederate camps.

“I would argue that a substantial minority of soldiers in both armies were deeply religious. And I wouldn’t go beyond that. I don’t think you can argue that a majority were deeply religious at all,” Rable said.

Some traditional histories of the Civil War say that the conflict caused a great deal of religious disillusionment among Americans, but Rable found little evidence to support that claim.

“For one thing, they could use their faith to explain what was going on in the war. If you lost a battle, that was a sign of divine chastisement. If you won a battle, that was a sign of divine favor. The theology was pretty flexible.”

Americans at the time also held to a “civil religion,” an informal and commonly held set of beliefs that emphasized their nation as a chosen people with a special destiny.

They believed not only that Christ might soon come again, but that they would achieve a “human perfectionism” to usher in “a great age of peace and change and reform.”

“A lot of people on both sides really thought that the American Civil War would solve some fundamental problems for all time,” said Rable.

Both sides assumed that God was on their side, which Rable thought lengthened and intensified the war.

The biggest post-war religious change came in the South.

“It’s easy to forget that the southern churches before the war were in a sense biracial. A lot of slaves were members of white churches. They might have to sit in the balcony or the gallery. Certainly segregated, and the slaves were not involved in church governance. Yet in some ways the churches were more integrated than they are today,” said Rable.

A “massive” black exodus followed the war, with many joining the African Methodist Episcopal churches.

Rable also suggested that histories of the war benefit from more viewpoints. He pointed out that works on religion in the American Civil War are largely accounts of Protestants. “I’ve found that Catholics, Mormons and Jews all had important things to say about the war itself,” he said.

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Students rally behind Catholic school teacher with leukemia

Bethesda, Md., Dec 9, 2011 (CNA) - Kate Truax, a beloved literature teacher for fifth, sixth and seventh graders at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Bethesda, Md. is receiving an outpouring of support from her students as she undergoes treatment for leukemia.
 
After receiving treatment for breast cancer during the 2009-2010 school year, Truax was diagnosed with leukemia.
 
She has been a patient at the John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, where she underwent a bone marrow transplant on Oct. 25.
 
Truax’s students have eagerly volunteered to support Truax anyway they can.
 
The school organized 60 consecutive hours of Eucharistic adoration, with students, teachers, parents and other members of the school community offering prayers for Truax.
 
Students at Our Lady of Lourdes, who have stayed in touch with Truax via Skype, also found other ways to rally around their teacher.
 
In May, Truax was surprised during a video chat to see that two male teachers and several dozen students had shaved their heads in a gesture of solidarity. Truax’s hair had fallen out as a result of her treatment.
 
On Dec. 5, more than 20 girls from the school cut at least 10 inches from their hair and donated it in Truax’s honor to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to children who have lost their hair due to illness or accident.
 
Patricia McGann, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, said that Truax has “always gone above and beyond for her students” and that they “absolutely love” her.
 
She explained that “as a school community we wanted to show her our support.”
 
“It has been an amazing experience to watch our school come together,” said McGann, adding that “the children are truly living out the values taught in the classroom each day.”

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Bishops confirm papal visit to Cuba in 2012

Havana, Cuba, Dec 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishops of Cuba confirmed on Dec. 8 that Pope Benedict XVI will visit the country in 2012.

The Pope “wants to visit our country as a ‘Pilgrim of Charity’ to accompany us and confirm the faith of the Cuban people,” the bishops said in their announcement.

Although the exact dates have not yet be set, Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana said the visit could take place during the second half of March.

During a press conference on Thursday, bishops' conference secretary Bishop Jose Felix Perez said the Pope will announce the schedule of his visit at a Dec. 12 Mass in Rome commemorating the bicentennials of Latin American countries.

Bishop Felix said that Pope Benedict's trip would be a continuation of Blessed John Paul II’s visit in 1998. “It is going to be an opportunity to energize the faith in Cuba,” he noted.

The visit comes as the country celebrates the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity in the waters off the Cuban shore.

The image “has been a message from God for the Cuban people, written not with ink but with the Spirit of God alive in the hearts of every believer,” the bishops wrote. “A message that we can all read and understand.”

In their letter, they encouraged all Cubans to open their “hearts to God who, in Jesus Christ, calls us to live the Christian faith that comes to all Cubans through Our Lady of Charity.”

“Where God is there is a future,” the bishops said. “Where God is there is joy. New horizons are opening but we must recognize that God is always present, especially when we allow Him to enter.”

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George Weigel: English bishops using wrong strategy in marriage battle

Rome, Italy, Dec 9, 2011 (CNA) - Blessed John Paul II’s biographer, George Weigel, says he disagrees with the Bishops of England and Wales’ decision not to oppose legal recognition for homosexual civil unions as part of their campaign to uphold marriage.

“In my experience in the United States, this notion of civil unions has always been a kind of half way house to so called ‘gay-marriages,’” he told CNA on Dec 7.

Weigel added that while a “humane state is going to make appropriate provisions for human relationships, particularly in moments of distress, … those issues can be dealt with without going down this road of saying there is something in the nature of a stable or unstable homosexual union that the state should honor and lift up.”

Weigel’s comments contrast with remarks made by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholics Bishops Conference of England and Wales, following their bi-annual full assembly in Leeds, Nov. 14-17.

“We would want to emphasize that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship, a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection in legal provision,” Archbishop Nichols told journalists at a Nov. 18 press conference in London.

But he also cautioned that “to simply slip from that to marriage is not as simple a step as it might look and indeed it has a lot of ramifications and we would want to say these are categorically two different things.” Respecting “a lifelong partnership is one thing and to call it a marriage, if you like to annex the territory of marriage, is something quite different.”

Archbishop Nichols’ comments drew criticism from some high-profile Catholic commentators in the United Kingdom who pointed out that his statement seemed to contradict the 2003 advice of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which was then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

In their document “Consideration Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons,” it states that “in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”

In an interview with CNA last week, Archbishop Nichols expanded upon his thinking by explaining that while a civil union “gives a same-sex couple the same rights that a married couple have,” the key distinction between it and marriage is that same-sex unions do not “in law contain a required element of sexual relationships.”

“Same-sex partnerships are not marriage because they have no root in a sexual relationship which marriage does,” he said, “and that’s the distinction that I think it’s important for us to understand, that marriage is built on the sexual partnership between a man and a woman which is open to children, to their nurture and education.”

Archbishop Nichols was publicly backed this week by a former high-ranking Vatican official, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini.

The 88-year-old former Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches is quoted in an article entitled “Bufera sul Tamigi” (Storm on the Thames), which was published on the Italian newspaper La Stampa’s website Vatican Insider on Dec 4.

The article claims that Archbishop Nichols is being “forced to publicly defend himself against claims that have been made against him by Catholic groups in the United Kingdom, for his ‘excessive alignment with Rome’ when it comes to family ethics.”

Indeed, the article carries the sub-headline “British Catholic groups accuse the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, of following the Vatican’s guidelines, on homosexuality and civil partnerships, too closely.”

“These unfair accusations made against the President of Catholic Bishops reflect past prejudices and are the consequence of an inveterate mistrust that has its roots in past centuries,” said Cardinal Silvestrini.

The article describes Archbishop Nichols as “a bona fide Ratzingerian” who is “highly esteemed both in the Curia and among the ranks of European bishops.”

Cardinal Silvestrini argues that some in England still seem to suffer from “a legacy of old tensions with the central government of the universal Church, to the point where even its leaders must be careful not to look too ‘papist.’”

The content and tone of the article has created a degree of puzzlement among some inside the Vatican.

“Why has Cardinal Silvestrini decided to speak out on behalf of Archbishop Vincent Nichols?” asked one senior Vatican official, who spoke to CNA on the basis of anonymity.

“After all, the cardinal is an 88-year-old retired Italian cleric who lives in Rome and has no great knowledge of the Church in England, as far as I’m aware. It’s not surprising he seems to have got the story the wrong way round.”

“Anyway, who are these Catholic groups in the U.K. accusing Archbishop Nichols of excessive loyalty to Rome? We’ve certainly never come across any,” he said.

The official spokesman for the Archbishop Nichols told CNA that they did not want to respond to George Weigel’s comments, Cardinal Silvestrini, or the unnamed Vatican official.

The spokesman did acknowledge that “there is a proposal in the U.K. to change the definition of marriage and the Prime Minister has said that he will back it as he believes equality and commitment is to be applauded and that’s why he’s in favor of same-sex marriage.”

“But we’re simply saying that quality and commitment do not equal marriage – marriage is something specific to do with the union of a man and a woman for the procreation and raising of children.”

Same-sex civil partnerships became legal in the U.K. in 2004, but the issue of same-sex “marriage” has become more prominent in recent months. The Scottish government is currently wrapping up a public consultation on whether to legalize gay “marriage.” A similar consultation in England and Wales will take place next spring.

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US bishops pleased with new papal audience format

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - As their time in Rome comes to a close, the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey say they like the new format for the papal audiences that take place during “ad limina” visits.
 
Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI replaced brief one-on-one meetings with individual bishops with more prolonged group discussions.

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J. told CNA that he thinks “the new way the Holy Father meets with all the bishops has led to a greater exchange between himself and the bishops.”

“And it has also allowed him to hear what the concerns of the bishops of the different regions are. He was attentive and responsive. It was a good visit.”

In total, 29 bishops from the two northeastern states have been in Rome Dec. 1-10 for meetings with Vatican officials, as well as their audience with Pope Benedict.

On the morning of Dec. 9, they visited the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity before celebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral, in the afternoon.

Bishop Serratelli was part of a group of 12 that met with Pope Benedict for over 30 minutes on the morning of Dec. 5. He said the new format permitted “a more lively discussion.”

When he was asked how much talking was done by the Pope and how much by each bishop, Bishop Serratelli laughed and said, “That depends on which bishop.” “It’s a different style but with same goal,” he said, adding that now “it’s more engaging.”

“The bishops each got a chance to speak, with each dealing with a different area of challenge in the United States,” he explained. Each bishop spoke “for about a minute,” which was followed by a response from Pope Benedict.

In that time, the topics discussed included the New Evangelization, the new English translation of the Mass, religious liberty in the United States, as well as “the great sense of vitality in the Church, with each bishop reporting an increase in vocations.”
 
Emeritus Bishop James Timlin of Scranton, Pa., who has been attending ad limina audiences since the reign Pope Pius XII, also said he approved of the new format.

“I thought it was a very interesting and very helpful interchange with the Holy Father,” he said.

“So I was delighted I was able to be here – although at my age I’m delighted to be anywhere.”

“I actually told him that you and I are the same age,” said 84-year-old Bishop Timlin.“And he was kind of surprised and taken aback, but he then talked to each one of us which is something that was never done before.”
 
He recalled how things were “quite different” under Pope Pius XII when there was “really no interchange,” a format that continued until Pope John Paul I. In fact, Bishop Timlin was part of the only delegation of U.S. bishops to have an audience with the pontiff who reigned for only 33 days in 1978. It was Pope John Paul II who “opened it up a great deal.”

Regardless of the evolving format, Bishop Timlin said the key thing is that the Pope “is the Vicar of Christ and whoever has that title has a special place in the hearts of all of us.” The bishop added, “he is who he is – the Vicar of Christ – and that’s what makes the difference.”

The dioceses represented on this latest ad limina are Newark, Philadelphia, Allentown, Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Metuchen, Paterson, Pittsburgh, Scranton and Trenton.

This group of bishops is the third of 15 groups from the U.S. that will make its way to Rome in the coming months for the meetings with the Pope and their pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.

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Spanish cardinal highlights Mary's trust in God

Madrid, Spain, Dec 9, 2011 (CNA/Europa Press) - Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Madrid, Spain emphasized Mary's trust in God's will during his remarks on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

“She trusted in God, she did not make her plans apart from God’s will. She put her life in the heart of God …  and allowed herself to be led by Him,” Cardinal Rouco said.

The cardinal then related society's current difficulties with “the refusal to live according to grace and the love of God.” 

Conscience guided by God’s law, enlightened by the Gospel of Christ and animated by his grace and love ought to again become a decisive factor not only in personal and private conduct, but also in the way people behave and act in public, the cardinal explained.
 
The feast of the Immaculate Conception invites Catholics each year into “a deeper understanding of the history of man” that began with the sin committed by Adam and Eve, he continued.
 
At that moment a journey of sin began, he explained, but also a journey of glory to which we are all called. “That gift and grace is in our hands. It depends how we use it, it depends on our freedom,” the cardinal said.

“We all need grace and we all need to receive it from the hand of the Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception,” he added.

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Cardinal hopeful for understanding between archdiocese and university in Peru

Lima, Peru, Dec 9, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima, Peru said he is hopeful that the archdiocese and city's pontifical university can resolve their ongoing dispute.

Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Peter Erdo as apostolic visitor to facilitate a resolution to the conflict. Following a Dec. 7 meeting with Cardinal Erdo, Cardinal Cipriani told reporters, “we are very thankful that the Holy Father has given us this sign of cordiality and closeness in order to help us resolve this situation.”

In September the university rejected a request by the Vatican to bring its statutes in line with the apostolic exhortation “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” or risk losing its status as a Catholic and pontifical institution.
 
After his meeting with Cardinal Erdo, Cardinal Cipriani said, “we are praying that we can reach an understanding.”  The arrival of Cardinal Erdo has been a cause “for great joy” and has created “a positive atmosphere,” he said.
 
While he would not reveal any details about the talks, Cardinal Cipriani said Cardinal Erdo “is doing a wonderful job with much thoughtfulness.” 
 
He expressed his hope that the university would experience a renewal in what it means to be “a pontifical and Catholic university at the service of the Church.”

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Pope Benedict shares his three Christmas wishes

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI revealed his three Christmas wishes for this year, just before remotely switching on the lights of the world’s largest Christmas tree.

“When we look at it our eyes are lifted up, raised toward the sky, toward the world of God,” said Pope Benedict from his papal apartment as he spoke via video link to the people of the Italian town of Gubbio in Umbria on the evening of Dec 7.

Their tree is over 2,000 feet tall and consists of hundreds of tiny light bulbs. The enormous display sits on the slopes of nearby Mount Ingino.

“My first wish,” he said, “is that our gaze, that of our minds and our hearts, rest not only on the horizon of this world, on its material things, but that it in some way, like this tree that tends upward, be directed toward God.”

He said that “God never forgets us, but he also asks that we don't forget him.”

The Pope’s second wish was that everyone remember that we “need a light to illumine the path of our lives and to give us hope, especially in this time in which we feel so greatly the weight of difficulties, of problems, of suffering, and it seems that we are enshrouded in a veil of darkness.”

The light that “truly illuminate our hearts” and give us “firm and sure hope” can only be found in “the Child whom we contemplate on Christmas, in a poor and humble manger, because He is the Lord who draws near to each of us and asks that we receive Him anew,” he said.

“My final wish,” concluded the Pope, “is that each of us contributes something of that light to the spheres in which we live: our families, our jobs, our neighborhoods, towns and cities.”

Pope Benedict also reflected on the season of Christmas and prayed that everybody will be a “light for those who are at our sides” so that we overcome our selfishness which so often “closes our hearts and leads us to think only of ourselves.”

He urged everyone to “pay greater attention to others, that we may love them more” during the Christmas season. “Any small gesture of goodness,” he said, “is like one of the lights of this great tree: together with other lights it illuminates the darkness of the night, even of the darkest night.”

The Pope then touched a computer tablet device and remotely illuminated Gubbio’s Christmas tree. 

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