Northshire interfaith food program touted

Thanks to Kathleen Moore, who informed me through Twitter that a local interfaith summer lunch program has been included on the Huffington Post’s list of 100 examples of how religion can still of force for good in the world. Here is the write up:

“Feeding kids, one lunch bag at a time

The Arlington Sandgate Sunderland Summer Lunch Program is the joint endeavor of several schools and churches in Vermont which provides a bag of fixings for a week’s worth of lunches to students in the area. The bags are distributed through the Federated Church of East Arlington and St. James’ Episcopal Church and are available to children in the community every week.

Fighting the scourge

Al Bashevkin, executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and a resident of Bennington, testifies at Tuesday's hearing in North Adams.

Al Bashevkin, executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and a resident of Bennington, testifies at Tuesday’s hearing in North Adams.

Tuesday, April 29, was not a great day in the fight against
prescription drug and opiate abuse in New England.

Up in Burlington, the AP reports,  Fletcher Allen Health Care said eight people came to the emergency room in one day for heroin overdoses. The number of overdoses on Tuesday was typical of what the Burlington hospital might see in several months.
Fletcher Allen officials said the eight patients were from Winooski,
Colchester, Williston and South Burlington but said they believe the
drug is likely spread throughout Chittenden County. Out in Boston, Mass., on Tuesday, drug abuse prevention groups, state lawmakers and organized labor leaders rallied outside the Statehouse to call for more restrictions on a powerful new painkiller, Zohydro. This report, too, from the Associated Press.
The rally, which drew more than 150 people, comes as Governor Deval Patrick’s latest attempt at restricting the drug faces a legal
challenge and a top federal drug regulator suggests that state policy
makers’ almost singular focus on restricting  Zohydro will not be
effective in combating the scourge of prescription drug abuse.
Personally, I think this drug sounds like a catastrophe waiting to
happen, and it should never see the light of day. We already have
plenty of drugs to fight pain — why yet another highly potent one?
Also on Tuesday, down in my hometown of North Adams, Mass., there was a public hearing on the fight against prescription drug and opiate abuse. This, the Bay State’s smallest city, is suffering from
prescription drug abuse and opiate abuse just as much as Bennington, Rutland or any community in Vermont.
One of my volunteer activities in my non-Banner life is to serve as on
a prescription and opiate abuse committee/task force for Northern
Berkshire. This group includes substance abuse and mental health
professionals, law enforcement, recovering addicts, a retired medical
doctor, people who work with youth and one or two representatives of
the faith community, including me. Our group has helped doctors get
training in proper prescribing practices for opioids, publicized the
Mass. version of a “good Samaritan law” encouraging addicts to report
when a friend has an overdose, and helped present an nighttime vigil
against abuse, and more. We have found the experience in Vermont to be quite instructive. We have watched and shown “The Hungry Heart,” about the fight against addiction in St. Albans.
So, as a member of this task force, on Tuesday I attended two hours of a three-hour public hearing at North Adams City Hall of the
Massachusetts Senate Special Committee on Drug Abuse Treatment and Options.
Only two state legislators were there — Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan,
D-Leominster, chairwoman of this committee, and Sen. Benjamin Downing,
D-Pittsfield, who represents all of Berkshire County in Boston. Local
and regional media were present, too, including TV stations WNYT-13
and WTEN-10 from Albany, N.Y.
“Today, we’re here to listen,” said Flanagan, who seemed exceptionally
knowledgeable about the topic and asked excellent questions of each
person who testified.
And testified they did. Recovering addicts, the North Adams veterans
agent, the mother of an addict, the high school adjustment counselor,
the director of the Head Start program, the director of the community
coalition, an official of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, a
local deputy sheriff, a representative of the Berkshire County
District Attorney, the mayor, local treatment providers, a doctor, and
I took some notes, but this post is not meant to be an unbiased look
at the situation. Here are some of what I felt were the most important
comments and insights while I was there:
• At present there are only 26 residential beds for substance abuse
treatment in Berkshire County.
• With the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, a “gateway to
treatment” has been lost.
• A doctor traced the origins of this problem to the 1990s when the
medical establishment began to call pain “the fifth vital sign” and
became much more vigilant in treating it. However, she noted, the
other vital signs can be objectively measured while pain is subjective
to the individual.
• This same doctor said that we have “a whole generation of people
addicted to opioids” and she didn’t want to have another. She also
said there is no “parity” in how addiction and mental illness are
insured as opposed to other illnesses. There is parity in paper but
not in practice: “We have treatment that works, we just don’t have
insurance that will pay for it.” She affirmed that addiction is a
disease, that some people have a genetic predisposition for it,
aggravated by environmental factors.
• Among things Berkshire County lacks are 12-step programs for teens
and young adults.
• One person testifying drew a very straight line between the lack of
jobs, including for highly trained veterans, and the feelings of
hopelessness that lead people to addiction in the first place. He said
there needs to be a Veterans Administration medical center in North
Adams, Pittsfield and Bennington are too far away.
• One person noted of long-term addicts: “When people get sober they
have no idea how to live.” One malignant result of addiction is
maladaptive parenting.
• Front and center was the geographical discrimination that people at
the far western end of Massachusetts know well. For instance, unlike
other parts of Massachusetts, Berkshire County has no drug court, to
aid in diverting those who wish for help from jail or prison time to
treatment. And the officials at that hearing were just as enthusiastic
and willing, as are the officials I know in Vermont, to treat this
epidemic and scourge as a public health rather than primarily a
criminal problem. This included the big brusque man from the Berkshire
County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the county jail.
• Another thing that Berkshire County got left out on in favor of
eastern Massachusetts was the pilot program for Narcan (Naloxone)
treatment. This is the drug that has the power to reverse overdoses
and it’s sale is not restricted. However, it does have side-effects
and people need to be trained to use it.
“It’s upsetting to me that you don’t have a pilot program for Narcan
and a drug court,” Flanagan said.
As this is a religion blog, and I am the official faith community
representative on the task force, I must say that I feel the faith
community in Northern Berkshire needs to be doing more on this issue.
I am going to try to organize a discussion in may with the local,
mostly non-clergy interfaith group. Both clergy and people in the pews
need to be doing more on prescription and opiate abuse. The big
question is what?

Pope Francis gets in Easter spirit

Today, through the daily email I have signed up for from the Vatican Information Service, Pope Francis speaks about the raising of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, from the Gospel of John, chapter 11. A pre-Easter message of resurrection….


Vatican City, 7 April 2014 (VIS) – At midday today, the fifth Sunday of Lent, the Holy Father appeared at the window of his study in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to pray the Angelus with the faithful and pilgrims present. “The resurrection of Lazarus”, he said, “was the culmination of the prodigious signs given by Jesus: it is a gesture too great, too clearly divine to be tolerated by the high priests, who, when they became aware of this fact, took the decision to kill Jesus”.

“We believe that the life of those who believe in Jesus and follow his commandments will, after death, be transformed into new life, full and immortal. Just as Jesus was resurrected with his own body, but did not return to an earthly life, in this way we will be resurrected with our bodies, that will be transformed into glorious bodies. He awaits us next to the Father, and the love of the Holy Spirit that revived Him will also revive those who are united with Him”. “’Lazarus, come forth!’ This peremptory cry is addressed to all men, because we are all marked by death, all of us; it is the voice of He Who is the master of all life and wants all of us ‘have life in abundance’. Christ does not resign Himself to the tombs we have built with our choices of evil and death, with our mistakes and our sins.
“He invites us, indeed he almost orders us to come forth from the tomb in which our sins have buried us. He insistently calls us out of the darkness of the prison in which we have confined ourselves, content with a life of falsehood, selfishness, and mediocrity. … It is an invitation for all of us to true freedom. … An invitation to free ourselves of our bonds, the bonds of pride. Because it is pride that makes us into slaves, slaves to ourselves, slaves to many idols, to many things. Our resurrection begins here: when we decide to obey Jesus’ command to come into the light, to life; when the shroud falls from our faces – often we are shrouded by sin, and these shrouds must fall away! – and we rediscover the courage of our original face, created in the image and semblance of God”.

Before concluding, Francis repeated, “There is no limit to the divine mercy offered to all. … The Lord is always ready to lift the tombstone of our sins, that separate us from Him, the light of the living”.

O’Malley’s homily on the border

On Tuesday, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and other Catholic bishops went to the border with Mexico and said Mass right at the border fence, with people on the Mexican side looking through and even taking Communion. Here is O’Malley’s powerful homily on the occasion:

Cardinal Sean O’Malley on Our Broken Immigration System
April 1, 2014 ·
The full text of Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s homily at the #BorderMass for immigrants and immigration reform earlier today is below.
Cardinal O’Malley and his brother bishops are right: our current immigration system is a moral calamity that denies aspiring Americans their rights and dignity as children of God. Scripture tells us that God will judge the nations by how they treat the most marginalized in their midst. Knowing this truth, we pray that God’s spirit will animate our leaders in the United States Congress and that we will be a nation where all are welcomed and where every aspiring immigrant is treated as a child of God and a brother or sister.
For 20 years I worked in Washington D.C. with immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and from all over Latin America. The vast majority did not have the advantage of legal status. Many came to the States in great part fleeing the violence of the civil wars in Central America.
I often share the story of my first days at the ‘Centro Católico’ when I was visited by a man form El Salvador who sat at my desk and bursts into tears as he handed me a letter from his wife back in El Salvador who remonstrated him for having abandoned her and their six children to penury and starvation.
When the man was able to compose himself, he explained to me that he came to Washington, like so many, because with the war raging in his country it was impossible to sustain his family by farming. So a coyote brought him to Washington where he shared a room with several other men in similar circumstances. He washed dishes in two restaurants, one at lunchtime and one at dinnertime. He ate the leftover food on the dirty plates so as to save money. He walked to work so as not to spend any money on transportation, so that he could send all the money he earned back to his family. He said he sent money each week, but now after six months, his wife had not received a single letter from him and accused him of abandoning her and the children. I asked him if he sent check or money orders. He told me that he sent cash. He said: “Each week I put all the money I earn into an envelope with the amount of stamps that I was told and I put it in that blue mailbox on the corner.” I looked out the window and I could see the blue mailbox, the problem was it was not a mailbox at all, but a fancy trash bin.
This incident helped me to glimpse the hardships and humiliations of so many immigrants who come to the States fleeing from poverty and oppression, seeking a better life for their children. Sadly enough many immigrants spend years without the opportunity to see their loved ones. How many rural areas are peopled by grandparents taking care of little grandchildren because the parents are off in the United States working to send money back home.
Many of the priests and bishops with me have much more experience of the border. However I did bury one of my parishioners in the desert near Ciudad Juárez who was murdered there. We know that the border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless.
Today’s Gospel begins with a certain lawyer who is trying to test Jesus. The lawyer is an expert in the laws, but he is hostile to Jesus; he seems to want to know how to attain eternal life, but his real intent is to best Jesus in a public debate. Jesus responds to the man’s question by asking “What stands written in the law?” The lawyer answers artfully with the great commandment: love of God above all else and love of neighbor as oneself.
Jesus says “You answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” God’s love and love of neighbor is the key to a good life. The amazing thing about the Gospels is how love of God and love of neighbor are intimately connected.
The lawyer is a little embarrassed so he asks another question to appear intelligent and perceptive. The question is so important: “Who is my neighbor?” This wonderful question affords Jesus the occasion to give us one of the great parables of the New Testament – the Parable of the “Good Samaritan”.
In Jesus’ day the term “Good Samaritan” was never used by the chosen people. Indeed it would seem a contradiction of terms. How could someone be both a Samaritan and good?
The Samaritans were the despised foreigners, heretics and outcasts. Yet Jesus shows us how that foreigner, that Samaritan, becomes the protagonist, the hero who saves one of the native sons who is rescued not by his fellow countryman and coreligionists but by a stranger, an alien, a Samaritan.
Who is my neighbor? Jesus changed the question from one of legal obligation (who deserves my love) to one of gift giving (to whom can I show myself a neighbor), and of this the despised Samaritan is the moral exemplar.
Jesus is showing us that people who belong to God’s covenant community, show love that is not limited by friendship and propinquity but a love that has a universal scope and does not look for recompense.
The parables function either to instruct or to shock. This parable was to jolt peoples’ imagination, to provoke, to challenge. The usual criteria for evaluating a person’s worth are replaced by that of unselfish attention to human need wherever one encounters it.
We come to the desert today because it is the road to Jericho; it is traveled by many trying to reach the metropolis of Jerusalem. We come here today to be a neighbor and to find a neighbor in each of the suffering people who risk their lives and at times lose their lives in the desert.
Pope Francis encourages us to go to the periphery to seek our neighbor in places of pain and darkness. We are here to discover our own identity as God’s children so that we can discover who our neighbor is, who is our brother and sister.
As a nation of immigrants we should feel a sense of identification with other immigrant groups seeking to enter our country.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. Only the indigenous Native Americans are not from somewhere else. So the word of God reminds us today that our God wants justice for the orphan and the widow and our God loves the foreigners, the aliens and reminds us that we were aliens in Egypt.
Because of the potato famine and political oppression, my people came from Ireland. Thousands upon thousands perished of starvation. On the coffin ships that brought the Irish immigrants, one third of the passengers starved. The sharks followed the ships waiting to devour the bodies of those “buried at sea”. I suspect that only the Africans brought on the slave ships had a worse passage.
Frank McCourt of Angelas’ Ashes fame wrote a play called: “The Irish… how they got that way.” In one of the scenes the Irish immigrants are reminiscing saying: “We came to America because we thought the streets were paved in gold. And when we got here we discovered the streets were not paved in gold, in fact they were not paved at all, and we found out we had to pave them.”
The hard work and sacrifices of so many immigrant peoples is the secret of the success of this country. Despite the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population, our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well being of the United States.
Here in the desert of Arizona, we come to mourn the countless immigrants who risk their lives at the hands of the coyotes and the forces of nature to come to the United States. Every year four hundred bodies are found here at the border, bodies of men, women and children seeking to enter the United States. Those are only the bodies that are found. As the border crossings become more difficult, people take greater risks and more are perishing.
Last year about 25,000 children, mostly from Central America arrived in the US, unaccompanied by an adult. Tens of thousands of families are separated in the midst of migration patterns. More than 10 million undocumented immigrants are exposed to exploitation and lack access to basic human services, and are living in constant fear. They contribute to our economy by their hard work, often by contributing billions of dollars each year to the social security fund and to Medicare programs that will never benefit them.
The author of Hebrews urges us to practice hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. He urges us to be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment. We have presently over 30,000 detainees, most of whom have no criminal connections. The cost of these detentions is about $2 billion a year.
The system is broken and is causing untold suffering and a tenable waste of resources, human and material.
We find in those prisoners, neighbors, fellow human beings who are separated from their families and communities. The sheer volume of the cases has led to many due process violations and arbitrary detentions.
At Lampedusa Pope Francis warned of the globalization of indifference. Pope Francis, speaking at the borders of Europe, not a desert, but a sea, said: “We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the Priest and Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road and perhaps we say to ourselves: ‘Poor soul’ and then go our way. It is not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people living in a soap bubble, indifference to others.” (burbujas, pompas de jabón)
Our country has been the beneficiary of so many immigrant groups that had the courage and the fortitude to come to America. They came fleeing horrific conditions and harboring a dream of a better life for the children. They were some of the most industrious, ambitious and enterprising citizens of their own countries and brought enormous energy and good will to their new homeland. Their hard work and sacrifices have made this country great.
Often these immigrants have been met with suspicion and discrimination. The Irish were told “they need not apply”; our ethnicity and religion made us undesirable. But America at its best is not the bigotry and xenophobia of the no nothings, but the generous welcome of the New Colossus, that mighty woman with a Torah, the Statue of Liberty, the Mother of Exiles who proclaims to the world:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,” cries she with silent lips, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Emma Lazarus)
We must be vigilant that that lamp continues to burn brightly.

The Word on Pope Francis – post 2

stfrancis.jpg.w300h400[1]Statue of St. Francis of Assisi at New Skete monastery in Cambridge, N.Y.

Religion Editor

Post 2 in a continuing series.

The first post in this occasional series examined the nearly
8,000-word recent cover story about Pope Francis in Rolling Stone

Now I would like to look at a much shorter and less well-known
article, but one much more personal.

In the online magazine Salon on Jan. 13, Washington-based journalist
and writer Joshunda Sanders writes in an article a bit over 1,000
words long: “How Pope Francis brought me back to Catholicism.” The
subtitle is “The church of my youth shut out so many people. The new
pope is changing that.”

This article begins with a striking statement: “Until recently, being
Catholic evoked the same shame in me that I felt when I was poor.”

Sanders writes obediently following her mother to church as a youth 30
years ago, kneeling at statues of St. Francis of Assisi, her favorite
saint as a girl in “the mysterious, majestic cathedrals of my youth.”

Her mother, Marguerite, suffered from bipolar mental illness and
borderline personality disorder.

“She pursued Jesus and the saints of God with a manic fever that
obscured everything else a girl should know about a mother. She was
never without a rosary near her palm, and she pinned the medals of
saints inside her blouse to keep sanctity near her flesh,” Sanders
writes. “That fervor drove me away from Catholicism as a teenager.”

Sanders did not seek connection to Catholicism until recently, two
years after the death of her mother, until drawn in by Pope Francis, ”
who took the patron saint of the poor as his namesake, awakened in me
a renewed sense of faith in the Catholic Church. His ascendancy
offered me a glimpse at something like a spiritual homecoming.”

Though a statistical “Francis effect” of the new pope drawing
Catholics back to their faith is limited in the U.S., Sanders quotes
three religiously oriented friends who are thrilled with Francis.

Sanders cites several reasons for her past alienation from Catholicism
over the years, even though she and her mother benefited from Catholic
aid to the poor.

“But I also sought a God and a faith community that would give me
access to the Jesus I felt when I read Scripture. I wanted to seek God
in a church that was more accepting of people of color, committed to
social justice in visible, articulated ways and adamant about asking
its people to suspend judgment of others for long enough to find Jesus
where they were instead of where they thought others should be.”

Apparently, Sanders sees these things in what Pope Francis is saying
and how he is leading.

I won’t give away how the article ends, but will conclude here by
saying that this is a moving and memorable piece well worth reading
for one Catholic’s intensely personal reaction to Pope Francis.

I would give this article an A for effort, style and content.

Next in the series: James Carroll in The New Yorker: “Who Am I to
Judge? A radical pope’s first year”

More on Vermont polling ‘least religious’

vt_plate[1]I always like to see polls about the different levels of religiosity
among the different states in the U.S. On Monday, Gallup issued what
seems to be an annual measurement of this. The actual headline on
Gallup’s website report is “Mississippi Most Religious State, Vermont
Least Religious/
Average religiousness of states continues to range widely.”

Generally, in my experience, the Northeast vies with the Northwest in
being the least religious part of the country. The South is usually
most religious, followed by the Midwest.

The top five most religious: Mississippi, Utah, Alabama, Louisiana,
South Carolina. The top five least religious: Vermont, New Hampshire,
Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon.

According to Gallup, “These state-by-state results are based on more
than 174,000 interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking in
2013, including more than 500 interviews conducted in each state and
442 in the District of Columbia.”

“Gallup classifies Americans as very religious if they say religion is
an important part of their daily lives and that they attend religious
services every week or almost every week. More than four in 10
Americans nationwide (41%) fit this classification in 2013. ”

Some 29 percent of Americans said religion is not an iimportant part
of their daily lives and that they seldom or never attend religious
services. The remaining 29 percent said were defined as “moderately
religious, “saying religion is important in their lives but that they
do not attend services regularly, or that religion is not important
but that they still attend services,” according to Gallup.

So nationally, according to the poll, 70 percent of Americans are
either very or moderately religious. For Mississippi, the total of
very and moderately religious adds up to 90 percent, with 10 percent
non-religious. Compartively for Vermont, the total of very and
moderately religious adds up to 43 percent, with 56 percent

Interestingly, Ohio, the political bellweather state in presidential
elections came in 25th in most religious at 42 percent of people
described as very religious. Neighborhing New York came in 11th, just
out of the top 10 of fewest described as very religious, at 34 percent
of people described as very religious. California and Rhode Island
also came in at 34 percent in this measurement.

The Word on Pope Francis – 1

  • Cover of Rolling StoneMARK E. RONDEAU
    Religion Editor
    Post 1 in a continuing series.
    Back on March 13, 2013, I came back to the newsroom after conducting an interview. The small office television was on, and we were beiing told of a new pope — one Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
    “Who?” I asked.
    It did not take long for this new pope to create an impression, from being the first pope to take the name Francis to paying his own hotel bill to saying he wanted “a poor church for the poor.”
    Francis, in my view, has helped breathe new life into what was a drifing and increasingly authoritarian and self-absorbed church. Other Catholics feel differently. What is beyond dispute is that many people ordinarily uninterested in Catholicism are now very much fascinated by Francis.
    In the past  nearly 11 months I have read three books and many articles and messages by and about this pope. Here I hope to share some of the most notable articles I have come across. Some of them are well-known, such as the article accompanying Time’s choice of him as Person of the Year. Others are not so well known.
    I also intend on commenting on some books by and about Pope Francis and about some of his own writings.
    The first post in this series will look at the Feb. 13, 2014 cover story about Francis in Rolling Stone magazine: 
    Inside the Pope’s gentle revolution by Mark Binelli
    Pope Francis is the first pope to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone in its 47-year history.
    The title reference to a 1960s Bob Dylan song and album fit well with the magazine’s music and more focus. And there is a certain fittingness in that the Second Vatican Council was a 1960s phenomena and Francis embodies its spirit much more than any recent pople. 
    Quite favorable to Francis, this article was quickly criticized in Catholic circles for being unfairly critical of Benedict. This included Pope Francis’ Jesuit spokesman, Federico Lombardi. They have a point:
    “After the disastrous papacy of Benedict XVI, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis’ basic mastery of skills like smiling in public seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic.”
    Wow. In fact, as others have noted, Benedict did during his papacy take strong action on the sex abuse crisis, being the first pope to meet with victims and laicizing hundreds of priests in recent years, as was recently revealed. And before his startling resignation in early 2013, he was slowly starting to reform the Vatican finances, something Francis has been carrying rapidly forward.
    Moreover, Benedict was hardly less progressive on economic issues than Francis, to the point that one U.S. neoconservative, George Weigel, ridiculously conteneded that Benedict did not write parts of his
    outspoke social encyclical, “Charity in Truth.”
    However, Francis does mark a huge change from Benedict in many ways, and Binelli’s article is a solid — and at 7,800 words, comprehensive — work of journalism. 
    He very carefully examines evidence others breeze through, such as the 90-minute interview with journalists on the airplane taking him back to Rome from World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero. This is when the pope famously said “who am I to judge” about the status gay priests seriously seeking to follow the Lord.
    To get a conservative view, Binelli talks in Rome to a priest of the ultra-conservative group Opus Dei, who says “I certainly have no problem at all with anything the pope says.”
    He also talks to an Argentine journalist friend of Pope Francis, Elisabetta Pique, and Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, a Vatican expert and a former editor of the Jesuit magazine America, who was forced to resign from this post in 2005 for publiishing articles challenging official church teaching on issues such as gay marriage.
    Reese makes an important point on what really constitutes change in the Church: “In the Catholic Church, style is substance,” Reese says.
  • “We are a church of symbols. That’s what we call the sacrament: symbols that give us grace. These things really matter. So Francis is already changing the church in real ways through his words and symbolic gestures. He could sit in his office, go through canon law and start changing rules and regulations. But that’s not what people want him to do.”
    In my view, Reese makes another important point when he points out that both Benedict and John Paul II were academics. Francis is more of a pastor at heart.
    It’s the difference between washing the feet of a tattooed muslim girl in an Italian jail on Holy Thursday, as Francis did last year, as against delivering sermons scolding Europeans about the dangers of relativism, as Benedict was won’t to do. Head versus heart. Francis gets that all the arguments in the world about TRUTH won’t do a thing in this post-modern world without getting the heart on board first.
    Binelli delves fullly into Francis and politics, both in the U.S. and especially in Rome. He portrays a Francis who by not living in the papal apartments and by picking up the phone himself whenever he wants to make a call, has broken free from the handlers who usually control access to a pope. 
    He also details the pope’s efforts to shake up the Curia — the entrenched Vatican bureaucracy that oversees the global church. 
    “I’ve covered the Vatican for 30 years, and the reaction from the old guard to this pope is the least enthusiastic I’ve ever seen. They no longer control the game,” long-time Vatican journalist John Thavis says in the article.
    I would give this article an A for effort and style and a B+ for content. (For a semi-hysterical view from a culture-warrior Catholic on the content, see here.)
    Next in the series: Francis Brought Her Back

Bernie Sanders likes Pope Francis


Not only did Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders issue a statement Tuesday praising the new Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis, but Sanders also put a meme on Facebook (above) quoting the pope.

These are strange and interesting times, particularly when a socialist from Vermont approves so enthusiastically the statements of a Jesuit pope from Argentina.

In fact, this is not the first time Sanders has praised the pope’s words. Here is the text of a statement Sanders issued on the pope’s book-length statement, which John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter described as Francis’ “I have a dream” speech for the Church…

Sanders Applauds Pope Francis’ Call to Reign in the “Tyranny” of Capitalism

 BURLINGTON, Vt.,  Nov. 26 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today applauded Pope Francis’ recent papal pronouncement, which condemns the “new tyranny” of unrestrained capitalism, causing income inequality and poverty, and calling on leaders to curb “the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” and act “for the common good.”

In his first independently written apostolic exhortation called “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis calls for a rejection of the “new idolatry of money.”  He notes that “the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”  He calls for “more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor,” and for the commitment of political and financial leaders to “ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”

Sanders continues to welcome the Pope’s past passionate criticism of the global financial system, which has plunged more of the world into poverty while benefiting the wealthy few.  Sanders commended the Pope. “At a time when the gap between rich and everyone else is growing wider, at a time when Wall Street and large financial institutions are exerting extraordinary power over the American and world economy, I applaud the pope for continuing to speak out on these enormously important issues,”  Sanders said.  “Pope Francis is reminding people of all walks of life, and all religious backgrounds,  that we can and must do better.”

Francis warns that our economic systems will “devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market.”

Francis broadens the definition of the commandment “thou shalt not kill,” by saying, “today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” In striking terms he asked “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2  points?”  He repeated his warning that “Money must serve, not rule.”

Help Christian Center brighten Christmas for a local family

Senior Pastor GoyetteBENNINGTON — Green Mountain Christian Center announces the sixth
annual Green Mountain Christmas on Dec. 20 and 21, 2013 at the
Christian Center (GMCC), 440 Main St.
The plans include the Gift Room for Parents in Need, gift wrapping,
and crafts for the children, Christmas music, cookies and
refreshments, and other Christmastide activities.
The Gift Room for parents in need is at the center of the activities.
Green Mountain Christian Center will do its best again this year to
fill the toy gap, but they will obviously need help. You can donate
toys or cash to help stock the Gift Room, where parents in need can
select presents for their children 10 and under.
Thanks to the generosity of many businesses and individuals in this
community, Christmas 2012 was a huge success providing local parents
with gifts for their children. GMCC was able to help more than 250
parents with toys for approximately 500 children from throughout the
Southwestern Vermont region, Bennington, Pownal, Woodford, Shaftsbury,
Arlington, Hoosick Falls, N.Y., White Creek, N.Y. and elsewhere. Given
the continued economic difficulties, they expect the need has
increased, so they are planning to assist 200-300 parents (500-600
local children).
Donations can be mailed or delivered to Green Mountain Christian
Center, 440 Main St. Bennington, VT.  The office is open Tuesday,
Wednesday and Friday 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and on Monday and Thursday 9
a.m. to noon.
Parents in need should call the Green Mountain Christian Center office
at 802-447-7224 for a reservation before Dec. 21.

Empty Bowls Supper to support Food & Fuel Fund

Bowl OneA wide selection of bowls from one of the first years of the event in Bennington.

This is an event I’ve written about in the past that supports the Interfaith Food and Fuel Fund, including the Kitchen Cupboard Food Pantry in Bennington. It will be held on Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

BENNINGTON  — The Bennington Empty Bowls Soup
Supper returns! Members of the public have once again participated in building and painting an exciting and colorful collection of ceramic bowls in preparation for this year’s Empty Bowls Soup Supper.

A $10 ticket allows the participant to choose a handmade bowl to use for the evening and then take home, and includes multiple trips to the soup bar to enjoy a variety of delectable soups provided by local restaurants and caterers. A variety of soups, including vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as breads and cookies, will be available for your dining pleasure. Diners are encouraged to arrive early for best selection! Tickets will be available at the door.

The supper will be held at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, October 27 from 5 to 8 PM. Diners will be entertained by local musicians while waiting to be served. The Soup Supper is the final event in a weeklong local initiative called Food for Thought which features a variety of events that invite reflection on the issue of local hunger.

All proceeds from the Soup Supper go to the Greater Bennington
Interfaith Food and Fuel Fund. The fund, which was established in
1973, provides financial support to local families and individuals
experiencing financial crises affecting their ability to procure food
and shelter. The fund provides $50,000 in annual support to people in the Bennington area. The Food and Fuel Fund is a program of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, Inc. , which also runs the Bennington Free Clinic and the Kitchen Cupboard food distribution project. More information about the event can be obtained by calling the Food and Fuel Fund at 802-379-0149.