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Catholic or catholic?

If you do not know the blog Get Religion, you should, especially if you have any interest in reporting on religion in secular media, or any interest in how religions present themselves to the world through the secular media.

There was a recent post discussing the terms Catholic and catholic, and what they mean. While doing a good job of looking at catholic as universal versus Catholic as referring to the Catholic Church, it left a few vagaries intact, that I have always struggled with, especially in secular reporting on the Catholic Church.

Briefly, the most misunderstood aspect of secular reporting on these terms is to always conflate ‘Roman Catholic Church’ and Catholic Church.

I have mentioned it before, but, simply put, the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church. It is not the only church that is catholic, nor is it the entire church catholic, but there is only one church called, officially, the Catholic Church., and it is the 1.1 billion member church in communion with Rome.

Roman Catholic, at most, indicates only a part of the Catholic Church – one of the 23 sui iuris churches that make up the Catholic Church. Roman Catholic and Latin Catholic are basically synonymous. However, Roman Catholic Church and Catholic Church are not synonymous. A Ukranian-Greek Catholic, a Chaldean Catholic, or a Maronite Catholic are all Catholic, but none are Roman Catholic.

More strictly, as I write from Rome, Roman Catholic means those Catholics who belong to the Church of Rome – that is, the Diocese of Rome. There are less than 3 million. Neither should the entire Catholic Church be referred to as the Roman Church – that would be like referring to the Anglican Communion as the Church of Canterbury, or to the Lutheran World Federation as the Augsburgian Church.

Yet, the AP style manual still insists on using ‘Roman Catholic’ instead of simply Catholic. In the end, admitting that the Catholic Church is properly called Catholic and not Roman Catholic does not mean it is, or thinks it is, the only catholic church, nor that it is the entire church catholic, but it is ecumenically appropriate to call a Church what it calls itself. The Catholic Church is the Catholic Church, and no high-church Anglicans were harmed in the making of this statement.

The Dialogue of Life in Rome

A former student-resident of the Lay Centre returned this semester as a visiting professor at the Pontifical University Gregoriana (the Jesuit university down the road). Dr. Esra Göezler is a Turkish Muslim who had studied in Rome and returned to co-teach a course with Christian and Jewish scholars, and as a scholar-in-residence at the Lay Centre.

Near the end of the semester Esra sat in a panel presentation at the Lay Centre with a German Jesuit and an Italian Jewish reporter titled “Abrahamaic Religions in the Dialogue of Life in Rome” in which each participant shared their experience of living in the Eternal City in the daily life dialogue with the other Abrahamic faiths. The Lay Centre and PISAI – the Pontifical Institute for the Study of Arabic and Islam, another Jesuit faculty in the City – featured prominently in the discussion.

Over the next few days, Esra provided further opportunity for dialogue and encounter, as the Lay Centre hosted the (brand new) Turkish Ambassador to the Holy See, Professor Kenan Gürsoy and his wife for dinner on 25 May. The following evening Padre Miguel Ayuso-Guixot, director of PISAI presided at our final mass and community night of the academic year. We were honored by the presence and insights of all three distinguished guests by Esra’s initiative.

At around the same time we heard good news about our housemate, another extraordinary Muslim scholar, Rezart Beka of Albania. Rezart has been in Rome this year on scholarship from the Nostra Aetate Foundation, set up in 1990 by Pope John Paul II for non-Christians to study Christianity at the pontifical universities in Rome. Scholars usually stay for one semester, and Rezart was already granted an extension. Facing the possibility of losing him as a student next year as the scholarship came to an end, a donor has set up an entirely new scholarship for Muslims to study at PISAI and Rezart is the inaugural recipient!

Lay Centre residents Nagwa Zarkaa Elymama (Egypt) and Rezart Beka (Albania) are presented to Pope Benedict XVI

Maronite Mass with Fr. John Paul Kimes

Father John Paul Kimes is a Maronite presbyter serving in the Supreme Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the section which deals with grave delicts, those sins which involve the desecration of the sacraments and, since 2001, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

The Maronite Church is one of the 23 “self-governing” churches that make up the Catholic Church, and is the only patriarchal church with no Orthodox counterpart. The short version of the history is that while communion between the church of Rome and the church of Lebanon was never broken, communication was lost for some centuries at a time. However, at any opportunity where communion could be expressed, it was. So, it is common to say that the Maronite church was always a part of the Catholic communion. Born of the Syrian tradition surrounding Antioch and Edessa, this church settled in Lebanon and took its name from a hermit-priest of the late fourth century, St. Maron.

Given the connection to these communities, the liturgical rites are West Syrian, or Antiochene, and the liturgical language is a variation of Aramaic, and also includes Arabic. While most of our celebration was in English, some key prayers and responses were said in Arabic, and only our Egyptian Muslim and our Italian scripture scholar could keep up without the transliteration!

It’s a beautiful liturgy, even in the simple setting of our chapel. Perhaps especially so. After my experience with the Syro-Malabar Divine Liturgy recently, I was stuck by how much more of a role the deacon has in the Maronite rite. Also that neither the Alleluia nor the Gloria are omitted in the Maronite liturgy during Lent.  (I found a Maronite liturgy on YouTube you could check out)

After dinner Fr. Kimes engaged questions and shared something of his work in the CDF. One of the questions posed was around the role of lay people in curial offices. There are few offices which are actually required, by law, to be held by a cleric, and the CDF tribunal is one of them. In most dicasteries it is simply a culture that has not been challenged. When he was prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger apparently filled as many positions as he could with qualified non-ordained people. Even when, after becoming pope, the Congregation needed the very particular expertise of a lay person in a position reserved in canon law to a cleric, Pope Benedict granted it without question.

So why hasn’t this openness translated into changes across the curia now that he’s pope? He leaves his deputies to do the hiring themselves; rather than micromanage he prefers to lead by example. I’m not sure it’s a clear example, however, to most that are unaware of this. There remains, too, what might be described as a benign clericalism (my term, not his), a belief that the limitations to certain offices to clergy is broader than it actually is. In some cases this is more explicit and less benign. But even in the case of the Supreme Tribunal of the CDF, which is clearly clerical by law, Fr. Kimes expressed the opinion that this was a wisdom – some of what is dealt with is so heinous, the thought is that the judges need all the sacramental graces and spiritual strength that they can have, hence the preference in law for someone ordained.

Holy Land Seminar Day #3

I woke up to the sun rising over the Lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee). We celebrated the Eucharist on the shore on an outdoor altar. Father Fred Bliss served as presider and homilist, with all eight of our presbyters concelebrating. Matthew and I served as lectors, and as I read the Isiah passage and the psalm, and especially as I listened to the gospel of the day, I could not but wonder at the small miracles that happen in the Holy Land. We could not have planned it better than to be in this place on this day in the cycle of readings.

(In case you forgot:

We then left the Lake, with a brief stop at a popular baptism location on the Jordan river, west to Nazareth, the main site of which is the Church of the Annunciation, the largest in the Holy Land, sitting on top of a crusader church, on top of a byzantine church, on top of a cave thought to be Mary’s house. We were also treated to what may be the most famous restaurant in Israel, Diana restaurant in Nazareth serving traditional Arab food, and lots of it!

On our way, we pass by Cana. In ancient times as today, the valleys serve as the major roads. Merchants, armies, caravans, people of the world come through the valleys, such as the way past Cana, which was a small town. But Nazareth was a tiny village, tucked away in a closed-off valley. In relating to my own childhood, I was struck by thinking of Cana as parallel to North Bend, a small town on the side of a big highway going from much larger places to other cosmopolitan ends. Nazareth was more like Duvall. Or Stillwater. Today, it’s a thriving Arab town, popular with pilgrims and tourists.

After lunch we drive along the Yizre’el valley to Mt. Tabor, the traditional site associated with the Transfiguration, atop of which is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen, though relatively new, and a commanding view of the region.

The evening we spent returning to Jerusalem, though we went by a different route, and once back at the hotel had dinner and settled in.

Witness through Faithfulness to the Scriptures: WPCU Day #6

From the official material prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches:


Isaiah 55:10-11, The word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty.
Psalm 119:17-40, Open my eyes that I may see the wonders of your Law.
2 Timothy 3:14-17, All scripture is inspired by God.
Luke 24:28-35, Jesus opens the Scriptures to His disciples.


Christians encounter God’s Word in a privileged way through reading the Sacred
Scriptures and celebrating the sacraments. In faithfully listening to the proclamation of Holy Scripture, and by prayerfully reading the various books of the Bible, they open their hearts and minds to receive the very Word of God. Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to make them understand the Word of God, and to guide them in all truth.

Historically, Christians have been divided in reading and understanding the Word of God. Fortunately, in recent times, in their search for unity, Sacred Scripture has brought Christians closer to one another. Shared Bible study has become a major means of growing together among them. The Christian journey that we celebrate during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is one that is firmly rooted in our shared listening to God’s Word, trying together to understand and to live it.The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s Word powerfully proclaimed is indeed effective and operative. It does not return to God empty but succeeds in the purpose for which He sent it.

This message is repeated in the words addressed to Timothy, as he is directed to believe in the efficacy of the Scriptures by which the faithful are equipped for every good work. Our psalm gives praise for God’s words and statutes and implores God to give understanding, that we may keep the Holy Law with our whole heart.

During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we pray that all Christians may enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s wonderful revelation as it comes to us in Holy Scripture. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us better comprehend the Word of God and to direct us on our common journey of faith until we will all be gathered again around the one table of the Lord.


God, we praise and thank you for your saving Word as it reaches out to us through the Sacred Scriptures. We thank you too for the brothers and sisters with whom we share your Word and discover together the abundance of Your love. We pray for the light of the Holy Spirit, so that Your Word may lead and direct us in our quest for greater unity. Amen.

Reflection Questions

What are the passages of Scripture that mean most to you?
Who or what in your life makes your heart burn with a passion for the gospel and a desire to give witness to Christ?
Which passages from the Scriptures have helped you to better understand the witness of other Christians?
How may our churches use the Scripture more effectively in their daily life and prayer?

Bearing witness through celebrating the faith we have received: WPCU Day #4

From the official material prepared by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity:


Deuteronomy 6:3-9, The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
Psalm 34, I will bless the Lord at all times.
Acts 4:32-35, Of one heart and soul.
Luke 24:17-21, But we had hoped…


We have an enormous debt of gratitude to those whose faith has provided the foundation for our Christian lives today. Numerous men and women through their prayer, witness and worship have ensured that the faith is handed down to the next generations.

Today’s readings affirm the importance of supporting the community of faith in order to ensure the dissemination of the Word of God. The passage from Deuteronomy gives us the beautiful prayer of our Jewish sisters and brothers who every day use these words to praise God. The Psalm invites us to bear witness through praise for what we have received as believers, so that our faith may be shown through glorifying and thanksgiving. The extract from Acts reveals a community united in faith and charity. The gospel passage shows us Jesus as the center of what we have received in faith.

As we unite with our Christian brothers and sisters in praying for unity during this week, we welcome the rich variety of our Christian heritage. We pray that awareness of our common heritage may unite us more closely as we progress in faith.


Lord God, we give you thanks for all the people and communities who have communicated the message of the Good News to us, and thus given us a solid foundation for our faith today. We pray that we too may together bear witness to our faith, so that others may know you and place their trust in the truth of salvation offered in Jesus Christ for the life of the world. Amen.

Reflection questions

Who inspired you in your faith?
What are the aspects of faith which inspire you in your everyday life?
What do you feel were the most important teachings which were passed on to you?
How can you recognize God at work with you in the transmission of faith the future generations?

Witness through Awareness: WPCU Day #3

From the official material prepared by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity:


1 Samuel 3:1-10, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.
Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd.
Acts 8:26-40, Philip proclaimed to him the Good News about Jesus.
Luke 24:13-19a, …their eyes were kept from recognizing him.


Growing in faith is a complex journey. It is easy to miss God’s revealing love to us in our everyday life and experiences. The more pressure and activity we surround ourselves with, then the greater the possibility of overlooking what is in fact before our very eyes. Like the two disciples in the gospel, we sometimes think we know what is real, and try to explain our view to others, yet we are not aware of the full truth. In our world today we are invited to be aware of God in the surprising and unlikely events of life.

In our Old Testament reading, we hear how God calls and invites Samuel to bear witness. Samuel first of all has to hear this word. Hearing requires an open disposition and a willingness to listen to God.

This desire to hear God’s Word is also experienced by both Philip and the Ethiopian in the reading from Acts. They witness to their faith by responding to what is asked of them at that precise moment in time. They listen attentively and respond accordingly. The psalm of the Good Shepherd reflects the quiet trust of the one who is aware of the tender care of God, who gathers the flock and leads them to green pastures.

During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we seek to be aware of God in our everyday events and experiences. We meet people who are familiar and others who are strangers. In these encounters we learn from each other’s spiritual experiences and so get a new view of God’s reality. This awareness of God’s presence challenges us to work for Christian unity.


Lord Jesus, Good Shepherd, You encounter us and remain with us in everyday life. We pray for the grace to be aware of all you do for us. We ask that you prepare us to be open to all you offer us and bring us together in one flock. Amen.

Reflection Questions

When have you been aware of God’s presence in your life? Are you aware of global celebrations and tragedies, and how might our churches together respond to these? Is being aware enough, or is there something more that you might do in order to give witness to your faith? How do you make yourself aware of God when the reality of God’s presence does not correspond to your expectations?

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