A look back at the conference

The conference I attended yesterday afternoon was certainly interesting. All in all, a dozen or so student societies and other groups were represented, all of them Christian in some way, shape or form.  The introductions included some words from Prof. Zwarts (pictured), Rector Magnificus of the university, about what he thinks the role of the Christian societies in the larger framework of the university should be. He sees them as anchor points in the expanding student population in the city, that can help people keep their bearings in the large anonymous and often new world of university life. He said he counts on them to maintain the human side of things, while the university obviously works on the academic and official business. It was quite surprising to see how much value Prof. Zwarts attaches to having specifically Christian groups involved with a secular university.

The first major item of the conference were the so-called ‘talks by representatives of the various groups’. I was one of those, teamed up with a fellow representing a Reformed (Liberated) group. It turned out to be more of an interview times five. In five ten-minute rounds we were asked questions about who we were and what we did, with a new audience every time. So a lot was repeated, but it was quite informative. For one, I found that the Reformed (Liberated) group is not too dissimilar from our student parish in the way it works, so perhaps some cooperation may be possible with them in the future.

After a break and a short talk by a professor in early church and New Testament studies on open communication (he postulated that the two seemingly separate bodies of church and society, while legitimately so, should not be isolated from each other), we teamed up in smaller groups, not by affiliation of denomination, but toally random, to throw ideas for future cooperation about. What could we do and what not, what kind of ideas already exist, what can we learn from each other, that sort of stuff. These ideas were then dicussed by the chairman for the day, who picked a few good ones and suggested we realise them.

All in all, the conference was fruitful. Form our perspective there is certainly is a wide gap between the various Protestant denominations on the one hand and the Catholic Church on the other, but there was a lot of interest in us and enthusiasm for our presence. In the past, Bishop Eijk pulled us out of the general Christian platform to maintain our identity (and rigthly so, because a short while later that platform went from generally Christian to generally spiritual), but many people apparently were sorry to see us go.

In the next couple of days, the suggested ideas will be committed to paper and hopefully we’ll be able to work some of them out and maintain the contacts we have tentatively established. I think that the Reformed (Liberated) group and their miniter, as well as the Navigators, whose motto is as simple as knowing and witnessing Christ, can be good partners for us. We will be working towards a first event on Shrove Tuesday; we invited representatives of the groups at the conference to come and visit us then for drinks, a tour of the cathedral and a chance to get to know us a bit more.

Papal Message for World Communications Day

It’s not even remotely May yet, but the Vatican already published the text of Pope Benedict’s message for the World Communications Day, on 16 May 2010.

The Holy Father connects the theme of the day, The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word, to the ongoing Year for Priests, and as such the target audience seems to be mostly the priesthood. The pope aptly identifies modern communication as an arena in which the Church, and priests especially, must invest.

The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.

 The world of modern communications, especially the internet, is not simply a place to reach out to Catholics. It very clearly is a plce where priests can make God present for all, believer and non-believers alike.

Just as the prophet Isaiah envisioned a house of prayer for all peoples (cf. Is 56:7), can we not see the web as also offering a space – like the “Court of the Gentiles” of the Temple of Jerusalem – for those who have not yet come to know God?

These are very keen and important observations, I think. With many people being very active online, it would be quite strange if the Church would not do anything with that. The pope accurately quotes St. Paul, from the letter to the Romans:  “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?”

Not just important, it’s an obligation.

Read the original text or my translation.

Much-maligned pontiff

A very good defense of Pope Pius XII on the website of Israeli newspaper Haaretz yesterday. Emphases and notes mine.

Much-maligned pontiff

by Dimitri Cavalli

Some things never go away. The controversy over Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War II was recently reignited when Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree affirming that his predecessor displayed “heroic virtues” during his lifetime. When the pope visited the Great Synagogue of Rome on Sunday, Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome’s Jewish community, told him: “The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done.”

This was not the first time the wartime pope, who is now a step closer to beatification, has been accused of keeping silent during the Holocaust, of doing little or nothing to help the Jews, and even of collaborating with the Nazis. To what extent, if any, does the evidence back up these allegations, which have been repeated since the early 1960s?

On April 4, 1933, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state, instructed the papal nuncio in Germany to see what he could do to oppose the Nazis’ anti-Semitic policies.

On behalf of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli drafted an encyclical, entitled “Mit brennender Sorge” (“With Burning Anxiety”), that condemned Nazi doctrines and persecution of the Catholic Church. The encyclical was smuggled into Germany and read from Catholic pulpits on March 21, 1937.

Although many Vatican critics today dismiss the encyclical as a light slap on the wrist, the Germans saw it as a security threat. For example, on March 26, 1937, Hans Dieckhoff, an official in the German foreign ministry, wrote that the “encyclical contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German government, calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the state, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace.”

Both Great Britain and France should have interpreted the document as a warning that they should not trust Adolf Hitler or try to appease him.

After the death of Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli was elected pope, on March 2, 1939. The Nazis were displeased with the new pontiff, who took the name Pius XII. On March 4, Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, wrote in his diary: “Midday with the Fuehrer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli’s election as pope.”

During the war, the pope was far from silent: In numerous speeches and encyclicals, he championed human rights for all people and called on the belligerent nations to respect the rights of all civilians and prisoners of war. Unlike many of the pope’s latter-day detractors, the Nazis understood him very well. After studying Pius XII’s 1942 Christmas message, the Reich Central Security Office concluded: “In a manner never known before the pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order … Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.” (Pick up any book that criticizes Pius XII, and you won’t find any mention of this important report.)

In early 1940, the pope acted as an intermediary between a group of German generals who wanted to overthrow Hitler and the British government. Although the conspiracy never went forward, Pius XII kept in close contact with the German resistance and heard about two other plots against Hitler. In the fall of 1941, through diplomatic channels, the pope agreed with Franklin Delano Roosevelt that America’s Catholics could support the president’s plans to extend military aid to the Soviet Union after it was invaded by the Nazis. On behalf of the Vatican, John T. McNicholas, the archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio, delivered a well-publicized address that explained that the extension of assistance to the Soviets could be morally justified because it helped the Russian people, who were the innocent victims of German aggression.

Throughout the war, the pope’s deputies frequently ordered the Vatican’s diplomatic representatives in many Nazi-occupied and Axis countries to intervene on behalf of endangered Jews. Up until Pius XII’s death in 1958, many Jewish organizations, newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples, in his April 7, 1944, letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: “It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews … The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance.” [Ironic, since many later did forget…]

The campaign against Pope Pius XII is doomed to failure because his detractors cannot sustain their main charges against him – that he was silent, pro-Nazi, and did little or nothing to help the Jews – with evidence. Perhaps only in a backward world such as ours would the one man who did more than any other wartime leader to help Jews and other Nazi victims, receive the greatest condemnation. [It shows the power of populaist theory. As long as it sound good, people will believe it, despite the evidence against it.]

Dimitri Cavalli is an editor and writer in New York City. He is working on books on both Pope Pius XII and Joe McCarthy, the late manager of the New York Yankees.