Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
May 10, 2009

   Among the glories of European and American museums is a multitude of sculptures, paintings, mosaics, and ivory plaques portraying our Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child in her arms. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art recently paid, as I recall, some forty-five million dollars for one such painting-lovely in itself and of considerable significance as displaying the shift from aloof Byzantine formality to a touch of gentleness in Mary and a bit of playfulness in the Christ Child-from the late 13th and early 14th century Sienese painter Duccio di Buoninsegna. Like the Crucifix the image of the Madonna is a central symbol of the civilization that once gloried in the name of Christendom. And it will always be a central image in devoutly Catholic homes, enshrining as it does the noblest sentiments of our religion and the fundamental reality of the Word made flesh.

   It is also the image of everything that the ascendant Culture of Death detests. In the words of Dawn Johnsen, former legal director of NARAL and President Obama's choice to serve as the assistant attorney general for the U. S. Office of Legal Counsel: "Pregnancy [i.e. motherhood] reduces a woman to a state of enslavement," adding a further comment to the effect that the right to terminate a pregnancy could find protection under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution , the amendment that outlaws slavery. Accordingly an appropriate symbol of the Culture of Death might well be the image of an aborted fetus-scalded by a saline solution or hacked to pieces by a surgeon's knife or stabbed at the base of the skull to allow insertion of an evacuating tube to suck out the infant's brain-lying on the ground near an exultant woman flinging away the remnants of a broken chain. Any decent human being will find such an image grotesque and revolting, which is only right, since the reality it conveys to our minds is of itself grotesque and revolting. But Satan, who is the master deceiver, the supreme practitioner of the art of making evil to seem good and good to seem evil, has scored so sickening a triumph today as even to convince, to cite but one instance, a supposedly Catholic university that is dedicated formally to the Madonna, i.e., to Notre Dame, that it is appropriate to honor with a doctorate of laws and with a platform as speaker at the school's commencement rites a public official whose major commitments seemingly include waging all-out war against the unborn child.

   On this Mother's Day, as we honor our own mothers with words of gratitude and praise if they are with us still and with prayers if they have passed to God, let us offer fervent prayers as well that the veil which blinds so many to the horrific evil that is the deliberate murder of the innocent child will be lifted and in its lifting will allow a change of heart, from pitiless to merciful: for the good of the mother, for the good of the child, for the good of the immortal souls of all who have been involved in violence against the innocent, and for the true and enduring good of our beloved republic.

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Prayer for Our Families

   Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, I come to you to entrust myself and my entire family to your Two Hearts, which beat as one. I desire to renew the vows of my baptism and to place each member of my family through an act of faith, hope and love into loving union with the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I dedicate myself and each member of my family to the Guardian Angels God has given us. O Holy Guardian Angels, enlighten, guide and protect each one of us so as to lead us safely home to heaven.

   At Fatima, dear Mother of God, you appeared with St. Joseph and the Child Jesus bringing a blessing to the world. O Holy Family, bestow blessings upon me and my entire family so that we may live the Christ-life.

   I pray that each member of my family may always adore the Most Blessed Trinity and may love and honor God's only-begotten Son present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

   Grant peace to each member of my family. Keep each of us in the grace of Jesus Christ. Never permit any member of my family to stray from the true faith.

   For any family members who may have strayed, I beseech you: bid them come back to their true home. 
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   On Friday, May 15th, Pope Benedict will conclude a week-long pilgrimage and official state visit to the Holy Land, to Jordan, to Israel and to the Palestinian Territories. During the next few days let's keep our Holy Father in our prayers, asking God to protect him as he visits a part of the world where assassination is by no means unknown. And let us pray that this wise spokesman for the Prince of Peace will find a positive response to his appeal for peace in a region much in need of reconciliation.

   John L. Allen, Jr., former Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and the most temperate and best informed of that acidulous newspaper's writers, published a thought-provoking Op-Ed column in last Friday's New York Times. May I share it with you here.

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Can the Pope Bring the Peace?
New York Times: May 6, 2009

   Symbolic gestures are the tools of any leader's trade, but nowhere do they spell the difference between life and death quite like the Middle East. For example, the visit in 2000 by Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister, to Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site of two Islamic shrines, helped set off the Second Intifada.

    Thus when Pope Benedict XVI visits Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories starting on Friday [May 8], the world may be excused for holding its breath....

   Granted, the pope is not a politician, and this trip is more a pilgrimage than a diplomatic mission. Nonetheless, Benedict can make a unique contribution to the peace process at a moment when it obviously needs the help.

   The reason for this is that popes enjoy a tremendous advantage over Western politicians in engaging the Middle East. This is the realm of "theopolitics," where religious convictions always shape policy choices. A pope can engage those convictions in a way that secular trouble-shooters like former Senator George Mitchell, President Obarna's envoy to the Middle East, never could....

   Even Benedict's recent run of bad press in the West stemming from his comments on condoms and AIDS has an upside. It may make him a more sympathetic figure for devout Jews and Muslims, who know what it's like to be on the wrong side of Western secular taboos....

   Benedict could move things forward in four ways.

   First, the pope can emphasize that the "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects a global moral consensus. He arrives at a moment of growing despair, after the new Israeli goverment seemed to cast doubt on its commitment to Palestinian statehood. Wielding the bully pulpit of the papacy, Benedict can stress that respecting the natural right of Palestinians to sovereignty isn't about statecraft but about justice....

   Second, Benedict can insist that the Palestinians reject extremist elements within their leadership - an application of his broader push for a reformed Islam that respects both faith and reason. On that front, the pope has momentum .... suggesting that Christianity and Islam ought to be natural allies against forms of secularism hostile to religion. Last month, for example, the Vatican signed a memorandum of understanding with the Arab League.
   Benedict can now spend some of that capital, pressing Palestinians to embrace religious freedom, and Israel's right to exist, as the price of admission to any Christian-Muslim partnership.

   Third, Benedict can energize support for Christians in the Holy Land, who are poised on the brink of extinction. During the British mandate in Palestine, Christians were around 20 percent of the population; today they're under 2 percent because of tremendous emigration.
   Historically, Arab Christians have promoted a pluralistic vision of society, standing between resurgent Islamic fundamentalism and ultranationalist strains in Judaisn. If they disappear, prospects for peace become dimmer. The pope must assure these believers that global Christianity will not abandon them.

    Fourth, Benedict can advance the end game of the peace process by urging the leaders he meets with to bring Iran on board in all regional discussions. The Vatican has been holding talks with Iran's Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, a government-affiliated body, for two decades. Moreover, Roman Catholicism and Shiite Islam, which dominates Iran, have a natural affinity: a strong clerical hierarchy, popular devotions and saintly intercessors, and a core theology of martyrdom. Benedict could open the door, leaving it up to the Iranians to walk through.

   In the Middle East, religion is either part of the problem or part of the solution. The drama of the pope's voyage comes down to which way he nudges things along.

John L. Allen Jr. is the senior correspondent of The National Catholic Reporter.