The National Catholic Review

Means to Solidarity

How is it possible that so few Americans are aware of the horror in northern Uganda: since 1988, nearly 20,000 children abducted, more than one million civilians living away from their homes in squalid camps? Thank you for trying to inform them (Child Soldiers and the Lord’s Resistance Army, 3/29).

Thanks too for Rwanda Ten Years Later (4/19) and your editorial urging the need for the American public to be better informed about African politics. The U.S. bishops argued for such self-education and involvement in public policy in their November 2001 A Call to Solidarity with Africa. Unfortunately, very few American Catholics, even professionals in ministry, seem to have heard of this. A student in our Jesuit school in Bukavu, Congo, recently asked me, Why do your people know so little about us, when we know so much about America?

To counterbalance the usual bad news, your authors also highlight the hopeful antidotesso many beautiful, faith-filled people here who struggle daily to combat the heavy forces against them (including, too often, some from the civilized world). I long for the day when Africa begins to get the good attention that so many Americans gave to Latin America in the 1980’s. Africa also has heroic witnesses to the faith, even martyrs worthy of canonization. At a recent Mass in Rwanda, I heard the large, mostly young adult congregation singing, You are at the center of our lives; you are alive. Immediately after the genocide in 1994, the Africa bishops proclaimed, The Risen Christ Is Our Hope.

The U.S. bishops remind us of the power of prayer but go on to advocate more diocesan/parish twinning (including Catholic schools and retreat houses). For those to whom it applies, they call for more corporate responsibility and responsible investment. Could my company/investment somehow be making things even worse for those who are already poor? What about my country?

Finally, I have come to learn that there is no better means to solidarity than personal contact, trying to get to know some Africans in the United States or, even better, somewhere here.

Tony Wach, S.J.
Kampala, Uganda

Catholic Principles

I found it striking that your editorial on April 19 about the horrendous genocide in Rwanda warns the church not to be too closely allied with one political party, and on the very next page reports on Vatican documents telling Catholic politicians that they have a grave and clear obligation to oppose laws that promote abortion or same-sex marriages. Must such focus always be on the pelvic issues? Don’t Catholic politicians also have a grave and clear obligation to oppose a wide variety of policies that are not in accord with Catholic social principles? It would seem neither just nor equitable to single out one group, but not the other, for admonishment.

Andy Galligan
Tracy, Calif.

Ancient Struggles

I was gratified to read comments on The Passion of the Christ by John W. Donohue, S.J. (4/19). I especially appreciated his allusion to the ancient struggle over the reality of the cross and Paul’s theology to explain it to Jews and Gentiles alike. At times, in the midst of this controversy, I have felt thrown back 2,000 years to that same struggledefending the seemingly indefensible. Now why was it that he died a criminal’s death? It is embarrassing to explain it.

I agree with Father Donohue (whose reference to Hamlet was funny and spot on) that more digressions away from the Passion would have seriously weakened the emotional buildup of the film. Father Donohue’s essay was an oasis of common sense. A film is artistic expression, not pedagogy or academic discourse (yes, another hypothesis on the Gospels, that will clear things up). And it seems from the recent poll on their reaction to the film and Jewish involvement, those folks in the pews (or not) can be discerning filmgoersin spite of the Sturm und Drang of the experts.

Mary A. Ward
Weehawken, N.J.

Source of Prayer

I would like to commend John W. Donohue, S.J., for his reflections on The Passion of the Christ (Of Many Things, 4/19). They were insightful and to the point. My personal reaction to the movie (which I have now seen twice) is that it is, for me, a source of prayer and Ignatian contemplation.

Joseph C. Gill, S.J.
Wauwatosa, Wis.

Good Reason

The article by Gerald D. Coleman, S.S., Take and Eat (4/5), about morality and medically assisted feeding is very helpful, with its clear presentation of the issues and historical background. It is true that tube feeding for a person in a persistent vegetative state will not improve the patient’s condition to the point that the sick person is able to pursue the spiritual goods of life. But is our life meaningful only when we are in pursuit of some goal, and are others obliged to us only then? Could there be any meaning in one’s receiving the fruits of other people’s concern for the value of each and every life? Is this meaningful and obligatory only when we are babies and cannot make choices about receiving or not receiving some beneficent act like being fed, but not when we have gotten older and have fallen into a persistent vegetative state? Is there no good reason why we in such a state continue to live?

W. Jerome Bracken, C.P.
South Orange, N.J.

Life to Life

During a recent meeting of my department directors, an article in USA Today about the pope’s pronouncement on feeding tubes was shared. As a registered nurse and the executive director of a facility that cares only for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementing illnesses, I was stunned and aggravated. Then America arrived with the article Must We Preserve Life? by Ronald Hamel and Michael Panicola (4/19). I appreciated the history of traditional Catholic teaching regarding this issue and the discussion of ordinary versus extraordinary, risk versus benefits; and then I came to the quote from the New Jersey Catholic Conference document, which states: Today food and nutrition is withdrawn from someone in a persistent comatose state; tomorrow such care is withdrawn from someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is a horrible scourge that debilitates patients and threatens to dehumanize them. It robs them of all that is dear. All their cherished memories are gone; all their beloved faces become unfamiliar. Even the simplest tasks, like eating and dressing, become impossible. In some cases, patients lose even the ability to recognize their own reflection in a mirror. As the disease progresses, the emotional burden on the family can also become overwhelming. How sad it is when a woman no longer recognizes her daughter or withdraws in fear from the touch of her husband of 55 years.

Now we are being told that allowing these persons to progress to a dignified death must be stopped and we must insert tubes to keep them alive? Has anyone considered that the insertion of a tube is not the answer? In the normal dying process, loss of appetite is normal. But in the dementia patient, there is a loss of the ability to swallow, which frequently leads to aspiration pneumonia. The insertion of a tube does not prevent that; studies show aspiration occurs just as often or even more frequently in a person with a tube as in one without a tube. Even when we are not eating, we continue to make oral secretions which must be swallowed and are just as likely to be aspirated as food.

Inserting the tube is a surgical procedurethere are risks from infection and bleeding. And it can cause pain. So now a person who no longer can enjoy most of what life has to offer, whose very essence as a person is slowly ebbing away, must be force-fed? And one of the last quality-of-life issues, the joy of tasting and smelling even a few small bites, is replaced by a bag of formula? Research also shows there are few other advantages to tube feeding a dementia patient. There is no decrease in the development of pressure sores, little or no improvement in nutritional status and there is an increase in the use of physical and chemical restraints as we attempt to prevent the patient from removing the tube. How natural is that?

God gave us free will. That means I have the right to determine what is acceptable to me to sustain my life. And as a believer, I have faith that this life is only a transition to eternal life. So as long as I do nothing to end a life actively, it is my belief that allowing someone the experience of a dignified death is not euthanasia, but a giftnot from life to death, but from life to life.

Terri Furlow, R.N.
Long Beach, Calif.

Fish Wrapper

When I want blatant politics, I read the local fish wrapper. I do not expect it in a learned periodical like America (Election Year Economics, by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., 3/15). I grew up in the 17th Precinct, Fourth Ward, on the south side of Chicago. I know about partisan politics. Here in southern California, as a Knight of Columbus, I am working with our pastor to implement the education program of Faithful Citizenship. I agree with the premise of the bishops’ pastoral letter: talk issues, lay off endorsements of individual candidates and parties. Every time you do that, you turn off as many of the faithful as you might encourage to endorse your political position. You not only turn them off from your political objective, but you further undercut the credibility of the clergy in the eyes of the laity.

Thomas Carpenter
Menifee, Calif.

Closer to Chaos

Your editorial, A Bad Bet (5/3) underscores what should have been apparent from the very beginnings of the Bush administration. The Bushies understand electoral politics extremely well but fail to understand that governing to achieve justice and peace is not the same as maintaining Bush’s power. As long as the White House is controlled by individuals who value their own interest above that of the nation as a whole, we will continue to stumble into ever-widening conflicts that bring the Middle East and the rest of the world closer to chaos.

John D. Fitzmorris Jr.
New Orleans, La.

Spiritual Freedom

I applaud America’s editorial, A Bad Bet (5/3), critical of George Bush’s endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral peace plan. I abhor the present administration’s and Senator Kerry’s risking of U.S. moral authority to support a unilateral plan contrary to international law. It is not naïve to think that nongovernmental organizations, universities, think tanks, civic organizations and the media, here and in Israel, can alter the strategic momentum. I hope that Jesuit universities have the spiritual freedom and courage to join such a needed and ambitious endeavor.

Benjamin J. Urmston, S.J.
Cincinnati, Ohio

Profound Regret

Following the release of the John Jay report, I found the article Effortless Hope, by Joseph Shimek, (5/3) disconcerting and troubling. This may also be true for other priests of my generation, ordained some 50-plus years ago. Although the author probably did not intend it, he succumbs to the very triumphalism that he decries in the church before the Second Vatican Council. I have in mind his statement, Today’s Catholic seminaries are not what they were when they allowed men like John Geoghan and Paul Shanley to slip through the cracks. While lamenting the sexual abuse that some priests have wantonly inflicted on children, I find this attribution patronizing and condescending. While it is true that seminaries of that time were not steeped in Alfred Adler, Carl Rogers or Rollo May and might have indeed profited from the more human formation, basic to all priestly formation, that specialists like these and others provide, it is simply wistful to project insights so obvious today back onto the institutions of the past. It was believed then that immersion into what was considered sound spirituality could make up for emotional or psychological deficiencies. With profound regret, we know better today.

George Aschenbrenner, S.J., contrasts two approaches to spiritual formation, novitiate and noviceship. Novitiate formation, primarily conformity to external structures, was the thrust of seminary training a generation or more ago and helps explain some of the failures the John Jay report describes. Noviceship formation, which attends to inner dynamics or motives as well as externals, is more in vogue in seminaries today. That distinction, however, should not dim or eclipse the many fine priests the former seminary system produced. In her remarks before the National Press Club on Feb. 27, 2004, Justice Anne M. Burke voiced her admiration for the priests of the nation as the Lord’s treasured gift to his people, men of holiness and generosity who nourish the people of God by their sacrifice and goodness. I take it she was referring to priest contemporaries of Geoghan and Shanley, as well as to those of the present generation.

If the author of the report from Rome believes that today’s seminaries, adept as they are, will now experience no further slippage through the cracks, he will need more than effortless hope in the years ahead.

(Rev.) William T. Cullen
Lisle, Ill.

When in Need

Re Why Go to Mass? by John F. Baldovin, S.J. (5/10): One reason to attend Mass that I would emphasize is our obligation to the other members of our faith community. Our membership in the Catholic community includes a commitment to one another. Even if we see ourselves as being beyond the need for support from that community, the other members might not be so lucky. And if we attend only when we need comfort, aren’t we just like the relative who shows up at family gatherings only when in need of funds? I know that I draw support and strength, whether I need it or not, simply from the number of parishioners in the neighboring pews.

Kimberly Cakebread
Boulder Creek, Calif.

Mission of Charity

Although it may not have been the Rev. Joseph DeGrocco’s intention, his article on The Ministry of the Deacon (3/22) made a good case for ordaining women.

In many if not most parishes, it is women, very often nuns, who are in the front lines of service to the sick, the poor and the needy. If historically the deacon was admitted to service at the eucharistic table because he served at the table of the poor, we should certainly be ordaining women as well as men to this order. If the deacon is the one who is called to bring the ministry of the churchits mission of charity and justiceto the workplace, to the community, to the neighborhood and to all the places in which he lives and interacts with others daily, I know many women who could do that very well.

Additionally, Father DeGrocco says that the order of deacon is a separate and distinct order, and that there should therefore be no desire to ordain permanent deacons as priests. What reason then is there not to ordain women as deaconesses? This is especially so in light of historical evidence that there were deaconesses in the early church.

I also believe that a survey of most suburban parishioners would show that lay Catholics do indeed regard deacons as mini-priests, ordained to help Father.

Mary Ann Bentz
Morrisville, Pa.

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