The National Catholic Review
Maryann Cusimano Love
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One of my greatest privileges is praying with my children. Each has his or her own spiritual style. Our 9-month-old baby girl takes the "make a joyful noise” approach, enthusiastically clapping, cooing and screeching in her attempts to sing along with the hymns at church and at home, with a zeal that is not always appreciated by other congregants or family members.

Our 2-year-old is also a fervent cantor (with more accurate pitch), but he also prefers kinetic prayer. No matter how distant or awkward the angle from his high chair to the next person at the table, he is intent on holding hands and making (sometimes confused) signs of the cross at meal times.

And our five-year-old is a dedicated practitioner of petitionary and thanksgiving prayer. Her lists of thanks (including each teacher and student in her preschool) and petitions are legendary and have been known to cool many a meal and delay many a bedtime. I learn much from my children as I observe their varied spiritual selves. And I am humbled in my attempts to explain what is inexplicable to them: how governments and rebels can block worship and prayer.

Our five-year-old saw newspaper pictures of the recent spate of mosque bombings in Iraq, and the questions began. Why is that woman crying? Why would anyone hurt a church? Where in the world are people not allowed to pray? I attempted a few brief, age-appropriate explanations, to which she responded, "This is unacceptable. People don't get it. No one can stop people from talking to God.”

This year the State Department will issue its 10th annual report on international religious freedom, detailing restrictions on religious liberty from China, Burma and Sudan to Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics of this yearly ritual argue the report is toothless. The Chinese government, for example, has been listed as one of the worst offenders, a "country of particular concern” in every report, yet this does not stop the United States from engaging in extensive trade and financial relations with China. The May 1 report of the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cites countries of concern that the State Department omits for political reasons, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iraq.

Defenders note that religious freedom benefits from transparency and attention to abuses, both of which the report offers. It is one tool among others to help advance the principles that religious liberty is "a foundational human right, that restrictions on faith and practice are an affront to human dignity.”

While the United States leads in promoting international religious liberty abroad, in some ways we still "don't get it.” U.S. officials in diplomacy, development and defense are not trained in the religious dimensions of international affairs academic international relations programs marginalize the study of religion, and U.S. government recruitment efforts do not reach out to religious studies programs. The Center for Strategic and International Studies report Mixed Blessings describes in detail the many ways in which the U.S. government does not engage or understand religious actors and dynamics. The Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have vowed to hire more and better trained civilians to deploy into hotspots around the world, like Afghanistan and Iraq. But without a nuanced understanding of religious actors and dynamics, U.S. policies in those countries and elsewhere will be ineffective and self-defeating. Obama has yet to appoint an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau"doesn't get it,” as it has failed to provide access to religious services and professional chaplains for refugees in U.S. detention, particularly at local, state and contractor facilities. Refugees held in U.S. detention centers have less access to religious services than jailed U.S. prisoners. Few Iraqi refugees are allowed into the United States, even though half of the Iraqi Christian population has been either killed or forced to flee, according to the U.S.C.I.R.F. report.

Congress must protect refugees’ religious freedom and practices, because the I.C.E. has been unresponsive to these concerns.

When our family goes to church, we fear that our three young children may disrupt the Mass. We do not fear we will be prevented from worshipping, nor do we fear for our lives. As Congress and the administration change U.S. foreign policy and institutions,"getting religion” would be a good place to start.

Maryann Cusimano Love is professor of international relations at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Mixed Blessings

Comments

Gil Huhlein | 6/25/2009 - 6:29pm

It is a major blunder to ignore religion in foriegn relations  A peoples religion is their heart and soul.  Misunderstanding, violence, and a lack of cooperation...perhaps even hatred is instilled when one's religiouse beliefs and culture are violated.  As one needs a guide and translator to navigate a language, so to do we need guides in spiritual and religiouse matters.  Aid in interpretiing that which is most sacred is most important!  Religion and its free expression we pray to be a priority not only in this country but in our foreign relations.

 

 

john vercellone | 5/14/2009 - 3:33pm
i am curious why there is and hasnt been since the 1980s a ratio of catholic health professionals,catholic hospital bed and executives in the unregulated for 40years,with double inflation rates for 40years usa health medical industrial complex.by health professionals i mean doctors,nurses,pharmacists,medical technologists that was fairly representative of the usa catholic population density year after year since mid 1970s..all of a sudden catholics were not acceptable candidates ot medical,nursing and pharmacy schools?? blacklisted american catholic pharmacist john v vercellone
George | 5/13/2009 - 1:31am
Maryann Cusimano Love's opening para reminded me of the story of Bishop Fulton Sheen who said to a mother taking her baby out of the church while he was preaching a homily, "You don't have to take him away. He is not disturbing me." The mother replied, "No. But you are disturbing him."
Gini Parker | 5/12/2009 - 5:44pm
A wonderful post. Heart-touching beginning. Who are more free and uninhibited in expressing religious joy, and yes, even outraged religious disappointment in our social failings, than the young and the innocent? Mother Love's story about her children's prayer styles was absolutely delightful. It reminded me of the time my now 6 foot 3 godson as a toddler cracked up congregational worship, calling out at Mass ( during a second collection), "More money, honey!". On a more serious note, It shouldn't take a five-year-old to remind us of that which is not acceptable! Thank you, Professor Love, as you remind us, even in America, where we do not drop bombs on religious sites, of the wrong done to those strangers eager to make their home with us when denied the comforts and consolations of their faith. In such a way, we double their lost sense of home.
Thomas McCabe | 5/11/2009 - 7:28pm
Maryann Cusimano Love's article was on the line. She should NEVER,NEVER worry that her children are disturbibg others in church. I know sometimes when a child makes nosie it is hard to hear the homily, but sometimes that is just as well. I thank GOD for the opportunity to practice my CATHOLIC FAITH in the free country. There seems to be an atmosphere of accepting every kind of philosophy, no matter how opposed it is to the TRUTH and NOT the CUSTOM. Thank you professort LOVE for telling it like it is, and keep bring the kids to Mass Thomas McCabe
Sherrill Mc Mahon | 5/8/2009 - 3:51pm
A few months ago, I was fortunate to hear an outstanding speaker, John Lenczowski, who addressed this issue. He recognized the lack of a "nuanced understanding of religious actors and dynamics" and was the founder of "The Institute of World Politics", a graduate school in Washington, DC. One of the degrees they offer is "Comparative Political Culture" which covers the "political, ideological, religious, legal, institutional, and larger cultural influences on the behavior of various states and non-state actors in the world. This kind of education is needed now more than ever. The Institute's website is: iwp.edu. There you might want to look at their "Raison D'Etre" which is a great summary of who they are and the terrific fields they cover.
Michael Appleton | 5/8/2009 - 2:26pm
There is hardly a more dramatic example of the truth of Prof. Love's observations than the initiation and conduct of the war in Iraq. The leaders of this country viewed Islam as monolithic, failing to understand even the theological and historical origins of the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam. The price paid by both the United States and the Iraqi people is morally incalculable.
Johnny | 5/8/2009 - 2:25pm
Excellent article and I agree that if we can see the freedom of religion that Jesus encouraged in our Children ("Let the children come to me"), we will be able to promote freedom of religion across the world. The title for this article was really confusing though, because at first glance you would think it is about religion and conservatives. The only thing that would have made this article better would have been a new tittle (perhaps "Right Of Religion"). Keep up the good work though! It is nice to actually read a pleasant article from this newspaper for a change. -Johnny

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