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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Romero Inspires “An Unlikely Range of People”

Colleen Scheck, senior producer

"Let no one be offended because we use the divine words read at our mass to shed light on the social, political and economic situation of our people."

These are the opening lines of the last sermon given by Archbishop Oscar Romero before his assassination 30 years ago today. This past weekend over 10,000 Catholics participated in a commemorative procession in San Salvador.

Photo: Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images
(photo: Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images)

In this two-part BBC documentary, Central American correspondent Julian Miglierini reports on the complex legacy of Romero that today “inspires an unlikely range of people from devout grandmothers to secular hip-hop artists.”

Villagers at Romero mural
(photo: Kristine Pommert)

This image of villagers standing under a mural of Romero is one of a handful captured by Miglierini’s producer during their reporting. The man and woman standing third and fourth from the right, now adults, are the children in the mural, adapted from an iconic photograph taken when the Archbishop visited Los Sitios Arriba.


A is for Alleluia

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

"Olibhear" Twomey

A is for Alleluia.

A is for Ashes and last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the day when many denominations observe the beginning of Lent — the 40-ish days leading up to the Last Supper, the death of Jesus, the finding of the empty tomb, and the mysterious appearances of Jesus.

Lent comes from the Latin word for Spring. So, it seems that Lent is for Spring.

When I was a small boy, the talk in the class was what you were giving up for Lent — crisps, or lemonade, or, for the radically committed, sweets. Last Tuesday, eating pancakes and lemons, some friends discussed what to give up. We were all agreed: Lent is less for giving up, and more for making space.

We make space to contemplate what it is that we will celebrate in 40 days’ time. We make space to recognise our faults. We pray a little more. We allow our emptier stomachs to remind us of the pithiness of our observations in comparison with real hunger. We give more money. We confess. We reconcile. We listen to emptiness for a while. We do not say Alleluia.

This Ash Wednesday, I went to Clonard Monastery between work meetings. There were workmen, nurses, office people, people in tracksuits, children, teenagers, young, old. We lined up and had ashes, made from the burnt palms of last year’s jubilant celebration of Palm Sunday, smeared on our foreheads with the words “Turn away from sin and return to the Gospel”. After Mass, I walked from the Catholic Falls Road through the city centre into the Protestant Donegall Pass. I wiped the ash from my head, aware of offence and violence.

This year, I have been a sometimes-absent, sometimes-silent friend. I have been bad at communication. Good intentions, frankly, have not been enough. Decisions about what charity to give to have resulted in distraction, not action.

I am hoping that empty space will create something for me. I am giving up eating anything between meals. Three square a day for me. And, pithy as it seems, I am also giving up sweet things. Hard core for me this Lent.

On Holy Thursday, the Eucharist is removed from the tabernacle in the church. We attend the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, reminding ourselves of the emptying of God by God. We remember the descent of our tortured and abandoned brother into Hell. We allow emptiness to create hope.

A friend of mine told me a month ago that he’s been diagnosed as HIV positive. Another friend is in the gut-clenching grip of heartbreaking decisions. Someone is unemployed. Someone is lonely. And I am hoping that Lent will create a bit of space for me to commit my time, my body, and what love I can give. Such resolutions will not, please God, end with an Easter celebration, when a fire will be lit outside the monastery and we will process into the church with springtime candles lit from that same fire.

A is for Allel…

Mr. Ó Tuama, originally from Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland doing chaplaincy and community work, mostly through the Corrymeela Community and the Irish Peace Centres. Part of his community work involves writing poetry to encapsulate some of the stories of living and dying in the context of the Irish conflict.

He submitted this essay through our First Person Outreach page. Submit yours too.


A First Rite of Passage

Colleen Scheck, producer

Anointing with Oil during Baptism Ceremony

This is a personal entry, in the spirit of the "Your Voices, Your Stories" door we open to you each week. I hope my experience will prompt you to share your own stories and reflections.

I’m a melting pot of religious identity: a lapsed Catholic, sometimes agnostic theist, envious of Buddhists, awed naturalist, live-by-the-golden-rule spiritual seeker. I worry that this may be off-putting, but maybe that’s my guilt as a “lapsed” Catholic.

So, this is the identity I brought to the baptism preparation class my husband and I attended a couple months ago at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. I also brought with me the wisdom of Rabbi Sandy Sasso from our spirituality of parenting show:

"Don’t let the people who gave you a bad impression of your religious tradition be the only ones to define it. You, too, are a part of that tradition, and you’re not just a descendant, you are also an ancestor, and you helped to create the future of that tradition. So give it a second chance."

We were one of five couples who listened to the priest talk about the evolving theology of limbo, the intended role of godparents, and the significance of baptism. One “couple” was actually a Hispanic mother and her five-year-old daughter, whose baptism was required for her to enter St. Rose’s school.

“What is a sacrament?” the priest asked our class. ”A direct touchpoint with God,” I offered, and then unexpectedly choked up. At that moment, I intensely felt how important it was to me to have my son baptized, to give him a spiritual rite of passage in the tradition I was raised in, to allow him to be touched by God. My emotion surprised me, given the frequently confused spiritual state of mind of my own life. I’m still pondering what it means.

That deep emotion surfaced again a few Sundays ago during Owen’s baptism ceremony. It was held after Mass, and was an intimate gathering of the family and friends of the four souls being baptized: two young babies, my squirmy 10-month old, and the wide-eyed Hispanic girl. We formed a circle around the baptismal font and witnessed each pouring of consecrated water, anointing with oil, lighting of candle, and donning of white bib — all the while offering prayers and blessing to children, parents, and godparents. Owen was curious and innocent. I felt the beauty, gravity, comfort, and joy that comes with ritual.

I wrote a card to Owen that day, trying to articulate why I wanted him to have this experience. I mentioned hoping he’ll embrace a spiritual life, whatever it may be or however he defines it, alongside an intellectual, physical, and emotional life. Knowing he would not read it for many years, I wrote that for me spirituality is about recognizing that there is something greater than ourselves, that life is precious and interconnected — things I want him to recognize in his own way one day.

What I focus on as a result of this ritual, a ritual I was a bit conflicted about, is the place of religious traditions in helping us learn how to care for ourselves and others, and in instructing us how to reflect and how to act. In the card, I told my just-baptized son that I hoped this would be the first of many rites of passage for him that will shape his identity and commemorate his growth.

I asked Trent if I could write about this partly so I can keep evaluating the meaning of this experience and not lose it in the busyness of motherhood and work. But I also wanted to write in order to hear about your experiences of approaching and undergoing rites of passage, religious or otherwise, and how you navigated them for yourself or others?

(photo: Brian Brown)


Context and Viewpoints for the Pope’s Latest Encyclical

Trent Gilliss, online editor

With the Pope Benedict XVI’s release of his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Nancy wondered if we should do a short post pointing to Laurie Goodstein and Rachel Donadio’s article in The New York Times or the press release issued by the Vatican. I recommended we hold off and suggested that perhaps Martin Marty might weigh in Monday’s issue of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

It never came, but last Thursday Rick Elgendy, a doctoral candidate in Theology, took the reins. His piece is smart and helpful, giving us perspectives from several sides and some historical context for this social treatise. We reprint it here for you:

The Radicalism of Caritas in Veritate?

The Vatican recently released the long-awaited papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate, which ranges from theological to political and economic themes. Now that the dust has settled, the encyclical and reactions to it can be seen to be rather remarkable.

Papal comment on social ethics is not itself unusual; Caritas in Veritate is the latest in a long line of encyclicals exploring Catholic social thought. What might be surprising, however, is the character of this encyclical, given its source. Benedict XVI, frequently remembered (from his days as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) for his participation in the institutional resistance to Latin American Liberation Theology, has long been perceived as reactionary by the masses and the media. Yet, this encyclical adopts positions about distributive justice that defy the presumption of papal partisanship. Benedict argues that charity goes beyond but “never lacks justice,” and that “I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice.” Thus, “charity” given under the conditions of systemic injustice is not charity.

Elsewhere, Benedict discusses development (“authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension”), world hunger (food and access to water being “universal rights of all human beings”), the moral responsibilities of corporations (to shareholders, workers, clients, suppliers, and “the community of reference”), and the role of the market (which requires forms of solidarity and mutual trust to fulfill its own function), as well as the usual “life” issues. In doing so, he represents the “seamless garment of life” described by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin: the essential continuity between the Church’s concern with issues ranging from abortion and euthanasia to structural inequality and international peace.

Though frequently presumed to be the source of authority for those who would, say, deny communion to pro-choice politicians, Benedict here refuses to accept the ideological categories assumed in American politics: The same theological commitments that inform his convictions about the integrity of life demand a reimagining of prevailing social arrangements. Catholic and non-Catholic onlookers alike might hope that the encyclical will inspire political discourse that reexamines the standard binaries and turns to principled and civil conversation before partisan rancor (as Benedict himself did, by most reports, in his recent meeting with President Obama, in sharp contrast to how others dealt with the president’s Notre Dame commencement appearance).

Reaction from some commentators has been as remarkable as the encyclical itself. Michael Novak, for instance, echoes Benedict’s theology, emphasizing that, “[f]or Catholics, all social energy flows from the inner life of the Trinity. Everything is gift.” Yet, Novak draws starkly different ethical conclusions: “Thus, it is no surprise when empirical research shows that people who are believers give more of their time and resources to the needy than do unbelievers, and people who cherish limited government (conservatives) give more than welfare-state liberals.” Whatever its “empirical” status, this is a strange response to an argument that charity is specifically not best expressed in noblesse oblige. Novak’s further comments clarify his intention, though, as he suggests that “[t]he Catholic tradition - even the wise Pope Benedict - still seems to put too much stress upon caritas, virtue, justice, and good intentions, and not nearly enough on methods for defeating human sin in all its devious and persistent forms.”

George Weigel argues that the encyclical is the latest episode in a sordid history of attempts by The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to insinuate its social thought into the mainstream. As a result, it is “a hybrid, blending the pope’s own insightful thinking on the social order with elements of the Justice and Peace approach to Catholic social doctrine,” and those in the know could easily enough “go through the text…highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.” Weigel finds those Benedictine sections “strong and compelling,” and exhibits suspicion about the other sections (because, at Justice and Peace, “evidence, experience, and the canons of Christian realism sometimes seem of little account”). He concludes, “Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include…these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain the peace within his curial household.”

Weigel’s redaction recalls the work done in the Jesus Seminar, attempting to reveal the sayings and actions of the “historical Jesus” behind the veil of the New Testament. Though the Jesus Seminar uses four colors instead of Weigel’s two, the presumption that one can sort out the wheat from the chaff, the genuine meaning of the authoritative author from the accretions of inexpert subordinates, remains common to both. Apropos, then, is Albert Schweitzer’s well-known suspicion, expressed after decades spent on his own such searching: that the person resulting from such quests often bears a striking resemblance to ourselves. To assimilate the encyclical to our own status quo, however, would mean the tragic loss of its potentially prophetic voice.


Poems of a Late Wandering Irishman

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

One thing we know about our fan base — they (you?) love words, especially poesy. The response to Tess Gallagher’s poem about her time with Thich Nhat Hanh made that clear.

So, in one of Krista’s limited face-to-face interviews (see Shiraz’s post about what a more typical interview looks like), she was regaled by the lilting tongue and picturesque poetry of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue in September. Mr. O’Donohue passed away earlier this year, but his verse lives on.

John O'Donohue
Colleen crafted a lovely audio slideshow (keep your eye out for her post) of O’Donohue’s recitation of “Beannacht” threaded with phototgraphs of scenic Celtic landscapes taken by several of his dear friends. And, since many of O’Donohue’s recitations won’t make it into the final, produced program, I wanted to offer them up here for download — or, if you prefer a more expedient and organized approach, through our podcast.

All of them are mp3s you can download. Just right-click your mouse and select save as:

A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
A Blessing for One Who Holds Power
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: The Caha River
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Between Things
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Body Language
Since You Came
The Nativity

And, my apologies for all the parenthetical comments. Yowza!