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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.

It’s a constant theme these days: Where is technology taking us? Are we heading towards greatness, or just hyperconnected collapse? This challenge was foreseen a century ago by the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

A world-renowned paleontologist, he helped verify fossil evidence of human evolution. As a French Jesuit priest and philosopher, he penned forbidden ideas that seemed mystical at the time but are now coming true — that humanity would develop capacities for collective, global intelligence; that a meaningful vision of the earth and the universe would have to include, as he put it, “the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter.”

The coming stage of evolution, he said, won’t be driven by physical adaptation but by human consciousness, creativity, and spirit. It’s up to us. Some enlightening conversations about this man with Teilhard de Chardin biographer Ursula King, New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin, and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.

Read more and hear the unedited interviews for "Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Planetary Mind’ and Our Spiritual Evolution" on the On Being website.

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"What we’re doing is praying with our feet, with our bodies."

Aztec dance instructor Centzi Millia wears chachayotl, the thick anklets of Aztec danzantes made of rattling seed pods during a class. She’s part of a new movement of Catholic Latinos in the U.S. who are turning to the spiritual practices of their indigenous ancestors, such as the Aztecs and other ancient traditions, and finding “a mestizo way of life.”
Read more of Shweta Saraswat’s article, “Aztlan, Anew,” which gives you a glimpse of what’s going on in your neighboring communities that you might not even be aware of.

"What we’re doing is praying with our feet, with our bodies."

Aztec dance instructor Centzi Millia wears chachayotl, the thick anklets of Aztec danzantes made of rattling seed pods during a class. She’s part of a new movement of Catholic Latinos in the U.S. who are turning to the spiritual practices of their indigenous ancestors, such as the Aztecs and other ancient traditions, and finding “a mestizo way of life.”
Read more of Shweta Saraswat’s article, “Aztlan, Anew,” which gives you a glimpse of what’s going on in your neighboring communities that you might not even be aware of.

"What we’re doing is praying with our feet, with our bodies."

Aztec dance instructor Centzi Millia wears chachayotl, the thick anklets of Aztec danzantes made of rattling seed pods during a class. She’s part of a new movement of Catholic Latinos in the U.S. who are turning to the spiritual practices of their indigenous ancestors, such as the Aztecs and other ancient traditions, and finding “a mestizo way of life.”

Read more of Shweta Saraswat’s article, “Aztlan, Anew,” which gives you a glimpse of what’s going on in your neighboring communities that you might not even be aware of.

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An enchanting hour of poetry drawing on the ways family and religion shape our lives. Marie Howe, poet laureate of New York State, works and plays with her Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, and the ordinary time that sustains us. The moral life, she says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do — and so words have a power to save us.

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Aztlan, Anew: U.S. Latinos Leave Catholic Church to Seek Ancestral Heritage

Dancing ShoesPhoto by Shweta Saraswat

"What we’re doing is praying with our feet, with our bodies."

Centzi Millia, a 31-year-old Aztec dance instructor prepares for an afternoon class, wrapping her long blonde dreads into a bun and gathering small children into a circle. “We honor the Mother Earth with our bare feet, and the vibrations we create — the Mother Earth as a living being feels those vibrations.”

The dance starts in a flurry of drum beats and the bass jangling of Ms. Millia’s chachayotl, the thick anklets of Aztec danzantes made of rattling seed pods.

"It was actually at Knott’s Berry Farm, of all places, that I discovered the danza,” Ms. Millia says after class, sitting in the sunlight of Kuruvunga Springs, a remnant site of the ancient Tongva people nestled between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire. “My parents would say those were the dances our people used to do, but that’s as far as they would tell me.”

Eighteen years later, Ms. Millia is one of several Aztec dance teachers in Southern California. A child of Mexican immigrants, she represents part of a trend among Latinos in the U.S. who are shifting away from the Roman Catholic Church. Though the Church still holds sway among new immigrants from Latin America, the children of these immigrants have been turning toward forms of Protestantism or are choosing not to affiliate with any type of religion.

However, Ms. Millia and some of her second- and third-generation peers raised in traditional Catholic households have left the Church not to follow any alternate form of Christianity or atheism, but to pursue the spiritual paths of their pre-Christian ancestors. As she pursued dance, Ms. Millia’s elders taught her how it was reshaped and used as a tool by Spanish conquerors to lure the local people away from their native, or indigenous, beliefs and toward Catholicism.

Instead of dancing for Mother Earth, Ms. Millia says that dances became offerings to the Virgin Mary. The special days of celebration for the native people became Catholic holidays. These kinds of revelations pushed her away from the church.

Read more of “Aztlan, Anew: U.S. Latinos Leave Catholic Church to Seek Ancestral Heritage” by Shweta Saraswat.

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With the abundance of coverage of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican, here’s our show about a Jesuit priest who’s living a life of Christian service that flies under the radar. Father Greg Boyle’s gang intervention programs in Los Angeles are becoming more well-known, but his ideas behind them often get short shrift.

He makes winsome connections between service and delight, and compassion and awe. He heads Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members in a constellation of businesses. This is not work of helping, he says, but of finding kinship. The point of Christian service, as he lives it, is about “our common calling to delight in one another.”

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Poetry is for me Eucharistic. You take someone else’s suffering into your body, their passion comes into your body, and in doing that you commune, you take communion, you make a community with others.
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Mary Karr from her 2010 interview with Judy Valente on PBS’ Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

(via trentgilliss)

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"The human is matter at its most incendiary stage."
~Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955)

Where is technology taking us? Are we heading towards greatness, or just hyper-connected collapse? This challenge was foreseen a century ago by Teilhard de Chardin.

A world-renowned paleontologist, he helped verify fossil evidence of human evolution. A Jesuit priest and philosopher, he penned forbidden ideas that seemed mystical at the time but are now coming true — that humanity would develop capacities for collective, global intelligence, that a meaningful vision of the Earth and the universe would have to include “the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter.”

The coming stage of evolution, he said, won’t be driven by physical adaptation but by human consciousness, creativity, and spirit. It’s up to us. Krista Tippett visits with Teilhard de Chardin’s biographer Ursula King, and we experience his ideas energizing New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.

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Redeeming the Irish Catholic Church and Encountering the Face of an 8-year-old Child

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, is one of those men who may be just what the Roman Catholic Church needs at this moment. A clergyman with clear vision, a full heart, and a will to see the Church he loves survive.

The crisis of the sexual abuse of children by priests and the cover-up by the Church has led to diminishing attendance and a dearth of Irish clergymen. In a move that defied the actions of his predecessor and contrary to the wishes of the Vatican, Archbishop Martin provided “tens of thousands of pages of evidence against specific priests.”

In this powerful 60 Minutes report that aired on March 4, Bob Simon sat down with Archbishop Martin to discuss the shrinking enrollment and attendance, the devastation of the Church’s actions, and his will to see it prosper once again. And, it’s near the end, when Archbishop Martin talks about his encounters with victims and trying to put a face to the child who was betrayed that is most moving:

Bob Simon: When an abused child comes to you, archbishop, what do you say to him or to her?

Archbishop Martin: I usually meet them when they’re many, many years later. That’s when they come forward. What I try to do is imagine what they looked like when they were a child.

One man told him he had been assaulted when he was only 8 years old.

Martin: Basically he had been raped, you know, and he’d been raped in a sort of chapel, which makes it even more, more, heinous.

Simon: Can you reveal what you said to him?

Martin: I don’t say much. I listen.

The archbishop was so traumatized by this man’s story that when he visited a school the next day, he asked to see children the same age as that child raped in that chapel.

Martin: And the teacher said, “Where would you like— would you like to see some of the classes?” And I said that, “Okay, I’d begin— I’d like to see 8-year-olds.” And he must have thought I was crazy. But if you went in on the day of the opening of a new school, where you know, when the archbishop and the minister are coming, and the 8-year-olds are all dressed up and with their hair combed and so on. It’s devastating.

Simon: You couldn’t imagine it?

Martin: It’s just, you know, what do you say? You know, you just see— you see the— you know, you see that— you know, to— it was just somebody like that that was— I mean, a grown man is one thing. But when you actually see a child, you need to do that.

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There’s a common explanation that profound sadness leads to someone’s becoming a comedian, but I’m not sure that’s a proven equation in my case. I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so. She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.
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Stephen Colbert in studioStephen Colbert, referring to the death of his father and two brothers in a plane crash in 1974, when the comedian was ten years old.

If you are a fan of the enigmatic Colbert or at all curious about the genius of comedy or the depth of his Catholic faith, Charles McGrath’s profile, “How Many Stephen Colbert’s Are There?,” in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is one not to be missed.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Sacred Choral Music in Worship Has a Power All Its Own

by Michael McGlynn, guest contributor

IMG_5775Participants in the Royal School of Church Music Cathedral Course (RSCM) perform in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. The RSCM promotes singing for people of ages by training choirs to sing church services to a high musical standard in cathedrals and churches throughout the United Kingdom. (photo: Richard Bloomfield/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

I was brought up as a Roman Catholic. My parents endeavoured to give me every opportunity to be exposed to a vast range of music, strongly encouraging our explorations, be they rock or classical music. In school the main exposure to singing was musical drama in the form of Gilbert and Sullivan with a few hymns in unison at every church service. It is understandable, therefore, that when my first exposure to sacred choral music at last arrived at age nineteen in University College Dublin Chamber Choir, it was like being hit with a mallet on the head.

I clearly remember my first rehearsal. We sang two songs, “Christus Factus Est” by Anerio and “O Sacrum Convivium” by Messiaen. Suddenly much was made clear to me. Maybe this was why people still spoke fondly of the extinct Latin Mass, with its remote and mysterious ceremony? It also helped explain to me why services were structured as they are. Music wasn’t simply a chance for the congregation to sing together, rather it was a series of sonic sign-posts angled towards illumination of the underlying spiritual truth of the service.

The Latin language, with its soft and non-percussive sound, had a natural affinity to the music that it was carried by. Later I discovered the music of Tallis, Gibbons and Byrd, being struck by the beauty of the harmonic language and the mellifluous use of the less-musical English language. Simple, direct statements of belief were woven into a powerful lattice of spiritual affirmation. Exposure to more recent music written for the Church today plainly showed that composers were acutely aware of their musical ancestry and quite capable of working within the practical constraints of service structures and the capabilities of the performing groups that they composed for. Indeed, the love of singing contemporary music among the better choral groups was a great pleasure to behold, even if much of the music demanded skills that were just on the edge of what the singers were capable of.

With respect to my Roman Catholic upbringing, I had rarely understood how the odd hymn here or there and the simplistic one-line responses and calls in the vernacular could compare to the carefully constructed musical structures that I participated in while singing in my first Church of Ireland services. It irritated me that much of what was musically beautiful in the pre-Vatican II church had simply been consigned to performance repertoire, rarely heard within its originally conceived context.

Sometimes I felt like a starved man who eats as much as possible very quickly, deputising and singing at the two major Church of Ireland Cathedrals in Dublin, St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals as often as I could. I sang for free at weddings, funerals, services — anything I was asked to do simply to experience this music in the context of its original conception.

By this time I was beginning to compose on a regular basis. Although the main thrust of my composition was towards the development of a new form of Irish choral music, I was consistently drawn to spiritual texts. Two early efforts I wrote for competitions organised for use in the Church of Ireland service were “Codhlaim go Súan I’d Chroí” (“I Sleep Softly in Your Heart”) and the anthem “Come Let us Sing” the former for a competition to find an anthem in the Irish language and the latter a setting of a more traditional Church text. This work eventually gave rise to my “Celtic Mass”, a combination of texts in Latin and Irish on diverse texts. Latterly my spiritual output has included the four “Tenebrae Responsories”, a “Missa Brevis” for St David’s Cathedral in Wales and a diverse collection of individual sacred works that include my “Agnus Dei” which was commissioned by the American choir Chanticleer in 2006 for their five-composer project “And on Earth, Peace: A Chanticleer Mass”.

Despite it being nearly thirty years since I was so profoundly influenced by this music, it continues to be a part of my life. I attend regularly at Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Dublin which has a fine and ambitious musical programme. I believe that the power generated by community singing of good quality has a ripple effect on the entirety of society. This music and literature has survived because it is simultaneously functional and art. It is important to bear in mind that composers who have written this music for over a millennium have done so with a desire to articulate their own spiritual ideas while transmitting genuine and heart-felt insight to a congregation. I now realise why this music has influenced and affected me the way it has. Choral music in worship can bring congregation, singer, and composer together in a unique and wonderful way. The power of this should never be underestimated.


Michael McGlynnMichael McGlynn is a composer, choral director, and founder of the Irish choral group Anúna. His music has been recorded and performed by vocal ensembles such as Rajaton, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, The Dale Warland Singers, Conspirare, the BBC Singers, the Phoenix Chorale and Chanticleer. You can read more of his reflections on life and music on his Pictures & Visions blog.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Church Bells in Tochimilco, Mexico: An Old Feud Revisited

by Christoph Rosenmüller

Popocatepetl-Vista desde Tochimilco, Puebla, Mexico.©Javier del Rio/Flickr

I spent a few weeks last summer in the Mexican town Tochimilco, a municipalidad in the state of Puebla. Set to a breathtaking scene with the majestic Popocatepetl Volcano in the backdrop, this charming town boasts a former Franciscan monastery built in the sixteenth century.

In this quaint town, which is about a four-hour bus ride from the bustling megalopolis Mexico City, the church bells ring every quarter of an hour. Every full hour the large loudspeakers mounted on Tochimilco’s town hall broadcast secular tunes such as the canción mixteca, a song on the emigrants’ plight. The chiming and broadcasting go on through the night. I found myself waking up at three in the morning to the sound of “Mexicans, at the Cry of War,” the stirring national anthem.

The government makes an audible point that it has the right to keep its citizens apprised of important civic events and the time, and does not yield this to the Church. In some ways this is part of the long-standing rivalry between the secular and religious power dating back to at least the colonial times of New Spain, as Mexico was then known (1521–1821).

In 1508, the kings of Castile obtained the patronato, the right to appoint bishops and other important clerics in the Americas, thus expanding the royal influence over the Church there. In the mid-eighteenth century, the crown began evicting the friars from the indigenous parishes (Tochimilco in 1767), and in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the crown seized much of the Church wealth that was given as credit to debtors. In the nineteenth century, the Liberals issued the Reform Laws, establishing religious freedom, and wresting from the Church the civil registry as well as much of the remaining Church land. Finally, the Constitution of 1917, born out of the violent upheaval of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917), decreed the nationalization of even the church buildings. In practice, however, the laws have been loosely applied in the past decades, so that the priests retain much control over the buildings.

In 2010 the PRI, the party of the Mexican Revolution, was voted out in the municipal elections of Tochimilco and replaced by the more Catholic-leaning PAN party. Local relations between the municipality and the Church became more amicable. The government turned down the volume of nightly broadcasts. Still, Tochimilco (in the native tongue Nahuatl: the place where the rabbits abound in the corn field) remains by all measures a Catholic town. A bordello was recently shut down, and the Protestants play only a minor role, if any, here, although they flourish in other towns of the area.

In the neighboring town Magdalena Yancuitlalpan (in Nahuatl: place of the new land), one of the few remaining Nahuatl-speaking communities in the area, several people insisted that their town was even more devout. A large sign over the church entrance implored the Virgin Mary to protect the town’s offspring living in New Jersey.

All Church services, including weddings and burials, are broadcast via loudspeakers. At noon Schubert’s Ave Maria rings out, soon followed by announcements that fresh meat is sold at the stand next to the church. The temple uses the loudspeakers along with the auxiliary town hall (junta auxiliar). The community largely agrees to this arrangement, it seems, given its scarcer resources and the more traditional outlook. Even visitors from Mexico City find it remarkable that in times of electronic communication, which some inhabitants of the two towns use avidly, the loudspeakers still play such a commanding role.

In any case, the PRI on the national level emphasized the pre-Hispanic origins of Mexico and invested much in restoring the pyramids. In 2000, however, the PRI lost the presidency of the country to the PAN. The change fostered a greater political appreciation for the colonial arts and architecture that contributed much to the Hispanic and Catholic heritage of the country. The National Institute of Archeology and History (INAH) is busily restoring the colonial ex-cloisters. About a year ago, INAH finished its work on Tochimilco’s Asunción de Nuestra Señora church. This imposing temple is a part of a chain of stunning monasteries in the foothills of Popocatepetl, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. This shines a bright light on Mexico, especially considering all the bad news coming from the border. Now if they could just turn down the speakers a little bit at night…


Christoph RosenmüllerChristoph Rosenmüller is associate professor in the History Department at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author of Patrons, Partisans, and Palace Intrigues: The Court Society of Colonial Mexico, 1702–1710.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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Well, I think faith is just an interesting topic, and it’s something that I quite honestly struggle with. But I always find, however much I believe about the Catholic Church — and I have some major problems with it — I always find that going to church is a very peaceful and a really nice time for me. Sitting through Mass, and sitting in Mass. You know, the thought of forgiveness, redemption — those are things that hold an awful lot of beauty for me, and really relate to our lives, no matter who we are. So those are the kind of parts that I focus on. And obviously there are things that are really scary and awful that I try to forget about.
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Craig Finn with Belly Up signCraig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady in an interview with Slate

For many of Finn’s fans, you’ll probably enjoy this interview, but the Friday Night Lights die-hards will like it even more. I just wish the interviewer would’ve probed a bit deeper on this religion question rather than using it as a toss-away paragraph that doesn’t draw Finn out on the depths of his experience or at least follow up on his answer. What are his “major problems” with the Catholic Church? Forgiveness and redemption are present in many denominations and various religions; what is it about the Roman Catholic Mass that draws him in despite his misgivings? What does he think about and take back to his work and relationships? When he cites David Foster Wallace’s idea about “reading fiction as a form of meditation,” how does Finn put that into practice in his own life and art and faith?

Photo by dsopfe/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Tuesday Evening Melody: Allegri’s “Miserere Mei, Deus”

by Lisa Moore, guest contributor

This song affirms that humans create beauty. When that woman’s voice rises above the rest and spirals around, it is pure and intoxicating.

Miserere Mei was written by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri in the late 1630s. As legend has it, this piece of music was protected from being transcribed or played outside of the Sistine Chapel for the Tenebrae (“darkness” or “shadows” in Latin) service. Doing so was punishable by excommunication.

The story goes that, after more than a century, young Mozart heard the work in 1770 and rewrote it from memory when he returned home. His transcription ended up in the hands of an Englishman who published it in 1771. Rather than being excommunicated, Mozart was called to Rome and praised by the pope for his musical genius. The ban was lifted, and now it is one of the most common works to be performed by a cappella choirs.

Why would this song ever have been banned in the first place? Because it was so very beautiful. Perhaps people would hear this music and have a spiritual experience. That experience, of course, could then be had anywhere they heard that music and open a personal pathway to a relationship with God. The Church wanted to be sure that that type of communication could only occur with its guidance and control. There are other examples of music being avoided because of the belief that it insinuated evil, like the tritone.

Other composers also transcribed it, and there is quite the dispute about who got it right and whose version is the best. I first heard a recording by the Dale Warland Singers, so I think I’m stuck with my first love, but there are many recordings — including the gorgeous version above performed by The Sixteen — both with adult and children’s choirs.

As interesting as all of this is, I’m not trying to make any big statement. I just want to share this amazing music that deeply touches my soul, no matter what sort of mood I am in.


Lisa MooreLisa Moore is a medical student at Loyola University in Chicago. She attempts to maintain her identity as more than somebody who studies through yoga, creative cooking, reading, and writing.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry and contribute a deeper understanding of the world around us.

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Which Catholic Values and Social Teachings Get Noticed?

by Martin Marty, guest contributor from Sightings

Maureen Dowd wrote an almost innocuous column in The New York Times in which she noted, or argued, that “American bishops have been inconsistent in preaching their values.” Any reader who is up on the teachings of the company of bishops should not be surprised that they are inconsistent or that Ms. Dowd caught them in action. Such a reader who is up on the parties in play can also expect that the columnist is zeroing in on a zone of teachings about sex, which are of a different nature than are the rest of the social teachings. Someone had to notice her generalization.

Someone did. An authoritative if informal response came in the Letters to the Editor column from Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany who wrote on “The Values of the Bishops.” He argued that Ms. Dowd and so many like her were not paying attention, so he cited all kinds and degrees of interest they had shown in focusing on the social teachings. Since we don’t often hear about almost all of them, it pays to note his list.

Bishop Hubbard pointed out that the bishops consistently raised grave moral concerns regarding the decision to invade Iraq back when that stance was unpopular, before the war became unpopular in the mind of the larger public. Who noticed? The bishops have been consistent supporters of efforts to repeal the death penalty, and have held this position for decades. They challenge the capital punishment culture and routinely request clemency for death-row inmates, in low- and high-profile cases alike. Who noticed?

Cover to "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholics Bishops of the United States"The full body of bishops in 2007, Bishop Hubbard argued, overwhelmingly adopted "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," a document which showed them “preaching their values.” Who noticed it? Bishop Hubbard listed some of the specific “values” positions, e.g., against torture, racism, and the targeting of non-combatants in acts of terror or war. These were “intrinsically evil.” Facing up to the need to deal with the suffering “from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigrations policy” also escaped public notice among many. “Today, we bishops are exercising our leadership in advocating for the protection of poor people at home and abroad in the continuing budget debates.” Notice, anyone?

Included in the values list were condemnations of “abortion, euthanasia,” and he could have added, “homosexual” activity. Now, check these three as “noticed,” “noticed,” and “noticed” by much of the Catholic public which likes to ignore all the other “values” here, and by non-Catholic publics who never heard of other parts of the “seamless” or consistent ethic about which we heard some years ago. Now we are left to ponder: which zones of values get noticed by Catholics (including “by which Catholics?”) and which not? Who praises the bishops for what they put on the extensive values lists which are as old as 1893 or 1917 or other times of the formulation of social ethics? And is “consistency” among them to be valued? Also, which consistent instances help the Catholic “values” cause, and which are counter-productive? An election year is a good time to ponder some answers to the questions. One hopes that the whole range of issues will get noticed.

A last question: how do these values differ from those of most humanist, mainline Protestant, and Jewish choices? Believers and unbelievers are in much of this together. Do the old lines and definitions still serve? It’s time to notice.


Martin MartyMartin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, includingPilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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Brazilians Celebrate Its Patron Saint, Nossa Senhora Aparecida

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Our Lady of Aparecida DayA man makes an offering to Our Lady of Aparecida during the patron saint’s feast day on October 12, 2004. (photo: Mauricio Lima/AFP/Getty Images)

Approximately 100 miles north of São Paulo in Brazil lies the town of Aparecida, home to the Basílica do Santuário Nacional de Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the second largest basilica in the world. Only Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is larger.

And today on October 12th, a national holiday in Brazil, thousands of devotees are traveling to the Brazilian town to pay homage to Our Lady of Aparecida (“Our Lady Who Appeared”), the country’s patron saint.

The Marian shrine is Brazil’s version of Lourdes. In her physical form, Our Lady of Aparecida is a dark-skinned, clay statue of the Virgin Mary measuring less than three feet tall. Some refer to her as the “black Virgin” because of her dark coloration.

Nossa Senhora AparecidaAccording to one account, three fishermen hauled in the statue from the bottom of the Paraiba River in 1717. They weren’t catching any fish that day and so prayed to Virgin Mary. Soon after the statue drifted into their nets, bounties of fish followed in her wake, nearly capsizing the men’s boat. Ever since, the statue has been associated with miracles.

It’s notable that Brazil, whose population includes more than 75 million people of African descent, has a black Madonna as its patron saint. One of the many miracles associated with Nossa Senhora Aparecida, as Brazilians call her, is the liberation of a fugitive slave. Some Afro-Brazilians syncretize the saint with three female Yoruba orishas: Oshun, Yemaya, and Oya — all of whom are associated with water.

And in a modern era of technological miracles, Nossa Senhora Aparecida now has her very own Twitter feed, which you can follow (in Portuguese).

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