Leading Eco-Theologian Named Bishop

15 February 09 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic

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One of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent episcopal appointments is that of Karl Golser, 65, as the new bishop of the Bolzano-Bressanone diocese in northern Italy. Not only is the diocese a particular favorite of the pope, who has taken his summer vacations there since the late 1960s, but Golser is also a long-time associate of Benedict.

He worked under then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the early 1980s and stayed in touch with him afterward.

Golser is widely considered among the leading eco-theologians on the European Catholic scene, which means that Benedict has chosen to introduce a strong new environmental voice in the episcopacy.

During an interview with John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, Golser was asked about Benedict’s core ideas on the environment. “It’s not an accident,” Golser said, “that many of the Holy Father’s comments on the environment have come on Sundays…That’s very important. Sunday is the day we live the joy of redemption, and it also expresses a new relationship with time and space. It’s about the return to Christ, the Parousia. In the Eucharist, it’s also about offering the earth itself back to God, in the consecration of bread and wine.”

“I think the Holy Father draws a great deal on Eastern theology and the fathers of the church, who have a great sensibility for the cosmic dimension of the faith. Starting from the Eurcharist, the liturgy, they propose a whole style of life that’s in harmony with all of creation.  There’s a strong current in Eastern thought, for example, on humanity as the “priest of creation.”

Read the whole interview here.

Sacred Epiphany Dip

8 February 09 | Posted in Events, Friends, Spirituality

In the snowy silence of a Moscow park, a 26-year-0ld businessman, Aleksandr Pushkov, stood naked except for his bathing suit, a column of steam rising from his body. His clothes were piled up under a tree, and he had just climbed out of a hole in the ice.

It was the 7th time he took part in an Epiphany ritual: the trance-like preparation, the electric shock of the ice-cold water and and 20 0r 30 second wait for a feeling he described as “nirvana.” As cross-country skiers picked their way through the woods, Mr. Pushkov stood by himself in the snow, barefoot and steaming.

On Russian Orthodox Epiphany, roughly 30,000 Moscovites lined up to dunk themselves in icy rivers and ponds, city officials said. The annual ritual baptism, which is believed to wash away sins, is enjoying a boisterous revival after being banished to villages during the Soviet era, said Boris F. Dubin, a sociologist with Moscow’s Levada Center. The immersion ritual satisfies a public hunger, he said, for “something that is truly Russian, ancient, real. For what distinguishes us from other people.” russian-ritual.jpg

“Each country has something that is instrinsic to it,” said Aleksandr Gorlopan, 43, who was warming himself with a combination of hot tea and Captain Morgan rum. Mr. Gorlopan, who gave his profession as “traveler,” said the tradition dated back to the tiny Slavic tribes that scattered south from Scandinavia–nomads, he said, with “wild souls.” “We are made of water,” he said. “Without water we cannot survive.”

Galina Burasvetova, a 50-year-old hairdresser in a red bikini, said she had first taken part in the ritual during an agonizing period in her life, when she was raising three children on a vanishing income. Afterward, she felt she had the moral strength to go on.

Mr. Dubin, the sociologist, said the practice’s popularity had less to do with religious revival than with enthusiastic coverage by Russian television. By others said it proved that 74 years of Communist rule were unable to stamp out the tradition, which holds that a priest’s blessing temporarily transforms water into the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptised.  Even at the height of state atheism, said Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, “the lines for holy water were longer than the lines at Lenin’s mausoleum.” russian-ritual-2.jpg

It’s Groundhog Day!

2 February 09 | Posted in Animals, Events, U.S. Catholic

I love animal holidays. Watching all the little kids (and big kids!) bring their hamsters, dogs, kittens, guinea pigs, bunnies, parakeets, and everything else off to church on the Feast of St. Francis is touching and a delight to watch. On one thing the Catholic Church was wise–to acknowledge our deep ties, love, and mystical bonds with our family pets and livestock.

I think of Groundhog Day as another Catholic holiday since it is associated with Candlemas, also celebrated on February 2nd. Its furry, cute and loveable star is Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, so we can look forward to six more weeks of winter. groundhog-day.jpg

Phil emerged in front of an estimated 13,000 witnesses, many dressed in gold and black to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victory the day before.

His annual ritual takes place on Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney, a town of about 6100 residents 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club announced the forecast (more winter) in a short proclamation, in which Phil acknowledged the Steelers’ 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

There is a tradition that a sunny Candlemas Day would lead winter to last for another six weeks. In Germany, the belief that an animal frightened when seeing its shadow on Candlemas became another indicator that winter could last for another six weeks.  The hedge-hog was the German animal of choice for the job.

Germans brought this superstition to America during the 18th century. Americans adopted the groundhog as their weather predictor.

Candlemas marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and recognizes the animals’ sensitivity to weather changes. Farmers used to rely on them to help plan spring planting.

Three other groundhogs make predictions on February 2nd: Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia; Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario, and General Beauregard Lee of Stone Mountain, Georgia.

But this year, the birds may know something the groundhogs don’t.  I saw my first robin on Saturday morning, January 31st.