Friday, January 28, 2011

Notes on the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I typically post something on this blog in observance of the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, which the Roman Catholic Church celebrates on this date. Earlier posts in this category include a philosophy student's humble reflections on the scholarly influence of St. Thomas Aquinas, some words on the unlikely and very indirect relationship between St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Thomas Aquinas, and a London pub, and an appreciation of "Our brother, the Dumb Ox" by a young Dominican friar.

This year, I'm going to keep my Aquinas post fairly simple by sharing a photograph that I took last summer in Austria. The mosaic visible in the above image is part of the reredos behind the high altar in the domestic chapel of the Jesuitenkolleg in Innsbruck. I encourage you to click on the image for a more detailed look at the mosaic, which depicts St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Thomas Aquinas kneeling before Christ. Each saint has a book with him - the Constitutions in the case of St. Ignatius, and the Summa Theologica in the case of St. Thomas.

I'm not sure whether the artist who created the above image expected viewers to make something of the fact that St. Thomas holds the Summa in his hands while St. Ignatius comes before the Lord with open hands and the Constitutions resting on the ground beside him. At the very least, I hope that some of my brother Jesuits who struggle with philosophy studies can take some consolation in seeing Father Ignatius united with the Angelic Doctor.

On this Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, my prayers are with all students of philosophy and theology. In a special way, though, I'll be praying today for two particular groups of philosophy students: my fellow Jesuit scholastics in First Studies at Fordham, Loyola University Chicago, and Saint Louis University, and the SJU undergraduates I'll teach this very morning. May God grant them all the wisdom and the grace that they need. AMDG.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On "live" recordings.

In a post yesterday on his outstanding music blog On An Overgrown Path, retired recording executive Bob Shingleton (aka 'Pliable') raises an important question: Do concert recordings make sound sense? Shifting market forces favor the production and commercial release of recordings of public concerts over studio-produced recordings, with many of these 'live' concert recordings coming from new house labels created by orchestras themselves. As Pliable observes, the movement toward live concert recordings presents some acoustic challenges:
There is no problem per se with concert recordings, other than the acoustic limitation of the venue. Many great recordings have been made at concerts. . . . Occasional audience noise leave the listener in no doubt that these are concert performances, but their greatness is not diminished as a result. The problem, as highlighted by [recording engineer] Tony Faulkner, is the current fashion of making concert recordings sound like studio sessions by technical legerdemain. There is an almost total absence of extraneous noise on the new generation of concert recordings. When have you heard an audience totally silent at a concert? Very rarely I would bet, which means sonic manipulation is being applied as an additional intermediary layer between performer and listener. And that manipulation has been made a lot easier by recent developments in digital technology.
My humble opinion as a listener and collector of classical recordings is that Pliable is right. I say this despite the fact that I tend to prefer live recordings to those produced in the studio. Recordings made at public concerts heard by people other than recording engineers and the musicians themselves often seem more alive to me even if they lack the technical perfection of the best studio recordings.

In my view, an occasional bit of audience noise shouldn't be regarded as a "flaw" to be removed through digital patching but as a valuable reminder to listeners that a recording is a historical document. In an effort to make live recordings sound "better" by removing as much extraneous noise as possible - including even audience applause at the end of the performance - engineers run the risk of creating a finished product that may sound oddly disembodied.

Writing on this topic, I can't help but think of the first recording I ever purchased of Beethoven's 9th, an EMI reissue of a famous performance of the work conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Bayreuth Festival in 1951. The sonic quality of this mono recording isn't the very best - even with remastering, it still sounds like a sixty-year-old record - and I can think of other recordings of the same work that I find more satisfying in artistic terms. Still, the circumstances behind this particular recording give it special meaning. The 1951 performance captured here came during the postwar reopening of the Bayreuth Festival, an event seen by many as a symbol of Germany's cultural rebirth following the horrors of Nazism and the devastation of the Second World War; Furtwängler's participation was also a sign of the rehabilitation of a conductor who had faced considerable public criticism for his decision to continue working in Germany throughout the Nazi period despite his opposition to National Socialism.

So what does Furtwängler's 1951 reading of Beethoven's 9th have to do with live recordings made today? Well, this recording includes the kind of sonic flaws which many engineers would today to seek to eliminate even from ostensibly 'live' concert recordings - a variety of coughs, creaks, and other sounds that remind listeners that they are hearing a record of a public performance. Over time, I've come to regard these extraneous noises as calling cards from friendly ghosts - I've listened to the recording in question often enough to anticipate exactly when they will be heard, and I usually smile when I hear them.

I feel as though phantom coughs, throat-clearings and other bits of audience noise captured in live recordings connect me with fellow music-lovers of the past, making us secret sharers of a kind. In short, I find that the imperfections of live recordings allow for a unique sort of intimacy - not simply with the music itself, but with other listeners who have heard the same music in the past. If I had more time, I would say more about other specific recordings that have done this for me, such as Wolfgang Sawallisch's 1989 reading of Wagner's Ring, which comes complete with stomps, crashes, shrieks, and other noises recorded live on the stage of the Bavarian State Opera during an actual series of public performances of the Ring. For now, I hope I've written enough to make my point. AMDG.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A new leader for SJU.

Some readers of this blog may be interested in this morning's news from Hawk Hill:
The Saint Joseph’s University Board of Trustees today elected Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J., as the University’s 27th President. Currently the dean of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, Father O’Keefe will take office May 18, 2011. He will succeed Timothy R. Lannon, S.J., who is leaving at the end of the current academic year to become president of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

“The members of the Board of Trustees are excited to introduce Fr. O’Keefe as the next president of Saint Joseph’s University,” said Paul Hondros ’70, chair of Saint Joseph’s Board of Trustees. “We were seeking a leader with a deep commitment to education and academic excellence as well as the vision to advance the University and address the needs of the students of the future. Fr. O’Keefe more than fulfills those aspirations.

“Fr. O’Keefe’s success as a leader at Boston College and his deeply rooted commitment to the Jesuit, Catholic tradition make him extraordinarily qualified to boldly move Saint Joseph’s forward at a challenging time for higher education,” he added.

“The election of Fr. O’Keefe followed an intensive and rigorous search, and I thank the committee members for their dedication to this process,” said Robert Falese ’69, who chaired the search committee. “We sought a leader with superlative credentials, including scholarly excellence, significant leadership experience and success in fundraising. Clearly, we have found what we were looking for in Fr. O’Keefe.”
To read the rest of the announcement, click here. I hope that you will join me in praying for Father O'Keefe as he prepares to become the 27th President of Saint Joseph's University. I pray that he finds a warm welcome and a happy home here on Hawk Hill, and I pray also that the University may excel and prosper under his leadership in the years to come. AMDG.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"One of the last of the good guys."

From yesterday's Boston Globe, a report on the end of an era in Massachusetts politics:
“It’s over for us, Sal. The whole thing is over for our generation,’’ Francine Gannon told Sal Tecce as they watched their friend, retired state Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci, leaving a pomp-filled tribute in the House chamber yesterday.

Tecce worked with DeNucci in the State House when they were pages all those years ago. Gannon’s family supported DeNucci for decades. They were among the many old friends, lawmakers, aides, and political supporters who see DeNucci’s retirement as not just the end of a lengthy political career but also the end of an era.

DeNucci, a State House fixture for decades, represented an old-school brand of politics, built on personal loyalties, that is now under attack. Former attorney general Francis X. Bellotti, who served as master of ceremonies for the celebration, said he sees this as “a time of great cynicism, when many politicians take polls to find out what they believe.’’

“We live in an environment that makes it very difficult, extremely difficult, if not impossible, for there to ever be another Joe DeNucci,’’ said Bellotti, a longtime friend who offered an elegiac tribute to DeNucci. “This is not just the passing of an era. It’s the passing of one of the last of the good guys, one of the last of the giants.’’

And DeNucci, said Bellotti and other speakers, was one of a kind. A professional boxer from Newton, he came to the State House as a page and worked his way up to serve in elective office, first in the House for 10 years and then for six terms as state auditor.
To read the rest, click here. The tributes offered above are richly deserved: a good man and an outstanding public servant, Joe DeNucci represented the best in Massachusetts politics. Always humble and personally unassuming, Auditor DeNucci worked hard to make state government more efficient and accountable, uncovering corruption and seeking to ensure that public funds were well spent. An old-school, pro-life Democrat who won respect and support from people across the political and ideological spectrum, Joe DeNucci never forgot that public service is about helping real people with real problems and giving a voice to the powerless.

I met Joe DeNucci a couple of times when I was a State House intern, and I once had the honor of introducing him when he came to speak to the assembled interns about his work as state auditor. While I don't remember much of what he said that day, I can say that I was always proud to have Joe DeNucci as one of my elected officials. His service to the Commonwealth made Massachusetts a better place, and I regret that we probably won't see his like again. AMDG.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On the experience of tertianship.

In a post from December, I urged readers to take a look at a new blog by Father Jack Siberski, a New England Province Jesuit who recently started tertianship in Australia. Tertianship is a 'third probation' made by Jesuits who have completed their initial formation (the decade-long process that, for Jesuits who intend to become priests, leads to ordination) and are preparing for final vows. Tertianship includes the repetition of some elements of the novitiate: like novices, tertians make the Spiritual Exercises in the form of a thirty-day silent retreat, undertake an intensive study of the Constitutions and other Jesuit documents, and complete at least one short-termed ministry assignment (or 'experiment').

While novices do all of the preceding things over a period of two years, tertians do them in a more concentrated form: contemporary tertianship programs usually last anywhere from five to nine months, and some are designed to be completed over two summers. Some of the content of tertianship resembles that of the novitiate, but the fact that Jesuits enter into tertianship after many years of life and work in the Society also makes for a very different experience. Newly-minted tertian Jack Siberski gets at this precise topic in a recent post that I hope you'll take the time to read. Here are the key paragraphs:
Beginning tertianship is like beginning novitiate without the fear and anxiety. The two [in this group of tertians] who have been Jesuits for the shortest period of time entered 13 years ago. The uncertainty is absent. We know what we are doing, why we are doing it, and, at least in some vague sense, how we wish to do it for the rest of our lives.

The psalm response, ‘Here I am Lord, I come to do your will’ encapsulates our desires as tertians just as it stated our desires at the end of novitiate. No, we are not seeking God’s will as to whether or not we have a vocation to the Society. Rather, we are seeking how we will respond, live, and work as men in final vows, fully incorporated into the fabric of the Society of Jesus. We could not have prayed this way in the novitiate because we did not know the questions to say nothing of the answers. Now, however, it is different. We begin this period, an experience that resembles the structure of the novitiate. But, the experience will be compressed into seven months compared with the 24 we spent as novices. There will be anxieties but they will have a different content.

A few friends responded to questions about making the long retreat a second time as tertians with the unanimous opinion that it is different, gentler, and a deeper experience of the Exercises than it was as a first-year novice. But, as those of us in New England heard time and again from the men a year ahead of us in the novitiate, “You’ll understand after the long retreat” or, “You’ll understand after vows” we will understand only after we have finished tertianship.
To read the rest of Jack's post, click here. As a young Jesuit still closer in formational terms to the novitiate than to tertianship, I'm consoled by the notion of tertianship as a "novitiate without the fear and anxiety." I hope that you'll join me in following Jack's adventures in tertianship through his blog, and I hope you'll also join me in praying for him and his fellow tertians. AMDG.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


As one who appreciates the persistence of odd and mysterious traditions, I was disappointed to read that Baltimore's famous Poe Toaster has apparently ended his annual visits to the grave of Edgar Allen Poe. I use the term "apparently" somewhat cautiously, because, as an article in yesterday's Baltimore Sun points out, the Toaster and his intentions remain as enigmatic as ever:
For the second year in a row, the mysterious Poe Toaster failed to show up at his the writer's Baltimore grave Wednesday morning. And the curator of the Poe House, who has spent years protecting the famed writer's legacy and fanning the flames of the toaster's legend, is about ready to give up on the ghost.

"I will be here in 2012, but that will be it," said a weary Jeff Jerome, who stayed by Poe's gravesite until 5:45 a.m. waiting for the toaster. "If he's a no-show, I will officially pronounce the tradition dead."

. . .

For some 60 years, the toaster would appear every Jan. 19 to pay tribute to Poe, a Boston native who died on Oct. 7, 1849, in Baltimore under circumstances that have never been fully explained. Arriving at the gravesite without fanfare, he would leave behind three red roses and a bottle of cognac, then quietly disappear into the night.

Last year's no-show was the first since at least 1949. Speculation over the identity of the Poe toaster has raged for years. Many names have been floated, including a Fells Point prankster who died in 2010, an adman who said he started the tradition as a publicity stunt, a father-and-son team — even Jerome himself.

But Jerome, who has been shepherding the tradition since 1977, insists it's not him. And none of the other possibilities has conclusively panned out.

About a dozen people waited Wednesday morning outside the gates of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground on Fayette Street, but as dawn approached, it was clear the true toaster would not be showing up. Jerome eventually opened the gate and allowed the visitors to leave their own tributes on Poe's grave.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

D.C. and Dixie: Drifting apart?

As one who went to school in the District of Columbia and enjoys thinking about questions of cultural and regional identity, this article in today's Washington Post caught my interest. Here's the lede:
Dixie Liquor stands alone. The Georgetown shop, which has been casting its neon glow across M Street NW for more than 50 years, is the only business in Washington and one of the few left in the region with the word "Dixie" in its name.

And it's not just the D-word. The region's Southern accent is also becoming measurably less pronounced, linguists say. The Confederate flag doesn't fly much in these parts anymore. Korean barbecue has taken its place alongside the Southern pit-cooked variety in many neighborhoods, and the "sweet tea line" that once stretched across Virginia has gotten blurry.

In all, according to academics and cultural observers, the Washington area's "Southernness" has fallen into steep decline, part of a trend away from strongly held regional identities. In the 150th anniversary year of the start of the Civil War, the region at the heart of the conflict has little left of its historic bond with Dixie.
The WaPo article confirms a lot of things I've thought and noticed about D.C. over the years, particularly in the following paragraphs:
As the hub of the nation's government, Washington is always home to thousands of newcomers, some of whom cling to their hometown identities. Those who arrive from the North often see the area as Southern, and those from the South feel a Northern vibe.

But Greg Carr, who grew up in Nashville, sees Southern markers here. Carr, chairman of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, said he recognizes the fading signs of the Old South in this region.

"For black folks, this is still very much a Southern city," Carr said. "D.C. has very little in common with a stereotypical Northern city."

Carr cited the presence of an entrenched black elite in Washington as a characteristic of Southern cities, along the lines of Atlanta and Charlotte. Its still-living history of sharply segregated neighborhoods is another sign, as well as the paucity of white ethnic neighborhoods, such as Italian or Irish sections of Baltimore, New York and Boston.

"Even the architecture is more Southern," Carr said. "You have no concrete canyons in Washington."

Even as black residents from other states and countries move to Washington in greater numbers, the cultural feeling of African American communities remains Southern, he said.

"Anacostia, that's the South over there," Carr said. "Folks with their shirts off washing their cars, waving at you as you pass by. That's Southern."

And at least one major retailer still views Washington as a Southern market. Although Safeway has no stores in the deep South, the supermarket chain says its cluster of stores between Culpeper, Va., and Frederick, Md., posts the company's biggest sales of such regional offerings as fried chicken, ham hocks and other "country meats," collard greens and sweet potatoes, spokesman Greg TenEyck said.
As a Georgetown student, I was one of those transplanted Northerners who found D.C. very Southern, though I was always aware that people from further South had the opposite impression. The difference in urban architecture was immediately obvious to me, as was the fact that the white ethnic cultures I had grown up with in New England were either muted or entirely absent. The dining hall at Georgetown was the first place I ever ate Southern staples like grits and chicken-fried steak, and Washington was also the first place I ate doughnuts from Krispy Kreme (a franchise I previously knew about only from its mention in Driving Miss Daisy).

Of course, I always knew that Washington was a very cosmopolitan place. Most of the people I knew at Georgetown - at the university and in the neighborhood - were from someplace else, or else they might as well have been (friends who had grown up in the cultural mosaic of Northern Virginia or in Maryland suburbs beyond the Beltway typically had parents from someplace else and usually didn't think of themselves as Southerners in any cultural sense).

As an undergrad, the only people I knew who had been born and raised in D.C. and had a strong sense of Southern identity were some African-Americans who worked at the university, like the gregarious older women who worked at the dining hall and greeted all students with motherly terms of endearment. I always sensed that theirs was the real Washington, while mine and that of all the others who were drawn to the capital like moths to a flame was an ephemeral and half-imaginary place.

The WaPo article seems to suggest that Washington's identity as a Southern city is receding even among African-Americans. I haven't spent enough time in the city recently to know whether or not that's the case. Whenever I return to Washington, though, the same old dichotomy - between the real city and the city of dreams - is as vividly apparent to me as it was years ago. AMDG.

About the photo: I was never a regular customer at Dixie Liquor - I didn't turn 21 until after I graduated from college - but whenever I see that sign at the end of the Key Bridge I know I'm almost home (source).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Our Lady on Saturday.

The Risen Lord appears to His Mother.
A window in St Cyprian's Church, London (source).

The Latin Church has a tradition of honoring the Virgin Mary on Saturdays, chiefly by offering special votive Masses for Our Lady on this day of the week. The roots of this practice are said to lie in the belief that Mary was the first person to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection; some readers will know that St. Ignatius invites the exercitant to meditate upon this appearance in the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises. The scriptures are silent on this event - as they are on much else that has a cherished (and even essential) place in Christian tradition - but it seems right that the first person to receive the news of the Resurrection would be Christ's own mother.

The tradition of dedicating Saturdays to Mary should also remind us of the experience of Holy Saturday, the time between Christ's passion and death on the cross on Friday and his Resurrection on Sunday. If every Sunday is in some sense a Feast of the Resurrection and if every Friday recalls the Passion (through such customs as abstaining from meat on this day), then it makes sense to see the experience of Holy Saturday as somehow present in every Saturday. This isn't to say that we should spend every Saturday thinking about Christ in the tomb - just as we don't spend every Friday meditating constantly on the Passion - but it is to say that the tradition of honoring Mary on Saturdays may have something significant to offer us.

These thoughts came to me today during my Jesuit community's morning liturgy, which was celebrated as a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As we offered prayers for the victims of last Saturday's shooting in Tucson, for a recently deceased Jesuit of our community, and for others who have died or are suffering, the essentially consoling nature of today's liturgical commemoration struck me in a way it hadn't before. We all suffer from the pain of separation - the pain of losing people we love, of being far from those we care deeply about, and of being estranged or unreconciled in one way or another. We might think of these as Holy Saturday experiences of a kind, experiences which make us feel emotionally and spiritually bereft. It's hard to imagine that Mary did not feel this way herself on Holy Saturday, even if her faith in the Resurrection remained strong.

The commemoration of Our Lady on Saturday offers us a consolation as well as a challenge. The consolation involved is not necessarily of the warm, fuzzy and naturally 'comfortable' variety; rather, the consolation here comes in the reminder that we are never truly alone in our pain. The losses and separations that we all suffer are individually unique and perhaps even incommunicable; nonetheless, loss and separation remain universal human experiences, experiences we shall never be fully free of this side of the Resurrection. Reflecting on Our Lady on Saturday, the challenge for us is to consider how we can make Mary's experience our own. What lacks and losses do we feel most acutely? What sort of personal resurrection(s) do we seek? How, finally, does our own experience of loss and separation prepare us to meet the Risen Lord? AMDG.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


I usually post something on this blog in observance of the Feast of the Theophany (or Epiphany) of the Lord, widely celebrated on this date, and this year will be no exception. I have previously written about commonalities and differences in Eastern and Western views of this feast, so I invite interested readers to consult my Theophany posts from 2009 and 2010 if they would like to read more on that.

Rather than repeat what I've written before, I'd like to share part of a Theophany sermon by the late Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, who discusses the place of Christ's baptism within salvation history and considers how the act of divine self-manifestation commemorated today offers an example we can follow:
Christ did not need cleansing. But these waters, into which all the sinners who had come to John the Baptist confessing the evil of their lives had washed themselves, were as it were heavy with the sinfulness and therefore the mortality of mankind. They had become waters of death, and it is in these waters that the Lord Jesus Christ merges Himself on that day, taking upon Himself the mortality resulting from the sin of man.

He comes, immortal in His humanity and His divinity, and at the same time He vests Himself with the mortality of the sinful world. This is the beginning of the way to Calvary. This is a day when we marvel at the infinite love of God. But as on every other occasion, man had to participate completely in the ways of salvation which God had provided. And this is why Christ comes and becomes partaker of our mortality, to save us. The culminating point will come on Calvary when He will say, 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' It will be a moment when God as He was in His humanity will have lost communion with the Father by partaking of the destiny of mankind. This is the ultimate act of divine love.

Let us therefore today wonder and marvel, and worship this love of God, and learn from Him; because He said in the Gospel, 'I have given you an example. Follow it.' We are called, within the limits of our sinfulness and humanity, to carry one another's burdens, unto life and unto death. Let us learn from this. We find it so difficult to carry the burdens even of those whom we love; and practically impossible to shoulder the burdens of those whom we do not love with a natural, direct tenderness. Let us learn, because otherwise we will not have learned the first lesson which Christ gives us when He enters upon His ministry.
To complete this year's Theophany post, here is a video showing parts of the Blessing of Waters held in observance of this feast in Byzantine churches. This video comes from St. Elias Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Brampton, Ontario (a parish which actually does not celebrate Theophany on this date; following the Julian Calendar, St. Elias will mark Theophany on January 19th).

The words of the Festal Troparion sung during the Blessing of Waters and the other services of Theophany are given below:

When you were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to You
by calling you His beloved Son.
And the Spirit, in the form of a dove,
confirmed the truth of His Word.
O Christ our God,
You have appeared to us
and enlightened the world.
Glory to You!

My prayerful best wishes to all who today celebrate Christ's divine manifestation in our midst. May the blessings of this great feast remain with us throughout the coming year! AMDG.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Armenian Esfahān.

Through the good offices of Tyrell Northcutt and also by way of a post on the Western Confucian weblog, I recently came across a trove of images of a New Year's Day celebration of the Armenian Divine Liturgy at Vank Cathedral in Esfahān, Iran. The Armenian Apostolic Church begins its celebration of the Nativity and Theophany of Christ this evening, so this seems a good time to take note of the Armenians of Esfahān.

Armenian Christianity has fascinated and enchanted me for some time - for evidence of this, take a look at the two posts on Armenian Jerusalem here and here - and I regret that I've had very limited experience with the living tradition of the world's oldest Christian nation. Seeing Vank Cathedral is one of several reasons that I'd very much like to visit Esfahān, a city that Persian sages admiringly described as "half the world." Whether or not I ever get there, I pray that God will protect and preserve the Armenians of Esfahān as they seek to maintain their ancient faith despite great adversity. AMDG.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The end of the road for Marshal Pétain.

Today's New York Times includes this report from the French village of Tremblois-lès-Carignan, where municipal authorities have recently decided to rename what had been the last public street in France named for Marshal Philippe Pétain, celebrated as a hero of the First World War and condemned as a traitor after the Second:
The municipal council here on the edge of the Ardennes Forest recently voted to change a third of the village’s street names.

Tremblois has only three streets, and they are named for three French heroes of World War I: Marshals Ferdinand Foch, Joseph Joffre and Philippe Pétain.

The problem is that Marshal Pétain had a second act as head of state during World War II, when his administration in the unoccupied part of the country that was known as Vichy France collaborated with Nazi Germany in eliminating its enemies, notably the Jews.

So under pressure from the national government, veterans and Jewish groups, the council voted unanimously to drop the name Pétain from a little street about 600 feet long, renaming it Rue de la Belle-Croix, for a chapel that stands in a wood at its foot.

After World War I, virtually every town in France had its Rue or Avenue Pétain. So vast was his fame that a dozen or so towns and cities in the United States also named streets for him.

But when the signs here change this month, the last street in France bearing his name will have disappeared. Not everyone is happy with the decision.

“It is ridiculous,” said Laurent Joste, 27, an auto mechanic from Belgium who has lived in the village for three years. “Clearly, he was a traitor in the Second World War; but these things happened decades ago. It’s not good to think like that.”

. . .

The commotion around Rue Pétain began last year when a local journalist discovered the street and wrote several articles for his newspaper. At the time, two other towns in northern France had streets named for Marshal Pétain, and his portrait hung in the hall of a third town, in the west of France. Under public pressure, the other streets were renamed, and a court ordered the portrait taken down. Tremblois remained the marshal’s last refuge.

“It was scandalous,” said the journalist, Guillaume Lévy. “I met the mayor. There were different reactions; the arguments were not political.”

First there was the enduring image of Marshal Pétain as the “conqueror of Verdun,” the man who won World War I for the French, Mr. Lévy said by telephone. Then there was also the inconvenience. “I talked to the man on whose house the sign hangs,” he said. “He said how much it would cost, that the postman wouldn’t know where to bring letters.”

“Then,” he said, “it got all polemical.”

Partly, it was town versus country. The village mayor, Jean-Pol Oury, shows visitors the hate mail he got, including threats, for keeping the name Pétain. Mr. Oury, 56, who runs a public relations company when not steering the affairs of Tremblois, said he did a survey among its 114 residents. “A majority said, ‘It doesn’t disturb me,’ ” he said.

Still, Mr. Lévy’s articles caught the attention of Jewish groups and organizations representing the war’s survivors and people who were deported during World War II by Petain’s Vichy government and the Germans who occupied the rest of France. Finally Mr. Oury went before the town council’s nine members. “I explained the situation, that we were the last town with a Pétain street,” he recounted. “I said two other towns had just renamed streets. I said it’s you who decide.” All nine voted to change the name.
To read the rest of the article, click here. AMDG.

A charism of martyrdom.

This new year begins with tragedy in Egypt, where a New Year's Day bombing killed 21 people and wounded 43 others at a Coptic church in Alexandria. Egyptian investigating authorities quickly blamed the attack on "foreign forces," but many Egyptian Christians are expressing anger over the government's failure to respond effectively to violence and discrimination against the Christian minority. For some sensible commentary on the attack and its implications, read this analysis by Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir (himself an Egyptian Christian) posted today on the AsiaNews website.

I have often written here about the persecution and violence suffered by the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, partly in hopes of raising awareness about an issue that has not received enough attention in the West. Some might contest the truth of the preceding statement, noting that the news media have helped to raise public awareness of events like the New Year's Day church bombing in Egypt. In response, I can merely say that the attention given to the suffering of Christians in the Middle East has not been enough to bring about real change - there needs to a mobilization of outrage for things to really get better, and so far that hasn't happened.

I hope that serious believers who happen to read this blog are praying about these events, but some sort of concrete action is also needed. In other words, if you care about Christians in the Middle East you should tell your friends, contact elected officials, and support groups like the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need. In short, try to do whatever you can to help.

Rounding out this post, I would like to share some recent comments from Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako, whose remarks about Iraq's "Christmas of mourning" featured in another recent post. Speaking at the end of a year in which the situation of Iraqi Christians seemed to grow ever worse, Archbishop Sako had this to say about the charism and vocation of the Church in a time of a great suffering:
For us Christians of Iraq, martyrdom is the charism of our Church, in its 2000 year history. As a minority, we are constantly faced with difficulties and sacrifices, but we are aware that bearing witness to Christ can mean martyrdom. In the Arabic language they have the same root: Shahid wa shahiid!

. . .

Here in Iraq we understand that faith is not an ideological or theological speculation, but a mystical reality. Faith is a personal encounter with someone who knows us, loves us and to whom we give ourselves totally. For faith, one must always be willing to go beyond, even to sacrifice. Martyrdom is an expression of loyalty to that love. On 31 October, Fr Wassim, the young priest from the Syriac Catholic cathedral turned to the terrorists and cried: Kill me and free the faithful. He knew what he was saying, this was his commitment of love for Christ and for his flock.

Christians around the world . . . can renew their faith and their commitment to being in contact with Iraq's persecuted Christians. At the same time, the friendship, solidarity and support of our brothers and sisters of the West gives us the courage to resist and remain in our land and in our churches, continuing our presence and Christian witness. Knowing that you stand by us urges us to cultivate a common life, in peace and harmony with our Muslim brothers.
Though Archbishop Sako speaks most concretely about the Church in Iraq, his words could be applied just as well to Christians in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. The call to solidarity in Archbishop Sako's words to Christians living in the West is an urgent one, and my hope is that all who read his words here will prayerfully consider how they might best respond. AMDG.