Thursday, September 23, 2010

Newman, Anglicans, the Aeneid and the Filioque.

I imagine that some readers have been waiting for me to post something on Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to the United Kingdom, a trip which included the beatification of John Henry Newman. The last few days have been fairly busy ones for me, so I haven't had as much time as I would like to read about the events in Britain and to prepare a reflective response. Rather than say nothing at all, I thought I might at least direct your attention to a couple of items related to the papal visit that I found to be worth sharing.

Writing in the Guardian on the eve of Newman's beatification, historian Eamon Duffy had some interesting things to say about Newman and Anglicanism:
. . . Between 1833 and 1845 [Newman] transformed the Church of England, persuading its clergy that it was no mere department of state for moral uplift, but the English branch of the ancient Catholic church, through its sacraments and apostolic teaching a means of encounter with God. Everything about modern Anglicanism, from the look of its buildings to its theology and forms of worship, bears the marks of his teaching.

But he did not persuade himself. In 1845 he converted to Catholicism, and a second career as a priest in Birmingham. It was an uncomfortable translation. European Catholicism was in reaction, the pope besieged in an aggressively secular Italy, the church's monopoly over education and morals challenged everywhere by the rise of liberal democracies. Pius IX responded by cranking up the claims of the papacy and denouncing the secular world – egged on by what Newman called "an aggressive and insolent faction", who made unquestioning obedience to hyper-orthodoxy the sole test of Catholicism. Newman shared the pope's detestation of secularism, but deplored Rome's suppression of intellectual freedom: "Truth," he wrote, "is wrought out by many minds, working together freely." He came to be viewed in the Vatican as "the most dangerous man in England".

. . .

Newman's thought came into its own in the 20th century, influencing, among others, the young Joseph Ratzinger, ironically enough, since Pope Benedict's understanding of papacy is not a million miles from that which Newman deplored. Yet the beatification ratifies Newman's distinctively English (and Anglican) formation. To that extent, it is an ecumenical act. It also affirms Newman's lifelong struggle to combine intellectual integrity with the surrender of heart and mind to a God he experienced both as love and truth. For a church whose claims to integrity, love and truth are currently taking a battering, that's a candle in the dark.
The Holy See's apparent ratification of "Newman's distinctively English (and Anglican) formation" seems noteworthy given the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus as well as the larger context of debates about the future of the Anglican Communion.  Referring to the special ecclesial structures that the Pope intends to establish for Anglicans seeking corporate reunion with Rome, some have already spoken of Newman as the 'patron of the Ordinariates.'  As much as one might like to speculate about what Newman might have thought of something like Anglicanorum Coetibus, it is safe to say that Newman's beatification comes at a particularly significant moment in Anglican-Catholic relations.

The most original perspective of Newman that I've read in the past few days comes from Pater Edmund Waldstein, a monk of Heiligenkreuz Abbey who blogs at Sancrucensis.  In a post earlier this week, Pater Edmund took note of some parallels between Virgil's Aeneid and Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua:
Ronald Knox called the account of his conversion A Spiritual Aeneid. In an Aeneid you are coming home, but coming home to a place you have never been in before. You must throw yourself upon the guidance of the gods. Nor are there the memories of home to spur you on when you are tempted to turn aside, Knox writes, “it is a mere sense of mission, imperiously insistent, that inflames your discontent: cunctus ob Italiam terrarum clauditur orbis.” And of course, the home to which you are returning is Rome. In a recent paper I have argued that everything about the relation of his book to the Aeneid could be applied to Bl. John Henry Newman’s Apologia. But the Apologia can be called a spiritual Aeneid for a deeper reason than those listed by Knox.

. . .

For Virgil mortal things touch the heart because of a nobility which comes from their being ordered to something greater than themselves. The Christian Middle Ages saw Virgil as a prophet because he is practically unique among the pagans in having a linear, teleological view of history. For Virgil the god’s have destined Rome to great things, and the role of the hero is to contribute to that destiny. It is this grand hope that makes Virgil so different from Homer. Homer has an essentially cyclical view of history; the endless quarrels of the gods go round and round. The role of the hero for Homer is simply to win great honor in a harsh world, to achieve lasting fame. There is no possibility of contributing toward some final goal.

It is Virgil’s view, transformed of course by a far greater hope, that Newman is trying to express. Newman is trying to “touch the heart” by the portrayal of the nobility and sadness of mortal existence played out in the attempt to reach for the divine and strive for the eternal goal. That is where the greatest fascination of the Apologia comes from – the pathos and nobility of the relation to divine Providence.
To read the rest of Pater Edmund's post, click here.  The original post also includes a link to the author's Diplomarbeit (a graduate thesis, basically) on "Newman's Apologia and the Drama of Faith and Reason," which I hope to set aside time to read in the coming days. 
Finally, I hope you'll appreciate this article on a unique protest to the papal visit.  Unlike the 'new atheists' and their fellow travelers, this protester actually has a point to make.  Though the gentleman involved states that he actually decided not to wave his 'Drop the Filioque' sign at the Pope because "it was more important to welcome him unconditionally," I'm inclined to think that this is an expression of disagreement that a theologian of Joseph Ratzinger's stature would have respected (and perhaps even enjoyed).  AMDG.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Kol Nidrei.

Today, Jews around the world observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a time of prayer, strict fasting and efforts to repent and seek forgiveness for acts of wrongdoing. The synagogue service held on the eve of Yom Kippur begins with the cantor's recitation of the Kol Nidrei, an Aramaic text asking that those present may be released from any vows or promises that they may not be able to keep.

The melody traditionally used to chant the Kol Nidrei is at least as well known as the text itself. Some musicologists and other listeners have found similarites between the melody of the Kol Nidrei and the modes of Gregorian chant, and a number of composers have produced compositions that make use of this melody. The best-known among these compositions is probably Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei, a work for solo cello and orchestra first performed in public in 1881. Despite its liturgical inspiration, Bruch's work had no religious motive behind it; a German Protestant, Bruch simply recognized a beautiful melody when he heard one and wanted to see what he could do with the Kol Nidrei.

If you'd like to hear (and see) for yourself, check out the above video featuring a performance of Bruch's Kol Nidrei by the Internationale Symphoniker Deutschland, directed by Arkady Berin with Mischa Maisky as soloist. May this performance bring you pleasure and peace this Saturday afternoon, or whenever it may reach your ears. AMDG.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Primary postmortem.

I very rarely post anything directly political on this blog, and for good reason. Once in a while, though, I feel the urge to present some electoral commentary. Though I long ago renounced the political ambitions of my youth, the political bug that remains somewhere in my bloodstream still makes itself known from time to time like a once-acquired virus that suddenly strikes again after years of lying dormant in the body. Given that much of my practical work experience before entering the Jesuits was acquired in legislative offices and on political campaigns, I can still identify with the individuals who run for and hold elective office and the people who go to work for them. I accordingly follow events like Tuesday's primary election with greater-than-usual interest, as I know how exhausting, exhilarating and all-consuming primary campaigns can be.

Following up on a story that I took note of on Monday, brothers Oliver Cipollini, a Democrat, and Charles Cipollini, a Republican, have both won their respective party nominations for the same seat on the Massachusetts Governor's Council. Making his second bid for the Governor's Council, Oliver Cipollini captured about 27% of the vote to win the Democratic nomination over four rival candidates. Oliver actually won substantially fewer votes in this race than he did in his losing campaign two years ago, when he was the sole challenger to four-term incumbent Carole Fiola; a larger field of candidates and name recognition left over from the last campaign seems to have helped Oliver prevail this time around. Unusually, Oliver also had the public support of an ostensible rival: his older brother Charles has stated that he ran as a "fallback" in the Republican primary in case Oliver failed to secure the Democratic nomination. Some observers are now fuming at the outcome of a race that has turned into an amicable, non-competitive campaign between two brothers, but the fact that the Cipollinis were able to pull it off strikes me as fairly remarkable.

As I followed the vote returns on Tuesday night, one little-watched race caught my attention: the primary contest between U.S. Representative Barney Frank and Rachel Brown, a follower of Lyndon LaRouche perhaps best known as the woman who blasted Frank at a public forum for supporting what she called a "Nazi policy" - President Obama's health care plan. Sizing Brown up as a crackpot, Frank responded that "trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table." Little did Frank know that that conversation would eventually take place: Brown says that she decided on the spot to challenge the fifteen-term congressman, and the two actually met in debate last week. On Tuesday night, Frank beat Brown by a sixty-point margin.

Despite the magnitude of Frank's victory over a token opponent, Frank consultant Dan Payne felt compelled to spin the results, claiming that he "was surprised at how big a margin it was." On the contrary, it seems surprising to me that a fringe candidate like Brown managed to win a fifth of the vote against a thirty-year incumbent (as GOP pundit Todd Domke quipped, "one out of five Democratic primary voters opted for the dining room table"). Perhaps some voters were trying to tell Barney that thirty years is enough. On the other hand, Frank's mocking dismissal of Brown may have backfired with a portion of the primary electorate and generated a sympathy vote for his foe: to some voters, Frank may have looked like a bully picking on an eccentric yet ultimately harmless oddball. A third possibility is that some kind of "Alvin Greene effect" was operative, with inattentive voters choosing Brown even though they had no idea who she was.

The general election race between Barney Frank and Republican Sean Bielat should be worth watching. Massachusetts Republicans and national conservative groups have been getting excited about Bielat, who has presented himself as Frank's strongest challenger in decades. As a district native, I can reliably report that Frank's constituency is neither as uniformly liberal nor as Democratic as popular pundits and the national media might suppose. Barney Frank is regularly re-elected because his staff is attentive to constituent service and because he delivers on local issues; in other words, his political longevity owes much less to his ideology than it does to his ability to get things done. Frank's district went for Scott Brown in January's special election, and the fact that Bill Clinton is coming in to stump for Frank suggests that the incumbent is taking nothing for granted. I have yet to see any polling done on the Frank-Bielat contest - I suspect that some internal polls have been done at the behest of the campaigns, though none of the results have been released to the public - but I think that a competitive race would be a good thing for district voters who have grown unaccustomed to suspense.

The six and a half weeks between now and the general election should be a particularly exciting time for the political junkies among us. Though the fall election season often leads me to reflect on my own history of political involvement, this time of year always leads me to a deeper sense of gratitude for my religious vocation: I still retain a keen interest in the details of campaign strategy and organization and I fully intend to keep vigil on Election Night as the votes come in, but at this point in my life I'm quite content to simply observe the political process from the sidelines.

For me, there is a great grace in knowing that I'm happier in the classroom than I would be in on the campaign trail. I strongly believe that public service can be a noble and personally fulfilling vocation, but I've also found that some who devote their lives to politics plod along without ever admitting (perhaps even to themselves) that they would be be more fully alive if they were doing something else. I'm grateful that I got out of the political game when I did, but I'm still sympathetic to the players who remain in the game, including those who may be in it for life. Between now and Election Day, I'll be praying for them and for their consolation. AMDG.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Notes on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is, as I've noted before, one of my favorite feast days. I also like to think of the Exaltation of the Cross as the patronal feast of this blog, insofar as I began blogging on this date six years ago (admittedly, the blog that I started then is not the same blog you're reading now, but I tend to think of the two as part of a continuous enterprise, even though I now cringe at some of the posts I composed as a novice). To commemorate this feast as well as the start of another year of blogging, I'd like to share a couple of videos (something I could not have done a year ago, as I only recently figured out how to post videos here).

The Byzantine Divine Liturgy for today's feast includes a particularly beautiful hymn which is sung in place of the Trisagion, the "thrice-holy hymn" normally chanted before the Prokeimenon and the Epistle. In the video featured above, you may hear the choir of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in Barberton, Ohio sing this hymn in Church Slavonic as the clergy and servers reverence the cross displayed on a tetrapod in the center of the church.

In this second video, you may hear the same hymn in English, courtesy of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. You will also see the clergy and faithful complete the cycle of three prostrations that traditionally accompanies the singing of this hymn; what moves me most as I watch this video is the devotion of the older priest on the left who cannot make a full prostration and so instead kneels and briefly rests his head on the corner of the tetrapod bearing the cross.

On this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, let us make this prayer our own: Before thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and thy holy Resurrection we glorify. AMDG.

Monday, September 13, 2010

S-T: Parishioners fighting to save historic New Bedford church.

Regular readers may have noticed that I occasionally post links and commentary on the state of the Roman Catholic Church in my home region of Southeastern Massachusetts and in New England more generally. As a new entry in this category, here is a story from today's edition of the New Bedford Standard-Times on the efforts of a historic New Bedford parish to stay open in spite of financial difficulties and dwindling attendance:
The oldest Portuguese Roman Catholic parish in North America will be saved from extinction only if more people attend Mass on Sundays, and if they can raise enough money to replace the church's tattered roof.

Parishioners of St. John the Baptist Church on County Street have organized re-evangelization and capital campaign teams to meet benchmarks set by Bishop George W. Coleman, who will decide sometime next year if the historic church will stay open.

"It would be crushing to see that church close," said Timothy J. Lopes, a St. John's parishioner who is helping to organize the capital campaign to raise about $750,000 to replace the church roof.

Fred Langevis, a member of the evangelist committee, is trying to reinvigorate his congregation's spiritual life by showcasing the parish's 26 active ministries, and by inviting worshipers to attend small-group discussions on Catholic spirituality.

"I feel very strongly that we shouldn't let our tradition fade away because of what I see as misunderstandings of the viability of the parish," he said.

Years of declining Mass attendance combined with needed structural repairs that went neglected and ill-managed finances resulted in St. John the Baptist, which was established in 1871 to minister to Portuguese immigrants, to reach the brink of foreclosure.

. . .

Langevis' main charge is to attract more registered parishioners and increase Mass attendance, which slipped to an average of 467 total worshipers for all four weekend Masses last year — a decline from about 705 in 2000.

Langevis, 60, who married his wife 40 years ago at St. John's, in June helped organize a ministry fair, which was well-received and resulted in 56 people signing up for 19 ministries. Also, 13 people joined the parish.

"When you have 26 active ministries, that's a viable parish from a spiritual standpoint," said Langevis, whose team is also organizing a program called Awakening Faith, which invites parishioners to meet in small discussion groups for six weeks.

"We talk about different topics of spirituality. We try to get them to open up about the challenges they face and how we can get the church to be more welcoming to them," Langevis said.

Parishioners say they have seen more people attending Mass on Sundays.

"We are seeing new and younger faces in the church," Lopes said.

However, the main factor to turning St. John's around will be money, parishioners admit.
To read the rest of the article, click here. My sympathy is with the parishioners at St. John's as they fight to revitalize their parish and to improve its fiscal health, and I wish them well in their efforts. That being said, I find it somewhat regrettable that the Standard-Times article places greater emphasis on parish finances than it does on the task of re-evangelization. In the short term, it seems to be true that money will be the "main factor" in determining whether or not the church stays open; the bill for capital improvements to the church will ultimately reach $1.7 million, so parish fundraisers have their work cut out for them. Even so, I wonder where the parish will find itself in a few years if it manages to raise enough funds to stave off closing but fails to replenish its empty pews.

In principle, I believe that there is a cultural as well as a spiritual value in keeping old churches open. This value ought to be particularly apparent in the case of a church like St. John's, the oldest Portuguese national parish in North America. To rebut an anticipated objection, I should make it clear that I do not subscribe to the view that 'ethnic' Catholic parishes in the United States were intended merely as a stopgap to be phased out as their parishioners assimilated into a culturally uniform 'American' Church. On the contrary, I believe that ethnic parishes should be allowed to survive as a bulwark against the myopia of the 'melting pot' and as a reminder that the Gospel has taken root in distinctive ways in particular cultures. Given the practical challenges that many ethnic parishes face, their special identity and continuing importance must be defended in the strongest possible terms if they are to survive.

Though fundraising is important for financially-troubled parishes, I would humbly suggest that attracting and retaining new and younger members is the greatest challenge facing faith communities like St. John's. The parish leaders quoted by the Standard-Times seem to be serious about reinvigorating the spiritual life of the community, though the article gives the impression that their efforts are primarily focused on getting current parishioners to become more active in parish activities. As commendable as these efforts are, it is no less important for parishes like St. John's to welcome newcomers who may not have a historic connection to the church.

For various reasons, long-established ethnic parishes can have a hard time refilling empty pews when their traditional membership base begins to decline or disperse. Basically stable parish communities with a strong ethnic identity often don't know quite what to do with newcomers, who in turn can be put off by the appearance of exclusivity and what can sometimes seem like a frosty or reluctant welcome. As a native of the area, I can also say that parishes in Southeastern Massachusetts aren't used to thinking much about these issues - until fairly recently, they never really had to. Now that these issues can no longer be avoided, my earnest hope and fervent prayer is that St. John's and similar parishes are able to meet the urgent challenges that confront them. AMDG.

Globe: Brothers bank on "election insurance."

A day before Massachusetts voters go to the polls in a primary election that will determine the party nominees for state and federal offices on the November ballot, the Boston Globe today ran a charmingly old-fashioned political human interest story about two brothers running for the same office. Here's an excerpt:
The competition is so thick for the Governor’s Council in Southeastern Massachusetts that seven candidates are vying for the open seat — including two brothers with similar names.

Oliver P. Cipollini Jr., 58, faces four opponents in tomorrow’s Democratic primary.

Charles Oliver Cipollini, 68, faces one opponent in the Republican primary.

But the brothers Cipollini are not bitter sibling rivals. Instead, they are campaigning pretty much as a ticket. The like-minded brothers think they have found a way to double their odds of familial victory, by running on both ballots.

“He was my best man and he’s my best friend,’’ Oliver Cipollini said. “We’re really trying to make our community and Southeastern Massachusetts a better place. Two shots are better than one.’’

Charles Cipollini’s first-ever campaign has raised just $100 — a donation he made. He spends his time campaigning for his brother and posting campaign signs for him in their hometown of Fall River, where he still lives.

The Republican thinks of himself largely as election insurance. If his brother loses, perhaps he has a shot of putting a Cipollini on the ballot.

“I have the same views as my brother. I’m like a fallback,’’ said Charles Cipollini.

It’s an unorthodox campaign for a low-profile position on an advisory panel that pays $26,000 a year and meets once a week, to review judicial nominations, commutations, and pardons, and state spending. But Oliver Cipollini has approached the post with determination. When he unsuccessfully challenged longtime incumbent Councilor Carole A. Fiola two years ago, he spent $59,000 of his own money. Fiola spent less than $36,000 that year.

. . .

While it’s conceivable that the brothers Cipollini could both win their primary contests — and compete, brother against brother, in the general election — nobody expects that to happen.

Asked about his chances of winning the general election, Charles Cipollini repeated incredulously, “Winning?’’

“I hope not. ’Cause that means my brother loses,’’ Charles Cipollini said. “My brother’s more qualified than I, truthfully speaking.’’
To read the rest, click here. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that a decade ago I worked for Carole Fiola, the councilor whom Oliver Cipollini attempted to unseat two years ago; I should also note that I have already cast my Democratic primary ballot as an absentee and that I did not vote for Oliver Cipollini. My posting of this article is not meant as a public endorsement of either of the Cipollinis or any other candidate for public office.

The purpose of this post is to offer a reminder of the vital human element that ought to be part of electoral politics. Something important would be lost, I think, if politics were to become the exclusive realm of wonky technocrats, devoid of the colorful characters and improbable candidates who have long made political life interesting and enjoyable.

We may be a long way from the world of The Last Hurrah, but I'm hopeful that we'll still be in fairly decent shape as long as we can still make room for "election insurance" candidacies and related phenomena. If you're an eligible voter in one of the several U.S. jurisdictions holding primaries tomorrow - a list that includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin as well as Massachusetts - please don't forget to vote. AMDG.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Notes on the Nativity of the Theotokos.

Today the Church celebrates the birth of Mary of Nazareth, the woman chosen by God the Father to become the mother of His son. In view of Mary's special role in salvation history, St. Andrew of Crete described today's feast day as "the beginning of feasts" and "a doorway to grace and truth." In an eighth-century sermon on the Nativity of the Theotokos, St. Andrew exhorts us to joy and offers some practical advice on how to celebrate this feast:
The radiant and bright descent of God for people ought to have a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation. Such also is the present feastday, having as its basis the Nativity of the Theotokos, and as its purpose and end, the uniting of the Word with flesh, this most glorious of all miracles, unceasingly proclaimed, immeasurable and incomprehensible.

The less comprehensible it is, the more it is revealed; and the more it is revealed, the less comprehensible it is. Therefore the present God-graced day, the first of our feastdays, showing forth the light of virginity and the crown woven from the
unfading blossoms of the spiritual garden of Scripture, offers creatures a common joy.

Be of good cheer, it says, behold, this is the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and of the renewal of the human race! The Virgin is born, She grows and is raised up and prepares Herself to be the Mother of the All-Sovereign God of the ages. All this, with the assistance of David, makes it for us an object of spiritual contemplation. The Theotokos manifests to us Her God-bestown Birth, and David points to the blessedness of the human race and wondrous kinship of God with mankind.

And so, truly one ought to celebrate the mystery today and to offer to the Mother of God a word by way of gift: since nothing is so pleasing to Her as a word and praise by word. It is from here also that we receive a twofold benefit: first, we enter into the region of truth, and second, we emerge from the captivity and slavery of the written law. How so? Obviously, when darkness vanishes, then light appears; so also here: after the law follows the freedom of grace.
On this feastday, those of us who regularly seek the protection of the Mother of God in prayer would do well to offer "a word by way of gift" in grateful appreciation for her continuing work in our lives and in the Church. May she who was blessed to bear the Incarnate Word in her womb intercede for all who celebrate her birth. AMDG.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

NYT: Stein left Met production over visa spat.

Today's New York Times reports that German theater director Peter Stein decided to withdraw from a new Metropolitan Opera production of Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov because of his dissatisfaction with the process of obtaining a U.S. work visa and concerns about potential mistreatment at the hands of airport security officers. Stein claims that his grumpiness over having to endure a long and uncomfortable wait at the U.S. Consulate in Berlin led a consular official to arbitrarily deny his application for a visa; Stein later made a second visit to the consulate and obtained his visa, but lingering anger over the experience led him to cancel his would-be Met debut.

Reading about Stein's decision, I thought of other cases in which actual or potential immigration hassles prevented or impeded European artists from working in the United States. In the fall of 2007, renowned Italian conductor Claudio Abbado cancelled a commitment to lead several concerts at Carnegie Hall on ostensible grounds of ill health which may have masked the maestro's reported discontent with the visa application process. Though Abbado continues to conduct internationally, he has not appeared in the United States since his Carnegie Hall cancellation three years ago. Last year, Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman announced that he would no longer perform in the United States, officially as a gesture of political protest but allegedly also as a result of lingering annoyance over the 2001 seizure and destruction of his personal piano by U.S. customs officials and the later impoundment of a replacement instrument. Earlier this year, the New York Times noted the difficulty that the Cleveland Orchestra faced in obtaining a work visa for Austrian tenor Martin Mitterrutzner, who immigration officials apparently found to be lacking in the requisite "prestige" to be allowed to sing at a handful of a concerts in the United States; Mitterrutzner was finally granted a visa on his third attempt.

Stories like these bother and discourage me, partly because I believe that U.S. audiences should have the opportunity to appreciate the work of artists like Peter Stein, Claudio Abbado, and Krystian Zimerman. To be fair, it must be emphasized that the artists in each of these cases made the ultimate choice not to come to (or to stop coming to) the United States; one may be tempted to speculate that the individuals involved could easily have acted differently if they had so chosen. Still, the fact that post-9/11 security concerns have effectively made it more difficult for international artists to come to the United States seems quite unfortunate when one considers the potential that music and the other arts have to bring people together despite differences in politics, language and culture.

Lest some readers mistake this post as a statement on ongoing policy debates in the United States, I must emphasize that the issue at hand has little or nothing to do with immigration reform: I'm not talking about people who are seeking the right to reside and work in this country on a permanent basis, but about a relative handful of individuals whose work occasionally brings them here for a few days at a time. In case some readers in other countries are tempted to react with pointed criticism of U.S. policy, I should note that I'm also aware of equally egregious cases involving governments with putatively 'enlightened' policies on visas and immigration. There are no heroes or villains here, only flawed individuals facing flawed situations. AMDG.