Archive for March, 2014

Letter From New York

March 4, 2014

Letter From New York

March  3, 2014

Or as it seems from Italy….

At 220 km/h the Italian countryside slides by as the Italo, Italy’s high-speed train races from Roma to Firenze.  It has been raining on and off all day; off now, as I am cozied up in the Club Car, leaning against the window, staring out onto the Italian countryside, a mix of lush greens and soft browns, a land prepping for spring.  Farms slide by, clouds scud across the sky, threatening more rain, I ride the train backwards as we slide through tunnel after tunnel.

For the last five days I have been in Roma at SIGNIS, the global organization of Catholic Communicators.  I did a speech for them two and a half years ago in Costa Rica and they apparently liked what I did as they asked me back to be on two panels for them this year.

As many know, I grew up in the Catholic tradition and feel that I will never quite quit being Catholic.  It stays with me, a reality from which I can neither escape or fully embrace. 

At SIGNIS there were 300 plus delegates from 80 plus countries, a United Nations of Catholics.  As the days went on, I became aware of the vast gulf between some of them, particularly between conservative and liberal Catholics, with the liberals primarily but not exclusively from Northern Hemisphere countries.

Some American Catholics described their discomfort with African Catholics who tend to be conservative and narrow according to their counterparts, dogmatic and rigid against the backdrop of a changing Catholicism in the north where some embrace Catholicism but turn their back on rigid rules.  I suspect North American Catholics have no trouble with birth control and lean to acceptance of gay marriage, certainly gay relationships.  They seem to follow the social leanings of mainstream liberal Protestantism.  NOT ALL but a goodly number.  It was even surprising to me to hear their voices at such a Catholic conference.

All speak of a “Francis” moment, that this new Pope who has sat upon the Papal Throne for only a year has generated interest in Catholicism and an openness to it that has been missing for at least a generation or two.  Not doctrinally liberal, Francis is spiritually sensitive and projects an adherence to the teachings of Jesus perceived missing in the last Pontificates.  “Who am I to judge?” he has said while also acknowledging at moments, he does not know.  Appealingly human, he has captured the imagination of many and because of that there is a “Francis” moment – a chance for the Church to reclaim the drifting masses and to hold a moral high ground felt missing for a time.  Any man labeled a Communist by Rush Limbaugh deserves some solid attention

Now two days later, I am on the return journey from Firenze, back to Roma, to spend a night before flying home to New York, hoping to be able to get there, as the weather is not promising.  Taking a walking tour yesterday, three of us were treated to an insider’s look at Firenze by the charming Chiara.   The tour ended in the Gallery at the Academia that holds Michelangelo’s David, a sight that literally takes the breath away.

For an hour, I stayed with him, Michelangelo’s vision of the young David, naked, armed only with a slingshot and a stone, ready to take on mighty Goliath.  It is a work of staggering beauty and worth the trip to Florence.

Waking this morning to church bells pealing, I thought this was a good end to the trip, a visit with David.  Once we were all a bit like him, ready to take on Goliath, in the heady days before Kingship and Bathsheba, before the weight of power and the lure of his lusts pulled him from the purity with which he faced the Philistine giant.  For centuries it stood in the town square and now sits protected in the Academia, hopefully for as much of eternity as can be managed.

While back in Rome, it will be interesting to witness how long the “Francis” moment will last, how long it can be managed, this chance for Catholicism to reclaim hearts and minds within and without the Church.