Letter From New York 02 18 15 The Francis Effect…

As I sit down tonight to write in New York City, a light snow is falling though weather.com does not indicate that it a harbinger of bad things to come. So, after a relatively busy afternoon, I have returned to the little apartment on Riverside to write my blog.

Last night I met my friend Dan Pawlus for a drink at the Warwick Hotel on 54th Street and then I went with him to a screening of “The Francis Effect,” a documentary made by the Canadian Catholic television organization Salt + Light about the Holy Father.

Last year, about this time, I was in Rome to speak on a panel for SIGNIS, the organization of Catholic Communicators. In some breakout conversations, the talk was about “the Francis moment.” This Pope had, in a not too long a period of time, altered the perception of the Roman Catholic Church by much of the world.

The documentary last night chronicles the effect of the moment. It is hard not to admire the man. While he has not changed doctrine, he has changed the tone of the conversation. And that is a very good beginning. He has offered gentleness instead of reproach. In the last twenty years the tone of the church has been strident and reproachful; under Francis it is conciliatory. He has challenged the all-powerful Curia and reformed the reputedly corrupt Vatican Bank.

And he has only been in office for two years. It will be interesting to follow the rest of this man’s Pontificate.

When Dan asked me to the screening of a film about Francis, I asked him if it was about the Francis who was a saint or the Francis who would be a saint?

Until I saw legions of people in New York with black marks on their forehead I had forgotten today is Ash Wednesday.

In a remark that is indicative of the man that is Francis, he told people that this year they should fast on their indifference to their fellow man. A grand comment.

Francis is a saintly man but there are very few of them.

To help combat young men and women from the States going to jihad, Obama held a conference on extremism. The US and countries such as France, the UK, and Belgium are all struggling with young Muslims who are seduced to jihad.

There was a striking article in the NY Times today about a young man from Cairo, middle class, educated in private schools, who had abandoned his family and friends and gone off to Syria. He tweeted a picture of himself with a beheaded man. His family is devastated. He got lost somewhere in the tumult that has been Egypt the last three years.

We have medieval values being practiced by men with good weapons. In grisly rumors, IS has been accused by Iraq’s UN Ambassador of killing people to harvest their organs, then to re-sell them on the organ black market. It is a revenue generating operation reportedly.

In Ukraine, the Ukrainian government suffered a defeat today when its forces abandoned Debaltseve, the major rail hub between the rebel areas. They attempted to put a good face on it but there is no good face to a major defeat.

President al-Sisi of Egypt is pressing for international intervention in Libya. He has a problem in the Sinai with insurgents who are aligning themselves with IS [ISIS or ISIL]. He thinks the Sinai insurgents are getting some help from IS in Libya. Libya and Egypt have asked the UN to lift the arms embargo so they can better fight IS.

The snow is still falling lightly. I am getting tired and think I will retreat to bed and read Time Magazine and The Week [my favorite weekly] and drift off to the land of Nod.

A new version of Cinderella is out soon. The Oscars will be this weekend.

And I am prepping for a trip to India. I have been invited to go to the Indian Institute of Technology in Rourkee to speak about American media. I must sort out the intricacies of getting a visa now.

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