More Than a Game
For athletes around the world, only a few months of training remain before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. But these potential medal-winners are not the only people who have been preparing for the big event. The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is hoping that after three years of preparations, their plan to reach out to the millions of visitors to London during the Olympics will increase interest in the Catholic faith and raise awareness of such social justice issues as homelessness, fair trade products, the environment and human trafficking.
The British bishops’ plan addresses both personal spirituality and service to others and includes the training of 24 chaplains, as well as volunteers from more than 5,000 parishes, the creation of two hospitality centers and a youth village offering sports-themed catechesis. A conference on disability, theology and sport will also take place before the Paralympic Games. The bishops also are working closely with More Than Gold, a charity conducted by 16 Christian denominations to enact programs like one that recruits London families and hotels to house athletes and their relatives who may not be able to afford to stay in London otherwise.
Parishes will be encouraged to pray for peace and, in particular, for an end to gang violence. They will also offer refreshments to those who stand along the streets to watch the passing of the Olympic torch. The British bishops’ program is an admirably wide-ranging one with attention to the whole person. It is a creative, well-rounded and thoughtful effort that encourages attendees to embody those same qualities.
Too Long a Sacrifice
In the early morning of March 11 a U.S. staff sergeant walked off base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and began a rampage that would end in the deaths of 16 civilians, including three women and nine children. It is too soon to say precisely what provoked this murderous attack, but it is well past time to ask if the paradigm of the “volunteer professional” as the foundation for the contemporary U.S. armed services may be nearing a breakdown. The current personnel structure of the U.S. military relies on an unprecedented number of combat tours by service members. The assailant had already completed three tours of duty in Iraq, during which he suffered a brain injury, and was beginning yet another combat tour, this time in Afghanistan.
How many days in combat can any single individual endure before trauma and stress begin to diminish mental health or dislodge his or her moral compass? The military’s overdependence on a small pool of service members is clearly taking a toll on these individuals and their families. The dreadful events in Kandahar suggest that even more gruesome collateral damage may be attributable to the military’s multi-tour rotation system.
The nation is faced with a stark choice: find a way to expand the military so that the same men and women are not repeatedly deployed into combat, most likely through a draft; or find a way to advance U.S. geopolitical interests without leaning so heavily on military power. Perhaps both options complement each other. The possibility of a truly shared sacrifice ensured by universal conscription may be enough to discourage an overreliance on war-making in U.S. statecraft.
“It is evident, therefore, that the requirements of law for the licit and valid relegation of a church to secular but not unbecoming use have not been met, and that St. Patrick Church...has not been lawfully and validly relegated to secular but not unbecoming use.” That Vaticanese declaration may sound bland to some, but it was welcome news to parishioners in Cleveland, who had protested the closing of 13 churches. The recent ruling by the Congregation of the Clergy reversed some of the closings initiated by Bishop Richard G. Lennon in 2009 as part of an archdiocesan reconfiguration. The canonical reason: the archdiocese had not consulted its presbyteral council before the decision.
It is natural that parishioners in Cleveland, and elsewhere, feel attached to their parishes. And it is laudable that the Vatican, which is sometimes seen (unfairly) as removed from the daily concerns of local parishes, offers an avenue of canonical redress. It may sometimes be necessary for parishes to be closed, for unavoidable reasons. Some parishes no longer attract enough parishioners; because of changing demographics, there may be more Catholics in newer areas that are underserved; and financial shortfalls make keeping all churches open an impossibility. But these reasons sometimes fail to convince everyone: in a few dioceses sit-ins have been sponsored in shuttered churches. Some parishioners protest, claiming their local parish has enough money to survive. But this may mean that other areas, with growing Catholic populations, will be underserved. The church as a whole—not just bishops—must respond to the sometimes uncomfortable demands of changing demographics and apply its resources where they are needed the most. And that’s true in Cleveland, California or Calcutta.