Rus’ and Russia
In “The West Knows Best?” (5/19), Margot Patterson writes that in the 13th century “Russia’s western neighbors took advantage of her weakness to seize portions of Russia and the western half of Ukraine and to annex these to Western Christendom.” This statement is incorrect and highly misleading.
Ms. Patterson is likely conflating Russia with Kievan Rus’—a common American mistake. Ninth-century Rus’ was made up of several Slavic principalities. Present-day Russia was not differentiated from the various domains until the 14th-century appearance of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which before 1654 did not encompass any portion of today’s Ukraine. Western and southern Rus’ principalities made up a Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian Commonwealth. In 1648 Bohdan Khmelnytsky led a Cossack uprising against the Commonwealth and in 1654 forged an alliance with Moscow, after which eastern Ukraine gradually fell under Russian domination. Western Ukraine remained under either Polish or Austrian administration and was not governed by Russia until 1939 (not 1945), when it was invaded by the Soviets as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Ms. Patterson should not try to re-write history as Mr. Putin’s apologist.
In “Jack, Bobby, Ted” (5/26), John F. Baldovin, S.J., presents an overview of the liturgical changes and the increased accessibility of worship promoted by the Second Vatican Council. Discussing “Musicam Sacram,” the 1967 instruction on sacred music, he states, “Here the most significant change was approval to substitute hymns and other songs not contained in the liturgical texts…. to encourage Catholics to sing Protestant hymns and other new compositions as part of the liturgy itself.”
As a historian analyzing the reception of “Musicam Sacram,” his evaluation of this “most significant change” may be correct. I would hope, however, that Father Baldovin, and America, might also want to encourage readers to read the document for themselves. An objective reading would place the use of vernacular hymns in a perspective that would likely surprise most Catholics. The document addresses the chanted dialogue of celebrant with congregation, highlights the musical roles of the psalmist, schola and assembly and says much about how sacred music contributes to full participation—before its brief reaffirmation of the use of vernacular hymns at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion. There is a great disparity between what “Musicam Sacram” prescribes and what is actually done in the majority of American Catholic communities.
Re “Of Many Things,” by Matt Malone, S.J. (7/7): Thank you for this honestly written article. I was 15 years old when Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington in 1963. I was not raised to actively hate, but my Catholic church, located in Georgia, did not have black members in 1963. They all belonged to a different church, which still exists. Of course, no one today attempts to say that black Catholics should only go to that church, but the fact is that Catholicism in this city is still largely segregated 50 years later, as are many other churches in the deep South. Racism is not dead, and the effects of Jim Crow are still very much visible, if you look.
In “A Vote for Peace” (Current Comment, 7/7), the editors note that in Colombia “violent conflict between the government and several factions—leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitary groups and criminal gangs—has dragged on since 1964.” While it doesn’t have to be understood this way, the sentence suggests that the Colombian government is engaged in fighting on several fronts. But a number of human rights groups, including The Center for Research and Popular Education/Peace Program, a Colombian Jesuit think tank, have documented the role of both the Colombian and U.S. governments in supporting and training paramilitaries who terrorize civilians and peasants, primarily to drive them from land considered desirable for multinational investment (minerals, mining, water, forests, etc.).
I am concerned that America appears to be playing a neutral role rather than taking a stand with the indigenous and the poor who have borne the brunt of the terrible war in Colombia and whose suffering has been aggravated by all elements in the war, but in larger part by government sponsored paramilitaries.
Politics, Not Race
In “Freedom Bound” (7/7), Vincent D. Rougeau forcefully and fairly accurately addresses the issue of race in the United States. But I was appalled and take strong exception to the inference that must be drawn from the following statement: “Discrimination and racism still rear their heads on a regular basis. The president has been the victim of a stunning effort by the Republican Party to make it almost impossible for him to govern.”
The Republican Party is not standing strong against President Obama because he is black. The party is opposed to Mr. Obama’s presidency because he is grossly incompetent, because of what he has done or failed to do: from the Benghazi cover-up, the V.A. and I.R.S. scandals and the dozens of czars appointed to avoid congressional approval, to the skyrocketing annual federal deficit, the embarrassing mishandling of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, his usurping of congressional powers and much more.
One final item and a follow-up question for Mr. Rougeau: The rising star in today’s Grand Old Party, universally admired by all Republicans, is a retired neurosurgeon by the name of Ben Carson. What color is Dr. Carson’s skin?
East Northport, N.Y.
I am a faithful and grateful reader of America and hope to be for yet a few more years, but I was quite disappointed with “Jesuits and Slaveholding,” by Thomas Murphy, S.J., a sidebar to “Saved by Grace,” by Cora Marie Billings, R.S.M. (7/7). To me, his comments sound much more like an apologia for Jesuit slaveholding rather than an apology. A simple “mea culpa” might have been more appropriate.
One wonders how Pope Francis might have responded if Sister Billings had said that her great-grandfather worked as a slave for a pope, as some people did.
Columbus Grove, Ohio
How We Serve
“Unfinished Houses,” by John J. McLaughlin (7/21), resonated with me. We Americans place so much emphasis on accomplishment, and when it comes to working with the poor, we are often doing for rather than doing with.
Some years ago, working in a small village in Mexico, my fellow volunteers and I had a meeting with villagers to talk about what we all could do as a group to improve life in the village. We, the volunteers, saw huge problems: poor education, poor health, unemployment, alcoholism, domestic abuse and others. As we talked, the villagers said that what they needed was a roof for their church. We did not see this as important; it rarely rained in the desert climate.
But when we talked about this with our adviser, we were told that we were not seeing this correctly. Those other problems had existed for decades and could not easily be solved. Putting a roof on their church was something that they could work together to accomplish, and as they succeeded in this, they might be empowered to tackle other problems. This was a true learning experience for us.