A Terrible Irony Is Born

In “The Ethical Traveler,” by Tim Padgett (1/30), there is a terrible irony. The author’s calls to abstain from condescension are themselves thoroughly condescending. His pedantic assertions fail to reach beyond the same tired narrative that everyone who has read a guidebook knows. Worst of all, Mr. Padgett’s words have a whiff of an unpleasant bias against his own fellow citizens.

Personally, I find that there are balances to be found between esteeming and denigrating one’s own country and the one you are visiting. While travelling with an open mind is important, this includes a mind open to embracing the parts of your own culture that you like better than those elsewhere. Yes, we should be polite and try to fit in as possible, but not at the expense of our identity.


Edward Visel

Iwate, Japan

Cantina Wisdom

It is refreshing to read an article like “The Ethical Traveler” (1/30), which reminds us about the importance of openness to other cultures and discovering their diversity and enjoyment through local food and drink. I particularly enjoyed the Mexican cantina stories, which reminded me of the chicken feet appetizer I was served once with my tequila. On the wall was inscribed a quaint proverb, “Si el agua destruye a los caminos, que no hara a los intestinos” (If water destroys roads, imagine what it can do to your intestines). Another cantina was named La Oficina (the Office), so husbands could avoid lying when asked by their spouses where they were.

Charles A. Hammond

Sandusky, Mich.

Well Done!

I really enjoyed Kerry Weber’s article “Writing Home” (1/30). I know Andalusia well, but I learned a lot about Gethsemane and Margaret Mitchell’s house, which I have never visited, and I also enjoyed seeing in the online slideshow that accompanied the article the hometown and school of Graham Greene. The whole thing was well done!

Frances Florencourt

Arlington, Mass.

Children of Adam

Re Maurice Timothy Reidy’s review of Alan Payne’s film “The Descendants” (“Family Circles,” 1/30): “Descend-ants” can also refer to the children of Adam. In that light, I read the film as an exploration of human life after the fall. It is, to be sure, a secular exploration (perhaps a secular parable), but I wonder if faulting it for not mentioning God is somewhat beside the point.

Payne appears to be reversing the old idea in Christian theology that we steal Egyptian gold (that is, the wisdom of the pagans) and use it to render Christian wisdom more intelligible. Payne has stolen biblical gold and used it effectively to render secular humanism more intelligent. That entails bringing it to the realization that, yes, we are fallen, that we are all in this together and that only something like a love that has the capacity to withstand rejection and pain stands a chance of getting us out of this mess. And while God is not mentioned, the film does reject many false gods along the way, leaving the viewer to wonder about the real source of our salvation. Not bad for a Hollywood film.

Steve Miles

Immaculata, Pa.

Best Foot Forward

Best wishes, Patricia Kossmann, as you hang up your tap shoes (Of Many Things, 1/30), but try to keep your feet nimble as you serve others in future chosen volunteer work. What a wonderful tribute to the co-workers you have met, thought with and I’m sure prayed with over these years. May many more delightful encounters with many new friends bless your new beginnings.

Pat Cuddihy, R.H.S.J.

Kingston, Ont., Canada

Christian Enforcers?

Re “In Harm’s Way” by Mary Meehan (1/16): We have become what and who we said we were going to destroy. We are not a Christian nation as we enforce justice and peace according to our terms. We protect our national material interests, then go to church on Sunday and pray for the soldiers we put in harm’s way. We need to own this and require just wars, if they exist, to be the only ones waged. The fiasco of President Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been sanctioned and supported by our 535 representatives. We become alarmed only when our financial fortune is severely threatened.

Mike Schlacter


Work Ethics

Re“The Continuing Mission,” by Kevin Clarke (1/16): Catholic Relief Services is one of the church’s true treasures. Ken Hackett provided excellent stewardship at C.R.S., and we hope and pray that Carolyn Woo will do the same. I already like her work ethic: “Blessed Mother, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, today is a workday, and we all have to show up for work.”

Bill Collier

Ivoryton, Conn.

Big Step Backward

Re your editorial, “The Way of Life” (1/16): We took a big step backward when we cut welfare benefits. The group that would now be receiving such benefits has the highest abortion rate. Private, small group and individual help is needed, yes, but it will always be insufficient. Public programs are also needed, but more cuts in these programs seem on the way, including nutrition programs like W.I.C. This is literally taking milk from babies to help solve the debt crisis caused mainly by big investment banks. Yet it seems to me (I hope I’m mistaken) that many who call themselves pro-life are lined up with those favoring these cuts.

One thing we can all do, regardless of our political labels, is pray the Rosary, especially the first joyful mystery, for all troubled pregnant women. Mary, after all, was comforted by the angel before she said her big yes.

Jim Lein

Minot, N.D.

A Campaign Elephant

In “What We Must Face” (1/16), John Kavanaugh, S.J., launches a campaign to reach the third largest religious group in America, ex-Catholics; but he appeals to nostalgia instead of addressing the elephants in the room: the paternalism, sexism and homophobia that undermine the credibility of the leadership of the church. Church leaders have become managers focused on power and control rather than on modeling the behavior of Christ, who scandalized his culture when he ate with “sinners” and healed on the Sabbath.

Many ex-Catholics know that to be Catholic means to be all-embracing, to appreciate all sources of revelation as paths to truth. We have an obligation to form a right conscience as adults and know that we will be judged not by our sins, but by how our actions witness to the impartial and boundless compassion of God. The church seems to have adopted a fortress mentality; the leadership protects the followers from the corruptions of “secular” culture. My Jesuit Catholic education taught me to find God in all things.

Barbara DeCoursey Roy

St. Albans, Mont.

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7 years ago

I chuckled when I saw Pat Cuddihy's "My Best Foot Forward" (2/27), captioning her lovely good wishes to Patricia Kossmann. It reminded me how much I enjoyed William Saffire's reply, back in 1990, when he was criticized for failing to remember that, in comparing two things, the proper form is 'greater', not 'greatest'.  Saffire responded: "I could defend my usage by citing Shakespeare on two armies in King John: 'Both are alike. One must prove greatest.' Or say, along with the old boxing referees, 'May the best man win.'  But it would be wrong. I goofed, and should have said, 'Where is the greater sin?'  In conceding my error, I am putting my best foot forward."


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