Work to Do

Ah, the pity of it. I refer to Jolted by Affluence, by Thomas G. Casey, S.J., (11/27). The Island of Saints and Scholars is only a single generation removed from penury, the emigrant ship and coercive priests and bishops, not to mention the Magdalene Laundries, the industrial schools and the reformatories, mostly staffed by religious. And what are the Irish doing with their newfound wealth and freedom? They are enjoying it. Is Mass attendance down? For sure! And why is that, you ask, and quick as a whippet you answer materialism.

Not so fast. For most of my own youth in Ireland, 1940 to 1965, Catholics were more driven than led, more threatened than instructed, and this by a clergy who were being rapidly overtaken in education and understanding by their flocks. Throw in the odd sexual abuse scandal and the pathetic attempts at cover-up, and you have a recipe for confusing the messenger with the message. Any hope at all, at all?

Well yes, there is; but it won’t come quickly and it won’t be dependent on Polish immigrants, however pious they be. First there is a terrible need for more good priests, and they don’t need to be Irish-born. Nigerians and Ghanaians will do just fine. A bit of a payback, you might say. Then, as the old bishops schooled in 19th-century clerical dominance die off, their replacements need to believe truly that they are the servants of the servants of God. Given a generation or so, there is a fair chance that the unchurched will be once again churched, but there will be no going back to the good old days of That’s what Father says; so it is. So enough of the weeping. There is work to do.

Sean O’Connor
Wallingford, Conn.

Historical Hopes

I am more than a little saddened by the downbeat tone of Jolted by Affluence, by Thomas G. Casey, S.J., (11/27) and his reflections on modern Ireland. Can I assure your readers that, as a 60-plus Catholic in 21st-century Ireland, I am proud of my past, my education, my achievements and especially my country, which provided all those things. But most of all I am proud of the young people of Ireland, their soul and their peace process, grown from a legacy sown by us elders and being reaped by our youth. I think Fr. Casey’s measure of the present is a bit too deeply colored by a hankering for what has gone before.

Let me reassure him and your readers: By no means have we turned into the type of nation he describes. On the contrary, our historical hopes are being realized as a free and independent nation. We make no apologies for our achievements, and in so doing we recognize our shortcomings. But we know all too well where we have come from and therefore know where we are going. We are experiencing our resurrection and rely on the hope it brings.

Kieran McGovern
Dublin, Ireland


I would like to clarify that Maj. Tony De Stefano, whose story I tell in Their Great Sacrifices (11/13), was not stationed in Afghanistan, though he was instrumental in providing satellite service to Afghanistan. In point of fact, he was stationed at Camp Doha, Kuwait, as a member of the 335th Theater Signal Command during Operation Enduring Freedom and with the Coalition Forces Land Component Command C6 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Nancy Sherman
Washington, D.C.

Good Cause

Did I miss something? Wasn’t there at least one written reaction to Writing Warriors, by Rick Curry, S.J. (11/13), the recent piece about the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped? If there was, I missed it, which is highly unlikelyeach issue is read thoroughly and thoughtfully, front to back.

I hope the advertisement for their wonderful holiday breads is getting more attention; I just called in my annual order. N.T.W.H. is such a worthy cause. If I didn’t have six offspringand their several offspringto send the delicious breads to, I would be tempted to get a pet to justify buying Brother Curry’s miraculous dog biscuits and echo the message: Good Treats, Good Cause!

Thank you, Brother Rick, for your courage and determination in meeting the unique needs of citizens society has heretofore been unable to help in truly significant ways. Thank you, America, for spreading the good news coming from the Theatre Workshop and Belsen Bakery in Belfast, Maine, and their original space in Lower Manhattan.

Marion Ragsdale
New York, N.Y.

Forces of Secularism

The letters by Carol Sobeck and the Rev. William T. Cullen (12/18) touch on a really important pointnamely, responsibility of the leaders of the church for the apparently sad state of Catholicism in Ireland, Jolted by Affluence, by Thomas G. Casey, S.J. (11/27). Not being Irish, perhaps I should not comment on the problems of that country, but it seems to me that the same questions could be raised about other formerly Catholic societies in, say, Italy or Germany or France or Quebec. How much do we blame the advancing forces of secularism? And how much responsibility do the churches have for having encouraged their advance, both through acts of omission and commission?

In this country, indeed, how much have we learned from the great crisis breaking over us since 2002? An example: while the bishops commissioned an external study by John Jay College on the nature and scope of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church, might we not profit enormously from an external study of a related problem, the failures of episcopal oversight? How can we explain that so many bishops in so many dioceses ignored or tried to cover up for so long the criminal activities going on in their areas of responsibility?

It may well be that the answers are so obvious that they scarcely need the expense and trouble of an external study; but then they need to be articulated and faced with forthrightness and integrity. Unless I’ve missed something, they haven’t been.

Nicholas Clifford
New Haven, Vt.

Improve Nutrition

As a registered dietitian, I was disappointed to read Sally Cunneen’s touting of Heifer International in her article Icon of Creation (12/18). We should not be encouraging a diet of animal products for the poor, or anyone else. Heifer International is doing this by sending young animals and birds to families around the world in an attempt to alleviate hunger and show them how to sustain themselves. The world cannot support this resource-intensive style of living. It takes approximately 16 lbs. of grain to produce one pound of beef, a very inefficient use of grain, to say nothing of the water and land use involved. We should be teaching the families of the world how to grow the fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts that are suited to their areas. Instead, Heifer International is introducing them to the standard American diet (SAD for short). And before too many years, we can teach them how to treat diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which are sure to follow.

The key component for having a well-fed world is to decrease global meat consumption in order to increase overall food yields, protect the environment and improve nutrition.

Kathleen Shopa
Port Charlotte, Fla.


Many thanks to George B. Wilson, S.J., for Priests and Nurses (12/18). I am a member of a parish that is without a permanent pastor. I am also an emergency room nurse. I think about, pray over and struggle with the nurse and priest shortages daily. I appreciate the column’s insight that recruiting priests and nurses from poor countries is a form of neocolonialism. In addition to extracting natural resourcesgemstones, timber and of course oilfirst world countries like the United States are extracting human resources. For my part, I try to encourage others, especially men, to consider nursing as a vocation and to encourage others, especially women, to embrace the priesthood they received at baptism by becoming as active as they can in the church. Might part of the solution also be to simplify our health care and pastoral needs? I am not at all sure what that would look like, but will be giving it a lot of thought and prayer, thanks to America.

Maria West, R.N.
Bethesda, Md.

Missionary Mantle

In Priests and Nurses (12/18), George B. Wilson, S.J., touches on several provocative points that invite comment and further discussion.

The American penchant for wanting what it wants, and now, regardless of pernicious consequences applies in this debate about international priests. Any number of priests and seminarians are coming to the States, and not only for the classic reason of serving the immigrant populations now here from their countries of origin.

In the case of Africa, with the phenomenal growth in the number of Catholics in many countries south of the Sahara, their clergy are indeed needed there for pastoral ministries and for formation of future generations of leadership. The avowed aim of the past century and a half of missionary effort has been to prepare indigenous clergy for local needs. Paradoxically, given the historical tribal nature of African societies, many areas have not yet been evangelized, even within countries that have significant pockets of people who have chosen to be Christian. Before talking of reverse mission back to the West, therefore, these newer churches need to seize the missionary moment where they are.

In fact, the resources of the entire church should be directed to the two-thirds of the world’s population that have not yet effectively heard the Gospel even for a first time. If there happens to be a surplus of priests in one areaand even if there is not, to be true to our biblical imperativesthey need to go where the need is greatest. Further, the local church has more than ordained personnel to send: a missionary church need not be a clerical church.

Father Wilson included financial considerations in this discussion. Ironically, some of the strongest growth economies of the world currently are those countries where the most missionary effort is begging to begin.

The Second Vatican Council mandated that the bishops of the churchlocally, regionally, universallyassume the missionary mantle. This conundrum of equitable use of resources is one worth their serious attention, for the integrity of their local churches and because all of the folks out there are waiting.

Gerard Kholar, C.S.Sp.
Arusha, Tanzania

Apt Phrase

I was a little puzzled by your two references to Shiite Islam in Shutting Pandora’s Box (editorial, 1/1). In the first paragraph you cite the advance of Shiite Islam as one of the deleterious effects of the war in Iraq, and in the fourth paragraph you speak of curtailing the spread of Shiite Islam as a benefit of the integrated approach advanced by the Iraq Study Group.

I believe Iranian influence would have been a more apt phrase. It seems to me that the war’s facilitation of the spread of Iranian influence is more to the point. While it is true that Iran is dominated by Shiite clerics, I do not believe that Iran’s agenda is synonymous with Shiite Islam. If I were a Shiite Muslim, I would wonder whether the editors of America saw my religion as itself an evil whose spread should be resisted.

On the whole I agree with America’s position on the war and on President Bush’s apparent reaction to the report of the Iraq Study Group. I think my question is a consequence of the editorial’s uncharacteristic lack of precision with language.

Rick Duda
Palos Heights, Ill.

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13 years 8 months ago
Nurse Maria West’s letter (1/15) on the priest/nurse shortage article by George B. Wilson, S.J. (12/18), encourages males to consider careers in nursing; but then she writes encouraging others, especially women, to embrace the priesthood they received at baptism by becoming as active as they can in the church. While this is a great idea, it will not solve the priesthood shortage. A more practical approach would be to change entrance requirements for men aspiring to the priesthood or at least make them more uniform nationwide. If one diocese accepts older men, why can’t all dioceses do that? If dioceses accept Episcopalian priests with families and recent converts, why can’t they accept lifelong Catholic males who happen to be single parents? If dioceses accept priest candidates from third world countries or eastern Europe, why do many dioceses require American candidates to live in their diocese of choice for a year before applying?

13 years 8 months ago
I somehow missed Sally Cunneen’s article praising Heifer International, (“Icon of Creation” 12/18). But I did read Kathleen Shopa’s letter (1/15) criticizing Heifer for sending animals around the world for the less fortunate to eat. This is the last thing they intend. They send chickens so the families can have their own eggs for nutrition. They send cows so these people can have fresh milk for their children and themselves, then possibly sell what is left to neighbors to bring in a little money. The water buffalo helps with the fields so they can plant vegetables. The manure helps to fertilize the crops. The only requirement is that each person who receives an animal must give away the first offspring from that animal to another needy person. All of this was featured in an episode of “60 Minutes” not too many months ago.

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