A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi
Published for the friars of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph
Contact: TL Michael Auman, editor
1927 N. 4th St., Milwaukee WI 53212
414.803.4449; Email: TLAuman@thecapuchins.org
On the web at: www.capcomm.org
Week ending 11 December 2009 Issue Number 821
Views expressed in this
column do not necessarily The Capuchins between secularization
reflect the views of the
editor or of the St. Joseph
and the return of religious life
Province, and are offered to
provoke thought and
During the general chapter of the Capuchin Order in 2006, friars of
conversation. Want to Northern and Western Europe were encouraged to reflect on the
submit something phenomenon of secularization. The friars were challenged to react to what
for this column? many define as a “godless society.”
Email us at:
email@example.com From 4-8 November of this year, friars gathered in Madrid, Spain for a
symposium on secularism and religious life. Gary Wegner represented the
St. Joseph Province at the event.
The fall of a Tiger: “He has
made more money from The conference was actually held at the
selling himself, or his
Capuchin retreat center in El Pardo, a village
image, than he has made
from playing just outside of Madrid. The friary there was
tournaments...and it’s why built in 1612 for Capuchins serving as
[his] behavior has been so chaplains to Spain’s royal family. Eventually,
disappointing. We hold the friary was transformed into a minor
him, or held him, to a
higher standard.” —
seminary. The school closed in 2003. The
Charles McGrath, sports friars are now putting finishing touches on the
columnist, NY Times, property to convert it to retreat and
12.6.09. conference center. Friars have also offered
hospitality in El Pardo for North African
“It’s time to accept that
athletes are not role Christophorus Geodereis, the provincial
models. They’re just
models — for everything Capuchin friary in El Pardo, site of minister of Rhineland-Westphalia (and the
from sports drinks to the symposium principal organizer of the symposium) began
running shoes to razor the event by welcoming over one hundred
blades to credit cards to twenty Capuchins, and a number of Dominicans, as well as invited speakers.
peanut butter to Buicks to
The official languages of the symposium included English, German,
Wheaties.” — Maureen
Dowd, Op Ed columnist, NY Spanish, French and Italian, and all presentations were simultaneously
Times, 12.6.09. translated into these languages.
The keynoter for the event was none other than the Vatican commentator
John Allen (The National Catholic Reporter). Allen cautioned the assembly
not to overemphasize the effects of secularism:
“Let me offer one practical implication. To the extent we define secularism as our main problem, Catholicism
inevitably ends up looking defensive, forever building walls around a tradition we believe to be under
assault. When the term of comparison is no longer secularism, however, but rather some forms of
Pentecostalism or Islam, or quasi-magical currents in indigenous belief, that change of context positions
Catholicism differently, as an alternative to religious movements that at times veer toward fundamentalism,
extremism, or thaumaturgy [sometimes translated as “wonderworking”]. The capacity of Catholicism to
integrate reason and faith, to uphold tradition while at the same time engaging modernity, emerges with
greater clarity. In other words, given what’s actually on offer in today’s religious marketplace, Catholicism
often seems a balanced, moderate, and sophisticated option. For the record, this is how most people on the
planet right now actually see the Catholic Church, in light of what else they see around them.”
The German sociologist, Michael Ebertz, presented a fascinating,
“albeit complicated for the translators”, talk on secularization,
dechristianization and dechurching. Europe, he noted, is the only
truly secular continent and a religious exception relative to the rest of
the world. He cautioned that to speak of “Europe” poses problems,
since each country has its own unique religious history and
experience. He noted that in the United States, religious sensitivity
and modernity are not mutually exclusive (as they are perceived to be
in Europe). Research suggests, said Ebertz, that for married Catholics
in Europe the prohibition on artificial birth control is not at all
Several Dominican Friars joined over 120
persuasive and that celibacy is a source of personal discomfort for Capuchins for the conference.
priests. All of this, he said, contributes to a basic lack of trust in the
Europeans, maintained Ebertz, believe less and less in a “personal
god.” More and more young people in Europe have no affiliation with
a church. Contributing to this phenomenon is the anticlericalism in
Europe which developed as a result of religion being identified with
power and authority.
The European experience can be applied to the entire world,
maintained Jean-Louis Schlegel (Paris) who presented his view of
secularization as a “social process that began three hundred years ago
Conference participants included Gary in Europe”. Religious people, he said, often make the mistake of
Wegner (left) and general minister Mauro condemning secularization by using the term secularism, and then
perceive the process as an enemy of religion. This is not the case, he
insisted. The separation of church and state was seen as a persecution
of the church in France; in other countries, the phenomenon took place much more smoothly, and was not
perceived as an attack on the church.
More and more, said Schlegel, Europeans and Americans are concluding that the only authentic path is to
be true to oneself, exemplified by the increasing rate of divorce, in which individuals have replaced fidelity
with individual contentment. If culture promotes this type of personal happiness, people will only be
attracted to religion when it, too, offers self-fulfillment.
Another presenter, more familiar to friars in the U.S., was Catholic Theological Union professor Bob
Schreiter, who offered his own comparison of Europe with America. Unlike Europeans, Americans have
retained a good deal of religiosity: 40% attend church regularly, and nearly 70% say they would not vote
for an atheist for president.
Page 2 of 4
The church in America, maintained Schreiter, had a much different experience of the Enlightenment than
Europe, affording Americans with a much more tolerant attitude toward religion, reflected in the Founding
Fathers’ construction of the U.S. Constitution. Protestantism, he said, is so woven into the American
experience that religion does not take on the adversarial stance that it does in other cultures, most
specifically in Europe.
Other cultural phenomena also contributed to the religious
atmosphere of the United States, said Schreiter, including such “great
awakenings” as Methodism leading to revolution (1730s),
apocalypticism and the Civil War (1840s), the Great Depression
(1930s), and a more recent “awakening” promoted by the “mega-
church” movement. Schreiter summarizes the American experience as
one of renewal, revival and stable values.
Today, Catholics comprise 24% of the U.S. population. After a
period of anti-Catholicism (1800s), Catholics in the U.S. began to Between presentations, Gary (left) found
make strides, first through the G.I. Bill which helped educate Irish time to take off the headphones and chat
immigrants; then with the election in 1960 of the first Roman with other participants.
Catholic president. The Catholic school system in the U.S. became a
force to be reckoned with, and has resulted in over 230 Catholic colleges and universities.
In his concluding remarks, Schreiter proposed six “lessons” for Europe from the U.S.:
1. Atmosphere in larger culture is an important factor; thus, Benedict XVI’s desire to work for a change in
cultural attitudes; 2. We are shaped by the narratives of who we were and who we are now. In a post-
secular society, religion has to be understood as part of culture; 3. Pro-active ministry among immigrants; 4.
Religion practiced in non-institutional forms is most effective in reaching especially the young in their choice
of religion; 5. Conservative forms which provide identity will attract more than progressive forms of religious
faith (religion becomes more a “way of life” than a “view of life”); and 6. Religion that appeals to emotions
is more vibrant but risks being more ephemeral.
Following Schreiter’s presentation, there were opportunities to explore secularization in Ireland (papers
prepared prior to the recent Ryan Report on sexual abuse), and opportunities for personal interventions.
This article was gleaned from notes submitted by Gary Wegner. His complete “report” can be downloaded
from our website: http://sjpcommunications.org/files/OtherDocuments/reportonsymposium.pdf. This report
includes some closing thought and questions for discussion.
From Loss to Renewal: reflection for the 3rd week of Advent
During this third week of Advent, we are invited to reflect on individuals who have
been able to move from anger at groups or communities whose violence has touched
their lives. To move from fear, anger and even hate to a celebration of reconciliation
can be possible when we recognize the healing power of God in our midst.
The Rev.Lyndon Harris was in his church near the Twin Towers in New York on Sept.
11, 2001, a day he spent helping as many people in the area as possible. He
quickly opened St. Paul’s chapel to firefighters, police, rescue workers, and then to
the hundreds of workers at Ground Zero during the next eight months, serving them
in all ways possible.
Page 3 of 4
He saw the devastation and tragedy caused
by the terrorists. Sadness, anger and stress
took its toll: his lungs were effected, December
15 Tue . . . . . . . . . . . . Gone With the Wind premiers, 1939
relationships and his ministry suffered. "PTSD
[post-traumatic stress disorder] and 16 Wed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Boston Tea Party, 1773
depression began taking over my life. I was
bitter and resentful," he says. 17 Thu . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . David Belongea (B)
“Kitty Hawk Flight”, 1903
A good friend listened to Harris and offered
a challenge: What if you could forgive? 18 Fri . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . U.S. abolishes slavery, 1865
Harris realized: "Of course I had to forgive!"
he says. "I'm a Christian pastor! It's part of 19 Sat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Irvin Udulutsch (N)
my job description.” That decision marked a
20 Sun . . . . William Jefferson Clinton is impeached, 1998
turning point. Finally, Harris says, he could
hear the words of Nelson Mandela: "Not to 21 Mon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . U.S. invades Panama, 1989
forgive is like drinking a glass of poison and
waiting for your enemies to die." Harris 22 Tue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John Francis Samsa (B)
admits he drank deeply of that poison. During the Civil War, Union general William T. Sherman
sends a message to President Lincoln saying, "I beg to
But out of the ashes of his despair, present you as a Christmas gift the city
forgiveness began to bloom. As his health of Savannah," 1864
returned, he traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, to
visit Alexandra Asseily. She had begun a
movement to plant a Garden of Forgiveness in her beloved Lebanon after its civil war, which claimed more
than 300,000 lives. Asseily has brought over wives and mothers of 9/11 victims to plant trees in the
Lebanese Garden and to help them through the process of forgiveness and reconciliation.
When he returned from Beirut, Harris joined with the Stanford Forgiveness Project and started a nonprofit
group: The Gardens of Forgiveness Project. Harris is working to fulfill Asseily's vision by planting gardens
around the world, celebrating the restorative powers of nature and providing spaces for rituals of
reconciliation. This project has planted gardens throughout New York State and in Chicago, and has
partners in Durban and Soweto, South Africa; Uganda; and Liberia. Harris also dreams of a Forgiveness
garden at Ground Zero in New York City.
Sally Meaders, sister of Paul Koenig, is grateful for the
many prayers received, and recently underwent a double
Former friar Lucien Pulvermacher died on 30 November.
He was also known as Pius XIII in ome circles.
Bob Smith is recovering from spinal fusion surgery.
Bob Smith, Capuchin
4010 N. 6th Street
Milwaukee WI 53212