Cathleen Falsani is an award-winning religion journalist and author of several nonfiction books, including The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, and The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers. She is co-host of the new audio magazine/podcast The Shwell. Follow her on Twitter @GodGrrl.
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'Summer in the Forest' a Moving Picture of Love and L'Arche
“This is how the world is meant to be.” That’s what Randall Wright, director of the exceptionally powerful new feature-length documentary Summer in the Forest, said he thought the first time he visited one of the L’Arche communities founded by Jean Vanier that are the subject of his film.
The Justice Message of Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’
There is a moral (some might even say spiritual) clarity shared by the young humans in Isle of Dogs Anderson hasn’t been celebrated in his previous films, and that feels particularly salient right now as we watch children, led by the student-activists from Parkland, champion a national movement to demand sweeping legal and political changes to combat the rampant gun violence that plagues our nation.
When the Seeds of Hate Land on Your Doorstep
Some of the boys involved in carrying out those acts in December we know, and we know their parents. The parents we do know are not frothing-at-the-mouth bigots. We can’t imagine their sons learned racist ideas at home.
But they learned them somewhere.
Racists and bullies aren’t born. They are made.
Haiti, After Hurricane Matthew
It’s been three weeks since I returned from Haiti and a fortnight since Hurricane Matthew made landfall along the southern coast of the Caribbean island, bringing its Category 5 devastation to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
And in the time that has passed since my first visit to Ayiti (as they say in Creole), I can’t stop thinking about her.
Paul Simon's Spiritual Fascination
Since the 1960s, Simon’s musical dialogue with his audience has been an adventure: through the mean streets of pre-Bloomberg New York City, on a bus across America, with a runaway bride, into the townships of South Africa, Chernobyl, the Amazon, fatherhood, the deep South, the ups-and-downs of enduring love, questions about mortality, and dreams of the afterlife.
That conversation (and adventure) continues with Stranger to Stranger at the velvet rope of a nightclub, with a homeless “street angel,” in a hospital emergency room, at the riverbank, an insomniac’s bedside, and a village in central Brazil that some might describe as a “thin place” — where the veil between this world and whatever lies beyond it is like gossamer.
Why We (Still) Love Pope Francis
“We do not remember days,” the Italian poet Cesare Pavese said, “we remember moments.”
Pavese’s words have come to mind often as I’ve thought about Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States, particularly when people have asked me what the “best part” of covering the papal visit was for me.
My answer is always the same: hands down the best part was watching people see (and sometimes meet) Pope Francis in person for the first time.
Breaking In: Pope Francis in a Philly Prison
On May 31, 1973, a group of inmates at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison walked into the deputy warden’s office to ask for the establishment of a special prayer room for Muslim prisoners. When Deputy Warden Robert F. Fromhold denied their request, inmates turned on him and Warden Patrick N. Curran, stabbing both men dead with shivs.
On the morning of Sept. 27, the last day of his first trip to the United States, Pope Francis visited a Philadelphia prison named for Curran and Fromhold, where he expressed solidarity with the female and male prisoners.
“I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own,” he said, and bestowed one-on-one blessings upon a number of inmates — including several who appeared to be Muslim.
Bless Me Father, for I Have Sinned
“Brace yourself, Father,” I said, taking a seat in a plastic chair facing my would-be confessor in Madison Square Garden’s dimly lit Madison Bar on Friday, a few hours before the start of the papal mass.
The bearded Franciscan priest in his dove gray vestments laughed and said, “No way. It’s all fine. Think of it as a big embrace of forgiveness from your heavenly father.”
OK. I tried to warn you.
“Let me see if I remember how this goes,” I began. “Bless me father for I have sinned; it’s been 35 years since my last confession.”
He tried not to look startled and almost pulled it off.
“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” he said, smiling kindly as he reached beneath his cassock to pull out a small paperback tract that, he explained, contained a list of questions that he could ask me that might make recounting all of my trespasses since the third grade a little less daunting.
In U.S., Pope's Actions, As Usual, Tell a Richer Story
And then Wednesday night, at the end of a marathon day in the nation’s capital, after canonizing St. Junipero Serra at the National Basilica, the pope made an unscheduled, last-minute stop to visit with the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order dedicated to caring for the elderly. (The sisters gained notoriety for their lawsuit against the federal government over Obamacare’s contraception mandate, but reportedly the pope made no mention of it when he stopped by the Washington convent.)
“It’s his actions that give credibility to what he says,” Sister Mary Richard, a nun from Queens Village, N.Y., who met “Papa Francesco” during the surprise visit, told me Thursday morning as we both waited at Union Station to board an Amtrak train bound for New York City.
“He was exhausted but he came. He took the time to come. We take care of the elderly and he said, ‘Thank you. People just throw them away or get rid of them.’
“When he arrived the Mother Superior went out to greet him and she said, ‘Holy Father you must be so tired.’ And he said, ‘Priests and bishops get tired, but you don’t count the cost. But nuns, they never complain.’ “It’s his attitude, ya know?”
What the Pope Saw On His Drive Through D.C.
As Pope Francis’ motorcade made its way from the Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., late Tuesday afternoon, it made a hard left from scenic Rock Creek Parkway onto Massachusetts Avenue, wending its way northwestward at a fast clip along the manicured thoroughfare known as Embassy Row.
Riding in the passenger-side back seat of his tiny, black Fiat 500L, the 78-year-old pontiff leaned his body toward the open window, stuck his arm out, turned his smiling face toward the street, and waived at the modest clutches of pedestrians law enforcement had allowed to stand along the sidewalk to greet him as he whizzed by.
The pope rode past the South African embassy with its statue of Nelson Mandela, right arm raised in a fist of solidarity, out front — and then, almost directly across the street, the hulking statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill raising two fingers in a peace sign (or to hail a cab) at the southernmost end of the British Embassy’s sprawling grounds.
The Mandela and Churchill statues almost high-five each other across Massachusetts Avenue while the pope’s humble hatchback, surrounded by massive Secret Service SUVs and swarms of police motorcycles, passed beneath their outstretched arms.
I wonder if Francis noticed the statues, and thought of the men — so different from one another, but each remembered as a hero — and wondered what his own place in history might be.
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