The Common Good

God's Politics

De-escalating Violence and the Human Story in Israel/Palestine

I was sitting in the airport the other day listening to yet another account of the current events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Almost mechanically, the lips of the news anchor spilled out words like terrorists, extremist, escalating violence, detention, kidnapping, hatred, protest, etc. It was as though they were telling a story of some otherworldly reality that had virtually no human implications. It was all the stuff we are supposed to hear about the Middle East, so it successfully affirmed stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice.

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Vatican Bank Profits Tumble as Pope Francis Orders an Overhaul

Profits plunged by more than $100 million at the Vatican bank last year after thousands of accounts were shut down in a radical overhaul of the scandal-scarred institution.

In its 2013 annual report released Tuesday, the bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works, said its net profit totaled 2.9 million euros ($3.9 million) last year, a dramatic drop from the 86.6 million euros ($117.8 million) it reported in 2012.

The bank said the slump was due to extraordinary expenses, losses related to externally managed investment funds and fluctuations in the price of gold.

Losses included a controversial $20.5 million loan granted to a production company owned by a friend of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state who has faced criticism for mismanagement as the church’s No. 2 official under retired Pope Benedict XVI.

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In Kenya, a Pastor with Disabilities Breaks Barriers for Others

On a Sunday at the Presbyterian church in the Bahati neighborhood, a young woman haltingly approaches the pulpit with a walking cane in one hand and a Bible in the other. Somewhere in her pocket is a mobile phone, which she uses to send out at least 400 Bible quotes a day to Christians across the city.

The Rev. Dawn Gikandi, 31, is a rarity here — a pastor who is a woman, a theologian, a social media devotee, and a disabled person in a country that stigmatizes people who are physically impaired.

In April, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa ordained Gikandi and sent her to her first post, Bahati Martyrs’ Church, where she and another pastor care for more than 4,000 congregants.

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How Soccer Differs from the World of Partisan Politics

After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.

They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.

This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.

During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.

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Religious Procession Past Mafia Boss' Home Irks Italy's Catholic Clergy

Only two weeks after Pope Francis announced he was excommunicating the Mafia, a religious procession in southern Italy has provoked uproar after paying homage to a convicted mobster.

Catholic bishops condemned the detour of the traditional procession, which carried a statue of the Madonna past the house of 82-year-old Peppe Mazzagatti, a Mafia boss serving a life sentence under house arrest.

The town of Oppido Mamertina is home to some powerful criminal clans associated with the Calabrian Mafia known as ‘Ndrangheta. For health reasons, Mazzagatti is serving his sentence at home.

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Busloads of Turned-back Immigrants, an Image of Shame

Sometimes a picture says it all.

Consider the 1963 picture of fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Ala., used against African-American students protesting racial segregation. Surely not our civil servants at their best.

Or the 1972 picture of the little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidentally dropped napalm on Trang Bang, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese troops. The world then saw how war could hurt children.

Now, in 2014, we see citizens of Murrieta, Calif., turning back buses of women and children headed for a federal processing center, a day after Mayor Alan Long told them to let the government know they opposed its decision to move recent undocumented immigrants to the local Border Patrol station.

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ON Scripture: All in the Family

Irresponsible. Foolish. Impulsive. Recent college graduates with substantial student loans are sometimes regarded in these terms. Those who attended college decades ago, with a $15 per credit hour, may assume that these graduates are spoiled Millennials who “should have known better” than to agree to the loan terms.

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Pope Francis' Meeting with Abuse Victims Wasn't a PR Stunt, Vatican Says

Pope Francis on Monday held his first meeting with victims of clergy sex abuse, begging for forgiveness and promising to hold “accountable” the bishops who were complicit in covering up for predatory priests.

Francis held a private Mass with three male and three female victims from the U.K., Ireland and Germany before meeting them individually for around 30 minutes. In total, the first-ever meetings spanned more than three hours.

“Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness,” the pope said, according to a Vatican transcript of his morning homily.

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Wheaton College Gets a Pass from Supreme Court on Contraception Mandate

The Supreme Court offered a further sign that it favors letting employers with religious objections avoid the Obama administration’s so-called contraception mandate.

Over the vehement objection of its three female justices, the court late Thursday blocked the administration from forcing evangelical Wheaton College to sanction insurance coverage for emergency birth control, even though it would not have had to offer the coverage itself.

In doing so, the court made clear that it’s not done with the religious liberty issue following the court’s June 30 ruling that closely-held, for-profit corporations with objections to certain contraception methods do not have to offer this type of coverage to their employees.

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Choosing Freedom

Listening to several Fourth of July discussions last week, I was struck by how many people think of freedom as the ability to do whatever they want. They think there should be few, if any, restrictions on what they choose to do or what they want to own.    

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