Vie de l'église

Columnist Michael Sean Winters has…

Are you, like many faithful Catholics, feeling politically homeless? Are you turned off by the social libertarianism of the left and by the authoritarian nationalism of the right? Are you uninspired by Joe Biden and fearful of Donald Trump? Are you thinking of a third party candidate?

Finally, there is an answer for this existential ennui. There is a new face, willing to throw his political hat into the ring, someone untainted by prior political involvement, someone whose views are not bound by the governing orthodoxy of either of the two major parties. Now, there is a third option, a different choice, a new voice.

Taylor Marshall, podcast host, sedevacantist and prominent conservative Catholic conspiracy theorist, has announced his candidacy for the presidency. According to his website, his podcast has 425,000 subscribers, making him one of the most watched Catholic podcasters in America.

The video in which he announces his candidacy is short and you won’t need any popcorn. I suggest not drinking while watching the video: Spitting up Dr. Pepper onto your laptop will destroy the electronics. Marshall’s platform is the « Christ the King platform. » While other GOP contenders debate at what stage in pregnancy to ban abortion, he gets to the root of the matter and advocates making contraception illegal.

« We need a Christian culture in America, » Marshall announces, a point on which I agree, but arguing « we don’t need strict separation of church and state » will need a bit more of an argument.

Hundreds of 2022 GOP candidates for different offices seconded Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Others equivocate. « What happened on Jan. 6 was not great. Does he [Trump] deserve to be impeached? Absolutely not. I don’t even think there’s a basis for impeachment, » said former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. « They beat him up before he got into office. They’re beating him up after he leaves office. At some point, I mean, give the man a break. »

Only Taylor Marshall has the guts, the courage to do Trump one better. Not only was the 2020 election stolen by Biden, but the 1958 papal election may have been stolen by Pope John XXIII! Actually, it is not clear what variety of sedevacantism Marshall espouses. D.W. Lafferty, writing at Where Peter Is, reviewed Marshall’s book Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within, and points out that: « What gives him leeway to shape and twist his material into any shape he wants is that he hovers between constructing a narrative with human conspirators and a narrative that is driven by Satanic, demonic forces. There is no need to prove that so-and-so was actually a Freemason if, in the end, Freemasonry, Modernism, communism, and the Sankt Gallen Mafia are all manifestations of the same Satanic plot. »

Are you reaching for your checkbook to send Marshall’s campaign a check yet? Or are you a modernist or a Freemason!

Marshall’s platform may not have much to say about the debt ceiling, but he is very much opposed to receiving Communion in the hand. He is opposed to Protestantism because it rejects the papacy, but he also opposes the pope. Not sure how that works out. Marshall is more convinced that King Charles III is a « Globalist Antichrist. » 

Turning to foreign affairs, Marshall’s views are deeply influenced by disgraced former nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Marshall frets about the « deep state » and the « deep church » working together for a nefarious, globalist agenda. He allows that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a « criminal, cruel man who manipulates Christianity for money and power. » But he also objects to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, and cites a tweet in which Zelenskyy said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was an inspiration to him. According to Marshall, Trudeau is « an evil tyrant, who is destroying the Canadian people. » 

There is a lot of talk about Our Lady of Fatima. Pity she would not be available to serve as secretary of state should Marshall win. Smart money is on Viganò emerging from retirement to return to the diplomatic hustings on Marshall’s behalf.

On the domestic front, a Marshall administration would find some cabinet positions easier to fill than others. Janet Smith, the nation’s foremost opponent of contraception, would be an obvious choice for secretary of health and human services, and Fr. James Altman of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, is a good bet to lead the Department of Justice, which is likely to be weaponized by any GOP president. Altman has been unafraid to call out « modernists, » and modernism, the « mother of all heresies, » is likely to be a major concern of Marshall’s administration.

Marshall likes doing media. He has appeared on Steve Bannon’s « War Room » and Glenn Beck’s podcast. He is a frequent guest at LifeSiteNews. Still, he will need a press secretary. Perhaps EWTN radio hosts Dan and Stephanie Burke, who interviewed Marshall when his book Infiltration came out, could serve as press secretaries jointly (h/t to Where Peter Is for that and many other tidbits of information regarding this sector in the Catholic conspiracy universe).

Cabinet appointments need to wait until after Dr. Marshall wins. One choice must be made in advance of the election, the choice of a running mate. The veep candidate must be someone endowed with profound spiritual insights into the complex moral issues of our day and also be familiar with modern means of communication. The obvious choice? Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, who just last week shared with the world the fact that he had discerned Pope Francis was « undermining the Deposit of Faith. » How helpful would it be to President Marshall to have a vice president with such a finely tuned theological sensibility, especially if the apocalypse is really at hand.

Strickland would also help with another problem. Every president needs a retreat, a place where they can go to get away from the burdens of office. Strickland was part of the bishops’ panel at the 2019 Napa Institute gathering at Tim Busch’s swanky resort. I am sure Mr. Busch could be persuaded to erect a nice retreat cottage for President Marshall.

Marshall & Strickland in 2024. America needs them! No other candidates will make « reveal the fourth secret of Fatima » a leading campaign pledge! It is time to make America holy again! Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war!

Vie de l'église

Why are sensible, educated, moral…

This is a very difficult topic to write about. I know the truth of that because I’ve done it myself — long before this — and nothing has changed. Why? Why won’t we hear what is really, truly killing us? Body and soul.

The fact is that we are living far too quietly, docilely, with what may be one of the determining questions of this society: its character, its quality, its spirituality.

The question: Why are sensible, educated, moral adults allowing the so-called political leaders in this country to go on enabling the militarization of what has always seen itself as a peaceful society? How is it that guns have become more important in this society than peace, justice, equality and life?

How is it that politics and money have taken over human development and social justice?

We know who these people are. They profess their allegiance to oversize military arms regularly, proudly, loudly. Without restraint. And so, in the end, the allegiance is to the National Rifle Association, not to the U.S. at all.

After every mass shooting in this country this year, we cry over our annual some 40,000 deaths and over 100,000 people injured by guns — and do nothing at all about it. We simply go on allowing easy accessibility to guns, domestic violence, organized crime and mental health issues.

And we say that we can’t do anything about it. It’s a government problem, we insist. So why don’t we put the government on notice before every election? 

It goes like this: « Sir, Ms., Do you — as the Supreme Court does — support open carry of military guns? » Thank you for your quick, clear answer. It means that we will not vote for you again to keep your seat while you cash your NRA checks and do nothing whatsoever to stop this pandemic of violence that you have created.

That’s how simple it is: Stand up and say no!

In fact, why do we keep sending representatives to a Congress that itself is out of emotional control, that will not allow every member of Congress to decide their votes independently? Instead, they are herded  into political cages by their respective parties. Conscience is clearly a thing of the past in politics.

Why would we allow those things? Because maybe we are becoming less and less of a democracy every day.

The gun violence crowd has arguments, of course: We hear them over and over again. Maybe we aren’t listening to them carefully enough. We can learn a lot more about our leaders by listening to their arguments for preserving, accelerating and arming the country for its own demise than we can from their clever little election ditties.

First, they smirk at us, « Guns don’t kill people, people do. » As in, « Cancer doesn’t kill people; doctors do. » The fact is that these guns can do the harm they do because we are aiming them.

It’s very difficult to hear such inanity come from educated adults and have much hope for society anymore. Maybe it would at least be thoughtful to say: « Guns don’t kill people; it’s underdeveloped people who give underdeveloped people guns that do. »

Second, guns aren’t illegal; they are implements of random force that we now allow to be strutted around our streets. As a result, the faith in feminism never obscures the machoism that comes with dominance and force.

Third, « We’ll never take guns away from hunters, » they insist, fists thumping on their empty hearts, cheerleading the right to satisfy the dulled brains of a society that hasn’t lived on the animals they killed to eat for almost a century. 

Until now. 

Now, apparently, we have given ourselves the permission to kill defenseless breeds of animals for our own childish entertainment.  Now, with some of the most powerful military weaponry ever known we are really blasting doe and rabbits, squirrels and ducks to smithereens. Surely healthy, intelligent, mature, careful hunters would never attack animals with heavy-duty automatic equipment meant to decimate humans.

Women wonder how it is that we are being hounded for wanting to preserve the right to do medical abortions while we can arm and kill at will. And no one questions the difference.

Instead, school kids — curious kindergarteners or unconstrained adolescents at wild weekend parties and cheap bars — are bursting with macho from the « carry laws » that endanger our streets. It is an errant gift from the highest court in the land — which could make us wonder about our institutional health, too.

The final argument for this one is that if we all had more guns — our teenage sons, our grandmothers, our teachers, our nurses, our ministers, even our professionals who claim human reason as our protection against social breakdown — we would all be safe. Or at least some of us, maybe.

The argument reads like an appeal to the cowboys of the « Old West. » Except that what we are dealing with now is not the struggle for an equitable use of land. No, now we’re facing the need for public safety. Ours. Yours and mine. 

What we are dealing with now is the insane use of militarized weapons for the sake of personal satisfaction. 

What we are dealing with now is rampant chaos and social decline. 

Have we turned democracy over to those with the most dangerous and damaging weapons we can supply?

It is a pitiable time in the United States when public order is being turned over to street corner liquidators instead of to public servants of peace, order and justice. 

Clearly it is the public itself that must put peace, order and justice into the hands of public servants rather than license public marauders.

Which means that the real question is: What has happened to us as a people? Has reckless force become our only protection? Is America as a country coming apart?

From where I stand, remembering a century when we trusted that public protection could be maintained by public officials who were sworn to do so, it is time for us to throw away those guns and release the civic system to maintain the system again. 

Instead of sending flowers on Mother’s Day, maybe we should start to count the number of children who will not be there to celebrate it because of gun violence. Just to prove how strong we’ve been, how tough we’ve been, how independent we are. 

What has happened to us as a people? 

Clearly, our souls have shrunk, our hearts have been poisoned against one another, the defenseless have been ignored and the Supreme Court, the greatest court in the land, has given away the rule of law to gunslingers. 

It’s a dark time in America. Aristotle put it this way: « It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. » Surely we are out of focus now. Surely now is our moment to begin again. Or else.

Vie de l'église

Organized by Teens4Unity, the…

A midday rain was falling on the first Sunday in May at Lake Aiguebelette, in the Alps of Southern France, as children, teens and a few parents prepared to race along the trails around the scenic Alpine landscape.

The estimated 200 participants — going by foot, roller skates, scooters and bikes — sought to log as many kilometers as they could in a pseudo-walkathon where their collective distance, in all 493 kilometers, was converted into 950 trees to be planted in countries like Uganda, Nicaragua and the Philippines.

A knee injury kept Louisianne Cardoso Tour, an 18-year-old college student, from running, so instead she played the role of emcee and urged the racers to keep going even amid wet and soggy conditions.

« I had the microphone, I was like, ‘Go go, go faster,’ and encouraging people, » she said.

Earlier that same day, eight time zones away, Therese Lenguaje, 16, joined 150 people in Quezon City, Philippines, for a 30-minute walk to Sitio Bakal, an open field where they picked up trash. Later, they planted 50 seedlings, including 30 native Atis and Guyabano fruit trees.

The activities, each beginning around 11 a.m. local time on May 7, were part of a global « eco-relay » for the annual Run4Unity that this year emphasized ecological conservation in the face of climate change by inviting groups to exchange their kilometers and minutes for newly planted trees — an initiative that drew support from the Vatican.

First held in 2005, the Run4Unity is organized by Teens4Unity, the youth branch of the Focolare Movement, a lay Catholic movement founded in Italy during World War II that works to bring peace and unity in the world.

The last two iterations of the Run4Unity, aimed at and organized by middle school and high school students, have carried the theme of « People, Planet and Our Ecological Conversion. » Where in 2022 groups took part in park and beach cleanups, they took that a step further this year by encouraging participants to plant trees for every kilometer or mile they ran or minute of exercise or activity.

Planting trees was a means « to promote the ecological conversion, this integral ecology that Pope Francis is talking about. Caring for the planet and for the people who are our brothers and sisters who live in it, » Ana Paula Panzarini, a member of the Run4Unity committee and communications official with the Focolare Movement, told EarthBeat.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, along with its Laudato Si’ Action Platform, were co-sponsors of the 2023 unity runs. The action platform — an effort to mobilize all corners of the Catholic Church to respond to Francis’ 2015 encyclical « Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home » — invited its more than 1,000 enrolled Catholic schools to host runs in their communities.

The Run4Unity sends a message to the world of its participants’ commitment to the pope’s invitation to care for all humanity and the planet, the dicastery told EarthBeat.

John Mundell, director of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, said in a statement that ensuring a healthy, livable future for the planet requires people uniting across faiths, cultures and generations to « commit ourselves to concrete actions that safeguard the natural environment and care for the most vulnerable among us. »

« Young people are leading the way through events like Run4Unity, » he said.

Having young people plant trees in their community while their peers do the same in theirs fosters a sense of climate solidarity, Panzarini said, in taking steps to safeguard the Earth and limit the impacts of climate change, whether experienced in their own region or another part of the world.

Lenguaje, a young Catholic who was participating in her first Run4Unity, said that climate change is having many negative impacts in the Philippines, as warmer temperatures have led to drought-fueled water shortages and health issues like heat strokes.

Cardoso Tour sees climate change in warmer winters in the Alps, and a link between her Catholic faith and creation care in the golden rule: « We want to love each other and do to others what we would want the other to do for us. And I think it’s the same thing with the planet — like we treat others with kindness, and we treat the planet with kindness, too. »

According to the Focolare Movement’s preliminary data, as of May 12, thousands of participants in 60 countries joined more than 170 Run4Unity events, and together traversed nearly 6,700 kilometers (4,163 miles), recorded more than 12,000 minutes of exercise, and planted 2,000 trees and counting.

Local Focolare groups raised money or partnered with organizations to cover the cost of tree plantings. In some places, like Kenya, they planted trees themselves. Others, like the community in the French Alps, teamed with environmental organizations based in different countries to plant trees there. 

The Focolare Movement reached out to Plant for the Planet to help its groups understand which trees to plant and where best to plant them.

While a few events took place around Earth Day, including a tree planting and eco-workshops in Rome, and others the weekend of May 13-14, the main day was May 7, where an eco-relay had Focolare groups in different countries connecting and passing a « virtual baton » to one another across time zones as one event was ending and another was about to begin.

The 2023 Run4Unity began in Fiji, where the sun first rises. The island nation is also a symbolic setting of the tolls of climate change. There, teens played games at the Pacific Regional Seminary of St. Peter Claver in the Suva Archdiocese, where Margaret Karram, president of the Focolare Movement, helped them plant two trees: a native sandalwood and a citrus tree, which require each other in order to produce fruit.

The decision to plant those specific trees sends a message « to the whole world that we need each other, » Panzarini said.

« We all need to do our part in order to reach the goal of this climate justice for all, » she told EarthBeat.

Around noon local time, the participants in Fiji paused the games and tree planting for the « timeout for peace, » where they were joined by video with fellow teens in Nagasaki, Japan, to pray together for peace and virtually « pass » the baton to the next time zone.

At the Heba Kosha Community Center in Nagasaki, site of the second atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Japan, teens rang peace bells after their run, calling attention to the immense destruction nuclear weapons pose both to people and nature.

From there, the « virtual baton » moved across the global map, making stops in Indonesia, Lebanon, Benin, Slovakia, El Salvador and Colombia.

In war-torn Ukraine, Run4Unity participants cleaned up trash around the Church of the Nativity of Mary, in the southwestern city of Uzhhorod, and connected with a group in Italy who did fundraising activities for Ukrainian refugees.

Teens in Seoul, South Korea, staged their run through Haneul Park, a hilltop escape of silver grassfields once known as the world’s tallest trash mountain. It was converted from a landfill to a park by city leaders ahead of the 2002 World Cup.

In New Delhi, Adiba Ali, an 18-year-old Muslim student, joined about 50 other people in a 5-kilometer walk in Connaught Place Central Park and raised enough funds to plant 60 trees.

Ali told EarthBeat that the day gave him hope.

« We are living on this planet and have duties and responsibilities to fulfill towards the earth and the nature. This planet is giving so much to us and we must do something in return as well for this planet, for our Mother Earth, » he said in an email.

While organizers suggested groups plant a tree for every minute or kilometer, the decision on how best to respond was left to participants. Some chose to do just that, while others opted for more symbolic approaches.

For instance, in the Italian town of Tivoli, the Focolare group decided to plant a single olive tree. In Tanzania, teens planted 200 avocado trees. In the small village of Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon, 2,700 teens installed a « peace cube » in the city square as a sign of their commitment to live for peace.

Some, like a group of older-aged supporters in southern Brazil, opted to donate to Plant for the Planet and pray for the younger participants around the globe. Similarly, a group of Catholic sisters in Rome celebrated Mass for Run4Unity participants around the world, and then went on a walk themselves.

At the end of their Run4Unity at Lake Aiguebelette, Focolare members played games and danced in the rain. Cardoso Tour said it was a day of fun, but more than that, a sign of hope that « young people are invested in changing the world. »

« That’s really the reason why I participate in the Run4Unity, » she said. « Because I think I want to be someone that brings hope. »

Vie de l'église

Pope Francis met with Ukrainian…

Amid the Holy See’s efforts to push for peace, Pope Francis met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on May 13, marking a rare wartime encounter at the Vatican between a pontiff and a head of state and on the eve of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russia.

Zelenskyy’s closely watched visit comes two weeks after the pope told reporters that he is engaged in a secret mission to end Russia’s war against Ukraine. Since that time, both Russian and Ukrainian officials have said they are unaware of any such plans and have not authorized any peace negotiations. The pope’s top diplomatic aides, however, have insisted that plans are underway. 

Since the start of the war on Feb. 24, 2022, Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have made regular appeals for the pope to visit the war-torn country. The pope has said he is willing to visit, but only if he could travel to Moscow, as well, to make an appeal for peace.   

But on day 443 of the war, Zelenskyy instead came to pay a visit to the pope.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Rome, the Ukrainian president’s motorcade made its way up the via della Conciliazione, the main thoroughfare leading to St. Peter’s Square, as onlookers lined the streets waving Ukrainian flags. 

Upon his arrival at the Vatican, Zelenskyy exited a black Jeep dressed in a version of what has become his signature outfit since the start of the war: a black sweatshirt with the Ukrainian trident on the chest and green cargo pants. It marked a stark contrast from the more customary  formal dark suits worn by world leaders for papal meetings.  

Francis greeted Zelenskyy at the door of the Vatican’s Pope Paul VI Hall, rather than the Apostolic Palace, which is traditionally used for meetings with heads of state.

« Thank you for this visit, » the pope said to Zelenskyy in Italian. « A great honor, » Zelenskyy replied in English, placing his hand over his heart. 

The pope and the president met for 40 minutes behind closed doors, with Zelenskyy giving the pope a bullet-dented plate and a poster in the style of an icon titled « Loss. » The image memorialized the lives of children who died in the early days of the conflict. 

A Vatican readout of the meeting said the pope assured Zelenskyy of his constant prayers and emphasized an urgent need for « gestures of humanity » to help victims of the war. In a tweet, Zelenskyy emphasized that he asked the pope to condemn Russian war crimes, writing that « there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor. »

He also said that he asked the Vatican to back Ukraine’s peace formula, which includes the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country, a restoration of all of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, Russian war reparations and postwar security guarantees for Ukraine. 

Following his meeting with the pope, Zelenskyy met with the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, for 30 minutes.

The Vatican has made multiple overtures to serve as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine since the start of the war, though some experts have questioned what role the Catholic Church can play in ending a conflict between the two predominantly Orthodox countries. 

While the pope has explicitly stated that Ukraine has a right to self-defense, including receiving arms from allies, he has also called for both sides to lay down their weapons and negotiate an end to the 15-month conflict. 

At various points throughout the war, Ukrainian government officials have expressed frustration at the pope’s joint calls for both Russia and Ukraine to end the war, saying it gives the impression that both parties bear some of the responsibility.

Following a meeting at the Vatican with the pope last month, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal emphasized that he believed the Holy See could serve a primarily humanitarian role in the conflict, specifically by aiding in the return of what is estimated to be thousands of Ukrainian children taken from their homeland. 

En route home from a trip to Hungary last month, Francis told reporters the Vatican would work towards that goal, noting that the Holy See had already been involved in brokering successful prisoner exchanges between Ukraine and Russia. 

The pope has spoken with Zelenskyy three times by phone since the beginning of the conflict, the last conversation taking place on August 12, 2022. 

Despite repeated efforts — including an unprecedented visit by the pope to the Russian Embassy to the Vatican the day after the war began to express his concerns — Francis has not been able to speak directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The May 13 visit marks Zelenskyy’s second visit to the Vatican since being elected president of Ukraine in 2019. His last visit took place on Feb. 8, 2020, just prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Vatican readout of that meeting made reference to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, noting at the time that the conflict was still afflicting Ukraine. 

Three years later, Zelenskyy’s arrived here in Rome on May 13 facing far graver challenges, seeking both the pope and the Italian government’s continued support for his beleaguered country. 

During his brief one-day stay in Rome, Zelenskyy also met with Italy’s President Sergio Matarella and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni prior to heading to Germany where he, along with the Ukrainian people, will receive the International Charlemagne Prize, an annual award given for contributions towards European Unity. 

« An important visit for approaching victory of Ukraine! » Zelenskyy tweeted.

Vie de l'église

Soul Seeing: Jesus was a human…

Abraham Lincoln and my granddaughter Emma have gotten me curious about Jesus. More specifically, curious about Jesus’ curiosity.

It started when I was reading a review of a new biography that noted that Lincoln’s closest friends and associates « recalled him as a man of boundless curiosity for whom ‘life was a school.’ « 

That reminded me of Emma. She’s just turning 4, and she’s always been filled with an inexhaustible desire to take in and understand — to touch and feel and experience — this world she’s found herself born into.

When she was 2, we were at the park one day, she and I, and she was riding on a swing, an activity she delighted in. From her perch on the moving swing, she spent the time looking all around her: at the street nearby, where she’d note every truck passing; at the slide where the older kids were playing; through the buildings where she could glimpse elevated trains on their way to or from Chicago’s Loop; at every doggie — « goggie » — she could spot.  

Emma was taking it all in and relishing the fun of putting together all these pieces of life into patterns and arrangements to comprehend how this connects with that, how these are like those and more important, her own place in this place called Earth.

Curiosity is a hallmark of humanity. Even so, I’ve known people who weren’t very curious, people going through life with blinders on. That strikes me as a narrow way of living.

When I think of the saints, official and unofficial, I have the sense that they were as open to the fullness of life as Emma has always been, as Lincoln once was — Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Martin de Porres, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, to name a few. They woke up every day with fresh eyes, eyes hungry for the world God created — and for the people in this world, all the people, old and young, poor and rich. 

I’m no mystic, but I try to be as open to life as I can be. And that’s how I picture Jesus.

Remember the story in Luke’s Gospel about how, when Jesus was 12, his family visited the Temple in Jerusalem? When Joseph and Mary headed back to Nazareth, the boy, unknown to them, stayed behind and spent at least three days with the teachers there, sitting in their midst, « listening to them and asking them questions. »

I think this story (Luke 2:41-52) is usually used to show that Jesus already knew a lot at that age, and I’m sure there’s something to that. But for me, it’s more a story of the boy’s curiosity.  He was, like Lincoln, hungry for « every morsel of human existence. »

Consider the parable Jesus tells about the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32). As I picture it, he’s sitting there and maybe holding one of those tiny seeds when he says, « The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. »

How does Jesus know about mustard seeds? He’s a carpenter after all, not a farmer. And how does he know what happens, as he relates in another parable, when seeds are sown on different types of soil?

The answer is his curiosity. I imagine him listening to farmers grousing about trying to plant seeds in rocky ground. I imagine him, at some time well before he told this parable, pondering a mustard seed in his hand and marveling — enjoying the thrill of realizing — that it explodes, in the slow motion of nature, into a huge tree.

He’s open to revelation from the smallest of God’s creation, and to people of all sorts — even those who were outcasts in his Jewish culture.

This openness of heart and mind that Jesus models is a key element of curiosity. My granddaughter will never learn anything if she isn’t open to learning.

Jesus was a human being who had to learn about life, just as Emma is learning — and the learning didn’t stop in childhood. Even as an adult, he maintained this openness, this profound curiosity. 

Picture Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana, for instance. I see a single guy in his early 30s who is intensely interested in all that he sees, hears and smells. He takes in the feel of the party, its rhythm, the mood of the people who are dancing, the emotions on the faces of those men and women along the wall. He is alive to all that is around him, including, with a nudge from his mother, the dwindling wine supply. He is attentive, curious.

Or consider Jesus on the cross: Amid the suffering, dejection and the knowledge of his approaching death, he looks out and gazes at faces he loves. He sees his mother, the other women and John the beloved disciple there. He looks among the crowd, noting the variety of emotions and positions.

Even in dying, Jesus is intensely alive, observant of what is happening around him. What is the point of becoming human if not to be fully present to all life brings, even death?

Jesus walked through life with his eyes wide open — and faced his death with the same wide eyes. As his follower, I am called to the same intense engagement with the world and its people, called to share the curiosity of Christ.

Vie de l'église

Congress and the White House have…

Congress and the White House have until the end of the month to raise the debt ceiling, which means that the rest of May will be consumed with a high stakes game of chicken. At a time when our politics is a toxic mix of outrage, ideology and braggadocio worthy of Mussolini, this fight will test whether our nation is up to the task of self-governance.

Unlike most policy battles, a fight over the debt ceiling vote dominates everything else. At 6 p.m. on Tuesday night, on the Politico homepage, the first six articles all focused on the debt ceiling fight. « Biden starts to throw some punches in the debt ceiling fight » was in the hero position, followed by « Former Biden adviser Tribe: Just use the 14th Amendment now, » « Raskin: Biden has a ‘constitutional command’ on debt, » « Podesta: Cut energy permitting talks from debt ceiling fight, » « Debt ceiling brawl jams up  the Pentagon’s mega policy bill » and « Debt anxiety falls a little on the Hill. It might not be enough. » 

As is common in our political life, both sides articulate principled positions. President Joe Biden is not wrong to argue that the debt ceiling is so important, it deserves a vote untethered to other policy considerations, a « clean vote. » House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is correct when he says that the nation must come to terms with its ballooning debt. 

The problem with Biden’s position is that you can never really disassociate any policy from politics and the problem with the McCarthy position is that his own party is largely responsible for the nation’s debt because of its addiction to tax cuts. In short, the principled positions are not really on point for the issue at hand.

No one knows what would happen if the U.S. government were to default on its debt. The Bipartisan Policy Center states: « Failure to extend the debt limit in a timely manner would likely have catastrophic consequences for global financial markets and Americans across the country. » The center has a useful history of recent debt ceiling fights. 

What we know from history is that when an economic crisis occurs, the poor and the marginalized are the first to suffer and the worst to recover. For all the problems with inflation today, and those problems are real, the fact that our economy attained a record low unemployment rate for Black Americans this spring is an enormous accomplishment. That achievement would be imperiled by any kind of economic downturn. 

The history lesson is useful, but with a caveat. Political games of chicken in advance of a debt ceiling cliff have happened before, but they have never happened at a time when a speaker of the House relies on the votes of his caucus, many of whom are drunk on the Trumpian belief that blowing things up is a good thing. 

Whether it was our NATO alliance or respecting the results of an election or the Iran nuclear deal, former President Donald Trump has shown again and again that there is a lane, perhaps a winning lane, for a politician who builds on the distrust of institutions that is engrained in the contemporary American psyche to advocate not just throwing the bums out but torching the house too. 

Wednesday night, on CNN, Trump was asked about the debt ceiling. 

« I say to the Republicans out there — congressmen, senators — if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default. And I don’t believe they’re going to do a default because I think the Democrats will absolutely cave because you don’t want to have that happen. But it’s better than what we’re doing right now because we’re spending money like drunken sailors. » 

Trump’s time out of office has not taught him the value of prudence or caution. It is all about winning or losing the political game. Politics is not a game.

At the Brookings Institution, Sarah Binder argues that recourse to a discharge petition is not a likely option. That is a shame. A discharge petition allows a majority of the House to force a vote on a proposal that is bottled up in committee. The hope would be that the Democrats could peel off the five Republicans they would need to pass a clean debt ceiling bill. 

Binder points out that « lawmakers have successfully discharged less than four percent of the 639 discharge petitions introduced since 1935. » Apparently, there are not five GOP House members willing to do the right thing.

There are ways to put the government on a more sustainable financial path, but that would involve steps that one or the other party finds anathema. Democrats rightly refuse to cut social programs. Republicans refuse to raise taxes. Neither party is willing to confront the bloated defense budget. 

The Democrats need to do a better job looking for ways to bring spending down and Republicans need to get over their anti-tax orthodoxy, and then the outlines of a compromise would emerge. With highly gerrymandered districts, however, the only political pressure most members of Congress face is from their flank, not from the center. 

The looming fiscal and economic crisis is, therefore, best understood as one more eruption in our political crisis. Neither party is blameless, but there is no moral equivalence in this comparison. Today’s Republican Party depends on people who are fundamentally irresponsible. 

As evidenced by the reaction to Trump from the GOP voters in Wednesday night’s town hall, they root for their guy even when he is obviously lying. It is politics as professional wrestling. It isn’t pretty. It might be about to send the world economy over a cliff.

Vie de l'église

Congress’ budgetary process is…

Until the pandemic began, the U.S. economy had grown for decades without the curse of high inflation. There were bumps along the road, especially the 2007-2008 financial crisis, but nothing like the days of runaway inflation in the 1970s. But when COVID-19 restrictions caused supply shocks and when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought fuel shortages, inflation reappeared.

To curb it, the Federal Reserve Board has been raising interest rates, making it more difficult for individuals and businesses to borrow money. With less borrowed money to spend, demand for goods and services goes down, eventually resulting in lower prices. Reduced demand also results in layoffs. Unemployed workers have less money to spend, which puts further downward pressure on prices of consumer goods.

Raising interest rates, however, is a blunt instrument, and only one way to fight inflation. Another is to tighten fiscal policy, but Congress has shown that it is unwilling to use this tool. Fighting inflation using only higher interest rates is tantamount to fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

Everyone agrees our inflation woes began with interruptions in supply chains caused by the pandemic. Many factories and businesses closed; transportation became difficult. Shortages led to price increases.

In addition, as workers stayed home, consumer patterns changed. More money was spent on goods and less on services. Online sales went up; in-store sales went down. Suppliers that packaged goods for restaurants, schools and businesses lost their clients, while grocery stores ran out of toilet paper. All these disruptions resulted in higher prices for goods.

Raising interest rates does not solve supply chain difficulties.

Everyone also agrees that a housing shortage is afflicting many parts of the country. In the short run, increasing interest rates may reduce demand and prices for home purchases, but higher rates also make it more expensive for builders to borrow money, making the housing shortage worse. Housing shortages contribute to higher home prices and rents.

International turmoil contributed to U.S. inflation as well. COVID-19 shutdowns in China exacerbated shortages. OPEC decided to increase prices. The war in Ukraine disrupted Ukrainian grain exports and led to a cutoff of Russian oil and gas to Europe. Increasing interest rates will not solve these problems either.

What increasing interest rates has done is slow the economy and cause turmoil for those dependent on credit. Banks are suffering because they invested in long-term mortgages and bonds with low interest rates that are now worth less than their face value. Consumers are being hit with higher interest rates on credit cards.

Conservative economists argue that the real cause of inflation is that government aid during the pandemic put too much money into the hands of consumers. But while some people may have received money they didn’t need, without these subsidies the pandemic would have led to a deep and painful recession.

One COVID-era measure, the child tax credit, showed that it is possible to lift millions of children out of poverty if we want to. Expanding SNAP, the government food stamps program, reduced hunger, and expanding Medicaid protected the health of millions of poor people. This was all necessary to pull people through the pandemic.

It’s true that in inflationary periods, governments should reduce deficits, but the real problem here is that Congress is showing itself to be incapable of adjusting fiscal policy to fight inflation.

Fiscal policy can be more targeted than monetary policy. While cutting deficits, the government can still fund programs to increase housing. It can support alternative sources of energy that eventually will reduce energy prices. It can also enact taxes that hit people and companies who have prospered before and during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, we have a political stalemate in which Democrats support expanding government social programs while Republicans support cutting taxes. The American people like both Democratic programs and Republican tax cuts, even though the two are incompatible.

This leaves the unelected Federal Reserve Board as the only party that can take action. 

The failure of our democracy, in other words, is the greatest threat to our economy. The latest example of this is the Republican attempt to use the debt ceiling to force Democrats to accept budget cuts.

Democrats rightly object and argue that the congressional budgetary process is the proper place for budget negotiations. But the congressional budgetary process is broken. Congress is unable to enact a reasonable and flexible fiscal policy.

Congress must act decisively to rationalize the budgetary process to restore confidence in government. Perhaps Congress could learn something from the Catholic Church — specifically, how it elects popes. Papal electors are locked in the Vatican until they elect a pope. In the old days, if they did not elect a pope they were put on bread and water.

I would not put the members of Congress on bread and water, but I would have them dine in the congressional cafeterias and confined to Capitol Hill if they do not approve all appropriation bills before the beginning of the fiscal year. No visits to their home districts, no campaign or fundraising trips. If they leave the Hill for anything other than a health emergency, they should lose their seats.

Vie de l'église

If columnist Michael Sean Winters…

If it’s May, that means it is time for colleges and universities to scramble to find a commencement speaker, a fruitless annual endeavor that serves only to distract from the students graduating, cause controversy or boredom (depending on the choice of speaker), and indicate any shifts in the phalanx of culture warrior avatars.

This year, the most interesting choice comes from Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan that was recently the subject of a New Yorker profile by the inimitable Emma Green. She focused on the school because of its growing prominence in the culture wars. 

« [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis has said that he probably wouldn’t hire someone from his alma mater, Yale. But ‘if I get somebody from Hillsdale,’ he said, ‘I know they have the foundations necessary to be able to be helpful in pursuing conservative policies,’  » Green wrote. « In January, DeSantis’s chief of staff told National Review that the governor hoped to transform New College of Florida, a public liberal-arts school, into a ‘Hillsdale of the South.’ « 

Hillsdale is the perfect fusion of conservative Christianity with an aggressive and unsophisticated Americanism of a kind we do not normally associate with higher education. Their ads on Fox News tout their online courses in which the Founding Fathers rank right up there with the apostles in terms of cultural authority. Mind you, I am a big fan of the founders, and of their handiwork, but wrapping the American founding in Christian theology is bad history and bad theology, just as ignoring the role of religion in shaping the worldview of the founders is also intellectually suspect.

Before its current status as the ideal college for conservative culture warriors like DeSantis, Hillsdale was most known for its decision to withdraw from all federal tuition assistance programs. Their website states: « To maintain our independence in every regard, Hillsdale does not accept one penny of state or federal taxpayer funding — even indirectly in the form of student grants and loans. » High points for integrity but low points for attention to the common good.

So, of course this year’s commencement speaker will be — drumroll, please — Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota. Pity he is not going to bring his dog-and-pony show with Canadian provocateur Jordan Peterson to the Hillsdale campus. Barron is increasingly willing to cozy up to wealthy conservative culture warriors, which is disturbing in anyone, but frightening in a bishop.

To be fair, Hillsdale gets a thumbs up for its recent decision to sever ties with a private academy in Florida after the school board forced the principal to resign for failing to alert parents their children would be exposed to Michelangelo’s statue « David » in all his nude glory. « Of course, Hillsdale’s K-12 art curriculum includes Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and other works of art that depict the human form, » said a spokesperson for the college. Lest you think Barron’s appearance is an endorsement of Renaissance art, Davidgate happened months after the announcement about Barron being the commencement speaker.

My alma mater gets the win for worst choice of graduation speaker by a prominent Catholic university. Catholic University of America graduates will get to listen to Arthur Brooks, who served as president of the American Enterprise Institute from 2009 until 2019.

In announcing the choice, CUA neglected to mention his tenure at AEI, which exists to defend the kind of neoliberal economic policies that have long been a reverse image of the kind of economy envisioned by Catholic social teaching. Instead, they describe Brooks as a « New York Times bestselling author, columnist at The Atlantic, Ph.D. social scientist, and ‘happiness expert.’  » Happiness expert?

As luck would have it, as I started preparing this column, I received an email notification from the Napa Institute that in advance of its annual summer conference, the organization would be offering « a unique and intimate experience with Arthur Brooks to learn from his extensive research on happiness and how to apply these insights to your life through a Catholic lens. » Are we to assume that some of the plutocrats at Napa Institute are unhappy? The email recounts Brooks’ recent visit with the Dalai Lama. I confess, every time I read about the Dalai Lama, I am reminded of an interview on Australian TV when the host told the Tibetan holy man a joke about himself: The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and asks, « Can you make me one with everything? » Every time I watch that video I crack up.

Brooks’ connection with Napa, if not with the Dalai Lama, makes sense of the CUA commencement address: The business school at CUA is named for Tim Busch, the founder of the Napa Institute, and his wife Steph. It appears my alma mater was « sold » to the Busch family at some point. The right-wing lurch at the school under its previous president John Garvey was appalling, and hosting a champion of neoliberalism as a commencement speaker just adds to the evidence that the school has lost its way.

Who needs all the distraction? Let’s do away with the tradition of having a commencement speaker at all. I am all for tradition when it enriches our minds and ennobles our morals, but this tradition does none of that. Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal achieves that ennobling of our moral sense but most Catholic universities are not Notre Dame and most speakers are not worthy of a Laetare Medal. Basta. Let one of the graduating students speak, or let there be a moment of silence. 

Vie de l'église

About 500 Catholic mission…

Ever since missionaries started building churches out of mud 400 years ago in what was the isolated frontier of the Spanish empire, tiny mountain communities like Cordova relied on their own resources to keep the faith going.

Thousands of miles from religious and lay seats of power, everything from priests to sculptors to paint pigments was hard to come by. Villagers instituted lay church caretakers called « mayordomos, » and filled chapels with elaborate altarpieces made of local wood.

Today, threatened by depopulation, dwindling congregations and fading traditions, some of their descendants are fighting to save these historic adobe structures from literally crumbling back to the earth they were built with.

« Our ancestors put blood and sweat in this place for us to have Jesus present, » said Angelo Sandoval on a spring day inside the 1830s church of St. Anthony, where he serves as mayordomo. « We’re not just a church, we’re not just a religion — we have roots. »

These churches anchor a uniquely New Mexican way of life for their communities, many of which no longer have schools or stores, and struggle with chronic poverty and addiction. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the necessary resources to preserve the estimated 500 Catholic mission churches, especially since most are used for only a few services each year.

« When the faithful generation is gone, are they going to be a museum or serve their purpose? » said the Rev. Rob Yaksich, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Las Vegas, New Mexico, which oversees 23 rural churches. « This old, deep-rooted Spanish Catholicism is experiencing serious disruption. »

In the hamlet of Ledoux, Fidel Trujillo is mayordomo of the pink-stuccoed San José church, which he keeps spotless even though few Masses are celebrated here regularly.

« Our ‘antepasados‘ (ancestors) did a tremendous job in handing over the faith, and it’s our job now, » Trujillo said in the characteristic mix of Spanish and English that most speak in this region. « I much prefer coming to these ‘capillas‘ (chapels). It’s a compass that guides where your heart really belongs. »

Each mission church is devoted to a particular saint. When New Mexico’s largest wildfire last spring charred forests less than 100 yards from San José church, and Trujillo was displaced for a month, he took the statue of St. Joseph with him.

« Four hundred years ago, life was very difficult in this part of the world, » explained Felix López, a master « santero » – the artists who sculpt, paint and conserve saint figures in New Mexico’s unique devotional style. « People needed these ‘santos.’ They were a source of comfort and refuge. »

In intervening centuries, most were stolen, sold or damaged, according to Bernadette Lucero, director, curator and archivist for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

But how much these expressive sculptures and paintings still matter to local communities is evident where they survive in original form, as they do at the mission churches in Cordova, Truchas and Las Trampas on the road from Santa Fe to Taos.

« Saints are the spiritual go-to, they can be highly powerful, » said Victor Goler, a master santero who just completed conserving the altarpieces, or « reredos, » in Las Trampas’ mid-18th century church. « It’s important for the community to have a connection. »

On a recent Sunday at Truchas’ 1760s Holy Rosary church, López pointed out the rich decorative details that centuries of smoke and grime had hidden until he meticulously removed them with the absorbent inside of sourdough bread.

« I’m a devout Catholic, and I do this as meditation, as a form of prayer, » said López, who’s been a santero for five decades and whose family hails from this village perched on a ridge at 7,000 feet (2,100 meters).

Down the valley in Cordova, santero Jerry Sandoval also says a prayer to each saint before starting to sculpt their image. He then paints them with natural pigments and varnishes them with the sap of piñon, the stocky pine tree that dots the countryside.

He also helped conserve the centuries-old reredos at the local church, where many children come back for traditional Christmas and Easter prayers — giving hope that younger generations will learn to be attached to their church.

« They see all this, » Jerry Sandoval said in front of the richly decorated altarpieces from St. Anthony church. « Lots of people call it tradition, but we call it faith. »

For the Rev. Sebastian Lee, who as administrator of the popular Santuario de Chimayó complex a few miles away also oversees these mission churches, fostering local attachment is a daunting challenge as congregations shrink even faster since the Covid-19 pandemic.

« I want missions to be where people can taste culture and religiosity. They’re very healing, you’re soaked with people’s faith, » Lee said. « I wonder how to help them, because sooner or later one mission is not going to have enough people. » 

The archdiocese’s Catholic Foundation provides small grants, and several organizations have been founded to help conservation efforts.

Frank Graziano hopes his nonprofit Nuevo Mexico Profundo, which supported the Cordova conservation, can obtain the necessary permit from the archdiocese to restore the 1840s church of San Geronimo. Deep cracks break apart its adobe walls and bug nests buzz in a gaping hole by one of the windows.

The surrounding village is almost entirely depopulated, making it unlikely that the community will step in for the necessary upkeep. Exposed to rain and snow, adobe needs a fresh replastering of dirt, sand and straw every couple of years lest it dissolve.

That makes local buy-in and some kind of ongoing activity, even just funerals, fundamental to long-term preservation, said Jake Barrow, program director at Cornerstones, which has worked on more than 300 churches and other structures.

But with fewer priests and fewer faithful, taking some rural missions off the church’s roster might be inevitable, said the Rev. Andy Pavlak, who serves on the archdiocese’s commission for the preservation of historic churches.

« We have two choices: Either return to the community, or back to the earth they came from. We can’t save them all, » said Pavlak, who for nearly a decade ministered to 10 historic churches in Socorro County.

Running his hand over the smooth adobe walls he restored at the 1880s Santo Niño de Atocha chapel in Monte Aplanado, a hamlet nestled in a high mountain valley, Leo Paul Pacheco argued that the answer might hinge on the faith of future generations of laypeople like him.

« They still have access to the same dirt, » Pacheco said as the adobe walls’ sand particles and straw sparkled in the sun. « They will provide. »

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Vie de l'église

The presence of Marian devotions…

Most people know that the Virgin Mary is very popular among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. But what they usually don’t know is that the Mother of God is also venerated by devotees from other faiths such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. She might not be necessarily part of the official teaching of these traditions but she still attracts devotees. As new research shows, Mary is the most universal religious figure of our contemporary world.

Although this panreligious nature of Marian devotions may raise concerns about syncretism, there is a lot to learn from it. The universality of Mary helps us to revisit the ways we understand religion, interreligious relations and religious regulations, especially in Asia.

For instance, in the wealthy city-state of Singapore, Christians are not the only ones who pray to Mary. At the most famous church of the island-state, a Marian shrine under the care of the Redemptorists, it is not uncommon to see Muslim and Hindu devotees bringing their petitions to Mary.

Some explain that when they were young, they went to a Catholic school and got in the habit of making vows to the Virgin. They pray according to their own religious tradition but keep Mary in their own spiritual life.

Sometimes Mary is also integrated into the pantheon of non-Christian movements. The Origin of the Self, for instance, is a new religious movement attracting thousands of disciples in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, etc. According to the founder, all humans have the capacity to achieve a higher state of being through mental meditation, offerings and virtuous actions. 

In this Taoist-based religious movement, Mary appears as the one who meditated things in her heart, gave birth to a higher being and did not die like us. Like Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and the Taoist Laozi (LaoTzu), Mary revealed the spiritual potential of humankind and she illustrates how Christianity does not contradict the teaching of the Origin of the Self.

In South Korea, some Buddhist devotees perceive Mary as the emanation of the bodhisattva Guanyin, a feminine deity of compassion. In some households eager to maintain religious harmony, statues of Mary and of Guanyin stand together and receive the same incense. 

In premodern Japan, persecuted Christians even produced representations of Mary with the appearance of Guanyin. Theories suggest that the female and motherly features of this bodhisattva may have been indeed inspired by the Christian figure of Mary.

In Central and East Asia, the encounter between Buddhism and Christianity has a very long history. And often, it has been mediated through Marian devotions.

Another example of these panreligious circulations of Mary comes from South Asia. In India, numerous Hindu devotees go to Our Lady of Velankanni, where Mary is said to have appeared in the 16th and 17th centuries, to pray and make vows. Concerned with health, family or work issues, they join Catholic pilgrims to seek help from Mary. 

Their way to approach Mary is highly similar to how they revere Hindu deities. They make vows, promise material offerings and specific actions, and hope for progress in their life. Ultimately, Hindu devotees look after Mary’s capacity to improve things.

This panreligious nature of Marian devotions can challenge our understanding of religion. Modern people believe that religions are coherent bodies of doctrines defined by a set of scriptures and a specific clergy. But with the venerations of Mary by Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist devotees, this supposedly universal definition of religion does not really work. Religious practices do not always fit into predefined doctrines. People draw inspiration from different sources.

To make sense of this panreligious presence of Mary, some claim that Marian devotions reflect primordial impulses linked to fertility and motherhood. In their eyes, Marian devotions simply illustrate how Oedipal attachments continue to shape our unconscious religious life. 

But scholars’ research suggests that this psychologizing approach is rather superficial, condescending and distant from the richness of popular piety.

For the Singapore-based Origin of the Self, the sexual identity of Mary does not really matter. What matters is that Mary meditated and reached a new state of being — not that she was a woman. Similarly, Hindu devotees revere Mary because she belongs to the higher world of the deities who can transform things. Before being a mother, she is a deity — in a Hindu way of defining deities.

Even within Catholicism, motherhood is not necessarily enough to understand the aura of Mary. In Vietnam, Catholic devotions to Our Lady of La Vang — a Marian apparition of the late 18th century — show that the Mother of God is more than fertility. 

Until the end of the 20th century, Our Lady of La Vang was represented through artistic features rooted in a European style. But in the late 1990s, Vietnamese bishops got inspired by Van Nhan Tran, a U.S.-based Vietnamese artist, and began to promote representations of Our Lady of La Vang wearing traditional Vietnamese outfits such as white traditional clothes (áo dài) and a golden headdress.

Today, this Vietnamese version of Mary has become extremely popular, in Vietnam and beyond. For some, she is a matter of national pride, for others a symbol of the harmonious diversity that Catholicism supposedly represents. Her worldwide popularity unfolds a complex translation of Marian devotions rooted in different political contexts, migratory patterns and international imaginaries. Her recent Vietnamese ethnicization through transnational relations show how Marian devotions are rich and multifaceted realities.

For Catholics, Hindus and Taoists, Mary cannot be reduced to her gender. The universality of Marian devotions is not the unconscious return of fertility cults. The many ways people approach Mary reflect the intricate diversity and complexity of the children of God. 

Worshippers and devotees are not easily reducible to their predefined religions. They assert their own hopes and needs that are often shaped by religious languages, sociopolitical realities and cultural habits.

This cross-religious presence of Mary invites us to also reconsider interreligious relations. In Singapore, India and Vietnam, some political parties have long promoted an understanding of religions in which the risk for intercommunal violence is always highlighted.

In their eyes, religions make people highly emotional and irrational. Therefore, in highly diverse societies, the state must closely monitor religions and religious leaders to prevent interreligious violence. This characterization of religions is a way to reinforce the legitimacy of the state and its control over people.

But panreligious Marian devotions provide a different understanding of interreligious relations. First, we saw that religions cannot be reduced to predefined and mutually exclusive systems. Lived religions are more creative, mixed and flexible. 

Second, Mary shows that faith practitioners are able to ignore established authorities and official doctrines to cross boundaries without killing each other. Pious people can generate a wide range of cross-religious devotions and pilgrimages to build unity in diversity. 

Despite concerns for narrowly defined orthodoxy, Mary stands as an interreligious bridge who belongs to everyone. She is a popular ally to build religious coexistence and prevent intercommunal violence. In practice, she offers an alternative to vertical control and condescendence. 

With this in mind, the Center for Marian Studies in the U.K. and the Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics in Singapore are organizing an online research conference May 10-12 on « More Universal Than Catholicism?: Mary Among Asian Religions » to explore in a more systematic way the panreligious circulations of Mary. 

Since Marian devotions are not easily reducible to premade explanations, they deserve more than intellectual disdain and doctrinal reinforcement. If they challenge various ideologies and doctrines, they also remind us that devotional practices are well alive and can address all sorts of hopes, concerns and needs.