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Netflix reintroduces ‘Lost’ to a new generation, and the timing couldn’t be better

« Lost » changed my life.

The hit television series, which ran for six seasons on ABC from 2004 to 2010, debuted when I was in college. It was a spiritually rich time for me, as I tried to deepen my relationship with God and discern how to live out my faith in a broken world. « Lost » was the perfect companion to all of this reflection and questioning: a story about meaning, community and how we navigate life’s great mysteries. Watching « Lost » was like having a spiritual director on my TV once a week.

Earlier this month, every season of « Lost » became available on Netflix. If previous trends of resurrected old shows are any indication, this move will introduce the series to a new audience and create a fresh wave of interest. Certainly, the series has a lot to recommend it: compelling mysteries and mythology and a diverse and talented cast, not to mention a sweeping orchestral score by Michael Giacchino.

But beyond those strengths, I believe that our current tumultuous moment in history is the perfect time to revisit the revolutionary television show. Even 14 years after it ended, it still has much to teach us about faith, connection and how we can only make it through this life together.

« Lost, » co-created by Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams, begins immediately after Oceanic Flight 815 crashes on an uncharted island in the Pacific. As the surviving passengers get their bearings, mysterious things begin to happen. An unseen monster lurks in the jungle, tearing through trees and killing the plane’s pilot. They pick up a distress signal in French that has been broadcasting for 16 years. A very out-of-place polar bear attacks the group.

And that’s just the first episode.

The series debuted — with a record-smashing 18.6 million viewers — as America reeled through the post-9/11 years in conflict and distrust. The anxieties of that era defined the show, not least because the iconography of a crashed plane resonated with American audiences. But even more jarringly, the show dared to share a message of hope. In a world rocked by religiously justified terror (and a religiously sanctioned war in response), « Lost » argued for faith instead of fear.

The cast was expansive and diverse. Along with traditional heroes like courageous doctor Jack (Matthew Fox) or the resourceful Kate (Evangeline Lilly), there were characters that you didn’t often see at the center of American TV shows, like Sayid (Naveen Andrews) a veteran of the Iraqi Republican Guard, or Jin and Sun (Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim), a struggling married couple from South Korea.

At first, all of the characters are strangers, to us and to each other. Each episode features flashbacks to one of the survivors’ pre-crash lives, offering a fuller picture of each character. We develop empathy for initially off-putting or despicable characters, like sarcastic conman Sawyer (Josh Holloway). We come to realize they are all broken people in search of grace and redemption. Their obvious differences stand out at first, but as the story goes on we recognize the core humanity that connects them all.

Tensions naturally arise between the survivors, especially as new mysteries and threats arise. (I haven’t even mentioned the Hatch, the Others, the time travel …) But « Lost » is clear: The only way we make it through this life — stranded on a nightmare island or not — is in community. This idea finds expression in the first season when Jack tells the survivors: « If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone. »

Life is mysterious and frightening. It seems reasonable to hold ourselves apart, every person for themselves. But if we want to make it through this life at all, the only way is together.

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I loved the humanity of « Lost, » but what really drew me in all those years ago was its deep interest in faith. It isn’t a religious show, but it is unabashedly spiritual. An episode might culminate with a character allowing another to pray for him, or two characters reciting the 23rd Psalm. (Other faith traditions were well-represented throughout the series as well, but obviously the Catholic moments struck me most.) 

Through flashbacks, we come to realize the survivors were all connected to one another before they boarded the ill-fated plane. Is it just a coincidence, or are they being guided toward a higher purpose?

This debate is embodied by the struggle between Jack and fellow survivor Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Locke is the group’s survival expert and mystic, who sees the island as a sacred place; the series’ « man of faith » to Jack’s « man of science. » Naturally, they often clash over how to approach the struggle for survival.

During one confrontation, Locke demands: « Why do you find it so hard to believe? »

« Why do you find it so easy? » Jack returns.

« It’s never been easy! » Locke snaps. Then he softens: « I can’t do this alone, Jack. I don’t want to. It’s a leap of faith. »

That was the heart of « Lost. » Life is mysterious and frightening. We don’t have all the answers, and we never will. It seems reasonable to hold ourselves apart, every person for themselves. But if we want to make it through this life at all, the only way is together. We need to risk trusting others, risk believing that we can grow beyond the sins that shaped our pasts. And when we open ourselves up to connection, we find grace and healing — and discover our true purpose.

One of my favorite episodes of the first season involves Hurley (Jorge Garcia) convincing the survivors to build a golf course. It serves no practical purpose and won’t get them rescued, but Hurley realizes it’s exactly what the survivors need: a chance to be refreshed instead of staying locked in survival mode, waiting for the next calamity.

Survival is pointless if we can’t have joy, relationship and a sense of meaning. Hurley understood that the things we often toss aside first in the struggle to survive are actually the things most worth holding onto.

Today, we live in yet another time of war and division. We fear that we can’t trust our neighbors; we may fear that we can’t even trust ourselves. Connection and faith seem like a risk, or a fatal weakness. But this is why we still need stories like « Lost » to remind us that those things are what matter most. We live together or we die alone.

Turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer

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Catholic women forge pathways of faith on Instagram

« I seek to create a refuge for Catholic women who are on the margins and don’t feel like there’s a place for them. »

So explained Cora, a self-described « Dorothy Day Catholic, » author and religious content creator on Instagram, while reflecting on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, emphasizing that the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling marked a « pivotal » turning point in how she would wield her voice on her growing online platform.

Typically shying away from online conflict, Cora (not her real name) had approached Instagram as a space to connect with others and write about her faith. But the overturning of Roe v. Wade was « a breaking point, » after which Cora decided to respond publicly — standing in support of reproductive rights, marginalized people and fellow Catholics who identify as pro-choice. Despite knowing the risks of speaking about abortion in the online « public square, » especially as a Catholic, she expressed that « going against her conscience » and « being silent » would be « a higher cost. »

To her surprise, after publishing stories about Dobbs on her Instagram, Cora received 400 messages, nearly all of which were in « gracious support. » Examples included « Thank you; I feel so alone, » or « I work for a [Catholic] parish and I don’t feel like I can say this » or « I work at a Catholic school and I will lose my job [if I say something publicly] so thank you. » Cora reflected that receiving these messages was « one of the most moving experiences of [her] life. »

Taking seriously what these women create and how they engage on social media invites church leaders and lay people alike to consider the complexity and particularity of women’s experiences in the church.

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Linh, one of Cora’s thousands of Instagram « followers, » describes Cora’s account as a « safe space, » emphasizing that it is an important site for grappling with what it means to be Catholic today. Through tears, Linh (not her real name) remarked that Cora’s comments on Dobbs « moved [her] deeply » and showed her that it is « OK to disagree with church teaching and still be Catholic. » Linh had privately messaged Cora, thanking her for « giving [her] permission to be sad and angry … and to live in that fully with [her Catholic] faith. »

Before discovering Cora’s account, Linh struggled with integrating her faith and political values, noting the difficulty of being vulnerable and discussing controversial topics in her in-person church community. She therefore « played down » her convictions while in that space, keeping her faith and politics « separate, » until she found Cora, who modeled wrestling with complex issues while remaining « authentic » to her lived faith.

Conversations such as those I had with Cora and Linh are integral to my research investigating the experiences of American Christian women online. The 75 women I interviewed expressed a wide spectrum of beliefs about abortion and Dobbs. (The term « women » includes anyone who self-identifies as a woman, including members of the transgender and non-binary communities.) Some women discussed the topic in relation to their Christian faith at length, others never broached the topic, while still others talked more broadly about adopting a consistent pro-life ethic.

Religious and spiritual women are experiencing incredibly varied interactions online — as exemplified on Instagram — and these interactions have consequential effects on their identities, faith practices and sense of community. Indeed, Christian women are conversing about numerous topics — including abortion, motherhood, infertility, marriage and dating, spiritual abuse, liturgical living, art and poetry. They are producing their own content: prayers and graphic illustrations that « go viral, » interactive weekly updates about their romantic relationships, spoken-word poetry and faith reflections, advice about healing from spiritual abuse, biblical exegesis and much more.

They are in community with others, actively choosing and curating who they follow and what they see on a day-to-day basis. Some women share personal vulnerabilities, like their experiences deconverting from evangelicalism, struggles trying to date Christian men, getting an autism diagnosis later in adulthood, experiencing a miscarriage or navigating being both gay and Christian. Other women are playful with what they share online — sometimes posting about their love of chickens and Taylor Swift alongside a prayer and faith-themed writing prompt. Many women actively participate in their own in-person religious communities as pastors or participants, while others look to the digital world for the safe practice of their spiritual life.

Taking seriously what these women create and how they engage on social media invites church leaders and lay people alike to consider the complexity and particularity of women’s experiences in the church and in this ever-evolving digital landscape. Cora and Lihn, along with the other women I interviewed, are utilizing social media in deliberate ways to create, connect, find meaning and question the status quo in a time when institutional and local church communities are not always satisfying their hopes and needs as religious practitioners, and as women. These women repeatedly discussed concepts like authenticity, community and authority — themes essential to understanding their experiences with religion online.

Authenticity

The women I interviewed noted a shared aversion towards inauthenticity (that which is deemed fake or overtly curated) and an appreciation for authenticity (that which is deemed real and genuine). In an online social media culture often described as « disingenuous » and « overly filtered, » my interviewees are drawn to media that captures the vulnerability and messiness of everyday life and lived faith. In-person religious leaders or their in-person religious communities do not address such issues: motherhood, dating, struggling with work-life balance, questioning God and so on. Following religious female content creators who seem to show up as their « true selves » online, « gives permission » for my interviewees to do the same. My research further examines the nuances of « perceived » authenticity and the idea of the « curated self » in much more detail in my forthcoming dissertation.

Community

My research demonstrates that the experiences of women who have navigated or continue to navigate community in both online and in-person religious spaces is complex and varied. For instance, women might feel more inclined toward in-person religious experiences and consider them « more legitimate » or « better » at fostering feelings of true community if they have had positive experiences with in-person religious spaces, are able-bodied or have certain beliefs about the importance of the Eucharist at Mass.

Women who have negative experiences with their in-person religious spaces, are homebound, have experienced religious abuse at an in-person community or feel isolated from their in-person community because of their divergent views, experience the online space — like a woman’s Instagram account — as a safe haven and a liberative, even embodied, community space. Numerous women referred to their own Instagram accounts or the accounts they follow as « safe spaces » and places where they « don’t feel alone. » Further, many expressed feelings of « connection » and « belonging » in these online spaces. In addition to these nuances, my project examines parasocial community relationships among women online, as well as the camaraderie Instagram fosters among content creators. 

Authority

Heidi Campbell, an expert who studies digital religion, asserts that traditional pathways to attaining authority can be ignored or revoked within digital culture, allowing individuals within and outside the confines of an established religious group to « arise as alternative interpreters and influencers. » 

With this in mind, many of my interviewees follow particular religious female content creators because they are seemingly different from traditional religious authorities. First, these content creators are not men. For many interviewees, that simple fact is « refreshing » — they now have people that look like them, struggle like them and live like them in gender-specific ways.

Second, these religious female content creators embrace humility, welcome questions and doubt, and lead by accompaniment and lived example. Alternatively, interviewees reflected on experiences in their in-person religious communities with traditional authorities. They noted that these authorities acted as « gatekeepers, » were « out of touch » and « claim[ed] to know everything, » which sometimes resulted in distrust and suspicion of these authorities. Further, the female content creators I spoke to expressed sensitivity to this issue, many actively deconstructing and reimagining authority and how it is exercised in both digital spaces and in-person communities.

My research demonstrates that millennial women on Instagram actively participate in the democratization of religious authority. The « lived experience » and « relatability » women demonstrate online generate authority that other women take seriously.

Looking forward

The digital landscape is vast and in constant flux; so, too, are the experiences of young American women who navigate this space. Although this project cannot provide a comprehensive understanding of this landscape, nor is it meant to generalize what religion online is like for all women today, my research elucidates how some women reimagine their religious traditions in ways that resonate with their lived experiences. I hope these women’s voices begin filling the gaps in current sociological research, which has at best underappreciated and, at worst ignored the lived experiences of religious women online.

As the Second Vatican Council encouraged, the lived experiences and concerns of the faithful should be valued as a source of theological insight. Whether or not the information garnered from this study is seen as such, I leave to the reader. In the end, I hope this research inspires further conversation and research on the intersection of women’s lived experiences, religion and social media.

Turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer

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Seven cardinals, bishops, experts from US are part of synod’s study groups

The General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops released the names of members of two sets of study groups that have been conducting an in-depth look into several themes that emerged during the first assembly of the synod on synodality in 2023.

The groups are made up of top officials of the Roman Curia, bishops, men and women religious and lay experts from different parts of the world.

The Vatican made the list of names public July 9 along with the working document for the second session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in Rome Oct. 2-27.

Seven members of the groups are from the United States, including Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, and Kim Daniels, director of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

In response to a formal call by members of the first synod assembly in Oct. 2023, Pope Francis agreed to establish « study groups that will initiate, with a synodal method, the in-depth study of some of the themes that emerged » from the assembly’s synthesis report.

He said in February that the study groups were to be established « by mutual agreement between the competent dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the General Secretariat of the Synod, which is entrusted with coordination. » The topics of the groups, but not the members, were published in March.

Studying the topics, particularly their theological implications, was seen by synod members as an important part of responding to questions and concerns raised by Catholics in listening sessions prior to the assembly.

While each study group was already dedicated to a specific theme, the working document released July 9 gave more detailed examples of the kind of questions and proposals each of the study groups has been exploring.

Tobin is coordinator of the group dedicated to « The revision, in a synodal missionary perspective, of the documents touching on the relationship between Bishops, consecrated life, and ecclesial associations. »

That group includes U.S. Cardinal Robert F. Prevost, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, and Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life. Farrell, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Ireland, served as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 2002 to 2007 and bishop of Dallas from 2007 to 2016.

Prevost is also part of a 12-member group dedicated to « Some aspects of the person and ministry of the Bishop from a missionary synodal perspective. » That group, which is looking at criteria for selecting candidates to the episcopacy and the nature of ad limina visits, also includes a six-person subgroup charged with studying the judicial function of the bishop in his particular church.

Gudziak is part of the 13-member group dedicated to « Some aspects of the relationship between the Eastern Catholic churches and the Latin Church. »

Daniels is the coordinator of the eight-member group dedicated to « The mission in the digital environment. That group includes:

— Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization’s section for new evangelization

— Paolo Ruffini, prefect of Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication; Msgr. Lucio Adrián Ruiz, dicastery secretary

— Bishop Paul Tighe, secretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education

— Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, dicastery undersecretary

— Xavière Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops.

The eight-member group dedicated to « Listening to the cry of the poor » includes U.S. Sister Maria Cimperman, a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart and professor of Catholic theological ethics at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union, and Léocadie Lushombo, a consecrated woman with the Teresian Association and assistant professor of theological ethics at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

Other groups are dedicated to: « The revision of the ‘Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis’ in a missionary synodal perspective » — a document that establishes general norms for the formation and function of priests; « The role of Papal Representatives in a missionary synodal perspective »; « Theological criteria and synodal methodologies for shared discernment of controversial doctrinal, pastoral, and ethical issues »; and « The reception of the fruits of the ecumenical journey in ecclesial practices. »

The group studying « Some theological and canonical matters regarding specific ministerial forms, » which includes the question of « the necessary participation of women in the life and leadership of the Church, » has no outside experts listed. The topic was entrusted to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to be studied in dialogue with the general secretariat of the synod.

The general secretariat created an additional set of study groups made up of noted theologians in response to requests by synod participants to conduct an in-depth theological exploration of « five perspectives » related to the missionary synodal church ahead of the synod’s second session.

Sister Cimperman, whose work focuses on offering theological grounding for concretely engaging with various social challenges, is part of the group dedicated to « The synodal missionary face of the local Church. »

Daniels, who is also an adjunct professor in Georgetown’s department of theology and religious studies, is part of the group dedicated to « The ‘place’ of the synodal Church on mission. »

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Pope asks world’s religions to push for ethical AI development

Pope Francis called on representatives from the world’s religions to unite behind the defense of human dignity in an age that will be defined by artificial intelligence.

« I ask you to show the world that we are united in asking for a proactive commitment to protect human dignity in this new era of machines, » the pope wrote in a message to participants of a conference on AI ethics which hosted representatives from 11 world religions.

Religious leaders representing Eastern faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Bahá’í, among others, as well as leaders of the three Abrahamic religions gathered in Hiroshima, Japan, for the conference, titled « AI Ethics for Peace. » They also signed the Rome Call for AI Ethics — a document developed by the Pontifical Academy for Life which asks signatories to promote an ethical approach to AI development.

Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the innovation ministry of the Italian government have signed the document. A July 10 press release from the academy said Franciscan Father Paolo Benanti, an ethics professor at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, presented an addendum to the document in Hiroshima specifically focused on the ethical governance of generative AI — which can process, interpret and produce human language. The addendum said generative AI requires sustained commitment to ensuring its use for humanity’s good.

In his message to the conference published by the Vatican July 10, Francis noted the « great symbolic importance » of the religious leaders’ meeting in Hiroshima and noted the increasingly central role which artificially intelligent technology plays in society.

« As we look at the complexity of the issues before us, recognizing the contribution of the cultural riches of peoples and religions in the regulation of artificial intelligence is key to the success of your commitment to the wise management of technological innovation, » he wrote.

Echoing his address on artificial intelligence to the G7 summit in June, the pope asked the participants to jointly push for the ban of lethal autonomous weapons, which « starts from an effective and concrete commitment to introduce ever greater and proper human control. »

« No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being, » he wrote.

Opening the conference July 9, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, academy president, said that artificial intelligence « must be guided so that its potential serves the good from the moment of its design. »

« At Hiroshima, a place of the highest symbolic value, we strongly invoke peace, and we ask that technology be a driver of peace and reconciliation among peoples, » he said. « We stand here, together, to say loudly that standing together and acting together is the only possible solution. »

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New Vatican norms applied in alleged Italian apparitions

In accordance with new Vatican norms on alleged supernatural phenomena, an Italian bishop has given his « nihil obstat » acknowledging the pastoral and spiritual value of devotion to Our Lady of the Mystical Rose of Montichiari and allowing for any eventual pilgrimages to related sites in his diocese.

Bishop Pierantonio Tremolada of Brescia issued the decree July 8 after the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith told him it did not find anything that directly contradicts church teaching in the writings of the late Pierina Gilli, who claimed to have received messages from a series of Marian apparitions in 1947 and 1966.

« The faithful are authorized to give (the phenomenon) their adhesion in a prudent manner, » the bishop wrote in his decree. However, the decree is not a declaration recognizing the supernatural origin or character of the alleged events, and the faithful are not obliged to believe in them, he added.

While the devotion to Our Lady of the Mystical Rose is worldwide, Tremolada said his decree applied to his diocese and that, according to the new norms, each bishop should evaluate and decide what is pastorally prudent in his own diocese after consulting with the dicastery.

As of early July, the Vatican’s doctrinal office had published two statements or letters concerning specific cases of alleged apparitions and revelations since new norms were released May 17 to help bishops proceed more quickly and carefully in the discernment of alleged supernatural phenomena.

The first was a statement issued June 27 in which the dicastery verified the judgment of Bishop Marco Salvi of Civita Castellano who declared in March that alleged apparitions in Trevignano Romano, Italy, were not supernatural. The dicastery also confirmed the bishop’s prohibition of devotions and pilgrimages in places associated with the alleged events in his diocese.

The new norms require bishops to discern alleged supernatural phenomena in dialogue with his national bishops’ conference and to send his judgment to the dicastery for input and approval.

The norms also allow bishops to reach one of six conclusions that do not require any certainty about the supernatural authenticity of the phenomenon itself.

In the letter to Tremolada dated July 5, the prefect of the dicastery, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, said the main purpose of the norms was no longer to establish the supernatural character of alleged phenomenon but to come up with a « doctrinal-pastoral evaluation » based on « the fruits » of the devotion.

The dicastery gave its doctrinal judgment of the messages compiled by Gilli to support the bishop’s own discernment, thereby allowing the bishop to issue his own decree.

The cardinal said the dicastery « found no elements in the messages circulated by Pierina Gilli that directly contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. Neither do we find negative moral aspects or other critical issues in the facts connected with this spiritual experience. »

He listed a number of « positive aspects that stand out in the messages as a whole and others that, instead, deserve clarification in order to avoid misunderstandings. »

But, « we can argue that the spiritual proposal that flows from the experiences narrated by Pierina Gilli in relation to Our Lady of the Mystical Rose does not contain theological or moral elements contrary to the doctrine of the Church, » the cardinal said.

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Critics express skepticism over U.S.-Panama deportation agreement

Catholic groups working with migrants traversing the treacherous Darién Gap have expressed skepticism over a joint U.S.-Panama plan to deport people passing through the thick jungle between Colombia and Panama on journeys toward the U.S. border.

The groups called for governments to attend to the needs of migrants instead and deal with issues such as organized crime, which controls access to the Darién Gap. They also argue that migrants are not easily deterred, making it likely they would seek out new but risky routes instead.

« The efforts that our governments have made have not been sufficient to respond to this reality, especially because they are marked by the vision of national security and ignore the basic right to life, a dignified life, » the Panama chapter of the Latin American and Caribbean Network on Migration, Displacement and Trafficking, known as Red CLAMOR, said in a July 7 statement.

« We understand that governments consider that closing the Darién route is best for migrants, given the number of deaths due to drowning, animal bites and other incidents typical of the jungle, in addition to the violence carried out by criminals, » the Scalabrinian Mission with Migrants and Refugees in Mexico City said in a July 4 statement.

« However, it is necessary to express that these situations cannot be completely controlled and as long as the various causes that give rise to migration are not addressed, the victims will continue to increase, » the organization said.

The plan announced July 1 by the U.S. and Panamanian governments would provide U.S. assistance with removal flights, targeting migrants coming through the Darién Gap — a notoriously difficult trek rife with bandits — and controlled by organized criminal groups. U.S. officials with experience in processing migrants and receiving asylum claims would also help their Panamanian counterparts on the ground and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would assist building infrastructure for deportations.

More than 500,000 people passed through the Darién Gap in 2023, according to Panama’s immigration service — a sharp increase from earlier in the decade, when the jungle strip was considered impenetrable. Some 70,000 migrants have transited the Darién Gap so far this year.

The announcement followed Panama’s inauguration of a new president, who campaigned on halting irregular migration through the Central American country.

« I will not allow Panama to be a path open to thousands of people who illegally enter our country supported by an entire international organization related to drug trafficking and human trafficking, » President José Raúl Mulino said at his July 1 inauguration. « I understand that there are deep-rooted reasons for migration, but each country has to resolve its problems. »

Many of the migrants transiting the Darién Gap hail from Venezuela. But many come from other continents such as Africa and Asia, landing in South America, then heading northward through Panama, Central America and Mexico. Most of the migrants don’t stay in Panama, instead taking direct buses through the country to the border with Costa Rica.

Elías Cornejo, migrant services coordinator for the Jesuit ministry Fe y Alegria in Panama, called the plan to deport migrants from Panama « unfeasible because there’s nothing to close. The Darién Gap is a jungle without border markers. »

Cornejo added in comments to OSV News that deportation flights are expensive and « flights from the (United States) have not had the capacity for massive repatriations. »

« This is more a search for media attention than a real solution. By seeing the phenomenon as a political electoral issue, they’re closing more humanitarian paths » for attending to migrants, he said.

The U.S.-Panama agreement follows President Joe Biden issuing an executive order, temporarily imposing restrictions on asylum claims at the U.S. southern border. The Biden administration boasts migrant encounters have fallen by more than 40% since the June 4 announcement. The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it had operated more than 120 deportation flights to more than 20 countries.

Catholics working with migrants in Mexico report an increase in shelter traffic due to deportations. They also say many migrants in Mexico are taking a wait-and-see approach with the new rules, while many are trying to snag appointments with the CBP One application, which allows them to enter at ports of entry and make asylum claims.

« The population is doing whatever possible to wait for CBP One before running any risks, » said Scalabrinian Father Julio López, executive secretary of the Mexican bishops’ migrant ministry.

Mexico has also stepped up enforcement in 2024, with Mexican migration officials often detaining migrants in northern Mexico and sending them to southern Mexico — with the hopes they will be dissuaded from heading north again, according to advocates.

« In the border areas of the south and north of the country, the authorities have carried out arbitrary arrests and deportations without due process, violating the human rights of migrants, » the Scalabrinian statement said. « Prior to deportation, many people remain for hours and sometimes days in an immigration station where access to basic services is limited. »

The increased enforcement adds to the difficulties for migrants, who risk becoming victims of crimes such as kidnapping, rape and extortion as they transit through Mexico.

Turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer

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Prophets

(Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on July 6 & 7, 2024 at Saint Augustine Church in Providence, Rhode Island; See Ezekiel 2:2-5 and Mark 6:1-6)  

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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: The potential of 10%

How would you have felt in Ezekiel’s sandals? First, God sent him a vision of frightful, four-faced creatures who appear out of a terrifying storm. When that knocked him off his feet, the Spirit of the Lord exhorted him to stand up like a man and preach to the Israelites in exile. The Spirit made no secret about Ezekiel’s chances for success: God described his intended audience as rebels, hard of face and obstinate of heart. The only thing that seemed important to God was that Ezekiel would warn the people, no matter the outcome.

Today, Mark demonstrates how Jesus’ career mirrored Ezekiel’s. Preaching at home put Jesus in front of his most critical audience. His people had seen him grow up and expected nothing more of him than they did of themselves.

Why did they take offense at him? According to Mark, it was their lack of faith. They didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t believe. What did they find beyond belief? John’s Gospel quotes Nathanael (John 1:46) as hitting the nail on the head by asking, « Can anything good come out of Nazareth? » The townspeople’s lack of faith wasn’t just about Jesus, perhaps not even mostly about Jesus. The real question was, « Can anything good happen among us? »

Ezekiel’s Israelites were stubborn; Jesus’ people seemed more jaded than hardhearted. They knew they were lightweights on the national scale (the Times of Israel called ancient Nazareth a « one-camel town. ») They worried about what might happen to them because of the crazy local guy performing God knows what sort of signs and proclaiming that God’s reign was alive among them. Was he looking for trouble? Was he blind to the real world?

Believing in the « real world » may be the greatest stumbling block there is when it comes to faith.  It’s fairly easy to say, « I believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting, » largely because we don’t really know what it means, and the belief requires nothing of us. But before we proclaim that God is now reigning among us, we want some evidence — and our perception of the « real world » may leave us blind to the evidence we seek.

Mark reported that Jesus accomplished very little in Nazareth. That must have hurt even more than when only one of the 10 cured of leprosy thanked him. Ezekiel might have appreciated a 10% success rate, but who among us would give our lives to a venture that promised so little?

Yet, that’s what God has done from the moment of creation. God set a universe (and more) in motion, endowing us with the freedom to develop as we would. According to Jesus, God’s hope has always been that we would choose to enhance our natural union with one another and with God. God created us with the potential to do so, but not everyone (more or less 10%?) believes in or wants to take up God’s offer. 

Ezekiel had two messages. First, he told the unfaithful people that they were responsible for their own unhappy fate. The second was that God was ready to rebuild with them. It often seems easier to deal with the first than the second; penance demands less than accepting Jesus’ invitation to collaborate with God’s reigning among us.

Doing penance and denouncing evil allow us to wallow in despondency and to feel righteous by calling out the wickedness around us. Jesus’ invitation is far more challenging. Jesus insists that God is reigning in the universe. He promises that we can get caught up in God’s reigning if only we are open to do so.

Jesus calls us to metanoia, a new, wildly open mindset that focuses more on possibility than on mistakes. When we are captivated by that, we become impelled to action on behalf of God’s reigning — to recognize it, to revel in it and to do all we can to invite others into it. That’s a much bigger responsibility, and a much more pleasant activity, than denunciation.

Now, in the middle of summer 2024, it’s easy to focus on signs of disaster all around us. Today’s Gospel suggests when we do so, God is amazed and saddened at our lack of faith. When we refuse to believe in the overwhelming strength of goodness and love, we stand in firm solidarity with the people among whom Jesus could accomplish very little.

We aren’t called to save the world — God has taken care of that. Our call is to be part of the 10% who believe in God and in God’s faith in us. If we have the courage to believe, we can be the ones to stand up and announce good news in such a way that others begin to believe. The potential of 10% has proven itself for the past 2,000 years. 

Turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer

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Vie de l'église

The Camino, a Catholic pilgrimage, increasingly draws the spiritual but not religious

In her early 30s, Rachael Sanborn found herself in a bad relationship and dreaming of an escape to the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a pilgrimage her father had undertaken that had profoundly changed his life.

Sanborn, a rebel and adventurer by nature (she dropped out of college to meditate in India for a year), quit her job, gave up health insurance and pooled her savings to take two months to walk the Camino. By the third day of her walk, she promised herself she’d return every year. Nine months later, she was back, guiding her first group of eight pilgrims.

A decade later, now 45 and residing in the Bay Area, she leads grief walks and walking meditations on the Camino with the travel company she founded, Red Monkey Walking Travel. The red monkey is a nod to Hanuman, the Hindu god of joyful service. Raised Tibetan Buddhist, Christian and Jewish, Sanborn considers herself all three. She believes everyone can find a way for the Camino to work for their religion.

« We have had everyone from devout Catholics to atheist Chinese nationals, » said Sanborn. « The Camino for the last 1,000 years was always open to everyone from all religions. Some of my first Camino friends walked from Iran. Iran! And stopped in or outside every locked church and read Rumi poems. »

Sanborn represents a growing trend of non-Catholic — even non-Christian — pilgrims venturing on the Camino. In 2023, nearly half a million people walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. About 40% of those walked for purely religious reasons, according to statistics released by the pilgrims’ office. While it’s traditionally a Catholic pilgrimage, ending at the shrine of the apostle James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, secular pilgrims today embark on the Camino for all kinds of motivations beyond religion: health, grief, transition, cultural exploration, history and adventure.

Sharon Hewitt of St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada, walked part of the Camino in the fall of 2016 with two friends. Her motivation was to spend time with friends and take a « purposeful » vacation. Hewitt doesn’t consider herself religious but recognized a type of devotion in the rituals and challenges of the eight days of walking.

« I didn’t do it for religious reasons, but there is overlap, » says Hewitt. « A lot about religion is discipline, just like the Camino. After a hard night, you still get up and go on. »

This synthesis of religious and secular motivations is profound for people like Nancy Mead, president of The Friends of the Anglican Centre in Santiago de Compostela, an ecumenical religious organization. Mead, an Episcopalian who lives in Rhode Island, says there are as many reasons why people walk the Camino as there are people who walk it. While the Camino is a religious experience for her, she has also learned life lessons along the way that apply to everybody, religious or not. She’s walked seven different routes on the Camino and has to remind herself each time to lighten her load; makeup and extra clothes are just added weight on the journey.

The number of « spiritual but not religious » pilgrims on the Camino has increased over the past two decades as the demographic has grown and with the emergence of « secular spirituality. » Jacqui Frost, whose research at Purdue includes health and wellbeing among the nonreligious, says researchers are increasingly using the language of spirituality to talk about secular experiences of feeling connected to something greater than yourself — something that, she says, often happens in nature.

« We have started to secularize a lot of what used to be religious rituals, » said Frost. « Think about meditation, yoga or even atheist churches. A lot of people are interested in rituals and finding meaning in these collective events. »

As this growing spiritual but not religious group borrows religious rituals and beliefs, there is a question of how to do so without appropriating them. Many of the reasons nonreligious people go on the Camino are similar to why religious people go. In a 2019 study in journal Sociology of Religion, researchers examined atheists’ versus religious pilgrims’ motivations to walk the Santiago way and found overwhelming overlap across motivations; most were looking to connect to nature and one’s deeper self. The only two measures that differed were community and religious motivations, which were both higher for religious pilgrims.

Religious ethics expert and author of the forthcoming book The Religion Factor: How Restoring Religion to Our Spirituality Makes It More Meaningful, Responsible, and Effective, Liz Bucar, says the growing number of spiritual but not religious pilgrims represents a need for meaning-making, even when you’ve rejected religion. But she doesn’t think it’s as easy as just dropping the religion part and isn’t so sure you can still get the same benefits without it.

« If you want to get the real meat out of pilgrimage, you have to engage with the religion of it, » says Bucar. « Spirituality is what they are calling the pieces of religion that they like. Religion is part of the secret sauce. »

After all, Bucar says, pilgrimage is spiritual tourism. She describes the Camino today as a « curated, socially constructed experience with institutions involved. » Bucar used to lead college students on the Camino but came to believe the trip fed into an idea that you can access this spiritual connectedness or transcendence through participating in a temporary experience. She says the Camino falls into this category, which her new book is about, of these spiritual hacks and shortcuts people take when they « don’t want to do religion. »

Bucar required the students to write an application essay for the class, and most cited the desire to have a transformative experience as their reasoning for wanting to walk the Camino. « They’re looking for a quick fix, an experience that will change their life, » she said.

She’s not opposed to taking students again. But she’d do it differently. Instead of focusing on the inward journey, she’d encourage her students to study the historical context of the routes and the contentious parts of history that the official Spanish tour guides might be leaving out. After all, St. James is also known as Santiago Matamoros, the « Moor-slayer. » You won’t hear about the story of Matamoros helping Charlemagne murder Muslims from a tour guide. She would put the construction of historical narratives front and center.

« I’d make it less fun for them and less of an ‘experience.’ It’s much more valuable to have these experiences be uncomfortable and disorienting, » said Bucar. « You have to engage with the religion of it. » 

For Sanborn, Christianity will always be at the heart of the Camino — even for those bringing a different religion or no religion to their pilgrimage — though she agrees with Bucar that Christianity on the Camino has not always been beautiful.

« I think it’s important to honor the Christianity of the Camino, and appreciate the traditions and amazing art and architecture of the Camino. But the Camino also walks over both where over 80 people were taken from their mountain homes and the city where they were burnt at the stake. So I think it’s important to see the best and worst of religion, » said Sanborn. « Each time I step into a church or cathedral on a hot day, it feels impossible to not be awed. »

However, Sanborn resists the idea that non-Catholic pilgrims — « sometimes people call them tourist-pilgrims » — are unable to experience what the Camino has to offer.

« Everyone I have ever met along the Camino is getting more than they expected, so it’s probably best not to judge, » she said. « The Camino is just so special in ways I don’t pretend to understand, which is part of the great mystery of life. It’s magic. »

Turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer

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Vie de l'église

Vatican publishes schedule of pope’s four-nation visit to Asia

Pope Francis will meet with young people, the marginalized, government officials, bishops, priests, religious and missionaries, when he travels to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Singapore in September.

The 12-day Asian tour will be the longest trip of his papacy. He intends to visit: Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, Sept. 3-6; Port Moresby and Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, Sept. 6-9; Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, Sept. 9-11; and Singapore Sept. 11-13.

The focus of the visit will be encounters with people on the peripheries in nations that are also at the furthest ends of the earth. He will meet with the elderly, the ill, « street children, » the disabled and all those who minister to them, as well as leaders of government and civil society.

He will hold meetings with local Catholics and his fellow Jesuits and celebrate Masses in all four countries. When he visits the predominantly Muslim nation of Indonesia, he will have an interreligious meeting at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta. He will also hold an interreligious meeting with young people in Singapore, which, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center in 2014, appears to be the world’s most religiously diverse nation.

With 281.5 million people, Indonesia has the world’s fourth-largest population and has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. About 87.4% are Muslim, 7.5% are Protestant, 3.1% are Catholic and 1.7% are Hindu.

The island nation of Papua New Guinea in Oceania is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the world’s third largest island country and home to at least 10 million people. It is considered the most linguistically diverse country in the world with about 840 known Indigenous languages. About 70% of the population are Christian, 26% are Catholic and 1.4% belong to a non-Christian religion, according to the World Factbook.

Internationally recognized as an independent state in 2002, Timor-Leste had been under Portuguese and then Indonesian rule for decades. At least 100,000 people died during a two-decade-long « pacification » program and nearly 500,000 people were displaced by anti-independence militias before 2002.

Timor-Leste is still one of the world’s poorest nations after years of conflict and instability. Of the country’s 1.5 million people, 97.6% are Catholic, 2% are Protestant or evangelical Christian and 0.2% are Muslim.

A former British trading colony, Singapore today is one of the world’s most prosperous countries. With a population of 6 million people, 31.1% are Buddhist, 18.9% are Christian — of which 37.1% identify as Catholic, 15.6% are Muslim, 8.8% are Taoist, 5% are Hindu and 20% identify with no religion.

Here is the detailed schedule of the pope’s trip released by the Vatican July 5. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Saving Time in parenthesis.

Monday, Sept. 2 (Rome)

— 5:15 p.m. (11:15 p.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

Tuesday, Sept. 3 (Jakarta)

— 11:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) Arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and official welcome.

Wednesday, Sept. 4 (Jakarta)

— 9:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m. Sept. 3) Welcome ceremony outside the Istana Merdeka Presidential Palace.

— 10 a.m. (11 p.m. Sept. 3) Courtesy visit with President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace.

— 10:35 a.m. (11:35 p.m. Sept. 3) Meeting with authorities, members of the diplomatic corps and local representatives at the Istana Negara Presidential Palace. Speech by pope.

— 11:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) Private meeting with members of the Society of Jesus at the apostolic nunciature.

— 4:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m.) Meeting with bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and catechists at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. Speech by pope.

— 5:35 p.m. (6:35 a.m.) Meeting with young people active with Scholas Occurrentes at the Grha Pemuda Youth Centre.

Thursday, Sept. 5 (Jakarta)

— 9 a.m. (10 p.m. Sept. 4) An interreligious meeting at the Istiqlal Mosque. Speech by pope.

— 10:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. Sept. 4) Meeting with people receiving assistance from charitable organizations at the headquarters of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference.

— 5 p.m. (6 a.m.) Mass at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. Homily by pope.

Friday, Sept. 6 (Jakarta, Port Moresby)

— 9:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m. Sept. 5) Farewell ceremony at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta.

— 9:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m. Sept. 5) Departure by plane for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

— 6:50 p.m. (4:50 a.m.) Arrival at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby and welcome ceremony.

Saturday, Sept. 7 (Port Moresby)

— 9:45 a.m. (7:45 p.m. Sept. 6) Courtesy visit with Bob Dadae, the governor-general of Papua New Guinea, at the Government House.

— 10:25 a.m. (8:25 p.m. Sept. 6) Meeting with authorities, members of the diplomatic corps and local representatives at the APEC Haus. Speech by pope.

— 5 p.m. (3 a.m.) Visit with children receiving assistance from street ministry programs and Callan Services, a network of service providers to children and adults with disabilities, at a technical secondary school run by Caritas.

— 5:40 p.m. (3:40 a.m.) Meeting with bishops of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and catechists at the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. Speech by pope.

Sunday, Sept. 8 (Port Moresby, Vanimo, Port Moresby)

— 7:30 a.m. (5:30 p.m. Sept. 7) Visit with Prime Minister James Marape at the apostolic nunciature.

— 8:45 a.m. (6:45 p.m. Sept. 7) Mass at the Sir John Guise Stadium. Homily by pope, Angelus prayer.

— 1 p.m. (11 p.m. Sept. 7) Departure by plane from Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby to Vanimo Airport.

— 3:15 p.m. (1:15 a.m.) Arrival at Vanimo Airport.

— 3:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m.) Meeting with Catholics of the Diocese of Vanimo along the esplanade in front of Holy Cross Cathedral. Speech by pope.

— 4:50 p.m. (2:50 a.m.) Private meeting with a group of missionaries at the Holy Trinity Humanistic School in Baro.

— 5:40 p.m. (3:40 a.m.) Departure by plane from Vanimo Airport to Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby.

— 19:55 p.m. (5:55 a.m.) Arrival at Jacksons International Airport.

Monday, Sept. 9 (Port Moresby, Dili)

— 9:45 a.m. (7:45 p.m. Sept. 8) Meeting with young people at the Sir John Guise Stadium. Speech by pope.

— 11:10 a.m. (9:10 p.m. Sept. 8) Farewell ceremony at Jacksons International Airport.

— 11:40 a.m. (9:40 p.m. Sept. 8) Departure by plane from Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby to Dili, Timor-Leste.

— 2:10 p.m. (1:10 a.m.) Arrival at Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili and official welcome.

— 6 p.m. (5 a.m.) Welcome ceremony outside the presidential palace.

— 6:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m.) Courtesy visit with President José Ramos-Horta at the presidential palace.

— 7 p.m. (6 a.m.) Meeting with authorities, members of the diplomatic corps and local representatives at the presidential palace. Speech by pope.

Tuesday, Sept. 10 (Dili)

— 8:45 a.m. (7:45 p.m. Sept. 9) Visit with children with disabilities who attend the Irmas Alma School.

— 9:30 a.m. (8:30 p.m. Sept. 9) Meeting with bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and catechists at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Speech by pope.

— 10:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m. Sept. 9) Private meeting with members of the Society of Jesus at the apostolic nunciature.

— 4:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m.) Mass along the esplanade of the Tasitolu wetlands. Homily by pope.

Wednesday, Sept. 11 (Dili, Singapore)

— 9:30 a.m. (8:30 p.m. Sept. 10) Meeting with young people at the Centro de Convenções. Speech by pope.

— 10:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m. Sept. 10) Farewell ceremony at Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport.

— 11:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m. Sept. 10) Departure by plane from Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport to Singapore.

— 2:15 p.m. (2:15 a.m.) Arrival at Changi International Airport in Singapore and official welcome.

— 6:15 p.m. (6:15 a.m.) Private meeting with members of the Society of Jesus at the St. Francis Xavier Retreat Centre.

Thursday, Sept. 12 (Singapore)

— 9 a.m. (9 p.m. Sept. 11) Welcome ceremony outside Parliament House.

— 9:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. Sept. 11) Courtesy visit with President Tharman Shanmugaratnam of Singapore.

— 9:55 a.m. (9:55 p.m. Sept. 11) Meeting with Prime Minister Lawrence Wong of Singapore.

— 10:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. Sept. 11) Meeting with authorities, members of the diplomatic corps and local representatives in the theater of the cultural center of the National University of Singapore. Speech by pope.

— 5:15 p.m. (5:15 a.m.) Mass at the Sports Hub National Stadium. Homily by pope.

Friday, Sept. 13 (Singapore, Rome)

— 9:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m. Sept. 12) Visit with a group of elderly and sick people at St. Theresa’s Home.

— 10:00 a.m. (10 p.m. Sept. 12) Interreligious meeting with young people at the Catholic Junior College. Speech by pope.

— 11:20 a.m. (11:20 p.m. Sept. 12) Farewell ceremony at Changi International Airport.

— 11:50 a.m. (11:50 p.m. Sept. 12) Departure by plane from Changi International Airport to Rome.

— 6:25 p.m. (12:25 p.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport.

Turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer