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KEEPING FAITH WHEN DISASTER STRIKES

Q U I C K S C A N

IN THE WAKE OF DISASTER: Religious Responses to Terrorism & Catastrophe
PARISH PRIEST: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism
WHEN GOD'S PEOPLE HAVE HIV/AIDS: An Approach to Ethics
HOW TO HELP A GRIEVING FRIEND: A Candid Guide for Those Who Care
ALBERT SCHWEITZER: Essential Writings
CHRISTIAN TAKES ON MOVIES


IN THE WAKE OF DISASTER: Religious Responses to Terrorism & Catastrophe, by Harold G. Koenig, M.D. Templeton Foundation Press. 162 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by ANN TASSONE, an intern at St. Anthony Messenger last summer. Ann is a senior at Xavier University in Cincinnati with a double major in English and communication arts.

IN LIGHT of the many recent disasters that our nation has faced, Harold G. Koenig, M.D., has developed a plan to improve not only the physical and mental health of those affected, but also their spiritual lives. While governmental responses to disasters are initially helpful, such assistance usually fades quickly. Koenig argues that one strength of religious responses to disasters is that these relief efforts persist in critical times, including long after the event has occurred.

Churches know that even relatively short-lived disasters can have long-term effects on anyone involved. In the Wake of Disaster provides a detailed examination of how faith-based organizations can contribute in the aftermath of disasters and terrorism.

Koenig’s extensive involvement in research into the healing power of faith and in the fields of mental health and religion motivated him to write this book.

This book is easy to read. It is a helpful guide for faith-based groups who are responding to catastrophes.

The book is divided along four themes: how to prepare faith communities for disasters, spiritual consequences of disasters, the faith community’s role in helping people cope during and after disasters, and the obstacles that face the integration of faith-based groups and mental-health organizations.

Koenig gives a detailed outline of information that faith communities need in order to meet the psychological, social and spiritual needs of disaster victims. Developing a disaster plan is essential preparation. This allows congregations to meet the physical needs of those affected, and then the spiritual needs which surface soon afterward.

Koenig argues that people’s faith can go one of two ways after being affected by a disaster: it can provide comfort and strength, or it can be lost due to a feeling of abandonment.

Faith communities can help with anxiety and depression, which are common following disasters. Faith communities and religious presence during and after disasters have proven to be very effective in helping people to cope, the book contends. Clergy and pastoral counselors are the only professionals competent to address the spiritual needs that arise. After the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, governmental teams as well as clergy were direct responders. A national poll, however, showed that Americans were more likely to seek help from a spiritual caregiver than from a physician or mental-health professional.

Koenig presents specific examples of crises that our nation has faced, and the importance of religious responses to these catastrophes. He gives examples of many national, state and local disaster response programs (the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency), as well as many faith-based organizations involved in disaster response (Catholic Charities, International Aid, Salvation Army).

The book concludes with resources on disasters specific for faith communities, as well as research studies on the role of faith in disasters. In the Wake of Disaster serves as a tool for keeping faith in the face of even the worst disasters, and keeping in mind the importance of religious responses to terrorism. The book is a helpful instrument in making the best out of unfortunate events, all the while remembering God’s presence in every situation.

You can order IN THE WAKE OF DISASTER: Religious Responses to Terrorism & Catastrophe from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

PARISH PRIEST: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism, by Douglas Brinkley and Julie M. Fenster. William Morrow/HarperCollins. 240 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. He is also chaplain for the Northside Knights of Columbus Council 1683, established in 1911.

THOSE WHO RECOGNIZE the name “Father Michael McGivney” (1852-90) probably know that he helped establish the Knights of Columbus but may know little else about him.

This volume by Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Tulane University, and Julie Fenster, an award-winning author of historical books, fills that gap. In 1998 their interest in McGivney was piqued by an article in The New York Times about the 1997 start of his cause for canonization.

In this volume’s Preface, Brinkley and Fenster write: “We decided to write a book about Father McGivney—on the one hand, the man who had founded the largest Catholic men’s fraternal organization in the world, and on the other, just as important, the most unassuming of Catholic clerics.”

By the time of Michael McGivney’s birth in 1852, his hometown, Waterbury, Connecticut, was a heavily Catholic industrial center. A precocious student, Michael had finished high school by age 13 and then worked for three years making spoons in a local factory. When his father, an iron molder, died in 1873, Michael transferred from a Canadian seminary to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

Ordained in 1877, he was assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Connecticut, as assistant pastor. According to a priest friend, McGivney was not only pious and orderly but also had a great sense of humor. He made friends readily.

In addition to his parish duties, he was very involved in the Total Abstinence League and producing dramas. He once went to probate court to become the legal guardian for Alfred Downes, the teenage son of a parishioner who had died without insurance.

Secret societies proliferated after the Civil War, partly because of the insurance benefits they offered. In late 1881, approximately 80 men attended a meeting to establish what eventually became the Knights of Columbus. Not everyone was in favor of McGivney’s very ambitious plan, including the diocese’s oldest priest—who was 57!

The authors write, “Although it would have been easy to do, he [Father McGivney] did not create the Knights as a monument to his own irreplaceability.” In 1884 he became pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Connecticut. By the time of his death there on August 14, 1890, the Knights of Columbus had 6,000 members. Today, its 1.7 million members are found in 12 countries.

This well-told story includes eight pages of black-and-white photos, plus 18 pages of endnotes, a bibliography and an Index.

You can order PARISH PRIEST: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

WHEN GOD'S PEOPLE HAVE HIV/AIDS: An Approach to Ethics, by Maria Cimperman. Orbis Books. 159 pp. $20.

Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, an assistant editor of St. Anthony Messenger.

THE TITLE TEACHES. So does this book. Ursuline Sister Maria Cimperman has taken her doctoral dissertation and turned it into a challenge for the whole Church. She asserts, as Jesus would, that the people suffering from—or threatened by—HIV/AIDS are God’s people. Accepting that, they are our brothers and sisters and we must observe, judge and act accordingly. She helps us consider why and how.

I doubt that any dissertation has ever become a bedtime story, but this book requires that eyes and intellect be wide open; hearts and souls, as well. I was willing to engage with this book because my experience of the divine tells me that a loving God would neither send such a scourge as HIV/AIDS nor target anyone to suffer it. If I grant that, I’m left even more dazed and puzzled by the grim reality of AIDS. I wanted this book’s assistance. My perseverance was rewarded.

The book’s dedication is threefold: The third is “To all who struggle to eradicate HIV/AIDS through the elimination of poverty and gender inequality.” That reveals a theme that I found quite convincing.

I know only one person who has AIDS, a generous Christian who is neither a homosexual nor a drug user. While I had lamented her diagnosis, I had never reflected on its root causes. This dedication describes them; this book analyzes them.

Cimperman exposes the error of believing that the disease is defined or limited by gender, sexual orientation or addiction. The book offers tools of analysis, questions for reflection and recommendations for action that take the reader beyond stereotype and prejudice.

Almost one third of the book is helpful footnotes. In 98 pages, then, the author both explains and confounds. I humbly admit that “theological anthropology” and “embodied relational agent” are difficult notions to which the author exposes the reader. I became willing to ponder, reread and ponder some more.

Cimperman contends that we are agents (active and powerful, not passive or subject only to the whims of others), with bodies (sexual and secretive, yet vehicles of both intimacy and violence) that are relational (not alone, without impact on others, but profoundly linked to them).

This concept, however multisyllabic, holds profound implications for our approach to life in general. The author applies the concept powerfully to us as we consider our brothers and sisters who have HIV/AIDS.

I felt my wrestling with the book’s first six chapters rewarded by the final chapter: “Bearing Witness: Noerine Kaleeba and Paul Farmer” (two embodied relational agents). Kaleeba’s story moved me more, but I underlined Farmer’s words as well. He says, “We know that risk of acquiring HIV does not depend on knowledge of how the virus is transmitted, but rather on the freedom to make decisions. Poverty is the great limiting factor of freedom.”

This book has applications to many moral dilemmas and rewards the effort to understand. It takes willingness and discipline, but all God’s people do need to ponder and practice the virtues required to address the global crisis of HIV/AIDS—and the arenas in which we can engage this global pandemic.

This faith-filled contribution to the field of mental health and spirituality can only enhance the lives of millions of those afflicted with issues worthy of attention by pastors and associates.

You can order WHEN GOD'S PEOPLE HAVE HIV/AIDS: An Approach to Ethics from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

HOW TO HELP A GRIEVING FRIEND: A Candid Guide for Those Who Care, by Stephanie Grace Whitson. Navpress. 102 pp. $11.99.

Reviewed by MARY JO DANGEL, assistant managing editor of this magazine. She and her husband have one surviving child, a daughter, Jenny, and two grandchildren, Cory and Sarah.

SINCE THE DEATH of my older son, Tim, five years ago, I’ve been collecting books about grieving, but I’ve read few of them. Even with the death of my younger son, Ritch, this year, I still haven’t read most of them. (Both my sons died in their 30s from cystic fibrosis.) Many of these books look overwhelming—too many pages with too many words—words that might evoke depressing memories.

But I found it easy to get through Stephanie Grace Whitson’s little book, which has few words and lots of white space, in which I added my own notes. Writing after the death of her husband, Whitson echoes my experience, as well as what I’ve heard from others who are grieving. It’s a book you will want to keep and refer to when you want to help a friend or relative who is grieving.

Whitson includes short lists of things to do and not to do to help someone during the period immediately following a death and then later. For example, you can always give hugs and pray for someone, but don’t use “comfort clichés” or tell a grieving person how he or she should feel.

The day after Tim died, a widowed friend came to our house and dished out warm hugs. But she explained that she didn’t bring any food because she knew from her experience that we would be oversupplied, which we were. I appreciated all of the provisions, but the casseroles in disposable containers that could be frozen were nice because they could be saved and eaten later. I thought Whitson’s suggestion of bringing paper products (paper plates, toilet paper, etc.) to save the grieving person a trip to the grocery was a nice alternative to food.

Many of our closest friends and relatives stopped by for short visits in the days immediately following Tim’s death, offering their sympathy and wanting to do something. Some just started cleaning our house and doing our laundry, without being asked. Others helped me organize photo displays for Tim’s funeral. One relative helped type the funeral program, another relative designed the cover and a friend took the programs to the printer to have copies made. All of these people and many others were immensely helpful then and when Ritch died, at times when we were in a state of shock.

Instead of saying, “Call me anytime,” Whitson recommends that people make specific offers of assistance on a continuing basis. For example, tell a grieving person who has young children that you are available next Saturday afternoon to take the kids on a fun outing. Ask a widow if you can mow her lawn or make household repairs. Whitson reminds people not to expect thank-you cards for favors because the grieving person doesn’t “have the energy to observe social graces.”

She explains that some things may be painful for a person who is grieving. For example, a widow may have a difficult time attending a wedding or watching a romantic film. Not long after Tim’s death, I watched the film Return to Me, not realizing it was about someone who had a heart transplant. (Tim died while he was on a waiting list for a lung transplant.)

Whitson emphasizes the importance of saying the name of the deceased person around loved ones and remembering significant dates, such as birthdays and the date of death: “You can’t change the awfulness, but knowing that you remember makes me feel less alone.”

I would reiterate the importance of letting grieving people know you are thinking of them on important dates. A few years ago, a relative left a message on our answering machine, saying he was thinking of us on Tim’s birthday. I answered the phone when he called back later to apologize because he realized that he was a month late on Tim’s birthday: I told him that we were still very touched by his thoughtfulness, even if he had the date wrong.

Whitson reminds readers that the most important gift you can give someone who is grieving is yourself: “My freezer is full of casseroles. My mailbox is full of cards. I need someone to cry with.”

You can order HOW TO HELP A GRIEVING FRIEND: A Candid Guide for Those Who Care from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

ALBERT SCHWEITZER: Essential Writings, selected with an Introduction by James Brabazon. Orbis Books. 176 pp. $16.

Reviewed by MADGE KARECKI, O.S.C., a Poor Clare in Cincinnati, who holds a D.Th. in missiology. She was an associate professor of missiology and spirituality at the University of South Africa and adjunct professor of liturgy and mission at St. John Vianney Seminary, Pretoria, South Africa, before joining the monastery.

PREACHER, THEOLOGIAN, medical doctor, musician, humanitarian, missionary, Nobel Peace Prize winner: Albert Schweitzer was all of these. Some might say he was the quintessential Renaissance man, but he was much more, as was evidenced in his years of untiring dedication to the people of French Equatorial Africa (today, Gabon).

James Brabazon has given readers more than a mere compilation of Schweitzer’s writings. In the 11-page Introduction, Brabazon has provided a context in which to understand a very complex person whose life was marked by an extraordinary sense of integrity and purpose.

Though it is true that many of Schweitzer’s biblical viewpoints could be challenged by contemporary biblical scholarship, Brabazon rightly focuses in the first section of the text on the lens through which Schweitzer developed his theological perspective: eschatology, or the study of “the last things.” Schweitzer’s contention was that this emphasis gave rise to an ethical dimension to one’s understanding of the Kingdom of God. He wrote: “We must go back to the point where we can feel again the heroic in Jesus.”

It was this heroic dimension of Christian life that Schweitzer pursued throughout his life and that led him to the conviction that “Nothing can be achieved without inwardness.” This is an idea that acts as a unifying thread throughout the text.

The shortest section of the book is on the role of music, especially that of J.S. Bach, in Schweitzer’s life. Brabazon does a masterful job in describing how music lifted Schweitzer’s soul and helped deepen his “inwardness.” What attracted him was the mystical character of Bach’s chorales and choruses that he felt were suffused by Gospel inspirations.

The third and longest section, on Schweitzer’s years in Africa and his writings about that time period, gives the clearest indication of the caliber of the person we are meeting. Here, the reader can palpably feel this great humanitarian’s dedication to the people of Lambaréné mission.

In a sermon preached on January 6, 1905, Schweitzer explained that, after reflecting on the meaning of the crucifixion, he heard “a call to service in Jesus’ name, and the significance of missions came alive...and on that day I understood Christianity better and knew why we must work in the mission field.”

The last section of the book is a developmental presentation of Schweitzer’s most profound contribution to the field of ethics: his philosophy of reverence for life.

It is here that people today can find much food for thought, especially when conflicts arise between personal ethics and those of society. Schweitzer wrote: “Humanness consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose.”

True to his purpose, the author portrays the spirituality of Albert Schweitzer in a way that reveals the sources of the “inner” Schweitzer. By presenting the biblical teachings and the inspirational role of music as essential elements of Schweitzer’s spiritual development, Brabazon opens up the vibrant and challenging spirituality of everything Schweitzer did.

This is a book for all those who want more than an armchair version of Christianity to help them reflect on the issues confronting us today. Perhaps Schweitzer should speak for himself: “The great enemy of morality has always been indifference.... Woe to us if our sensitivity grows numb. It destroys our conscience in the broadest sense of the word: the consciousness of how we should act dies.”

You can order ALBERT SCHWEITZER: Essential Writings from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Christian Takes on Movies

These books present film as a powerful medium that can teach positive messages about life, values and faith.

LIGHTS, CAMERA...FAITH!: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: A Movie Lover’s Guide to Scripture, by Rose Pacatte, F.S.P., and Peter Malone, M.S.C. (Pauline Books & Media, 327 pp., $29.95). Written by St. Anthony Messenger’s “Eye on Entertainment” columnist and the president of Signis (the World Catholic Association for Communication), this book explores the drama of the moral life through movies. This is an exciting way to approach adult faith formation.

AFTERIMAGE: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers, by Richard A. Blake (Loyola Press, 274 pp., $22). The Jesuit film critic of America magazine explores the Catholic perspectives of Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, John Ford, Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma, all of whom were raised Catholic. Some did not remain practicing Catholics, but Catholic ideas of sacramentality, mediation and communion permeate their films.

BEHIND THE SCREEN: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture, edited by Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi (Baker Books, 217 pp., $14.99). In these essays, 19 Christian writers, producers and executives explain why they see Hollywood as “God’s mission field” rather than “the devil’s playground.”


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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