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A Happy Priest Shares His Unique Journey


NO ORDINARY FOOL: A Testimony to Grace
OUR LADY OF KIBEHO: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa
THE MOUNTAINS OF SAINT FRANCIS: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth
Caring for Our Earth

NO ORDINARY FOOL: A Testimony to Grace, by John Jay Hughes. Foreword by George Weigel. Tate Publishing and Enterprises. 344 pp. $19.99, U.S./$25.99, Canada.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication.

THE SON AND GRANDSON of Episcopal priests and one himself for six years, a 1948 classics graduate of Harvard, a former student in Münster of Professor Joseph Ratzinger and now a retired Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, John Jay Hughes wrote this memoir “to bear witness to the Lord’s ability to write straight on the crooked lines of our unfaithfulness.”

A seventh-generation descendant of John Jay, first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Father Hughes and his younger siblings, Jane and Dudley, grew up in Manhattan with summers in Newport, Rhode Island. Their father once said of an acquaintance, “He’s no ordinary fool!”

Because the author’s 27-year-old mother died when he was six, he has never accepted God’s will as the explanation for such a loss.

After studying theology at Kelham in England, John Jay Hughes finished at General Theology Seminary in New York City and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1954. After serving in parishes in Utica, New York, and Bisbee, Arizona, he briefly lived as an Anglican Benedictine but became a Catholic in 1960. John’s father was never reconciled with that decision.

Two years of study in Innsbruck under Karl Rahner and other Jesuits preceded three years of teaching at a German boarding school. Hughes’s doctoral studies in Münster included a dissertation on the validity of Anglican orders, which had been declared null and void by Pope Leo XIII in 1896.

On January 26, 1968, Bishop Höffner of Münster (later cardinal-archbishop of Cologne) ordained Hughes a Catholic priest conditionally because the Episcopal bishop who had ordained Hughes a priest could trace his own ordination to bishops recognized by the Catholic Church. A 1959 letter from the Holy Office had supported this.

After teaching in Louvain and at St. Louis University, Hughes incardinated in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where he served as director of RENEW and as pastor at two parishes. He retired in 1991 but continues writing. Hughes is the author of five books and many articles.

Eight pages of black-and-white photographs, nine pages of notes and an eight-page index enhance this book’s usefulness. It has also been published in Great Britain.

No Ordinary Fool has received endorsements from Michael Novak, Mary Ann Glendon, Justus George Lawler, Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, Eugene Kennedy and John R. Quinn (emeritus archbishop of San Francisco)—a group very unlikely to praise the same book!

Chapter 29 is composed of separate letters to his deceased parents. Chapter One closes with the statement: “From age twelve, priesthood has been all I ever wanted. If I were to die tonight, I would die a happy man.”

I had known of Hughes through his writings. Anyone interested in meeting a profoundly happy priest will enjoy this engaging and well-written volume, which praises God while candidly acknowledging the most painful moments Father John Jay Hughes has experienced.

You can order NO ORDINARY FOOL: A Testimony to Grace from St. Francis Bookstore.


OUR LADY OF KIBEHO: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa, by Immaculée Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin. Hay House, Inc. 210 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by MADGE KARECKI, S.S.J.-T.O.S.F., director of the Chicago Catholic Missions Office who spent 21 years in Africa and holds a D.Th. in missiology from the University of South Africa.

THE TRAGEDY of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda has been chronicled in articles, books, reports and movies. Not nearly as well-known is the story of how the people of Rwanda were warned about the impending disaster more than a decade earlier through the apparitions of Our Lady of Kibeho in that central eastern African nation. The story of these apparitions is told by a Rwandan survivor, author and public speaker Immaculée Ilibagiza, with journalist Steve Erwin.

Ilibagiza intertwines her personal story of devotion to the Blessed Mother with the larger story of the apparitions of Our Lady of Kibeho. One by one, readers become acquainted with Alphonsine, Anathalie and Marie-Claire, the first three visionaries. These young women were drawn into their encounters with the woman who would change their lives forever by bringing them the message of her son, Jesus.

The Virgin Mary invited each of the visionaries to share in the mission to make known her son’s call to conversion and made it clear that it would mean great personal suffering for each of them. Their individual stories are narrated in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 by Ilibagiza to demonstrate how the Holy Spirit led each one to consent to the invitation to participate in God’s plan for Rwanda.

At Kibeho, between 1981 and 1989, the visionaries received messages of Our Lady calling for repentance and forgiveness. Unfortunately, the messages went unheeded. The tragic genocide was carried out by the Hutu government and the Rwandan Army.

In a 1982 vision granted to Alphonsine, Our Lady revealed scenes of the Rwandan countryside turned into killing fields, “rivers of blood...human carnage, and flaming explosions,” as soldiers systematically went from home to home and killed Tutsis in cold blood. The young visionary was then shown piles of headless corpses rotting in air thick with the stench of death.

Another visionary, Marie-Claire, reported that the Blessed Mother told her to speak these words to the people of Rwanda: “What I am asking you to do is to repent....The world has become deaf and cannot hear the truth of the word. Today people no longer know how to apologize for the wrong they do through sin; they put the Son of God on the cross again and again.”

As in all cases of private revelations, the Church moved slowly and decisively in its investigation of the validity of the happenings at Kibeho. The diocesan bishop, Jean-Baptiste Gahamanyi, appointed a theological commission to examine the claims of the visionaries.

In late 1982, without making a definitive judgment on the apparitions, the bishop authorized Kibeho as a place of public devotion. It was not until 2001 that his successor, Bishop Augustin Misago, announced that the Church recognized the apparitions as authentic and Kibeho was added to the Vatican’s list of authorized Marian sites. The Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows now stands on the place where the visionaries received the apparitions of Mary.

The book continues with the stories of three other visionaries, who had also received several messages about the need for repentance and forgiveness.

The unfolding genocide proved true the message of Our Lady of Kibeho. The story is told simply and convincingly. It is both a historical and a personal account of these apparitions. Anyone interested in Marian apparitions or the story of Rwanda’s painful history will benefit from reading this book.

You can order OUR LADY OF KIBEHO: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa from St. Francis Bookstore.


THE MOUNTAINS OF SAINT FRANCIS: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth, by Walter Alvarez. W.W. Norton. 290 pp. $25.95.

Reviewed by PATTI NORMILE, a nonscientist and a Secular Franciscan. Her most recent book is John Dear on Peace: An Introduction to His Life and Work (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

THIS BOOK PRESENTS a curious and surprising blend of the spiritual and the geological. Geologist Walter Alvarez’s story of the hills, vales, mountains and dales of Italy begins at Christmastime 1970, as he and his wife, Milly, were traveling in the chill of mountain winter.

While Milly ponders the discomfort that St. Francis of Assisi, Il Poverello (the little poor man), might experience should he view the massive basilica built in his honor, Walter notes the beautiful limestone from which it was constructed. Some building blocks are white, some brilliant pink, some pink striated with white, some speckled with tiny flecks that he later learned were microscopic fossils.

Alvarez recalls that the memories of Assisi at Christmas were etched in his memory through all five senses: the sight of the colorful limestone, the sounds of Christmas carols, the aroma and taste of Italian cooking, the feel of the chill in contrast with the warmth of burning coals placed in a bucket under the dining table.

Another sense was awakened as well—Alvarez’s geological sense of curiosity about the origins of the fascinating limestone. How had the rocks that formed the Basilica of San Francesco been created?

His search and research began in the quarries near Assisi where the blocks from which the basilica would rise had been carved from the earth. Examination of that site raised more questions. How had minuscule sea creatures become part of the rock on an inland mountain?

Alvarez realized that the quarries held the secret of a momentous event in Earth history when the Apennine Mountains emerged from the Earth’s crust.

Like St. Francis who journeyed from Assisi to Rome, Alvarez went to Rome. There the stones of the ancient buildings continued to tell the story of the formation of the backbone mountains of Italy. Research continued in Siena and Gubbio, revealing history reaching back into the time when an enormous asteroid crashed into Earth, decimating much that existed, including the dinosaurs.

Flat river valleys, volcanic sites, strata of stone rising nearly perpendicular to the Earth’s surface all bear witness to the dramatic events of the past.

Alvarez concludes his story from the perspective of a geologist, “...looking out from a high peak across the Mountains of St. Francis, there are signs everywhere of Earth processes at work and vestiges everywhere of ancient worlds lost in the passage of time. It is a landscape whose beauty tells a coherent and satisfying story.”

In this book, Alvarez tells his own coherent and satisfying story that brings a spiritual understanding to those interested in geology and Earth’s history. Others who read the book because they revere St. Francis will gain a remarkable knowledge of the formation of the land we know as Italy.

Walter Alvarez, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and professor of geology at the University of California, Berkeley, is also the author of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. He has been honored with the Penrose Medal, the highest honor of the Geological Society of America.

This very nonscientific reviewer found insights in understandable language about a complex and fascinating topic. A rainbow appearing over Assisi inspired Alvarez to comment, “ seems like something more—like an omen, a rainbow of promise. It is almost as if St. Francis were saying, ‘Welcome to my mountains! Here you will find wonderful things.’ And indeed that is how it turned out.”

You can order THE MOUNTAINS OF SAINT FRANCIS: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth from St. Francis Bookstore.


FAITH, REASON, AND THE WAR AGAINST JIHADISM: A Call to Action, by George Weigel. Doubleday. 195 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by DAN KROGER, O.F.M., publisher/CEO of St. Anthony Messenger Press. He has a Ph.D. in Christian ethics and worked in the Philippines for 24 years.

GEORGE WEIGEL THINKS the 9/11 attacks awakened Americans to their vulnerability and proved that religious extremism is dangerous. This book seeks to identify what we should have learned since—about the enemy, about ourselves and about creating a future for freedom. Weigel distills this learning into 15 “lessons.”

His first lesson is that all the great questions of life, including political ones, have theological foundations. Our beliefs about God shape our views about justice and the means to attain it. But Americans are fairly ignorant of how the views of world religions differ.

Second, he rejects facile claims that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all “religions of the book.” Abrahamic religions have common elements but huge differences.

Christianity claims the fullness of revelation, while Islam claims to supersede both Judaism and Christianity. Yes, in the Qur’an Jesus is God’s prophet, but he doesn’t die on the cross—a human double substitutes for him. For Muslims, the idea of three persons in one God sounds like polytheism. Indeed, the Moses of Genesis and the Moussa of the Qur’an are quite distinct.

Third, Weigel contends that jihadism, not Islam, is our enemy in this terrorist war. Jihadism claims Muslims must compel others to embrace Islam. Though Weigel admits that Muslims understand jihad mainly as a spiritual struggle to submit to Allah, he easily forgets this point.

Fourth, Weigel quickly summarizes jihadism’s complex history. He thinks the Crusaders deserved violent resistance. He recalls the decline in Islamic societies caused by Mongol invaders in the late 13th century. The 15th-century reconquista overwhelmed Islam’s western outposts in Spain and Portugal. When the Ottomans threatened Europe, Christians resisted, finally defeating them in the 1683 battle for Vienna.

Weigel sees jihadism as a reaction to the diminution of Islamic power—a sort of survival mechanism. After citing key personalities in Islamic history, Weigel observes that jihadism reflects Islam’s continuing struggle with modernity. It is comparable to Christian and Jewish fundamentalisms of today. Jihadists see Allah as “Absolute Will.” Thus, worldly things are scorned and human life disvalued, since jihadists “know” the divine will.

Fifth, jihadists see history and politics through the prism of their theological convictions. They see the late 20th century as proof of the weaknesses of Western cultures and governments, shown, for example, in the Taliban’s expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan. Successful terrorist attacks on hotels, embassies and ships have reinforced the jihadist belief that Allah fights on their side.

Lessons six and seven argue that describing the historical connections between conquest and Islamic expansion is not Islamophobic. According to Weigel, jihadism uses terror as its main weapon. The war against jihadism will last for generations, so opposition to it must be resolute. But Weigel neglects any discussion of why anti-Americanism is largely triggered by U.S. imperialism and unilateral military interventions.

Eighth, Weigel claims that “genuine realism” in foreign policy takes jihadism seriously, yet avoids closing the door on possibilities for positive change in world politics. Weigel thinks the Bush administration was ideological. Thus, it could not understand jihadism and never prepared for a post-Saddam Iraq or a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

In his ninth and 10th lessons, Weigel states that in the war against jihadism the political objective is to promote responsible governments in the Middle East, not to impose Western democracy. The Bush administration turned Iraq into a battleground for jihadists because it failed to understand jihadism. Weigel observes that deterrence strategies are ineffective in the war against jihadism. One cannot deter warriors committed to their own martyrdom. Besides, writes Weigel, jihadists see deterrence strategies as invitations to attack.

In his 11th through 13th lessons, Weigel insists that the West simply cannot afford self-deprecating paralysis. Cultural self-confidence is indispensable to long-term victory. I am not sure why Weigel thinks “cultural self-confidence” is not likely to become ideological. Weigel seems so impatient with liberal approaches that he forgets U.S. policies need criticism. He argues that making small concessions based on liberal ideals of tolerance inevitably leads to bigger concessions and further erosion of liberty and security.

In his final lessons, Weigel lays down his belief that overcoming jihadism requires a domestic political coalition to overcome confusion caused by the “Unhinged Left” and the “Unhinged Right.” Weigel argues that this new bipartisan domestic political coalition must understand the magnitude of the threat of global jihadism and agree on the necessary measures to combat and defeat it. He argues that the United States must find better explanations for its policy against jihadism. Obviously, Weigel thinks the Bush administration failed in this regard.

Political conservatives will like parts of this book. Liberals will wrestle with its harsh realism. This book should be required reading for Americans concerned about peace and dialogue between Christianity and Islam, regardless of their political persuasions.

You can order FAITH, REASON, AND THE WAR AGAINST JIHADISM: A Call to Action from St. Francis Bookstore.




Caring for Our Earth

To honor St. Francis on his feast (October 4), consider four new books that tackle a favorite theme of this patron of ecology.

STEWARDSHIP OF THE EARTH, by Stephen J. Binz (Twenty-Third Publications, 129 pp., $12.95). Part of the Threshold Bible Study series, this book examines ecology from a biblical perspective in 30 lessons, intended for individual or group use. Binz is the Catholic author of more than 20 books on the Bible.

A MORAL CLIMATE: The Ethics of Global Warming, by Michael S. Northcott (Orbis Books, 336 pp., $20). This book situates climate change in the context of stewardship of the Earth. The debate about global warming may continue on talk radio, but most scientists have moved on to what actions we can take to change what’s happening. This dense book comes from a professor of ethics at the University of Edinburgh and a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

GREEN REVOLUTION: Coming Together to Care for Creation, by Ben Lowe (IVP Books, 206 pp., $15), and LOVE GOD, HEAL EARTH: 21 Leading Religious Voices Speak Out on Our Sacred Duty to Protect the Environment, edited by the Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham (St. Lynn’s Press, POB 18680, Pittsburgh, PA 15236, 249 pp., $17.95/U.S.; $19.50/Canada). Both of these books contain essays from articulate authors of diverse religious faiths who agree on the importance of protecting our planet and all the life on it.—B.B.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookstore, 135 W. 31st Street, New York, NY 10001, phone 212-736-8500, ext. 324, fax 212-594-6025.


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