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Neela Kale :
159 article(s)

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
January 27th, 2011

Catholics believe that death is not the end of the human soul. The dead face a particular judgment which leads to damnation or salvation; those led to salvation may enter eternal life immediately or after a period of purification in purgatory. We don’t actually know what purgatory entails, although we do believe that we can have contact with the dead who have gone before us. That’s what we do when we pray for the intercession of the saints. But the Church does not teach that tormented souls linger on earth like the ghosts of popular imagination.
The Catholic Church does teach that a person or place can be possessed by the Evil One, although this is extremely, extremely rare. In such cases a Rite of Exorcism can be…

January 20th, 2011

What is the best Catholic response to any problem? Pray, then act.
Pray for those who suffer from religious violence and persecution, that they will find safety and be able to live free from fear and coercion. And pray for the conversion of those who enable or perpetrate violence, that they will come to respect the human dignity and freedoms of all people.
Then act. Educate yourself about the causes and effects of religious conflict in an area of the world that is important to you. Find an organization that is working to promote non-violence, tolerance and human dignity in that area and ask how you can help. You may be able to support the organization financially, educate others about the situation, join in a letter-writing…

January 13th, 2011

Tithing (from an old English word meaning “tenth”) is the practice of donating a tenth of one’s income to the Church. Since its earliest days the Church has taught that all its members have a responsibility to support its mission and ministry; tithing is a shorthand way of describing that obligation in financial terms.
However, like many shorthand expressions, it ultimately comes up short. God does not measure out blessings to us, but pours them out until our cups are filled up and running over. We are called to be just as generous when we share our blessings with others. To a wealthy person, ten percent may be so insignificant that he or she is called to give more; conversely, a poor person may be able to share…

January 6th, 2011

While the essentials of the Catholic marriage rite are the same throughout the world, the countless accoutrements that surround a wedding vary tremendously according to culture, region and economic status. Some Catholic brides in India wear red saris, while others choose white Western dresses; some couples stage elaborate engagement ceremonies, bridal showers and wedding receptions while others have much more humble celebrations. The Indian subcontinent is home to hundreds of cultures and each one has cherished traditions for the celebration of a wedding.
Here’s just one custom, to pique your interest: some Catholics in India incorporate the giving of the mangal sutra (also called a thali), a sacred…

December 30th, 2010

Historically the most significant religious violence in India has involved its two largest religious groups, Hindus and Muslims. Christians in India (the majority of whom are Catholic) make up scarcely 2% of the population, and thus for many years they have remained largely on the sidelines of the conflict between these larger groups. However, high-profile murders of priests and Christian religious workers have occurred in recent years, and devastating violence broke out against Christians in Orissa state in 2008 after the murder of a local Hindu guru. As in many parts of the world, issues of class and socioeconomic status conflate with religious identification, and the caste system, though officially…

December 16th, 2010

Once a couple has been properly prepared for a Catholic marriage, the actual celebration of the sacrament is extremely simple: all that is required is the presence of the couple, a priest or deacon who is the official witness of the Church, and two other witnesses. The couple express consent in the exchange their vows and then the priest or deacon gives them a nuptial blessing. All of the other trappings, from the white dress to the flower petals to the exchange of rings, are cultural. These expressions are important; they help to place the sacrament of marriage in the cultural context of the couple and their community and thus give meaning and joy to the celebration. Because the cultural symbols surrounding marriage…

December 9th, 2010

Exact statistics are elusive, but according to a survey by Forbes.com, an estimated 20 million pilgrims visit the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City every year. (By comparison, visitors to the Vatican number approximately 18 million.) The shrine houses the cloak of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, to whom Mary appeared on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531. She brought a message of hope and consolation to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who had been brutally colonized by the Spaniards only a few years before. According to legend, she sent Juan Diego to the bishop with the request that a church be built in her honor on the site. When the unbelieving bishop asked for a sign, she sent Juan Diego to gather roses…

December 6th, 2010

St. Nicholas, upon whom the figure of Santa Claus is based, was the bishop of Myra (today called Demre), on the Mediterranean coast of modern-day Turkey. He lived from 270-346. Nicholas was renowned for his generosity and also revered as a miracle worker, although little is known about his life. According to legend, Nicholas secretly tossed bags of gold into the window of the home of a poor family whose three daughters had no dowry; by providing them the means to marry he saved them from a life of destitution. Nicholas was also said to have left coins in shoes left out for him as he passed by. Out of this legend grows the tradition in which children set out their shoes on the eve of his feast day, December 6, in the hopes of…

November 25th, 2010

Although Thanksgiving, with its roots in early colonial harvest festivals, is observed as an American civic holiday, the very idea of giving thanks points toward religious celebration. It is to God, first and foremost, that we give thanks. For Catholics, the most appropriate way to observe Thanksgiving is to go to mass: celebrating the Eucharist (a word which means “thanksgiving”) is our great way to offer thanks to God for our many blessings. Other Christians also observe thanksgiving with worship services.
But gratitude to God is a common theme across religious traditions.
For Jewish people, the seven-day fall harvest festival of Sukkot entails giving thanks to God for the gift of the harvest. Though…

November 18th, 2010

St. Teresa of Ávila, who lived from 1515-1582, was a Spanish theologian, writer, and mystic. She entered the Carmelite order as a teenager and, as she deepened her vocation and commitment through a dedicated practice of contemplative prayer, was dismayed by the laxity and worldliness that surrounded her even in religious life. In response she shepherded a significant reform of the Carmelite order which led to the founding of the Discalced Carmelites. She was especially known for her writings, including The Way of Perfection, The Interior Castle and her autobiography. These striking examples of mystical literature trace her own experiences of faith and illustrate how the discipline of contemplative prayer…

November 11th, 2010

St. Jean de Brébeuf, SJ, who lived from 1593-1649, arrived in what was then part of New France, in the region of modern-day Ontario and upstate New York, in 1625.
For many years he lived and worked among the Huron people. In spite of his great strides in learning the Huron language and culture, he and the other European Christian missionaries in the region encountered fierce resistance; it was only in the late 1640s that significant numbers of indigenous people began to convert to Christianity. The missionaries, who had established themselves among the Huron people, were caught in the middle of the ongoing conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois people, their ancestral enemies. Jean de Brébeuf was captured…

October 28th, 2010

The Philippine islands were colonized by the Spanish, who began to build settlements there in the late 16th century. The Spanish practice of colonization was to impose not only political rule but also religious hegemony; the cross and the sword went hand in hand during the Spanish imperial period throughout the world. Thus Christian missionaries suppressed Islam and the various indigenous religious traditions found in the Philippines and replaced them with Spanish baroque Catholic Christianity. Today Catholicism in the Philippines has its distinct sensibilities but also has deep roots in the religious practices and traditions brought from Spain. Although other Christian groups and other religions…

October 21st, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI is from the German state of Bavaria, a region which is predominately Catholic and sometimes described as the “most religious state in Germany.” It is home to the village of Oberammergau, whose famous passion play, produced only every 10 years, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world. Bavaria is also known for its religious festivals, including Carnival, Easter, Pentecost and Christmas (which is celebrated with elaborate street markets, performances and processions). Although these are Christian holidays, the accompanying celebrations also take on a Bavarian civic and cultural flavor. As a child growing up in a devout Catholic family, Pope Benedict XVI participated…

October 14th, 2010

The term “transculturation” was coined by 20th century Cuban sociologist and ethnologist Fernando Ortiz. He proposed the term in contrast to the word “acculturation,” which describes the process of transition from one culture to another on the part of an individual or a group.
Transculturation, on the other hand, refers to the encounter between or among cultures in which each one acquires or adapts elements of the other(s) or in which new cultural elements are created. Ortiz found this a more appropriate (and less ethnocentric) term to describe the processes of cultural change at work in the creation of Cuban culture. In the encounter between races, he described five phases of transculturation,…

October 7th, 2010

Rome has figured prominently in the history of the Church from its earliest days. Its Jewish community had close ties to Jerusalem, and thus Christianity reached Rome even before Paul came there as a missionary in 49-50. Peter and Paul both met martyrdom in Rome, giving the Christian community there special status. Also, Rome was one of the major cities of the empire; its great concentration of political and economic power proved a significant advantage as the Church grew.
Rome was one of five primary episcopal sees in the early centuries of the Church (along with the other major cities of the empire: Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria). But in time the bishop of Rome, seen as the successor to St.…

October 6th, 2010

St. Damien of Molokai was born Jozsef DeVeuester in Belgium in 1840. As a young man he entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a missionary order, taking the name Damianus at first vows. His brother, also a member of the same congregation, was assigned by their superiors to the mission in Hawaii but became ill and could not make the voyage. Thus Damien took his place and journeyed to Hawaii in 1864. Damien later volunteered to serve in the colony which had been established on the island of Molokai for Hansen’s disease patients. He remained there at his own will and at the request of the residents of the colony, and eventually he contracted the disease himself. Damien died on Molokai in 1889 among…

September 30th, 2010

Out of respect for Jordan’s predominately Muslim culture, in which women keep most of their bodies covered because of exhortations to modesty in the Koran, travel authorities suggest dressing “conservatively” or “modestly.” Note well that Jordanian Muslim standards for what is conservative or modest might be different than what is considered acceptable in the west today. It is best to avoid revealing, provocative or flashy dress. The Jordan Tourism Board offers the following advice:
“Muslim women’s clothing often covers their arms, legs and hair. Western women are not subject to these customs, but very revealing clothing is never appropriate, and conservative dress is advisable for…

September 23rd, 2010

While the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of religious worship, government restrictions hamper some actual religious practices. Officially, only state-recognized religious institutions are allowed to exist, and repression of non-recognized groups – such as the Falun Gong movement – can be severe. Foreigners who congregate in houses of worship specifically for foreigners, on the other hand, are not subject to the same restrictions.
A friend of mine who was a lapsed Catholic actually came back to the Church while he was in China for a volunteer year. So I wouldn’t worry too much! If you’re a practicing Catholic, you should know that political and historical divisions do exist in the Catholic…

September 16th, 2010

St. Cyprian was born early in the 3rd century in North Africa, converted to Christianity as an adult, and was made bishop of Carthage in 248 or 249. As bishop he endured persecution and controversy but was eventually martyred in the year 258.
Cyprian’s thought helped the early Church develop its understanding of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation. Before Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire, Christians caught up in waves of persecution encountered a terrible choice: declare their faith and face martyrdom, or renounce it and face expulsion from the Christian community. At first, renouncing Christianity was considered final – there was no way an apostate… could be readmitted

September 9th, 2010

Who is the Dalai Lama and should I listen to his teachings if I am Catholic?
The Dalai Lama is the temporal and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a successive line of teachers have held this title since 1391, each believed to be the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama.
The present Dalai Lama is the 14th person to hold this title. He was born in 1935, shortly after the death of his predecessor, and was recognized as the Dalai Lama in 1937. Since 1959 after the Chinese takeover of Tibet he has lived in exile in India. He has achieved widespread international acclaim for his nonviolent struggle for the liberation of Tibet, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.…

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