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Neela Kale :
173 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.
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.…

September 2nd, 2010

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, informally known as the Order of Malta, is a Catholic religious order which dates to the 11th century. It was founded by merchants from Amalfi (in modern day Italy) who, inspired by John the Baptist, ran a hospice providing care and shelter to pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. Until 1798, most of its members, who generally came from noble families, were religious and took three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; today the majority of its 12,500 members are lay men and women.
The order works in the field of medical/social care and humanitarian aid in more than 120 countries, including the United States. Because of certain…

August 26th, 2010

The cycle of funerary texts called “Bardo Thodol” is often casually known in the west as the “Tibetan Book of the Dead.” A more accurate translation of the title might be something like “Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State,” from “thodol,” meaning liberation, and “bardo,” meaning liminality. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this text was hidden during the 8th century and rediscovered in the 12th century. Funerary texts are a literary genre, found in many cultures, meant to provide guidance to the newly deceased or soon-to-be deceased about how to survive and prosper in the afterlife.
As Catholics, we have our own funerary texts. Our scripture overflows…

August 19th, 2010

St. Francis of Assisi was known to have a love of the natural world and of creation; countless legends are told about him that attest to his special relationship with animals. He is said to have used live animals in popularizing the nativity scene and to have spent time preaching to the birds, who he called his sisters. In one famous story, he tamed a wolf that had been terrorizing the townspeople in the village of Gubbio. Because of this reputation, St. Francis became the patron saint of animals, and thus his feast day, celebrated on October 4, is often observed by blessing pets, livestock, and other animals. Blessings are meant to give thanks to God and ask for God’s protection; we believe that saints have special…

August 12th, 2010

The word “fatwa” comes from the Arabic root “fata,” meaning newness, clarification or explanation. It refers to a scholarly opinion or ruling on matters of Islamic law, known as Sharia. The scholar who issues the fatwa, known as a “mufti,” draws on his own wisdom and knowledge of Islamic sources to interpret Sharia and address questions not specifically addressed in the law. These may include any aspect of individual life, social norms, financial affairs, moral decisions, politics, etc. Unfortunately in the west the term has become identified with a few highly publicized condemnations, but the vast majority of the millions of fatwas that have been issued in the history of Islam are non-controversial.…

August 5th, 2010

The desert fathers (and mothers!) were the pioneers of monastic life in the Church. Beginning in the third century, some Christians began to flee the comforts and conflicts of pagan cities to seek a life of asceticism in the desert. They sought a simpler life, in imitation of Christ during his forty days in the wilderness, and dedicated themselves to solitude, labor, poverty, fasting, charity and prayer. Some of them lived in isolation; others developed rules for communal life that evolved into large monastic communities. Over time their reputation for holiness grew, and Christians from the surrounding areas sought them out for advice and spiritual direction.
Some of them became great spiritual giants and…

July 29th, 2010

What are hermits?  And do they have anything to do with Catholicism?
A hermit is someone who has withdrawn to a solitary place for a life of religious seclusion. The word comes from the Greek “eremos,” meaning desert – hence a hermit is a person who lives in the desert. The idea of pursuing a reclusive lifestyle for religious reasons exists in many spiritual traditions.
In Catholicism, the hermit’s life recalls the biblical examples of the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus, during his forty days in the desert. As early Christian monastic life developed in the third century, many people were drawn to this lifestyle, inspired by the example of St. Anthony and the other desert fathers…

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