Friday, November 19, 2004

Post-Fallujah: Letter and Reflection

Sheila Provencher, from Jesuit Volunteer Corps. (Twin Cities '94-'95), is a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) member currently serving in Iraq. Below is her letter and a reflection concerning the recent military actions in Iraq/Fallujah.
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Dear Family,
Thank you for all of the messages you have sent and all your
prayers. Here in CPT Iraq, we are starting a new effort to gather
all of our prayers together. Every Tuesday we will practice a Day
of Prayer and Fasting, with specific themes, intentions, and
suggested action steps. I will send more info on that in a new

This has been a difficult week. Although I cannot get out to our
contacts in Fallujah, I can see the reaction of our neighbors here
in Baghdad. Many express sorrow for the loss of young US soldiers.
All express horror at the terrible bombing and other violent methods
used to fight the insurgency. I do not know what images you receive
in North America, but my Iraqi friend saw TV images of "many" dead
women and children in Fallujah's streets. They had been there for
days. Can you imagine how some of the Marines felt when they
entered the city and saw what their bombs had done? Torture rooms
for hostages they discovered, yes, and weapons caches, but they also
had to face the results of their own violence. Also disturbing are
the numbers--in the hundreds--of US soldiers sent to the Landstuhl
Regional Medical Center in Germany. Only seriously wounded soldiers
are flown to Landstuhl. Is this getting publicity in the US? I do
not know--only you can help with that.

I wrote the following reflection one week ago during the bombing of
Fallujah, so as you can see it is dated.

Here is a spot of light--as I write, we are in the third day of Eid
al Fitr, the holiday at the end of Ramadan. The park across the
street is full of families, and I can hear the voices of children.
I send their laughter to you.

With peace,

[Read Sheila's Reflection: Listen]

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Letter in support for hearing Howard Dean speak at Loyola

TO: Matt C. Abott, MichNews.Com
CC: Peter Facione, PhD (Provost, Loyola University)
FR: Jay Cuasay, MAPS (C I A: Communications Interfaith Activism)
RE: Letter in support for hearing Howard Dean speak at Loyola

I read your article in the Michigan News [1] about an upcoming speech to be given by Howard Dean at Loyola University. The close of the article asked people to write an email to Peter Facione, the Provost, expressing “concerns” presumably for having a politician speak who did not conform to the USCCB’s document “Catholics in Political Life.”

I am writing this email to express my concern for narrowness and rigidity in Catholic thinking.

In a recent Commonweal, the editors published two open letters. One letter to Senator Kerry[2] asks him to better clarify the intersection between his role as politician and his own Catholicism. The second letter, addressed to the U.S. bishops[3] cautions them against the simplicity of “black and white” moralism for the complexity of social issues.

In that light, I applaud Loyola’s invitation to Howard Dean from the point of view that listening not only to a politician, but a physician on women’s health issues might be of value. To hear a defense of marriage through an articulation of civil unions and civil rights premised on human dignity, might also enlarge the circle of understanding. More importantly, it may rekindle in us a language of human respect and decency so absent from the language of self-righteousness and moral superiority.

The approach you advocate through your quote of the USCCB document tends to present a model of social (in)action based on denial that there is lack of catholic consensus on these issues and a lack of social policy beyond turning our backs away from disagreement. Such activity seems counterproductive to the lessons affirmed by Vatican II which calls us into the world and into dialogue.

Progressive Catholics believe that we bring our values into the social arena to help build up the common good. We do not shrink away into catacombs where we minister to ourselves, but are called to minister in the world and be hospitable to the stranger and outsider, who may very well break into our hearts as one of us in need.

  1. Howard Dean to Speak at a Catholic University (Matt C. Abott)
  2. Dear Senator Kerry (Open Letter from Commonweal Editors to Senator Kerry)
  3. ...Dear Bishops (Open Letter from Commonweal Editors to US Bishops)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

NAEIS and NAIN: The Access of Interfaith

National Association of Ecumenical & Interreligious Staff (NAEIS) and North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) hold joint conference and first-ever film festival in New York City.
(New York) NAEIS and NAIN, two North American organizations drawing members from numerous world religions and faith traditions held their first joint conference “Connecting Partners: Enlarging the Circle” July 24-27 at Soka Gakkai International in NYC. NAIN also launched its first-ever International Interfaith Film Festival, with screenings of 11 films in multiple New York locations. Film Awards were given for best feature length, documentary, and overall best submission.

Diana Eck, Harvard Professor and Director of the Pluralism Project, which seeks to provide a state by state mapping of successful religious partnerships, gave the opening remarks about “The Interfaith Movement and the American City.” Gillian Sorenson from the UN Foundation delivered the keynote address at the NAIN film awards ceremony and banquet enroute to the Democratic convention in Boston. Menachem Daum’s Hiding and Seeking, a film on faith and tolerance after the Holocaust, received top awards.

The goals and mission of the Barcelona Report for the Parliament of World Religions held earlier this month were furthered through multiple workshops and presentations, and worship. A consistent theme throughout was the inescapable violence and unrest in the 21st Century done “in the name of God.” While there are many causes and explanations, it was clear that world religions need to participate in interreligious dialogue and interfaith actions in order to work for justice and peace, while maintaining integrity and accountability. To that end, Tatiana Androsov, Jay Cuasay, and Stacy Smith received conference scholarships acknowledging the interfaith work of young adults in their communities and tapping their potential. Dr. Eboo Patel, head of the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago was also awarded the first NAIN Networking and Advocacy Award for his work.

More information available at the NAIN website:

Friday, June 04, 2004

Communion Q&A

Being Christian about the present political season
By: Jay Cuasay

Of interest to Catholics who monitor their faithfulness internally, as a matter of individual conscience, and in the public forum of political debate, the issue of Holy Communion has been thrust into the spotlight. The seemingly pastoral question of to whom or under what conditions should communion be denied, has been politicized. Should Kerry receive communion? Should Catholics who are pro-choice? Are there other questions which we should ask ourselves?

Such questions are not new. In fact, they are precisely the kind of questions we ask ourselves when we think about the Eucharist. If they have more interest now, we should ask ourselves why this is so. But as a matter of our faith as Christians, we should also be clear on the meaning of Communion.

Cardinal McCarrick indicated as much in his recent talk with journalists and Catholics at Theology on Tap[1]held in conjunction with the Catholic Press Association in Washington. Cardinal McCarrick’s view of the situation essentially spelled out the position that the Eucharist was not meant to be a political or divisive wedge, and that the abortion issue should not be singled out as a litmus test for a candidate, especially not at the altar for communion. Such a misuse and misunderstanding of the Eucharist amounted to a “slippery slope” policy of exclusion. Similarly, excommunication over the abortion issue seemed heavy handed.

New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright, also speaking recently in an interview with NCR’s John Allen,[2] aptly explained the relationship between abortion in the spectrum of “life issues” and Eucharist in the call to social justice. Drawing from the situation depicted in 1 Corinthians 11, in which divisions between rich and poor became an instrument of exclusion and abuse of the sacrament, the continuing Christian understanding is that fellowship and service are required for Holy Communion. What is true then is true now. What formed as an early abuse of the sacrament then, still implicates us today.

It is not the case that “the church teaches x, but this person says y, therefore they should not be allowed to receive the Eucharist,” said Wright. Such a framing is too small. Wright goes further, citing the history stemming from the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement that served to prop up the Western banking system and place much of the remaining world in debt as a modern day example that mirrors the Corinthian situation. Given this situation, we shouldn’t even think that “abortion is the issue,” claims Wright. Rather, if we are to truly be Christians of proper faith and practice we need to examine the structural conditions that have led to this persistent division and maintenance of basic inequality in human life.

In the current political climate of the upcoming presidential election, it is a persistent temptation to identify a candidate’s stance on a particular issue in conjunction with how a person of faith should vote. Though it may be na├»ve to consider the “Catholic vote” as a uniform body, or even as a nuanced demographic, it is much more vital that we do not confuse the sacrament of Eucharist as it implicates us in fellowship and service, with how it is improperly used to legitimize exclusion. Rather than let the pundits write about us or politicians court our vote in this light, it is much more important that we understand the meaning of Holy Communion and the call to social justice.

[Jay Cuasay is a graduate of Washington Theological Union where he received a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies with a concentration in Mission and Cross Culture. He is a freelance writer on interfaith relations and contemporary culture. ]


  1. “Denial of Eucharist a ‘slippery slope,’ cardinal tells journalist.” By Mark Pattison. Catholic News Service, June 1, 2004. URL:
  2. “Interview with Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham, England.” By John Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 2004. URL: