Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tolling for Thee

Ireland adapts the Angelus for the 21st century

(Originally published in America Magazine, by Rhona Tarrant)

Every evening at 6 p.m., programming on Ireland’s national radio and television broadcaster stops. News and weather are put on hold while a bell tolls, ringing in the pattern 3-3-3-9. This daily observance of the Angelus, the Catholic prayer honoring the Annunciation, is among the longest-running segments on the state channel. The observance is rooted in the country’s strong Catholic past and has carried through to a new generation that is often wary of its religious heritage. It lasts no longer than one minute and 15 seconds, but in this simple tolling of the bells one can trace the changing profile of Irish Catholicism.

Although the Angelus broadcast in Ireland began in 1950, its origins can be tracked to the introduction of what became Raidió Éireann (Radio Ireland) in 1926. After 1922, the newly sovereign government of the Irish Free State was committed to carving out a distinct national identity. The state-owned radio broadcaster became a vehicle for this vision, with a schedule filled with Irish language and music, Gaelic football and hurling, Catholic prayers and very little else.

In 1950, the Most Rev. John Charles McQuaid, then Archbishop of Dublin, proposed that Raidió Éireann begin broadcasting the Angelus twice daily to mark the Year of the Annunciation. It was so hugely popular that the broadcaster decided to continue to feature the ringing of the bells beyond the close of the holy year. With the introduction of state television in 1962, Raidió Éireann became Raidió Telefís Éireann, popularly known as RTÉ, and the Angelus was promoted to the small screen as well, where it remains to this day.

Crisis of Faith

Fast forward to 2011. Paddy Power, an Irish gambling company, was offering 5-to-1 odds that RTÉ would remove the Angelus by the end of the year. The audacious prediction proved disappointing for those who wagered against the bells, but the fact that the issue was talked about in such terms betrayed a huge change in the culture of Irish Catholicism.

There were two main causes for the shift; the first was the economic boom of the 1990s that led to an increase in wealth and immigration and fostered a more diverse, secular society. The second and perhaps more significant factor was the litany of scandals involving sexual, physical and mental abuse within the church, exposed over the space of two decades. Pictures of handcuffed priests and disgraced bishops shattered the image of one of the country’s most trusted institutions. In the midst of news coverage that reported in detail the horrors of clerical abuse, pausing for the Angelus seemed to some a cruel irony.

The turning point came in 2009. After years of investigation, the Murphy and Ryan reports, which detailed decades of child abuse and cover-ups by church officials, were published. It was also the year when the painful effects of the 2008 financial crisis sank in, leaving thousands out of work or without a home. It seemed as if all institutions—banking, government, church—were crumbling.

In the years leading up to this watershed moment, RTÉ had been forced to re-examine how it approached religious programming. Traditions like the Angelus and televised Mass were scheduled alongside church investigations, government apologies and critical media reports by journalists, who no longer deferred to the clergy. The audience too had a new level of caution and questioning. Thus in 2007, RTÉ appointed Roger Childs, a British man with a background at the BBC, as the new head of religious programming. His job was to reconcile the old broadcasting traditions with the new cultural and media landscape. So he began with the oldest.

In his opinion, the problem was not the Angelus itself but rather its outdated presentation. On television the bells were accompanied by short clips of Irish people pausing to reflect, interspersed with religious iconography. As he explains, “They were amateur actors having moments of epiphany. Yes, they were culturally diverse, but when they heard the bell they would just stare into space. I heard one person refer to it as the ‘dawn of the dead moment.’ Another said it looked like they were reacting to a bad smell.”

But it wasn't just the bad acting. In a country that was growing in cultural and religious diversity, many felt the need to include images beyond exclusively Catholic iconography. Although the latest census indicates that 84.2 percent of the population identify as Roman Catholic, it also shows that Muslim and Hindu populations are on the rise. Because of RTÉ’s legal obligation to reflect religious and cultural diversity, the decision was made to shed the Angelus’ traditional Catholic image and develop a more modern and diverse incarnation of the broadcast.

Relic or Renewal?

The idea was simple: allow the Angelus to become a moment of reflection rather than a pronounced Catholic prayer. The production company came back with new representations of Irish life: a street artist sketching praying hands on Dublin’s College Green; a mother polishing a memorial stone to her drowned son; an older couple feeding swans on the River Shannon; a fisherman at sea on his trawler; and a Zambian immigrant gazing out of her window toward the Phoenix Park in Dublin.

Although the tolling of the bell remained, it was now accompanied by the sounds of 21st-century Ireland. “We have tried to show people from all walks of life finding time to pause and reflect, and it is not clear if they are thinking or praying,” says Mr. Childs, “The idea is that it is open to everyone.” And while it represented the transition from old to new, the redefinition raised a new point of contention for dissenting voices: Should people of all faiths, or no faith at all, participate in a traditionally Catholic call to prayer?

Ireland remains the only country in Europe that continues to broadcast the Angelus daily. In Italy it is broadcast only on Sundays. It is not broadcast at all in Britain, Spain or Portugal. Poland, a deeply Catholic country, does not feature the Angelus on any of its three state-owned television stations. Thus, for many Irish, this “redefinition” did not go far enough; the bells, in their opinion, were still embarrassing, outdated and had no place on state television.

The debate played out over several weeks after the rebranding. The level of interest was so great that Mr. Childs found himself on the front page of several national newspapers. The arguments were as fervent as they were diverse. Some suggested that RTÉ pull all religious programming; others wanted images of the Blessed Mother and the Annunciation to be brought back. But despite some criticism, most commentators praised the state broadcaster for bringing the Angelus into the 21st century.

Most surprising were the sources of this support. One 94-year-old nun wrote to thank Mr. Childs for bringing creativity back to the Angelus. The head of Clonskeagh Mosque wrote to say that he liked living in a country where the news and weather have to wait, because it shows that Ireland is a country that values prayer and religion. RTÉ consulted everyone from the chief rabbi to Methodist preachers to the Church of Ireland Broadcasting Committee. There were no complaints from these quarters either.

The greatest dissenting voices have come from atheists, humanists and agnostics, many of whom see the updated Angelus as an unpleasant hangover from Ireland’s deeply religious past. To this, Mr. Childs points out two things: First, the Angelus is a pre-Reformation practice and not necessarily a distinctly Catholic tradition. Second, it is a mistake to assume that the alternative, secularism, is the same as neutrality: “The fact is that 93 percent of people in Ireland still identify themselves with one faith. Religion, in one form or another, still holds an important place in the Irish psyche.”

The redefinition of the Angelus in many ways represented the dawn of a new era in Irish faith, one that leaves more space for questioning and uncertainty. “People are now more likely to say that they’re not religious, but spiritual,” says Mr. Childs. “But that’s not to say they’re throwing out the baby Jesus with the bathwater.” Most people can separate the good work of their local parish priest from the scandal-tarnished parts of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the peace of the Angelus bells from the pain caused by some Catholic institutions.

A few years ago, an unfounded rumor that the Angelus was to be scrapped reached a small parish in County Clare. The next week, residents sent RTÉ a petition with 263 signatures protesting the cancelation. And while the numbers were small, the latest audience research suggests that this parish is not alone; more than two thirds of Irish people think the Angelus should continue in its current form, chimes and all.

Today, the 6 p.m. bells are likely to interrupt discussions about financial difficulties, unemployment and the mass emigration that has stripped the country of one quarter of its young workforce. As Roger Childs puts it, “For the person of faith it is a moment of grace; for the person of no faith it is a moment of peace. There are 1,440 minutes in the day, and this is just one.”

Rhona Tarrant is a broadcaster and writer from Ireland, now based in New York City. A regular contributor to RTÉ Radio, she covers religious current affairs, history and business.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Mission to the Frontiers

(Originally published on the Columbia website)

Pope Francis challenges all Knights to embrace a missionary spirit of charity that reaches the peripheries

by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
In his new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis has written of the need to foster within the Church a greater “missionary spirit” and for Catholics to take more seriously their calling to “missionary discipleship.” In the brief time that he has been pope, we have seen that this missionary spirit is central to Francis’ pastoral focus.
In his 1990 encyclical letter on the Church’s mission, Redemptoris Missio, Blessed John Paul II wrote about what is at the heart of this missionary spirit. He said that a true “missionary is a person of charity…. He is a sign of God’s love in the world” (89).
In this way, too, we see an extraordinary witness by Pope Francis — of his love for the sick, the suffering and the poor. It is a witness that has captured the imagination of the world.
As an organization, the Knights of Columbus stands shoulder to shoulder with our Holy Father in making this witness. In thousands of different ways, our councils offer the opportunity for nearly 2 million Catholic men to be persons of charity and missionaries after the example of Pope Francis. And in doing this, we answer the call of Blessed John Paul II for a “charity that evangelizes.”
Many of our brother Knights would hardly think of themselves as missionaries or evangelists. Instead, most would say with humility, “We just see where a need exists in our parish or community and we act to meet that need.”
But when we “act to meet that need,” we are personifying a “charity that evangelizes.” In this way, we are realizing a form of “missionary discipleship” — a discipleship that is central to the vocation of the laity to transform society according to the Gospel.
At this moment in the history of our Church, the Knights of Columbus has an extraordinary opportunity to serve on the frontline with Pope Francis in his witness of charity. St. Ignatius of Loyola once told a group of Jesuits that “no commonplace achievement will satisfy the great obligations you have of excelling.” The same can be said of today’s Knights of Columbus.
For this to become a reality, we must not be content with the status quo. We must embrace a missionary spirit — one that extends the limits of what we do in service to our neighbors. We must be willing to go to the frontiers and reach out to those on the margins.
In an address to pilgrims last June, Pope Francis asked, “Are we really a Church united to Christ in order to go out and proclaim him to everyone, also and above all in what I call the ‘existential peripheries’? Or are we closed in on ourselves, in our own groups, in our own little churches? Or do we love the great Church, Mother Church, the Church that sends us out on mission and brings us out of ourselves?”
Pope Francis has also said that an aspect of Jesuit life that attracted him as a young man was St. Ignatius’ “fourth vow” of obedience: Jesuits should always be ready to be sent on a mission by the pope. But why should this be a challenge only for Jesuits? Should not every Catholic listen attentively to the words of our Holy Father? And if we listen carefully to Pope Francis, will we not hear that we are all being sent on a mission?
This is especially true of the Knights of Columbus. In a private audience with the supreme officers and directors Oct. 20, the Holy Father praised the “quiet strength, integrity and fidelity” of our Order. He thanked us for our commitment to charity, and he challenged us to continue this great work.
As a new year begins, let us adopt a new missionary spirit and reaffirm — with quiet strength, integrity and fidelity — our commitment to a charity that evangelizes. Let us proceed in this great work in the tradition of the Knights of Columbus: as a Catholic brotherhood building greater communities of charity, unity and fraternity.
Vivat Jesus!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pope Francis praises the integrity and loyalty of the Knights of Columbus

by Columbia staff

(Originally from

Pope Francis meets with the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors and guests Oct. 20 during an audience in the Sala Clementina of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. (photo by L’Osservatore Romano)

Greeting members of the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors and their wives at an audience in the Vatican Oct. 20, Pope Francis thanked the Order for its “unfailing support” of the Holy See. He expressed his gratitude not only for the Knights’ financial assistance, but also for its spiritual support of prayer, sacrifice and acts of charity.
The meeting took place after Pope Francis received Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson in a private audience. The supreme knight presented the Holy Father with a $1.6 million donation representing the annual proceeds from the Order’s Vicarius Christi Fund, which was established in 1981 to support the pope’s personal charities and causes.

Greeting of Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson to Pope Francis
Holy Father, during this Year of Faith, the officers and directors of the Knights of Columbus express our deep gratitude for the privilege of this audience. As an organization established on the principles of charity, unity and fraternal brotherhood, we have been challenged by your call for a Church capable of accompanying people on their journey, unafraid of going into the night and with the strength to do this without being overcome by the darkness — a Church capable of “healing wounds and warming hearts.”
In your words we recall those of Pope Paul VI, who spoke after the Second Vatican Council of a Church of the Good Samaritan that did not come to condemn but to bind up wounds, of a Church that lives from its heart Our Lord’s teaching that love for our brother is the “distinctive mark of His disciples.”

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson delivers remarks to Pope Francis on behalf of the 1.8 million members of the Order. (photo by L’Osservatore Romano)

Our more than 1.85 million members in North America, Asia and Europe come from all walks of life. Each year, through their millions of hours of volunteer service to the poor and suffering, they build bonds of solidarity every day by making a sincere gift of self to their neighbors in need.
Today, we assure you that we will continue to build up that Church which opens “a horizon of hope” and practices “a charity that evangelizes.”
We thank you for your words of encouragement during our recent international convention, especially in regard to our defense of marriage, religious liberty and human life before birth.
Holy Father, on this occasion the Knights of Columbus pledges our prayers, our fidelity and our service to you and to your ministry on behalf of the universal Church. We ask for your blessing that we may continue a witness of charity with courage and humility, advancing the Gospel of Life and building a true civilization of love so that many more around the world will say, “We want to come with you.”

Pope Francis speaks to the Knights of Columbus
Dear Friends, I am pleased to welcome the Board of Directors of the Knights of Columbus on the occasion of your meeting in Rome. I thank you once again for the prayers which you, and all the Knights and their families, have offered for my intentions and the needs of the Church throughout the world since my election as Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Supreme Knight Anderson during the audience. (photo byL’Osservatore Romano)

On this occasion I also wish to express my gratitude for the unfailing support which your Order has always given to the works of the Holy See. This support finds particular expression in the Vicarius Christi Fund, which is an eloquent sign of your solidarity with the Successor of Peter in his concern for the universal Church, but it is also seen in the daily prayers, sacrifices and apostolic works of so many Knights in their local councils, their parishes and their communities. May prayer, witness to the faith and concern for our brothers and sisters in need always be the pillars supporting your work both individually and corporately. In fidelity to the vision of the Venerable Father Michael McGivney, may you continue to seek new ways of being a leaven of the Gospel and a force for the spiritual renewal of society.
As the present Year of Faith draws to its close, I commend all of you in a special way to the intercession of St. Joseph, the protector of the Holy Family of Nazareth, who is an admirable model of those manly virtues of quiet strength, integrity and fidelity which the Knights of Columbus is committed to preserving, cultivating and passing on to future generations of Catholic men.
Asking a remembrance in your prayers, and with great affection in the Lord, I now willingly impart to you, and to all the Knights and their families, my apostolic blessing.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Knights of Columbus World Day of Prayer for Peace

The Knights of Columbus World Day of Prayer for Peace seeks to unite Knights, Catholics and all people of good will – regardless of their religious faith – in prayer for peace.
While Sept. 11 will always be remembered for the tragic loss of life, Knights hope that this somber occasion will be the foundation of an annual opportunity for a day of earnest prayer for peace in the world.
World Day of Prayer for Peace
To commemorate this tragedy with dignity and hope, the Supreme Council passed a resolution in 2004 to observe September 11 as a day of prayer for peace.
“The World Day of Prayer for Peace will bring to the world the Church’s message of peace and reconciliation, so that religion will always be a cause for mutual respect and harmony, and never for violence or hatred,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson.
“In a special way, we remember the brave men and women of the military who work tirelessly, even to the point of sacrificing their own lives, to bring about true peace rooted in justice,” he added.

Family Picnic/BBQ & Soccer Challenge!

Come out and enjoy some good food and fun with your fellow Knights and their families. This is also a great opportunity to bring anyone you know who may be interested in joining the Knights! The picnic will be held from 3-6 pm on Sunday, September 15.

The Soccer Challenge will also be held at the picnic. The Knights of Columbus Soccer Challenge is open to all boys and girls in your community, ages 10-14.

We'll see you there!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Knights of Columbus Launches “Campaign for Civility in America”

(from: Knights of Columbus Blog)

In response to Americans’ growing frustration with campaign rhetoric and the tone of the national discourse, the Knights of Columbus has launched a non-partisan initiative to give Americans an opportunity to express their desire for civility in public discourse.
Information on the “Campaign for Civility in America” will be posted at, along with a petition which will invite Americans to take a stand for civility. The petition reads:
“We, the undersigned citizens of the United States of America, respectfully request that candidates, the media and other advocates and commentators involved in the public policy arena employ a more civil tone in public discourse on political and social issues, focusing on policies rather than on individual personalities. For our part, we pledge to make these principles our own.”

“The American people want and deserve civility and a conversation on the issues rather than the personal vilification of political opponents,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “As we found in the polling contained in my 2010 book Beyond a House Divided, and this current data makes all the more clear, the American people want a political discussion that is civil and respectful. As Americans, we understand that we may not agree on every aspect of every issue, but we also understand that how we disagree says a great deal about who we are as a nation.”
This campaign was developed as a result of a Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll conducted from July 9, 2012 through July 11, 2012 which shows that nearly 8 in 10 Americans (78 percent) are frustrated with the tone in politics today. The survey also found that:
  • Nearly three-quarters of Americans say that campaigns have gotten more negative over the years (74 percent).
  • Two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) believe that candidates spend more time attacking their opponents than talking about the issues.
  • By a nearly 20 point margin, Americans believe that campaigns are mostly uncivil and disrespectful (56 to 37 percent).
  • And nearly two-thirds of Americans say that negative campaigning harms our political process a great deal or a significant amount (64 percent).
These results demonstrate broad support for a more civil political discourse and it is hoped the “Campaign for Civility in America” will allow Americans to voice this support and have an impact on improving the quality of our national dialogue

Meet the New Council 11800 Officers!

The new officers for Council 11800 were installed on Friday, July 20 at a Mass led by our Chaplain Fr. Weeder. The installation was followed by a social hour and dinner. Thank you to Chris Dickey for planning such a memorable and meaningful event. As officers, we look forward to serving your Council, growing Council membership and planning some great events to bring us together as Brother Knights, as well as bringing our families together.

Back row, from left to right: Deputy Grand Knight Chris Dickey; Warden Peter Manhart; Grand Knight Bart Sladovnik; Chaplain Father James Weeder; and Advocate Dan Rock
Front row, from left to right: 2 Year Trustee Gene Kuhn; Financial Secretary Paul Kelly; District Deputy Pat Rupp; Recorder Ray Gering; and 1 Year Trustee Rick Theobald