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Archive for April 2008

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Religion in small doses?

Filipino evangelicals have concert-like worship services and “purpose-driven life seminars” to attract new members; Polish Catholics do it with even better style, as can be gleaned from this wire service story:

LUBLIN, Poland–A striking brunette sashayed down the catwalk, showing off her simple yet elegant white robe and black headgear to the enraptured audience.

Sister Lucja of the Order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus smiled as the crowd burst into applause.

Faced with a slump in the number of nuns, monks and seminarians in Europe’s Roman Catholic heartland, the Church in Poland is trying to dust down its image.

The recent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion show in this city in southeast Poland was just the latest sign.

“The name ‘fashion show’ is provocative. We want to show that we live simply, and that even if we sometimes dress in an old-fashioned way, our clothes are a reflection of our lifestyle,” organiser Father Andrzej Batorski, a Jesuit, told AFP.

After Sister Lucja, other nuns, then Jesuits and Capuchin friars hit the red carpet to show off their cassocks in the main hall of the Catholic University of Lublin.

The 90-year-old university is a renowned center of religious and secular teaching and research in Poland, where more than 90 percent of the 38-million-strong population professes to be Roman Catholic.

Some two dozen orders took part in Batorski’s fair, setting up their stalls to try to spread the word that taking religious vows isn’t a thing of the past.

The stands boasted multimedia displays, leaflets, giveaway calendars and — at the missionary orders’ booths — souvenirs from Africa and Asia.

Meanwhile, religious chants echoed from loudspeakers.

Under Poland’s post-World War II communist regime, the Church played a dual role as both a religious institution and as a bulwark against the authorities.

While its clout has remained significant since the regime’s demise in 1989, and is certainly far stronger than in most other European countries, it has been a victim of its own success in helping bring about political change.

In a democratic country where the free market has brought previously unimaginable opportunities for a new generation of Poles, drawing new recruits is becoming a headache.

The mainstream Church’s image has also been tarnished by an ultra-Catholic fringe whose outbursts regularly grab headlines, turning off would-be recruits.

“Ten years ago, we had 25 novice nuns. Last year we only had six,” said Agnieszka Kranz of the Servant Sisters of Debica, a small Polish order.

Such figures are a worry for the Polish Church, and even for Roman Catholicism beyond the country’s borders.

Until recently, the Polish Church was training more than a quarter of Europe’s priests, monks and nuns, and supplied them worldwide to fill gaps in other countries.

Last year, the number of Poles taking vows fell by around 25 percent.

For the 2007-2008 academic year, Poland’s diocesan seminaries, which train priests, recruited 786 new students, down from 1,029 the year before.

The total number of trainee priests has fallen by 10 percent in one year, to 4,257.

The country’s monastic orders are also feeling the pinch.

The number of novice nuns slumped from 728 in 1998 to 468 last year. The number of new monks fell by half to 797.

“For the Polish Church, this is ringing alarm bells,” said Monsignor Wojciech Polak, who oversees recruitment.

Batorski said it is up to the Church to reach out to young people, speaking a language they understand.

“We wanted via the fair to enable people to meet those who have chosen a monastic life, to show that they are just regular individuals,” he said.

“At the same time, we wanted to give a voice to people who have taken vows, allowing them to explain their chosen path and their faith,” he added.

The Polish Church has also jumped headlong into cyberspace, and also turned to other planks of public relations.

Most orders have their own website — and the Jesuits have even posted a video on YouTube. Others have tried television advertisement and the Franciscans even give their monks public speaking training.

At the Lublin fair, however, the impact seemed limited.

“I’d miss men, and nuns don’t use make up or color their hair,” said Dominika Pietron, an 18-year-old school student.

However, she said she appreciated her hour-long discussion with a nun there.

“Religion helps you take a look at yourself, and builds confidence. But it should only be taken in small doses,” she said.

Written by Romel

April 29, 2008 at 1:56 am

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The Great Crash of the 21st Century?

I almost did not make it through my Economics 11 class under Ms. Solita Monsod. I’d like to think it was my singing that saved the day for me. Just before the Christmas break, she walked up the stage of the old auditorium at the UP School of Economics and started calling on students to sing her a Christmas song. I was sitting just a few rows from the dais, and Ms. Monsod, her signature coffee mug in one hand, zeroed in on who else but me. My 1-E blockmates from the College of Mass Communication ( I was the only mathematically-challenged bloke in a block of about 20 students in those days when students entered UP through the block system) erupted in wild applause as the star economics professor commanded me to make the last day of class before the Christmas break happy. I tried my best to do justice to the first Christmas song that came to mind -it must have been the old ditty Joy to the World -I can’t remember for sure. But my crush was in that same lecture class, after all, and I wanted to make a good impression on her, who is now very much married, I gather, and living in a foreign city that used to be the foreign city of my dreams. When it was all over, wilder cheers erupted as Ms. Monsod announced she was not going to ruin any further our Christmas anticipations by keeping us in class any longer.

There’s very little that I retained of that class (to begin with, there was very little that I understood of it, supply and demand dynamics and all of that). If there’s anything that made a deep impression on me on how volatile markets could make life terrible for everyone, it’s John Kenneth Galbraith’s book on the Great Crash of 1929 that brought the first big era of Depression in modern times as well as stirred the great dust bowls of North America, not to mention paved the way for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. In fact, it’s a book I first read when I was in high school. (A good companion read would be James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, ironically originally made for that great symbol of crass capitalism, Fortune magazine).

And now it seems the world is headed for another recession. Or may be the world is finally coming to Hegel’s End of History. And do you know who’s laughing his way to the bank in the middle of it all? It’s George Soros, the prophet of doom whose prognostications on the coming collapse of the US market because of a bad real estate mortgage policy very few people believed. He just made US$ 4 billion by hedging on the miseries of others. Of course, not many people remember fondly how he made his fortune, for instance, by betting on a weak British Pound in 1992, and yes, an even weaker Thai Baht in the throes of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. I’m sure he’s made others happy too, through his multi-billion dollar charities and advocacies, built on the libertarian Open Society philosophy of Karl Popper, who was his professor at the London School of Economics. Read here on why the Hungarian Jew still commands little respect from economists, despite his multi-billion dollar successes.

Written by Romel

April 11, 2008 at 8:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Poem No. 2 for Poetry Month from the Dame of Polish Poetry

Her late compatriot Czeslaw Milosz called Julia Hartwig “the grande dame of Polish poetry.” Knopf’s poetry series for Poetry Month has more to say: Hartwig, now in her late eighties, belongs to the same generation of Polish poets as Zbigniew Herbert and Wislawa Szymborska. Her voice was shaped by the events of the Second World War and Solidarity, in which she played an active role. Her poems have all the gravitas of the history she has lived through—she tells of the husbands who returned silent from war, of watching regiments with red stars enter her home city of Lublin. But she is also a poet of joy and light, one who craves what is best in both nature and culture and celebrates the small miracles of understanding and happiness, when they come. Hartwig’s work is translated by the distinguished translators from the Polish, John and Bogdana Carpenter.

I must admit I have a thing for Polish poetry, having been introduced to the works of Milosz and Adam Zagajewski. But this is my first time to come across a poem by Hartwig:

Tell Me Why This Hurry

The lindens are blossoming the lindens have lost their blossoms
and this flowery procession moves without any restraint
Where are you hurrying lilies of the valley jasmines
petunias lilacs irises roses and peonies
Mondays and Tuesdays Wednesdays and Fridays
nasturtiums and gladioli zinnias and lobelias
yarrow dill goldenrod and grasses
flowery Mays and Junes and Julys and Augusts
lakes of flowers seas of flowers meadows
holy fires of fern one-day grails
Tell me why this hurry where are you rushing
in a cherry blizzard a deluge of greenness
all with the wind racing in one direction only
crowns proud yesterday today fallen into sand
eternal desires passions mistresses of destruction

Written by Romel

April 10, 2008 at 3:15 am

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Poetry Month is upon us all

And I almost forgot everything about it. Knopf’s month-long tribute to that sublime art opened on April Fool’s Day with a poem from Mary Jo Salter writing about a time that’s now forgotten by, if not far-removed from, creatures of the present-day used to email, internet, SMS, DVD and satellite technology:

A Phone Call to the Future

1.
Who says science fiction
is only set in the future?
After a while, the story that looks least
believable is the past.
The console television with three channels.
Black-and-white picture. Manual controls:
the dial clicks when you turn it, like the oven.
You have to get up and walk somewhere to change things.
You have to leave the house to mail a letter.

Waiting for letters. The phone rings: you’re not there.
You’ll never know. The phone rings, and you are,
there’s only one, you have to stand or sit
plugged into it, a cord
confines you to the room where everyone
is also having dinner.
Hang up the phone. The family’s having dinner.

Waiting for dinner. You bake things in the oven.
Or Mother does. That’s how it always is.
She sets the temperature: it takes an hour.

The patience of the past.
The typewriter forgives its own mistakes.
You type on top sheet, carbon, onion skin.
The third is yours, a record of typeovers,
clotted and homemade-looking, like the seams
on dresses cut out on the dining table.
The sewing machine. The wanting to look nice.
Girls who made their dresses for the dance.

2.
This was the Fifties: as far back as I go.
Some of it lasted decades.
That’s why I remember it so clearly.

Also because, as I lie in a motel room
sometime in 2004, scrolling
through seventy-seven channels on my back
(there ought to be more—this is a cheap motel room),
I can revisit evidence, hear it ringing.
My life is movies, and tells itself in phones.

The rotary phone, so dangerously languid
and loud when the invalid must dial the police.
The killer coming up the stairs can hear it.
The detective ducks into a handy phone booth
to call his sidekick. Now at least there’s touch tone.
But wait, the killer’s waiting in the booth
to try to strangle him with the handy cord.
The cordless phone, first noted in the crook
of the neck of the secretary
as she pulls life-saving files.
Files come in drawers, not in the computer.
Then funny computers, big and slow as ovens.
Now the reporter’s running with a cell phone
larger than his head,
if you count the antenna.

They’re Martians, all of these people,
perhaps the strangest being the most recent.
I bought that phone. I thought it was so modern.
Phones shrinking year by year, as stealthily
as children growing.

3.
It’s the end of the world.
Or people are managing, after the conflagration.
After the epidemic. The global thaw.
Everyone’s stunned. Nobody combs his hair.
Or it’s a century later, and although
New York is gone, and love, and everyone
is a robot or a clone, or some combination,

you have to admire the technology of the future.
When you want to call somebody, you just think it.
Your dreams are filmed. Without a camera.
You can scroll through the actual things that happened,
and nobody disagrees. No memory.
No point of view. None of it necessary.

Past the time when the standard thing to say
is that, no matter what, the human endures.
That whatever humans make of themselves
is therefore human.
Past the transitional time
when humanity as we know it was there to say that.
Past the time we meant well but were wrong.
It’s less than that, not anymore a concept.
Past the time when mourning was a concept.

Of course, such a projection,
however much I believe it, is sentimental—
belief being sentimental.
The thought of a woman born
in the fictional Fifties.

That’s what I mean. We were Martians. Nothing’s stranger
than our patience, our humanity, inhumanity.
Our worrying about robots. Earplug cell phones
that make us seem to be walking about like loonies
talking to ourselves. Perhaps we are.

All of it was so quaint. And I was there.
Poetry was there; we tried to write it.

Written by Romel

April 2, 2008 at 1:23 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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