Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bring your dollar bills... for collection!

This piece comes from Central Florida News 13. There are so many jokes to possibly be made here.

If you have any jokes, leave them in the comments.

Regardless of what the establishment was beforehand, it's always good to see a church go up somewhere it's needed.

MASCOTTE -- Big changes got under way for a local Lake County strip club to convert it into -- believe it or not -- a Catholic church.

Rafa's nightclub recently went out of business, and the building's new owners have been busy stripping it of its old roots.

Construction was slated to begin once the city of Mascotte gave the church its building permits.

Despite the unconventional switch, the owners said they hoped to open the church's doors by late fall.

"This area has never had a Catholic church, and this will be a first for them. I feel like they already feel the ownership of this place," said church spokesman Joseph Cruz.

The church was being built to accomodate about 300 people, and would be the first of its kind in Mascotte.

Before the project, the closest Catholic church was in Clermont.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Many people know that I am (in my own small way) an advocate for those living with cancer. The charity I always give to and ask people to help is St. Jude Children's Research Hospital because of the help they provide to children living with cancer. Although I never was able to run the 2006 NYC Marathon, I managed to raise over $1000 for St. Jude.

On the side, I've also been a fan of Lance Armstrong - as an athlete - but also with his work through the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I was recently on the website and saw a blog post (copied below) from Dr. Harold Freeman. Lance is taking the fight to the Presidential candidates this year in the hopes that they'll listen and do something about the disparity written about here:

Dr. Harold Freeman talks about Cancer in Harlem

I'm happy to write in today and share some of my thoughts about the cancer community in which I serve. Tomorrow I celebrate 40 years of service in Harlem.

Any substantial approach to reducing the cancer death and improving the cancer survival rate in an underserved community such as Harlem, must take into account the overarching causes of cancer disparities which are poverty, lack of health insurance and low educational level. There are two levels of solution, national and local:

(1) At the national level we need policy changes that would promote universal access to health care. Currently, there are an estimated 46 million Americans who are uninsured;

(2) At the local level we should promote community programs which assist and guide poor and uninsured Americans through the very complex health care system. I have pioneered such a program. It is called Patient Navigation. The role of this program is to eliminate any barriers that individual patients face in seeking to obtain timely quality cancer care. This kind of personal one-on-one assistance has been very effective in Harlem and is being applied at many other sites around the country; and

(3) We must also create effective public educational programs which will promote primary and secondary cancer prevention.

Someone asked me recently to share some of the highlights of my service in Harlem. I would like to share the following:

- I have gained a deep knowledge of the meaning of poverty and the meaning of race as determinants of survival and using this insight to enlighten scientists and the American public about the relationship between race, poverty and cancer.

- In 1979 I established free breast cancer screening and diagnostic centers both in the community and at Harlem Hospital. Both of these programs are still operating today.

- In 1990 I initiated the nation's first Patient Navigator program at Harlem Hospital. In published studies, I showed that there was a marked increase in 5 year survival from breast cancer when women were offered free screening and were navigated to rapid resolution including treatment if necessary. The 5-year breast cancer survival rate in Harlem increased from 39% before intervention to 70% after intervention.

- With a leadership gift from Ralph Lauren, I founded the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in 2003. This Center is having a deep impact on providing access to screening, diagnosis and timely quality cancer treatment irrespective of the patient's ability to pay for services.

- For 25 years I was Program Director of a Surgery Residency Training program at Harlem Hospital. More than 100 surgeons were trained in this program which was fully approved by the American Board of Surgery.

- Through my work as a surgeon in the community of Harlem I was promoted to positions of National importance such as National President of the American Cancer Society and Chairman of the US President's Cancer Panel. This gave me the opportunity to look at the entire nation through the lens that I had developed in my work as a cancer surgeon in Harlem. To the extent that I have made contributions to the nation in cancer control, I attribute my success to my opportunity to work as a surgeon in Harlem. This allowed me to gain some understanding of the human conditions in which cancer and other diseases occur and to teach that we must understand those conditions -- economic, cultural, social, environmental, and political conditions -- in order to find remedies and solutions to the problem of excess mortality from cancer in poor communities.

Over 40 years I have seen significant progress in cancer outcome overall in America as well as progress in poor and minority communities. This is good. But while black Americans, for example, have improved survival overall from cancer, the most frustrating reality to me is that the gap in 5 year survival between black and white Americans has not changed in these 40 years.

In another 40 years what would please me would be that we as a society eliminated the disconnect between what we discover and what we deliver to all American people irrespective of their ability to pay and close the gap between what we know and what we do.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

This is my old church!

From the NY Times. This is the Church where Wendy and I plan on having our Catholic ceremony in June. If you ever get the chance, I do recommend that everyone try the Sunday 6pm Jazz Mass at the Church of the Ascension.

April 16, 2008

Changing With Times, a Parish Prospers

The morning service begins with the swift tap-tap-tap of drums, accented with horns. “El Señor es mi pastor,” the band sings out, echoed by loud claps from the pews.

Hours later, another set of parishioners listens in reverent silence to an operatic rendition of “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain” as the faint sweet smoke of incense floats above.

That evening, yet another band belts out, “People get ready, there’s a train comin’ — all you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’,” to the thumping bass of a three-piece jazz combo.

Three services, three music styles, three very different congregations, one parish: Church of the Ascension on the Upper West Side.

At a time when the Roman Catholic Church is grappling with sexual abuse scandals, a shortage of priests and the consolidating of churches and schools in many urban areas, including dozens in New York City, Ascension stands as just one example of a parish that remains a vibrant presence in the lives of its ever-changing — and still growing — congregation.

The church has remained relevant for more than 1,500 parishioners not just by varying music styles, but by adapting to the shifting neighborhood and times. At a shrine in one corner of the church, there are pictures of Virgin Marys from across the world. A martini night has replaced coffee hour after Sunday evening Mass. There are citizenship and English classes for immigrants, an active lay leadership and welcoming messages to gays and lesbians.

“We have a great richness in the city here, in our neighborhood, and that has to be reflected in our parish, in our worship,” said the Rev. John P. Duffell, the pastor. “You have to observe and respond to what you have and see.”

In many ways, Father Duffell, 64, strays from the orthodoxy and formality preached by Pope Benedict XVI, who arrives in New York City on Friday. But the pope is also expected to praise the vibrancy of the American church; and in New York City, with 2.5 million to 3 million Roman Catholics, few parishes are as alive as Ascension.

Tucked between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue on 107th Street, the parish draws Latino immigrants, scholars with ties to Columbia University nearby and a growing number of affluent young professionals who have moved into the neighborhood in recent years.

For the young, there are more avant-garde ways of worship, like the Sunday evening jazz Mass. Started in 1999, the service attracts 200 to 300 people, and a vast majority are under 40. The jazz service has all the traditional rites, and Father Duffell delivers a nearly identical homily as at the more formal morning service. But instead of a choir there is a jazz trio, and parishioners are often young Catholics who are attending Mass for the first time in years.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re in church. For some people that’s a bad thing, but for a lot of us, it’s a great and exciting feeling,” said Rosa Arenas, 33, a legal translator who grew up in the neighborhood and returned to the parish as an adult. “This is my sanctuary, at any time. There’s just a sense of hope and renewal that I have every time I walk in.”

Several months after the jazz service began, a woman told Father Duffell that she enjoyed the service so much she felt she should have a martini in hand. The next week, Father Duffell announced from the pulpit that he was looking for volunteers to organize a martini night. By the time Mass had ended, he said, a committee had already formed.

The monthly event now includes an elaborate potluck dinner and attracts hundreds of people, many nonmembers and even non-Catholics. That sort of ad hoc appeal is essential to the growth of Ascension.

Father Duffell has conspicuously reached out to such young people, in often very simple ways. Every week, he ends Mass by asking for first-time visitors to announce where they are from, then leads the congregation in a round of applause to welcome them.

The informational fliers for the church proclaim, “No matter your age, your race, your gender or your sexual orientation, there is a place for you at Ascension.” In his speeches each week, Father Duffell expresses the same sentiment, each time mentioning sexual orientation. The message is not lost on the parishioners, gay or straight.

“Regardless of the issue of homosexuality, I’ve always been a practicing Catholic — I took what I wanted and left the rest, so to speak,” said John Gasdaska, a 43-year-old real estate agent who has attended Ascension since he moved to the neighborhood with his partner in 2000. “But the simple fact that he includes talking openly about that makes a world of difference. There’s just no question that everyone is included in the message of Christ.”

Altragracia Hiraldo echoed Mr. Gasdaska’s views. Since moving to the neighborhood after emigrating from the Dominican Republic, Ms. Hiraldo has attended Ascension for more than three decades and says it has changed “100 percent.”

“We did not have enough people; there were no Americans, just Dominicans and maybe some Puerto Ricans,” she said. “Now, it’s everybody: Americans, Peruvians, Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, everyone.”

More importantly, she said, the attitudes have changed.

“People are not afraid of each other, because everyone knows this is all of our church,” she said.

Still, there are undeniable cultural divides, largely because of language. Many of the parishioners who attend the Spanish services are older and do not speak English, and so have little interaction with the younger English-speaking members of the church, aside from occasional bilingual services, like those during Christmas and Easter Week.

On a recent Sunday morning, as the 9:30 a.m. Spanish Mass let out and the 11 a.m. English Mass was about to begin, there were scattered greetings between the two groups, but mostly they passed each other on the steps without much acknowledgment. A woman selling hot chocolate and coffee for $1, shouted “chocolate y café,” and a small group of young men walked in holding cups from Starbucks.

Joe Hickey, the president of the church’s newly established parish council, is working with others to integrate Spanish and English speakers, perhaps by adding more bilingual services. Mr. Hickey views it as a model for the entire church.

“What we don’t have here is Latinos or anyone else voting with their feet and leaving,” Mr. Hickey said. “To be able to have all these people coexist is a microcosm of what the church is facing all over the world.”

In some sense, the outreach and diversity in the church is a result of Father Duffell’s own religious philosophy. While some view the Catholic Church as a tightrope, he sees it as a “very broad river, with some to the right and some to the left.”

“There are some who cling to the rocks as long as they can, and others who just go with the flow,” he said during an interview in his rectory living room.

He still harbors some reservations about Pope Benedict’s conservative history, but says he has been pleasantly surprised.

Father Duffell has placed a premium on persuading more parishioners to be involved in formal church programs and the day-to-day running of the church. Edwin Madera, who grew up attending Ascension and its school and returned to the neighborhood after graduating from Boston College, was just appointed as the youth minister of the parish. Mr. Gasdaska is considering restarting a gay and lesbian ministry. Ms. Hiraldo is looking for new classes to reach out to more recent immigrants.

“We know the importance of being involved, not just sitting in Mass and saying O.K., bye-bye,” Ms. Hiraldo said. “This is our church.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

he clicked his heels...

After just a few hours in the United States, el Papa was overwhelmed by the blaring of military trumpets and 21-gun salutes. He clicked his heels and said, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A closet Catholic?

Straight from the Washington Post:

A Catholic Wind in the White House

By Daniel Burke
Sunday, April 13, 2008; B02

Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI's election in 2005, President Bush met with a small circle of advisers in the Oval Office. As some mentioned their own religious backgrounds, the president remarked that he had read one of the new pontiff's books about faith and culture in Western Europe.

Save for one other soul, Bush was the only non-Catholic in the room. But his interest in the pope's writings was no surprise to those around him. As the White House prepares to welcome Benedict on Tuesday, many in Bush's inner circle expect the pontiff to find a kindred spirit in the president. Because if Bill Clinton can be called America's first black president, some say, then George W. Bush could well be the nation's first Catholic president.

This isn't as strange a notion as it sounds. Yes, there was John F. Kennedy. But where Kennedy sought to divorce his religion from his office, Bush has welcomed Roman Catholic doctrine and teachings into the White House and based many important domestic policy decisions on them.

"I don't think there's any question about it," says Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and a devout Catholic, who was the first to give Bush the "Catholic president" label. "He's certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy."

Bush attends an Episcopal church in Washington and belongs to a Methodist church in Texas, and his political base is solidly evangelical. Yet this Protestant president has surrounded himself with Roman Catholic intellectuals, speechwriters, professors, priests, bishops and politicians. These Catholics -- and thus Catholic social teaching -- have for the past eight years been shaping Bush's speeches, policies and legacy to a degree perhaps unprecedented in U.S. history.

"I used to say that there are more Catholics on President Bush's speechwriting team than on any Notre Dame starting lineup in the past half-century," said former Bush scribe -- and Catholic -- William McGurn.

Bush has also placed Catholics in prominent roles in the federal government and relied on Catholic tradition to make a public case for everything from his faith-based initiative to antiabortion legislation. He has wedded Catholic intellectualism with evangelical political savvy to forge a powerful electoral coalition.

"There is an awareness in the White House that the rich Catholic intellectual tradition is a resource for making the links between Christian faith, religiously grounded moral judgments and public policy," says Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of the journal First Things who has tutored Bush in the church's social doctrines for nearly a decade.

In the late 1950s, Kennedy's Catholicism was a political albatross, and he labored to distance himself from his church. Accepting the Democratic nomination in 1960, he declared his religion "not relevant."

Bush and his administration, by contrast, have had no such qualms about their Catholic connections. At times, they've even seemed to brandish them for political purposes. Even before he got to the White House, Bush and his political guru Karl Rove invited Catholic intellectuals to Texas to instruct the candidate on the church's social teachings. In January 2001, Bush's first public outing as president in the nation's capital was a dinner with Washington's then-archbishop, Theodore McCarrick. A few months later, Rove (an Episcopalian) asked former White House Catholic adviser Deal Hudson to find a priest to bless his West Wing office.

"There was a very self-conscious awareness that religious conservatives had brought Bush into the White House and that [the administration] wanted to do what they had been mandated to do," says Hudson.

To conservative Catholics, that meant holding the line on same-sex marriage, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research, and working to limit abortion in the United States and abroad while nominating judges who would eventually outlaw it. To make the case, Bush has often borrowed Pope John Paul II's mantra of promoting a "culture of life." Many Catholics close to him believe that the approximately 300 judges he has seated on the federal bench -- most notably Catholics John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court -- may yet be his greatest legacy.

Bush also used Catholic doctrine and rhetoric to push his faith-based initiative, a movement to open federal funding to grass-roots religious groups that provide social services to their communities. Much of that initiative is based on the Catholic principle of "subsidiarity" -- the idea that local people are in the best position to solve local problems. "The president probably knows absolutely nothing about the Catholic catechism, but he's very familiar with the principle of subsidiarity," said H. James Towey, former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives who is now the president of a Catholic college in southwestern Pennsylvania. "It's the sense that the government is not the savior and that problems like poverty have spiritual roots."

Nonetheless, Bush is not without his Catholic critics. Some contend that his faith-based rhetoric is just small-government conservatism dressed up in religious vestments, and that his economic policies, including tax cuts for the rich, have created a wealth gap that clearly upends the Catholic principle of solidarity with the poor.

John Carr, a top public policy director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, calls the Bush administration's legacy a "tale of two policies."

"The best of the Bush administration can be seen in their work in development assistance on HIV/AIDS in Africa," says Carr. "In domestic policy, the conservatism trumps the compassion."

And other prominent Catholics charge the president with disregarding Rome's teachings on the Iraq war and torture. But even when he has taken actions that the Vatican opposes, such as invading Iraq, Bush has shown deference to church teachings. Before he sent U.S. troops into Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein, he met with Catholic "theocons" to discuss just-war theory. White House adviser Leonard Leo, who heads Catholic outreach for the Republican National Committee, says that Bush "has engaged in dialogue with Catholics and shared perspectives with Catholics in a way I think is fairly unique in American politics."

Moreover, people close to Bush say that he has professed a not-so-secret admiration for the church's discipline and is personally attracted to the breadth and unity of its teachings. A New York priest who has befriended the president said that Bush respects the way Catholicism starts at the foundation -- with the notion that the papacy is willed by God and that the pope is Peter's successor. "I think what fascinates him about Catholicism is its historical plausibility," says this priest. "He does appreciate the systematic theology of the church, its intellectual cogency and stability." The priest also says that Bush "is not unaware of how evangelicalism -- by comparison with Catholicism -- may seem more limited both theologically and historically."

Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, another evangelical with an affinity for Catholic teaching, says that the key to understanding Bush's domestic policy is to view it through the lens of Rome. Others go a step further.

Paul Weyrich, an architect of the religious right, detects in Bush shades of former British prime minister Tony Blair, who converted to Catholicism last year. "I think he is a secret believer," Weyrich says of Bush. Similarly, John DiIulio, Bush's first director of faith-based initiatives, has called the president a "closet Catholic." And he was only half-kidding.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Always there.

Wendy and I spent eight hours at the American Red Cross Chapter Center today getting trained as Disaster Volunteers. We were inspired. And, as of 5pm today, we're a part of an amazing humanitarian family and ready to help when needed.

As Reserve Volunteers we'll be able to take courses through the Red Cross to learn more about Disaster Relief Services and focus our development and expertise. It's exciting to think that we can be part of the immediate help that people need in emergencies ranging from a flood, to a fire, to a hurricane. I'm also praying that there aren't too many of those and that people are safe and healthy.

I encourage everyone to take a look at the American Red Cross website and see how you can help. Also, take a look at the work the Greater New York Chapter does:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Three years ago...

Three years ago we learned that a great man had passed on. John Paul II was, until that time, the only pope I had ever known. His life and leadership were inspirational.

Some quick facts about this truly amazing man:
- He was fluent in his native Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Croation, Portuguese, Russian, and Latin.
- In February 2004 Pope John Paul II was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize honoring his life's work in opposing Communist oppression and helping to reshape the world.
- In January 1945 Karol Wojtyła (the future Pope John Paul II) personally helped a 14-year-old Jewish refugee girl named Edith Zierer who had run away from a Nazi labor camp in Czestochowa. Zierer was attempting to reach her family in Kraków but had collapsed from cold and exhaustion on a train platform. No one helped but Wojtyła, who gave her some hot tea and food, personally carried her to a train and accompanied her to Kraków. Zierer credits Wojtyła for saving her life that day. She would not hear of her benefactor again until she read that he was elected as the Pope in 1978.
- Two days after Christmas 1983, John Paul II visited the prison where his would-be assassin was being held. The two spoke privately for 20 minutes. John Paul II said, "What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust."
- In 1986 he became the first known pope to visit a synagogue. In March 2000 made history by praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, placing a letter inside it (in which he prayed for forgiveness for the actions against Jews in the past).
- In May 2001 he became the first pope to visit a mosque, in Syria, where he gave a speech saying, "For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness."
- In his 2003 State of the World address the Pope declared his opposition to the invasion by stating, "No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity."

There's so much more.