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The Voice of the Vatican: Covering Global Catholicism in American News

On Wednesday, December 3rd, our first stop was at the City Club of Greater Cleveland where we attended a special program titled "The Voice of the Vatican: Covering Global Catholicism in American News" featuring Mr. John L. Allen, Jr., Associate Editor of the "Boston Globe" who has been covering the Vatican for 20 years. Mr. Allen mostly talked about the cultural divide between the Vatican and "Main Street, America" and pinned it down to three basic "impediments". The first impediment concerns the "role of the United States" in the world but not in the Vatican. Here in the United States, we think of ourselves as the country that takes the lead for the rest of the world thus greatly influencing the policies of other countries but, in this case, only 6% of all Catholics live in the United States so when American Catholics try to deal with the Vatican the needs and wants of quite a few other countries take priority over the us.

The second impediment is "time" because in the United States we are used to addressing problems and coming up with solutions in a very short time but in Italy a "mature response" to a problem would be to think about it for a long time before actually moving on it.

The third impediment is "how to follow the law." For example, in the United States we feel that we must rigidly obey a papal decree but in Italy things are more loose. If a divorced person asked a church official if it was all right for him/her to take Holy Communion if his/her pastor said it was okay, the church official would tell him/her that, as a church official, he couldn't approve it but since he couldn't judge what is in a person's soul she should do as her pastor says.

Mr. Allen said that the relationship between the United States and the Vatican is indeed complicated and the best way to handle it is to have patience, empathy, persistence, and, above all, a good sense of humor. Mr. Allen, himself, showed that he, himself, had a good sense of humor when he said, just before the Q and A started, that if there were no questions then he could tell "pope jokes" to pass the time.

Of course there were questions, though, including one that we asked about whether or not the Vatican was closely watching the immigration reform battle in the United States. Mr. Allen told us that the Vatican probably wasn't following it too closely at this time but it does mean a lot to Pope Francis since his father was an Italian immigrant in Buenos Aires. Mr. Allen assured us that when Pope Francis visits the United States in September, 2015 he will be very well-versed on what is going on at that time in terms of immigration. In fact, he may even take a trip to the U.S./Mexican Border.

We noticed that the church that Ms. Margaret W. Wong attends, St. Dominic Church in Shaker Heights had a table at the City Club so we walked over and said hello to everyone on behalf of Ms. Wong. We talked to several people sitting there including Mr. Tim and Ms. Colleen Sauvain and Mr. Santiago Feliciano who all said to say hello to Ms. Wong too.

When we first arrived at the City Club, we met Sister Mary Harwood in the foyer and spent a few minutes talking to her about President Obama's executive order. Sister Rita said that it was "just a step but perhaps it will help us look at the problem more seriously and take further action."

Father Bob Begin arrived so we all sat together at a table that included Mr. Richard Crepage (who we talk to quite often there), Mr. and Mrs. Charles Toth for whom this was their first visit to the City Club even though their daugher, Ms. Jackie Powalie works there, and Mr. John Sullivan who is a "Building Substitute" teacher for Notre Dame Cathedral Latin (NDCL) in Chardon. Mr. Sullivan often writes poetry so he read us a poem that he had just written about driving students from NDCL to the City Club that day.

Also there was Mr. Joseph A. Waler, the Principal of NDCL, who told us that Margaret W. Wong and Associates put together the paperwork for one of their teachers who immigrated to the United States from China and for that they will always be grateful.

Our next event was the Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center which is celebrating its 150th Anniversary.

When we arrived we met Ms. Christine Porter and Ms. Emily Woods who sit on St. Vincent's board along with Ms. Margaret W. Wong. They directed us to go inside for a while to escape the chilly weather so we did. Once inside the Medical Center, we watched some jugglers practice for a few minutes and spoke to Mr. Charles Eversole, Artistic Director of The Singing Angels who would be performing that night.

After we had warmed up, we wandered through the small but ever-growing crowd and shook hands with Mr. Nathan Segura from Browns Daily Radio who was acting as emcee for the evening's activities, the Most Reverend Richard G. Lennon, Sister Marian Durkin from Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, Cleveland Councilperson Phyllis Cleveland, and Dr. David Perse, President and CEO of St. Vincent all of whom would be speaking during the program.

We had a most enlightening conversation about Syria with Dr. Ghassan A. Moasis, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon at St. Vincent. Dr. Moasis was born in Syria but he immigrated to the United States in 1978 and became a United States citizen in 1984. He practiced for a long time in the United States before he moved back to Syria to take an important position at a major hospital. Nevertheless, he finally had to leave Syria and return to the United States due to the very dangerous political climate of Syria.

Dr. Moasis was quick to make it clear that the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people do not support the violence we are reading more and more about; it is only a small minority who have been radicalized. Dr. Moasis told us that people in the United States take a lot of their freedoms for granted and that freedom is something that one does not cherish until one loses it.

During the program, Bishop Lennon gave the opening prayer during which he said that the Christmas Tree symbolized the wonders of Christmas and hoped that its light would be a sign of the joy that fills our hearts.

Sister Marian Durkin said that she was here on behalf of Sister Judith Karam. She acknowledged that there was turmoil in the Cleveland Community at this time (she didn't say why but we believe she was referring to the Tamar Rice shooting) and hoped that Christmas, symbolized by the tree, would help to bring the community together.

Councilperson Cleveland echoed Sister Marian and said that Cleveland is a "city under stress" but we must all come together now. She thanked St. Vincent for providing service to the community for 150 years and recalled the comfort that she experienced as a child whenever she looked at the lights of St. Vincent.

Dr. Perse reiterated the mission of St. Vincent which is "dedicated to providing quality, faith-based medical services within community neighborhoods. We serve those communities by offering compassionate and professional care, respecting the dignity of all persons, and supporting access through convenient locations." He then asked for the public's support for continuing the mission.

The lights of the Holiday Tree were then turned on and needless to say it was spectacular and the ensuing fireworks made it even more so.

We learned that St. Vincent will be holding a number of events to commemorate its 150 years. Hopefully we can make at least a few of them because the contribution of this institution to the community is immeasurable.

Our last event was the Annual Plexus Holiday Party which was held at the Music Supper Club on Main Avenue almost across the street from Windows on the River. A gypsy jazz band named "Hot Djang!" played as we nibbled on appetizers and visited with friends.

We had a good conversation with Ms. Diane Dierkier who had recently attended a gathering regarding the Tamar Rice tragedy and questionable police shootings. We also spoke to Mr. Luis Santos about Puerto Rico and the possibilities of statehood. An attorney named Patricia told us that the law firm that she works for has sometimes referred immigration cases to Margaret W. Wong and Associates.

After a long day, particularly after standing outside in the cold at St. Vincent, we welcomed the opportunity to relax with such people as Mr. Mike Gaynier, Mr. Dave Ream, Ms. Michelle Tomallo, Ms. Luz Pellot, Ms. Gina Dalessandro, Ms. Janet Roth, and Mr. David Robinson.

It was a good place to be to wind down.

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