U.S. Church News

Video game may have a role in Notre Dame Cathedral's reconstruction

By Adele Chapline Smith Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- When Paris' Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire, the world held its collective breath. The spire fell, and the wooden roof was reduced to ash, but the holy relics were saved, and the interior preserved from the worst ravages of fire. Now more than $1 billion has been raised to restore Notre Dame, and a video game may prove to be the structure's saving grace.

Ironically, the franchise to which this particular title belongs, "Assassin's Creed," is traditionally known for its anti-Christian sentiment.

The saga of "Assassin's Creed" charts a centuries-long struggle between two rival organizations, the Templars and the Assassins. The Templars seek to bring peace to the world through absolute control. The Assassins, with whom gamers are meant to sympathize, believe, by contrast, that "nothing is true, everything is permitted."

That's obviously a credo wholly incompatible with Catholic theology. So it's no surprise that the Assassins are often depicted in conflict with the church.

In 2014, Ubisoft released "Assassin's Creed: Unity," which sees the two factions struggling for power during the French Revolution. From the start, "Unity" received immense praise for its accuracy in depicting 1700s Paris -- and especially, the detail in its depiction of the renowned cathedral.

Publishing giant Ubisoft is headquartered in Paris and has generously donated over $500,000 and pledged its virtual rendition of Notre Dame and its research from "Assassin's Creed: Unity" to the restoration team. In addition, it made the game free to PC players for a week.

Assistant art director at Ubisoft Montreal, Caroline Miousse, spent two years working on the modeling of the cathedral. In 2014, Miousse told Destructoid that "you really need to be sure that you're recreating (Notre Dame) as accurately as possible because it's so well known."

The video game is not completely faithful to the Notre Dame of the period, however. Some of the cathedral's art is protected under copyright, and so could not be shown. At the request of players, moreover, Miousse added the familiar spire to the game, despite the fact that this was an anachronism.

In reality, the original spire was removed in 1786, three years before the outbreak of the Revolution. The replacement that collapsed in the conflagration was of 19th-century vintage.

"Assassin's Creed: Unity" is a breathtaking work of art and the years spent on Notre Dame are visible as gamers scale the great building. Production coordinator Maxime Durand aptly said in an interview with Fast Company that "history in our games is not just a setting or empty buildings on a Hollywood back lot."

Academic advisers were also brought in as consultants, including University of Quebec professor Laurent Turcot, to assist with both the game's events and its environment. While historical incidents are subject to interpretation, the layout of the city itself is not.

Turcot sought out ways to recreate 18th-century Paris -- no easy task since many neighborhoods of the city were radically altered in the mid-19th century at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III and under the supervision of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann. Turcot made use of architectural archives, paintings and engravings. All this was done in the name of historical authenticity.

That insistence on adhering to reality will be immensely beneficial as restoration plans for the cathedral move forward. Notre Dame helped shape "Assassin's Creed: Unity," and now the game will get to return the favor -- both to cathedral and to Paris as a whole.

- - -

Smith reviews video games for Catholic News Service.


Bishops hear pain and hope at racism listening session in Baltimore

By Christopher Gunty Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori speaks during a listening session on racism at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore April 29, 2019. (CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review) See BALTIMORE-RACISM-LISTENING May 3, 2019.  

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Participants in a racism listening session sponsored by the Archdiocese of Baltimore April 29 brought a variety of experiences to the attention of Baltimore's bishops and an audience of more than 250.

Speakers gave examples of being questioned about their presence on church property simply for being black, of having difficulty entering the seminary because of race, being called the N-word when distributing holy Communion at a hospital and feeling unwelcome in the church.

The listening session was prompted by the U.S. bishops' 2018 pastoral "Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love -- A Pastoral Letter Against Racism," which calls racist acts sinful because they violate justice.

The event -- held at Notre Dame of Maryland University -- also followed the January 2019 publication of Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori's second pastoral reflection on the topic: "The Journey to Racial Justice: Repentance, Healing and Action."

Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, told the audience in his opening remarks that these listening sessions help the bishops understand the "aching pain" of people affected by racism.

The Baltimore event was the sixth such session he had attended. Other sessions took place in St. Louis; St. Petersburg, Florida; Cincinnati; Philadelphia; and Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana. More sessions are scheduled to take place in upcoming weeks and months.

Other bishops at the Baltimore event were: Bishop John H. Ricard, bishop emeritus of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, who was a former auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, and Baltimore Auxiliary Bishops Mark E. Brennan, Denis J. Madden and Adam J. Parker.

Redemptorist Father William Guri, a priest from Zimbabwe who is studying at Loyola University of Maryland and lives and assists with ministry at St. Mary Parish, Annapolis, recounted how he had been walking in the gardens behind the rectory -- not wearing his clerical garb -- when he noticed a couple taking wedding photos. He deliberately stayed at the opposite end of the gardens so as not to disturb them.

A white man whom Father Guri did not recognize as a parishioner confronted him, asked him what he was doing in the gardens and told him he should leave immediately because he was on private property and his presence was not welcome.

The priest said he explained that he was a priest who lived on the grounds and the man was shocked.

Father Guri said, "I asked him: 'What were you going to do, to call the police on me or simply to draw and shoot at me? Is this how you treat people like me?'"

He said he "wondered that if my black presence was such a threat in a private garden area, how much of a threat is my blackness perceived by one like this man on the sanctuary while I am celebrating the Eucharist?"

He said the fact that this incident occurred in the backyard of the rectory where he lives "awakened me to the reality that there are some people to whom I can never be good enough for the simple reason of being black."

Deacon Seigfried Presberry, director of the archdiocesan Prison Ministry Program, recalled a time when he was bringing Communion to a man in a hospital intensive care unit. When he introduced himself and offered the Eucharist, the man ripped off his oxygen mask and yelled: "Oh my God, we have n*****s in the church."

The deacon said he left the room, wanting to tell the man he was not that epithet, but a servant of God, but did not. He left the hospital feeling dejected and rejected.

His wife encouraged him to return the following week because that's what he was called to do.

The next week, the man was still in the hospital but out of the intensive care unit. The man and his son, who had also been there the week before, apologized and when the deacon offered the Eucharist he took it. Over the weeks, they struck up conversations and after the man's release from the hospital, they even became friends.

The man said he had never met or talked to anyone of color before Deacon Presberry and he regretted that.

The deacon said his "dear friend" passed away several months later but had asked him to preside at his funeral rites, which he did.

Several other speakers at the event also spoke of difficult experiences.

Archbishop Lori thanked them for sharing "personal, and often very painful, stories" and added that he was "so very sorry for what you have endured, and for the ways explicitly and implicitly that the church played a role in your experiences."

Prior to the listening session, Bishop Fabre told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan newspaper, that in previous sessions he had attended he had heard people's pain and hope. The sessions are a model for what the bishops want to see in society. "We want people to get together, dialogue, have a conversation," he said, noting that Pope Francis calls for the same thing -- to hear people's pain and accompany them in their journey.

"The question we are asking is how can we address this together with the richness of the teachings of the church and the sacraments? ... We want to bring people to a greater understanding, bring people to action."

- - -

Gunty is associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.


Bread for the World leader prepares his exit after 27 years at the helm

By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Bob Roller

David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, smiles during an interview with Catholic News Service in Washington May 2, 2019. Beckmann plans to step down as president in the near future. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See IN-DEPTH-BECKMANN May 3, 2019.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Rev. David Beckmann is preparing to step aside as president of the Christian citizens anti-hunger lobby Bread for the World after 27 years. In fact, by the time a successor is chosen, it will be 28.

Despite having his hand on the till since 1991, "I love it more and more," said Rev. Beckmann, an ordained Lutheran minister. "I've grown in faith because of the work," he added during a May 2 interview at Bread for the World's offices in Washington. "This is a really unique perspective on the world," he said, waving his right hand in the general direction of the Capitol, "and watch our politics unfold, always with an eye on what's happening to 'the least of these.'"

Rev. Beckmann has a soft spot in his heart for Catholics. They make up about half the membership of Bread for the World, and he considers Pope Francis' encyclical "The Joy of the Gospel" "one of my favorite books -- and it's not even a book!" Moreover, at Bread for the World "the focus on hunger is embedded in Christian social justice teaching, which is probably best articulated by Catholic social justice teaching."

That focus is intentionally split between hunger and nutrition needs requiring immediate action, and structural issues that plunge entire populations into poverty and hunger. On the latter front, Rev. Beckmann had much good news to trumpet.

"The world has made tremendous progress in its hunger, poverty and disease. Nobody expected that, but it's true," he said. "A lot of people, me included, have come to conclude that we should be giving thanks to God for this. Hundreds of millions of people have escaped from extreme poverty. This is like an Exodus in our own time. It really is like an Exodus. It is a great liberation, and we should give God glory for it."

Rev. Beckmann never singled out Bread for the World -- often simply called "Bread" -- as the sole factor for any campaign's success. One example: "Bread for the World, working with the churches and others, has played a big role in dramatically increasing international assistance since about 2000. Assistance focused on poor people in the world from the U.S. government has more than tripled. And it's bipartisan. It's wonderful. Partly, church people have helped to build heroes on both sides of the aisle."

When Bread for the World signed on for the Jubilee 2000 campaign to forgive the international debt of the world's poorest nations, "we thought, 'This is a long way from hunger,'" Rev. Beckmann said. "When we first started talking about debt relief, people thought we were talking about their Mastercard debt. And it's a complicated subject: How are you going to talk about reducing debut in a way that's not just helping out corrupt governments but in a way that announcing jubilee to the people?"

But Bread for the World and its allies kept at it, and the reward was significant. "It got a whole generation of African kids in the schools," Rev. Beckmann said. "Dramatic expansion of schools that was funded by debt relief because the payments those countries didn't have to pay to industrialized-country debt, they had to use; part of the deal was they had to do that (redirect forgiven debt) for poverty-reducing investments. So debt relief, in retrospect, is obviously helped to reduce hunger, helped a lot of African countries get on a path to rapid growth and dramatic reductions in poverty."

Domestically for Bread for the World, the biggest victories seem to be the avoidance of losses. "Our country made a lot of progress against poverty in the Sixties and early Seventies, but really we haven't made much progress since then. We've just held our own, but we've held our own partly because Bread and other church groups with us have resisted huge political pressures to cut programs that assist people in poverty," Rev. Beckmann said.

He cited John Carr, then a domestic policy official for the U.S. bishops, for helping prevent some of the biggest potential losses.

"It was his idea to pull together the Circle of Protection in 2011," Rev. Beckmann said. "That's when the big budget controversies started in Congress. Every budget that's passed in either house of Congress since then has proposed to cut something like $2 trillion from low-income programs. And the churches rallied around in 2011 and held together ever since. So conservative churches, liberal, black, white, Protestant, Catholic have together said to Congress: 'Don't cut programs that are focused on poor people. Make them better. We'll help you make them better.'"

That episode was one reason Rev. Beckmann went back to notes he made prior to the CNS interview to declare: "I love Pope Francis, I love the Catholic Church, I love women religious, I love Catholic social teaching, and I love John Carr."

During Rev. Beckmann's tenure, Bread for the World has grown. Its current office is its fourth since he took the reins from the Rev. Arthur Simon, the founder. "And in terms of numbers, we have about 800,000 take action with Bread for the World now, and we're in touch with about 20 million people" thanks to digital communications, he said.

As for his future, while waiting for the board to choose a successor, he said part of the plan is to help guide a smooth transition between him and the next president. When he departs, he'll also give up the presidency of the Alliance to End Hunger, a companion organization that includes Bread for the World's counterparts in Judaism and Islam as well as corporations, hospitals and universities. "It's a secular world," Rev. Beckmann said. "If we're going to end hunger, it can't be just the churches."

Or maybe he won't depart after all. "May be I'll work at Bread for the World in some capacity," he chuckled. "I'll have to wait and see what the new boss says." But wherever and however, Rev. Beckmann added, "I'll keep working on hunger, poverty, politics, faith."


Catholic officials pleased with new conscience protection rule

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The announcement of a new conscience protection rule May 2 protecting health care workers who object to abortion procedures on religious grounds was welcome news to U.S. Catholic bishops and the president of the Catholic Health Association.

President Donald Trump announced the rule at the White House Rose Garden during a speech on the National Day of Prayer.

"Just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities," Trump said.

The rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and enforced by that department's Office of Civil Rights, is more than 400 pages long with specific guidelines requiring hospitals, clinics and universities that receive federal funding through Medicare or Medicaid to certify that they comply with laws protecting conscience rights regarding abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.

Under the rule, medical workers or institutions would not have to provide, participate in or pay for procedures they object to on moral or religious grounds.

"Laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law," said Roger Severino, director of the Office of Civil Rights in a May 2 statement.

"This rule ensures that health care entities and professionals won't be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it's the law," he said.

Last year, the department of Health and Human Services received more than 1,300 complaints alleging discrimination in a health care setting based on religious beliefs or conscience issues.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a joint statement May 2 commending the adoption of these new regulations to ensure existing laws protecting conscience rights in health care are enforced and followed.

The statement said these laws have been policy for years, but "the previous administration did not fully enforce them and now they are increasingly being violated."

The bishops said health care providers such as nurses and medical trainees "have been coerced into participating in the brutal act of abortion against their core beliefs, while churches and others who oppose abortion are being compelled by states like California to cover elective abortion -- including late-term abortion -- in their health plans."

"We are grateful that this administration is taking seriously its duty to enforce these fundamental civil rights laws, and we look forward to swift action by HHS to remedy current violations in several states," they added.

The bishops also pointed out that "conscience protection should not fluctuate as administrations change" and stressed that Congress should provide "permanent legislative relief through passage of the Conscience Protection Act."

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity and president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said her organization "welcomes efforts to implement and enforce existing federal laws providing conscience protections."

In a May 2 statement, she said the Catholic Health Association is currently reviewing the final regulation.

She stressed that "Catholic hospitals and long-term care facilities welcome and serve all persons in need of care. Our mission and our ethical standards in health care are rooted in and inseparable from the Catholic Church's teachings about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. These are the source of both the work we do and the limits on what we will do," she said.

"Every individual seeking health care is welcome and will be treated with dignity and respect in our facilities, " she added.

Critics of the rule have argued that it will limit women's health care access. The same day the rule was announced, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the Trump administration, saying the rule sacrificed patients' health.

The rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

- - -

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim++

Copyright © 2018-2019 Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas. All rights reserved.