Archive for February, 2012

Italian Jesuit Brings Background as Doctor and Moral Theolgian to the Study of Bioethics at Boston College

He is a doctor, priest and moral theologian whose medical training and practice have enriched his understanding and study of bioethics.

With this background, School of Theology and Ministry Associate Professor, Jesuit Father Andrea Vicini, is uniquely equipped to study the complex, and often controversial, ethical issues that have emerged in the wake of technological and scientific advances in health and medicine.

“Fr. Vicini is one of the few specialists in medical ethics who is both a physician and a theologian. His broad international background gives him keen insight into the importance of the social and cultural contexts of medical practice,” said Jesuit Father David Hollenbach, the University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice.  “BC and its students will benefit greatly through his presence.”

“Part of the task and responsibility of reflecting theologically on [ethical] issues,” said Fr. Vicini, who joined the STM faculty last fall, “is that you need to combine different elements that are relevant for theological thinking. First is the tradition — theological insight from other theologians in the past and the present. Second is the magisterial, or official, teaching. The other is the experience of the people. This way the universal and the particular are given consideration.”

When dealing with the end of life, he says, the Christian tradition is to see it as a process and to consider the patient’s consciousness, identity and network of relationships. Ethical challenges, however, arise from the interaction of new technologies and end-of-life issues, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which can be used to determine if brain-injured patients previously thought to be in a vegetative state may, in fact, be reclassified as being in a minimally conscious state.

The technology is still very primitive, but the concept raises issues such as possibility of recovery, access to quality rehabilitative care and family support, according to Fr. Vicini, whose article on this topic will be published later this year in The Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics.

Another emerging field of interest for Fr. Vicini is oncofertility, which looks at preserving the fertility of cancer patients. “Advances in cancer treatment for children and young adults have the positive result of recovery but also the negative result of infertility. Technology is available now that can be used to preserve fertility and restore, not only the patients’ health, but their wholeness.” He wrote on the topic of ovarian tissue transplantation for the journal Theological Studies.

A native of Italy who earned his medical degree from the University of Bologna, Fr. Vicini was born with a physical deformity affecting his left hand. He wanted to become a doctor “to help people, to heal and cure. The experience of disability in my life has helped me feel close to people in need.” He was drawn to pediatric practice in particular, he said, because of its holistic nature and opportunity to build relationships with patients and their families. “You get to witness the healing power of medicine in a special way.”

Discernment led Fr. Vicini to join the Society of Jesus in 1987. “I was attracted to the Jesuit commitment to help people in need in various frontiers around the world through education, social justice work and interactions between scientists and other religions and cultures.” He was ordained a priest in 1996.

To read the full story about Fr. Vicini at Boston College, please click here: [Boston College's New Bioethics Professor]


Dancing with the Stars – An Interview with Vatican Astronomer Jesuit Father George Coyne

As a priest and an astronomer, Jesuit Father George Coyne bridges the worlds of faith and science, but he’s quick to acknowledge that they serve two different purposes. “I can’t know if there is a God or if there is not a God by science,” he says. 

At the same time the emeritus director of the Vatican Observatory sees no conflict between scientific and religious knowledge, though he admits that the church has not always agreed. But even in the famous case of the astronomer Galileo, there were issues other than science at stake, notably who could interpret the Bible. “Galileo was never given a chance to talk about his science,” Coyne says. “Galileo knew how to interpret scripture, but he did it privately.” The Council of Trent had forbidden private interpretation 70 years before in response to the Reformation.

Still, says Coyne, Galileo pointed the way to a happier relationship between faith and science. “Galileo anticipated by four centuries what the church would finally say about the interpretation of scripture,” argues Coyne. “Galileo said that scripture was written to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

Fr. Coyne recently sat down with U.S. Catholic Magazine for a question-and-answer session about Catholicism, science and the human experience.

Give us some amazing facts about the universe that would enrich a Catholic understanding of faith.

The universe understood scientifically is an amazing challenge to both science and to religious faith. The scientific facts about the universe are very well established. First the universe is 13.7 billion years old. A billion is a one with nine zeroes behind it, so that’s a lot of years. Second, it contains 10,000 billion billion stars. That’s a one with 22 zeroes behind it.

We know the age of the universe by its expansion: Galaxies are all moving away from us. There is a very tight relationship between their distance from us and their speed. Namely, the farther away an object is, the faster it is going. If you’re two times farther away from me, you’re going away four times faster. If you’re four times farther away from me, you’re going away 16 times faster. It holds for every galaxy in the whole universe.

When we measure the age of the universe by its expansion, we discover that the universe began to expand 13.7 billion years ago, plus or minus 200 million years. It’s an amazing measurement.

How do we count all those stars?

When the Hubble telescope takes a photograph of the most distant part of the universe we can see, it produces an image called the Hubble Deep Field. The image has millions of dots of light, and every one of those dots of light is a galaxy. Hubble concentrated on a very small part of the sky, one-twentieth of the thickness of my index finger held at arm’s length. So you have a million galaxies in this little piece of the sky. What if we measured the whole sky? By multiplying all that together you get 100 billion galaxies, each of which contains, on the average, 200 billion stars.

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Faith in the Service of Justice: Mortgage Lending as Mission

Mortgage lending as mission? Call it a sign of the times, but Jesuit Father James Walsh, a practicing attorney and veteran social activist, has made foreclosure relief for struggling families in Boston’s economically distressed neighborhoods his latest foray into social ministry.

“About three years ago we realized the banks had been bailed out, but they weren’t doing anything,” explains Fr. Walsh, who serves on the board of Boston Community Capital, a community development finance institution — what Walsh calls a “non-bank bank” — chartered to invest and lend in poor communities.

“Traditional banks weren’t making mortgage loans in low-income neighborhoods. There were few alternatives for the poor. And Boston Community Capital strives to be a hedge fund for the poor. So we realized BCC needed to become a mortgage company — to stabilize communities and help families stay in their homes.”

BCC, which also makes small-business and community-development loans, as well as venture investments through its equity funds, became a licensed mortgage lender in 2009 and, through its Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods (SUN) program, began buying properties facing foreclosure at deeply discounted prices. Reselling the properties back to their residents on more amenable terms, SUN also underwrites new mortgages at affordable rates. More than $15 million has been lent so far and about 135 families have been spared foreclosure and eviction. Families repurchasing their homes through BCC typically reduce their monthly mortgage payments by almost half. “There have been no defaults,” adds Fr. Walsh.

It’s not teaching or preaching, but the plain-spoken Jesuit priest sees this work as wholly within the charisms of the Society of Jesus. “It’s about faith in the service of justice,” says Walsh.

In the quarter-century Walsh has served as a director, BCC has grown its assets from $30 million to more than $600 million and won recognition as a national model.

Fr. Walsh continues to pray that more people of good will and more resources will be dedicated to the Jesuit work of social justice, at age 68, he has few regrets. “It’s been a good trip for me because I’ve learned so many things that I never would have learned,” says the ever-inquisitive Fr. Walsh. “I’m an introvert by nature. I’m a Jesuit who’s never even had a checkbook. Yet I’ve had a chance to learn about finance, and to learn about the law and real estate, and so much more. It’s like a whole new world was opened up for me. Because I took some chances,” he said. “I can’t imagine how nerdy I’d be if I’d played it safe and gotten a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science, like I’d planned.”

[New England, New York and Maryland Jesuits Magazine]

St. Peter’s Prep Alum Now a Top Jesuit in Rome

Jesuit Father Gerald Blaszczak

Father Alexander Santora, the current pastor of The Church of Our Lady of Grace & St. Joseph in Hoboken, recently featured Jesuit Father Gerald Blaszczak in his weekly column for The Jersey Journal. Fr. Santora, an alum of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, didn’t know Fr. Blaszczak while they were high school students at Prep, as they only shared the school’s halls for one year. Following graduation, Blaszcsak entered the Society of Jesus. 

As a freshman at St. Peter’s Prep in 1966, I was in awe of the seniors who were outstanding athletes, student leaders and academic stars.

Gerald Blaszczak was among the latter and, unfortunately, I never met him personally. He entered the Society of Jesus after graduation in 1967 and through the years I used to hear about his appointment as vice president of Fordham University or pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan, their flagship parish.

Those are just two of the many appointments of a gifted scholar, linguist, missionary, administrator and priest, tapped last year by the relatively new General Superior of the Jesuits, the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, to become his Secretary for the Promotion of the Faith, a newly created position.

Since last fall, Blaszczak has resided in Rome with some 50 other Jesuits from around the world and answers only to Nicolas, who reshaped his curia, or advisers, and handpicked Blaszczak. “I heard rumblings last April and then received a letter from the General,” said Blaszczak, who was not seeking the position but admitted, “It’s not in our Jesuit DNA to say no.”

Recently appointed Secretary for the Promotion of the Faith, a newly created position, the Rev. Gerald Blaszczak is a former vice president of Fordham University and former pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan.

German Jesuit Elevated to Cardinal

On the Feast of the Epiphany, Pope Benedict XVI announced that 22 new cardinals would be created at a consistory, which was held this past Saturday. The list of new cardinals included Jesuit Father Karl Josef Becker, a longtime professor of dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

“The new Cardinals are entrusted with the service of love: love for God, love for his Church, an absolute and unconditional love for his brothers and sisters, even unto shedding their blood, if necessary, as expressed in the words of placing the biretta and as indicated by the colour of their robes,” said the Holy Father.

Jesuit Father James Martin wrote about Cardinal Becker’s elevation, especially in light of him being a Jesuit:

“Normally the pope names (or, technically, “creates”) cardinals from the ranks of bishops and archbishops (as with Archbishop Dolan) and these men are often heads of the larger archdioceses.  But occasionally the pope names a priest, to honor the man for his life’s work.  (Normally they are over 80, not named a bishop so as to spare them from the sacramental duties of a bishop, and are ineligible to vote in a papal conclave.) Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, the American Jesuit theologian, was a recent example.”  (An interview with Cardinal Dulles a few months before the consistory, including his thoughts on becoming a cardinal, is here.)

[The City and the WorldAmerica Magazine]