Culture

The 5 Best YouTube Videos for Christmas

Deal W. Hudson
December 11, 2017

YouTube has become a treasure trove of musical delights, which I enjoy exploring especially at the season of Christmas. I offer the five best videos of live performances of Christmas music that I have found thus far.

Live performances add a much-needed visual element to the performances of familiar songs. We see, as well as hear, the personal commitment to the music and its message. In some cases, it’s a reminder of what television once gave us, the thrill of singers singing without a net, as it were, in front of a live camera and microphone. As one who grew up delighting in the annual Christmas shows of Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and Glen Campbell, I am very pleased to share these with you. Please enjoy and “Merry Christmas!”

1. O Holy Night — Ernie Ford and Gordon MacRae

Let’s begin with a real gem: Remember when TV was live — when great singers just stood in front of the camera and sang without a net. Here are two iconic figures, Ernie Ford and Gordan MacRae from a 1958 Christmas show (I was nine). Their harmony is impeccable, but when Gordon MacRae begins his solo part at 1:12 you will wonder if you’ve ever heard a more pure baritone. Just gorgeous! And, yes, they hit the final notes without any break in their legato delivery.

2. Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

I have watched this performance over and over since it first became available in 2013. Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the 17th-century French carol, “Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing?” (Quelle est cette odeur agréable). Note the moment at 2:36 when the women’s voice begin singing acapella and are then joined by the men creating as pure a choral sound as you will ever hear. This is very special, and I hope you enjoy it.

3. In the Bleak Midwinter — Benjamin Luxon and the Westminster Choir

The Gustav Holst setting of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” is sung live by Benjamin Luxon (now age 80) at Westminster Cathedral. Luxon was a man whose love for singing was always apparent by the twinkle in his eye and his delight in communicating with his audience. His many performances with folk singer Bill Crofut are delightful (try to hear their “All Through the Night”). He also loved singing one of my favorite composers, Frederick Delius, and his performance of Zarathustra in the “Mass of Life” remains the best of all recordings.

4. Mary’s Boy Child — Tom Jones at the Vatican

The Welsh have a special gift and passion for music, and none more than Tom Jones — oh, excuse me, that’s Sir Tom Jones, who on this occasion was singing at the Vatican in 2001. Jones cares about this song, it’s obvious from the start, but something happens to him at 2:11 and his performance is lifted to another level, continuing to rise all the way to the end. Born in 1940, Tom Jones was a mere 61 years old when he sang for Saint John Paul II whose Polish heart must have been lifted hearing a man pour his whole heart into this song about “Mary’s Boy Child.” (This version is much preferable to his lip-synced version for the David Foster 1993 TV Christmas Special.)

5. What Sweeter Music — The Georgia Boys Choir

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was a clergyman poet, belonging to the Church of England, who composed a marvelous poem, “What Sweeter Music,” which the English composer, John Rutter, set to music in 1998. Rutter’s setting quickly and deservedly entered the Christmas music canon — it’s almost unbearably beautiful. There are many excellent performances on YouTube, including that of the famed King’s College Choir conducted by Dr. Stephen Cleobury. But after listening to all of them, I think this one by the Georgia Boys Choir has the kind of sincerity and tenderness this music demands. The choir’s treble voices at 1:44 completely win me over. I hope watching these boys and young men will add to the delight of hearing Rutter’s masterpiece.

Read Newsmax: The 5 Best YouTube Videos for Christmas | Newsmax.com
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New Production of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ Magnificent

Deal W. Hudson
October 30, 2017

From its first performance in 1951, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” an opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams has suffered from a checkered history on stage. Its Covent Garden premiere was criticized for its lack of “theatricality,” and the attempt at a revival the following year was a failure.

A subsequent and successful performance by the Royal Northern College of Music of Vaughan Williams’ “morality,” as he preferred to call it, and probably saved the piece from being assigned to musical oblivion. And, it was the same John Noble who sang the Pilgrim in 1954 who sung the role for the 1971 recording by Sir Adrian Boult for EMI/Angel.

The late conductor Richard Hickox championed “Pilgrim” with a Chandos recording in 1998 and a Sadler Wells performance in 2008, but it wasn’t fully staged again in the UK until 2012. The English National Opera production was praised for its music but, once again, questions about its “dramatic viability” were raised by the critics.

Those of us who greatly admired the recordings of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and knew about its rocky performance history have wondered if a concert performance was the best way to hear what is one of this composers’ masterpieces. I can now safely claim, however, that such a conclusion would be wrong. The performances held on October 27 and 28 at the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts, prove that “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is indeed an opera, and a very good one.

The internationally known choir Gloriae Dei Cantores and the Elements Theatre Company combined with invited soloists and members of the Community of Jesus to mount this production with 40 in the cast, 60 in the chorus, and a full orchestra, providing a near one-to-one ratio of audience to performers inside the cathedral-like Church of the Transfiguration, itself a wonder to behold.

Dr. James Jordan conducted with a fully idiomatic feel for various sound worlds of Vaughan Williams. The opera was written over a space of 40 years, thus, containing the pantheistic majesty of the 1st “Sea” Symphony (1910), the English pastoralism of the 3rd Symphony (1921), the dissonant anxieties of the 4th (1935) and 6th (1948), the probing, inward spirituality of the 5th (1943), and the roguish charm of the Tudor Portraits (1935). The orchestral soloists, in particular, rose to the occasion when the musical narrative fell to them alone.

Director Sr. Danielle Dwyer, however, has to be congratulated on demonstrating the true operatic nature of Vaughan Williams “morality.” Employing three screens as backdrops, Sr. Danielle worked with projection designer Kay Tucker to create a backdrop that not only provided a dramatic visual context but also kept the audience oriented to the Pilgrim’s place in the journey.

Given the performance space of the nave and the choirs, the stage was placed on one side of the aisle and the audience on the other. The stage created by placing one fixed platform in the middle and two movable ones to the sides. The 300 original costume designs were an integral part to the performance’s visual impact.

Whoever it was who criticized the lack of “theatricality” in the work’s premiere would have to eat his words after seeing this production. Soloists, chorus, and cast members moved back and forth the length of stage, often within arm’s length of the front row of the audience. They sang, danced, contorted, prayed, tempted, and convincingly blandished swords and staffs.

But “The Pilgrim’s Progress” cannot work without great singing and lots of it — there are over 41 solo roles. But even more challenging is the need to have tenors, baritones, and sopranos who can sing the composer’s sometimes subtle, sometimes soaring, melodies with firm pitch and legato. On that score, they all delivered.

Richard R. Pugsley fully embodied the anguish and searching Pilgrim and made the most of Vaughan Williams’ greatest moments, such as the encounter with the “Shepherds on the Hill” which was musically thrilling. Paul Scholten, playing both John Bunyan, who appears at the beginning and the end, and one of those Shepherds, but he also delivered the famous “Watchful’s Song” with complete authority and tender beauty. John. E. Orduña’s playing the demanding role of the Evangelist never wavered, singing the demanding role, lying high in the baritone range, with ringing security and felt devotion.

At the other end of the morality scale came Lord Lechery who was deliciously, and unapologetically, portrayed by Doug Jones. Andrew Nolen used his beautiful base to be appropriately menacing as Apollyon and bring a dandyish charm to Lord Hategood. Aaron Sheehan was a comic and vocal standout as the disingenuous Mister By-Ends and well-partnered by Sr. Melody Edmonds his Madam By-Ends. Br. Richard Cragg who sang the Interpreter and one of the Shepherds showed particular sensitivity in the vocal lines he shared with the Pilgrim. Soprano Eleni Calenos sung the roles of the Branch Bearer and the Voice of the Bird effortlessly, her high notes firm and clear. (However, her “Bird’s Song,” sung from behind the screen could have been less covered by the men’s voices on stage.)

Special mention should be made of the Gloriae Dei Cantores’ contribution to the performance — every chorus was delivered with a precision of beauty that would compare to the world’s greatest choirs. Along with Jordan’s conducing, they created a seamless operatic performance out of an opera long thought to be dramatically episodic. Bravo!

“The Pilgrim’s Progress” will be repeated on November 3 and 5 at the Church of the Transfiguration. Call 508-240-2400 for tickets.

Read Newsmax: New Production of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ Magnificent | Newsmax.com
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Contempt for Trump Undermining European Civility

Deal W. Hudson
October 11, 2017

When was the last time you told a visitor from another country that their head of state was a “fool” or a “disgrace”? When is the last time you visited a country and lectured those you met on the “horrors” of their elected national leader?

The perpetrators of mass slaughter come to mind when such remarks would have been appropriate.

But after hearing President Trump excoriated each day on a 9-day trip to Germany and the U.K., I am left wondering if my manners need updating. Rudeness has become the accepted norm of behavior on the other side of the Atlantic when it comes to our president. This rudeness reveals an astonishing level of ignorance about the history of the United States and the deep division and repressed fury created by the Obama presidency.

President Trump has become objectified, stripped of any humanity, and made the target of any remark no matter how offensive to visiting Americans. Attempts to explain his election, or cast him in a positive light, are met with scornful astonishment rather than a listening ear.

Yes, there were exceptions — an Irish bookstore owner in Rye, a French businessman, a German entrepreneur, a British hotel clerk. All of them had one thing in common — a distaste for media groupthink.

This was a golf trip for me, three hickory tournaments in three different locations — South of Munich in Bavaria, the northeast coast of Edinburgh, and the historic town of Rye on the coast in Sussex. I liked everyone I met, without exception, even those who bashed my president around. I don’t require my friends to hold my political or religious beliefs.

But why do these comments arise at all? Part of the problem is that people commonly “google” those they meet and this would have led associating me with support for President Trump and, before that, President W. When these hooks are thrown towards me, I don’t bite which surprises them. They’ve become accustomed, evidently, to provoking Pavlovian political outbursts.

Did I defend my president? Of course, but in a very measured way, correcting some basic errors about his tweeting, the “popular vote,” and, sadly, his wife, Melania.

What kept me so detached? As I said, I don’t require friends to share my political convictions, that seems simple, doesn’t it? Second, I was on vacation from the world of Washington politics, in search of golfing euphoria, which I captured for a few moments along the way. Third, these accusers read and hear media that contains nothing but vituperative attacks on the president and his family, so I can understand what feeds their mindset.

What I cannot understand is their evident lack of self-awareness that their treating of an elected American president as if he was evil incarnate. Wouldn’t a moment of self-scrutiny raise questions about why Donald Trump won the election when absolutely no one, except the candidate and his inner circle, though he could win? Surely such a man and his achievement is deserving of a more understanding than condescending dismissal.

And, surely, the American visitor need not endure the implication that his own political judgment is foolish.

In my lifetime, I have watched as the social habits of meeting people and making friends has been misshaped by the intrusion of politics. As dearly held moral views became less and less a matter of faith, tradition, or, even, reason, a person’s political stances, or mere affiliation, became sole standard of judgment about whether he was worthy of a relationship or not. There was no longer a higher vantage point from which to judge a person’s character than his or her politics, no ground for toleration of opposing views.

Now all the pastimes where people of diverse opinions used to mingle freely have been affected. Communities once formed by faith, education, sports, hobbies, the arts, and neighborhoods have allowed politics to intervene — need I mention the recent mess in the NFL over “taking the knee”?

I recall my Shakespeare teacher at the University of Texas in the late 60s. He was an Englishman whose constant wit kept me on the edge of my seat. I forget the context, but I once asked him what he thought of Americans. “They lack urbanity,” he said. Once I looked up the word, meaning detachment, I understood what he meant because our Austin campus was constantly riven by protests over Vietnam and the Nixon presidency. Shouting protesters deliberately provoke police and intimidating passers-by had become culture heroes. The detachment had been replaced by existential engagement.

It was the issue of engagement that famously destroyed the friendship between Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. When Sartre pressed Camus to support Communism and its “necessary” use of violence, Camus demurred. The detachment required by friendship was sacrificed by Sartre for the sake of “the cause.”

Closer to home, we watched the always urbane William F. Buckley completely lose his composure during a near-violent exchange with novelist Gore Vidal at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The Buckley who often shared charming banter with liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith subsequently became embroiled in more acidic exchanges and subsequent libel suits. The Buckley-Vidal episode, like that between Sartre and Camus a decade earlier, showed that cultural currents were flowing which could test the detachment of our most-schooled public intellectuals.

Now nastiness is the norm on both sides of the Atlantic, though nastiness is easier to accept when it comes from Americans about America. There was a time when Americans looked to Europe and the UK for its civilizing norms of education and manners. That time is long past, and Americans should access the deeper wells of our own cultural legacy to recover the spirit of tolerance that made the Founding possible.

As de Tocqueville wrote, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

Read Newsmax: Contempt for Trump Undermining European Civility | Newsmax.com
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Mass Hysteria Driving Attacks on the President

Deal W. Hudson

August 30, 2017

I know I am not alone in being bewildered by the daily pummeling of President Trump throughout the media. We are witnessing something more than the usual criticism any politician can expect. Instead, it’s become a kind of madness, where the president can be depicted with his head cut offstanding naked, or being hung from a tree.

All these images were reported by the major media. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, Virginia the president has been repeatedly called a “racist” in the mainstream media, including The Washington Post. But that’s not the worst. The president has also been routinely compared to Hitler and the Nazis.

The German magazine Stern published a cover depicting President Trump giving a Nazi salute while draped in an American flag. In England, The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland said, “We thought the Nazi threat was dead. But Donald Trump has revived it.”

Freedland went on to predict an American outbreak of anti-Semitism based on the fact that many white supremacists have free speech rights. Entertainers fantasize about “killing the president.” Rosie O’Donnell tweets to her 1,000,000 plus followers about a game she plays, “Pushing Trump off a cliff.” A New York Times reporter calls The first lady a “hooker.”

These attacks defy the standards of commonsense and public civility. Their sheer viciousness points towards an deep and more disturbing explanation — a mass hysteria elicited by the surprise defeat of Hillary Clinton. One could hardly find a better description than this published by John Waller of the British Psychological Society, “‘[M]ass hysteria’ are cases in which groups of people act upon beliefs which gain exaggerated credence in times of social and economic distress.”

This hysteria outbreak should have been widely recognized the day after the election.

Recall how college campuses across the nation responded to the election of President Trump with support groups, cancelled classes, creating “safe spaces,” and “self-care guides.”

Dan Gainer of Fox News described the media’s reaction to the election as a “primal scream.” In California, Washington, and Oregon, efforts are launched for those states to secede.

The central symptom of hysteria is “ungovernable emotional excess,” which in this case has become a case of mass hysteria, one largely due to the incessant use of social media to wage political and ideological war.

Writing in The Atlantic,  Laura Dimon connects increasing outbreaks of mass hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness (MPI), with the impact of Facebook and Twitter. Formerly people had to be in the same room to share in the hysteria, but that’s no longer the case. Today, social media has become “extensions of our eyes and ears.” It has made hysteria a global phenomenon.

Just think about it, Rosie O’Donnell has over 1,000,000 followers on Twitter. Many Trump-haters have far more. Katy Perry has over 100 million followers; Justin Bieber, 99,000,000, Rhianna, 76,000,000; Ellen DeGeneres, 70,000,000; and Lady Gaga, 69,000,000.

High-minded conservatives who sniff at these numbers and their cumulative influence are dissociating themselves from the way we live today.

Writing in Psychology Today, Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., describes the symptoms of mass hysteria: including having “no known organic basis,” meaning no basis in fact; occurring in a specific group; extreme anxiety; spread by world of mouth or popular media; spread from older to younger victims; and predominately female.

Regarding the last symptom, I would offer the observation that both the viciousness and sobbing character of the anti-Trump hysteria does have, at least to me, a curious female aspect. Just as Esther Goldberg has described former FBI Director James B. Comey as talking “the way high school girls talk,” the catty displays of commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews are positively feline, “One good thing Mussolini did was execute his son-in-law,” said Matthews — referring to Jared Kushner.

Some theorists of mass hysteria say that these outbreaks usually pass quickly. That’s not been our experience. The hysteria over the bogus Duke University rape allegation did not subside until all charges were dropped over a year later. Similarly, it took over a year for the Charlottesville, Virginia police to find no evidence of the rape on campus reported by Rolling Stone for which they paid heavily in civil damages. In the meantime, in both cases, all the mainstream media joined in the chorus of defamation.

Who will play similar role in the case against President Trump? Who will help calm the hysteria? Perhaps, it will be people like Sen. Diane Feinstein , D-Calif., who recently stunned an audience in San Francisco with her refusal to support impeachment, saying Trump “could be a good president.” A reporter at the meeting said, “the crowd reacted with stunned silence, broken only with scattered ‘No’s’ and a few hisses and some nervous laughter.”

It’s in a moment of silence like the one elicited by Sen. Feinstein that the much-needed injection of reason and civility can take place and the mass hysteria can begin to pass.

Read Newsmax: Mass Hysteria Driving Attacks on the President | Newsmax.com
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Artists Who Slam President Trump Slamming Rest of Us Too

Deal W. Hudson
July 24, 2017

“I don’t do idiots,” says composer Philip Glass, is the latest in a long list of derogatory comments by prominent artists about President Trump. Recall all the performers who self-righteously announced their intention not to perform at the inaugural, even if asked, including Elton John, Garth Brooks, Kiss, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, David Foster, Charlotte Church, The B Street Band, Jennifer Holliday, Rebecca Ferguson, and, sadly, the Rockettes.

Bearing in mind that 62,979,879 Americans voted for the Trump-Pence ticket, is it going too far to say that in turning their backs on the new president these artists are dissing his voters as well? I don’t think so. There is more to this disrespect than immediately meets the eye. Throughout the entire arts community, including film, music, museums, theatre, literature, critics, and academicians, there inhabits a deep disdain for the Americans who value the defense of innocent life and marriage, the value of patriotism, respect for the military and police, the rights of parents to educate their children, and reject the threat of globalism.

To put it more simply, if you can be labeled Republican, pro-life, pro-marriage, conservative, or a traditionalist, the artistic world will turn its back on you, unless, of course, you happen to be wealthy. The wealthy are treated with respect as long as the checks arrive on time onto the desk of the development director.

Some months ago, I addressed this situation from another angle, “A Cultural Outcast Asks: Who Can I Turn To, When Nobody Loves Me?” This complaint was prompted by the barrage of articles disparaging Trump shortly after his election in the magazines and on the websites I regularly read about books, music, films, and other cultural matters. Messages sent to a few editors received either no reply or snide ones declaring that “artists have always been on the side of the progressives…”

Am I the only one to notice that it has become tiresome practice in reviews of anything artistic to throw in an aside that it “has become terribly relevant to the age we live in,” meaning Trump and Brexit? I dare anyone to cite a single issue, since November 7, 2016, of the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, the Los Angeles Review of Books (et al) that does not take a cheap shot at President Trump and, by implication, those who voted for him.

Here you have millions of Americans, many of whom love the arts, engage the arts, donate to the arts, and look to the arts for insight and inspiration who are being told, basically, “you’re an idiot” (“but we will take your money”). Why is there such a deep disconnect between artists and the social conservatives in their audience? If they are such idiots, why do they still read good books, collect classical CDs and downloads, buy films from the Criterion Collection, attend concerts and operas, go the theatre and the ballet, and visit museums around the world? Why do they listen to the music of Philip Glass, which I first met and admired in his score to the 1988 documentary, “The Thin Blue Line”?

Could it be, after all, that artistic taste is not determined by moral and political outlook? Going even further, could it be argued that the extreme liberal attitudes of some artists doesn’t get in the way of their creation of beautiful works of arts? I think that is exactly the case, with one caveat: There are artists and audience members who allow their morality and politics to overly influence their creativity and receptivity.

Thus, they view the making of art as primarily a platform for delivering a message, while the audience takes all it sees or hears and filters it through moral, political, or religious criteria to determine its worth. When neither the artist nor the audience put the beauty first, the artistic experience is inhibited if not destroyed completely.

After calling President Trump an “idiot,” Philip Glass went on to say that he was grateful for his election: “It is wonderful: for the first time even children are getting politicized. Even my children, who used to be sunk in video games, now go to demonstrations and get involved politically. We should be grateful to Trump for having shaken us up.”

It’s sadly ironic that an artist would celebrate his children’s embrace of politicized art. I’ve read countless pleas for donations from groups that celebrate the arts as a vehicle for human solidarity, freedom, unity, transcendence, and the overcoming of divisions within society. Music itself is supposed to the “universal language of mankind” according to American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Music also contains in innate spirituality, or as Leonard Bernstein put it in his 1973 Norton Lectures: “Through music you can reach the unreachable and communicate the unknowable.”

According to Philip Glass, President Trump, evidently, does not quality as worthy of being exposed to the wonder of great music, and neither do the rest of us “idiots” either.

I supposed if Trump decided to quadruple the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts some of this nonsense might be tamped down, but not that much. Trump would be accused of attempting to buy respect. The disdain in the arts community is far too ingrained to be mollified by gestures of good will from “idiots.”

I’m saddened that I don’t have a solution to this state of affairs. I will continue to seek out and promote good books, music, films, and plays regardless of what these artists think of my president and me. After all, what the artists themselves seek is far more important than the politics hold as absolute.

Read Newsmax: Artists Who Slam President Trump Slamming Rest of Us Too | Newsmax.com
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Trump, Pope Have Opportunity to Forge Meaningful Alliance

Deal W. Hudson
May 23, 2017

When the pope and the president meet in the Apostolic Palace — the official residence of the pope in Vatican City — this Wednesday, they will be setting a much-needed example for a nation convulsed by post-election tantrums. Conservative speakers are disinvited on college campuses, conservative professors become objects of career-ending derision, the major media is obsessed with destroying the Trump presidency. Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership shouts curse words and raises their middle fingers at the man America sent to the White House.

But these two men, who have exchanged harsh words in the past, and differ on significant public policy issues, are going to meet, converse, while seeking a better relationship — and greater mutual understanding.

Yet, we can be sure that whatever is wise or hopeful coming out of this first meeting will be ignored by the press, which will have already scripted a narrative of disaster and disagreement. On July 23, 2001, President George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II (now St. John Paul II) met for the first time. Their meeting could not have been more amicable. I met with the president at the U.S. Embassy immediately afterwards. Bush was filled with enthusiasm at meeting “that great pope of yours.”

But, press accounts of the encounter focused on the one caution that Pope John Paul II expressed to the president; about his upcoming decision whether to allow federal funding for fetal stem cell research.

In his speech at Castle Gandolfo — just southeast of Rome — the Pope decalred, “In defending the right to life . . . America can show the world . . . (that) man remains the master not the product of his technology.” The BBC headline read, “Pope warns Bush on stem cells.” While The New York Times headline told the same story,”Pope Urges Bush to Reject Embryo Research.”

On Aug. 9, 2001 President Bush went on television for the first time, announcing his decision not to fund research on new lines but allow research on lines already in use to continue. His speech to the American people did not entirely conform to the wish of the pope, but President Bush made the basis of his decision loud and clear, “I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator. I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your president I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world.”

When President Trump arrives at the Vatican he faces a more complex scenario, but one not without parallels to Bush’s 2001 visit. The president has made his pro-life convictions extremely clear in campaigning, in his inaugural address, and with his executive orders.

In fact, President Trump has been noticeably more open about anti-abortion issues than the 43rd president. Pope Francis will find common ground with Trump on the defense of innocent life and some related issues — though not on immigration.

Unlike 2001, when both the pope and the president shared opening remarks with journalists present, this meeting will take place almost entirely in private with journalists having very limited access. Two journalists and five photographers will be permitted to witness them shaking hands in the antechamber to the Papal Library, and sitting at the opposite sides of a table in the library itself. After less than a minute, everyone will leave except for the pope, the president, and a translator.

Journalists will clock the length of the meeting, comparing it to the 50 minutes Obama spent with Pope Francis in March 2011, though visits normally run 20 to 30 minutes.

The press will then be allowed back in the library to watch the traditional exchange of gifts along with whatever words are used to explain the significance of the gifts. This will be, in my opinion, the most vulnerable media moment for President Trump since the Pope usually gives visiting dignitaries copies of his encyclicals, “Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’,” and “Amoris Laetitia,” which contain any number of themes that could be used as headline fodder.

Even if the official statement from the Vatican press office contains nothing but a record of cordial conversation and exchange of ideas, the mainstream media will be scrutinizing every detail of the meeting for a hook upon which to hang their agreed-upon headlines about; perhaps headlines that would read, “Pope Francis Reminds Trump Not to Build Walls” or “Pope Francis Calls Upon Trump to Sign the Paris Agreement.” In other words, no mention of shared purpose or common ground will allowed into the reporting narrative.

Regardless of the subsequent headlines, I believe the meeting will be fruitful on many levels. Both President Trump and Pope Francis have outgoing, warm personalities which will immediately remove whatever tensions might be present at the beginning.

And the president has already shown a willingness (distressing to some) to reconsider strongly-articulated policy positions. Donald Trump is not afraid to compromise, for the sake of building a relationship important for the future of his administration.

Pope Francis knows that, in November of 2016, more than half of Catholic U.S. voters supported Trump over his liberal rival Hillary Clinton. He also knows those same voters ignored both the pope’s and U.S. bishops’ attempts to make the presidential election about immigration.

Catholic voters simply didn’t care that Trump was at odds with church hierarchy on immigration. Both Pope Francis and the bishops should know well by now, that last year they didn’t fully comprehend how Americans really felt about the challenges facing America.

Pope Francis has some fence-mending of his own to do, and, I believe, he will.

Read Newsmax: Trump, Pope Have Opportunity to Forge Meaningful Alliance | Newsmax.com
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Some Don’t See Blessing in Trump’s Protecting Religious Liberty

Deal W. Hudson
May 17, 2017

Some conservatives were less than pleased by President Trump’s May 4 executive order on religious liberty. I guess they didn’t read it very closely. Had they done so, they would have realized that it was a promise of welcome changes to come. It doesn’t declare any new rights, but it does direct the administration to amend regulations and issue guidelines to protect the free exercise of religion from the power of the federal government. After what had seemed like a war on religion under Obama, that’s an enormous sea change.

Still, the executive order didn’t satisfy “Never-Trumpets” such as Princeton’s professor Robert George and Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation — who have always been quick to attack the president. They announced that it was “meaningless” and “woefully inadequate.”

Shamefully, George pointed the finger at the President’s Jewish daughter and son-in-law, “Ivanka and Jared won. We lost.” Such acrimony from a leading Catholic figure, and former Chair of the United States Commission on Religious Liberty, is both unjust and unbecoming.

Now let’s look at the record. President Trump has repeatedly declared his intention to remove the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which dramatically limited the political participation of houses of worship along with their priests, pastors, and rabbis.

As a first step towards that end, the executive order specifically instructs the Department of Treasury “not to take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues.  . . . ” We can expect Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to make sure that happens.

President Trump’s order also contains specific language on the ongoing litigation regarding the impact of Obamacare on Little Sisters of the Poor and other institutions refusing to provide contraceptive healthcare coverage to their employees. Trump ordered the Departments of Treasury, Labor (DOL), and Health and Human Services (HHS) to, “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive care mandate.  . . . ” There can be no doubt that HHS Secretary Tom Price will be doing just that — and vigorously.

What is likely the most important section of the executive order is addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.” As head of the Department of Justice, which is still pursuing the case against Little Sisters of the Poor, Sessions has been effectively charged with realizing the promises made in the Rose Garden on May 4.

Given his conservative, pro-life record as an Alabama senator, no one doubts how Jeff Sessions will shape the Department of Justice. Session’s leadership is surely one of the reasons civil rights groups immediately announced their intention to oppose the executive order.

Not surprisingly, a group of atheists, under the banner of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, filed suit against the president and the IRS, fearing the IRS would “selectively and preferentially discontinue enforcement of the electioneering restrictions of the tax code against churches and religious organizations, while applying a more vigorous enforcement standard to secular nonprofits.”

The notion that the IRS would apply more “vigorous” standards to secular nonprofit organizations is of course bizarre. But again, much of the daily media bombardment of the Trump administration contains allegations based upon hearsay, leaks, unnamed sources, and postmodern paranoia. Today the progressive left has bought into the idea that freedom requires that all their opponents be silenced, even when they are exercising their sincere religious beliefs.

Sister Loraine Marie Claire Maguire, Mother Provincial of Little Sisters of the Poor has figured it out. Her statement was forthright and unqualified, “Today’s action by the government confirms that the government never needed to create this false conflict between women and religion.” One can imagine a smile coming to her face when she added, “The government never needed the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide these services,” that is, hand out contraception.

President Trump has been accused of making a media event out of his statement on religious liberty.

These critics should be asked: What is wrong with the president of the United States calling two of the Little Sisters of the Poor to the podium in the Rose Garden? How often have we seen a religious order of the Catholic Church featured in a nationally televised White House ceremony?

The image of President Trump, with a beaming Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. standing behind, welcoming the two sisters is a powerful affirmation to the nation’s 70 million Catholic citizens that they’re fully members of the American community.

You’ve have thought that that was pretty obvious. But apparently some people needed reminding.

Read Newsmax: Some Don’t See Blessing in Trump’s Protecting Religious Liberty | Newsmax.com
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