Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fire destroys historic building at Our Lady's University Texas.

Reminiscent of the 1879 fire that destroyed our historic main building, our brethern at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio suffered a disasterous fire on Tuesday night. Hopefully God will bring that community together at the end of this academic year despite such great set backs. As Fr. Sorin would say, Perhaps they built it too small.

Classes have been called off this morning and a prayer service will be held at noon at Our Lady of the Lake University, after a fire Tuesday night left significant damage to the historic Main building. No injuries were reported, but The San Antonio Express-News described an emotional scene as students and nuns at the university watched the destruction of much of a structure that has been the historic center of campus. The newspaper’s Web site also features photographs of the scene.

Link to the photos of this tragedy

Fr. Hesburgh's account of the 1879 incident:

It was his [Sorin's] faith and his endurance and his stubborn courage and this ideal of a great institution dedicated to the mother of God that kept him moving, and move he did. He was on his 55th trip across the Atlantic trying to raise funds for this place in France when he had a terrible message. He learned that the University that he had given his life to build that had a magnificent Main Building as it does today, and he had already begun this very church and had spent many hours here offering Mass as the church began to pick up beauty through the stained glass windows and the arches above us and the beauty of the altar which he brought from Paris. But this day, everything seemed black. He came back to the spot, it was late spring, he gathered his fellow priests and nuns and brothers of Holy Cross, and they only had to walk a few steps to come into the side door of this church. The church was full of smoke, of course, being right next door to this conflagration. His whole University was there, smoking in ruins. And he gathered this little community around him and he said a rather startling thing. He said, "Brothers and sisters, this fire is my fault." And they said "Father Sorin! You were in Montreal, how could this fire have been your fault?" He said, "I came here as a very young priest, not yet 30, and I had this great dream of a great university. And I built the biggest I could, and at the same time, built right next to it, a great cathedral of Notre Dame." And he said, "My problem was that I was thinking too small. I was not enthusiastic enough about what I should build and name after notre dame, our Lady." And so he said, "We're going out there tomorrow and we're going to clean up the ruins and save what bricks we can, and we're going to make thousands and hundreds of thousands or more bricks out of the morel along the shores of the lake. And then we're going to build a building worth of our lady and crown it with her."

Well, work they did, dawn to dusk, June, July, August. Working on the scaffolding, sisters and brothers and priests and all the good citizens who came to help from South Bend. Mightily they built, and on the last day of August, the final tiles were put on the roof and they gathered here to give thanks in this church. And everybody said, "Thank God we're finished," and Sorin said, "No, we're not finished yet. We still have to put up the tower and the dome and crown that golden dome with a golden lady. And I've already ordered a replica of the wonderful statue of Our Lady on a pillar in the Piazza d'Espana in Rome." Well, they said, "You're an old fool, you know? We have worked more than humans should have to work, from dawn to dusk, day after day, seven days a week including Sunday. And yet when we finally put the roof on, you say we're not finished yet, you've got to put up some dome." He said, "Well, I'm the only one who can sign checks, and eventually the cash money is going to run out, we don't have that much of it," so he said, "I'm going to get in my horse and buggy and go across to St. Mary's. And I will be there until you come and get me. But you're not just coming to get me, you're coming to give me my golden dome and the golden statue atop it." So he did, he jumped into his buggy and went down the path to St. Mary's and the days passed and they began to get hungry and the groceries did run out, and finally they sent a delegation across to see him. And they said, "Well, you're an old fool, but we're hungry and you do have the checkbook." So they said, "We will come back and you can have your golden dome." Well, he came back readily enough and then the building was really finished, he had his golden dome, and atop it, that wonderful statue of Our Lady which looks over the Piazza in Rome, called the Immaculate Conception.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

China Will Get the Olympics It Deserves

Rendering of the Water Cube aquatic facility and Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing.

By way of Tommy Forr.

From former chief speech writer for George W. Bush and ND alum, Bill McGurn:

Too bad there's not an Olympic medal for getting your argument backward. If there were, the People's Republic of China might have to share the gold with those agitating for a boycott.

With fewer than 100 days to go before the opening ceremonies, Chinese officials want outsiders to stop using the Olympics to bring up what a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman calls "irrelevant political factors." By irrelevant political factors, she means China's suppression of Tibet, its weapons sales to the Sudanese government, its indifference to the God-given rights of its own citizens, etc. If people would just stop bringing these things up, the Olympics that the world will see on television would be the same fantasy that you see on those propaganda billboards featuring happy Chinese citizens appreciative of the care and concern they receive from the people's government.

Now, it is true that in the three decades since China opened its economy up to the world, life has changed in good and important ways for the Chinese people. Yet what the Chinese government does not seem to understand is that the flip side to increased trade and investment from the outside world is increased interest in, say, your policy of forced abortions for women who get pregnant without official permission.

To put it another way, by agreeing to stage the Olympics, the government has also given a world stage to anyone with a grievance. In a country whose actions have life or death consequences for people from Darfur to North Korea – and whose rule over one billion people is without the benefit of free elections – that adds up to a lot of grievances.

The government also seems not to have appreciated the potential consequences of having world leaders on hand for the opening ceremonies. President Bush has said he is going, and the Chinese are pleased. Yet if something were to go wrong – more bloodshed in Tibet, an unseemly squashing of protesters in or around the Olympic village – the president could not be silent.

This is a man who invited Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Cardinal to the White House residence over Chinese objections, who met with Chinese human-rights activist Rebiya Kadeer at a conference for dissidents in Prague, and who has consistently spoken out for freedom while on Chinese soil. It should also be sobering for the Chinese to recall that it was the presence of Mikhail Gorbachev in Beijing in 1989 that helped transform what might have been just another brutal Chinese crackdown into a world-televised event.

Those pushing for a boycott might want to reconsider their position as well. Granted, there is something maddening about watching a spectacle like the Olympics, where all those attending have to operate under the pretense that China is like any other normal country. Or reading the official pabulum about how the journey of the Olympic torch illustrates the "Chinese aspiration for world peace and a better world."

The consoling thought is that the troubles that accompanied the Olympic torch on its journey, and the attendant coverage, remind us of something we can easily forget amid the incredible economic advances that have made China's skylines look so sleek and modern: This is anything but a normal country.

Without the Olympics, would anyone pay attention to activists pointing out China's contributions to the suffering in Darfur? Without the Olympics, would the plight of Tibetans be on our front pages? And without the Olympics – and the prodding from President Bush – would the Chinese even consider meeting with what they so charmingly call "the Dalai Lama clique"?

None of these issues will be resolved easily or overnight. But the Beijing Olympics have given people trying to bring these issues to the world's attention a platform they would never otherwise have.

As for the Chinese people, their reaction is also understandable. For most Chinese, the occasions for national pride or unity have been few and far between. So even people you might expect to be immune can surprise you.

When NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Serbia in 1999, a leader from the Democratic Party of Hong Kong – a courageous man whom Beijing constantly tried to undermine and who regularly asked America for help in getting China to keep its promises to the territory – appeared outside the U.S. consulate denouncing what he called "a very serious affront to Chinese sovereignty."

Seven years ago, when the International Olympic Committee announced that Beijing would be host for the 2008 Games, I wrote in these pages that while I would not have chosen China, I was not discomfited by the prospect of several thousand foreign reporters and all manner of dissidents using the media attention to press their causes. "For all the celebrations and fireworks today," I wrote, "China may yet get the Olympics it really deserves."

If the tragicomic path of the Olympic torch is any indication, it looks like that is precisely what is happening.

I think we all know how duplicitous and callous Beijing has been during this whole process. Like McGurn I objected when China was awarded the Olympics; I think London got jammed up in the deal. Of course, London eventually did get its Olympics in 2012, but that announcement was greeted with the July 7, 2005 London bombings and the following death of innocent Brazilian national Jean Charles de Menezes at the hands of overzealous Scotland Yard agents. A joyous occasion turned to an event of national mourning and reflecting on its terrorism policy.

<-IOC President Jacques Rogge, the man responsible for bringing us Beijing 2008

Although I must say that I disagree with McGurn about the bad publicity. I think it would have been there even if China hadn't snookered the IOC. If he remembers back to that time when they were awarded the games, much of the dissent was based on China's human rights record. I think that there would have been grassroots movements against Beijing, Olympics or not. Would it be on the front page? Probably not, but it would have been in the paper somewhere.

And to be fair, China's arrogance on this issue is not wholely new or unique. The Chinese have been doing their own thing for the thousands of years and haven't cared what outsiders think. At the same time our own government, and McGurn was a member of the top echelon, has acted arrogantly about its invasion of Iraq, its "mandate" in the 2004 election, its attempted sale of management contracts for US ports to foreign companies, and virtually every other misstep since 2001. If we look back to NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Beograd in 1999, we find that it was an error based on faulty maps supplied by the CIA. If our intelligence couldn't get its maps right, how could we possibly have known where weapons of mass destruction were? Yeah, China's bad and deserves our criticism, but as we sit around and harp on it, let's not forget to remove the log from our own eye as well.

Apparently the Chinese are so worried about demostrations during the Olympic Torch's ascent of Mt. Everest that they have paralyzed the whole Himalaya region and kept the date of the climb a secret.

LaFortune: Seat of Wisdom

Just overheard in LaFortune:

"Hey! I just figured it out! War doesn't make sense because fighting to make someone be peaceful is like coercing someone to believe what you believe. Fighting to be peaceful doesn't make sense, just like you can't force someone to think like you. Now, I need to figure out Just War Theory."

What ingenious logic.
My head hurts.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Another Suggestion

My choice for Commencement speaker? Tough to beat Solzhenitsyn, but if we can't have him I'd like to see PJ O'Rourke present this speech to our class.

So now, it's my job to give you advice. But I'm thinking: You're finishing 16 years of education, and you've heard all the conventional good advice you can stand. So, let me offer some relief:

1. Go out and make a bunch of money!

Here we are living in the world's most prosperous country, surrounded by all the comforts, conveniences and security that money can provide. Yet no American political, intellectual or cultural leader ever says to young people, "Go out and make a bunch of money." Instead, they tell you that money can't buy happiness. Maybe, but money can rent it.

There's nothing the matter with honest moneymaking. Wealth is not a pizza, where if I have too many slices you have to eat the Domino's box. In a free society, with the rule of law and property rights, no one loses when someone else gets rich.