Books are a great summertime pastime.
The Register offers more reading for the summer months. Delve into the history behind finding St. Peter’s bones, learn the faithful witness of martyrs from North America and imagine life beyond earth years into the future. Enjoy!
ST. PETER’S BONES
How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found … and Then Lost and Found Again
By Thomas J. Craughwell
Image Books, 2013
126 pages, $13.99 (also e-book, $9.99)
To order: imagecatholicbooks.com
In Search of St. Peter
BY JOHN M. GRONDELSKI
Peter — the first pope, the Galilean fisherman who came to Rome to preach and be crucified — was, by Tradition, believed to lie under the main altar of the Vatican basilica bearing his name.
That Tradition became a 20th-century archaeological quest — and the story of this book.
St. Peter’s Bones recounts the 1942 discovery of what Pope Paul VI later said were "convincing[ly]" identified as bones of the first Vicar of Christ.
Thomas Craughwell’s popular account involves exciting discoveries, dead ends, false detours and waylaid evidence.
It speaks of pious prelates and papal prudence.
It shows how patient the archaeologist must be because the obvious can be misleading, while simple details might speak volumes.
When Pope Pius XII started reconstructing the Vatican grottoes, everyone expected to find additional tombs, but, within two years, archaeologists stood outside one that suggested it might be Peter’s.
While the archaeological team prepared to document carefully the removal of its contents, those priests did not know that Msgr. Ludwik Kaas, the administrator of the basilica, had removed bones from an opening in the grave some days earlier.
"Msgr. Kaas was especially concerned about any human bones that might have been found. The necropolis was a cemetery, and he believed the remains of the dead should remain undisturbed," so he inspected the areas after work was done to gather any human bone fragments for later reinterment, the book relates.
Little did Msgr. Kaas know that the remains he carefully put in a marked box and consigned to storage could have been those of St. Peter.
The team subsequently found bones they believed might be Peter’s.
Investigation, however, suggested those bones were not his. In the meantime, an epigraphist learned about the box that Msgr. Kaas had stored away almost a decade earlier.
To make a long story short, it was those bones that, after careful investigation, Pope Paul VI said were "convincing[ly]" identified as Peter’s.
The story comes full circle more than 70 years later when, on the feast of Christ the King 2013, Pope Francis publicly presented the bones regarded as Peter’s, an event occurring after this book was written.
Why such interest in these remains?
Is it just the Catholic focus on the material? Or, as Craughwell suggests, is it a more profound human need?
"In light of Catholics’ abiding reverence for relics of the saints, the quest for St. Peter’s bones is no mere Catholic Indiana Jones story," Craughwell writes. "The desire to possess a physical link with a person we love or admire is deeply rooted in the human psyche. This desire expresses itself in many ways: wearing Grandma’s pearls, visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, lining up to see the blood-stained gloves Mary Todd Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater the night her husband was assassinated."
On the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, pick up this book and get to know how the first pope was revered, in death as well as in life.
John M. Grondelski writes from Shanghai, China.
VOYAGE TO ALPHA CENTAURI
By Michael O’Brien
Ignatius Press, 2013
587 pages, $29.95 (hardcover)
To order: ignatius.com
Humanity at Stake in Space
BY CLARE WALKER
When they first appeared in the pages of pulp magazines, stories about spaceships and alien planets were simplistic adventure yarns — "space operas" — replete with technical gadgetry, bug-eyed aliens and celebrations of mankind’s ability to conquer every frontier.
Over the years, in the hands of skillful, thoughtful storytellers, the genre of science fiction matured and expanded, and many authors left us iconic works of enduring literary quality, Frank Herbert’s Dune, C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World being but three examples. "Sci-fi" has become "SF," initials which stand not just for science fiction, but also for speculative fiction, and its conventions are familiar even to people who wouldn’t describe themselves as devotees.
Voyage to Alpha Centauri, Michael O’Brien’s contribution to the genre, begins almost a century from now, in the year 2097. Mankind finally develops the necessary technology — and secures the necessary funding — to conduct a large-scale, manned expedition through space to a distant planet.
Neil Ruiz de Hoyos, scientist and curmudgeon, joins almost 700 other people aboard a massive spacecraft, the Kosmos, on a journey to Alpha Centauri, 4.37 light years away. The 19-year mission includes nine years in space to get there, one year to explore a planet in the system believed to be habitable and nine years to return to Earth.
Neil is a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist whose life’s work laid the foundation for the technology that makes the flight possible, so he is invited aboard as an honorary member of the party. But Neil has other reasons for accepting a berth on the ship: For decades now, the Earth has been a global society under the oppressive control of a world government that suppresses all religion, monitors citizens’ heat signatures and carbon footprints to prevent them from damaging the environment and enforces a global population-control policy. Aboard the Kosmos, these tyrannical practices will not be relaxed, but voyageurs are enticed by the promise of adventure and new scientific discoveries, free room and board for almost two decades and, best of all, privacy: The organizers of the mission promise that the electronic-monitoring ubiquitous on Earth will be curtailed on board the Kosmos.
Six years into the nine-year journey, though, Neil discovers that this was a lie and that the promised utopia in space is in fact an authoritarian surveillance state and a "culture of death" every bit as repressive as the one he left behind on Earth.
As in his previous novels, O’Brien takes pains — and many pages — to set up his story premise and introduce his characters. The reader’s patience is amply rewarded: Once Neil discovers the dark underbelly of the community aboard the Kosmos, the pace of the story accelerates to warp speed.
When they arrive on the planet, Neil and his friends make another disturbing discovery, proving that no matter how far we humans flee, "we take the world with us wherever we go." Dystopia, it seems, is irrevocably within us.
O’Brien’s prose style is intelligent and readable, his characters vivid and his story structure solid. He provides enough technical theory to make the space flight plausible, but not enough to bog down the story.
Voyage to Alpha Centauri is a cautionary tale with a disturbing vision of what awaits humanity at the end of our current trajectory. But O’Brien also presents a refreshing alternative future of what mankind could achieve if he willingly returned to his proper place in relation to God.
Clare Walker writes from
150 NORTH AMERICAN
MARTYRS YOU SHOULD KNOW
By Brian O’Neel
Servant Books, 2014
190 pages, $15.99
To order: catalog.FranciscanMedia.org
In North America
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
As the title 150 North American Martyrs You Should Know informs readers, there have been a high number of martyrs in North America.
Most have heard of the Jesuit missionary St. Isaac Jogues, who, with several companions, was martyred in what is now upstate New York while working as a missionary among the American Indians.
But 150 — including nameless ones from Canada and Mexico and elsewhere on what is now U.S. soil?
Brian O’Neel illuminates this stellar cast, who shed their blood for Christ.
In a breezy, conversational style, O’Neel begins from when the Europeans arrived on this continent and then continues chronologically, drawing readers from one century to the next with true tales. The stories are of those who came to bring the faith to North America and those who eventually left the continent to bring Christ to foreign lands.
Other than a handful, most were never officially canonized saints, and only a few are officially named "Servants of God" or "Blesseds." But all are martyrs because they shed their blood for Christ.
Readers learn about Father Gabriel de la Ribourde, who was killed by the Kickapoo along the Illinois River in the late 17th century, and Ann "Goody" Glover, a simple Irish woman from Puritan New England, who was labeled a witch because she was a Catholic. She was given a mock trial, where she was besieged to renounce her religion, and she was executed because she would not.
At the place of execution, "which, as Providence would have it, sat directly under what would one day be Boston cathedral’s holy water font," she said, "I die a Catholic," as she clutched a crucifix.
The author details how, in early centuries, when so much was undeveloped territory, missionaries were martyred in Florida, Georgia and Virginia, as well as in the territories of Texas, New Mexico and California, where Blessed Junipero Serra said of Franciscan Father Luis Jayme: "Thanks be to God; now that the terrain has been watered by blood, the conversion of the San Diego Indians will take place." It did in two generations.
In the 19th century, many forgotten or nameless people died because they were Catholics living in a hostile, anti-Catholic environment in the United States.
The same happened in the 20th century. One horrendous account is of a priest in Denver, who was killed during Communion time because he was a priest.
Most 20th-century martyrs died abroad. O’Neel recounts the lives of Brooklyn-born Servant of God Bishop Francis Ford, a Maryknoll priest, who was tortured to death by the Chinese Communists in 1952, and Kansas-born Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun, who died in a Chinese prison camp during the Korean War.
The chapter on Father Kapaun is riveting. Writes O’Neel: "Father went from bungalow to bungalow — even those of the enlisted men, which was against Chinese regulation — checking on the men. His leadership was such that every single night, at every single bungalow — of which there were dozens — he had all the POWs, no matter what their faith, saying the Rosary.
"Father fought for the captives as would the fiercest mother bear for her cubs, and he cared for them as a parent does for a sick infant. While he was sick, he would salvage tin from bombed-out buildings, take a rock and beat the tin for hours into a watertight pan." Then he would use "this water to wash the sick and their soiled clothes."
O’Neel ends each chapter with a short prayer for God’s help in applying the lesson and example of each particular martyr to readers’ own lives.
For example, Father Gerard Donovan was a Maryknoll missionary in China who always put service of others above his personal happiness and safety. He was kidnapped in 1937 from Rosary and Benediction services by outlaws, held for ransom and found frozen and emaciated months later. Based on his life, the author challenges readers, "Can we turn off the TV to converse with a loved one? Give up an expensive espresso to donate to the poor? Encourage a neighbor who is out of work? Father Donovan teaches us to find something to do that is of service and then to do it."
Although there is a brief section at the end recalling some martyrs in 1920s Mexico, when the anti-Catholic secular government suppressed the Church, there is no mention of the six priest-martyrs who were canonized in 2000 by St. John Paul II. But there is a fascinating appendix, "Did George Washington Die a Catholic?"
Overall, this is not only an informative book, but one that is highly descriptive and ultimately inspiring.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.