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True culture requires leisure, faith

John Mallon

The Daily Oklahoman


EICHSTÄTT, Germany — I am looking across the Altmühl Valley in the university town of Eichstätt in Bavaria. I'm in the town where the first bishop, St. Willibald, was consecrated in A.D. 741 by his uncle St. Boniface, for a seminar on "Christ the Redeemer of Culture" at the invitation of John Haas, director of the International Institute for Culture ( 

The setting is idyllic, the people wonderful and the conference organization inspired. Haas, a moral theologian by profession, has drawn from the title of the late Josef Pieper's book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture. Pieper, one of the great Catholic philosophers of this era, was a regular speaker at this annual event until his death in late 1990s at the age of 93. 

Some Oklahomans remember Haas and another speaker, the Rev. Romanus Cessario, brought to Oklahoma City to speak by Nick Bagileo who, after doing incalculable good in the Oklahoma City Archdiocese, has moved on to be the family life director of the archdiocese in Washington, D.C. 

The days begin with a three-minute walk to a 7:30 a.m. Latin Novus Ordo Mass at the Baroque-styled Hilig-Geist-spitalkirche (Hospice Church of the Holy Ghost), a typical German breakfast (must be experienced) then a 9:30 a.m. lecture by one of the experts invited as presenters. 

The 40 to 45 participants ranging from college students to retirees are primarily from the United States, but include people from Peru, Canada, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Mexico and Lithuania. Lectures have a 20-minute coffee break and are followed (at a leisurely pace) by lunch. 

Afternoons and evenings are often free or offer some fascinating activity related to the conference theme of Christ and culture. Lost arts of conversation, leisure and recreation thrive, giving way to meditation, thought and animated conversation over beer from the 500-year-old local brewery, boating on the Altmühl, swimming in the municipal pool, hiking, reading, admiring the charming and beautiful architecture and folk dancing, listening to the church bells - and eating, thinking and praying. 

Presenters have included Haas, philosopher Ralph McInerny of the University of Notre Dame, and paleontologist/professor Peter Dodson. Dodson lectured on science, evolution theory and Catholicism, and led the group on a walk through a paleontology museum in a medieval fortress near the conference center. Eichstätt happens to have one of the world's richest paleontology sites. 

Culture in the Western world needs repair, especially when "busy-ness" is the order of these days, blocking out crucial elements of life like God, respect for human life, authentic love and family life. The modern Western culture of death was dealt a setback at the recent United Nations Beijing+5 conference when the developing nations, which have not yet lost sight of these basic and irreplaceable elements of life, said a resounding "no" to the "developed" world and to diabolical brands of feminism and other ideologies promoted by Clinton-Gore. (See 

Western culture is not dead, but it is in dire need of attention and repair, plus a dose of faith, hope and love to offset the rampant culture of death. Studying renewed sanity at the U.N. and participating in programs like this one in Eichsätt are good places to start. 

Mallon, a member of The Oklahoman's Opinion Board of Contributors, is a contributing editor of Inside the Vatican magazine. 

The opinions of the writer are not necessarily those of The Oklahoman. 


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