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NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - ChurchMilitant.com has confirmed that a Hare Krishna devotional chant was led in late September at the Church of Our Saviour, a Catholic parish in New York City — and a prominent cardinal was in attendance.
A video of the event had been posted to YouTube and was featured on Dandavats.com, a site devoted to "Krishna bhakti." Father John Zuhlsdorf then posted the video to his popular Catholic blog, What Does The Prayer Really Say?
Following that, Rod Dreher criticized the occurrence at his blog for The American Conservative.
If this really happened with the approval of the pastor, he ought to be sacked, and the church reconsecrated. If he were a Russian Orthodox priest, he would be defrocked too. This is really an unspeakable desecration. An hour-long prayer service to a non-Christian god, in a Catholic church!
Within days, the original YouTube video was deleted, and many were left with further questions about the apparently blasphemous scandal. Did it really happen? If so, was it recent? Did the pastor approve of it?
ChurchMilitant.com contacted Fr. Robert J. Robbins, the relatively new pastor of the parish, and discovered that not only did it occur, but Cdl. Peter Turkson of Ghana was in attendance.
Cardinal Turkson, once considered papabile, as the highest-ranking prelate at the church would have been overseeing the activity.
The following is a list of important facts Fr. Robbins wished to make clear:
1. This was to be an ecumenical prayer vigil in solidarity with Pope Francis' address to the United Nations (the next day) and his encyclical, Laudato Sí. It turned out to be an interreligious prayer vigil similar to what the Holy Father conducted the next day at the Ground Zero Memorial.
2. The Vigil had been planned at another church in Midtown but at the last minute, Secret Service asked that it be moved for security reasons. Our site manager was approached about moving it to Our Saviour, which was outside of the secured area for the Pope's trip.
3. My recollection is that I had agreed to the use of our auditorium. However, the vigil did take place in the church.
4. The event was not open to the public.
5. Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was in attendance. I was not.
6. The Blessed Sacrament had been removed from the church.
7. The basic outline was that each hour would be the responsibility of a different faith tradition. I had been told that most of the time would be spent in silent prayer.
8. I think it would be a mistake to single out the parts without reference to the whole. Inter religious prayer services are nothing out of the ordinary, especially since the pontificate of St. John Paul II.
A copy of the video still exists on YouTube.
The "interfaith prayer service" was held in cooperation with The Bhakti Center, which operates out of Manhattan. According to its website,
The Bhakti Center is a nonprofit cultural arts center dedicated to sharing the experience of self-transformation — physically, emotionally and spiritually — through the culture of Bhakti. Bhakti philosophy holds the idea that the divine qualities which lie at the very essence of the self can be revived though the experience of culture, as explored through literature, art, drama, music and dance.
According to HareKrishna.com, the mantra being repeated is "a call to Krishna's divine energy."
"[W]hen we place ourselves in harmony with Krishna and Krishna's energy," the website adds, "we return to our natural, pure state of consciousness. This is what we call 'Krishna consciousness.'"
The explanation concludes, "Krishna and His energy are fully present in the sound of the mantra, so even if we don't know the language or intellectually understand how it works, by coming in touch with Krishna we'll become happy, and our life will become sublime."
Canon law regarding desecration states the following:
Can. 1211: Sacred places are violated by gravely injurious actions done in them with scandal to the faithful, actions which, in the judgment of the local ordinary, are so grave and contrary to the holiness of the place that it is not permitted to carry on worship in them until the damage is repaired by a penitential rite according to the norm of the liturgical books.
Can. 1212: Sacred places lose their dedication or blessing if they have been destroyed in large part, or have been turned over permanently to profane use by decree of the competent ordinary or in fact.
That means Cdl. Dolan will have to be the one who assesses how to proceed with the parish and whether it needs to be repaired by a penitential rite.
This is the second controversy to surround Manhattan's Church of Our Saviour — in particular Fr. Robbins, who took heat for stripping the parish of beautiful icons after Cdl. Timothy Dolan removed its traditional former pastor, Fr. George Rutler.