From 06/01: What’s the spiritual season? Anniversaries of hope and liberation, Whit Monday … and a second Pentecost

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(June 1 to 7, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

There aren’t a lot of traditional religious holidays this week, so we’re highlighting some anniversaries in the worldwide spiritual quest for freedom. Just 20 years ago, for example, billions of men and women were hoping that the implosion of Communism would circle the globe. Consider these 30-year and 20-year milestones in campaigns for human rights …

ON MONDAY, we might pray for the future of Zimbabwe. Thirty years ago today on June 1, 1979, a major milestone was reached in the campaign toward black rule. The freedom of the nation wasn’t complete at that point. The new black prime minister still faced exceptional limits. But there were hopeful signs 30 years ago that Zimbabwe was moving toward a bright future. Of course, the news out of Zimbabwe in 2009 is tragic. So, you might reflect on this needy nation today and perhaps envision a way you can help.

MONDAY also is known as Whit Monday in some parts of the Christian world—traditionally the day after Pentecost (which the Western Christian church just celebrated on Sunday). It’s not widely known in the U.S. But in some parts of the Christian world, this typically has been a spring holiday from work, much like many Americans regard Memorial Day now.

ON TUESDAY, as long as we’re reflecting on 30-year anniversaries that changed the world, you might want to recall June 2, 1979. That’s when Pope John Paul II journeyed to his native Poland for the first time as pontiff. This was a “first” on several levels, but the aftermath of the visit is what truly mattered. John Paul stirred up men and women in his homeland to resist Communist rule. Historians widely agree that he played a catalytic role in hastening the implosion of Communist regimes in the region. In fact, there were strong signs of what might happen even during this first visit. One New York Times headline at the end of that initial Polish trip read: “9 Triumphant Days in Poland; Pope, in Messages Spoken With Passion, Becomes Essential Element in Future East-West Relations.” Following his lead, other religious leaders across Eastern Europe began to take on brave new forms of activism.

THURSDAY is the 20-year anniversary of what many Chinese and human-rights activists describe as “the massacre” at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. (On Sunday, the New York Times published a group of articles looking back at the infamous incident.) Pro-democracy demonstrations began in mid-April 1989 and grew until crowds of students and other activists in the vast square had captured the world’s attention. It was a moment of great hope and it ended horribly as tanks cleared the square, killing hundreds. Here’s a fascinating online resource, if you care to read more. It’s an in-depth narrative of what Reuters’ Graham Earnshaw experienced during those turbulent weeks and especially around June 4. Or, the BBC produced this story for the 15th anniversary of the tragedy. Wikipedia also has a very extensive page on the 1989 protests, massacre and the global aftermath.

ON SUNDAY, millions of Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate the Feast of Holy Pentecost, a Greek word meaning “50th day.” Christians regard Pentecost as the birthday of the worldwide church. Because Orthodox Easter was a week later than Western Easter this year, the Orthodox world also is later this year in celebrating Pentecost. Meanwhile, on this Sunday, the Western church is marking Trinity Sunday.

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