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Sr. Wendy to judge the Jesus at 2000 contest

This is the only sensible millennium idea I’ve yet heard. Congratulations!”

The above was just one of the many endorsements we received when word went out that NCR is sponsoring a worldwide visual art competition in search of a contemporary Jesus to give meaning to the end of the old millennium and the beginning of a new one. What made this testimonial special was the fact it came from Sr. Wendy Beckett, the famed “art nun” whose BBC television series and books have made her a household name wherever art is appreciated.

But it gets even better. Sr. Wendy has agreed to be the final judge of NCR’s Jesus at 2000 contest. We frankly don’t think there’s anyone on earth who combines the religious and artistic credentials Sr. Wendy does, not to mention the charisma and high-profile enthusiasm she brings to the project.

The first entries have begun trickling in, and all indications are that the trickle will soon become a tidal wave. Reaction in the media in the United States and Canada has been spectacular. You may have caught yours truly, for example, chatting about the contest with Matt Lauer on the “Today Show” the morning of Aug. 19. We have been advised of entries to come from such places as Austria, Australia and the Czech Republic.

Lest any reader -- or artist -- has been away from Earth these past few weeks, the background to our search for a contemporary Jesus, and the regulations for participating in the competition, may be found on page 2 of both the July 30 and the Aug. 13 issues, or by looking in on our Web site at www.natcath.org.

Among the pertinent details: There is a first prize of $2,000, three further prizes of $200; the winners and other top entrants will be featured in the Christmas issue of NCR; deadline for entry is Oct. 18; a panel of judges, to be announced later, will do a preliminary screening of the artwork and pass on their selections to Sr. Wendy for final arbitration.

Sr. Wendy was born in South Africa. She earned a first-class honors degree at Oxford University. Back in South Africa, she taught until 1970, and then returned to England, where she entered the Sisters of Notre Dame order. A lifelong lover of art, in the past 15 years she has emerged in the world’s spotlight explaining art old and new, secular and sacred -- which she would probably say are the same thing -- and has appealed to art professionals as well as religious observers.

She has presented three major series for the BBC: “Sister Wendy’s Odyssey” (1992); “The Grand Tour” (1994); and “The Story of Painting” (1996). She has also published many books on art, most notably The Story of Painting: The Essential Guide to Western Art (Dorling Kindersley, New York); also Sister Wendy’s Book of Saints (D.K.). She will be arriving soon in the United States to film a new series, “Sister Wendy’s American Collection,” which will focus on six U.S. art museums and will be aired on public television in 2001.

Sr. Wendy now lives in a trailer at the Carmelite Sisters’ monastery in Norfolk, England, and frequently laments that her filmic travels take her away from her study of art and quiet contemplation.

On page 15 a striking image of Jesus in a yoga posture accompanies John Allen’s illuminating cover story about the current Vatican fear of relativism. The image is a reproduction of a painting displayed in San Francisco in the Old Temple of the Vedanta Society of Northern California (the society aims to spread awareness of Hinduism in the West). The artist is Eugene Theodosia Oliver, a Catholic who made contact with the Vedanta Society in the early years of the 20th century and later entered the Third Order Carmelites. She died in 1932. Readers interested in obtaining a full-color copy may order one from the Vedanta Press at (800) 816-2242.

Some time back, Fr. William Graham, familiar to NCR readers through his regular “Bookshelf” feature, wrote a guest opinion piece about cafeteria Catholics. He described an encounter with a holier-than-thou Catholic woman, whom Graham put in her place by telling her that going to Mass in a semi-private chapel did not fulfill her Sunday obligation. Reader Joseph McMillen wrote in to challenge Graham. His letter in the June 21 issue pointed out that under the 1918-1983 Code of Canon Law (which covered the period in which Graham’s anecdote took place) Mass in any public or semi-public oratory, or even in a cemetery chapel, was acceptable. We invited Graham to respond, but in the rush of getting that issue to print his response was dropped. Here, in full, is Graham’s reply: Mea maxima culpa.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 1999