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February 16, 2011

Defending truth, respecting those who think differently - Approaching mental illness and chemical dependency as priority concerns - Archbishop says immigration is family issue for him

In this edition:
1. How the sick enrich the Christian community.
2. Called to serve the mentally ill and chemically dependent.
3. Mental illness, chemical dependency and social stigma.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Defending truth, respecting others;
b) confronting injustice;
c) feeding the hungry with more than good will.
5. What kind of issue is immigration?
6. Flight into Egypt: Jesus, a stranger in a strange land.
7. Immigration and church social teaching.
8. Immigration as a family issue.
9. The Hispanic presence in the U.S.

1. The Sick Enrich the Christian Community: Sacramental Note

People who are sick do much more than passively receive the care extended to them by others, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in a homily Feb. 6. He commented that care for the sick is so basic to Christianity that it is difficult to imagine the church without it.

People who are sick enrich the Christian community, Archbishop Martin said. A key point he made during a Mass in Dublin that included the sacrament of the sick was that the sick are "an integral part" of the church. "It is not simply that we come to take care of the sick, as though they were passive spectators of our actions," he said.

People "celebrate the sacrament of the sick rather than just receive it," Archbishop Martin explained. Through this sacrament, the sick person "contributes to the sanctifying work of the church," he said. In uniting their own suffering with Christ's suffering, people who are sick "enrich the Christian life of all of us, and they teach us what Christian community really is."

In fact, Archbishop Martin added, sick people are "significant for the Christian community" because of their "very sense of weariness and fragility." And the life of a sick person "has special value from which we can all learn." It needs to be recognized, he said, that "human greatness can and does spring forth among those who are weak in worldly terms."

It is notable that "caring for the sick always accompanied Jesus' proclamation of the good news," Archbishop Martin said, adding that it could be said in light of this that "there is a sense in which there is no church without the sick."

2. Serving the Mentally Ill and Chemically Dependent

People suffering from mental illness and addictions are the concern of Bishop Michael Bransfield's second pastoral letter on the Christian community's call to make the needs of the sick a priority. Five years ago the bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., published "A Church That Heals: A Pastoral Letter on Health and Well-Being in West Virginia." He released his pastoral letter on behavioral health Feb. 11.

"As people of faith, we are called to bring those suffering from addictions and/or mental illness out of a place of loneliness and isolation," Bishop Bransfield writes in his new pastoral letter. It shouldn't be forgotten that for Jesus, healing never involves solely the body, but also "mind, heart and spirit," the bishop says.

The journey to recovery these people undertake "is one that they should not have to make alone," the bishop believes. He recommends that the church's people serve as good Samaritans for mentally ill and chemically dependent people, which will require them to exercise compassion, mercy and commitment.

"To be a neighbor to another is to offer compassion, to take care of the other," Bishop Bransfield writes. But he notes that, as the parable of the good Samaritan itself acknowledges, "the solution to another's problem might not be immediate, it may be costly and may require a commitment over time."

Responding to the shortage of care for the mentally ill and chemically dependent will mean devoting "more funds to proven prevention strategies and treatments," and this is "a matter for legislatures," Bishop Bransfield states. However, he adds, "a great deal of the answer lies in our response as individuals and as members of communities to those dealing with addictions and with mental illness."

To serve those suffering from behavioral health illnesses, it will be necessary first to confront "the curse of stigmatization" that they still experience, the bishop comments. He explains that in "following the example of the good Samaritan, we are called to break through those factors which can isolate or exclude, and replace fear and shame with mercy and compassion."

Serving the mentally ill and chemically dependent means serving their families too, Bishop Bransfield notes. He says that "a special concern of Christians should be the care of children affected by the behavioral health problems of their parents." Children whose parents are depressed or "afflicted with bipolar disorder or some other mental condition may grow up in confusion and fear," Bishop Bransfield points out.

For a church that heals, "care for the children of those suffering from a behavioral illness must be a priority," he states. Moreover, "providing such care appropriately is often a long-term effort." Bishop Bransfield says that for parishes, "the plight of the children of addicts or of those with serious mental issues should be a major concern."

In one noteworthy observation, Bishop Bransfield calls attention to the role of jails as de facto mental health providers in the U.S. today. Serving as good Samaritans to the mentally ill and chemically dependent requires, however, that we not "add to the burden already upon them by assigning their care to law enforcement agencies," he writes.

Rather, "in our desire to be compassionate, we should insist on the adequate funding of effective treatment for addicts and the funding of programs directly aimed at treating mental illness within local communities."

Bishop Bransfield encourages parishes to promote understanding of mental illness through homilies and education. "Preaching, teaching and faith-formation programs should encourage healthy living and practices making connections between faith and behavioral health," he says. Parishes also "could host a series of discussions of the realities of behavioral health in their communities."

The church and its communities are asked by Bishop Bransfield to reach out to people suffering from behavioral illness, "to welcome them and to do our best to make our communities, schools and parishes places" where these people "can be supported on their journey to recovery." (Bishop Bransfield's speech appears in the Feb. 17 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

3. Mental Illness, Chemical Dependency and Social Stigma

"Though much has improved in the past few decades, the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and chemical dependencies still persists," Bishop Bransfield insists in his February 2011 pastoral letter on behavioral health. He calls it "essential" that this stigma be removed from society and says this is "a task in which we all can participate."

It is important to realize that the stigma attached to behavioral health illnesses often keeps people from seeking the help they need, the bishop makes clear. He considers it necessary to confront in a direct way the -

-- "Attitudes that condemn addicts and those with mental illnesses."

-- "Prejudices that result in sufferers not seeking aid but in keeping their conditions secret."

-- And, the "stigmatizing culture that keeps those in need silent."

Attitudes like those "are an example of a deeply 'unjust social arrangement' that the church must bear witness against in the name of justice and mercy for those in need," Bishop Bransfield says. He believes that when it comes to "overcoming the social stigma placed on those living with behavioral health issues," both "leadership and example" can be provided by "a people of faith and a church that heals."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Defending Truth While Respecting Others: "[St. Peter Canisius] knew how to harmoniously combine fidelity to dogmatic principles with the respect due to each person. In a historical period marked by strong confessional tensions, he avoided -- and this is something extraordinary -- he avoided giving into disrespect and angry rhetoric. This was rare at that time of disputes between Christians." (From remarks Feb. 9 by Pope Benedict XVI on St. Peter Canisius and how he related to others during the Reformation)

To Confront Injustice: "In order to confront the problems of our world we must first study them, we must learn to see them clearly and recognize what constitutes injustice at every level. 'Seeing' demands more than a glance based on presumptions of ideology or prejudice (even political affiliation: Republican or Democrat). Rather, using the available scientific tools, we must conduct a rigorous analysis of social conditions, their causes and interconnections, their effects, especially on the poor and marginalized, and the contemporary experiences of the people of God who struggle." (From the Feb. 13 speech by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington)

Feeding the Hungry Requires More Than Good Will: "I think there's a lot of good will in the churches, but what most Christian people, Catholic and Protestant, do not get is that if we're serious about helping poor people, helping hungry people, we've got to complement what we do within the system with policy and political change. We cannot food-bank our way out of hunger." (The Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, in an interview with Catholic News Service, published Feb. 4)

5. What Kind of Religious Issue Is Immigration?

In one sense, immigration as an issue for the church is not like the issues of abortion or defense of the family, but in another sense it is indeed like those issues, Coadjutor Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a Feb. 2 speech in Naples, Fla.

The church extends care to "the immigrant because Jesus commanded it," Archbishop Gomez said in a discussion of immigration as a religious issue. He called the principles underlying the church's approach to immigrants "beautiful," but said they are "also demanding."

Turning these principles into policies isn't easy, the archbishop stated. He explained: "Immigration is not like the fundamental issues of abortion or the defense of the family. There is no single, authentic 'Catholic position' on immigration." But he quickly qualified that statement, saying:

"We cannot separate our faith in Jesus from the policies we advocate as citizens. In this sense the immigration issue is like the issues of abortion and marriage. Our words and our actions must always reflect the priority of Jesus Christ in our lives and the priorities of his Gospel."

Archbishop Gomez explained that "the American bishops support a comprehensive reform of our immigration policies that secures our borders and gives undocumented immigrants the chance to earn permanent residency and eventual citizenship." He personally believes that "the bishops' approach is wise." He added:

"Other good Catholics can come to different conclusions on how to support the bishops in their efforts to promote authentic immigration reform in the spirit of the Gospel. I respect that. I'm not out to change anybody's mind today."

Archbishop Gomez spoke to Legatus, an organization of Catholic business leaders. He said: "America needs faithful Catholics, especially from the business community, to be leaders in forming public opinion -- to be leaders in shaping political solutions that serve justice and the common good."

He told his audience he has deep respect for their "responsibilities and opinions as entrepreneurs, employers and civic leaders" and admires their "formation in the faith," as well as the sacrifices they make. In their leadership on the immigration issue, he urged the business leaders to assure that they "are really reflecting the mind of the church and are sincerely seeking to support the bishops in their call to welcome the stranger."

Governments have the right to control migration into their countries and to defend their borders, Archbishop Gomez said in discussing the basic principles that guide the bishops' approach to migration. However, he said, "the church also teaches that national sovereignty should never be used as an excuse to deny the rights of needy and decent people who are seeking their livelihood."

6. The Flight of Jesus Into Egypt

Archbishop Gomez urged his audience in Naples, Fla., to ask what Jesus tried "to teach" by his flight into Egypt. The archbishop cited the Gospel of Matthew, where it says that shortly after Jesus' birth the Holy Family was forced by King Herod's actions to flee into Egypt.

There is "a lot of biblical symbolism at work in this story," the archbishop said. "Jesus is reliving the experiences of Moses and the children of Israel. He becomes a stranger in a strange land -- just as the people of God once were in Egypt."

To grasp the meaning of the flight into Egypt, it is important not only to grasp this biblical symbolism, but to take seriously the incarnation, Archbishop Gomez stressed. He said Jesus chose "to experience all the joys and sorrows, the temptations and hardships of human life, and that's why he chose to experience what it means to be a stranger, an immigrant."

The condition of an immigrant - of an alien and an exile - serves in the New Testament as "a metaphor for the Christian life," according to Archbishop Gomez. He said, "Over and over the Scriptures remind us that we are pilgrims in this world -- that we are strangers, that we have no lasting city."

The modern phenomena of mass migration and immigration are "part of the pattern of globalization that is one of the signs of our times," he said. However, Christians always have "practiced hospitality," and the church always has "worked to defend the stranger and care for the immigrant."

Archbishop Gomez said that at this moment in the U.S. "there are a lot of people - a lot of good people - who are saying things they know they should never be saying about immigrants." The "anger and frustration" among these people "is understandable, but their rhetoric and many of their political responses are not worthy of the Gospel" and "are not worthy of America's proud history as a beacon of hope for the world's poor and persecuted," he commented.

7. Immigration and Church Social Teaching

"The church's approach to immigration -- like the church's approach to every social issue -- is never about politics," Archbishop Gomez told the Legatus summit in Naples, Fla. Rather, he said, the church's approach "is about preaching the good news of God's love for all peoples. It is about transforming the city of man into the family of God."

The church's social teaching is not about "trying to dictate politics or run society," he said. "Instead, the church, through prayer and reflection on the Gospel, and through study of the signs of the times, tries to translate Christ's love into principles for Christian witness and action."

"Jesus calls us to true love - not love in words alone, but love in deed," the archbishop said. He urged his audience to remind others that "immigrants are not statistics" and "are not stereotypes" - that "they are flesh and blood" and "children of God," that they are "men and women with families like us."

8. Immigration as a Family Issue

"For me immigration is not only a question of politics or economics. Immigration is for me a family issue," Archbishop Gomez said in his Naples, Fla., speech. The reason, he said, is that "the vast majority of the immigrants we are talking about are our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ."

But immigration also is a family issue for the archbishop because he is an immigrant himself. "My people come from both Mexico and America," he said.

For Hispanics "family means everything," the archbishop observed. He called that the reason "our current policies of enforcement - workplace raids, detentions and deportations - are such a humanitarian tragedy. We are destroying families in the name of enforcing our laws."

True enough, "many immigrants are in our country illegally" and that bothers him, Archbishop Gomez said. He doesn't "like it when our rule of law is flouted," and he supports "just and appropriate punishments." However, he continued:

"Right now, we are imposing penalties that leave wives without husbands, children without parents. We are deporting fathers and leaving single mothers to raise children on little to no income. We are a better people than that."

9. The Hispanic Presence in the U.S.

Hispanics today constitute the largest U.S. minority. Moreover, 40 percent of U.S. Catholics today "are of Hispanic origin, and within a very few years the Hispanic Catholic community will represent half of Catholicism in the country," says Mario Paredes, a frequent spokesman on issues related to the Hispanic community.

An article by Paredes titled "The Hispanic Presence in the U.S." appears in the winter 2011 edition of the CMSM Forum, an online publication of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, headquartered in Silver Spring, Md. He serves at the American Bible Society as Presidential Liaison to the United Nations for Roman Catholic Projects.

"The term 'Hispanic' was coined by the federal government in the census of the year 1970 and refers to persons born in a Spanish-speaking country in the Americas or those who have their ancestral origins in Spain or in Spanish-speaking territories," Paredes writes. He views the term "Hispanic" as "ambiguous but necessary," referring as it does to people with ancestral roots in a variety of nations and regions.

Of Hispanics now in the United States, nearly 50 percent "have their origin in Mexico," and "the remaining 50 percent come from different countries of the American continent such as El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Colombia," Paredes notes. Thirty-six percent of Hispanics in the United States live in California, but the Hispanic population in several states -- Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York - is greater than 1 million, he says.

Remarking on the great growth in the number of Hispanics in the U.S., Paredes writes that fewer than 4 million people in the U.S. were Hispanic in 1950, though "by July 1, 2009, the population with Hispanic origins present in the United States, according to the National Bureau of Census, had risen to 48.4 million, making up 16 percent of the total population, in addition to the 4 million Hispanic residents on the island of Puerto Rico."

This makes the U.S., in terms of numbers, "the second largest Hispanic nation" in America, after Mexico, "with its 111 million inhabitants," Paredes says.

The number of Catholic priests in the U.S. who are Hispanic is increasing significantly, Paredes points out. He also notes:

"The number of vocations to the priesthood and religious orders among Hispanics born in this nation is slowly growing, which means that the seminaries today are training a significant number of Hispanic candidates for the priesthood."

You can read Paredes' entire article at www.cmsm.org. He analyzes the strengths and talents of Hispanics in the U.S. and their contributions to both the nation and the church. He speaks at the same time of the frequent exploitation and persecution of Hispanics. This, he states, "contradicts the most elementary Christian principles and values upon which the North American nation and society were founded."