home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
July 16, 2011

Ministry to youths experiencing same-sex attraction -
Christians in a multireligious world -
International conference explores Catholic peace-building

1. Catholic peace-building efforts: a well-kept secret.
2. What is Catholic peace-building?
3. Quotes on Catholic peace-building.
4. Pastoral ministry to youths with same-sex attraction.
5. Christians in a multireligious world.
6. Is the church committed to interreligious dialogue?
7. Protecting those who must work Sundays.

1. Catholic Peace-Building Efforts: A Well-Kept Secret

Catholic efforts to build peace may be the "best kept secret" of church social teaching, said Gerard Powers, director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc international peace institute in South Bend, Ind.

Powers spoke during a June 30 Rome conference on Catholic peace-building, organized by the U.S.-based Catholic Peacebuilding Network, which he coordinates.

"From South Sudan and Central America to Congo and Colombia, the Catholic Church is a powerful force for peace, freedom, justice and reconciliation," he said. But Powers believes that this "impressive and courageous peace-building work of the Catholic community is often unknown, unheralded and underanalyzed."

Some 80 diplomats, humanitarian aid workers, peace-building practitioners, church and religious leaders, and scholars participated in the conference. It devoted attention to the future challenges for Catholic peace-building and asked what constitutes effective and authentically Catholic work for peace.

The Catholic Peacebuilding Network, formed in 2004, is "an informal network of some two dozen bishops' conferences, relief and development agencies, university institutes and other Catholic organizations" that work together on an ad hoc basis, Powers said in remarks to the conference.

Among its goals, Powers said the network endeavors "to enhance the peace-building capacity of the church in conflict areas," particularly in the Great Lakes region of Africa, and in Colombia and the Philippines.

Conference speakers called attention to peace-building efforts undertaken by Catholic organizations such as the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio and Caritas, the church's international aid and development agency. At times these organizations have helped to mediate peace agreements in very direct ways.

Reflecting on lessons learned from Sant'Egidio's peace-building work over the last two decades, Claudio Betti, director of special operations for the community, told the conference that the "church does not see other actors as a threat [but] considers the creation of a sense of communion, a synergy, as the only way to achieve lasting peace."

Thus, said Betti, Catholic peace builders must be prepared to dialogue with everyone, even the worst killers. Peace "is too great a gift to be left only in the hands of politicians and diplomats," Betti added.

Michel Roy, new general secretary of Caritas International, also addressed the conference. Caritas "fulfills its mission when it integrates its relief, development and peace-building work," he stated. Roy highlighted support by Caritas for the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative in Northern Uganda. That initiative was distinctive for undertaking peace-building from the village level to the United Nations, he said.

And Powers recalled an off-the-record session during an international peace-building conference in Colombia a few years ago involving about 50 representatives from two dozen countries and some 20 Colombian bishops.

"These bishops talked about waking up in the morning worrying, not about declining Mass attendance, but about how they could prevent full-scale war from breaking out in their dioceses," Powers recalled. He said the bishops "told remarkable stories of successfully mediating between these violent groups and caring for the victims of all three."

2 What Is Catholic Peace-building?

What is "Catholic peace-building"? Gerard Powers took up that question during the June 30 international conference in Rome on Catholic peace-building. He said Catholic peace builders "do not follow the narrow definition currently used by the U.N. and some others," who define peace-building "in terms of post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation."

Rather, Powers said, "our broad definition also includes conflict prevention and conflict mediation and management as part of peace-building."

In addition, said Powers, peace-building means working both for "negative and positive peace." He explained that "much of the church's peace-building work is in the area of negative peace - preventing the outbreak of war or reducing violence in the midst of war."

Thus, Powers continued, "the church's use of just-war arguments to oppose U.S. military intervention in Iraq in 2003 is a classic example of how the church's long and rich tradition of reflection on the ethics of war is an indispensable component of peace-building."

However, Powers said, "peace-builders cannot be satisfied with a negative peace in which the guns have gone silent but the injustices and divisions that led to violence remain unresolved." That means that "peace-building is also about the long, arduous struggle to create a more just and sustainable peace."

Coupling the term "Catholic" with "peace-building" makes complete sense today in a number of situations, Powers indicated. He told conference participants that "it is simply not possible to understand peace-building in Congo, Colombia, South Sudan, El Salvador or the Philippines without understanding the crucial role of the Catholic Church."

What needs to be demonstrated, through words and actions, is that "the solution to conflict in today's world is not less religion but more religion - 'more authentic' religion," Powers said.

3. Quotes on Peace-building

Why Choose to Be Catholic Peace-builders? "[Peace-building] is more than something the church 'can' do because of its extension throughout the world. It is something the church 'must' do if it is to be faithful to its Lord. In a world that is at once more deeply connected and more deeply divided than ever, peace-building is not simply something nice to do. It is an imperative for our survival and an utter requirement for our participation in God's reconciling action in the world. As a truly Catholic Church, I believe we have no other choice." (From remarks by Precious Blood Father Robert Schreiter, a theologian at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, to the June 30 international Catholic peace-building conference in Rome)

The Difference Catholic Peace-building Makes: "Why do the secular organizations often have such limited ideas and institutional practices of peace-building? Because of a failure of imagination, the critical leaven to building peace. How can people build peace who have never known peace? To build a robust, just peace, we have to be able, as Kroc Institute peace-building scholar John Paul Lederach notes, 'to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships that includes our enemies.' Too often our governments aim low in building peace, seeing only a world of bad choices among lesser evils. Catholic peace-builders see a different world, where communion, peace and love are possible. Imagining peace in wartorn areas is a challenging but crucial first step in realizing peace." (From remarks by Maryann Cusimano Love, associate professor of international relations at The Catholic University of America in Washington, to the June 30 international Catholic peace-building conference in Rome)

From Lived Practice to Theology and Back Again: "How would our understanding of peace-building change if the church's teaching on interreligious dialogue, Christology, reconciliation, human rights, development and ecclesiology were seen through a peace-building lens? As we have reflected on 'lived' Catholic peace-building, we have become convinced that there are areas where practice might inform theology and vice-versa." (From remarks by Gerard Powers, director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, to the June 30 international Catholic peace-building conference in Rome)

4. Pastoral Ministry to Young People With Same-sex Attraction

All who exercise a ministry in the church or serve in the pastoral care of young people were exhorted in a pastoral letter released June 27 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' doctrinal commission "to be especially careful not to perpetuate injustice, hatred or malice in speech or action against persons with homosexual inclinations."

The entire Christian community is called "to guide its young members who experience same-sex attraction in their journey toward human maturity," said the letter, titled "Pastoral Ministry to Young People With Same-Sex Attraction."

The letter urged bishops, priests, deacons and pastoral workers to warmly welcome adolescents and young adults with same-sex attraction into parishes. It cautioned all who serve in the church to be aware that their "language and attitudes can inadvertently communicate a message that has nothing to do with the church's authentic teaching."

Parents' needs were addressed by the letter. "Catholic parents testify that a welcoming, respectful and sensitive attitude by their parish community is especially important when they are dealing with a child's disclosure of same-sex attraction," it said.

The letter encouraged priests and pastoral workers to offer "patient assistance to parents who are grappling with the challenges of supporting a son or daughter who is coming to terms with same-sex attraction."

These young people "may experience isolation or reproving silence," the letter noted. It indicated that this reality can yield pain both for them and their parents.

The letter said: "Ostracism or the fear of being rejected or even hated frequently contributes to the despair that all too often is felt by these young persons. We urge you to be attentive to their parents, reducing their isolation and worry by your counsel."

Speaking to the youths themselves, the letter said, "Even if you have doubts or are troubled by feelings of self-rejection, remember that you are a child of God, embraced by his tender love."

Parishes and dioceses were encouraged to "promote support groups that foster chaste living, such as 'Courage' for individuals with same-sex attraction and 'Encourage' for families interested in learning more about how to help their children." And if support groups already exist, parishes and dioceses were asked to "give them your backing."

Noting that a child's discovery of a same-sex attraction "can be a time of questioning" for parents too, the letter expressed "spiritual closeness" to them. It urged parents to "continue to welcome your child into your home and family life in imitation of Christ, encouraging him or her to be faithful to the spiritual life and, if helpful, to seek the guidance of a priest or the assistance of a counselor."

Counseling can be valuable because some young people "may experience a crisis as they grow increasingly aware of homosexual feelings," the letter observed. Calling attention to the risk of suicide for some, the letter said that "everyone must be alert to offer hope and assistance to these young people, lest despair obscure their judgment."

The letter asked parents to "ensure that professional counselors or psychologists who see young people are distinguished by their sound human and spiritual maturity" and are "committed to the Christian vision of the human person and sexuality, as well as the church's teaching on homosexuality and chastity."

The letter underlined church teaching against sexual acts between homosexual persons. It advised educators in the church not to avoid difficult questions or water down church teaching. Speaking to young people with a same-sex attraction, it urged them to "avoid circumstances that might lead [them] to fall." It added:

"When you stumble on your way, the Lord is with you. Never give in to discouragement, but return frequently to the Lord for forgiveness. Growth in holiness is a long and arduous journey."

The letter discussed the meaning of the term "objectively disordered," which the Catechism of the Catholic Church employs in relation to those with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" in a paragraph that also calls for acceptance, respect, compassion and sensitivity toward them. The letter explained:

"To the extent that a same-sex attraction is not freely chosen, there is no personal culpability in having such an inclination. Nonetheless, when oriented toward genital activity, this inclination is 'objectively disordered.' This does not mean that the person as a whole is somehow defective or 'badly made,' or that he or she has in some way been rejected by God. Inclinations to homosexual acts in no way diminish the full human dignity or intrinsic worth of the person."

The letter stressed that every person is "created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ." Moreover, it said that "every person possesses an intrinsic dignity which must always be respected."

5. Christians in a Multireligious World

The witness Christians give "in a pluralistic world includes engaging in dialogue with people of different religions and cultures," according to an ecumenical document released jointly at the end of June by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance.

Titled "Christian Witness in a Multireligious World: Recommendations for Conduct," the document's intent is to address "practical issues associated with Christian witness" in contemporary societies where the members of different religions live close together.

The groups behind the document hope it will be studied on the local level in churches and associations.

"Proclaiming the word of God and witnessing to the world is essential for every Christian," the document states. It stresses, though, that it is necessary to offer Christian witness "according to Gospel principles, with full respect and love for all human beings."

Thus, the document cautions Christians strongly against engaging "in inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means." Such actions "betray the Gospel and may cause suffering to others," it says.

The Gospel can both challenge and enrich cultures, the document observes. But it insists that "even when the Gospel challenges certain aspects of cultures, Christians are called to respect all people." Furthermore, Christians are "called to discern elements in their own cultures that are challenged by the Gospel."

Among its basic principles, the document holds that "Christians are called to conduct themselves with integrity, charity, compassion and humility, and to overcome all arrogance, condescension and disparagement" in their relationships with other religions and their members.

The document views acts of service, "such as providing education, health care, relief services and acts of justice and advocacy," as "an integral part of witnessing to the Gospel." At the same time, it warns against any "exploitation of situations of poverty," urging Christians, in acts of service to people in need, to "refrain from offering all forms of allurements, including financial incentives and rewards."

The document encourages Christians "to speak sincerely and respectfully," as well as "to listen in order to learn about and understand others' beliefs and practices." Christians "are encouraged to acknowledge and appreciate what is true and good" in the beliefs and practices of others. It is added that "any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions."

The value of interreligious dialogue is accented by the document. It comments that "in certain contexts, where years of tension and conflict have created deep suspicions and breaches of trust between and among communities, interreligious dialogue can provide new opportunities for resolving conflicts, restoring justice, healing of memories, reconciliation and peace-building."

6. How Committed Is the Church to Interreligious Dialogue?

Is the Catholic Church committed to dialogue with other world religions? Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, who heads the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, talked about that in a July 7 article in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

One reason for the church's commitment to this dialogue, he said, "is that we are all God's creatures and, therefore, brothers and sisters." Another reason, the cardinal noted, is that "God is at work in every human person" and has given each the ability to sense God's presence and recognize universal moral values, such as peace.

Interreligious dialogue does not represent only a practical effort to reduce tensions in the world, according to Cardinal Tauran. He said this dialogue represents a religious obligation to continue the dialogue God initiated with humanity at creation and brought to its culmination when he sent Jesus Christ into the world.

A day earlier, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, also discussed interreligious dialogue in L'Osservatore Romano. He said that while the Catholic Church is convinced that the Holy Spirit works in a full and particular way within the church, it recognizes that the Spirit also is present and active outside the church.

The church believes that far from being destructive forces in society, religions -- when they represent a sincere search for the divine -- motivate people to commit themselves to building up the common good, Cardinal Levada commented.

Both Cardinal Levada and Cardinal Tauran were looking ahead in their articles to the interreligious encounter Oct. 27 in Assisi, Italy. The event, involving Catholics, other Christians and representatives of other world religions, was called by Pope Benedict XVI. It will commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's prayer for peace assembly in Assisi.

Some Catholic leaders have asked at various times whether it is proper for Catholics to pray together with members of different religions. Cardinal Tauran said that while people of different religions will be praying in Assisi at the same time, there will be no formal "interreligious prayer" service. Yet, he said that "it goes without saying that prayer always accompanies the start, the unfolding and the conclusion of every Christian action."

Cardinal Levada said Pope Benedict's convocation of another Assisi encounter is a sign that "religious experience in various forms is an object of the church's attention" and that the church wants to help people today discover or preserve their connection with the Almighty. (The cardinals' articles were reported by Cindy Wooden in a Catholic News Service story July 7.)

7. Protecting Those Who Must Work on Sunday

Sunday may be a day of rest, but people who must work on Sunday tend to include society's most vulnerable citizens - people whose wages and rights deserve protection, according to the justice and peace council of the Catholic Church in Ireland. It insisted June 28 that economic recovery not be achieved at the expense of society's most vulnerable people.

The council found itself in the interesting position of defending, in the same breath, Sunday as a day away from work and people who work on Sunday. Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Field of Dublin, council chairman, pointed to a government proposal to cut premium pay for Sunday workers and said it represented a prime example of a decision that would give priority to economic considerations at the expense of citizens' well-being and society's common good.

"The value of Sunday as a collective day of rest cannot be overestimated. For Christians, this is a day central to the practice of our faith, and our core position is that on the Sabbath day all nonessential work should be avoided," he said.

Sunday as a day of rest "is vital to the physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of so many people in our society," Bishop Field said. He added that in many households, Sunday "is the only time when the whole family can be together."

But "given the value and significance of Sunday," Bishop Field called it "unsurprising" that people "who find themselves obliged to work on Sundays" include many "on lower incomes." Many of these people already are "struggling to make ends meet," and some already are "experiencing poverty," he said.

It would be unjust to ask these people "to contribute further to addressing the cost of the [economic] crisis, while high earners continue to receive huge bonuses," Bishop Field said.

The council "is mindful of the significant pressures on employers at this time - particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises," the bishop said. In fact, "it is vital that the government protects and supports employers -- for example, by ensuring that lending practices by banks and financial institutions support those who are contributing to society through enterprise and the provision of employment."

However, the bishop called it "equally vital" that measures adopted to promote economic recovery "are assessed for their impact on the most vulnerable in our society and on the common good."