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August 16, 2011

The many forms of pastoral care for marriage --
Heartbreaking eastern Africa famine --
Viewing immigration outside ideological categories

In this edition:
1. Pastoral planning linked to parish vitality.
2. The many forms of pastoral care for marriage.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) The debt agreement reached in Washington;
b) violent riots in London.
4. Viewing immigration outside political categories.
5. The heartbreak in Eastern Africa.

1. Pastoral Planning Contributes to Parish Vitality

"Intentionality is a defining characteristic of Catholic life in the United States," according to David DeLambo, associate director of pastoral planning for the Diocese of Cleveland. In a speech July 9 at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, he said intentionality is reflected in a parish's planning and goal setting, and is among trends "changing the nature and practice of leadership and ministry in American parishes."

DeLambo addressed a conference titled "Between Crisis and Renewal: The Parish and Its Theology in a Comparison of Two Local Churches: Germany and the USA." He said, "Intentionality in ministry has been growing steadily over time and manifests itself in the practice of planning and consultation."

The intentionality now found in parishes is seen in "the increasing use of mission statements, parish pastoral councils and pastoral planning," as well as in "the broadening of consultation with the laity in the exercise of parish leadership," DeLambo explained. Thus, intentionality is a sign "that clergy and laity are increasingly sharing responsibility for the mission and ministry of the parish."

DeLambo noted that "about one-third (29 percent) of parishes had mission statements" in 1990. However, "by 1997 it was about half (50 percent); and by 2005 it was more than three-quarters (78 percent)."

All of which "suggests that parish leaders are being proactive in articulating specific ministry priorities for their parishes," DeLambo said.

"The quintessential indicator of intentionality in parish life" is long-range planning, he added. Such planning encompasses "the formulation of goals, objectives and action steps to advance the mission of the parish." DeLambo said that "by 2005 three-fourths of parishes (74 percent) engaged in long-range planning, where only about half (53 percent) did in 1997."

The emphasis on planning in today's parishes "can be directly linked to the shortage of priests and the merging, twinning and clustering of parishes," DeLambo told conference participants.

The increased emphasis on planning in parishes, especially larger parishes, is accompanied by "a rise in the number of parish pastoral councils," which often are "the primary agents in parish planning," according to DeLambo. He said:

"Not only do more parishes have pastoral councils now than at any other time, some even have multiple forms of councils: one for their parish and one for their cluster. This is a relatively new practice that bears watching."

Research shows that a parish's "vitality is intimately linked with intentionality in ministry -- namely, the use of mission statements, parish pastoral councils and pastoral planning," DeLambo said. He added that "this is true regardless of the size and locale of the parish." (Delambo's speech appears in the Aug. 18, 2011, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service)

2. The Many Forms of Pastoral Care for Marriage

A number of specific forms of pastoral care for married couples were outlined in a speech Bishop Kevin Rhoades gave Aug. 2 in Milwaukee to a summit of Catholic marriage and family life ministers. Sixteen national organizations that in various ways serve couples and families were represented at the summit, held at Jesuit-run Marquette University.

Bishop Rhoades is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He said pastoral care for couples is among the cornerstones of the church's effort to "create a vibrant culture of marriage."

Research the U.S. bishops commissioned in 2007 found that the marriages of more than 50 percent of divorced Catholics broke up during their first 10 years of marriage, Bishop Rhoades noted. He said this means that more needs to be done "to support couples during that critical first decade."

Pastoral care for marriage also encompasses "a duty to support in a special way those couples who are dealing with circumstances and difficulties which tend to put additional pressure on a marriage," Bishop Rhoades told the summit. Who are these couples? The bishop said they include:

-- "Those struggling with infertility or subfertility.

-- "Couples who have been given an adverse prenatal diagnosis.

-- "Those who have children with disabilities or other special needs.

-- "Couples dealing with military deployment.

-- "Spouses struggling with addictions of any kind, including an addiction to pornography."

One concrete way to support such couples is by "sponsoring gatherings or groups where those who share the same cross can come together to receive emotional support and spiritual guidance," Bishop Rhoades said.

The church's pastoral care for marriage "includes offering emotional and spiritual support to those whose marriages have failed," said the bishop. Based on research, too few divorced Catholics may be entering the church's annulment process, he suggested.

That means, for example, "that we need to encourage divorced Catholics to embark upon the annulment process if reasonable grounds exist which indicate that their marriages may not be valid," Bishop Rhodes said.

He added that "for those who choose not to pursue this path, or for whom a decree of nullity is not possible, we need to offer compassionate spiritual support through programs and other resources which are faithful to the teaching of the church."

Marriage preparation is yet another form of pastoral care for marriage, Bishop Rhoades said. In addition to efforts to prepare the not-yet-married for their future life together, he said "a more concerted effort" must be made "to evangelize couples after the wedding day through various kinds of marriage enrichment opportunities."

Some possibilities for this effort include "study groups, speaker series, adult faith formation sessions, conferences and days of reflection, and the creation and promotion of resources on the Internet," Bishop Rhoades said.

There are "important expressions of pastoral care for married couples" that need to be made "more readily available" to married couples and that they should be encouraged to take advantage of, the bishop said. Among these forms of pastoral care are:

-- "Mentoring programs.

-- "Marriage Encounter weekends or couples' retreats.

-- "Seminars on communication and intimacy, and other important issues.

-- "Instruction in natural family planning.

-- "Pastoral and professional counseling services.

-- "And support programs such as Retrouvaille for couples who are struggling or separated."

It was fitting that the Milwaukee summit took place "during the year in which we mark the 30th anniversary" of Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation on the family, "Familiaris Consortio," Bishop Rhoades said.

That document, he explained, "made the pastoral care of marriage and family an urgent priority, both in light of the great good that they represent for the church and for the world, and because of the breakdown in marriage and family life that was already well under way."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

Debt Agreement in Washington: "Catholic Charities USA is pleased that our nation's policymakers have averted the likely economic disaster that would have resulted from default; however, it is clear that the deal they have reached to raise the nation's debt ceiling puts tremendous pressure on critical domestic discretionary spending. We cannot continue to look for short-term solutions to long-term challenges. To efficiently, effectively and sustainably meet the needs of the tens of millions of Americans living in need, our nation's policymakers must join us in an effort to identify 21st-century solutions to 21st-century poverty. Until that conversation takes place and government takes the steps necessary to reform its service delivery systems, we will continue to stand firmly against any initiative that threatens the well-being of the 47.8 million Americans who are struggling in poverty, and the 14.1 million who are unemployed." (From an Aug. 4 statement by Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, on this summer's debt agreement in Washington and the debt-ceiling debate)

London Violence: "The scenes of the last few nights in parts of London and elsewhere are shocking. The criminal violence and theft that have been witnessed are to be condemned. They are a callous disregard for the common good of our society and show how easily basic principles of respect and honesty are cast aside. I ask that Catholics pray especially for those directly affected by the violence, for those facing danger on the streets, for those whose livelihood has been ruined, for those whose lives are marked by fear, for those whose parents are worried about the behavior of their youngsters and for those who, at this time, are being tempted into the ways of violence and theft." (From an Aug. 9 statement by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, on the early August street rioting in London, mostly by gangs of youths, that resulted in large-scale destruction and numerous deaths)

4. Viewing Immigration Outside Ideological Categories

Catholics need to bring their "faith perspective" to the national debate about immigration. "We cannot just think about this issue as Democrats or Republicans, or as liberals or conservatives," Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said July 28 in a speech to the Napa Institute's annual meeting, held in California's Napa Valley.

The institute's purpose, its website states, is to promote excellence in Catholic thought and apologetics.

Catholics need to help their "brothers and sisters to start seeing the strangers among us for who they truly are -- and not according to political or ideological categories or definitions rooted" in fears, Archbishop Gomez told his audience.

Immigration, he insisted, "is not a problem for America." Rather, immigration is "an opportunity. It is a key to our American renewal."

America was founded by Christians, the archbishop observed. "The people of this land were called Christians before they were called Americans," he said. "And they were called this name in the Spanish, French and English tongues."

He said that "America is intended to be a place of encounter with the living Jesus Christ." Still, while "founded by Christians, America has become home to an amazing diversity of cultures, religions and ways of life." It is a diversity that flourishes "precisely because our nation's founders had a Christian vision of the human person, freedom, and truth," Archbishop Gomez believes.

He cautioned against partial views of America's beginnings that leave people at risk of adopting the "wrongheaded notion that 'real Americans' are of some particular race, class, religion or ethnic background."

When America's roots in the "Hispanic-Catholic mission to the new world" are forgotten, people can "end up with distorted ideas about our national identity," the archbishop said. In other words, people "end up with the idea that Americans are descended from only white Europeans and that our culture is based only on the individualism, work ethic and rule of law that we inherited from our Anglo-Protestant forebears."

Archbishop Gomez commented that "when that has happened in the past, it has led to those episodes in our history that we are least proud of -- the mistreatment of Native Americans; slavery; the recurring outbreaks of nativism and anti-Catholicism; the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II; the misadventures of "manifest destiny."

He said he worries that in today's political debates over immigration we are entering into a new period of nativism."

Since moving from San Antonio, Texas, to Los Angeles about a year ago, Archbishop Gomez has discovered that people in his new locale "have very definite opinions about immigration." But he said it was "the same way" when he was in Texas and in Colorado. "Everywhere I go, it seems like most people I meet have made up their minds already on this issue," he explained.

"Our political debate about immigration in America frustrates me. Often I think we are just talking around the edges of the real issues," the archbishop continued. He said: "Both sides of this argument are inspired by a beautiful, patriotic idea of America's history and values. But lately I've been starting to wonder. What America are we really talking about?"

It needs to be recognized "that immigration is part of a larger set of questions about our national identity and destiny," said Archbishop Gomez. The questions to ask are, "What is America?" and "What does it mean to be an American?"

The call "to bring out all that is noble in the American spirit" needs to be heard, along with the call to "challenge those who would diminish or 'downsize' America's true identity," the archbishop told his Napa Institute audience. He said, "We need to find a way to 'translate' the Gospel of love for the people of our times."

5. The Heartbreak of Eastern Africa

"Every day we are seeing more and more heartbreaking news about the drought and famine in Somalia and the eastern parts of Africa. We see millions of people being forced from their homes, leaving behind what meager possessions they had, and walking for days over rough terrain," Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, chairman of Catholic Relief Services, said in a joint statement Aug. 10.

"There are parents whose little children have died and children who have been orphaned. They are suffering from hunger, thirst, disease and drought," the bishops said. This humanitarian crisis in eastern Africa "cries out for help to Christians throughout the world," they said.

Bruce White, a food adviser for Catholic Relief Services, visited the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northeast Kenya, near the border with Somalia where he witnessed firsthand the harshness of the crisis. The camp, said by the U.N. high commissioner for refugees to have been designed for 90,000 refugees, had some 400,000 at the time of White's visit, with more arrivals daily.

In an entry on the CRS blog, he told of seeing from the air "an endless expanse of desert scrub, flat as a table with absolutely no water in sight." That, he said, "is the terrain the refugees walk through to get to the camp, many for 30 to even 60 days, depending on where they started in neighboring Somalia."

White said his group "heard stories from new arrivals who told us they lost everything, traveling with their families, but leaving many more behind (we heard that about 70 percent of those entering the camp are women and children)." He said, "You could see the weariness on their faces, and just the few words of their responses to our questions made me think that each person could write a whole tragic book."

He said: "It is difficult to fathom the incredible walking journey many of these people take, often being attacked by bandits who rob them of what little they have. Sexual assault along the way is extremely common. Along with severe hunger suffered by everyone, especially the children, I was also struck by the fact that everyone waiting to be processed in the reception areas we visited had only the clothes on their backs."

These refugees made "the long trek to Dadaab" in order to flee the violence of the long civil war in Somalia and the "total loss of crops or livestock from the drought," White explained.

Michael Hill, a CRS communications officer, wrote about the humanitarian crisis on the agency's website. "Catholic Relief Services will get aid to many of the tens of thousands of famished Somalis who are pouring across the border into Kenya," Hill said. Calling attention to the refugee camps near Dadaab, he said they "are overflowing with people desperately searching for food during the drought-led food crisis that is plaguing East Africa."

The U.N. officially has "declared a famine in parts of Somalia, the first such declaration in decades," Hill noted. He said the drought's severity, "coupled with rising food prices, are overwhelming the ability of millions of people in East Africa to cope."

Hill said that "more than 11 million people across the Horn of Africa are in need of humanitarian assistance." He quoted CRS Africa team leader Brian Gleeson, who explained that the "rains last fall failed completely," and the "spring rains earlier this year were erratic and weak. As a result, farmers have experienced horrible harvests," and livestock are dying off.

Unfortunately, the drought "comes as prices for staple foods are increasing -- in some cases, more than doubling in the past year," Gleeson said. This rise in prices is pushing people "over the edge," he said.

Gleeson believes the crisis is likely to worsen "before it eases with the October harvest." And he said: "Many areas had very poor spring rains, so the harvest will not be enough. And if the fall rains are not strong -- or fail again -- then this crisis is going to get much, much worse."