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September 16, 2011

A spiritual practice to sharpen leadership skill -- Interfaith dialogue: 2001-2011 - Poverty rises in America, household incomes decline

In this edition:
1. U.S. poverty rises, household income declines.
2. A spiritual practice to sharpen leadership skill.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) On blaming the many for the 9-11 actions of a few;
b) reclaiming nation's unity to honor 9-11 victims.
4. Religion: Force for peace in post-9-11 world.
5. Beyond the clash of civilizations: unity in diversity.
6. Interfaith dialogue: 2001-2011.
7. Fork in the road: Choice of paths after 9-11

1. U.S. Poverty Rises, Household Incomes Decline

It did not surprise Father Larry Snyder when the U.S. Census Bureau reported Sept. 13 that the nation's poverty rate rose again in 2010. The Census Bureau report reflects "the devastating reality in which Catholic Charities USA operates every day," said Father Snyder, president of the national Charities agency.

He said Catholic Charities agencies throughout the U.S. served more than 10 million people in 2010, "an increase of 12.1 percent over 2009." The Charities president hoped the Census Bureau report would "draw the attention of American policymakers to the moral obligation we have as a country to address" the growing crisis of poverty.

"With one out of every six Americans now living in poverty," it is time to recognize that the person who is poor "may be your neighbor, the person shopping beside you at the grocery store or your child's friend from school," said Father Snyder.

The Census Bureau's report covered three areas of concern: the rise in poverty; the decline of median household income in America; and the number of those without health insurance. The bureau regarded 2010 as "the first full calendar year after the December 2007 to June 2009 recession" and noted that median household income also declined during the year following several earlier recessions.

Economists commenting on the report tended to agree that high unemployment or underemployment were keys to understanding the reasons behind the Census Bureau's daunting findings.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, commented on the issue of health insurance. She said, "Today we learned from the U.S. Census Bureau that 49.9 million Americans were uninsured in 2010, a number that continues to be intolerably high but which would likely reflect even greater hardship without help offered by the Affordable Care Act."

The Census Bureau made clear that the typical household in America had to get by on less during 2010. Median household income declined by 2.3 percent from the 2009 median, it said. "Real median household income in the United States in 2010 was $49,445" in inflation-adjusted dollars, compared with $50,599 in 2009.

And in 2010 the official U.S. poverty rate was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009, the Census Bureau said. It was the third consecutive annual increase of the poverty rate. It meant 46.2 million people lived in poverty in 2010.

The Census Bureau indicated that many people move in and out of poverty over the course of a year, experiencing spells of poverty that last two months or longer. It noted that "approximately 31.6 percent of the population had at least one" such spell of poverty during the period from 2004 to 2007."

In an Aug. 31 message to the Senate-House "supercommittee" created in August to recommend $1.5 trillion in federal budget cuts, representatives of the U.S. bishops said that "government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times." The supercommittee consists of six Senate and six House of Representatives members.

The message to the supercommittee came from Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

"At a time of record foreclosures, increasing poverty and high unemployment it is not justifiable to weaken the national safety net or to make disproportionate cuts to programs that can help low- and moderate-income families avert crisis and live in dignity," the bishops' message said.

2. A Spiritual Practice to Sharpen Leadership Skill

Leaders improve when they are attentive listeners - when they develop the habit of listening to themselves, to others and to the voice of the Holy Spirit, according to Jesuit Father Edward McCormack, whose article titled "Leading From Within: The Ignatian Practice of Deep Listening" appears in the September-October 2011 edition of Health Progress (www.chausa.org), published by the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

"The busy life of a leader makes it difficult to pause, quiet down and listen," Father McCormack observes. However, he says, a person who develops the practice of deep listening will, over time, "learn about the various ways he or she reacts to different situations and thus be better able to respond rather than react to situations."

He points out also that listening "is the only way leaders can come to know those who work with them and for them." He views listening as "a powerful sign of respect" that "builds relationships of trust and cooperation."

The spiritual practice of deep listening, inspired by the examen prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, "calls leaders to face up to the ways in which ego, pride, selfishness, insecurity and need to control can distort relationships" and weaken decisions that need to be made, Father McCormack holds. He says that recognizing "these uncomfortable realities is a matter of noticing one's motivations and, as a person in power, how one treats others."

Father McCormack teaches Christian spirituality at Washington Theological Union in the U.S. capital. His article explains that through the practice of deep listening a person becomes "attuned to the deeper dimensions of life by learning to recognize the Holy Spirit's influence in one's day." This, of course, "can take many forms," such as:

-- Energy to pursue one's calling.

-- Insight, inspiration or clarity about an upcoming decision.

-- Peace or quiet confidence.

The habit of a contemplative moment each day "can be transformative," says Father McCormack. The transformation it facilitates "begins with self-knowledge."

In fact, he says, "deep listening makes a person more aware of moods, needs and motives as he or she goes about the day, improves the ability to anticipate situations and gives greater insight into what influences interactions and decisions."

Deep listening is a practice that "directs us to listen to the best in ourselves," Father McCormack explains. Through this practice people become attentive to their bodies, realizing whether or not they feel "tired, sleepy or rested."

It is a practice of learning to "pay attention to our moods and identify our desires - the superficial, the disordered and those that are life-giving," he adds. But he forewarns people new to the practice that it takes time and patience to develop this kind of listening.

Father McCormack describes in some detail how to practice deep listening. To start with, it is important to "find a place to sit and quiet down," and after doing so to "consider that you are in the presence of God, who looks on you with great affection." Then "recall the events of the past 24 hours" and "allow the Spirit to help you recognize and remember the many gifts you received during that time."

Practitioners of deep listening should recall the events of the last 24 hours once again, this time noticing the mood they were in during the morning, at noon, in the evening, says Father McCormack. He recommends asking, "What were the strong images, feelings and thoughts that affected how you interacted with others?" When during these 24 hours "did you cooperate with Christ (or with the values rooted in the Gospel)?"

Reflect, as well, on the day to come, Father McCormack continues. He notes that everyone has "a to-do list." With that in mind, he urges those who practice deep listening to ask "the Spirit of God to help you listen" to what God "wants you to do tomorrow, and how God wants you to do it." The priest explains:

"You are seeking to know which initiatives God desires you to choose and to put into practice. This practice enables you to enter into various interactions responding to the desire of Christ rather than reacting to and being carried away by the dynamics of the situation."

For Father McCormack, "deep listening offers the leader a chance to consider on a daily basis, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, what dimension of the mission needs attention today."

Another point the priest drives home is that "deep listening fosters the ability to listen to others, developed as one learns to listen to oneself." In this process, he says, a person "discovers how important it is to be heard." Thus, a leader is trained by deep listening "to know when to listen, when to speak, what to say to others and how to say it."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

On Blaming the Many for the 9-11 Actions of a Few: "We resolve today and always to reject hatred and resist terrorism. A decade [after 9-11] we remain resolved to reject extreme ideologies that perversely misuse religion to justify indefensible attacks on innocent civilians, to embrace persons of all religions, including our Muslim neighbors, and to welcome refugees seeking safety. We steadfastly refrain from blaming the many for the actions of a few and insist that security needs can be reconciled with our immigrant heritage without compromising either one." (From a Sept. 8 statement by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Honoring 9-11 Victims by Reclaiming U.S. Unity: "I can think of no greater way to honor the thousands who lost their lives in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania [on 9-11] than to reclaim our unity as a nation. Let not their unwilling sacrifice be in vain. As we rebuild America let us once again rush in, as a nation of peace and justice, to create a better country that is dedicated to the common good." (From a Sept. 9 statement by Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA)

4. Religion: Force for Peace in Post 9-11 World

A key task of religion -- a peace-related task -- was illuminated in the decade after Sept. 1, 2001, Andrea Riccardi suggested to an international gathering of interreligious leaders who met in a dialogue for peace Sept. 11-13 in Munich, Germany.

Riccardi founded the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Rome-based lay movement that often helps to negotiate peace in places where fighting breaks out around the world.

"Religions are entrusted with a great task. In every religion peace is inseparable from God," Riccardi said. He insisted that "religions must never again be exploited to divide the world and sacralize hatred!"

It is a task of religion to "show that men and women are all making one great journey," he said. Awareness of this common journey, he said, "is basic knowledge, as plain as bread and as necessary as water." Sometimes, however, "this awareness is lost in the maze of hatred, in the perversion of culture or opposing interests."

Riccardi told the interreligious gathering that "peace is not rhetorical; it is a dire need." And "peace is not a utopia, it is realism," he added.

He recalled the "globalized compassion" witnessed after Sept. 11, 2001 - a compassion that he said should not be regarded as a form of naivete. "Rather, it emerged with the sense of a common destiny, a profound intuition lost in the practice and culture of conflict," he said.

The next decade "must not be wasted," Riccardi insisted. A "turning point" must be reached "because we are all -- peoples, religions, ethnic groups -- bound to live together" in local communities and international situations.

That is why "it is necessary to say no to terrorism and all fanaticism," Riccardi explained. "The more we live together, the more it is necessary to create a language of peace. It is a crucial issue for this 21st century," he said.

5. Beyond "Clash of Civilizations: Unity in Diversity

Andrea Riccardi, the Sant'Egidio movement's founder, referred to 9-11 as "the tragic opening of the 21st century" in his address to the September 11-13 dialogue for peace in Munich, Germany.

For many, he said, that day's tragic events were understood as "evidence of a certain interpretation of history," an interpretation based on a conviction about "a standing conflict between civilizations and religions, particularly between Islam and the West."

In Riccardi's view, "a generalized culture of conflict" has developed. And this culture of conflict has come to be regarded as a "seemingly natural response to a world seen as prey to a clash of civilizations."

It is disappointing, Riccardi suggested, that "a spirit of distrust and antagonism grew among peoples" at a time when economic exchanges and financial markets "were becoming globalized." Regrettably, a "global sense of common belonging to the human family has not grown accordingly," he said.

There is a need today for "a culture and a language of peace in order to live in harmony," Riccardi told the interreligious leaders in Munich. He said, "We need to appeal to the spiritual resources of humankind."

Working on behalf of peace will help the people of the world "recover enthusiasm" and avoid "collapse due to fear of the other or anguish concerning the future," Riccardi proposed.

He concluded by observing that "between the clash of civilizations and crude globalization, reduced to solely economic terms, stands the wide field of the construction of unity in diversity. Here we shall build the future."

6. Interfaith Dialogue, 2001-2011

Some Catholic Church leaders called attention in remarks for 10th anniversary observances of the 9-11 terrorist attacks to the importance of interfaith dialogue.

Much energy was invested over the past decade in clarifying the underpinnings and the purposes of interfaith dialogue. Perhaps it was an era that cried out for these clarifications.

Of course, the 2001 attacks were not waged by a religion, and this was recognized. Yet, the attacks led to suspicions of Islam itself on the part of many people, particularly in the West -- not least because of the attackers' Muslim identity.

But a great many also believed immediately after 9-11 that Islam itself should not be made a scapegoat for the actions of extremists. The next step was to focus on an interreligious conversation with Islam and learn to know each other.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, recalled in a Sept. 12, 2011, speech how the tragedy of the terrorist attacks prompted a new interfaith friendship in Birmingham, England, where he was archbishop in 2001.

Addressing a conference on the future of interfaith relations, held at the University of Birmingham to mark the 10th anniversary of a Birmingham interfaith leaders group, Archbishop Nichols explored what is important and what is difficult about interfaith dialogue.

The Birmingham interfaith leaders group developed out of a public gathering in the city at the central mosque Sept. 12, 2001 - a gathering called to express solidarity with the local Muslim community after the mosque "received a number of threatening and abusive phone calls in the aftermath of the terrorist hijacking of three airliners and the terrible destruction they wreaked" on 9-11, Archbishop Nichols recalled.

The interfaith leaders group started and remained "a group based on personal relationships, building personal and communal solidarity and growing in its capacity to respond to difficult and sensitive moments," according to Archbishop Nichols.

He pointed out some obstacles to interreligious understanding. Citing an article by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, Vatican nuncio to Egypt and Vatican representative to the Arab League, he said that these obstacles often stem from situations related to "minority-majority relations" in various parts of the world.

In other words, Archbishop Nichols explained, "every faith lives in some places in a majority situation, and in others in a minority one." As a result, in interfaith dialogue "we must not only learn about these different experiences, and learn from them, but we must also keep very much in mind the reciprocity which is due to each other whatever the situation we are in," the archbishop said.

It also is essential in interfaith dialogue "to work hard at overcoming the burdens of the past," he said. He noted, moreover, that this task very often feeds "into another difficult task -- that of overcoming suspicions about each others' motives."

Dialogue "demands of us 'a balanced attitude'" that "turns away from stereotypes," but also "acknowledges real differences" between the members of different religions, Archbishop Nichols said.

Thus, he explained, this dialogue requires:

-- A sincere religious conviction that "is comfortable in the tenets of one's own faith and ready to give an account of them."

-- An openness to truth - "truth as something we seek, something by which we want to be possessed, not something which we believe we already possess as our own."

In interfaith dialogue there must be a place for bringing together groups of people to "explore the practical contribution that faith makes to leadership for the common good" of society, Archbishop Nichols told his University of Birmingham audience.

Finally, he said, through dialogue the people of different religions can, together, "seek the mystery of God, rejoicing in the gifts we know we receive in our faith -- for me the great mystery of Christ Jesus -- and generous in wanting to share that gift, while utterly respectful of the gifts of others, which we know will contribute to our human endeavor."

7. Fork in the Road: Choice of Paths After 9-11

People responded in divergent ways to the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, noted in a message to friends and colleagues of the agency at the time of the 10th anniversary observances of that tragic day.

1. For some, Hackett wrote, the events of 9-11 "elicited one primary response: the need to increase our security" in the U.S. "It meant building walls," and it "meant raising suspicions about all that was foreign and unknown." It also "meant violence against those deemed enemies."

2. But others, like those at CRS, responded in a way that took them "in a very different direction," Hackett said. They were motivated "not to withdraw from the world," but "to reach out in greater generosity to others," embracing shared hopes and working "for a better tomorrow."

Hackett said that after 9-11, many in the U.S. realized "how tied-in we are with the rest of the world." He remembered many remarking "that for the first time the oceans around the continental United States had failed to protect its citizens from attack."

However, "beyond that there was a realization that decisions made tens of thousands of miles away can have consequences." Hackett said such decisions can reflect a "capability to bring down towering skyscrapers, killing thousands. They can also affect how we live our lives. They can strengthen or weaken the very fabric of our society."

He suggested that a question to ask is "what it means to be part of one human family."

The direction taken after 9-11 by people who chose not to withdraw from the world "does not ignore the real security concerns that exist" for the U.S., said Hackett. Neither "does it call us to ignore the safety of our families and communities."

But choosing this direction is a way of saying "that fear of another calamity will not rule our lives or be the lens through which we value relationships with others," Hackett said. He wrote:

"Ten years ago, 9-11 did not weaken our commitment to mission. Today, as then, it strengthens our resolve to deepen our faith, our hope and love for others. Then, as now, we believe that solidarity will transform the world."