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November 1, 2011

Rationale for 2011 Assisi interreligious peace day -
Ethic of solidarity for a globalized world -
Vatican justice and peace council envisions global public authority -
Social networking and personal boundaries

In this edition:
1. "Ethic of solidarity" for globalized world.
2. Economy can work for or against solidarity.
3. Toward a global public authority.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Businesses and work;
b) on social networking and personal boundaries.
5. 2011 interreligious peace pilgrimage to Assisi.
6. Canterbury archbishop offers Assisi rationale.
7. Assessing the Assisi day for peace.

1. "Ethic of Solidarity" for a Globalized World

In an era of globalization, the communications media ensure that people everywhere grow more and more aware of the others sharing the planet with them But as people grow increasingly aware of each other, the world's "great economic, social and cultural inequalities" also come more clearly into view for "everyone, rich and poor alike, giving rise to tensions and to massive migratory movements," according to a document released in Rome Oct. 24 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Titled "Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority," the document, called a "note," urged universities and other institutions entrusted with educating tomorrow's leaders to "work hard to prepare them for their responsibilities to discern the global public good and serve it in a constantly changing world."

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the pontifical council's president, said in the document's Preface that "the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence" need to be examined in depth by nations and their citizens.

An examination of what is needed if people are to live alongside each other in peace and dignity - within given nations and in a globalized world of nations -- is called for by the global economic crisis of our times, the cardinal indicated.

He recalled that Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" that the economic crisis represents an opportunity "to shape a new vision" for humanity's future.

The pontifical council's document says, in line with the encyclical, that "to function correctly the economy needs ethics; and not just of any kind but one that is people-centered."

Vatican officials said during the press conference held to release the document that the economy should be at the service of the human person and that strong action is required to reduce the growing gap between rich and poor.

Decision makers are encouraged by the document to realize that "the goal of the universal common good, with its inescapable demands, is waiting on the horizon." What the world needs now is "an ethic of solidarity" that reflects "the logic of the global common good," the document suggests.

2. Economy Can Work for or Against Solidarity

Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, described the new document by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as "a breathtaking analysis of the moral failing behind the current economic crisis." He said, "The document charts what might be called a 'Catholic way forward' from the present morass."

Schneck's analysis pointed out that "from the 19th century onward, encyclicals and other church teachings -- including the writings of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI -- have preached that unregulated [financial] market forces endanger the common good."

He added that "valuable as they are for economic development, without moral safeguards markets are perceived to foment attitudes toward others and toward the community that not only oppose Christian values, but also are unsustainable for an enduring and just social and political order."

In moral terms, the worry in all of this for individuals, Schneck said, involves "selfishness, greed, and pride. We're nudged by market forces, as the document puts it, to live like a wolf among our fellow men and women."

But "understood more broadly," Schneck explained, "the church's long-standing argument is that the unregulated market's 'invisible hands' erode caritas and concern for others (especially concern for those Jesus called 'the least of these'), and militate against the primary purpose of our public life as citizens, which is the common good of the whole community in light of salvation."

For Schneck, the document resonated "poignantly within our world's current atmosphere of frustration and despair over out-of-control economic forces that seem to be shredding the fabric of our lives and livelihoods."

3. Toward a Global Public Authority

The establishment of a global public authority is a step toward building a more fraternal and just human family" and bringing order to the forces within a global economy, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace proposed in its just-released note, "Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority."

This may have been the document's most-mentioned point during the days following its release. Many steps will be needed, however, before it becomes clear what such a global authority might look like or how it would foster among our world's diverse peoples "a keen sense of belonging to the human family, which means sharing the common dignity of all human beings."

Speaking of a unifying, global authority, however, the pontifical council clearly was endeavoring to think big and to pursue the logical implications of globalization, with its potential more greatly to unify the world.

Political scientist Stephen Schneck at The Catholic University of America explained it this way:

"Specifically, the council advocates for a supranational network of laws and an international authority to regulate globalized markets. No fantasizing about black International Monetary Fund or United Nations helicopters hovering over Wall Street, however. In keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, the council would empower such authority to intervene only where local and national efforts to regulate for the common good proved ineffective."

The document insists the time has arrived "to conceive of institutions with universal competence, now that vital goods shared by the entire human family are at stake, goods which the individual states cannot promote and protect by themselves."

It commented that "globalization, despite some of its negative aspects, is unifying peoples more and prompting them to move toward a new 'rule of law' on the supranational level, supported by a more intense and fruitful collaboration."

Continuing this theme, the document said that humanity today "needs to be committed to the transition from a situation of archaic struggles between national entities to a new model" - to an international society that is more cohesive and that "respects every people's identity within the multifaceted riches of a single humanity."

In this area the document cited Blessed Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical "Pacem in Terris," in which "he observed that the world was heading toward ever greater unification." He "expressed the hope that one day 'a true world political authority' would be created," it said.

And "in the same spirit of 'Pacem in Terris,' Benedict XVI himself expressed the need to create a world political authority," the document added.

To borrow words from John Thavis, head of the Catholic News Service Rome bureau, the document called for "a universal public authority that would transcend national interests." Thavis indicated that in the pontifical council's view, "the current economic crisis, which has seen growing inequality between the rich and poor of the world, underlines the necessity to take concrete steps toward creating such an authority."

Thavis pointed to the pontifical council's suggestion that one major step in this direction should be reform of the international monetary system in a way that involves developing countries. The document, he noted, "foresaw creation of a 'central world bank' that would regulate the flow of monetary exchanges; it said the International Monetary Fund had lost the ability to control the amount of credit risk taken."

During the Vatican press conference for the document's release, Leonardo Becchetti, a professor of economic policy at Tor Vergata University in Rome, discussed the pontifical council's reasons for envisioning an international authority to govern the global financial market. In a globalized economy, he commented, no one can pretend that one nation's financial actions will impact only that nation.

He said therefore that a global authority is needed to establish balance and promote the whole world's economic growth and development.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder:

Businesses and Work: "Business must serve work, and business owners have an obligation, as part of the larger system of God's intention, to support the overall expansion of work in society." (From an address by Daniel Finn, a professor of moral theology at Benedictine-run St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., who said that the economic goal for society is not wealth, but prosperity that helps the entire community to flourish. He addressed a conference titled "Poverty Eradication and Intergenerational Justice: Stewardship, Solidarity and Subsidiarity," held Oct. 22 at St. John's University in Jamaica, N.Y.)

Social Networking and Personal Boundaries: "Sadly I couldn't afford to fly out to the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. One of the social networking themes discussed was the question of whether there are advantages to sharing less rather than more. Facebook has pioneered the concept of 'frictionless sharing' (a term I just learned), when your personal information, your consumer choices, your likes and dislikes, your moods, your geographical position, etc, are all shared automatically and seamlessly with your online friends. But less is more, not from a sort of reactionary puritanism, but because the way we create ourselves and communicate who we are is always, at some level, through making decisions about what to reveal and what to withhold. This is how we give shape to the person we are, and allow others to come to know us." (From an Oct. 21 entry titled "Oversharing" on British Father Stephen Wang's "Bridges and Tangents" blog)

5. Assisi Interreligious Peace Pilgrimage

"There is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace," Pope Benedict XVI said Oct. 27 during the interreligious "Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World" that he hosted in Assisi, Italy. The event commemorated the first Assisi interfaith gathering for peace, hosted by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1986.

"It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart so that it truly serves as an instrument of God's peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans," Pope Benedict said in Assisi.

He proposed to those participating in the interreligious gathering that they should find the terrorism in today's world greatly disturbing. "We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended 'good,'" the pope said.

With terrorism, however, "religion does not serve peace, but is used as justification for violence." And the fact that in this case "religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons," the pope added.

On the other hand, the pope said the denial of God also "has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds," as with the Holocaust at the time of World War II. Cruelty and violence become possible "when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion," he said.

A third group of people mentioned by the pope were those "to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God." Here he mentioned four philosophers who participated in the Assisi events, people who consider themselves humanists or seekers, but do not identify with any single religion.

The inability of such people "to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God," Pope Benedict said. Thus, the "struggling and questioning" of people like the four philosophers "is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith so that God, the true God, becomes accessible," Pope Benedict said.

6. Canterbury Archbishop's Assisi Rationale

A rationale for the Oct. 27 interreligious day of prayer for peace in Assisi was presented in remarks to the gathering by Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury. "We are here today to declare our will -- or rather our passionate determination -- to persuade our world that human beings do not have to be strangers," he said.

The archbishop recalled that Blessed Pope John Paul II, who called the first Day of Prayer for Peace 25 years ago, "believed passionately that the concerns of human beings in our age for justice and stability were matters that demanded a common witness from people of faith, without any compromise of our own particular convictions and traditions."

Today, the challenges in our world "are such that no one religious body can claim to have all the practical resources needed to confront them, even if we believe that we have all we need in the spiritual or doctrinal realm," Archbishop Williams commented. Thus, he said:

"We are here not to affirm a minimum common ground of belief, but to speak out of the depth of our traditions in all their distinctiveness so that the human family will be more fully aware of how much wisdom there is to draw upon in the struggle against the foolishness of a world still obsessed with fear and suspicion, still in love with the idea of a security based on defensive hostility and still capable of tolerating or ignoring massive loss of life among the poorest through war and disease."

He added that "such failures of the spirit" are rooted "largely in an inability to recognize strangers as sharing with us one and the same nature, one and the same personal dignity."

It was Archbishop Williams' conviction that "lasting peace begins when we see the neighbor as another self and so begin to understand how and why we must love the neighbor as we love ourselves."

The archbishop anchored this vision both in the human person's creation in God's image and in the conviction that "in Jesus of Nazareth, God himself identifies with human nature, and thus with each and every human person." As a consequence, "every human face now looks different because of the fact that God has taken on a human face."

All of which clearly implied for Archbishop Williams that "we cannot ultimately be strangers" to the peoples of the world.

Nor could the participants in the Assisi day of peace be strangers to each other, though they came from widely diverse faith groups and backgrounds. What all people of faith have in common is "the conviction that we are not ultimately strangers to each other," Archbishop Williams concluded.

He said that "if we are not strangers, we must sooner or later find a way to embody that mutual recognition in true and lasting relationships of friendship."

7. Assessing Assisi Day for Peace

The Assisi pilgrimage for peace Oct. 27 was a "vivid expression of the fact that every day, throughout the world, people of different religious traditions live and work together in harmony," Pope Benedict XVI said the day afterward in Rome.

He described the "day of reflection, dialogue and prayer" as a sign of "the friendship and fraternity that has flourished" thanks to the efforts of pioneers in interreligious dialogue.

Looking back 25 years, the pope said that "the foresight of the late Pope John Paul II in convening the first Assisi meeting" can now be appreciated. Pope Benedict said there is a "continuing need for men and women of different religions to testify together that the journey of the spirit is always a journey of peace."

The Rome-based Sant' Egidio movement, for which the promotion of peace is a principal aim, discussed Pope John Paul's purpose 25 years ago in hosting the first Assisi day of peace. At the time of this year's gathering, the movement noted that:

"Twenty five years ago, on Oct. 27, 1986, John Paul II summoned a World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi involving the representatives of all major world religions. Among them were 50 representatives of the Christian churches (in addition to the Catholics) and 60 representatives of other world religions. It was the first time in history that such a meeting took place.

"The intuition of the pope was simple and profound: to bring together the faithful of all world religions in the city of St. Francis, emphasizing prayer for peace, one beside the other." On that occasion Pope John Paul said:

"'The coming together of so many religious leaders to pray is in itself an invitation today to the world to become aware that there exists another dimension of peace and another way of promoting it that is not a result of negotiations, political compromises or economic bargaining. It is the result of prayer, which, in the diversity of religions, expresses a relationship with a supreme power that surpasses our human capacities alone.'"

The day before going to Assisi, during a prayer service at the Vatican, Pope Benedict seemed to echo such sentiments on Christian peace-building. He said:

"It is not with power, force or violence that Christ's kingdom of peace grows, but with the giving of self, with love carried to its extreme consequences, even toward our enemies. Jesus does not conquer the world by force of arms but by the power of the cross, which is the true guarantee of victory."

During the Vatican prayer service, Pope Benedict also expressed hope that the next day's events in Assisi would foster "dialogue between people from different religions."

He said, moreover, that communities of Christians today must serve in the world as "islands of peace" where differences of race, language and economic standing have no importance.