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December 17, 2011

Migrants and Jesus the pilgrim --
Christmas 2011 and the Jesus who was poor --
Keeping the incarnation going -
Welcoming the stranger fleeing violence

In this edition:
1. World Day of Peace: Young peacemakers.
2. U.S. Hispanic bishops: migrants and Jesus the pilgrim.
3. Welcoming the stranger who flees violence.
4. Pastoral ministry among immigrants.
5. Current quote to ponder: Keeping the incarnation going.
6. Christmas and the Jesus who was poor.
7. Families and children at poverty's door.
8. Bishops on unemployment insurance.

1. World Day of Peace 2012: Young Peacemakers

Educating young people in the ways of justice and peace is the theme of Pope Benedict XVI's World Day of Peace Message for Jan. 1, 2012. However, he does not want the young only to be taught, but to be heard.

"The young, with their enthusiasm and idealism, can offer new hope to the world," the pope states. He adds that "attentiveness to young people and their concerns, the ability to listen to them and appreciate them, is not merely something expedient; it represents a primary duty for society as a whole for the sake of building a future of justice and peace."

And the pope encourages young people "to have the courage to live by the same high standards that they set for others." He says to them:

"Realize that you yourselves are an example and an inspiration to adults, even more so to the extent that you seek to overcome injustice and corruption, and strive to build a better future. Be aware of your potential; never become self-centered, but work for a brighter future for all."

The 2012 peace-day message accents human dignity and the necessity of grasping its importance if peace and justice are to be promoted. "The first step in education is learning to recognize the Creator's image in man and helping others to live a life consonant with this supreme dignity," the pope explains.

He comments that in the world today, the value of "the person, of human dignity and human rights is seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to have recourse exclusively to the criteria of utility, profit and material possessions."

Justice, the pope says, "is not simply a human convention." Instead, it is "the profound identity of the human being" that ultimately determines "what is just."

Peace is not only "a gift to be received," but also "a task to be undertaken," according to Pope Benedict's message. He elaborates:

"In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues, and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution."

Peace for everyone results from justice for all, the pope states in saying that "no one can shirk this essential task of promoting justice according to one's particular areas of competence and responsibility."

He calls upon "the young, who have such a strong attachment to ideals, to be patient and persevering in seeking justice and peace, in cultivating the taste for what is just and true, even when it involves sacrifice and swimming against the tide."

2. Migrants and Jesus the Pilgrim: U.S. Hispanic Bishops

"We see Jesus the pilgrim in you migrants," 33 U.S. Hispanic/Latino bishops said in a Dec. 12 letter to immigrants in the U.S., those who are documented and those who are not. The bishops described several ways Jesus was a migrant.

-- "The Word of God migrated from heaven to earth in order to become man and save humanity."

-- Jesus "emigrated with Mary and Joseph to Egypt, as a refugee."

-- He "migrated from Galilee to Jerusalem for the sacrifice of the cross."

-- He "emigrated from death to life in the resurrection and ascension to heaven."

Today, the bishops said, Jesus "continues to journey and accompany all migrants on pilgrimage throughout the world in search of food, work, dignity, security and opportunities for the welfare of their families."

The ways immigrants in the U.S. often are treated nowadays were a special concern of the bishops' letter. They said that "the economic crisis has had an impact on the entire U.S. community" and that "regretfully, some in reaction to this environment of uncertainty show disdain for immigrants and even blame them for the crisis."

In the U.S., the bishops suggested, "we will not find a solution to our problems by sowing hatred. We will find the solution by sowing a sense of solidarity among all workers and co-workers - immigrants and citizens - who live together in the United States."

The bishops wanted undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. to know they "are not alone or forgotten." The bishops recognized "that every human being, authorized or not, is an image of God and therefore possesses infinite value and dignity."

The bishops said to the documented and undocumented, "We open our arms and hearts to you, and we receive you as members of our Catholic family."

In the "suffering faces" of immigrants "we see the true face of Jesus Christ," the letter stressed. The bishops said, "We are well aware of the great sacrifice you make for your families' well-being." They added:

"Many of you perform the most difficult jobs and receive miserable salaries and no health insurance or social security. Despite your contributions to the well-being of our country, instead of receiving our thanks, you are often treated as criminals because you have violated current immigration laws."

The bishops had a word of caution for undocumented persons planning to cross the border into the U.S. After first affirming a commitment to do all they can "to bring about a change in the immigration law so that you can enter and remain here legally and not feel compelled to undertake a dangerous journey in order to support and provide for your families," the bishops went on to say:

"As pastors concerned for your welfare, we ask you to consider seriously whether it is advisable to undertake the journey here until after just and humane changes occur in our immigration laws."

"Nevertheless," the bishops continued, "we are not going to wait until the law changes to welcome you who are already here into our churches."

U.S. citizens and permanent residents are challenged by the bishops "to be more courageous in denouncing the injustices" suffered by new immigrants. "We ought to denounce the forces that oppress them and announce the good news of the kingdom with our works of charity," they said.

3. Welcoming the Stranger Fleeing Violence

In all that the church does, "we must get to know the persons whom the Lord puts in our midst and serve them generously and invite them to take part," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said in a recent speech exploring the complex ways violence affects life on the Texas-Mexico border and what this tells the church about the pastoral action needed there.

Bishop Flores drew a picture of a frightening environment in which people - the poor, the middle class, even wealthy persons -- are surrounded and victimized by criminal violence in northern Mexico. The violence encompasses the drug trade, human trafficking, kidnappings and other threats to families, and the forced drafting of children into gangs.

In his Oct. 19 speech at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Bishop Flores said the church must call attention, "through her public voices, including those of the laity who labor in the field of political activity," to the suffering of the innocent in the region. He said:

"We must raise a call to conscience for the people of our two great nations to see how a culture of violence and death is destroying a people and a culture that has endured and flourished on both sides of the border for many generations."

He pointed out that "this destructive blight affects us in different ways on the two sides" of the Rio Grande, "but they are interrelated ways."

The current public discussion of immigration and border security falls short of what is needed if immigrants moving back and forth across the border are to be viewed as persons, the bishop proposed. He said:

"I have a sense that we in the church must do more to live up to our indispensable obligation to contribute to the discussion in a way that keeps it realistic and keeps it human. There is no defense of the human person that is not also a kind of realism. Realism is important because without it we are, as a people, trying to address difficulties that are incompletely understood."

"Keeping it human is important because we are not dealing only with numbers of people and statistical variations. We are dealing with men, women and children, young folks and 'las abuelitas,' confronting a horrific human tragedy."

4. Pastoral Ministry Among Immigrants

Bishop Flores said in his San Antonio speech about violence along the border in the Rio Grande Valley that he worries that new arrivals on the U.S. side "are not easily being welcomed into our parish churches."

And fear may restrict the comings and goings of these new arrivals, he observed. He suggested that fears of violence acquired in Mexico may, "even on the American side," keep these new arrivals "from venturing out very often or very far." In addition, he said "memories of the home they left" could leave these people "listless and unwilling to make the effort to get to know a new community."

But whatever the reason some may not venture out often, "we have a heavy obligation to make the new arrivals welcome in our churches and at our parish activities," Bishop Flores said.

He explained, too, that "historically rooted differences between how we as a church organize and structure things" in the U.S. "can put many new arrivals off, be they rich or poor, and these differences can make them feel unwelcomed."

Furthermore, if newly arrived immigrants encounter an attitude in the church "that says 'They can come if they want,'" it will hardly be helpful, the bishop commented."

His speech described a number of situations that wound and divide immigrant families, leading him to say that "we fail in our Christian charity if we do not seek out the wounded and offer them the grace of our communal life as members of Christ's body in the United States."

Great concern about young people, in particular early teens and even preteens, was expressed by Bishop Flores. He described how youths are recruited by or forced into gangs in which they begin early on to participate in illegal and violent actions.

"We have to refocus more pastoral resources on the younger youth demographic. If our youth groups and youth activities are exclusively aimed at high school or college, I greatly fear we are missing those most at risk," Bishop Flores said.

"That is the demographic that is being offered the $50 to carry the narcotics or smuggle the guns," he explained.

"It is not an impossible task to step up our pastoral efforts to connect our middle-school-age children to the life of the church," the bishop said. However, he added, "it is an urgent task and an effort that we need to intensify, given what is at stake."

The church should draw upon its own experience with the community life that the young seek, he noted, saying:

"If our younger children do not find the right place to belong in the wider community of the parish, they will easily find themselves invited to belong to a gang or a cartel. We should be experts in this basic human desire for community, about having a place and having something to contribute."

Hospitality - its meaning and value - was accented by Bishop Flores. He called hospitality "a basic human good." As a "basic human impulse," hospitality "is older than Homer, Virgil and the author of Beowulf. It is a norm of social relations that is prior to the legal distinction between documented or undocumented," he said.

Human dignity was highlighted in the bishop's speech. He said that the church "sees the dignity of the human person as a precious mystery that must be defended; for if we do not defend it, it will be trampled." He added, "We all must call upon our people to see the need to protect the rights of immigrants and respond generously to the plight that afflicts them."

And Bishop Flores called the failure to enact new U.S. immigration legislation an embarrassment. He urged that the entire church adopt this concern, saying:

"It particularly falls to the whole church in communion with the bishops in the United States to insist on a national level that current immigration law is neither sufficiently humane nor sufficiently realistic, especially in light of the rapidly changing dynamics affecting our people and our communities.

"It is a source of national embarrassment that state and federal officials cannot reach a comprehensive, cohesive, humane and realistic approach to the current crisis." (Bishop Flores' speech appears in the Dec. 15, 2011, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

5. Current Quote to Ponder

Keeping the Incarnation Going: "[The] mystery of the incarnation continues in and through the church. But John Foley, ever the philosopher and debater, would remind us of the last part of this syllogism: Each of us is also called to continue the mystery of the incarnation through his church in our own lives. Cardinal Foley, effective pedagogue that he was, would remind us of the scholastic maxim that 'grace builds on nature.' And what an appealing nature John Foley provided to God so the incarnation might continue! A courtesy that was so impeccable and the thoughtfulness that was so unfailing that we might not be surprised to find his photograph in the 'pictionary' for the entry on 'gentleman.' A natural sense of humor that was so spontaneous that I once told him, 'John, if I did not know for a fact that you were a teetotaler, I'd swear you had a couple of shots under your filettata before breakfast every morning!' A holiness in 'His Foleyness' that was evident without being overbearing. A depth to his intellect which could express itself with warmth and childlikeness. A sparkle in his eye, smile on his lips, lilt to his laugh -- and one too many puns! All a nature upon which God's grace built, and which God's Word assumed, to keep the mystery of the incarnation going." (From the Dec. 16 homily by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, during the funeral in Philadelphia for Cardinal John Foley, known for his long leadership of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and his promotion of the Catholic press and other Catholic media)

6. Christmas 2011 and the Jesus Who Was Poor

To become the people for whom the light shone when Jesus was born, it is essential to remember that "Jesus, who was born in a stable, is concerned with all human suffering, physical as well as spiritual," Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco wrote in his Christmas 2011 homily, posted in advance on the archdiocese's website.

Repeating parts of -- and expanding upon -- his Christmas 2008 homily, the archbishop stressed the theme of poverty and concern for the poor that ran through Jesus' ministry. He taught that "we cannot receive or return God's love unless we share it daily and concretely with one another, especially with those most in need of our loving," the archbishop said.

Archbishop Niederauer said that, true enough, "Jesus was not a social activist but a savior from sin." At the same time, "the "land of gloom Isaiah speaks of is all too familiar to us," said the archbishop. It is "a land obsessed with grabbing and having, worshiping success and ignoring misery, bitterly divided between haves and have-nots, distrustful of strangers and betraying loved ones and friends, and tolerating violence as long as it happens across town or across a bridge."

For the archbishop, "the fact that Jesus lived in poverty was not an accident, it was a part of God's plan." Jesus, he said, "was born in a borrowed stable and buried in a borrowed tomb."

All the trappings of Christmas - "the carols, the lights and the beautifully carved figures in the creche -- honor Christ only if they lead us to imitate his generous love for the most needy among us," Archbishop Niederauer said.

Jesus, he stressed, "became poor to make us rich in God's life, now and forever. We complete the circle of that love when we share what we have with our neighbors in need."

7. Families and Children at Poverty's Door

A majority of Catholic Charities agencies across the U.S. saw an increase in requests for help during the third quarter of 2011, according to the Catholic Charities USA third-quarter snapshot report released Nov. 22.

Father Larry Snyder, Catholic Charities USA president, said the agency's findings "mirror the trends in national census data showing an increase in individuals living in poverty in communities across the country."

It is not sufficient, he commented, to help suffering individuals "survive, we must help them thrive." In Father Snyder's eyes, the greatest challenge for many local Charities agencies "continues to be the large number of families and individuals seeking food and financial assistance."

And this, he said, "is especially true around the holiday season, as food pantries face increased demand," with some struggling "to keep enough food stocked to meet the needs of individuals who seek assistance."

The snapshot report said a majority of local Charities agencies "reported an increase in requests for help relative to the previous quarter from the working poor (80 percent), families (66 percent), homeless (60 percent) and the middle class (59 percent)." The report said, "These trends did not vary substantially across regions or between agencies," whether they primarily served urban, suburban or rural populations.

"More than 88 percent of local agencies report that they maintained a waiting list or had to turn people away for at least one of their programs or services" during the third quarter of 2011, the snapshot report said.

It noted that among agencies reporting the actual number of people served during the third quarter, families and children "made up the largest population group receiving services." They were followed by the working poor and by seniors.

8. Bishops Address Unemployment Insurance Renewal

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives were urged Dec. 12 by a U.S. bishops' spokesman "to find effective ways," before completing their 2011 business and adjourning for the holidays, "to assure continuing unemployment insurance and emergency unemployment compensation to protect jobless workers and their families."

In a letter to House members, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, asked them to "consider the moral and human consequences of your decisions on the most vulnerable among us."

Millions of unemployed workers stood to lose unemployment benefits beginning Jan. 1 unless the unemployment insurance program was extended by Congress. At the time this edition of the jknirp.com newsletter was posted online, the Senate had agreed to a plan - and House agreement was awaited - that included extending jobless benefits for two months, after which those benefits and related tax issues will have to be readdressed.

Bishop Blaire pointed out that for millions of workers and their families, economic hardship continues to grow. He noted that the U.S. Catholic bishops "have long advocated that the most effective way to build a just economy is the availability of decent work at decent wages."

Today, "the median length of joblessness has reached 10 months, and economists estimate that there are over four job seekers for every opening," Bishop Blaire wrote.

He said to House members, "When the economy fails to generate sufficient jobs, there is a moral obligation to help protect the life and dignity of unemployed workers and their families."