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August 15, 2012

Focus on international priests -
Did St. Paul attend the Olympics? -
Bishop urges Catholics to vote, even if candidates are flawed -
Reaction to Sikh temple killings

In this edition:
1. Bishop says: Don't abandon right to vote.
2. Reactions to Sikh temple killings.
3. Educating young Christians, Muslims.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) St. Paul may have attended Olympics.
b) The Olympics as tutor.
5. Priestly qualities for new evangelization.
6. Focus on international priests.
7. The deacon's unique awareness.

1. Bishop Says, Don't Fail to Vote

The obligation to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election is not one that black Catholics should abandon, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., said in a July 19 homily for the opening of the National Black Catholic Congress in Indianapolis.

Bishop Braxton said some "dangerous" voices propose that there is "no point in voting at all," that neither candidate deserves the votes of Catholics. He said:

"If we listen to these voices, we will abandon our essential participation in democracy and become a part of the sad statistic of nearly 45 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote in a presidential election and abdicate this important civic and Christian duty."

Bishop Braxton, one of America's black Catholic bishops, called voting "a responsibility for which people of color have a deep appreciation since we were deprived of it for so long -- and, quiet as it is kept, still are in some quarters." (His homily appears in the Aug. 16 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

In a section about voting in his homily, the bishop presented an overview of the reasons put forth these days by those proposing either that black Catholics and other black citizens should, or should not, vote for President Obama or former Gov. Romney.

Bishop Braxton said, "This year, as in the past, both candidates are imperfect human beings. The American political system does not produce saviors for the nation or knights in shining armor who fulfill all of our hopes and expectations."

In his view, "neither President Obama nor former Gov. Romney espouses positions consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church on important moral, social and economic issues."

He said, "Both candidates are shaped by their personal histories, their starkly different visions of the role of government and the future of the country, as well as intense pressure from the base of their political parties and major donors."

However, Bishop Braxton considered some voices in the current conversation "dangerous" -- the voices of those suggesting "that there is no point in voting at all," that "neither candidate is deserving of our vote," and besides, the American political system is now "so corrupt that it really does not matter who is elected president."

According to these voices, "the intransigent positions of the leaders of both parties" make it "impossible for them to work together and develop reasonable compromises that will be beneficial to the well-being of all citizens, especially the most needy and vulnerable."

But Bishop Braxton said to the Black Catholic Congress:

"No matter how flawed you may think the candidates are, you have an obligation to participate. Make sure you are registered to vote. Take the time needed to study carefully the positions of the contenders. Read, think, discuss, dispute, decide; read, think, discuss, debate some more, pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance, reconsider your decision and vote."

2. Reactions to Sikh Temple Killings

Reactions by Catholic leaders to the Aug. 5 shooting that claimed the lives of six members of a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., expressed grief at the suffering in the Sikh community, urged understanding and respect for the Sikh religion, and called for reflection and action on the violence within U.S. society.

"I was totally taken aback. I was totally shocked that anyone would come in and do such an act of violence, but also to do it within the context of church, temple, synagogue, mosque," Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee told the Catholic Herald, the archdiocese's newspaper.

"Here are people coming together to worship God, and what happens? They're confronted by evil. This tells us that we have to be mindful of evil in the world," Archbishop Listecki said.

Police said the shooter entered the temple and began shooting with an automatic weapon. Four people inside and two others outside were killed. In the end the gunman, wounded by a police officer, shot and killed himself, the FBI said.

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, who has a long history of involvement in ecumenical and interreligious affairs, also commented on the shootings. "Because of our strong sacramental tradition," the murders should serve as an opportunity to renew respect for all holy places" and "every place that is deemed holy by those who gather," he said.

He hoped the temple killings would prompt the larger community to examine the violence "woven into our culture, entertainment and society."

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, wrote about the temple killings in a blog entry Aug. 6. "Again we are confronted with an unexplainable act of violence against innocent people," he said.

"Certainly, a contributing cause" of this act "is the increasingly violent society in which we live, a society that portrays violence as normal and without consequences in movies, on television, in video games," Bishop Farrell added.

He said also that "ignorance may well have been a factor in the Wisconsin incident, since there is speculation that the killer attacked the Sikh temple mistakenly believing that Sikhs are Muslims and was out to avenge the attacks of 9/11."

A "culture of intolerance and hatred continues to escalate," Bishop Farrell said. Everyone should be asked to "recognize that we are all created in the likeness and image of God, and therefore we must love, respect and care for each other."

Auxiliary Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, expressed support for Wisconsin's Sikh community in an Aug. 6 statement.

"We Catholics mourn with our Sikh brothers and sisters," he said. Sikhs and Catholics, he wrote, "share a warm and fruitful friendship, as well as a love of God and a belief in the community of all people," which makes this "tragedy all the more painful and difficult to comprehend."

The U.S. Catholic bishops "reject all violence, particularly violence inflicted out of religious intolerance," the bishop added. He said, "We are especially saddened that this horrendous act was carried out in a house of worship against people joined together as a family to worship God."

3. Educating Young Christians and Muslims

With the approach of a new school year and new religious education year, the Aug. 8 message from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to the world's Muslims seems of unique interest.

Marking the end of Ramadan, Islam's month of fasting, the message encourages "the education of young Christians and Muslims for justice and peace."

In other words, it depicts the ideal relationship between young Christians and young Muslims not as an opposition in which chasms of misunderstanding grow wider, but as a friendship enabling them to contribute together to the societies they inhabit.

"The common good cannot be achieved without solidarity and fraternal love," the message said. What's more, "for believers, genuine justice, lived in friendship with God, deepens all other relationships: with oneself, with others and with the whole of creation."

In our "tormented world," it is becoming more and more urgent that the young be educated for peace, the message insisted. However, "the true nature of peace must be understood."

"Peace" is not defined by "the mere absence of war" or "a balance between opposing forces," the message explained. Rather, peace is at once "a gift from God and a human endeavor to be pursued" all the time.

To build justice and peace, the message said it is important that believers practice "compassion, solidarity, collaboration and fraternity." In this way believers can contribute effectively to the "prevention and resolution of conflicts" in their communities and foster "harmonious growth."

"Justice has its origin in the fact that all men are created by God and are called to become one, single family," the message stated.

It asked young Muslims and Christians to become "builders of a culture that respects the dignity and the rights of every citizen."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

St. Paul at the Olympics: "St. Paul could have attended the Olympic games in ancient Greece. He was in Greece when they were being played. He never mentioned the Olympics in his letters, but he has a lot to say about winning. 'Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one' (1 Cor 9:24-25). He is not talking about 'winning the gold.' . . . The race he is referring to is the journey we all make to God. The great thing about this race is that everybody can win the prize. But, like the Olympians, it takes determination and self-discipline." (From a July 26 post to his blog by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas)

The Olympics as Tutor: "We all look to these games to tutor us in so much that makes life worthwhile. These games can stimulate between us a renewed sense of community, of people getting together in joy and fun. They can show us again, in every athlete, how much can be achieved in life with self-discipline, concentrated effort and healthy competition. The effort exerted by every competitor is an example for us all in how to apply ourselves to life itself. This is sport serving the fashioning of character." (From a July 28 speech on the Olympic Games given in London by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster)

5. Priestly Qualities for New Evangelization

To promote the new evangelization effectively, priests "must accept people where they are," Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., said in his August monthly message to the diocese.

"For all intents and purposes, many Catholics today are uncatechized -- and they are products of the individualism, moral relativism, secularism, consumerism and scientism which pervade our culture," Bishop Hubbard wrote.

In addition, many, especially many of the young, "are what sociologists are now calling 'the spirituals.'" They search for "meaning and transcendence in their lives," but without belonging to a particular religious tradition.

But Bishop Hubbard cautioned against thinking that these people are shallow. "Many live disciplined spiritual lives." However, they reject "conformity in a rules-bound institution."

Bishop Hubbard cited remarks by Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, America magazine's editor, who said these people "are not 'low-hanging' fruit for proselytizing or erring sheep eager to be brought back to the fold,' but they are open to dialogue and to having people of faith befriend them."

To connect with such people, priests need to be willing "to enter into their world, to understand their perspective, to be patient and above all to be kind," Bishop Hubbard wrote. But he said that does not mean watering down the Gospel message or sugarcoating "the responsibilities of Christian discipleship."

However, "like Jesus, who dealt gently and sensitively with the Samaritan woman at the well, priests must seek to lead those who are not practicing our Catholic faith . . . from where they are to where our loving and inviting God is calling them to be."

Bishop Hubbard's August message listed five qualities priests need for their ministry. These qualities were suggested to him by a survey Bishop David O'Connell of Trenton, N.J., commissioned recently. It asked Catholics what their reasons were for leaving the church or not participating regularly in the Eucharist.

"The answers," said Bishop Hubbard, were not very surprising. They ranged from tepid liturgies and uninspiring homilies to "the refusal of priests to celebrate the sacrament of marriage with couples who have strayed from the practice of their faith" and "exclusion of women from ordained ministry."

Bishop Hubbard said that "one disaffected Catholic complained, 'Ask a priest a question and you get a rule; you don't get a 'let's sit down and talk about it' response."

Perhaps something along those lines suggested to Bishop Hubbard another of the qualities needed by priests: that they "be humble and approachable servants and ambassadors of Christ."

To serve, Bishop Hubbard wrote, "means not only doing what one likes doing best; it also means taking on the Lord's yoke, the Lord's burden. It means not being swayed by one's own preferences or priorities, but being driven by the needs of God's people."

6. Focus on International Priests

The Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., has "a growing corps of international priests, most of them members of religious communities" or belonging to other dioceses, Archbishop John Vlazny wrote in a July 31 column for the archdiocesan newspaper.

However, he said, "some of these men have been coming to prepare for priesthood in the United States and to become members" of the western Oregon presbyterate.

His column discussing international priests was prompted by the death of an international seminarian in the archdiocese who drowned while swimming July 10. Nicholaus Kiwango Marenga, from Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, "was one of our growing number of international seminarians," the archbishop said.

In 2011, he noted, he ordained two new international priests. "This year I ordained five. And more are on the way."

Some members of the clergy, as well as some lay people, "question the advisability of welcoming candidates from other nations to serve permanently here in the United States," the archbishop said. He acknowledged "there can be some drawbacks."

Nonetheless, the archbishop said his "experience is that the men who come have deep faith, generous hearts, great devotion to Our Lady and the saints, unquestioned zeal and a great love for God's people."

Sometimes these men come to the U.S. "because the seminaries are full in their homeland or a priest or friend in their native country encourages them to be 'missionaries' to secular America, just as Christian America decades ago provided countless missionaries to other lands," Archbishop Vlazny explained.

International priests, he said, are not a new phenomenon either in the U.S. or the church in Oregon. "In fact, in 2010 there were 6,453 international priests serving here in the United States," he pointed out. "They were approximately one-sixth of the nearly 40,000 priests serving in our nation," and, "reportedly, 300 international priests arrive" in the nation yearly.

International priests seem always to have been "significant in the life of the church" in the U.S., Archbishop Vlazny wrote. "It was only from 1940 to 1960," he said, "that our church produced enough native-born priests to serve its parishes."

True enough, not all immigrant priests "have been successful in their ministry, nor were all the native-born priests," Archbishop Vlazny said. But he assured readers of his column that today "the recruitment and screening of candidates are thorough and effective."

Moreover, he said that seminaries like Oregon's Mount Angel "are well-equipped to help these men prepare for life and ministry here."

7. The Deacon's Unique Awareness

Permanent deacons are given the "unique opportunity to interpret for the rest of us where our priorities should be," Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., said in a July column anticipating the ordination in August of new deacons in the diocese. He examined two noteworthy ways deacons contribute to parish and diocesan life.

First, through their ministry deacons "have their finger on the pulse of what is happening" in all the key areas of the church's life, Bishop Cupich wrote. That explains why they can interpret "for the rest of the church the needs, concerns and hopes of the ecclesial and wider communities."

The bishop indicated that the deacon's awareness of needs and concerns within the community grows through his "corporal works of mercy," like "visiting the sick and aged, searching out the homeless and hungry, and ministering through education of our youth."

Bishop Cupich said, "There is not one facet of the church's life that they are not in touch with."

Second, "deacons keep fresh for us the need to imitate Jesus, who came to serve and not be served," Bishop Cupich said.

He commented that "as the church moves through the ages and grows larger, it is easy for her to lose touch with the characteristic that most distinguished Jesus and which motivated the disciples -- namely, service."

Jesus humbled himself the night before he died "by washing the feet of his disciples and asking them to do the same," Bishop Cupich noted. He said it is important never to lose sight of this "prophetic action," which Jesus left to us "as a reminder of how he reveals himself."

The ordination of new deacons invites the rest of the church's people to reflect on their identity, the bishop said - their identity as "disciples of Jesus, called to serve, called to make him present in our service."