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September 4, 2012

Pope accents laity's co-responsibility -
The death of Cardinal Martini -
Communicating faith in a transition period -
The human spirit at its best

In this edition:
1. Poverty, economic renewal and politics.
2. Are unions still valued by the church?
3. New educational website on poverty.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) The human spirit at its best.
b) Remembering Cardinal Martini.
5. Pope accents laity's co-responsibility.
6. Communicating faith in transition times.
7. Fearing the evangelization challenge.

1. Poverty, Economic Renewal and Politics

"We need to hear from those who seek to lead this country about what specific steps they would take to lift people out of poverty," Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., said in the annual Labor Day statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Bishop Blaire chairs the committee.

His statement accented jobs and worker protections.

The U.S. "needs an economic renewal that places workers and their families at the center of economic life and creates enough decent jobs for everyone who can work," Bishop Blaire said. He commented that in the needed economic renewal, "unions and other worker associations have a unique and essential responsibility."

Bishop Blaire spoke about "the relative silence of [political] candidates and their campaigns on the moral imperative to resist and overcome poverty." He called this "both ominous and disheartening."

Though current poverty levels are unacceptably high, "few candidates and elected officials speak about pervasive poverty or offer a path to overcome it," he observed.

"Public officials rightfully debate the need to reduce unsustainable federal deficits and debt," Bishop Blaire acknowledged. At the same time, he said that "in the current political campaigns we hear much about the economy, but almost nothing about the moral imperative to overcome pervasive poverty in a nation still blessed with substantial economic resources and power."

The "harsh economic realities" of the times "bring terrible human costs for millions of families, who live with anxiety and uncertainty, and cope with stagnant or falling wages," Bishop Blaire said. He pointed out that "many are forced to work second or third jobs," placing "further strain on their children's well-being."

The economy ought to "help families thrive, not place additional pressures on them," said Bishop Blaire. In expressing concern that a broken economy "contributes to the danger that workers will be exploited or mistreated in other ways," the bishop said that "many employees struggle for just wages, a safe workplace and a voice in the economy."

Moreover, "immigrants and their families are especially vulnerable, highlighting "the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform," he said.

Bishop Blaire insisted that "the exploitation of working people, whether subtle or obvious, injures their humanity and denies their inherent dignity." He continued:

"Exploited and mistreated workers require our care and solidarity. An economy that allows this exploitation and abuse demands our attention and action."

2. . . . Does the Church Still Value Unions?

Does the Catholic Church still hold that labor unions and worker associations are important to the workplace and deserve support? Yes, according to Bishop Stephen Blaire's 2012 Labor Day statement for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Our church has long taught that unions are 'an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies' ('Laborem Exercens,' 20) and are examples of the traditional Catholic principles of solidarity and subsidiarity in action," Bishop Blaire said.

When they are "at their best, unions demonstrate solidarity by bringing workers together to speak and act collectively to protect their rights and pursue the common good," he wrote. He said:

"Unions are a sign of subsidiarity by forming associations of workers to have a voice, articulate their needs, and bargain and negotiate with the large economic institutions and structures of government."

But like "other institutions, including religious, business and civic groups, unions sometimes fall short of this promise and responsibility," the bishop said. He explained that some actions by unions "can contribute to excessive polarization and intense partisanship, can pursue positions that conflict with the common good or can focus on just narrow self-interests."

Still, "Catholic teaching in support of unions and the protection of working people" is not negated "when labor institutions fall short," he commented. Instead, such situations call "for a renewed focus and candid dialogue on how to best defend workers."

In fact, said Bishop Blaire, "economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life cannot take place without effective unions." The needed economic renewal "requires business, religious, labor and civic organizations to work together to help working people defend their dignity, claim their rights and have a voice in the workplace and broader economy."

Bishop Blaire reminded readers of his statement that the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference currently "is developing a pastoral reflection on work, poverty and a broken economy." It will, he said, be a "modest reflection" that communicates the bishops' "solidarity with those who have been left behind and will call for prayer, education, discussion and action."

3. New Educational Website on Poverty

Homilists, parish social-action committees and religious educators working with adults, teens and others may want to take a look at a new website launched Aug. 15 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The website -- www.povertyusa.org -- examines the state of poverty in the U.S., along with concrete ways to address the needs of poor people.

A video, titled "Poverty USA Tour," vividly examines the cost of living and its realities for people living at or below the official poverty line.

An online quiz, found on the website under "resources," challenges site visitors to test their awareness of poverty facts. For example, it asks: Who are the working poor? How prevalent is poverty among children and the elderly? What is the federal minimum wage? What income might a family living under the poverty line have?

The website includes an interactive poverty map with state- and county-level poverty statistics, helping site visitors understand the truth about poverty in their own communities. News about poverty also will be reported by the website.

"More than 46 million Americans live in Poverty USA," the website states. That includes the one in six seniors living in poverty. Moreover, one in seven American households "were food insecure last year," and 1.6 million children stayed in a shelter or emergency housing at some point during the past year.

The website is an initiative of the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the national bishops' conference.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

The Human Spirit at Its Best: "Recently, the African-American mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, pushed his security team aside and ran into a flaming building to save his neighbor. He said afterward, 'We have to fight . . . the narcissism and me-ism that erode our moral culture. We can't put shallow celebrity before core decency. We have to have a deeper faith in our human spirit.' University of San Francisco Professor Julio Moreno recently sent me an autobiographical essay about his harrowing passage from the grinding poverty and brutal violence of rural El Salvador during the 1980 civil war to the United States, where he lived without documents for over a decade. He successfully struggled against overwhelming odds to support his family and ultimately graduate from college and earn his Ph.D. It is a compelling story of unparalleled courage, hope, self-sacrifice and determination. . . . You may have less dramatic but equally compelling stories about our human spirit at its best. My point is simple: We human beings are capable of doing what is remarkably noble and selfless; we may also do what is petty and selfish. We can do the right thing, even at great cost to ourselves; or we can ruthlessly pursue our own gratification, no matter the cost to others. I believe with the Gospel that the human spirit at its best . . . is the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would be with us forever. . . . At any moment we are free to follow either the human/holy Spirit of God or the inhumane/evil Spirit. However you choose -- and choose you will -- your choice will make all the difference for you and for others in your life." (From the Aug. 20 homily by Jesuit Father Stephen Privett, University of San Francisco president, during a Mass opening the new academic year)

Remembering Cardinal Martini: "On Friday Aug. 31, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., entered eternal life following his long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 85 years old. The world renowned Scripture scholar, teacher, archbishop emeritus of Milan -- the world's largest archdiocese with more than 5 million inhabitants -- distinguished himself as an internationally respected church leader. . . . I sincerely hope and pray that the life and teaching of Cardinal Martini will penetrate deeply the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization in Rome. Martini clearly showed us how to evangelize. He lived out his episcopal ministry as a bishop of the Second Vatican Council, one who was honest, just, fair and unafraid. He constantly called forth goodness in other people. This great man was able to communicate not just with the faithful but also with people who were far from the faith, bringing the message of the Gospel to everyone. He taught us not to be afraid to dialogue and to reach out. He reminded us that under the smoldering ashes of a church that is at times tired and discouraged, burdened with history and traditions, there are still embers waiting to be fanned into flame." (From a recollection of Cardinal Martini by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, head of the Salt and Light Catholic Television Network of Canada; the recollection appears on the Salt and Light blog.)

5. Pope Accents Laity and Co-responsibility

It is important to consider the co-responsibility of the church's laity at this time, on the eve of the Year of Faith and of the October world Synod of Bishops, which will devote attention to the new evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI said in an Aug. 23 message to the International Forum of Catholic Action.

The Forum met in Romania to reflect on the implications of co-responsibility for the church and society.

"The great challenge of the new evangelization" is to announce faith, using "language and methods understandable in our age" -- an era characterized by rapid social and cultural advances, the pope said. In this, he suggested, the laity have an invaluable role.

The vocation of the laity calls them to witness courageously and credibly in all sectors of society so that the Gospel can bring hope to people experiencing trouble and difficulties in their lives, said the pope.

"Co-responsibility requires a change of mentality, particularly regarding the role in the church of the laity, who should not be considered 'collaborators' of the clergy, but people who truly are co-responsible for the being and action of the church," the pope wrote.

The church, he said, needs a "mature and committed laity, able to make its specific contribution to the mission of the church" in ways that respect its members differing roles and ministries.

Pope Benedict called attention to Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Church, which said that "a great many benefits are to be hoped for" from a "familiar dialogue between the laity and their pastors" (No. 37).

It is important that the spirit of communion found in the early Christian community be deepened and lived out in the church today, he said.

Pope Benedict encouraged Catholic Action members to cultivate authentic relationships with all people, starting with families, and to make themselves available at all levels of social and political life, keeping their sights fixed on the common good.

6. Evangelization: Societies in Transition

Communicating about faith in ways that others are able to understand, as well as in ways that respond to the actual questions people have, is a great challenge of the new evangelization, Archbishop Rini Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, indicated in remarks Aug. 11 at the Proclaim 2012 conference in Sydney, Australia.

The present time, he said, is a "period of transition" for society. Fortunately, he noted, "history provides evidence of the role which [the church] has been able to fulfill at times of cultural crisis and of momentous change."

In order to communicate faith at this time, he cautioned new evangelizers against becoming rooted either "in a sort of romanticism which only looks to the past" or in the imagination of "a utopia" supported only by "hypotheses which cannot find any confirmation."

It is essential that new evangelizers be aware of "the question of God" as it is asked by many today, Archbishop Fisichella suggested. The new evangelization, he said, confronts a contemporary world in which "God is not denied but is unknown." He explained:

"Today we do not encounter great systems of atheism, if they were ever great; hence, the question of God needs to be addressed in a different way. Today God is not denied but is unknown. In some respects it could be said that, paradoxically, interest in God and in religion has grown. . . .

"[However,] people are looking for different modalities of religion, . . . taking up that which they find pleasing in the sense of ensuring for them that religious experience which they find more satisfying on the basis of their interests or needs at the moment."

In addition, he said, "for the younger generations, their horizon of understanding is characterized by a mentality strongly influenced by scientific research and by technology." Achievements in these areas "already hold the upper hand," even influencing how people speak and contributing to the shape of culture.

In this context, he added, "the new evangelization requires the capacity to know how to give an explanation of our own faith." (Archbishop Fisichella's speech appears in Origins, CNS Documentary Service, the edition dated Sept. 6, 2012.)

7. . . . Don't Fear Evangelization Challenges

"It is imperative that we be cognizant of the reality that we find ourselves at the end of an age that, for good or ill, has marked our history for almost six centuries, and that we must take seriously the new one which lies on the horizon," Archbishop Fisichella said.

He recommended that new evangelizers pay close attention to their manner of communicating about faith, neither wearily dedicating themselves to past forms nor to images of a utopian future. He said:

"The road to be followed is by no means easy. It requires that we remain faithful to the fundamentals and, precisely for this reason, are capable of constructing something coherent with those foundations, which at the same time are able to be received and understood by people who are different from those of the past.

"The trials will be numerous. Yet the challenges which are placed on our path need to be confronted, analyzed and studied."

The new evangelization starts with the "credibility" of the witness offered to others and the conviction of the evangelizers that grace is powerful, "that grace acts and transforms to the point of converting the heart," Archbishop Fisichella said.

Faced by the new evangelization's large demands, he thought that some might be tempted to ignore it, instead "hiding away in our churches." But this, he said, "would render Pentecost vain."

It is "essential," he said, "that believers recognize the responsibility to provide an authentic companionship of faith, to become a neighbor to those who seek the reasons for and explanations of our Catholic beliefs."