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December 17, 2012

Reaction to killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School -
The Jan. 1, 2013, World Day of Peace message -
Opportune moment for U.S. immigration reform

In this edition:
1. Tragic killings in Newtown, Conn.
2. Toward U.S. immigration reform.
3. Migrants now and in biblical days.
4. Immigrants and their families.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Immigration and church membership.
b) Demographics and the church's future.
6. World Day of Peace message.
7. Peacemaking in concrete terms.
8. Peacemaking and the common good.

1. The Killings at Sandy Hook School

In my Virginia parish the names of all the children and adults killed Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were read aloud during the Prayer of the Faithful by a visiting priest. It was Advent's Gaudete Sunday.

The Mass celebrant had concluded his homily with remarks directed to the children in the congregation. He assured them in the most direct terms of their great dignity, beauty, worth and talent, and of their safety.

These pastoral gestures clearly were welcomed by the parish community. In part, that is because there is considerable concern throughout the nation about how to speak with children about the Newtown tragedy and other similar events.

Many parishioners stood in applause after the priest's homily in our community. Though hundreds of miles from Newtown, many - most, undoubtedly - in the community were shaken and saddened by the shooting deaths two days earlier.

The pastoral action of priests in Newtown captured attention everywhere, reported to the world in evening network TV newscasts and in newspapers. The pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Msgr. Robert Weiss, quickly arrived at the school after the shootings to serve and comfort teachers, children, parents and others.

Other priests, chaplains and Catholic Charities personnel soon joined that pastoral effort.

In the evening Dec. 14, more people than the church could hold packed into St. Rose of Lima for a vigil. Later Msgr. Weiss said that community members during the vigil "came together to care and to support."

He commented that "people really care here, and hopefully we can just keep the community together and they can console each other."

One who spoke at the Dec. 14 vigil was Connecticut's Gov. Dannel Malloy. "We stand in a church, and many of us today and in the coming days will rely upon that which we have been taught and that which we inherently believe -- that there is faith for a reason, and that faith itself is God's gift to all of us," the governor said.

In a statement the following day, Malloy commented that "there will be time soon for a discussion of the public policy issues surrounding yesterday's events, but what's important right now is this: love, courage, and compassion."

He said that "too often we focus on what divides us as people instead of what binds us as human beings." But he said that what was seen in Newtown after the shootings Dec. 14 "were those bonds, that sense of community."

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the day of the shootings that "the tragedy of innocent people dying through violence shatters the peace of all." Thus, he added, "once again we speak against the culture of violence infecting our country even as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace at Christmas."

Everyone is "called to work for peace in our homes, our streets and our world, now more than ever," Cardinal Dolan said.

Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley arrived home from Rome to learn of the Newtown tragedy. He said that "as people of faith we denounce and abhor violence of any kind. There is no circumstance that justifies the taking of innocent life, and it is incomprehensible that children were the victims of this heinous act."

The cardinal prayed for all who lost their lives in Newtown, for their families and for everyone struck by the national tragedy. "Coming together with genuine care and concern for all people, we will find the strength to support one another going forward, confident that there is no darkness that can overcome the light of Christ," he said.

Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, prayed after the shootings "for the dead and for those wounded in body or spirit as a result of what happened." He pointedly added, "We pray for our country and an end to sins against human life."

Msgr. Weiss joined other religious leaders in a Dec 16 interfaith service in Newtown. President Obama addressed that gathering.

"I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts," the president said, adding:

"I can only hope it helps for you to know that you're not alone in your grief, that our world too has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours we have wept with you, we've pulled our children tight."

The president expressed his commitment to engaging the nation "in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this."

2. Toward U.S. Immigration Reform

"Immigration reform is not just about legislation to be drafted but about people to be served in every way that we can," Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said in a Dec. 3 speech to some 200 national immigration leaders. They participated in a Dec. 3-5 Catholic conference in Atlanta organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., known as CLINIC.

"There is hope that the 113th Congress, which convenes in January, will take up the issue of immigration reform. Thus, this conference begins on a note of hope, but none of us can expect that immigration reform will be accomplished easily or quickly or without some compromise," the archbishop told his audience.

The needed immigration reforms "involve many complex public policy issues and value judgments," the archbishop affirmed. He said, "The components of any reform bill will be the subject of much debate and, very probably, contentious debate."

In this debate, he added, "there will be many values in play, and it will be important that we stand by our Catholic social teachings in Washington, in your state legislatures and in your dioceses, parishes and communities."

Archbishop Gregory clearly acknowledged the church's support of "adherence to civil laws" and its recognition of "the right of sovereign nations to the integrity of their borders in order to foster the common good."

However, he insisted, while migrants who cross borders "without inspection" or lack "proper documentation" may break civil law, "they do not forfeit their rights as an image of God, and they do not suddenly merit negative or contemptuous labels."

Archbishop Gregory said the deaths of so many migrants while "crossing deserts and risking their lives" in order "to meet basic human needs" is an indication "that there are human needs driving migration to the United States and we are obligated to address those needs through public policies here and in other countries."

3. . . . Migrants Now and in Biblical Times

Jesus and his family were forced after his birth to migrate into Egypt, becoming political refugees in order to save his life, Archbishop Gregory pointed out in his Atlanta speech.

Scripture "is filled with migrating people who journey toward God," the archbishop noted. He called to mind Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph and Moses, for example.

The migrants of the Bible "were not unlike today's immigrants," Archbishop Gregory said. In part, these biblical figures "saw their journeys through the eyes of faith, but they were compelled to journey to support their families in times of famine."

The archbishop explained that "the Hebrew Scriptures called on the people of Israel to welcome strangers and aliens in their land by reminding them that they had themselves once been strangers and aliens in Egypt, much as we in the 21st century must remember that our forebears also were immigrants, refugees and slaves when they arrived in this country."

Jesus was labeled in biblical times for coming from Nazareth in Galilee, since there was a belief noted in John's Gospel that no prophet could arise from that region, Archbishop Gregory said.

With that in mind, he cautioned that "negative labels damage the image of the people whom they brand, and they poison public debate when they unfairly characterize people."

4. . . . Immigrants and Their Families

The U.S. Catholic bishops' determination to "fight to ensure that family reunification remains the cornerstone of our nation's immigration policy" was underscored in Archbishop Gregory's speech. He expressed concern at the "record number of deportations and family separations over the past several years."

The archbishop said that "families, many with U.S. citizen members, continue to be divided under our current enforcement policies, while those who apply for family reunification in the regular process must wait years to join their loved ones."

The immigration reform desired by the U.S. bishops would "seek to improve the family-based immigration system so that families - mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents - can remain together and be reunited more expeditiously," Archbishop Gregory said.

Most who leave their homelands, he said, "migrate only out of necessity." Moreover, he stressed that "persons have a human right to migrate to support themselves and their families."

Migrants who "live in the shadows of an irregular status" are "not strangers" but are "our brothers and sisters" in whom we see "the very image of Christ," Archbishop Gregory said.

"In the end, by opening the door to the stranger, we are opening the door to Christ in our lives," he told participants in the Atlanta conference.

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Immigration and Church Membership: "The demographic growth in U.S. Catholicism over the past half-century is heavily rooted in immigration from Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and particularly Mexico and Latin America. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops officials estimate that for the first time in U.S. history more than half the Catholics in the country are not of Euro-American ancestry." (From an address by Timothy Matovina, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, who delivered the Casassa Lecture at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles Nov. 15. The text of his speech appears in the Dec. 20 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

The Face of the Future Church in the United States: "In a 2009 memorandum to the Committee on Cultural Diversity of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Harvard sociologist of religion Robert Putnam told the bishops that 'Latinos are the leading indicators of the Catholic Church's future in the U.S.' There is mounting evidence that this is also becoming true for the nation itself and not just the Catholic Church. In Southern California, of course, the handwriting has been on the wall for some years. The movement of people from Latin America and the Caribbean is, curiously, the oldest, largest and yet newest source of migrants in the nation's history." (From an Oct. 4 address by Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he is a theology professor. The text of his speech appears in the Dec. 20 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

6. World Day of Peace Message for Jan. 1

"Peace is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible," Pope Benedict XVI states in his message for the Jan. 1, 2013, World Day of Peace. The message was released Dec. 14 at the Vatican.

"The peacemaker, according to Jesus' beatitude, is the one who seeks the good of the other, the fullness of good in body and soul," says the message titled "Blessed Are the Peacemakers."

By acting in ways that foster peace on many fronts in society, people help to create an atmosphere in which peace can thrive, the message suggests. Therefore, it says:

"Acts of peacemaking converge for the achievement of the common good; they create interest in peace and cultivate peace. Thoughts, words and gestures of peace create a mentality and a culture of peace."

But this entire process is slow, the message made plain. It is slow because "it presupposes a spiritual evolution, an education in lofty values, a new vision of human history."

In light of all that, there is a need "to teach people to love one another, to cultivate peace and to live with good will rather than mere tolerance," Pope Benedict says. Evil, he insists, "is in fact overcome by good."

The World Day of Peace message covers a wide range of issues related to the common good, its underlying theme. "It can be said that the paths which lead to the attainment of the common good are also the paths that must be followed in the pursuit of peace," Pope Benedict states.

He proposes that lack of respect for human life at every stage, a disinterest in the meaning of work and the lives of workers, ignorance of the facts about hunger in the world or misunderstandings of the family and marriage work against the goals of peacemaking.

Cardinal Peter Turkson said during the press conference for the document's release that the pope wanted to be very concrete in helping people understand what it takes to promote true peace. Cardinal Turkson is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Because of this concern about being concrete, the cardinal explained, the pope calls attention in the message "to the most urgent problems," from "the correct vision of matrimony" to religious freedom and from "the question of work and unemployment" to "the financial crisis and the role of the family in education."

Peace, according to the message, "concerns the human person as a whole, and it involves complete commitment." Peacemaking is jeopardized whenever the true nature of the human person is denied, it says.

7. . . . Peacemaking in Concrete Terms

Take a look at a few concrete realities of life examined by Pope Benedict in his just-released World Day of Peace message. For example, he discusses the timely issue of the right to work, along with the need within society to honor work's meaning.

"One of the social rights and duties most under threat today is the right to work," the pope observes. He says, "The reason for this is that labor and the rightful recognition of workers' juridical status are increasingly undervalued."

The pope holds that a "fresh outlook on work" is needed, an outlook "based on ethical principles and spiritual values that reinforce the notion of work as a fundamental good for the individual, for the family and for society."

Respect for life, the economic crisis, the workplace and the world's food crisis are among other specific issues the pope mentions. For example, he says:

-- Human life. "Those who insufficiently value human life and, in consequence, support among other things the liberalization of abortion, perhaps do not realize that in this way they are proposing the pursuit of a false peace."

-- Economic crisis: "In order to emerge from the present financial and economic crisis - which has engendered ever greater inequalities - we need people, groups and institutions which will promote life by fostering human creativity in order to draw from the crisis itself an opportunity for discernment and for a new economic model."

-- Workplace: "Concretely, in economic activity, peacemakers are those who establish bonds of fairness and reciprocity with their colleagues, workers, clients and consumers. They engage in economic activity for the sake of the common good, and they experience this commitment as something transcending their self-interest."

-- Food crisis: "With greater resolve than has hitherto been the case, the concern of peacemakers must also focus upon the food crisis, which is graver than the financial crisis. The issue of food security is once more central to the international political agenda."

8. . . . Peacemaking and the Common Good

"Our times . . . demand a new, shared commitment in pursuit of the common good and the development of all men and of the whole man," the Jan. 1, 2013, World Day of Peace message insists.

It views the common good as "an ensemble of positive interpersonal and institutional relationships at the service of the integral growth of individuals and groups." This, it says, "is at the basis of all true education for peace."

To attain peace, Pope Benedict says it is essential to recognize "that we are, in God, one human family," a family "animated by a communitarian 'we.'" Peace must be enlivened by love "in such a way that we feel the needs of others as our own, share our goods with others and work throughout the world for greater communion in spiritual values."

The "world of politics" needs to orient itself to the common good, according to the message. The political realm "needs to be sustained by fresh thinking and a new cultural synthesis" that allows "the various political currents" to serve the common good.

Pope Benedict finds it "alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mind-set which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism."

The many and different "efforts at peacemaking" in the world "testify to mankind's innate vocation to peace," Pope Benedict writes. He adds that "in every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration that coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life."

That means, the pope says, that "the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God's plan for mankind."