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March 31, 2013

What is missing from immigration debate? --
Foot washing signals readiness to aid others, pope tells juvenile detainees -
Jesus after the resurrection -
Pope's pre-conclave speech made public on self-referential church

In this edition:
1. What is a self-referential church?
2. Priests who go out of themselves to serve.
3. Who is this new pope?
4. Current quotes by Pope Francis.
a) Jesus after the resurrection.
b) Foot washing at detention center.
c) Remembrance opens up to the future.
5. What is missing in immigration debate?
6. The new realities of immigration.

1. What Is a Self-Referential Church?

It is safe to predict that in the year ahead countless discussions among bishops, theologians and others will explore the meaning of a church that is "self-referential," a term Pope Francis used during the cardinals' gatherings in Rome just prior to the conclave at which he was elected.

In remarks to one meeting, the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, expressed his view that "when the church is self-referent without realizing it, she believes she has her own light." An inward focus by the church and a slighting of the obligation to reach out and evangelize others are among the consequences of a self-referential attitude, he indicated.

What is amazing is that what Cardinal Bergoglio said in that speech became public. This happened, however, and ultimately the Vatican itself made his remarks known. Both L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, and Vatican Radio revealed the future pope's comments on Wednesday of Holy Week.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana, Cuba, had been "so impressed" by the speech at the time it was given that he asked Cardinal Bergoglio for a copy of it, Vatican Radio reported. It also said Cardinal Ortega had received the new pope's permission to share what he wrote.

The light the church needs is Christ's light, Cardinal Bergoglio said. The church's members, he made plain, do not live to "give glory only to one another."

Evangelization, he commented, presupposes that the church should not be locked up within itself but must go "to the peripheries, not only geographical but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents and of all misery."

"When the church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referent and then gets sick," Cardinal Bergoglio cautioned. He held that "the evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism."

A self-referential church keeps "Christ within herself and does not let him out," he wrote. The soon-to-be pope said, "Put simply, there are two images of the church: a church which evangelizes and comes out of herself" by hearing God's word reverently and proclaiming it with faith, and "the worldly church, living within herself, of herself, for herself."

This, Cardinal Bergoglio said, "should shed light on the possible changes and reforms which must be done for the salvation of souls." He told his fellow cardinals that the new pope ought to be "a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from 'the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.'"

2. Priests Going Out to the Poor

A priest "who seldom goes out of himself" is one who "misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart," Pope Francis said during the Holy Thursday chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Priests "who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers," the new pope told some 1,600 priests and bishops during the Mass at which he blessed oils for use in sacramental celebrations. His homily focused on the oils and the meaning of one's own anointing.

The new pope's concern that the church not be enslaved by introspection or an inward, self-referential focus had become clear before Holy Thursday. The point was driven home in his chrism Mass homily.

In the Holy Thursday, homily, Pope Francis said that "we need to 'go out'" in order "to experience our own anointing" - go to "the 'outskirts' where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters."

For, he said, "it is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord." He encouraged the priests and bishops to be the kind of shepherds who are familiar with the "'odor' of the sheep."

Priests, the pope suggested, are anointed so that they, in turn, can "anoint God's faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed," for the sick, those living with sorrow and those who are alone.

How is a good priest recognized? He is recognized, Pope Francis said, "by the way his people are anointed." He explained, "When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious -- for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news."

People, the pope continued, "like to hear the Gospel preached with 'unction,' they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the 'outskirts' where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith."

Cautioning priests not to "minimize the power of grace," Pope Francis insisted that grace "comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all."

3. Who Is This New Pope?

It takes a long time to know what kind of church leader any new pope will become. Undoubtedly, that will be the case with Pope Francis too. But so many people immediately were struck after his election by the example he gave. There will be those who do not welcome his leadership style, but others welcome it and are saying so.

"It's springtime in Vatican City as well as here," Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., said to priests and others in that diocese in his March 27 homily for the chrism Mass.

"What can we expect of today's Peter?" Bishop Lynch asked. He responded with three observations about the new pontificate:

-- Continuity: "Francis will maintain the continuity of the church's teachings, certainly on doctrinal matters and on most, if not all, disciplinary matters. But he has already demonstrated that he has, like us, lived, preached, ministered, administered in the real world of this hemisphere. He will, I suspect, be more practical and pragmatic and perhaps less dogmatic."

-- Compassion: "We know his heart is full of compassion for the poor, and I see the church's magnificent social teachings rising once again rightly to their pre-eminent place in our beloved church's life."

-- Simplicity: "Pope Francis leads us by his simplicity. Every morning this week he has invited to his morning Mass the gardeners of the Vatican, the street sweepers and the chair placers/removers from the square, the switchboard operators. At the Eucharistic table of the Lord he has invited those who labor for him but never get a chance to meet him."

Bishop Lynch asked priests renewing their commitment on Holy Thursday to accept the continuity the new papacy promises, along with the simplicity and compassion it encourages. He urged priests to increase their compassion for those they serve, "to set aside passions for status and standing" in favor of exercising "a simpler priesthood."

The bishop asked everyone at the Mass, "Have you, have we done enough in taking on the challenges of poverty and injustice in our small part of the vineyard?" He commented that "there is no easy, politically correct way to advocate for the poor, but it did not stop our Lord, and it has not stopped Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis."

4. Current Quotes by Pope Francis

Jesus After the Resurrection: "[The] same love for which the Son of God became man and followed the way of humility and self-giving to the very end, . . . this same merciful love has flooded with light the dead body of Jesus, has transfigured it, has made it pass into eternal life. Jesus did not return to his former life, to earthly life, but entered into the glorious life of God, and he entered there with our humanity, opening us to a future of hope. This is what Easter is. It is the exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness." (From the "Urbi et Orbi" Easter message of Pope Francis)

Foot Washing at Juvenile Detention Center: "[Jesus] washes feet, because with us what is highest must be at the service of others. This is a symbol, it is a sign, right? Washing feet means, 'I am at your service.' And with us too, don't we have to wash each other's feet day after day? But what does this mean? That all of us must help one another. Sometimes I am angry with someone or other, but let it go, let it go. . . . Help one another: This is what Jesus teaches us, and this is what I am doing, and doing with all my heart. . . . As a priest and a bishop, I must be at your service. But it is a duty which comes from my heart. . . . Now we will perform this ceremony of washing feet, and let us think, let each one of us think, 'Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?' Let us think about this." (From Pope Francis' Holy Thursday homily at Casal del Marmo, a detention center for minors where he washed the feet both of boys and of girls)

Remembrance Paves Way to the Future: "The two men in dazzling clothes tell [the women at the empty tomb] something of crucial importance: Remember. 'Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee. . . . And they remembered his words' (Lk 24:6, 8). This is the invitation to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember his words, his actions, his life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the resurrection to the apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have traveled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives." (From Pope Francis' homily for the Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica)

5. What Is Missing From Immigration Debate?

One problem in America's current debate over immigration reform is that "we've lost our ability to talk about issues in religious and moral terms," Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said March 19 in an address to his city's Jewish community.

America, he said, is "becoming a more and more secular society. And that makes it hard to talk about the values and commitments we find in America's founding documents." The nation has "lost a sense of the 'humanity' of the men and women and children who are living in this country illegally."

Speaking at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Archbishop Gomez said that religious people have the role in immigration reform of being "the voice of conscience and vision." That, he suggested, is what has been "missing in the debate so far."

Immigration reform is about more that "finding technical solutions" and "fixing a broken system," he said. If that were not true, then he thinks "the system would probably have been fixed already."

Archbishop Gomez thinks "the real problem is that immigration is a question about America -- about our national identity and destiny, about the national 'soul.'" Thus, he posed these questions: "What is America? What does it mean to be an American? Who are we as a people, and where are we heading as a country? What will the 'next America' look like? What should the next America look like?"

The archbishop himself is an immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen who still has family "on both sides of the border." As chairman of the U.S. bishops' committee on migration, he is involved on a national level with immigration reform.

He feels that "for the first time in years" movement on this issue is possible. After a meeting with President Obama at the White House just two weeks earlier, the archbishop walked away feeling that "the president agreed with our concerns." The time has arrived "to get this done," the archbishop said.

In discussions related to immigrants, it is important to remember that "we're talking about fathers and husbands who, with no warning, won't be coming home for dinner tonight - and who may not see their families again for a decade at least," Archbishop Gomez stressed.

He said, "We are talking about a government policy that punishes children for the crimes of their parents."

America is "a nation of justice and law." It is also "a people of compassion and common sense," said the archbishop. He believes that what the nation is doing at the moment in its approach to migrants betrays its values and makes the "country weaker and more vulnerable."

He insisted that "nobody ever forfeits his humanity or his right to be treated with dignity. No matter where he comes from or how he got here. No matter what kind of papers he possesses or doesn't possess." This conviction is fundamental to the Bill of Rights, to the Torah and to the Sermon on the Mount, he pointed out.

Archbishop Gomez realizes, he said, "that in our agitated political climate, this kind of talk sounds naive." However, he added, "this is no time for polite silence about our values. Too much is at stake to give in to the corrosive cynicism that masks itself as political 'realism.'"

6. Bishop Describes New Immigration Realities

"It particularly falls to the Christian churches to insist on a national level that current immigration law is neither sufficiently humane nor sufficiently realistic," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said Jan. 30 when he spoke to Christian Churches Together in the USA, an association of more than 40 Christian denominations and groups.

Speaking in Austin, Texas, he outlined immigration developments in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border. Today, not only are workers from Mexico and Central America living in the region, laboring so that they can send what they earn back to their wives and children. Migrants along the border's U.S. side also include people better off financially, who have fled the violence of the narcotics trade back home or the threat of being kidnapped and held for ransom.

And sometimes those living on the U.S. side of the border today are women and children, while the men continue to work in their homeland. Fear for the men's safety is persistent.

Immigrants on the border commonly live with fear and uncertainty. The bonds of trust and hospitality that are so essential to the human family's well-being often break down for them, Bishop Flores indicated. The violence and fear familiar to great numbers of migrants have had "had a corrosive effect on the most basic of human relations," he said.

On both sides of the border, he suggested, "people look suspiciously at their neighbors and at strangers. People watch what they say and where they say it."

Today, "a real and deadly enemy of human life" is faced in the border region, according to the bishop. This enemy "has many facets." He explained that it includes:

-- "The drug trade."

-- "The insatiable appetite for drug consumption."

-- "The human trafficking trade that makes money off of children and defenseless adults."

-- "The wanton trafficking in guns, itself a lucrative trade flowing from the American side to the Mexican side of the border."

The bishop found it especially disturbing that children, as young as about 10, are enlisted and paid in the region to run drugs across the border or to bring something back. In light of such concerns, he believes "the most urgent aspect of immigration reform has to do with keeping families together."

Bishop Flores explained that "at present, parents who work here or seek refuge here without documentation are often quickly deported, leaving their children in the United States under the care of neighbors or relatives." But "children need their parents, and parents need to spend time with their children."

It is within the family structure that "hope, compassion, justice and mercy are most efficaciously taught," the bishop said. Yet, he added, "if parents are not around, the vacuum is filled by other, often sinister voices and examples."

Despair can be the product of these kinds of forces, said Bishop Flores. He appears convinced that "the current reality" in the Rio Grande Valley can tear "family life apart," thus feeding lawlessness and despair. (Bishop Flores' speech appeared in the edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service, dated March 21, 2013.)