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June 2, 2013

Charity's mission to total strangers -
The "god" of our own construction -
Human trafficking, concern of Pope Francis -
Christians and Muslims now

In this edition:
1. The trafficking of migrants, the poor.
2. Pope on human trafficking "disgrace."
3. Pastoral action and migrants.
4. Immigration challenges abroad.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Muslims, Christians and London murder.
b) Ministry to excluded, vulnerable.
c) Consequences of looking out for No. 1.
6. Charity: mission to strangers.
7. The "god" of our own construction.

1. Trafficking of Migrants and the Poor

Human trafficking is an "abhorrent and immoral practice," the Vatican ambassador to the United Nations said when he addressed a high-level, mid-May U.N. General Assembly meeting on a plan to combat trafficking globally. Archbishop Francis Chullikatt focused attention on ways traffickers exploit migrants and others suffering extreme poverty.

Migration across national borders is today "a human experience affecting all countries and regions of the world," the archbishop said. It "presents opportunities to foster greater understanding between peoples and jointly to improve the social and economic well-being of migrants and their families."

However, for too many "the reality of migration is no longer a matter of free choice, but rather has become a necessity," Archbishop Chullikatt told the meeting. Unfortunately, he suggested, "this sense of desperation provides human traffickers the opportunity to prey on migrants and has contributed to making human trafficking one of the fastest growing criminal activities in today's world."

The archbishop delved into the reasons poverty helps to pave the road for human traffickers. Extreme poverty "often drives those desirous of a better future into the hands of those preying upon the vulnerability of the poor and the defenseless," he explained. He added:

"These individuals, prompted by a genuine desire to provide for themselves and their needy families, too easily become unsuspecting victims of those who make false promises of a better future in another country or community."

Calling human trafficking "a shameful crime against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights," Archbishop Chullikatt insisted that "people are never to be used or treated as instruments for unscrupulous profit-mongering through being forced into slavery."

A "commodification of human life" also fosters "the environment that makes human trafficking possible," he said. This reality is witnessed, he added, in the trafficking of women and girls "for the sole purpose of making money from the sale of their bodies" - a form of human trafficking that "accounts for 58 percent of all cases reported globally."

People also are treated like commodities when they are trafficked for purposes of "forced labor." Archbishop Chullikatt suggested this form of commodification reflects "unrelenting consumerist tendencies that demand more for less without due regard for the rights of workers."

Forced labor, he noted, "accounts for more than a quarter of victims of trafficking" around the world.

Archbishop Chullikatt called that "a stark reminder that participating in a globalized economy requires adequate regulations to ensure that the qualitative, subjective value of human work is given precedence" over products viewed in "purely quantifiable, objective" terms.

"In so doing," he said, "we can help foster a deeper and richer ethical understanding of the value and dignity of human labor, and fashion economic and social systems that respect human rights."

2. Pope on "Disgrace" of Human Trafficking

Pope Francis has spoken more than once since his election on the realities of human trafficking. In his first Easter message as pope, he prayed for "peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st century."

In remarks May 1 during a general audience, the pope again spoke of slave labor. "People worldwide are victims of this type of slavery, when the person is at the service of his or her work, while work should offer a service to people so they may have dignity," he stated. He asked that everyone make "a decisive choice to combat the trafficking in persons, in which 'slave labor' exists."

Then, in a speech May 24 on migrants, particularly those forced out of their homelands, Pope Francis again directed his thoughts to human trafficking. Such "trade in people" is, he said, "a vile activity, a disgrace to our societies that claim to be civilized!"

Those who exploit human beings this way and those who become the "clients" of traffickers "should make a serious examination of conscience both in the first person and before God," the pope exclaimed.

His speech renewed the church's "urgent appeal that the dignity and centrality of every individual always be safeguarded, with respect for fundamental rights." Action is needed to extend these rights to the "millions of men and women on every continent" where their rights "are not recognized," he said.

A pastoral challenge is posed for parishes by migration, Pope Francis suggested in his address, given to the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. He urged that Christian communities "really be places of hospitality, listening and communion!"

The council's meeting focused particularly on refugees and forcibly displaced people.

. . . 3. Pastoral Action and Migrants

Pope Francis said that "in tending the wounds of refugees, evacuees and the victims of trafficking, we are putting into practice the commandment of love that Jesus bequeathed to us when he identified with the foreigner, with those who are suffering, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation."

Every pastor and every Christian community needs to pay attention "to the journey of faith of Christian refugees and Christians uprooted from their situations by force, as well as of Christian emigrants," the pope commented. He said that "these people need special pastoral care that respects their traditions and accompanies them to harmonious integration into the ecclesial situations in which they find themselves."

The church's "motherly attention is expressed with special tenderness and closeness to those who are obliged to flee their own country and exist between rootlessness and integration," Pope Francis said. This type of "tension destroys people."

He asked participants in the pontifical council's meeting to bear in mind that "Christian compassion" is first of all expressed "in the commitment to obtain knowledge of the events that force people to leave their homeland and, where necessary, to give voice to those who cannot manage to make their cry of distress and oppression heard."

He asked also that not just the problems, but the hopes of migrants be recognized. Their hopes are expressed, he said, "in expectations for the future, in the desire for friendship, in the wish to participate in the host society also through learning the language, access to employment and the education of children."

The challenges "emerging from modern forms of persecution, oppression and slavery" must be faced, Pope Francis said. Those who undergo these sufferings are, after all, human beings. They "need urgent action," but "also and above all" they need "understanding and kindness," he stressed.

Pope Francis said to the pontifical council, "God is good, let us imitate God."

4. Immigration Challenges Abroad

Attitudes toward immigrants and public policy on immigration are not matters for debate only in America. People are on the move globally, and they migrate for many reasons. Many flee oppression or impossible economic conditions. Others in an age of globalization cross borders in search of jobs, or greater education or because their particular skills are in demand in another nation.

Immigration in England was in the spotlight May 6, the day of a Mass in Westminster Cathedral for Catholic migrants living and working in London. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster pointed out in his homily that day that Pope Francis is the son of immigrants. That is an "encouraging thought," he said.

Archbishop Nichols recalled the story of the new pope's parents, immigrants from Italy who settled in Argentina. He said:

"In 1929 many people in Italy were facing hard times, the result of inflation, debts, unemployment and food shortages. On the streets and in the countryside, there were also outbreaks of political violence. It was in these circumstances that the Bergoglio family sold all their possessions and emigrated to Argentina on a ship . . ., with all their money sown into the lining of the mother's fur coat!"

London, the archbishop said, "has a unique role as a city," where "every race and nationality has a presence." It is a place, he commented, where "strangers become Londoners." He characterized his city as one that "for the most part" is "welcoming, respectful and tolerant, qualities that in fact spring from the resonances of belief that we are all bestowed with a dignity that comes from the hand of God himself."

The diversity witnessed in society through the presence of people of many cultures brings gifts that "are real and to be cherished," Archbishop Nichols said. But also real, he added, are "the challenges" accompanying this diversity.

Newcomers face challenges, as do "those they leave behind" in their homelands, the archbishop observed. Challenges are faced too "by the communities who have to find the resources to host" newcomers.

"These pressures are real -- on housing and the health service, for example," Archbishop Nichols said. The pressures, he added, "are made sharper by recession and slow economic growth."

However, while "there are no simple solutions to these complex problems," Archbishop Nichols said that "the right policy will always be guided by courage and generosity, and not by appealing to fear or pessimism."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Christian-Muslim Relations After London Murder: "First and foremost, our prayers are with Lee Rigby, his family and friends. -- At this time it is vital for people of all faiths to show real solidarity in their rejection of violence and in their commitment to peace. In particular it is vital that we build on the excellent relations we have between faith communities in this country, not least with the Muslim community. The words of Pope John Paul II in 1986 resound more clearly than ever: 'Dialogue between Christians and Muslims is today more necessary than ever. It flows from our fidelity to God and supposes that we know how to recognize God by faith, and to witness to him by word and deed.' That spirit of mutual respect is vital for the future." (From a statement May 23 by Archbishop Kevin McDonald, chairman of the British Catholic bishops' Office for Interreligious Dialogue, after a British soldier was murdered in a London street in what appeared to be an act of religious extremism or terrorism)

Ministry to Excluded and Vulnerable: "[I believe] that the future of the church depends not on how we serve the comfortable, but how we reach out to the fringes, the excluded, the vulnerable and the forgotten. Doing that will make some uncomfortable in ministry and some uncomfortable of their ministers. But look at the ministry of the Lord: Little time was spent with those whom he was most comfortable with, and a lot of time was spent on those who had no other friends." (From the homily by Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., during May 18 priestly ordinations)

Consequences of Looking Out for No. 1: "Will we put others before ourselves, no matter where life takes us? If we think the world will always be 'about me,' and if we constantly try to order it that way, we will be continually frustrated -- and more importantly, we will have stepped on people and ignored them along the way. On the other hand, when we put others first we strengthen both them and ourselves." (From a May 23 column addressed to the "Class of 2013" by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, published in The Catholic Northwest Progress, the archdiocesan newspaper)

6. Charity: Mission to Complete Strangers

"Indifference is worse than hostility," Basilian Father Thomas Rosica said in a speech May 16 for the 100th anniversary of Catholic Charities of Toronto, Ontario. "The hostile person at least acknowledges the presence" of the person he reacts to negatively, but the indifferent person "ignores the other and treats him or her as if they did not exist," Father Rosica explained.

In a speech on the meaning of charity, he said it is the mission of Catholic Charities "to create neighbors, brothers and sisters out of complete strangers." Father Rosica, a well-known leader in Catholic communications, heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation based in Toronto, Ontario.

The story in the Gospel about the Good Samaritan "speaks eloquently" about the mission of serving complete strangers, Father Rosica observed. "It is a provocative story that reminds us that, as Christians, we are obliged to spend time with people we don't enjoy, to be kind to our enemies, to strive for reconciliation with estranged family members and to show our affection for people we don't get along with."

The story of the Good Samaritan is "powerful," he added. "It speaks of the power of love that transcends all creeds and cultures, and 'creates' a neighbor out of a complete stranger."

In the biblical story, the Good Samaritan easily could have passed by on the other side of the road in order to avoid the beaten, injured man he saw there, Father Rosica stated. However, "this outsider from Samaria stopped and knelt down beside the stranger who was hurting, and became his neighbor and brother."

The work of Catholic Charities, the priest said, imitates the example of the Good Samaritan.

"Charity, compassion, commitment and communion are the intimate nature of the church," Father Rosica told his audience. He underscored Pope Francis' repeated insistence that poor and suffering people deserve the Christian community's attention.

Pope Francis "has called for the church to be less 'self-referencing' -- that is, less focused on its own organizational and theological problems, and more involved in what he calls the 'outskirts' of humanity and the daily reality of billions of people," Father Rosica said.

7. A God of Our Own Construction

"The temptation for all of us believers is to construct a god who suits our own ideas," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in a May 26 homily during a Mass for the ordination of deacons.

For example, he said, the god we construct may be "the god of the comfort zone who shields us from engaging with the realities of life or the god of authority who urges us to impose our god on others, either by force or by self-righteousness."

The images of god that "we create for ourselves are images which reflect our fears and our ambiguities in facing the real challenges of the world we live in," the archbishop said. He viewed it as problematic that "the gods of our creation are gods that entrap us," while "the God revealed in Jesus Christ is one who frees and empowers."

In a homily accenting the deacon's vocation to serve, the archbishop stressed that "our God is not a closed God, but a God who reaches us in love and spurs us on to go beyond ourselves, driven by that same love." He said:

"The divine life which is present in our hearts and in the action of the church is not something static and inward looking. It is always driving us forward to understand and to speak about the God revealed in the love of Jesus Christ."

A possibility of concern to the archbishop was that, given society's radical change, people in ministry might, out of fear, avoid the challenges of the times. "The pace of social, scientific and political change is increasing. This means that risk is today part and parcel of the way we live, and the range of choices that are open to us," he said.

After recalling comments by Pope Francis about a church that is self-referential and locked up inside itself, the archbishop cautioned the new deacons that "in the face of the rapidity and uncertainty of change we may become fearful in new ways and once again become closed in within the familiar and the comfortable."

Ministry today, Archbishop Martin said, "requires detachment from the things which would make our ministry inward looking," and "it requires putting ourselves aside rather than being self-referential."

He concluded that "when we remain trapped in a world of self-reference and self-certainty, we remain just there. Preoccupation with ourselves alone enslaves. Service involves giving."