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June 18, 2013

Some 2013 signs of the times -
Interreligious leaders' peace pledge -
Immigration reform basics, viewed by the church -
Pope Francis: how politics and economics go wrong -
Interrelating catechesis and theology

In this edition:
1. Immigration reform: the basics.
2. Interreligious dialogue, essential for peace.
3. Quotes from interreligious peace pledge.
4. How politics and economics go wrong.
5. Catholic leaders' advice for G-8 summit.
6. Reading some 2013 signs of the times.
7. Are theology and catechesis divorced?

1. Immigration Reform: The Basics

"Our nation has a stark choice" in terms of the current debate on Capitol Hill over immigration reform, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said June 10 in San Diego, Calif. Speaking during a press conference on the opening day of the U.S. bishops' national spring meeting, he said:

"We can continue on our current path, which employs an immigration system that does not serve the rule of law or the cause of human rights, or we can create a system which honors both principles."

Archbishop Gomez, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Migration Committee, said the nation "must answer several questions" about immigration. One question asks, "Do we want a country with a permanent underclass without the same rights as the majority?"

A second question is, "Do we want to continue to separate children from parents, creating a generation of young U.S. citizens who are suspicious and fearful of their government?"

Yet another question inquires, "Do we want a nation that accepts the toil and taxes of undocumented workers without offering them the protection of the law?"

The answer to each of those questions is no, the archbishop said.

The Catholic Church in the U.S. "has an important stake in the outcome" of the immigration debate, according to Archbishop Gomez. For, "we are an immigrant church and have grown with the country for over 200 years."

Moreover, each day in "parishes, social-service programs, hospitals and schools we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system," he said. "Families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings die in the desert."

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., also spoke during the June 10 press conference in San Diego. He is a member of the board of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, usually known simply as CLINIC. He forcefully opposed an enforcement-only approach to immigration.

"We believe that enforcement by itself, especially along our southern border, will not solve the challenge of irregular immigration. The punitive enforcement-only approach has been the default policy for the last two decades," Bishop Soto said. But this approach only has "aggravated the problem of irregular immigration."

The U.S. southern border "should be a place of mutual support and an extension of hands across boundaries, not a militarized zone," said Bishop Soto. He considered it sad that "many of our elected officials see more enforcement along our border as the sole solution to irregular migration."

In opposing "the acceleration of border enforcement as a prerequisite for a legalization program that includes citizenship," Bishop Soto said the U.S. bishops believe "an effective legalization program with a path to citizenship will lead to more effective border management."

2. Interreligious Dialogue Is Essential

Religious leaders today "have a great moral responsibility to inspire" the members of their religions "to live in existential dialogue with everyone, including those whose faith is different from ours" and to live together in friendship, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said in an address to an interreligious day of prayer for peace June 13 in London's Westminster Cathedral Hall.

In addition, religious leaders have "the responsibility to dissuade, both individually and collectively, with gentleness and understanding, those who try to create discord and division" that destabilizes peace and tranquility in communities and in society, he said.

Participants in the interreligious gathering in Britain represented Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu communities, as well as others.

Certain fundamentalist and fanatic elements try today "to instigate intolerance, hatred and violence against people who do not share their beliefs," Cardinal Tauran observed. The way "to successfully thwart the evil designs of those elements," he said, is by demonstrating, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "more love" and "more goodness."

It is essential, the cardinal suggested, that "believers belonging to different religious traditions, who are oriented toward and committed to peace and the common good, join hands together as members of one large human family," despite their differences.

Cardinal Tauran underscored the value of prayer itself in his speech to participants in this day of prayer for peace. "Prayer as the authentic relationship with God and others is already a positive contribution to peace," he said.

-- In the first place, he said, "a right relationship with God in and through prayer inevitably leads us to a right relationship with our fellow beings." For, "those who are very close to God are also very close to humanity."

-- But "the other way round is also true," he continued. He said that "a right relationship with our fellow beings inevitably leads us to God. For, in them we encounter the God of our prayer. We can even say that it is not we who find God in people; rather it is the God in us who finds the God in them."

3. Quotes From Interreligious Peace Pledge

(The quotations below are excerpted from the Pledge for Peace issued by participants in the interreligious day of prayer for peace June 13 at Westminster Hall in London. Participants represented many religions of the world.)

a) "We commit ourselves to proclaiming our firm conviction that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion, and as we condemn every recourse to violence and war in the name of God or of religion, we commit ourselves to doing everything possible to eliminate the root causes of terrorism."

b) "We commit ourselves to educating people to mutual respect and esteem in order to help bring about a peaceful and fraternal coexistence between people of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions."

c) "We commit ourselves to frank and patient dialogue, refusing to consider our differences as an insurmountable barrier, but recognizing instead that to encounter the diversity of others can become an opportunity for greater reciprocal understanding."

d) "We commit ourselves to forgiving one another for past and present errors and prejudices, and to supporting one another in a common effort both to overcome selfishness and arrogance, hatred and violence, and to learn from the past that peace without justice is no true peace."

e) "We commit ourselves to taking the side of the poor and the helpless, to speaking out for those who have no voice and to working effectively to change these situations."

4. How Politics and Economics Go Wrong

To deal with today's "grave economic and political challenges," a "courageous change of attitude" is necessary, Pope Francis said in a June 15 letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The pope wrote to Cameron prior to the June 17-18 summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, held in Northern Ireland. Britain holds the presidency of the G-8 for 2013. The pope's letter responded to a letter from Cameron outlining some of his priorities for the G-8.

"Money and other political and economic means must serve, not rule," Pope Francis wrote. He stressed the necessity of ensuring "that all political and economic activity, whether national or international, makes reference to man."

Despite the fact he has been pope only a few months, Pope Francis repeatedly speaks on matters related to the objectives of economics and politics, as well as the proper role of money in society.

Notably, addressing a group of new ambassadors to the Vatican May 16, the pope said that "our relationship with money and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society" is a key factor in the increase of social and economic trouble around the world.

Writing to Cameron, Pope Francis said that economic planning must demonstrate "respect for the truth of man, who is not simply an additional economic factor or a disposable good, but is equipped with a nature and a dignity that cannot be reduced to simple economic calculus."

The goal both of economics and politics, he explained, "is to serve humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be, even in their mothers' wombs."

Pope Francis said that "every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom." That includes "the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential."

"All economic activity is meaningless" if it lacks such a vision, the pope emphasized.

Something implicit "in all political choices" nonetheless "can sometimes be forgotten," the pope said, namely "the primary importance of putting humanity, every single man and woman, at the center of all political and economic activity, both nationally and internationally, because man is the truest and deepest resource for politics and economics, as well as their ultimate end."

5. Catholic Leaders' Advice to G-8 Summit

In a June 4 letter to the leaders of the Group of Eight nations, an international group of Catholic bishops' conference presidents urged the leaders to act during their June 17-18 meeting in Northern Ireland "to protect poor persons and assist developing countries." The Catholic leaders said:

"By asking first how a given policy will affect the poor and the vulnerable, you can help assure that the common good of all is served. As a human family we are only as healthy as our weakest members."

The G-8 leaders were urged to "take steps to improve nutrition, reduce hunger and poverty, and strengthen just tax, trade and transparency policies for the common good of all."

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, signed the letter, along with the presidents of the Catholic conferences of England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Community.

The letter called attention to statements of Pope Francis on poverty, human dignity and the economy. It said, "In a world that has made great strides in improving food production and distribution, far too many of God's children still go to bed hungry or suffer from a lack of nutrition, a tragedy that has lifelong consequences for health and educational achievement."

Trade and the rules of trade "must serve the universal common good of the whole human family and the special needs of the most vulnerable nations," the Catholic leaders said. They called it counterproductive on the one hand "to provide agricultural development assistance" while at the same time employing "unfair agricultural trade policies that harm the agricultural economics of poorer nations."

The letter supported an emphasis on transparency among G-8 leaders. For "human dignity demands truth, and democracy requires transparency." The Catholic leaders said that "with more and better information, civil societies, including faith-based organizations, can hold their governments accountable and help ensure that resources reduce poverty and improve the health of the whole society."

6. Reading 2013 Signs of the Times

In the days and years after the Second Vatican Council, the importance of reading the signs of the times was accented frequently among Catholics. The council challenged the people of God to read the signs of the times and to grasp the actual needs of the present moment.

But what are the signs of the times today? I came upon a discussion of some of them in the speech Father Robert Imbelli gave May 30 in Omaha, Neb., to the annual convention of the College Theology Society, held at Jesuit-run Creighton University.

His speech mainly attracted attention for its discussion of the essential relationship of theology and catechesis. But his discussion of certain signs of the times related to concerns addressed by the College Theology Society convention seems to deserve its own share of attention. Father Imbelli is a theologian on the faculty at Jesuit-run Boston College.

It appears that "a number of the signs [of the times] have evolved in the past 50 years," Father Imbelli said. In this context, he listed six issues.

The first-mentioned issue on his list was "the decline if not the disappearance of the Catholic subcultures that formed and nourished folk like" him at one time.

A second sign of the times involved "the precipitous decline in Catholic schools on the elementary and secondary level, with the consequent effect on both religious formation and practice."

Third on Father Imbelli's list of issues or signs was "the widespread biblical and theological illiteracy we encounter among our college students -- acknowledged from all points on the Catholic compass."

Not very surprisingly, polarization occupied an important place on his list. The theologian pointed to a "polarization among members of the Catholic community (of which some blog sites serve as a house of horrors mirror)."

He expanded on this mention of polarization by citing a "subspecies" of it, namely "tension among theologians and bishops, with particular instances too well-known to require further specification."

Finally, the priest theologian's sixth issue or sign of the times, which he told his audience was "closer to our convention theme," concerned "the issue of the identity and mission of Catholic colleges and universities."

. . . 7. Are Theology and Catechesis Divorced?

A "ritualistic distancing of theology from catechesis" was critiqued by Boston College theologian Father Robert Imbelli in his address May 30 to the College Theology Society. Often there not only is a "distinction" between them now, but a "divorce," he suggested.

Father Imbelli did "not deny differentiations" between theology and catechesis. But he did "hold that both theological education and catechesis 'hand on,' communicate the faith's content." Thus, he spoke of a "differentiated continuity," insisting he did not intend to deny the "challenges" but wanted to stress the "convergences."

In keeping with this "stress on continuity rather than discontinuity between the two ecclesial undertakings," Father Imbelli proposed that "the teaching of theology ought at least to be sensitive to more affective modes of presentation of the Catholic theological vision, theological forms that speak to the heart as well as the head."

Father Imbelli commented that "in catechesis the goal of the education is to form members of the community by 'handing on the faith.'" But "in theological education as it currently takes place in many of our institutions the goal is to convey notional knowledge of a particular religious tradition to students who may or may not be participants in that tradition."

To put it another way, Father Imbelli said "catechesis aims at personal transformation in light of the faith tradition handed on," while "theological education aims at intellectual appropriation of the matter conveyed."

He said that "by insisting on the nexus between catechesis and theology," he was "not advocating the collapse of the two ecclesial undertakings in an undifferentiated fusion."

Yet, he said, "both theological education and handing on the faith are configured around the person of Jesus Christ." He is convinced, he added, "that Vatican II's singular, though sometimes neglected accomplishment was its recovery of a robust and renewed Christocentricity." The documents of the council, he observed, "are Christologically saturated."

He said to the College Theology Society that "the teaching of theology in the Catholic tradition, whatever the audience to which it is directed, must honor this Christocentric originality." He added, "Doing so 'ipso facto' entails 'handing on the faith' by communicating what is most proper to it."

Nonetheless, he said, "this does not mean engaging in the effort to 'convert' the students taking the course, proselytizing in the invidious sense it has acquired."

(The text of Father Imbelli's speech appears in the June 20 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)