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January 22, 2014

Evangelization challenges in pluralistic societies -
Marginalization's impact on immigrants' lives -
To become a cardinal: not a promotion, honor or decoration

In this edition:
1. Evangelization in a pluralist society.
2. What a pluralist society looks like.
3. Evangelization: witness; community; service.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) What a cardinal is and is not.
b) Pope plans Holy Land visit.
5. Immigration and marginalization.
6. Immigration, legally speaking.

1. Evangelization in Pluralist Societies

"A pluralist society where Christian faith is no longer a given" poses great and new challenges for the call "to proclaim the Gospel in our world today," says a message this January from the Canadian Catholic bishops' doctrinal commission.

The message adds to recent discussions of pluralism's impact on efforts to speak with others about the Gospel's meaning and relevance.

"If one word could sum up our modern society, it would be 'pluralism,'" the commission states. For, society today "embraces an ever-growing diversity manifested in various ways." This is witnessed in:

"The diverse ideas transmitted by the media with increasing intensity."

"Various behaviors founded on differing belief systems."

"Religions that coexist within the same neighborhoods of our large cities."

Even "within religions themselves," the commission notes, "we find diversity in the way people understand their religious obligations."

Society's pluralism "brings us back to our own responsibility as Christians," according to the commission. Pluralism "demands of the church a spiritual renewal; it requires of each of its members a true interior conversion."

The commission says, "No disciple can communicate the Gospel in a credible way if he or she has not had a real interior encounter with Jesus."

Furthermore, it suggests, humility is essential today for evangelization. "We must have humility, because nothing is so repulsive to our contemporaries as a truth imposed by authority without the interior consent of one's conscience." The commission adds:

"We need humility because before we even speak we must accept the other person, with his or her sufferings, criticisms, and even aggression. We must listen to them with all the more attention, since the Holy Spirit is already present in them and has something to say to us."

2. What a Pluralist Society Looks Like

What do those who evangelize need to bear in mind about pluralism?

"The principal impact of pluralism is that the proclamation of the Gospel can no longer presuppose -- as in other times -- a Christian cultural foundation common to the whole of Canadian society," the Canadian bishops' doctrinal commission observes in its just-released message on evangelization.

Instead, it continues, proclaiming the Gospel "has to compete with other religious and philosophical discourse that also claims to have the absolute truth." Christianity in a contemporary pluralist society "is one option among others claiming the same character of truth and demanding the same adherence."

That observation represents "the fundamental starting point from which we must think about the way we proclaim the Gospel today," the commission insists.

What does a pluralist society look like? In a pluralist society:

"Our next-door neighbor may be a Muslim, a Hindu or member of another religion."

"Our cousins or our nieces and nephews may have become completely indifferent to the Catholic faith of their childhood."

"A colleague at work may be agnostic or even atheist, convinced that every religion is an instrument of patriarchal domination."

Yet, in these same people one may detect "qualities of sincerity and honesty that demand our respect," the commission says. It cannot be presumed, as perhaps it often was in the past, "that their misunderstanding of the Catholic faith or their dislike for its presence in society are due to ill will."

At the same time, the commission adds, "neither can we assume that a simple, objective presentation of the Gospel message will convince them of its credibility and prompt them to accept it."

3. Witness, Community, Service

The Canadian bishops' doctrinal commission finds that the pluralistic culture evangelization now encounters is in many respects "like that of the first Christians, who had the task of bringing the good news into a world of contrasting religious and philosophical currents."

Thus, it is necessary "to rediscover the vigor of the early church and be inspired by its action so that our proclamation of the Gospel will be credible and compelling to a world enamored with authenticity, broken by divisions and marked by inequalities."

As in the early church, witness, community and service are vital for evangelization today. In addition, the commission urges those who evangelize to adopt a humble audacity.

Witness: One quality sought by the world today "is authenticity," the commission affirms. The world "is no longer satisfied with words learned by heart and repeated without conviction. The world does not need teachers who have nothing to present but teachings that will subsequently be contradicted by other teachers."

That suggests that "first and foremost, the world needs witnesses: persons who are animated by an encounter with Jesus, who has opened new horizons to them and who has given meaning to their lives."

Community: Continuing to draw inspiration from the early church, the commission accents the importance of communion and fraternity ("koinonia") in church communities. "In a world wounded by division and isolation, the love lived in Christian communities witnesses to the authenticity of Jesus' mission and becomes a sign of the credibility of his message," it stresses.

"The example of the first Christian communities has something to teach us today," it says. "We, too, must work to build communities where love reigns" and where all together take responsibility for the church."

Service: Actions of service must be seen to characterize Christian communities, the commission makes clear. "The church community cannot withdraw inward, only thinking of itself. It needs to radiate outward, impelled by the Spirit toward the whole of humanity awaiting salvation."

Central to "the life of the believer and of the church," it says, "is the fact that the poor, the needy, the downtrodden are a presence of Christ himself." And "if we recognize Jesus in the poor, then they deserve our unconditional welcome."

The commission holds that "concern for the poor is one of the most meaningful signs of credibility for evangelization today."

Humble audacity: The Gospel should be announced both humbly and joyfully in these times, according to the commission. This is how to proclaim the Gospel "in a pluralistic world of competing philosophical and religious systems, all of which claim to possess absolute truth (or affirm in an absolute way that absolute truth does not exist)."

The commission views humble audacity" as "the style of witness" that those who hope to evangelize in a pluralist society ought to adopt.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

On Becoming a Cardinal: "The cardinalate does not signify a promotion, an honor or a decoration. It is simply a service that demands a broader vision and a bigger heart. And, although it seems a paradox, this ability to look further and love more universally with greater intensity can be acquired only by following the way of the Lord: the way of lowliness and of humility, taking the form of a servant (cf. Phil 2:5-8). Therefore, I ask you, please, to receive this appointment with a simple and humble heart. And while you ought to do this with gladness and joy, do so in a way that this sentiment is far from any kind of expression of worldliness, from any celebration alien to the evangelical spirit of austerity, moderation and poverty." (From the Jan. 12 letter of Pope Francis to the 19 new cardinals named by him Jan. 12)

Pope Plans Holy Land Visit: "I myself intend to make a pilgrimage of peace to the Holy Land in the course of this year. The exodus of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa continues to be a source of concern. They want to continue to be a part of the social, political and cultural life of countries which they helped to build, and they desire to contribute to the common good of societies where they wish to be fully accepted as agents of peace and reconciliation." (From the Jan. 13 address of Pope Francis to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican)

5. Immigration and Marginalization

People living "at the margins" of society can be people who "have no rights, no security, no health care" and "no reason to hope that things are ever going to get better" for them and their families. That, at least, is how Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez described "a permanent underclass that has been growing" in U.S. society -- an underclass of marginalized immigrants who struggle and suffer.

The archbishop indicated, however, that this underclass of marginalized people is not made up of people who are invisible to others, hidden from them. They are highly visible. Often their work, their service, is considered essential.

"We see them every day," Archbishop Gomez said. "They are the people who take care of our children. They are working on our landscapes and cleaning our offices. We see them waiting outside the lumberyard and working on construction projects. They wait on our tables in restaurants, and they harvest the food we eat in our homes."

Archbishop Gomez said: "We have grown accustomed to them. Our comfort and our economy depend on these people. They provide millions in tax revenues."

The archbishop's mention of marginalization came in a speech on immigration given Jan. 14 to Town Hall Los Angeles, a nonpartisan civic organization promoting open discussion of current issues.

"Promoting civic engagement and civic discourse is crucial to our democracy," said the archbishop. However, America seems to be becoming more fragmented and polarized. It seems to be getting more difficult for people to talk with those they disagree with," he observed.

He described immigration as "a difficult issue" on which "good people disagree" about what should be done. But this debate, he noted, has assumed "an angry, personal tone."

In reminding the audience that he himself is an immigrant who became an American citizen some 20 years ago, Archbishop Gomez explained that he was "born in Monterrey, Mexico," and has "family on my mother's side who have been in what's now Texas since 1805." He still has "family on both sides of the border."

So for him "immigration is a life issue and a family issue," the archbishop said. "It's about children. It's about human dignity. Immigration is also a question about America. About the spirit of our nation, our national soul. What kind of country are we meant to be? What kind of country are we becoming?"

Immigration "is not about politics or economics. It's about people," he said.

6. Immigration, Legally and Politically

When immigration reform is discussed in Washington and in the media, few people talk in terms of an "America that seeks justice for all, that defends the innocent and lifts up the weak - an America that promotes the freedom and dignity of the human person, especially the poor and most vulnerable," Archbishop Gomez said in his Jan. 14 speech to Town Hall Los Angeles.

What one hears about instead are "members of Congress who are facing tough primary challenges and how that affects the 'timetable' for legislation. We hear calculations about which party is going to get the 'Latino' vote in the next election."

The archbishop said: "I'm not blaming anybody. My point is that this is not the kind of public discourse that is worthy of our great democracy."

Turning attention to the legal issues related to immigration, Archbishop Gomez acknowledged that many immigrants are in the U.S. "in violation of our laws. They are undocumented immigrants. There are about 11 million in the country right now; about 2.6 million in California by some estimates."

That, he added, "is not good." The United States is "a nation of laws, and the rule of law is important in every society." In his opinion, he added, "we need to find some way to hold undocumented immigrants accountable for breaking our laws."

He said that, speaking personally, he thinks "community service and civic education are more constructive than deportation and fines. But we also need to give them a chance to normalize their status and invite them to join us as citizens in building the new America."

The issue, Archbishop Gomez observed, "is complicated because the people we want to punish have become our neighbors. Most of those we call 'illegal' have been living here for five years or more -- two-thirds have been here for at least a decade. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children."

He said, "I'm not a politician or a lawyer, but it seems to me that we need to have some empathy and compassion when we think about this question."

The archbishop pointed to the nearly "2 million immigrants" deported over the past four years and the thousands more who "have been arrested and are being held in 'detention centers.'" He said:

"In the name of enforcing our laws, we're breaking up families. We're punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents. That's the sad truth: One out of every four people we deport or lock up is being taken away from an intact family.

"Again, these aren't just statistics. We're talking about kids suddenly left without a mom or a dad. I think everyone would agree that this is not the America that our founders dreamed of."