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April 9, 2014

Taking the risk of identifying with the poor -
How to pray spontaneously -
Bishops' border delegation mourns migrant deaths, walks migrants' desert path

In this edition:
1. Border visit mourns migrant deaths.
2. Bishops walk migrants' desert path.
3. Immigration debate's possible legacy.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Business schools, business ethics.
b) The Affordable Care Act.
c) Praying spontaneously.
5. Risking identification with the poor.
6. Pope Francis and Archbishop Romero.

1. Border Visit Mourns Migrant Deaths

The deaths of "countless immigrants who risk their lives" to enter the United States were mourned by a delegation of U.S. bishops visiting the U.S.-Mexico border near Nogales, Ariz., at the start of April. "We know that the border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless," Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley said in a homily during an April 1 Mass on the border.

"Every year 400 bodies are found here at the border. . . . These are only the bodies that are found," the cardinal said.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, spoke of the area as "sacred ground, which is, tragically, the final resting ground for many of our brothers and sisters."

The delegation of bishops crossed into Mexico to serve dinner at a church-sponsored soup kitchen. They met, too, with U.S. Border Patrol officials at their regional headquarters.

During their visit the bishops walked in the desert along a path known to migrants. In a remark recalling the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, who encountered a wounded man while traveling the road to Jericho, Cardinal O'Malley said, "We come to the desert today because it is the road to Jericho."

The cardinal explained that the bishops came to the desert area in order "to be a neighbor and to find a neighbor in each of the suffering people who risk their lives and at times lose their lives" there. Noting the immigrant history of the United States, he said:

"The hard work and sacrifices of so many immigrant peoples are the secret of the success of this country. Despite the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population, our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well-being of the United States."

2. The Bishops' Walk in the Desert

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., described the walk in the desert taken by the bishops' delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border region during its two-day visit in the Nogales, Ariz., area. In his online "Monday Memo" on the Tucson diocesan website, he explained:

"The bishops' drove to a place where we could walk in the desert, placing ourselves in the shoes of migrants who traverse the desert seeking a better way of life. The path was strewn with torn backpacks, clothing, even shoes abandoned by migrants on their trek. I could only imagine what it would be like traveling this rugged path at night."

It would be so easy for migrants to lose "their sense of direction," Bishop Kicanas felt. He said, "The terrain was very hilly, further complicating the migrants' plight at night."

The bishops "walked for about 40 minutes," he said. But he realized "migrants may have walked 30 or more miles, walking for hours to get to the place where we were." He thought "it must be exhausting; and there is every possibility of becoming dehydrated or being stung by a scorpion or bit by a snake."

Bishop Kicanas also described the bishops' visit with the Border Patrol. They met with the chief of the Tucson sector, "one of the largest areas covered by the patrol." The bishop said the "staff was most gracious and gave us a glimpse of the dangers and circumstances they face."

Most migrants now crossing into the desert area, the bishops were told, "are from Central America: Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala. Many are women with children or unescorted children."

Bishop Kicanas wrote: "We rode with Border Patrol along the border fence, where at times they are faced with rock throwing and not knowing if the people they come across are carrying weapons or if they are just people seeking a better life. They described some of their efforts to rescue migrants who find themselves in life-threatening situations."

The Mexico soup kitchen the delegation of bishops visited was located in Nogales, Sonora. "We visited a comedor run by the Kino Border Initiative directed by Father Sean Carroll, SJ, and a project of the Jesuit community and Sisters of the Holy Eucharist," Bishop Kicanas said. "At the comedor we served nearly 70 men and a few women and children who had been deported and who came to eat meals prepared by the staff."

The bishop described conversations with migrants at the soup kitchen and their painful stories. "When a prayer was offered before the meal, I was touched by the piety and reverence with which each person in the comedor prayed," he said. "Each had a story to tell of coming from a desperate situation with the hope of finding a better life. They spoke of their spouses and children, reflecting a father's or mother's concern to care for their family."

At a shelter nearby for women and children, also run by the Kino initiative, the bishops "met four ladies who told terrifying stories of their journeys and the dangers they had to deal with," Bishop Kicanas wrote. "As mothers, they expressed sadness at the separation of their families and their longing to be reunited with loved ones."

Bishop Kicanas hopes that the delegation's visit to the border "will cause many others to reflect on the plight of those seeking a better life" in the United States." He hopes, too, that U.S. "lawmakers will take action and bring about comprehensive immigration reform."

Another of the bishop's hopes is that President Obama "will use his power as president to limit the deportations of law-abiding people that are dividing families."

3. Immigration Debate: Two Possible Legacies

The root causes of the migration northward into the U.S. must be addressed, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said in remarks during the bishops' border visit. "We must look at the root causes of migration in this hemisphere -- both violence and poverty -- and pursue long-term strategies that allow families to remain home and live in safety and dignity."

He pointed out that "each day families are being divided by deportations, with as many as 100,000 U.S., citizen children being separated from their parents each year." There is, he insisted, "a large social cost to inaction, a price we pay in this country every day."

Bishop Elizondo commented that "as a moral matter, our nation can no longer employ an immigration system that divides families and denies basic due process protections to our fellow human beings."

Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, a member of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, was among the bishops visiting the U.S.-Mexico border at the start of April. The outcome of the debate in the United States over immigration "will set the tone for the rest of this century," he said. "Either we can choose to turn away from our heritage and our track record of integrating immigrants from around the world or we can embrace it."

He commented that in the United States "elected officials are sent to Washington, D.C., not to worry about their next election, but to lead our nation into the future." However, he added: "We are seeing little leadership or statesmanship in Congress these days. This does not apply to one political party, but to both together."

Bishop Wester mentioned the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, a Mediterranean crossing point for migrants from Africa to Europe that Pope Francis visited last July. The bishop recalled that in Lampedusa the pope "talked about a 'globalization of indifference' in the world to the plight of the migrant."

An indifference of this kind "is manifesting itself in the United States by our inability to create a humane immigration system. It is a stain on the soul of our nation," Bishop Wester said.

Cardinal O'Malley also called attention to Pope Francis' visit to Lampedusa, saying: "Pope Francis, speaking at the borders of Europe -- not a desert, but a sea - said, 'We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters.'" The pope wondered whether "we see our brother half dead on the side of the road" and perhaps think "to ourselves, 'Poor soul,' and then go our way."

The U.S. immigration system in the United States "is broken and is causing untold suffering and a tenable waste of resources, human and material," said the cardinal.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder:

Business Schools and Business Ethics: "Would any business school accept mathematical sloppiness in any of its courses, leaving number skills only to accounting or business statistics? Of course not. Whatever the specific topic, any professor who disdains mathematical precision is not doing his or her job. Let me put it to you that any professor, no matter what the specialty, who ignores ethics is not doing his or her job. To relegate ethics to a course and have the rest of the courses be 'nonethical' is to foster the divided life, deformation rather than formation." (From a March 31 speech to deans of Catholic schools of business given at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The speech appears in the April 10 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

CHA President on Affordable Care Act: "The [Catholic Health Association of the United States] is pleased to see the 7.1 million people who enrolled in private health insurance plans through health insurance marketplaces and now have affordable and real health security. In addition to opening access to health insurance for millions of Americans, the Affordable Care Act improved insurance coverage by requiring many needed benefits and consumer protections. . . . We fervently hope the nation can build on these successes and, in the coming months, get even more people signed up for coverage through the health insurance marketplaces. CHA also hopes to convince states that have refused to expand Medicaid that they are hurting families, health providers, businesses and their state's own economic position. CHA pledges to continue to work with all people of good will to improve the provisions and functionality of this law. We have always known that the Affordable Care Act, like other laws, is not perfect, but it is a real start on the road to health security for millions of people." (From a statement in the April 15 online edition of Catholic Health World by Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.)

Praying Spontaneously: "We take from Jesus' teaching that there are prayers of praise, prayers of petition, prayers for forgiveness and prayers for perseverance. Of course the Lord's Prayer is the prayer 'par excellence,' but there are many other forms of prayer. Many like the Jesus Prayer, which is 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me a sinner.' Many simply repeat the name of Jesus, or 'My Jesus, mercy.' Some find comfort in writing a letter to God. This might be an easy and effective way to learn to pray spontaneously. Put the concerns in your heart into words on paper. Keep constantly in mind that God saves us as a people and that community prayer, the highest form of which is the celebration of the Eucharist, must be an important part of our prayer life." (Excerpt from an April 6 entry to his blog on the diocesan website by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas.)

5. Take the Risk, Identify With the Poor

"There's never been a moment in human history when to take the side of those who are weak and poor is popular," Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said April 7. Nonetheless, the Anglican leader said, "we need a church that listens to God, that hears the voice of the poor and takes the risk of identifying with the poor."

The risk in ignoring the poor is "very high indeed, because you ignore God," Archbishop Welby said. He spoke as he and Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, launched a joint week of prayer on behalf of the work the churches do with the poor. The week of prayer's theme was "Listen to God: Hear the Poor."

Taking the side of the poor and vulnerable brings Christians "face to face" with Jesus, Archbishop Welby commented. He said the "church must take the risk of identifying with the poor."

During the week of prayer the two church leaders visited projects serving poor and marginalized people. Cardinal Nichols spoke of this as a pilgrimage. It began with a joint visit by the two leaders to a Catholic-run refugee center and soup kitchen in London.

Cardinal Nichols stressed that the week's theme brings two interests together, "our attentiveness to God and our response to the poor."

In a joint radio interview, the two leaders accented the link between prayer and action that the week of prayer underscores. "When you pray and you spend time listening to God, you find you are drawn inexorably to the face of the poor," Archbishop Welby said.

Cardinal Nichols tied the week of prayer to the work of evangelization. He said, "We know that the Gospel gathers credibility when it is seen in action."

Highlighting the ecumenical dimension of this week of prayer, Archbishop Welby said that as the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches become "more and more engaged in social action around the country," they increasingly recognize "that God has called us together."

He said: "This isn't some kind of stunt. It's the inevitable response to the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing us into cooperation."

6. Pope Francis and Archbishop Romero

Pope Francis and El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered March 24, 1980, and considered by many a martyr who gave his life for the poor, are "brothers in the spirit and allies in the option for the poor," Jesuit Father Martin Maier said in a speech March 26 during an ecumenical service in London. The German priest, a theologian who long worked in El Salvador, drew parallels between the two church leaders.

One parallel involves the "joy of the Gospel," which Father Maier noted is the title of Pope Francis' first apostolic exhortation. The priest said that "if we really believe in the good news that God is a loving Father and that Jesus is the human face of God's unconditional love, naturally joy comes up."

Archbishop Romero's "experience of God in the poor" made him particularly happy, Father Maier said. Asking how such an experience of God in the poor can be explained, he responded: "Simply by the words of Jesus that he is present in the poor, the hungry, the suffering and the marginalized. And that the one who sees him sees the Father."

Thus, Archbishop Romero "could say, 'I came to know God because I came to know my people.' And, 'a bishop always has to learn a lot from his people.' And, 'the people are my prophet.'" Archbishop Romero thought, "I have to listen to the Spirit, who speaks to me through his people," Father Maier said.

Similarly, Father Maier continued, "for Pope Francis the joy of the Gospel is linked with the poor and the little ones." For example, in "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis wrote, "I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold onto."

Another parallel between the two church leaders relates to their option for the poor, Father Maier said. He recalled that "because of his insistence on the option for the poor," Archbishop Romero was "accused of being against the rich. All the same, he did not want to exclude the rich but to call them to conversion."

Pope Francis wants the same thing, the priest said. He pointed to a passage in "The Joy of the Gospel" where Pope Francis writes that "the pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor."

Father Maier is "convinced that we can find much inspiration to build up a poor church for the poor from Archbishop Romero." For, "according to him the church has to continue the life and the work of Jesus. For this she continually has to convert herself to the reign of God and the poor."

That, Father Maier added, "corresponds to Pope Francis' frequent call against ecclesial introversion and self-centeredness ," his call for the church "constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ and her commitment to the poor," as he wrote in "The Joy of the Gospel."