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June 9, 2014

A church that fosters world peace -
Israeli, Palestinian presidents meet with pope, pray for peace -
Jesus, an unorthodox shepherd -
Connections between givers and receivers

In this edition:
1. Leaders join pope to pray for peace.
2. Words of prayer for Holy Land peace.
3. A Holy Land pilgrim for peace.
4. Dialogue and peace.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Connecting givers and receivers.
b) Serving justice with mercy.
6. Jesus, an unorthodox shepherd.

1. Leaders Join Pope, Pray for Peace

Pope Francis surprised the world during his May 24-26 visit to the Holy Land by inviting Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to join him at his home in the Vatican "in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace."

Perhaps equally surprising, the invitations were accepted, and the three leaders, with their respective Christian, Jewish and Muslim delegations, met in the Vatican gardens the evening of June 8 to pray for peace in the Middle East. They were joined by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who presides as first of equals among the world's Orthodox primates and who met with Pope Francis during the May visit to the Holy Land.

The Vatican insisted the purpose of the gathering, titled "Invocation for Peace," was spiritual and not political. June 8 for Christians was the feast of Pentecost, a unique occasion for Christians to focus on gifts of the Spirit.

Many commentators were quick to point out that peace talks collapsed in the Middle East in April and that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regards the new Palestinian government's ties to Hamas, the militant Islamic organization, as a sign of hopelessness for peace negotiations. Others stressed, though, that the Vatican gathering should not be underestimated in its symbolic value for the region or as a unique sign of hope for a stalled peace process -- an attempt, at least, to bring together leaders who share a belief in the one God.

"Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity," Pope Francis told the Vatican gathering.

"We know and we believe that we need the help of God" to achieve peace, the pope added. That does not imply renouncing "our responsibilities," he made clear. Yet, "we do call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples. We have heard a summons, and we must respond."

Pope Francis commented that the "world is a legacy bequeathed to us from past generations, but it is also on loan to us from our children -- our children, who are weary, worn out by conflicts and yearning for the dawn of peace; our children, who plead with us to tear down the walls of enmity and to set out on the path of dialogue and peace so that love and friendship will prevail."

Too many children became "innocent victims of war and violence, saplings cut down at the height of their promise," Pope Francis said. "The memory of these children instills in us the courage of peace, the strength to persevere undaunted in dialogue, the patience to weave, day by day, an ever more robust fabric of respectful and peaceful coexistence."

Peres, Israel's 90-year-old president, agreed that "it is within our power to bring peace to our children." That, he said, "is our duty, the holy mission of parents." He pleaded that peace would "become our legacy, soon and swiftly."

Israelis and Palestinians "still are aching for peace," Peres said. "The tears of mothers over their children are still etched in our hearts. We must put an end to the cries, to the violence, to the conflict. We all need peace. Peace between equals."

Abbas, the Palestinian president, insisted that his people "want peace for us and for our neighbors. We seek prosperity and peace of mind for ourselves and for others alike."

In prayer-like remarks, Abbas said: "Here we are, O God, inclined to peace. Make firm our steps and crown our efforts and endeavors with success. You are the promoter of virtue and preventer of vice, evil and aggression." He prayed for "security, safety and stability" for his own people and for the entire region.

2. Words of Prayer for Holy Land Peace

The Jewish, Christian and Muslim delegations that accompanied Pope Francis and the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the June 8 "Invocation for Peace" held in the Vatican gardens each prayed, in turn, for peace. After they shared prayers from their traditions, the three leaders delivered their remarks. As the gathering concluded, the pope and the presidents lent their energies to the planting of an olive tree as a symbol of hope for a peaceful Holy Land.

The plan for the gathering called first of all for each delegation to praise God for the gift of creation and for the gift of being members of one human family. Second, the delegations were urged to ask God's forgiveness for not acting like brothers and sisters, and for sins against God and neighbor. Third, the delegations were to invoke the gift of peace in the Holy Land and ask God to make them peace builders.

"Let us never cling to division, not even when it comes to those who do not agree with us. Let us never shame any person on earth, great or small, and may we merit to truly keep the commandment to 'love your neighbor as yourself' with an entire heart, body, soul and possessions," the Jewish delegation prayed, in words of the 18th century Hasidic leader Nachman of Breslov.

"O God, bring about peace in the land of peace," the Muslim delegation prayed. Among its invocations it asked, "O God, make us . . . keys to all that is good, locks to all that is evil."

The familiar prayer of St. Francis appeared among the invocations of the Christian participants: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, harmony."

The Christian prayers, borrowing the words of Micah 6:8, asked God for "the grace to recommit ourselves 'to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with'" God.

3. Pope Francis: Holy Land Peace Pilgrim

"The way of peace is strengthened if we realize that we are all of the same stock and members of the one human family; if we never forget that we have the same Father in heaven and that we are all his children, made in his image and likeness," Pope Francis said May 24 in Amman, Jordan, on the first day of his May 24-26 Holy Land visit.

Today the papacy is associated closely with calls for peace. Everyone expects, for example, that on Christmas and Easter the pope will speak not only to the people gathered in St. Peter's Square but in a message broadcast to the world about the need for peace in trouble spots around the globe.

A papal visit to the Holy Land today, virtually by definition, is a pilgrimage of peace. Pleading for peace again and again during this visit, Pope Francis accented the need for respect between people who differ from each other religiously and in other ways-- people who resemble each other in highly significant ways, as well. In Amman he said:

"Let us ask the Spirit to prepare our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters so that we may overcome our differences rooted in political thinking, language, culture and religion. Let us ask him to anoint our whole being with the oil of his mercy, which heals the injuries caused by mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes."

Because "the important things we share are so many," peace is possible, the pope said May 25 in Bethlehem. He insisted "it is possible to find a means of serene, ordered and peaceful coexistence," between Israelis and Palestinians -- a peace that emerges from "accepting our differences and rejoicing that, as children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters."

To build peace it is "first and foremost" necessary to respect "the dignity and freedom of every human person, which Jews, Christians and Muslims alike believe to be created by God and destined to eternal life," Pope Francis said May 26 in Jerusalem. It is necessary as well to reject everything "that is opposed to the cultivation of peace and respectful relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims."

That, the pope explained, means rejecting all of the following:

"Recourse to violence and terrorism,

"All forms of discrimination on the basis of race or religion,

"Attempts to impose one's own point of view at the expense of the rights of others,

"Anti-Semitism in all its possible expressions, and

"Signs of intolerance directed against individuals or places of worship, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim."

4. Dialogue and Peace

Dialogue is essential to building peace, Pope Francis said repeatedly in the Holy Land. During an in-flight press conference while returning to Rome May 26, he shared his conviction "that one has to enter into negotiations with honesty, a spirit of fraternity and mutual trust." He prayed that Israeli and Palestinian leaders "will have the courage to go forward. This is the only path to peace."

In Bethlehem the pope called for a Middle East solution that establishes "the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders." He said, "Peace will bring countless benefits for the peoples of this region and for the world as a whole. And so it must resolutely be pursued, even if each side has to make certain sacrifices."

In Israel Pope Francis renewed the appeal made by Pope Benedict XVI, saying: "The right of the state of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized. At the same time there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement. The 'two-state solution' must become reality and not remain merely a dream."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

The Connection of Giver and Receiver: "What is lacking in so many of the [social-action] strategies proposed on both sides of the 'political divide' -- as it must be acknowledged to be these days -- is any truly personal engagement. Catholic relief efforts are typically characterized by an extraordinary degree of personal involvement, from soup kitchens and lunch programs to food pantries -- and, traditionally, orphanages and hospitals -- and even our schools that, historically, were founded by and for poor immigrants. The connection between the giver and the receiver needs to be close and personal. That is the Christian way. Institutional efforts are certainly necessary for the things that cannot be accomplished alone, but every Christian is challenged to share sacrificially of his or her personal resources with the poor and needy in our midst." (From the May 22 weekly message to the diocese by Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y.)

Serving Justice With Mercy and Compassion: "In our Catholic tradition, the courts and law enforcement are noble means by which we protect society, defend the public order and try to restore the peace that is disrupted by criminal acts. The church believes also that our justice system must help with rehabilitation and restoration of offenders. So again we are grateful for what you do to temper justice with mercy and a concern for rehabilitation. . . . Having mercy means we remember that we are all weak, that we all have limitations, that we are all human. And we all rely on the kindness of others. The more we are motivated by love for our brothers and sisters, the more we are motivated by compassion and mercy, the more we will serve justice. . . . Don't underestimate the power of mercy to help you in your jobs. Little signs of compassion can warm people's hearts and attract them to what is good. You never know how much good you can do through just your little acts of kindness." (Excerpts from remarks by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles during a May 5 court-clergy conference in Pasadena, Calif.)

6. Jesus, an Unorthodox Shepherd

Jesus is "an unorthodox shepherd," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said when he ordained a new priest for the archdiocese June 3. He mentioned two ways Jesus is an unorthodox shepherd:

First, Jesus "is prepared to leave the 99 to reach out and find the one who is lost, no matter what the cause of that being lost is."

Second, Jesus "is not just the shepherd who chases the wolf away and keeps the sheep safe." Instead, "Jesus is the one 'who lays down his own life for his sheep.' Jesus' dedication and love are without boundaries."

If "Jesus' model of going to any end to reach out to the one or the many who are lost" is considered unrealistic, "then we will end up with a church which is simply a comfort zone for the like-minded," Archbishop Martin said.

A priest, "as good shepherd," is not someone who is called "to speak in the abstract about Jesus Christ," the archbishop commented. He said the priest is called "to be a sure guide journeying alongside those who are confused and unsure, reminding them that Jesus knows each one of us; he cares for us; he wishes to be the direction of our lives."

To make that point the archbishop quoted Pope Francis, who said: "Rather than being a church that welcomes and receives, we have to try to be a church that goes out beyond itself toward those men and women who do not come to church, who no longer know the church, those who have left the church and those who have become indifferent."

The severity of the priesthood vocations crisis in Ireland makes every ordination a newsworthy event. Just two priests in Dublin are less than 40 years old, Archbishop Martin noted after the June ordination in that archdiocese. Currently eight seminarians are preparing to become priests of Dublin. Two seminarians were ordained to the diaconate for Dublin this spring.