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August 7, 2014

Profile of a 21st century priest -
The church and the children at the border -
Thoughts for World War I's centenary --
Tips on happiness from Pope Francis

In this edition:
1. What about war? World War I centenary.
2. Pope Francis on the road to happiness.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Why children flee Central America.
b) The children at the U.S. border.
4. Responding to the children at the border.
5. Pope profiles 21st century priest.
6. An economy serving the common good.

1. What About War? World War I Centenary

The arrival at the end of July of the 100th anniversary of World War I's outbreak prompted statements by numerous church leaders. For Christians the centenary "must be an opportunity to renew our own commitment to peace," said Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Church leaders recalled the valor and sacrifice of those who fought and lost their lives in the war - often fighting in "utterly impossible circumstances of horror and helplessness," said Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England.

The cardinal asked why the war took place, responding that "there is no single, simple account." He recalled that "there was a single event that served as a spark" and that "there were competing and threatened identities, not least of the great powers; there were deep determinations to preserve established power blocs; there were troubled leaders who had their eyes on more domestic issues."

In our times, Cardinal Nichols said, we recognize the "same patterns. We know how vulnerable and precarious are many situations in our world today." He asked everyone to "remember again that violence always provokes violence" and to urge "all those in power to seek always the ways of peace."

War is "a journey down a one-way street," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in an Aug. 3 homily marking the centenary. Once the journey commences, "you almost inevitably establish a further momentum which is self-perpetuating," he added.

Archbishop Martin said, too, that "the young soldiers caught up in war were men and women of courage and valor and idealism. The ideals they defended were noble ideas." Yet, "war itself is always horrible and leaves all those who become caught up in war marked for life by the inhuman experiences they endured."

Moreover, he commented, "war does not end with a ceasefire." Archbishop Martin's conviction was that "war among states renders the hope of reconciliation among peoples always more remote. The horror of prolonged war recalls human hearts to the need to prevent war and eliminate its causes."

But "war has not gone away," and "military intervention does not inevitably lead to peace," the archbishop insisted. He pointed to the "spiral of violence" witnessed today "all over the Middle East and further afield." July 2014, Archbishop Martin said, "will be remembered as one of the most striking months of blood in recent years. We see the carnage caused by rockets, especially among civilians."

It should be remembered, he suggested, "that each of these rockets, on whatever side and in whichever conflict, was designed and built, was sold for a profit and bought, was supplied to respond often to interests of people far away from where the carnage occurs. The industrialization and commercialization of war continues."

Those who fought in the war often hoped to "contribute to the building of a different society where nations and peoples would learn to speak the language of peace and of hope," the archbishop concluded. What is owed to their memory is a commitment today to keep the "ideal of peace alive in a troubled world."

2. Road to Happiness: Pope Francis

Because "war destroys" it is essential to "shout out for peace," Pope Francis said in an interview with Viva, a supplement to the newspaper El Clarin in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Shouting out for peace is one of the pope's suggestions for bringing joy into life and finding happiness. "Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive" and dynamic, the pope said.

Most reports on the interview seized on his "recipe" for happiness and joy. Viva published its first installment of the interview with the pope in late July. Other installments are to follow.

One of the pope's tips for finding happiness is to "live and let live." Another proposes that joy arises when people give of themselves to others.

"The Romans have a saying, which can be taken as a point of reference. They say. 'Move forward and let others do the same,'" the pope noted. He considered "live and let live" a principle for everyone.

And people need to be open and generous. "If you withdraw into yourself you run the risk of becoming egocentric," but "stagnant water becomes putrid," Pope Francis said.

Proceeding calmly in life is a quality vital to joy. In the interview Pope Francis linked this quality to maturity. He mentioned an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes in which a main character "says that in his youth he was a stream full of rocks" and in adulthood "a rushing river." In old age "he still was moving, but slowly, like a pool" of water.

The pope welcomed this image of a pool of water, which points to an "ability to move with kindness and humility, a calmness in life."

To find joy, resist negativity, Pope Francis urged. "Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem" and means "I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down." He believes that "letting go of negative things quickly is healthy."

Among the pope's other suggestions for finding joy in life, he mentioned the importance of leisure: reading, art and playing with children. Also, he said, Sundays ought to be shared with the family.

Moreover, in discussing environmental issues, he thought that "a question we're not asking ourselves is, 'Isn't humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'" So, to find joy, it is important to respect nature.

If young people are to find joy, it is vital that society find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for them, the pope said. He explained: "It's not enough to give them food." For, it is important to them and their sense of human dignity to "bring food home" from their own labor.

Yet another step toward happiness is to avoid proselytizing others and instead dialogue with them. "We can inspire others through witness," Pope Francis said. But he characterized proselytism as a paralyzing approach to communicating about values. He suggested it conveys a message that "I am talking with you in order to persuade you."

In saying no to this, the pope added: "Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

Why Children and Families Flee Central America: "The humanitarian crisis on the border of the United States is but a symptom of the political, economic and social crises being lived in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. . . . We are witnessing an exodus due to violence, insecurity and displacement in Central America and Mexico. . . . Increasing desperation has led many families, youth and children to the inevitable conclusion that they have no choice but to flee. They are primarily fleeing violence, not poverty. They aren't just coming to the United States; in fact, other Central American countries have experienced a 712 percent increase in asylum claims between 2008 and 2013. We are witnessing the results of the drug war and gangs: child refugees. . . . Most of the youths and children arriving on our doorstep are fleeing violence, insecurity and forced recruitment. Although there may still be a percentage of youth among those fleeing whose motive is primarily poverty or family reunification, the skyrocketing numbers are largely due to violence." (Excerpts from the July 16 testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs by Richard Jones, Catholic Relief Services' deputy regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. His testimony appears in the July 31 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service)

The Children at the Border: "We must take ownership of our share of responsibility for the influx of refugees. The violence from which the children are fleeing is to a large extent of our making because the market for illegal drugs is greatest in the United States. The guns that are sold to gangs and drug traffickers and that are at the root of the violence in Mexico and Central America come from our country. The blame game is a dishonest attempt to avoid sharing responsibility for the problem and for our failure to adequately address the root causes. Finally, we must stop demonizing the victims, who are seeking refuge in the United States. This is a moral problem not just a political one. We must remember the words of the Holy Father that 'this humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.' They are children who need to be treated with mercy and compassion, not merely a problem to be disposed of." (From a July 28 blog entry by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, writing on the diocesan website.)

4. Responding to the Children at the Border

Commenting on the crisis surrounding the multitude of children from Central America arriving at the U.S. border, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said in late July that "the church does not call for open borders" but does want to respond well to people fleeing danger in their homelands.

"The church recognizes that countries have the responsibility to defend against criminal elements operating" along their borders, said the bishop. However, "the church knows that good people fleeing the desperate situations in their homelands are coming across the same borders looking for new lives."

In the Aug. 4 edition of his online Monday Memo to the diocese, Bishop Kicanas shared a column of his that appeared the weekend of July 26-27 in the Arizona Daily Star published in Tucson. He received both positive and negative reactions to his column, he acknowledged.

"Many people in Central America live in wretched conditions of hopeless poverty and extreme violence," the bishop wrote. He said, "A parent will do anything to protect a child and to assure him or her a future, even if that means sending the child alone to travel a dangerous path to another country."

The unattended minors and mothers with children arriving recently at the U.S. border, "mostly from Central America, startled us and presented us with overwhelming challenges" in terms of how to respond, he said. He noted that "some call the influx of people an 'invasion' that must be stopped. Some blame lax enforcement policies. Some fear our borders are too porous and contend that the area must be secured."

But while there are "protests against" the notion that Americans ought to be their "brother's keeper," Bishop Kicanas cited a broad outpouring of care for these immigrants, even by the Border Patrol in Arizona.

That agency, he said, "an agency charged with enforcement," was among those that became caregivers for children and families, "rushing to help and to keep them safe. They did not lose sight of the human beings they are dealing with amid their efforts to defend our borders. Their work represents America at its best."

There has been an "outpouring of concern for these unaccompanied minors and mothers" by city and county officials, faith-based groups and nongovernmental organizations within the Tucson community, he observed.

"Some would say we ought to focus on our own residents living in poverty rather than open our doors to others," Bishop Kicanas wrote. He agreed that "we must strive to end poverty at home and strive to assure the dignity of every human being." Still, he continued, "when we come face to face with the desperate conditions of others from outside of our country, we cannot limit or restrict our concern and efforts to help."

The current "influx of women and children and unaccompanied minors presents our country and our community with an opportunity to display the compassion and concern that lies in the heart of most Americans," said the bishop, adding: "We know it is our responsibility to be our brother's keeper, to have a heart."

5. Pope Francis Profiles 21st Century Priest

"What will be the profile of the priest of this century, which is so secularized?" Pope Francis raised this question and accented the creativity needed today among priests during a July 26 question-and-answer session with priests in Caserta, Italy, north of Naples

In his profile the pope described the priest as "a man of creativity, who follows God's commandment: 'to create things.'" The priest is:

"A man of transcendence, both with God in prayer and with others always.

"A man who is approachable and who is close to the people. To distance people is not priestly, and people are tired of this attitude."

To be creative, "closeness" to people is essential for priests, Pope Francis indicated. He asked: "How do you meet others? From a distance or up close?" His response, of course, was to "meet them up close" -- to "be near" to people.

However, the priest's creativity starts with prayer. "There is no other way than prayer," Pope Francis said. "Prayer is the condition for moving forward." Without prayer, "perhaps we will be good pastoral and spiritual entrepreneurs, but the church without prayer becomes an NGO" (nongovernmental organization), Pope Francis said, a point he makes often.

"Prayer is the first step" in the priest's creativity "because one must open oneself to the Lord to be able to be open to others," the pope explained.

For him, the creativity that "comes from prayer has an anthropological dimension of transcendence, because through prayer you open yourself to transcendence, to God." In addition, however, "there is also another transcendence: opening oneself up to others, to one's neighbor."

He insisted, repeating what virtually is a theme for him, that "we must not be a church closed in on herself, which watches her navel, a self-referential church, who looks at herself and is unable to transcend." Rather, the "twofold transcendence" he mentioned "is important: toward God and toward one's neighbor."

In Caserta he urged priests not "to be afraid" to be close to the people. He encouraged the priests to develop closeness to their culture and to their people's "way of thinking, their sorrows, their resentments."

Closeness to people "also means dialogue," Pope Francis said. He pointed out "two things" necessary for dialogue. First, "one's identity as a starting point." Second, "empathy toward others."

He explained this, saying: "If I am not sure of my identity and I go to speak, I end up bartering my faith. You cannot dialogue without starting from your own identity." And the empathy essential for dialogue means "a priori, not condemning." Here the pope urged priests to recognize that "every man, every woman has something of their own to give us; every man, every woman has their own story, their own situation, and we have to listen to it."

What is dialogue? It does not mean "doing apologetics, although sometimes you must do so" - for example, when "asked questions that require an explanation." For Pope Francis "dialogue is a human thing. It is hearts and souls that dialogue, and this is so important!" To the priests of Caserta he said, "Do not be afraid to dialogue with anyone."

6. An Economy Serving the Common Good

An international conference on goals of the economy sponsored July 11-12 in Rome by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued a statement calling for a more inclusive economy designed to serve the common good. The conference participants, who numbered about 70, included leading economists, central bankers, heads of international and intergovernmental organizations and church leaders.

"There is substantial agreement among us that, as a human community, we must recover our moral compass and re-examine the assumptions of our economic theory," the conference statement said. The economy needs to be "more realistic and based on a more complete view of the human being and of the world."

In remarks to the conference, Pope Francis lamented what he termed a "throw-away" attitude in society - a situation in which the person becomes just "an instrument of the system, the social system, economic system - a system where imbalance reigns." The pope asked what happens when the "humanity" of human persons is lost in this way. Responding, he said that what happens is what he calls a "throwaway attitude" toward human beings.

The conference participants insisted that "we must put people and their well-being at the center of our economic and political life." They feared, though, that "the means and instruments of our economy, such as money, are accorded more importance than the proper end or goal of that same economy, that is, sustaining a good life for the human community."

What is more, they added, today "human beings are frequently treated as means to an economic end and not as the reason why economic activity takes place at all."

The conference statement emphasized the moral dimension of these issues, stating "that no structural reform leading to greater inclusion can be ultimately successful unless there is a conversion of the human heart."

The participants cautioned that "without a recovery of the virtue of gratuitousness and the willingness to make moral judgments, allowing our action to be guided by them, no structural reform can be sure to bring about positive outcomes."