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October 26, 2014

Archbishop meets parents of gay children -
Baptized into Christ's body: What does this mean? -
Ministry when someone suffers --
Violence against children

In this edition:
1. Ministry when someone suffers.
2. On baptism into Christ's body.
3. Diocese houses Ebola victim's fiancee.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Church's support for families.
b) Violence against children worldwide.
5. Archbishop meets parents of gay children.
6. All are welcome in God's family.
7. Development where money rules.

1. Ministry When Someone Suffers

The Gospel's Emmaus story casts light on the importance of listening attentively to people who suffer, according to "A Meditation on Suffering" appearing in the November-December online edition of Catholic Health Progress, published by the Catholic Health Association.

Suffering "takes place in the soul, a place so intimate that no words can help us express how it actually feels," the article's co-authors explain. Carmelite Sister Peter Lillian DiMaria, director of the Avila Institute of Gerontology in Germantown, N.Y., and Alfred Norwood, a behavior specialist at the same institute, write that pain can result in "suffering that is different for each of us."

The mystery of suffering, they state, "is not a problem to be solved, rather, it is a journey we share with God, ourselves and, if we are able, with others."

In the Emmaus story (Lk 24:13-35), two disciples walk along the road from Jerusalem after the crucifixion, talking about everything that happened. "During their conversation we find them to be honest and emotional, and, all of a sudden, a stranger joins them. This stranger, the Lord, listens intently," the article notes.

"What our Lord does is accompany" the two disciples, who do not yet recognize him. The article accents the importance of such accompaniment. "No matter what age we are, we need someone to walk with us," it says.

The article describes accompaniment as something that always is "very gently filled with empathy." Thus, "as we accompany someone, communion is gradually built up, and mutual trust and desire for the truth increase over time."

The story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus "shows us what true ministry is all about," the article adds. "It means to walk with people patiently and compassionately, to be present for them, to listen -- really listen -- and to be nonjudgmental."

The November-December edition of Catholic Health Progress is devoted to the care of those suffering from dementia, and "A Meditation on Suffering" appears in that context. Much that it says, though, is of interest beyond the health-care world.

"Skills alone do not make us better listeners; we must, as Jesus taught us, have a deep desire to connect with others," the article states. For, "we connect by being present and allowing a person to share his or her pain." The authors write:

"As caregivers, we compassionately listen to the unspoken words of suffering. However, even in this compassionate listening, we must accept that we can never really know another's suffering. We must accept that people can begin to feel isolated and misunderstood when they sense that others do not know what they are experiencing.

"Compassionate listening challenges us to be someone who brings peace to those who feel abandoned. It allows us to share in the silence of their inner being, thus opening their hearts and bringing new hope within."

2. On Baptism Into Christ's Body

"The church is the body of Christ, and this is not simply a catchphrase: Indeed, we truly are! It is the great gift that we receive on the day of our baptism," Pope Francis told the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square Oct. 22 for his general audience.

What the pope said about the light that an understanding of the "body of Christ" casts on baptism may be of particular interest to those who prepare parents for a child's baptism or work with other adults preparing for baptism at Easter. It might be of interest, as well, to small groups and classes exploring the ongoing meaning of each Christian's long-ago baptism.

"The image of the body often is used when one wishes to highlight how the elements that comprise a reality are strictly joined to one another together, forming one single thing," Pope Francis explained.

He called the church "the masterpiece of the Spirit," who "places us beside one another, each at the service and support of the other, thereby making of all of us one single body, edified in communion and in love."

In baptism the members of Christ's body are united in such a way that they become "limbs" of one body, of which Christ is the head, the pope stated. Here he cited Romans 12:5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. These verses in 1 Corinthians read:

"As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit."

These verses are followed by the famous discussion of the importance of each part of the body of Christ, each of its "limbs." Verses 14-18 read:

"Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,' it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,' it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended."

Pope Francis said in his audience remarks that "what springs from" becoming a limb of Christ's one body "is a profound communion of love." This, he said, ought to lead the members of Christ's body away from envy and division, and toward appreciation of each other's gifts and talents.

We should "appreciate the talents and the qualities of our brothers and sisters in our communities," the pope urged. He said that when we "feel envious" of someone, since "envy comes to everyone, we are all sinners," we instead ought to "say to the Lord: 'Thank you, Lord, because you have given this [gift] to that person."

No one should "consider himself or herself superior to others" in the body of Christ, the pope advised his listeners. Rather, he said -- "and always in charity" -- we should "consider ourselves each others' limbs, that are alive," and give "ourselves for the benefit of all."

3. Diocese Houses Ebola Victim's Fiancee

When the fiancee of Thomas Eric Duncan, along with her son and two nephews were quarantined for 21 days during the time he was ill with the Ebola virus and after his Oct. 8 death, it was the Catholic Diocese of Dallas that found a place for them.

Duncan traveled from Liberia to the United States in September to visit Louise Troh, his fiancee. His case is well know, since it is he who, when he became ill, went to a hospital but was sent home. He returned to the hospital some days later, learning he had contracted the Ebola virus.

Public officials needed to decontaminate Troh's apartment, but that meant she, along with her son and nephews, needed to move. Where could a suitable place for their quarantine be found?

When these questions arose, public officials approached the Dallas Diocese for help. Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas discussed these events Oct. 20, explaining why the diocese decided to provide a retreat-center location for the quarantine.

At the time of his statement, the quarantine had ended; Troh and her family members had not contracted the virus. But they could not return to their old apartment, and the diocese intended to continue helping them until they could find new housing, it was said.

A statement on the diocesan website Oct. 22 provided information for those wanting to assist her. While she and her family members "remain in good health," it said, they are struggling to piece their lives back together."

Bishop Farrell revealed Oct. 20 that Troh and her family found refuge during their quarantine at the diocesan Conference and Formation Center in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas. They "stayed in one of the casas in a remote corner on the grounds," he said.

Reporters asked him, Bishop Farrell said, why he "said yes to the request from Mayor Mike Rawlings and Judge Clay Jenkins to offer housing for Ms. Troh and her family. I told them that I did pause to think of all of the possibilities, but that when I asked myself, 'What would Jesus do?' I knew that we had to help."

The church "has a long history of helping those in need, and Ms. Troh and her family were and remain in need," Bishop Farrell remarked. He said that when another reporter mentioned "the fact that the family is not Catholic," he responded "that we don't help because someone is Catholic, we help because we are Catholic and that is what we are called to do."

Later, he said the diocese's action was "an example of what it means to care for our brothers and sisters," no matter "where they come from" or what their race or religion may be.

All retreats and activities at the conference center were canceled during the time of the quarantine. Bishop Farrell knew this "caused a hardship" for some "who had events planned there," and he apologized for any difficulty it caused. "I hope you will understand that this was an emergency humanitarian aid situation that had to take priority," he said.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Support for Families: "In my many years as a priest and bishop, I have ministered to so many good families! . . . But no marriage is perfect, and no family is perfect either. Every marriage and every family faces challenges. Marriage takes hard work and so does parenting. It takes courage, patience, faith and love. Every day. So, spouses and families need our love and support. In the church we need to keep looking for new ways and new ministries to support married couples. . . . We need to strengthen good families and lift them up as a model. . . . We need to show our young people how beautiful it is to be married and to start a family. . . . And we need to strengthen marriage preparation, looking for new ways to prepare people to be good husbands, wives and parents. Also, in this coming year [leading to the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome] we need to intensify our efforts to reach out in mercy and understanding to care for those who are struggling in family situations that are complicated." (Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles in an Oct. 22 column for The Tidings, the archdiocese's newspaper.)

Violence Against Children: "Every five minutes a child dies as the result of violence. . . Some 345 children under the age of 20 could die from violence each day in the next year unless governments act. . . . The vast majority of children are killed outside war zones. . . . Millions of children [are] unsafe in their homes, schools and communities. . . . Children who are victims of violence have brain activity similar to soldiers exposed to combat. A third of children who are victims of violence are likely to develop long-lasting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Those living in poverty are more likely to be victims of violence, wherever they live in the world. Over 75 percent of child deaths due to violence each day are the result of interpersonal violence rather than conflict." (Excerpted from an Oct. 21 press release from UNICEF in the United Kingdom, announcing its publication of a report titled "Children in Danger: Act to End Violence against Children.")

5. Archbishop Meets Parents of Gay Children

Parents of gay and lesbian children expressed hope during a recent meeting with Atlanta's Archbishop Wilton Gregory that "our church will become more loving and understanding of the worth and dignity of their children," the archbishop reported in an Oct. 16 column in The Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocesan newspaper.

The column appeared when October's extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome was nearing its conclusion. Around that time it was reported that the synod participants were not in full agreement about how to express the church's welcome and beliefs regarding gay and lesbian persons in the church.

"I had a superb encounter with about 10 simply wonderful folks who came from five or six of our parishes. They are members of a larger group of individuals who belong to many other parishes, but who find a common bond in the fact that they are parents of gay and lesbian children," Archbishop Gregory wrote.

These are children, he said, who "were raised in Catholic homes, some attended Catholic schools and many were very active in parish activities."

He assured the parents that "not only could I respect and love their children, I was obliged to do so by the same Gospel mandate that governs the entire church." He added:

"I assured them that the church must welcome all of her sons and daughters, no matter what their sexual orientation or life situation might be, and that we have not always done so with a spirit of compassion and understanding."

The archbishop spoke in the meeting about "the distinction that our church makes between orientation and behavior, which admittedly needs re-examination and development." He commented, "We are all called to conversion -- not just some members of the church."

Moreover, he said, "the severity of some of our moral language occasionally suggests that certain members of the church are superior to others." However, he added, "St. Paul reminds us that 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).'"

As is the case with parents everywhere, the parents who met with Archbishop Gregory "love their children, and like faithful Catholics they also love our church. Yet they also are deeply troubled to feel that our church does not love their children, and therein is the conflict that fills and saddens their hearts," he explained.

The parents, Archbishop Gregory noted, "spoke of the hostile environment that many of [the children] encountered from the church. The language that the church uses in speaking of their sexual orientation is often unwelcoming and condemnatory. These parents said repeatedly that their children do not feel welcome in the faith of the church in which they were raised."

The archbishop encouraged the group "to continue to meet and pray together." He planned to ask "one of our deacons with a child who is gay to serve as my liaison with them."

He invited any pastor "who has been in conversation with parishioners who might face some of these same challenges to contact" the archdiocese in order to refer these people to the group of parents. "I ask all of us to pray for them and their children that we might together discover ways to draw them closer to the heart of the church -- where they belong and where there is always room."

Concluding his column, Archbishop Gregory said he was "very glad to know" that the Synod of Bishops in Rome was "asking these very same questions."

6. All Are Welcome in God's Family

The Oct. 5-19 assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome "did not 'reject welcome to gays,'" as one newspaper headline announced. For, "all are welcome in the one family of God," Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis said in a message Oct. 24.

The purpose of this year's extraordinary synod assembly "was to set the agenda for a yearlong process of prayerful discernment in preparation for the ordinary Synod of Bishops a year from now," he pointed out.

Families today "face many challenges," Archbishop Tobin wrote. The question is, "given these realities, how is the church called to preach the Gospel, share the joy of faith in Jesus Christ, show mercy and compassion, instruct and heal -- while refusing to judge people whose beliefs, opinions and ways of living may be contrary to what we firmly believe?"

The archbishop noted that in closing remarks to the October synod, Pope Francis "offered some reflections on his role as pope, which he sees as guaranteeing the unity of the church, reminding the faithful of their duty to follow Christ's Gospel, reminding pastors to nourish their flock and seeking 'to welcome -- with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears -- the lost sheep.'"

But then, Archbishop Tobin said, the pope "corrected himself. 'Welcome' can imply a passive waiting for others to come; the pope's responsibility as a good pastor is 'to go out and find them.'" That attitude "is crucial in understanding the extraordinary synod," the archbishop said.

He wrote: "We should resist all temptations to be either too rigid or too lax, but we must not sit and wait for people to come to us. As missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, we should go out to today's families, bringing them the joy of the Gospel."

No one ever is "rejected by Christ or his church," the archbishop insisted. He commented that "all are sought after and welcomed by the church that Pope Francis said has 'the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect!'"

Archbishop Tobin added that "the church is our mother. She is not afraid to reach out to all her children, regardless of who they are or what they have done. Indeed, the church is most true to herself when she becomes involved with her children wherever they are."

He said, "When they have fallen, the pope teaches, she feels obligated to lift them up and encourage them to take up the journey again."

"No one is rejected. All are welcome," the archbishop concluded. Borrowing words from Pope Francis' closing address to the October synod, the archbishop prayed that the Spirit will guide the search in the coming year for "concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront today."

7. Human Development: When Money Rules

There is a temptation in these times to turn "all human gifts and activities into means of making money," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, suggested in an address to an Oct. 22-24 conference on human dignity and human development at the University of Notre Dame Global Gateway center in Rome.

Aristotle warned against this temptation in ancient times, and today Pope Francis warns against it, the cardinal said. In "The Joy of the Gospel," he noted, the pope "pointedly called into question 'our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies.'"

The University of Notre Dame's Global Gateways are academic and intellectual centers in various cities around the world where scholars, students and leaders from universities, government, business and the larger community meet to examine important issues of our times.

Economics tends today to be viewed "as a science" that is "charged with the task of finding the best means of directing human activity toward the goal of a maximum exploitation of resources," Cardinal Parolin observed.

However, he said, "the church's social teaching has constantly emphasized that the greatest obstacles to universal and integral human development are found in a distorted vision of man and economic activity, one which threatens the dignity of the human person."

When Pope Francis points to the present world economic situation's deficiencies, he "does not mince words," Cardinal Parolin told the conference. In "The Joy of the Gospel," for example, the pope states that, "just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'Thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality" in which "masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

The pope's aim in such comments is not "to condemn or promote any one economic system," the secretary of state said. Instead, the pope's "farsighted aim" is "to stir consciences and to call for renewed attention to man, to human beings, who cannot be reduced to mere pawns of the market, means of production or consumers, or both."

True enough, the cardinal added, "such renewed attention would necessarily lead to a rethinking of the foundations of economic theory."

Cardinal Parolin observed that Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis, "using very similar words, warn that the problems of development and the just regulation of the economy remain insoluble without a holistic vision of the human person and a commitment to constant and coherent moral standards firmly grounded in the natural law and the pursuit of the common good."

But "conversion of mind and heart" is essential "if economic activity as a whole is to be genuinely directed to integral human development," the cardinal stated.