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February 27, 2015

Parishes and new evangelization -
Understanding immigrants anew -
Voting for the common good -
Pope asks new cardinals to find God in the marginalized

In this edition:
1. Understanding immigrants anew.
2. Parishes and new evangelization.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Voting for the common good.
b) Politics and politicians.
c) Sexual violence in war.
4. Finding God in the marginalized.
5. Nationalism and cultures of exclusion.

1. Understanding Immigrants Anew

There is a tendency for some in the economically and technologically advanced West "to react to the immigrant and the poor with a kind of condescendence. Sometimes we spontaneously sermonize about how reckless [their] decisions are," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said in a Feb. 24 speech at the Catholic University of America in Washington on immigration and theology.

At times this "condescension shows itself in a kind of attitude that blames this recklessness on poor education or on pre-modern cultural perspectives on life," he commented. However, he stated, "the appropriate, spontaneous response should begin with a sense of amazement. We should be amazed that a 16-year-old has the self-possession to take responsibility for his life and try to cross the interior of Mexico in hopes of finding something better, be it in Mexico or in the United States."

During a September 2014 visit to Honduras, Bishop Flores met a 16-year-old boy who had "tried at least five times to get to the United States but had only gotten as far as San Luis Potosí, Mexico." The bishop said in his speech, "I know a lot of 16-year-olds who struggle to make a decision about whether to go to school in the morning."

Upon encountering "the immigrant in our midst, the first thing that we must see and acknowledge is the sovereignty and self-possession of the person in front of us," said Bishop Flores. Such people "are not robots whose reactions and judgments can be predicted infallibly by a computer model. They have taken possession over their own lives. They move not simply because their circumstances are no longer humanly bearable; they move because they are intelligent beings endowed with free will and self-movement."

There is, he said, "an unspeakably great dignity in this expression of self-possession." Thus, a "personal encounter with the immigrant begins with a profound respect for the person who has the wherewithal to make such decisions."

In encountering the immigrant there is "something profound that we need to learn. Perhaps the better term is 'remember,'" Bishop Flores explained. He said, "We need to remember what it can be like to risk losing everything, even life, for the sake of a hope that there can be something better." The bishop made the following point:

"However reckless we may think it is for someone to start down a road that starts in Honduras and will lead to only God knows where, [the fact] that their hope is strong enough to move them to act is . . . something of a 'mirabile visu,' a wonder to behold."

Bishop Flores asked what an immigrant can teach others. "To start with, he or she can remind us about the true goods of life," the bishop said, "and he or she can remind us that seeking these goods and making excruciating decisions to attain them is the work of a robust human being."

He told his audience that "if there is a motion-less sickness in some quarters of the church, it is quite probably due to an impoverished perception of where the Christ to whom we must respond can actually be found. Either that or we no longer take seriously enough Matthew 25:31-46 (what you did for the least of mine, you did to me)." He added:

"Our own lethargy to attend to the good of others is put on trial when we encounter a person, young or old, who risks everything in hopes of something better."

2. How Parishes Practice New Evangelization

"The best way for a parish to attract people is to have a vibrant pastoral life," the Canadian Catholic bishops' doctrinal commission says in a reflection on the parish today and the goals of evangelization.

A parish's vibrant pastoral life "can be manifested in various ways, including the offer of information and assistance at the doors of the church before liturgies and parish events, flexible hours for parish services and the creation of a parish committee or organization focused on helping newcomers or those who have not been practicing regularly to know about the parish," the commission states.

In today's pluralist culture, it observes, "many have never heard the Gospel of Christ." Moreover, many baptized Catholics "no longer practice their faith and need to hear a fresh proclamation of that Gospel." The commission advises that "to carry out this proclamation, the parish community must be willing to step out into its neighborhood and into the wider society."

Parishes could "choose to organize new and creative programs of outreach, which could be as simple as inviting people to Mass or informing them of the services offered through the parish," the commission says, adding: "What is important, however, is that parishioners go out and bear witness to people outside of their parish community."

An important consideration is the reality that for many today, "including Catholics who no longer practice the faith," the church's "liturgy may seem foreign." The commission recommends that every effort be made "to assist them in fully understanding the liturgical symbols, actions and language so that they might grow toward a full, active and conscious participation in it."

In all of this the commission underscores the need for parishes and parishioners to connect with those "who have not yet responded to the good news or who no longer practice their Catholic faith" and to do so by "using everyday language" and inviting them, humbly, "to 'come and see' the Lord (Jn 1:46)."

Commenting on the parish's call to transmit faith, the Canadian commission states that "when parishes recognize their constant need for growing in faith, and embrace opportunities for formation and learning, they can also become more open to new and creative ways of" fulfilling this mission. "The transmission of the faith involves the gifts and genius of the local community," it says.

The commission also accents the need for a "continual evaluation of parish programs, testing them to see whether they are really helping the church in her mission of proclaiming Christ to the world."

If a parish "is to carry out its mission and be truly alive, it is necessary that all its members participate in its life," according to the Canadian commission. "The life of the parish does not rest on the shoulders of a few volunteers, but on all the baptized, whose gifts are essential to the parish's mission," it adds.

It notes that "when parishioners become closely involved in the life of the parish community, they themselves often become evangelized through the sharing of their own faith." (The Canadian commission's report appears in the Feb. 19 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

Voting for the Common Good: "We have become so used to believing that self-interest drives every decision that it takes a leap of imagination to argue that there should be stronger institutions for those we disagree with as well as for those 'on our side.' Breaking free of self-interest and welcoming our opponents as well as our supporters into a messy, noisy, yet rich and creative community of communities is, perhaps, the only way we will enrich our almost-moribund political culture." (From "Who Is My Neighbor," a February letter from the Church of England's House of Bishops on voting in Britain's May general election.)

Politics and Politicians: "Politics is a vital and necessary vocation. It carries important responsibilities not only for policy decisions but also for shaping the hopes and aspirations of people. Political leaders can choose to appeal to our sense of hope or of fear, to our desires to care for others or for ourselves and to our sense of solidarity or to our selfishness. We expect politicians to be committed to the common good. We also each have a responsibility to be involved in the democratic process. It is important that we vote. . . . In deciding how we vote, the question for each one of us is then: How, in the light of the Gospel, can my vote best serve the common good?" (From a Feb. 24 letter of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales on voting in Britain's May general election.)

Sexual Violence in Conflicts and War: "The horror of sexual violence used as a part of conflict and warfare literally defies description because of the radical and permanent damage done to the very essence, the personal sense of being, of its victims. It also defies description because of the numbers of its victims and the unbelievable spread of this evil in so many parts of our world. This horror defies description because it is not the random act of men who have, for a while, lost all sense of decency, but a deliberate and ordered tactic of oppression, domination, destruction. It is to humanity's shame that the systematic use of sexual violation is still, in some places, considered as a duty of soldiers, an order that they must carry out. It also defies description in that the stigma attached to sexual violation falls on the victim and not on the perpetrator. What terrible collusion is indicated by that fact? This public acceptance inverts the principles of human decency and reinforces so many other daily forms of oppression and of disregard for the moral standards which underlie mutual respect and the rights of the person." (From remarks Feb. 9 by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, to an interfaith conference in London on mobilizing faith communities to help end sexual violence in warfare.)

4. New Cardinals: Finding God in the Marginalized

"We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized," Pope Francis said to the 19 church leaders created cardinals during a Feb. 14 ceremony in Rome. One new cardinal, 95-year-old Colombian Cardinal Jose Pimiento Rodriguez, was unable to attend.

The pope urged the cardinals "to serve the church in such a way that Christians -- edified by our witness -- will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it." Speaking the day after the ceremony, the pope called upon the cardinals to:

"Serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated for whatever reason.

"See the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked.

"See the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists.

"See the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted.

"See the Lord in the leper -- whether in body or soul -- who encounters discrimination!"

Charity, the pope stressed to the cardinals, "cannot be neutral, antiseptic, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial." Rather, "charity is infectious, it excites, it risks, and it engages!" Charity, he said, "is creative in finding the right words to speak to all those considered incurable and hence untouchable."

The pope proposed a four-word "spiritual and pastoral program of life" in a Feb. 14 meditation on Christian love presented during the ceremony to create the new cardinals. St. Paul wrote that "love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things," and that statement contains these four pertinent words: "bears," "believes," "hopes" and "endures," the pope suggested. He explained:

"The love of Christ poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit enables us to live like this, to be like this: persons always ready to forgive; always ready to trust because we are full of faith in God; always ready to inspire hope because we ourselves are full of hope in God; persons ready to bear patiently every situation and each of our brothers and sisters in union with Christ, who bore with love the burden of our sins."

Pope Francis said that "in the church, all presiding flows from charity, must be exercised in charity and is ordered toward charity."

He insisted, moreover, that "those who abide in charity are not self-centered." Those who become self-centered, he cautioned, "inevitably become disrespectful." Often "they do not even notice this, since respect is precisely the ability to acknowledge others, to acknowledge their dignity, their condition, their needs."

A "self-centered person inevitably seeks his own interests" and considers this "normal, even necessary," said the pope. The self-centered person's interests "can even be cloaked in noble appearances, but underlying them all is always 'self-interest,'" he added. But charity "makes us draw back from the center in order to set ourselves in the real center, which is Christ."

Pope Francis emphasized to the new cardinals that "those called to the service of governance in the church need to have a strong sense of justice so that any form of injustice becomes unacceptable."

5. Rising Nationalism and Cultures of Exclusion

"Racist or xenophobic violence in word or deed is unacceptable from a moral and legal point of view," the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions said Feb. 18. The conference, representing a network of justice and peace commissions in Europe established by their respective national conferences of bishops, expressed its profound concern that recent elections throughout Europe appeared to signal a "rise of parties advocating the supremacy of narrow national interests over universal human values."

The conference called on political leaders at all levels "to join ranks in developing a robust response to growing racism and xenophobia in Europe."

While the conference acknowledged that there are "good arguments for being attached" to one's country and taking pride in its culture, it added that "what concerns us is an increasing tendency to seek popularity and power through simplistic political programs and slogans based on the idea that prosperity and security can only be achieved by unilateral national measures" -- even measures harmful to other peoples.

This "nationalism of exclusion," the conference said, "is contrary to the value of human dignity." The reason it denies justice to others is that "it defines fundamental rights on the basis of national, racial or religious origin."

The conference pointed to "the issue of migration" as a pertinent example of its concerns. Tensions surrounding this issue, obviously, are not confined to Europe, and here the conference's concerns resemble concerns in the Americas and elsewhere.

Migration was singled out as an example of an issue where some "look for a single, simple solution to the complex realities of life." In the process, the conference said, "a tendency to ignore realities" comes into play.

The conference called migration "the foundation of the existence of humankind." Today, added to "the historic causes of migration such as demographic pressures and political/religious conflict, we must now add climate change," it said.

These are pressures that "will continue and in some circumstances will increase," the conference insisted. Moreover, it observed, "rapidly aging societies in Europe face a growing shortage of labor."

To ignore such realities and "to seek to stop the flow of migrants by a complete closure of borders is both unrealistic and inhumane," the conference believes, adding that "other solutions should be developed" both in Europe and internationally.