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April 27, 2015

Violent extremism and the young -
True purpose of funeral liturgies -
Growing number of migrants lost at sea -
War's brutal consequences for women

In this edition:
1. Migrants lost at sea.
2. Consequences of war for women.
3. Why dialogue with Muslims now?
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Mission today: sent and received.
b) Violent extremism and the young.
5. Question to ask: capital punishment.
6. Real purpose of funeral liturgies.
7. Religious life: quantity and quality.

1. Funeral for Migrants Who Drowned at Sea

Speaking only hours after reports surfaced April 19 that upward of 700 migrants may have drowned in the Mediterranean when a boat carrying them from Libya to Europe capsized in Sicilian waters, Pope Francis told thousands who gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Sunday Angelus that these were "men and women like us." They were "hungry, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of wars, seeking a better life. They were looking for happiness."

Pope Francis expressed concern a day earlier to Italian President Sergio Mattarella over the continuing wave of migrants setting off from North Africa, often in overcrowded, unsafe fishing boats, hoping to arrive in Italy and then make their way to other European lands.

The pope thanked Italy for assisting migrants who risk their lives and ask to be welcomed. But, he said, "it is obvious the phenomenon's extent requires a much broader involvement." Thus, "we must never tire of requesting a commitment that extends to a European and international level."

Italy's coast guard reported late April 19 that 28 survivors were rescued and 24 bodies recovered. One survivor at that time told authorities that their smugglers locked hundreds of people in the hold. That gave rise to fears that as many as 950 people may have been aboard.

During an April 23 interfaith funeral in Malta for 24 migrants lost in this tragedy, Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo said, "We are in the presence of 24 unidentified, dead human bodies, but we know that many more, hundreds, lay in the great graveyard" that the Mediterranean has become.

Leading the service alongside a local imam, Mohammed El Sadi, Bishop Grech commented that while the names of these 24 persons were not known, it is known "they were escaping from a desperate situation, trying to find freedom and a better life."

He added, "Deep inside, irrespective of our creed, culture, nationality, race, we know that they are our fellow human beings."

Faced with a dramatic situation like this, Bishop Grech said, some might resort to "reading out the law as to who is responsible for what and who should take care of the great influx of migrants arriving on our shores." However, he continued:

"We are reminded that the way of the law is not enough to tackle humanitarian emergencies. We can continue to read out the laws as the lawyer, but that is not enough. The way of the law, the way of justice, should open itself to the way of love."

If the significance of this "epochal moment" is missed "by choosing not to stop and hear the cry of our brothers and sisters desperately seeking refuge," then the entire situation will represent what "Pope Francis calls the globalization of indifference," said the bishop.

2. War's Brutal Consequences for Women

"Women are not spared any of the brutal consequences of war," and they are "subject to uniquely degrading and traumatizing attacks" with long-term consequences, Archbishop Bernardito Auza said April 15 in New York during a U.N. Security Council debate on women, peace and security. The archbishop is the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations.

He called it "only just and reasonable" that women's voices "be present and influential in the work of preventing and resolving violence and war." He said:

"It has been observed many times at this body, and it is true, that women are not only victims but also necessary agents and contributors in the work of preventing and resolving conflicts. Without their contributions, government, negotiators and civil society groups can neither understand the problems nor propose effective solutions."

It is important that every U.N. member state continue "the steady and patient work of achieving structural justice for women in every sector of society," he urged. He said, "A proper vision of women's roles in society and an integration of women in every social sector are crucial aspects of the prevention of violence."

Archbishop Auza noted that "it is well documented that sexual violence of many kinds accompanies modern warfare." Furthermore -- and "we all know the awful litany," he stated -- women "are raped and trafficked, forced into prostitution to earn a living, and terrorized individually and in their roles as protectors of their children and other vulnerable family members."

He labeled all violence against human life "terrible," while also pointing out that "sexual violence is intended to debase, dehumanize, demoralize," and to do so in a way that is unique. Furthermore, the physical and psychological consequences of this violence "are profound and long-lasting."

The past year, Archbishop Auza said, has been notable for its "new and ongoing atrocities involving sexual violence in various conflicts and by groups such as Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)." And some attacks are perpetrated "purely because of the faith" the women profess, he made clear.

He told the Security Council that while "this is of very serious concern today for Christians," it surely is a matter, as well, "where our shared human nature, across all religions and cultures, cries out for common commitment of members of all faiths and governments strongly to condemn and confront such heinous acts and to step forward to protect those threatened."

3. Why Dialogue With Muslims Now?

Should dialogue with Muslims be promoted by Christians today? Recent events in the Middle East and several African nations involving the killing by Islamic extremists not only of other Muslims but also of large numbers of Christians is prompting some to question such dialogue.

But the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue insisted in an April 22 declaration that there indeed is a place for dialogue with Muslims now. In fact, said the council, this dialogue is needed "more than ever."

One factor to consider, the council suggested, is that "the great majority of Muslims themselves do not identify with the current acts of barbarism." Another factor worth considering is that "continuing to engage in dialogue, even when experiencing persecution, can become a sign of hope."

For believers, the goal of dialogue is not "to impose their vision of humanity and of history" on others. Rather, the goal is to foster "respect for differences, freedom of thought and religion, the protection of human dignity and love for truth," the council explained.

It is unfortunate today that religion often is associated with violence, the council said. In light of this, "believers must demonstrate that religions are required to be heralds of peace and not violence," it added.

The council fears the risk in the current atmosphere that hatred, violence and terrorism will increase, along with the "stigmatization of Muslims and their religion." It believes what is essential in such a context is "to strengthen fraternity and dialogue."

In response to this risk, the council urged the church's people to "have the courage to review the quality of family life, the methods of teaching religion and history, and the content of sermons in our places of worship."

The council encouraged believers to serve as agents of peace. "Believers have formidable potential for peace if we believe that man was created by God and that humanity is a single family," the council said. This is even more true, it suggested, "if we believe, as we Christians do, that God is love."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Mission, Both Sending and Receiving: "The mission of bringing the Gospel to peoples requires understanding their worlds through Christ-like solidarity aided by social, cultural and anthropological studies. But as we missionaries go to these worlds, we witness these same worlds coming to us as well. Peoples or nations are in constant movement. Migrants, refugees, displaced peoples, social media, digital technology, etc. have blurred boundaries. There is no exclusively missionary sending church, as there is no exclusively missionary receiving church. Only God sends. God comes as well. We are all sent. All of us receive. Bishops and clergy need to understand the new worlds they are sent to and that are coming to their worlds. Experiential learning and compassionate understanding are needed as we enter into the increasingly complex and ambiguous phenomena we face." (Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, speaking during an April 21-23 evangelization conference at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.)

Recruitment of the Young by Violent Extremism: "Young people around the world can use the Internet and social media to enter into contact, make friends and learn about the great cultures and traditions of other people in every corner of the world. Unfortunately, these great technological advances can also be manipulated to spread messages of hate and violence. . . . A fundamental step in addressing the radicalization of young people is to work with and support the family in its efforts to educate children and young people in the values of dialogue and respect for others, to make them better equipped to resist what appear at first as attractive calls to a 'higher cause' and to 'adventure' with extremist groups. . . . In our fight against extremist ideologies and in our efforts to promote a culture of peace, young people themselves are a most precious resource. We can counter extremist recruiters by promoting voices that are trusted and respected among their peers in the very platforms they use to recruit new members, like the social media. Faith leaders and organizations must condemn messages of hate in the name of religion and provide young people with the religious formation that fosters understanding and respect between peoples of different faiths. People of faith have a grave responsibility to condemn those who seek to detach faith from reason and to instrumentalize faith as a justification for violence." (From an April 23 intervention before the U.N. Security Council by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations.)

5. Capital Punishment: A Question to Ask

When the U.S. state of Georgia postponed the execution of a woman on death row over concerns about what drugs to use in the procedure, it provided "another opportunity for us to step back and ask some far more significant questions regarding this subject," Atlanta's Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in an April 1 column in the Georgia Bulletin newspaper.

He asked, "Rather than simply being concerned about the means of taking a life, should we not be more concerned about whether we should be taking any life at all?"

Archbishop Gregory noted that "throughout human history people have been thrown to wild animals; burned alive; weighted down and then thrown into some watery abyss; hanged, drawn and quartered; or guillotined -- all as public reminders that certain behavior was not to be tolerated."

But he said that "in more modern times we have developed other means of taking a human life: We electrocute people, gas them, shoot them or lethally drug them," and "civilized sensibilities consider these methods more 'humane.'"

However, "the simple truth is that while the means and methods of taking a human life may appear to be less barbaric and perhaps even less painful" today, these methods all "beg the question of whether we ought to be taking a life at all."

Civil authorities, the archbishop remarked, defend capital punishment "as an expression of restorative justice. Individuals who have committed horrible crimes must pay the debt for their actions." And "families who have regrettably suffered the loss of a beloved member sometimes may request the death of the perpetrator as a way to bring some sense of closure to their sorrow and loss, although even in the wake of the death of the perpetrator, the deep sorrow and the loss of a loved one still linger in their hearts."

There are some, too, who "suggest that capital punishment is an effective deterrent to further criminal behavior." But "research is at best inconclusive as to the deterrent effectiveness of capital punishment," Archbishop Gregory wrote.

He pointed out too that "recently, the use of DNA materials has served to bring about the reversal of a number of criminal convictions, sometimes after many years have elapsed since the court's decision." But "capital punishment eliminates that possibility." It becomes "impossible to restore a life that has been lost to the death penalty, even if new evidence might later reverse the court's decision."

Recent popes, "with increasing unanimity and intensifying force, … have voiced their denunciation of capital punishment," the archbishop wrote. Pope Francis, he said, "has most recently described capital punishment as an admission of the failure of civil justice."

There is only one instance of the use of capital punishment down through the ages "that was truly salvific, beneficial, restorative and unique," Archbishop Gregory said, and it took place "on Calvary."

6. What Funeral Liturgies Are About

"We will hear in these days . . . many well-deserved, laudatory words about" the life and ministry of Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a homily during the wake for the cardinal, who died April 17. "But our Catholic tradition hesitates to let the past dominate these days of funeral liturgies," Archbishop Cupich remarked.

Cardinal George retired last September as Chicago's archbishop. He died after a nearly 10-year battle with cancer. He was 78.

The cardinal was "a man of peace, tenacity and courage," Archbishop Cupich said in a statement announcing the death. He noted that the cardinal overcame many obstacles to become a priest, "not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal for bringing the promise of Christ's love where it was needed most." A childhood bout with polio left him with a weakened leg and a pronounced limp throughout life.

Archbishop Cupich focused at the wake on how the church views the purpose of its services for a deceased person. He recalled the cardinal's "scholarship and razor-sharp, incisive mind, his leadership in this country and abroad, his tenacity and courage in the face of great suffering and disability."

All of this merits "our great admiration and respect," the archbishop said. Still, to allow the past to dominate this present moment would, in the church's eyes, be "short-sighted, so unequal to the totally other reality taking place."

The archbishop stressed that "our funerals are not celebrations of one's life, a nostalgic return to past glories. Rather, they focus on the risen Christ presently active in our midst, whose power at work in us is able to accomplish far more than we ask and far more that we can imagine."

Consolation comes of knowing at this time "that we participate in and contribute to Christ's redeeming work," he said. "What we do in these days is at the heart of the church's life and mission."

He called attention to a symbolic action to take place on the day of the funeral when priests ordained recently would carry the cardinal's body from Chicago's cathedral to his grave. Addressing priests and seminarians, the archbishop said:

"So, too, we must carry each other, care for each other, not as a group closed in on itself for mutual self-preservation but as a witness to those we serve so that they do the same for others."

Archbishop Cupich spoke of this as "a call to accompany each other in moments of darkness, loss and death." He added, "In this way, we are faithful to the vision of the church entrusted to us by our ancestors in the faith, by the council and by the shepherd, Francis, whom we accompany to the Lord in these days."

What is more, he continued, "with the Year of Mercy before us [the holy year beginning Dec. 8], what we do together in these days in caring for the dead anticipates all that the Holy Father urges us to do in taking up with fresh vigor the corporal works of mercy."

7. Religious Life: Quantity and Quality

A set of beatitudes for those in religious orders who help to form new members for life in their institutes was issued April 11 at the conclusion of a conference sponsored in Rome by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Blessed are those who "know how to wait" for "the good seed" to mature, without "force or guile," one beatitude stated.

Another beatitude described novice directors as "blessed" when they pursue the "divine plan" for each novice without imposing their "personal points of view or the interests of the institute," since in this way all "can be themselves" according to God's plan.

Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who heads the congregation, issued the beatitudes in a concluding text of the conference that also listed priorities for formation directors. A Catholic News Service report said his text urged them to:
  • Transmit joy to those in formation.
  • Accent formation of the heart and not simply behaviors.
  • Tend to their own continuing formation.
  • Not expect novices to live what they do not themselves live.
  • Accompany young people in their growing knowledge of self and of their weaknesses.
  • Demonstrate God's love, in particular to those who abandon their formation.
  • Not be afraid to accompany young people along the path of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection.
Addressing some 1,300 religious order representatives who participated in the Rome conference, Pope Francis urged them to be concerned not only with the number of new members they receive - that is, with their quantity -- but with their quality.

A decrease in the number of religious order vocations makes the work of forming new candidates "all the more urgent," Pope Francis said. He called consecrated life "one of the most precious treasures of the church."

Those responsible for formation within religious orders need "a great heart for the young so as to form in them great hearts able to welcome everyone, rich in mercy," said the pope.

At the same time, he underscored the need on the part of formation staffs to remain not only lovingly attentive to each candidate but "evangelically demanding" in every phase of formation so that the "crisis of quantity might not produce a much graver crisis of quality."

Pope Francis said that those responsible for the work of formation must accompany new entrants to their institutes, but must also at times "accompany the exit" so that those who leave will "find a life path, with the necessary help."

He advised those in formation work to imitate God by developing the virtue of patience. The pope said: "God knows how to wait. You, too, must learn this attitude of patience, which many times is a little martyrdom."