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June 11, 2015

Archbishop Romero beatified -
Actions to promote interracial peace, justice -
How a culture is built -
Become bridge builders, Sarajevo youths urged

In this edition:
1. Action for interracial justice.
2. Sorrowful history of racial injustice.
3. Christians as communicators.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Blessed Oscar Romero.
b) Dorothy Day's legacy.
c) Jesus as a healer.
5. Lay ecclesial ministry, 2005-2015.
6. Build bridges, Sarajevo youths urged.
7. How a culture is built.
8. Encyclical's release anticipated.

1. Action for Interracial Peace and Justice

The Catholic community "can commit to ending racism and promoting peace, justice and respect for all persons," by:
  • Making "a sincere effort to encounter more fully people of different racial backgrounds with whom we live, work and minister."

  • Pursuing "ways in which Catholic parishes and neighborhoods can be truly welcoming of families of different racial and religious backgrounds."
Those were among recommendations made June 10 by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. On the opening day of the U.S. bishops' spring meeting, held in St. Louis, he issued a statement, approved by the bishops, calling for action to improve race relations in the United States.

Notably, each of the U.S. bishops' two 2015 national meetings takes place in a location associated over the course of recent months with profound racial tensions.

"Gathering here in the city of St. Louis, so near to Ferguson, and looking ahead to Baltimore in November, I cannot help but think of recent events that have taken place around our beloved country," Archbishop Kurtz wrote. He said:

"We mourn those tragic events in which African Americans and others have lost their lives in altercations with law enforcement officials. These deaths have led to peaceful demonstrations, as well as violent conflicts in the streets of our cities."

The location of the bishops' spring meeting was significant for another reason, the archbishop noted. It was in St. Louis, he recalled, that Cardinal Joseph Ritter in 1947 "integrated Catholic schools well before the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education." This "shows that the Catholic Church can be at the forefront of promoting justice in racial tensions. It is time for us to do it again," Archbishop Kurtz said.

Three more concrete steps that the Catholic community can take toward racial justice were recommended by Archbishop Kurtz:
  • Praying "for peace and healing among all people."

  • Studying "the word of God and the social teaching of the church in order to gain a deeper appreciation of the dignity of all persons."

  • Getting "to know our local law enforcement officers," letting "them know of our support and gratitude" and encouraging "young people to respect all legitimate authority."

2. Racial Injustice's Sorrowful History

The racial tension witnessed in the United States today "is not something new," Archbishop Kurtz wrote. Rather, "it is the most recent manifestation of a relationship as old as" the nation, a relationship "marred by the tragedy of human slavery."

He commented that "a violent, sorrowful history of racial injustice, accompanied by a lack of educational, employment and housing opportunities, has destroyed communities and broken down families, especially those who live in distressed urban communities." The "only way forward," he stressed, is to promote "peace and reconciliation."

"Sadly," he observed, "there is all too often an alienation of communities from those sworn to protect them." He respects "the sacrifices made by police officers throughout the nation, who in their daily work are placed in harm's way," he said. He added: "Let us pray that they suffer no harm as they carry out their duties and that they always be guided in good and right action as they serve."

The archbishop called attention to the U.S. bishops' 1979 pastoral letter, "Brothers and Sisters to Us." It "named racial prejudice as a grave sin that denies the truth and meaning of the incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ," he recalled.

"Unfortunately," the archbishop added, the words of the 1979 letter "still ring true: 'Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our church.'"

The bishops in 1979 "called for decisive action to eradicate racism from society, and considerable progress has been made" since then, he said. But, he added, "more must be done. Let us again call upon our Catholic people to pray frequently in their homes and in their churches for the cause of peace and racial reconciliation."

3. Christians Must Be Communicators

Communication is basic to the church's life and the lives of every church member, according to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. In a June 7 homily, the archbishop of Dublin, Ireland, said:

"Christians are people with a message. We are not, however, people with an ideology. Faith is not about the repetition of formulas. It is about our relationship with a person whose life is the source of our message and about journeying through life ever seeking to find the language and the wisdom which will enable us to understand more deeply the action of God's love within us."

The archbishop selected communication as his homily topic for a Mass in Dublin's cathedral celebrating the 175th anniversary of The Tablet, the weekly Catholic publication now published in London, but which for several years in the mid-19th century was published in Ireland.

Communication and the formation of community are closely related, according to Archbishop Martin. For Christians the call to serve as communicators is also a call to form community within the church and within society. In this regard his homily rejected the use of divisive language.

Public opinion in the church represents a challenge, he said. He acknowledged that in efforts to form public opinion as well as to hear it, "our message always remains that of the integral deposit of the faith." At the same time, he suggested, efforts to address public opinion in the church have "nothing to do with the dogmatism of the right or of the left" and "nothing to do with the superficiality, shallow and cynical scraping-up of the destructive negativity of tabloidism."

Rather, he said, we "must never build up a language of fear but a language of the hope and gentleness that must always accompany faith in Jesus Christ."

Thinking about public opinion in the church "challenges us to reflect on the language we use to present the integral message of Jesus and what vision of the church our language represents," said Archbishop Martin.

The language needed is that of "dialogue, of sensitivity and of openness," he added. "It must be the language of seeking to understand and to enter more deeply into the mystery of faith. It may at times be a tentative, enquiring and questioning language, and not a language of false certitude."

"The history of salvation is a history of the communication of God with man," the archbishop said. Thus, communication "belongs to the very essence of the church."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Beatification of Archbishop Romero: "Blessed [Oscar] Romero is another brilliant star that belongs to the sanctity of the church of the Americas. . . . And thanks be to God, there are many." Those who persecuted the archbishop are now in obscurity, but "the memory of Romero continues to live in the poor and the marginalized." Archbishop Romero's option for the poor "was not ideological but evangelical. His charity was also toward the persecutors, to whom he preached conversion to the good and to whom he assured forgiveness, despite everything." He was not a "symbol of division, but of peace, harmony, brotherhood." (Quotes from the homily by Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, given May 23 during the beatification in San Salvador, El Salvador, of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered in 1980 while celebrating the Eucharist. In February Pope Francis declared the archbishop a martyr.)

Dorothy Day's Legacy: "I believe that what [Dorothy Day] has left us -- the legacy of her writings and her life -- is a saint's vision of our times and our society. . . . She sought Christ's face among those living in the margins and dark corners of society -- in the poor and discarded, the lonely and forgotten. . . . I don't know if Dorothy Day is a saint. But she has left us a beautiful legacy. It's a legacy that we need to keep studying, reflecting on and praying about. But she has shown us the way -- the way to follow God in a world that has forgotten him." (From an address by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez to a May 13-15 conference on Dorothy Day held at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. Day, who died in 1980, co-founded the Catholic Worker movement. The U.S. bishops endorsed her sainthood cause in 2012.)

Jesus, What Kind of Healer? "Throughout the Gospels we hear accounts of Jesus' healing ministry. In Matthew's Gospel he heals a woman suffering hemorrhages. In Mark, he gives sight to people who were blind and enables those who were deaf to hear. . . . . However, the healing that Jesus practiced goes beyond caring only for physical afflictions. He touched people at the deepest level of their being. We are spiritual as well as physical beings, and so the Lord was -- and is -- also a source of mental and spiritual healing. The Gospels tell of Jesus healing the heart of the Samaritan woman at the well. He cured Mary Magdalene and others who were beset by various spiritual maladies. He gave comfort to those who were weary and found life burdensome." (From the June 7 homily of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl during a Mass opening the Catholic Health Association assembly in Washington.)

5. Lay Ecclesial Ministry, 2005 to 2015

The number of lay ecclesial ministers in the United States grew greatly over the course of the past 10 years, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, noted in an address to the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Summit held June 7-8 in St. Louis. Summit participants reflected on the document about lay ecclesial ministry issued by the U.S. bishops 10 years ago, titled "Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord."

With the growing immigrant population in the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, the need for lay ministers has intensified, the cardinal remarked. According to a June 9 Catholic News Service report, he said that the archdiocese has at least eight parishes with more than 6,000 members; four with more than 10,000 members.

These parishes, he said, may have only two priests, but six or seven permanent deacons and a staff of 50 to 60 lay ministers. "For us, lay ecclesial ministers are extremely important," he said.

"We need incredibly well-trained lay ecclesial ministers to discern what is happening when the margins are at your doors," the cardinal said.

He pointed to the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults as one area where the work of lay ministers is needed in the archdiocese. Each of the past several years witnessed nearly 2,400 people coming into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, 2,000 of whom were not previously baptized, he said.

Lay ministers are needed to fulfill roles in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, as well as RCIA adapted for children, he pointed out.

Cardinal DiNardo called the bishops' 2005 statement a "watershed document" involving the coresponsibility of bishops and laity in the church's evangelization mission.

In "Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord," their 2005 document, the U.S. bishops affirmed that "the same God who called Prisca and Aquila to work with Paul in the first century calls thousands of men and women to minister in our church in this 21st century. This call is a cause for rejoicing."

The bishops said that "for several decades and in growing numbers, lay men and women have been undertaking a wide variety of roles in church ministries. Many of these roles presume a significant degree of preparation, formation and professional competence."

The document spoke at length about formation for lay ecclesial ministers, urging that lay ministers be provided the formation they need. "Lay ecclesial ministers, just like the ordained, need and deserve formation of high standards, effective methods and comprehensive goals," the document stated.

The bishops' 2005 document expressed their "strong desire for the fruitful collaboration of ordained and lay ministers, who in distinct but complementary ways continue in the church the saving mission of Christ for the world, his vineyard."

6. Build Bridges, Pope Urges Sarajevo Youths

During his June 8 visit to the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Pope Francis met with young people of differing religions and ethnic backgrounds who serve as volunteers at the Sarajevo Archdiocese's youth center. The pope's visit came 20 years after the end of three years of warfare and ethnic cleansing in that region.

More than 100,000 people died and millions were displaced during the 1992-1995 war, an ethnically based conflict. Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina still is divided largely along ethnic lines, Catholic News Service reported at the time of the pope's visit. That report added:

"Bosnians make up 48 percent of the country's nearly 4 million people, while Serbs make up 37 percent and Croats 14 percent. About 40 percent of all citizens are Muslim, 31 percent Orthodox and 15 percent Catholic."

People always speak of peace," Pope Francis said to the youths. But he cautioned that "some world leaders speak of peace and say beautiful things about peace, but behind it all they still sell weapons." The pope added:

"From you, I expect honesty, coherence between what you think, what you feel and what you do: These three things together. The contrary is called hypocrisy."

Pope Francis told the youths he addressed that he could see that they "do not want destruction" and "do not want to become each other's enemies." Instead, he said, "you want to journey together. And this is great!"

Today "it is not a case of 'them and us,' but rather of 'we,'" the pope stated. "We want to be 'us,' to not destroy our homeland, to not ruin our country." Thus, he said, while "you are a Muslim, you are a Jew, you are Orthodox, you are Catholic," it remains the case that "we are 'us.'"

Pope Francis added that "this is how to make peace. This distinguishes your generation." The young people of Bosnia-Herzegovina are "called to great things." It is their vocation to "build bridges, not walls."

Pope Francis told the youths that some years ago he viewed a war film depicting the importance of bridges. He saw in the film "how bridges always unite. When a bridge is not used to go toward another person, but is closed off, it leads to the ruin of a city, the destruction of existence."

He said to the youths, "From you, from this first post-war generation, I expect honesty and not hypocrisy. Be united, build bridges, but also let yourselves cross the bridges that you build. This is brotherhood."

To be young, Pope Francis commented in his written text for the youths (which he did not read to them), "does not mean being passive, but rather means being tenacious in your efforts to achieve important goals, even if this comes at a price." He added:

"Being young does not mean closing your eyes to difficulties. Instead, it requires a refusal to compromise or be mediocre. It does not mean escaping or fleeing, but engaging rather in solidarity with everyone, especially the weakest."

The church counts on the young, he said, "and will continue to count on you who are generous and capable of great energy and noble sacrifices." He exhorted the youths not to isolate themselves but rather to be "ever more united" in order to "enjoy the beauty of fraternity and be always more fruitful in [their] actions."

7. Understanding How Culture Is Built

"If families and schools do not teach the more basic excellence of relating generously with one another, then neither will the wider cultures to which we belong," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said May 29 when he spoke to the first graduating class of Juan Diego Academy in Mission, Texas.

That, he said, "is why the church must invest her best efforts" on behalf of the family and schools. Christ "asks us to affect the culture for the better, to make the culture of human relating more humane, more merciful, more compassionate."

National and local cultures can be "understood as environmental conditions affecting the quality of human relations," the bishop explained. These cultures, he insisted, "are fed by the streams of water that flow from the human environment of the family and school cultures" to which we belong.

The first culture people come to know "is our immediate family culture," Bishop Flores said. "All the other more national cultures reach us through" the family's culture.

Family culture is invaluable because through it "we are received into the world of human living," he observed. He acknowledged that "no family culture is perfect"'; in fact, "it can be largely affirming and joyful or it can be the opposite."

But "family culture is where we learn, or not, what it is like to be loved and cared for" and "for no other reason than that we are here, and our families are glad we are here," he said.

Bishop Flores shared his conviction that "human abilities to relate well to others get off to a good or a bad start first in a family culture."

Pointing to "the second great cultural world we encounter," he spoke of the culture in a school. "Here is where we learn how to be received and how to receive others into a community where what it means to belong is less clear," he said.

A school's culture "can be cliquish or it can be hospitable to newcomers; it can be self-centered or it can be service centered," the bishop explained. It also "can be energetic or lethargic. It can consciously try to uphold a high standard of excellence or it can barely skim above mediocrity. It can feed envy and jealousy or it can promote gratitude and respect for the good in others."

The bishop noted that the graduates now would be moving on to new places where they would, for the most part, enter "cultures already established." He advised them:

"If your next chapter leads you to a place that is cliquish, you can make it less so. Or if you go to a place where honesty and generosity are lacking, you can make these virtues more present in the environment you find yourself in."

Furthermore, he said, "if you go to a place where competition and getting what you want at any cost is the atmosphere you breathe, you can affect the culture by being who you are, a man or woman of integrity, mercy and compassion."

The task of creating a good culture "entails putting people before things and putting God before all else," said Bishop Flores. He urged the graduates to "show that the world, as God intends it, is not just for the strong, it is home also to the weak, the poor, the children and the old."

Thus, he urged, "be someone who shows gracious hospitality to everyone, and not just the strong and those favored by the powerful." That, he said, is the way to "take what you were given at home and at school, and make the environment of human relations better."

8. Encyclical on Environment's Coming Release

One week from the time I write this, Pope Francis is expected to release his long-awaited encyclical on the environment. Thus, the next edition of this online newsletter will be devoted to covering the encyclical in detail.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation based in Toronto, Ontario, looked ahead in early June to the encyclical, writing that "from the beginning" of his pontificate, Pope Francis made clear "that his choice of his papal name after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, was indicative of his concern for the environment."

In this pope's "inaugural Mass homily," Father Rosica pointed out, "he called on everyone to be 'protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.'"

Pope Francis "links human ecology with environmental ecology," Father Rosica explained. In this context, he noted that the pope strongly challenges people "to rethink the culture of waste and to oppose a lack of ethics in economy and finance." The pope has said:

"I would like us all to make a serious commitment to respect and protect creation" and "to be attentive to every person, to counter the culture of waste," as well as "to promote a culture of solidarity" - a culture of living alongside others as opposed to a culture of individualism.

Perhaps those observations provide some clues to the direction the new encyclical will take. But watch in the next edition of this newsletter for a full discussion of the encyclical's message.