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September 11, 2015

Responding to Europe's refugee crisis -
Parishes host refugee families -
Pope simplifies annulments -
Intimate bond of doctrine and pastoral ministry

In this edition:
1. Migrants flow into Europe.
2. The refugee crisis of our times.
3. Responses to refugee crisis.
4. Following the pope's lead.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Refugees who are Muslim.
b) Ecology and the poor.
c) Ecological spirituality.
6. Doctrine and pastoral action.
7. Pope simplifies annulments.

1. Massive Flow of Migrants Into Europe

A massive flow into Europe of people arriving mainly from Syria and nations like Afghanistan and Iraq -- the majority of whom were Muslims -- created a crisis, the kind of crisis that arises from different assessments of a situation, from not knowing how to respond to it and being unprepared for it.

Pope Francis responded to the crisis by asking parishes and other church institutions in Europe to host migrant families.

In remarks after the Sunday Angelus Sept. 6, the pope appealed to "parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines throughout Europe to express the concreteness of the Gospel and to welcome a family of refugees." Doing so, he said, would be "a concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy" that begins in the church Dec. 8.

"May every parish, every religious community, every monastery and every shrine in Europe host a family, starting with my diocese of Rome," he exhorted. He announced that the Vatican's two parishes - St. Peter's Basilica and St. Anne Church - "will also welcome two families of refugees."

The Vatican reported that the two parishes will help find employment for the head of each household they host. Moreover, at the pope's wish, the families will be housed near the Vatican to assure that their medical care is guaranteed by Vatican City State and does not fall to the Italian government.

Some voices in the debate surrounding the arriving migrants asked whether they truly should be called refugees, people fleeing conflict or disaster, perhaps out of fear for themselves and for their families.

Pope Francis did not hesitate to speak of them as refugees. He described them as people fleeing "death from war or hunger" by undertaking "a journey toward the hope of life."

The Gospel, he said, "calls to us and asks us to be close to them, to the smallest and the abandoned; to give them real hope -- not merely to say, 'Be brave, be patient.'" For, he insisted, "Christian hope is assertive, with the tenacity of those who go toward a certain destination."

2. The Refugee Crisis of Our Times

Commenting on the current European refugee crisis, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said: "We do have a responsibility to care for people in flight, in danger, in risk of their lives. We ought not to close our doors on refugees, but rather welcome those in desperate need."

In his weekly online memo to the diocese Sept. 8, Bishop Kicanas called attention to "dreadful pictures of people suffering and dying seeking safety." He asked: "How tragic was the drowning of the two Syrian brothers and their mother last week? The boys and their parents had sought to make it to a place of safety."

It is said, Bishop Kicanas wrote, "that the world today faces the largest refugee crisis since the world wars and maybe even a greater crisis than ever before." He noted that "4 million people have fled Syria alone, where that country's civil war continues to rage. Likewise, large numbers of refugees have fled Iraq and many more have fled many countries in Africa."

Europe, Bishop Kicanas commented, "finds itself overwhelmed and struggling to meet the crisis." Some countries, he said, "want to turn back the refugees, keep them out. Other countries like Germany understand that there are many in desperate need."

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, agreed that "today's world is experiencing unusual migration shifts." He said Sept. 3 in his blog on the diocesan website that "for a long time Europe has experienced population equilibrium. That equilibrium includes not only space, but race, ethnicity and religion."

Recent migrations already had "raised concerns about threats to that equilibrium," Bishop Farrell said. "A similar threat was seen with the great migration of Europeans to the United States in the 19th century," he wrote. "When Germans and Irish arrived in great numbers" in America, they "were perceived as possessing values incompatible with the American dream."

Pope Francis and others recognize the current situation in Europe "as a humanitarian crisis that must be handled with compassion and mercy, but others see the movement as an onslaught and an attack on their 'way of life,' and would enact draconian measures to stem the flow," said Bishop Farrell.

It is unfortunate, he wrote, that "the radical voices generating fear and contempt see the refugees not as suffering human beings but as an undesirable commodity to be dispatched with by any means possible."

3. Responding to the European Crisis

"A combination of desperation and hope is leading growing numbers of Syrians to attempt the extremely perilous journey toward Europe," according to Kim Pozniak, communications officer for Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

CRS was "scaling up its response to the alarming crisis in the Balkans, where thousands of Syrian refugees and other migrants are arriving every day in hopes of reaching the European Union," Pozniak wrote Sept. 1.

The U.S. should take the lead in "concerted diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Syria," CRS believes. Bill O'Keefe, CRS vice president for government relations and advocacy, said that "many Syrians have given up hope of returning home any time soon."

He added that "countries such as Jordan and Lebanon that have opened their doors to Syrian and Iraqi refugees are simply out of resources. And many countries in southern Europe are not prepared to meet the growing needs of those moving onward."

Balkan nations "like Macedonia and Serbia are struggling under the pressure" of so many people arriving there, according to Dino Mujanovic, a CRS program manager in Serbia. "Our Balkan countries have not seen a humanitarian crisis of this scale since our wars in the 1990s, and we need a great deal of aid to respond," Mujanovic said.

4. Following the Pope's Lead

Scenes of refugees fleeing to Europe from Syria and other regions of conflict "should remind European leaders of the urgent need to stop the war in Syria," the international development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, known as Trocaire, said Sept. 10.

Trocaire welcomed the Irish government's decision to accept 4,000 of the refugees. Eamonn Meehan, Trocaire's executive director, said that an "outpouring of generosity and compassion from the public has been remarkable" in Ireland and reveals that communities throughout the nation "will welcome these refugees and help them settle."

Meehan said, "It will be important that they are fully integrated into our schools, our sports clubs and our society generally."

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged "all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive."

In a Sept. 10 statement, Archbishop Kurtz said that "regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons -- made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity and deserving our respect and care, and protection by law from persecution."

He encouraged "the U.S. government to assist more robustly the nations of Europe and the Middle East in protecting and supporting these refugees and in helping to end this horrific conflict, so refugees may return home in safety." He added:

"The Catholic Church in the United States -- with nearly 100 Catholic Charities agencies and hundreds of parishes assisting refugees to this country each year, and with Catholic Relief Services providing humanitarian aid to refugees in the Middle East and Europe -- stands ready to help in this effort."

The Catholic Church in England and Wales also "will respond to Pope Francis' challenge to be generous in supporting people who have been forced to flee their homes," Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster announced after Pope Francis urged parishes and other institutions of the church in Europe to play a role in hosting the new wave of refugees.

The cardinal urged the British government "to respond positively to this crisis and to provide the necessary resources and funding to ensure the effective reception and long-term resettlement of these desperate people." The church, he promised, will "work with both government and other responsible authorities to meet this grave challenge."

Cardinal Nichols said that "what is screaming out is the human tragedy of this problem." In a televised interview Sept. 2, he remarked:

"People are beginning to see the human face of this suffering, so it's no longer an abstract problem of people who are on the scrounge, it's not. It's people who are desperate for the sake of their families, their elderly, their youngsters, their children, and the more we see that the more the opportunity for a political response that's a bit more generous is growing."

What needs to be kept in mind, Cardinal Nichols said, is that "these are people, human beings, families like our own."

In Washington Sept. 10, the White House announced that President Obama was instructing the administration to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the fiscal year ahead, a significant increase over the past year's level of fewer than 2,000.

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Refugees Who Are Muslims: "When our hearts are fearful, our doors remain closed to others in need. Many of the Syrian refugees are Christians or members of other minorities, but the majority are Muslim. New arrivals to Canada (and even others who have lived with us for years or even centuries) experience prejudice, intolerance, fear and indifference when they interact with our dominant society. One way to address this negative and destructive attitude, particularly when those targeted by prejudice belong to other religions, is through interreligious dialogue. . . . Interreligious dialogue not only builds bridges, but helps us affirm our own faith and understand it better." (From a Sept. 8 open letter by the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec)

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor: "As we mark this World Day of Prayer, we are called to think of those who are most acutely feeling the consequences of environmental degradation and destruction. These are some of the poorest and most vulnerable populations in the developing world. The injustice is all the greater since those affected have contributed least to the exploitation of the earth's natural resources. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has proposed that the World Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for repentance for the ways in which our lifestyles may be contributing to the suffering of others. We need to have the courage to hear the cry of the poor and see how this is connected to the cry of the earth." (From remarks on the first World Day of Prayer for All Creation, Sept. 1, by Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore, Ireland, chairman of the Irish bishops' Council for Justice and Peace)

Spirituality of Creation: "From the beginning of time God revealed himself in creation. Our faith is not a pantheist faith which identifies God with the earth; but the Christian belief in creation is to recognize that God revealed himself in creation and that we must always realize that in creation we encounter something of the God of love that challenges us to live the reality of love in all our relationships. . . . An ecological spirituality is about what life is about, about nature and how we care for it, and about how nature cares for us. It is about what God plans for his creation and about the place of each one of us in that plan." (From Sept. 1 remarks by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, during a gathering of Christians of various denominations for the World Day of Prayer for All Creation)

6. Bond of Doctrine and Pastoral Ministry

Church doctrine and pastoral ministry do not stand in opposition, just as close theological study of the church's tradition is not the polar opposite of close attention to contemporary realities, Pope Francis stressed in a video message to a Sept. 1-3 international theological congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It is not uncommon, the pope said, for theology and pastoral ministry to be regarded as separate realities having nothing to do with each other. "A false opposition" emerges between them in which doctrine is identified with the conservative and devotion to the past, while pastoral ministry is thought of in terms of adaption to present times.

But doctrine is not "a closed, private system" that is neither dynamic nor "able to raise questions," Pope Francis insisted. Rather, "Christian doctrine has a face, a body, flesh," and "he is called Jesus Christ." His life "is offered from generation to generation" - that is, to people in all times and all places.

Pope Francis added that "the questions our people pose, their anguish, their quarrels, their dreams, their struggles, their concerns" deserve attention and cannot be ignored "if we are to take seriously the principal of incarnation."

It is "not the same to be a Christian" in Argentina today as it was 100 years ago, the pope said, just as it is not the same to be a Christian "in India, in Canada or in Rome." The pope affirmed that "one of the main tasks of the theologian is to discern and to reflect on what it means to be a Christian today, in the here and now."

In order to safeguard doctrine it is necessary to be faithful to what was received, while also taking account of those who receive it - knowing and loving them, the pope told the theologians.

He said: "It is important to ask whom we are thinking of when we engage in theology. Let us not forget that the Holy Spirit in a praying people is the subject of theology. A theology that is not born of this would offer something beautiful but not real."

There are two temptations to overcome, Pope Francis said. The first temptation is to assume that "everything was better in the past" and to seek "refuge" in positions that reflect "conservatism or fundamentalism." The second temptation is to disavow "everything that does not have a 'new flavor,' relativizing all the wisdom accumulated in our rich ecclesial heritage."

These temptations are overcome through "reflection, discernment and taking both the ecclesiastical tradition and current reality very seriously, placing them in dialogue with one another," the pope advised. In breaking the relationship between the tradition received by the faith community and the reality of present times, one runs the risk of turning theology into an ideology, the pope told the theological congress.

7. Annulment Procedures Simplified

Steps by Pope Francis to make marriage annulment procedures faster, less expensive and simpler were announced Sept. 8 by the Vatican.

The pope insisted that this action did not deny the indissolubility of marriage but was taken "so that the heart of the faithful who await clarification of their status is not long oppressed by the darkness of doubt due to the lengthy wait for a conclusion." The new rules take effect Dec. 8.

An annulment declares that a union of a man and woman was null from the start so that no sacramental marriage actually existed between them.

Pope Francis noted that the direction he took on annulments was encouraged during last October's extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome. In a document known as a "motu proprio," he announced that steps of this type also were "indicated by the votes of the majority of my brothers in the episcopate," who called during the synod "for faster and more accessible processes."

In one of its concluding documents, the 2014 synod on the family said:

"A great number of synod fathers emphasized the need to make the procedure in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming, and, if possible, at no expense.

"They proposed, among others, the dispensation of the requirement of second instance for confirming sentences; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop; and a simple process to be used in cases where nullity is clearly evident. Some synod fathers, however, were opposed to these proposals."

The pope wants the annulment process either be free or as inexpensive as possible because the church, "in a matter so closely linked to the salvation of souls, demonstrates the gratuitous love of Christ by which we have all been saved."

In calling for a briefer procedure, Pope Francis addressed the concern that this might "endanger the principle of the indissolubility of marriage." He said that is the reason he requires "that in such a procedure the judge be the bishop himself, who due to his pastoral office is, with Peter, the greatest guarantor of Catholic unity in faith and in discipline."

Pope Francis said that "aside from streamlining processes for the declaration of nullity, a form of shorter process is designated -- in addition to the current documentary procedure -- to be applied in cases in which the alleged nullity of the marriage is supported by particularly clear arguments."

The document also eliminates the obligation of an automatic appeal of the first ruling in a marriage case and allows for a single decision. Previously an appeal was automatic, and a second, conforming decision was needed to free spouses to enter a new marriage.

"It would appear appropriate to no longer require a double conforming decision in favor of the nullity of the marriage" and instead to consider "sufficient the moral certainty reached by the first judge in accordance with the rules of law," the motu proprio states.

The motu proprio does not, however, eliminate the option of appealing an annulment decision. It asks that care be taken, however, "to limit any abuse of the right [to appeal], so that it does not jeopardize the salvation of souls."

Msgr. Alejandro Bunge, secretary of the commission that drafted the new rules, as well as a member of the Roman Rota, said the action taken was motivated by recognition of the church as a "field hospital," according to a report by Catholic News Service.

Thus, Msgr. Bunge stated, "for those who have special injuries -- a marriage null from the beginning -- we will have intensive care" in the form of faster annulment procedures.