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December 12, 2015

After the San Bernardino killings --
Mercy at a time when people are feeling anger -
Vatican translation of synod's final report published --
Pope recalls impact of Vatican II

In this edition:
1. Archdiocese welcomes Syrian refugees.
2. After the San Bernardino killings.
3. San Bernardino interfaith vigil.
4. Addressing entry to the U.S. sensibly.
5. Year of Mercy opens in Rome.
6. Current quote to ponder:
a) Mercy when anger prevails.
7. Three key parts of synod final report.
8. A very pastoral synod.

1. Archdiocese Resettles Syrian Family

A Syrian refugee family arrived in Indianapolis, Ind., Dec. 7 to be resettled by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana was among the U.S. governors who announced in November that they would suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees at this time.

However, after a meeting with the governor Dec. 2, Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis decided to proceed with plans to welcome a Syrian couple and their two children.

"For 40 years the archdiocese's Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world. This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians, and we will continue this life-saving tradition," Archbishop Tobin said in a Dec. 8 statement.

He thanked the governor for meeting with him. "I listened to the governor's concerns regarding security and prayerfully considered his request that we defer from welcoming them until Congress had approved new legislation regarding immigrants and refugees," the archbishop explained.

The archdiocese, he said, "was asked to help resettle this family through its regular participation in a program that is a public-private partnership between the federal government and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services."

Archbishop Tobin noted that he "informed the governor prior to the family's arrival" that he had asked the staff of Catholic Charities "to receive this husband, wife and their two small children as planned."

A spokesman for the governor said Dec. 8 that while the governor "holds Catholic Charities in the highest regard," he "respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time."

Stating that "the safety and security of the people of Indiana" is the governor's top priority, the spokesman said that Indiana "will continue to suspend its participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees" until after "the federal government takes action to address the concerns raised about this program."

Three years ago the family that is now resettled in Indianapolis "fled the violence of terrorists" in Syria, Archbishop Tobin said. He pointed out that "after two years of extensive security checks and personal interviews, the United States government approved them to enter our country."

It was reported that the family would be placed in an apartment furnished with donated items and would be helped in making the transition to a new life in America.

2. After the San Bernardino Killings

"We know that we cannot go back to the way things were before this horrible tragedy occurred," Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., said during a Dec. 7 interfaith prayer vigil held in the diocesan cathedral. The vigil recalled the lives of the 14 people killed during a Dec. 2 terrorist attack by a married couple in San Bernardino.

"We can't forget. We have to be brave as we seek healing and strength," Bishop Barnes stressed. He said: "We do not want our enemies to win over our hearts, to terrify our future. We do not want our hearts to turn against any person, any race, any religion."

Thus, he urged those present at the vigil to "be open to where our God, a God of mercy and love, leads us."

In a message Dec. 3 to the San Bernardino community, Bishop Barnes spoke of coming to terms "with this tragedy and how it will affect us." He acknowledged the range of emotions felt in the wake of the attack, including fear, sadness and anger.

"In the end," he said, "we must be a resilient community . . . that does not give in to fear" and "that moves forward in healing." The community surely "will need to be more vigilant about maintaining safety," he noted.

However, he urged that the community "not lose sight of the spirit of welcome and charity" that has characterized it. "If we do that," he said, "then those who mean us harm have truly won."

3. San Bernardino Interfaith Prayer Vigil

Bishop Gerald Barnes asked during the San Bernardino interfaith prayer vigil Dec. 7, "What will we do in God's name and in prayer after we leave this church?" He encouraged a willingness to allow God "to guide our vision and our actions." The bishop said:

"Let us find God calling us to be better neighbors, to be better at loving each other, to be committed workers for justice and peace, to be strong witnesses to God's presence and God's mercy in our home, our community and the world."

A leader in the local Muslim community, Imam Aslam Abdullah, said that the husband and wife killers on Dec. 2 wanted people from different faiths, like those present for the vigil, "to hate each other, to be disunited." In that, he said, they failed.

"Every human life is precious," Imam Abdullah told the prayer vigil. He said: "We should take care to defend that human life, even if we have to give our own life for somebody. We believe that. We believe that each one of us has a right to live the way God wants us to live. We believe that life must be protected. And as people belonging to different religions, we hold that. Life is precious."

Another of the speakers during the interfaith gathering was the Rev. Sally Burton of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in San Bernardino, who is president of the San Bernardino Clergy Association. "We've been strengthened here tonight by our united effort and our diversity, by prayer and the source of our love of our creator," she said.

"Each one of us," she commented, "shares the image of God and the divine within us. We must shine that light as a lantern on a sometimes very dark road. Each and every one of us is needed for this calling. Go from this vigil tonight to be seeds of peace. Do not be afraid."

She encouraged participants in the prayer vigil to "have confidence that love will offer goodness as a counterpoint to evil in the world."

4. On Addressing Entry to the U.S. Sensibly

"As citizens and as believers, Christians and Catholics in the United States cannot possibly countenance" denying people entry into the country based solely on their religious affiliation, said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

The archbishop was interviewed in Rome Dec. 10 by Catholic News Service. Writer Junno Arocho Esteves asked him to comment on remarks made on the U.S. presidential campaign trail by Republican candidate Donald Trump, who called for a total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."

Archbishop Lori thought that while the continuing threat of terrorist acts in the West by the Islamic State has caused security concerns, restricting religious liberty in countries like the United States could lead to policies that make matters worse. Proposals like Trump's have raised "great religious freedom alarms," he noted.

Archbishop Lori told CNS that while there are growing security concerns and a fear of terrorism, denying entry into a country based solely on religious affiliation may only worsen the situation.

"I think those things have to be addressed in sensible ways," he said. He stressed that governments need to address security threats in "ways that do not in fact make this situation worse by inciting more violence."

5. Year of Mercy Opens in Rome

The start of the Year of Mercy Dec. 8 also marked the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis talked about the council in a homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Square just before his formal, holy year opening of the holy door at St. Peter's Basilica.

"As we pass through the holy door, we also want to remember another door, which 50 years ago" the council "opened to the world," he said. He urged that the council not be remembered "only for the legacy" of its documents, "which testify to a great advance in faith."

Pope Francis stressed that "before all else the council was an encounter -- a genuine encounter between the church and the men and women of our time." It was, he said, "an encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again with enthusiasm on her missionary journey."

The council is remembered as "the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces," he said. "Wherever there are people," he added, "the church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God."

The Year of Mercy will be a time for growing "ever more convinced of God's mercy," Pope Francis told the crowd of some 70,000 that assembled in St. Peter's Square for the opening of the holy year.

"The history of sin can only be understood in the light of God's love and forgiveness," the pope told them. He said, "We are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God's will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people's lives, setting them in opposition to God's plan."

And if sin were "the only thing that mattered we would be the most desperate of creatures," he continued. However, "the promised triumph of Christ's love enfolds everything in the Father's mercy."

It is necessary "to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God's judgment will always be in the light of his mercy," said Pope Francis. He exclaimed, "How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy!"

6. Current Quote to Ponder

Mercy in Times When People Feel Angry: "[The Year of Mercy] comes at a time when the world is dumbstruck by the massacres in Paris and Mali, and across the Middle East and much of Africa murder is committed in the name of religion and for the sake of power. Here in the United States we are debating whether to accept refugees fleeing these wartorn countries because our fears of terrorism outweigh our generosity. This year will encompass our bitter and angry national election. The Internet is full of mercilessness and venom, and the streets of our cities are full of division and distrust. This Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis comes at a time when so many of us are feeling anything but merciful. Vengeance, fear, anger, resentment, envy: yes. Mercy, not so much. . . . How providential it is that when our age is barren of mercy, the church is reminding us that mercy is at the heart of the Christian witness. The good news we proclaim is that 'the Lord is kind and merciful,' that God's 'mercy endures forever.'" (From an editorial in the Nov. 24 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper)

7. Key Paragraphs in Synod's Final Report

The Vatican's translation of the 2015 Synod of Bishops' final report appeared online some six weeks after the synod's Oct. 25 conclusion. The document can be located on the Vatican website (www.vatican.va) under "Synod of Bishops," which is located in the website's "Roman Curia" section.

I have wanted all along, once the translation appeared, to carry three particularly sensitive paragraphs from it in full, paragraphs concerning the church's pastoral ministry to and with divorced Catholics who have remarried without an annulment of a first marriage.

As I wrote in the Oct. 28 edition of this newsletter, "three paragraphs in the synod's 94-paragraph final report relate in a particular way to divorced-remarried Catholics and whether some could receive the sacraments. Those paragraphs, Nos. 84-86, are bound to be dissected, studied and debated for some time to come."

With that in mind, and recalling that immediately after the synod even some of its participants appeared to disagree on what these paragraphs might imply about the possible reception of Communion by some divorced, civilly remarried Catholics, it seems this is a case when reading what the original document says is particularly important.

Here, then, are Paragraphs 84-86 of the 2015 world Synod of Bishops' final report:

No. 84. "The baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more integrated into Christian communities in a variety of possible ways, while avoiding any chance of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which might allow them not only to realize that they belong to the church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it. They are baptized; they are brothers and sisters; the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts gifts and talents for the good of all. Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion, currently practiced in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework, can be surpassed. Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the church and experience her as a mother, who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel. This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children, who ought to be considered most important. That the Christian community cares for these people is not a weakening of her faith and witness in the indissolubility of marriage: To the contrary, in this very way, the church expresses her charity."

No. 85. "Pope St. John Paul II offered a comprehensive policy, which remains the basis for the evaluation of these situations: 'Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage' ('Familiaris Consortio,' 84). It is therefore the duty of priests to accompany such people in helping them understand their situation according to the teaching of the church and the guidelines of the bishop. Useful in the process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and penance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves how they have acted toward their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; if they made attempts at reconciliation; what is the situation of the abandoned party; what effect does the new relationship have on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone.

"Moreover, one cannot deny that in some circumstances 'imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735) due to several constraints. Accordingly, the judgment of an objective situation should not lead to a judgment on 'subjective imputability' (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration of June 24, 2000, 2a). Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while supporting a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person's properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases."

No. 86. "The path of accompaniment and discernment guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of church and church practice which can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. 'Familiaris Consortio,' 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity as proposed by the church. This occurs when the following conditions are present: humility, discretion and love for the church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God's will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it."

8. A Pastoral Synod

An overview of the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the vocation and mission of the family appeared in the Oct. 28 edition of this online newsletter. With the Vatican's publication of a translation of the synod's final document, however, it seems worthwhile to revisit the synod briefly in order to highlight its clear focus on pastoral action.

"We are concerned about the lives of families. We want to heed their real-life situations and challenges, and accompany and illuminate them with the love of the Gospel," the synod's final report said.

The synod report added, "We want to give them strength and help them grasp their mission today. We wish to accompany them lovingly, even in their concerns, giving them courage and hope which come from the mercy of God" (No. 4).

The final report stressed that "the church lovingly shares the joys and hopes, and the sorrows and anxieties of every family." Remaining "close to the family as a companion" means assuming "an attitude which is wisely nuanced," it said. "Sometimes, staying close and listening in silence is needed; at other times, moving ahead and pointing the way; and at still other times, the appropriate action is to follow, support and encourage" (No. 77).

The need to communicate in a manner that people can understand was stressed by the synod. "Proclamation has to make people experience the Gospel of the family as a response to the deepest longings of the human person, a response to his/her dignity and a response to complete personal fulfillment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness," said the synod final report.

Doing this, it explained, "is not only a question of norms, but announcing the grace which provides the ability to live the goods of the family. Today more than ever, transmitting the faith requires a language which is able to reach everyone, especially young people, so as to communicate the beauty of love in the family" (No. 56).

The church begins "from the real-life situations of today's families, all in need of mercy, beginning with those who suffer most," the final report states. It affirms that "the church must draw near and guide the weakest of her members, who are experiencing a wounded or lost love, by restoring confidence and hope" (No. 55).

"Seeing things as Christ would see them inspires the church's pastoral care for the faithful who are living together or who are only married civilly or who are divorced and remarried," the final report advises. It says that "from the vantage point of divine pedagogy, the church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an imperfect manner: She seeks the grace of conversion for them, she encourages them to do good, to lovingly take care of each other and to serve the community in which they live and work."

The hope is, it adds, that "dioceses will promote various means of discernment for these people and involve them in the community to help and encourage them to grow and eventually make a conscious, coherent choice." Moreover, "couples need to be told about the possibility of having recourse to a process of a declaration of nullity regarding their marriage" (No. 53).

The final report observes that "in today's socio-cultural crisis, the family, the basic human community, is painfully being weakened and is exhibiting signs of its fragile nature. Nonetheless, the family is also demonstrating its ability to find in itself the courage to confront the inadequacy and failure of institutions in the formation of the person, the quality of social ties and the care of the most vulnerable."

Thus, it says, "a proper appreciation of the resilience of the family is particularly necessary in order to be able to strengthen its fragile character." There is strength "in the family's capacity to love and to teach how to love," and "as wounded as the family may be, it can always grow, beginning with love" (No. 10).