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February 12, 2016

Christians, Muslims and the building blocks of peace -
Priorities for parish vitality -
Dialogue and encounter in parishes

In this edition:
1. Priorities for parish vitality.
2. Parishes, places of encounter.
3. Encounter in parish groups.
4. Parish evangelization challenges.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) The Lenten journey.
b) Views on marriage.
6. Christians, Muslims and peace.
7. Five building blocks for peace.
8. Interreligious care for the earth.

1. Priorities for Parish Vitality

Seven priorities for parish vitality that would be found in the "parish of [his] dreams" were presented in a February column by Chicago's Archbishop Blase Cupich in the Catholic New World, the archdiocese's newspaper. He acknowledged, at the same time, that "measuring parish vitality is complex."

His column invited Catholics to participate in a parish-planning process. But the section of the column listing his seven priorities for "parish vitality" seems noteworthy in itself.

"Every parish has its strengths and weaknesses in fulfilling the mission of Christ," Archbishop Cupich wrote. But if he were asked "to describe a parish of [his] dreams, it would be a parish that adopts and pursues" the following priorities:

First, it brings people to Christ. "The parish strives to evangelize its members to live more fully as intentional disciples." In turn, these disciples continuously evangelize others by making the church's presence and Christ's mercy known "in the midst of the community."

Second, the parishioners "support each other in knowing Christ more deeply." So "the parish enables a lifelong process of formation" for deepening faith and one's "relationship with Christ by passing on the church's teaching and tradition to parishioners of all ages."

Third, in this parish people "encounter Christ and receive nourishment through prayer and worship." The parish is intent on "developing a culture and tradition of prayer, devotion and well-prepared liturgy, with the Eucharist as the source and the summit."

Fourth, bonds are built among parishioners to sustain their life in Christ. The parish is conscious of its solidarity "with the entire church of Chicago and the universal church." Moreover, the parish "is inclusive and harmonious, respecting and appreciating diversity" and considering this "an asset in worship and community life."

Fifth, in this parish people "transform the lives of others through service." The parish prepares and sends "parishioners as missionary disciples into the world to transform society." The parish, thus, is "a beacon of faith and an advocate for justice and peace." It reaches out in love to people in need, or living on society's margins, or living "in fear and loneliness."

Sixth, the parish responds "to the call to holiness." It "accompanies the baptized on life's journey to become more Christ-centered, resistant to sin, merciful." Attention is devoted "to building a mature, well-integrated adult spirituality" that encompasses commitment "to charity, peace, prayer and virtue."

Seventh, responsibility is accepted "for administration and leadership of the parish as good stewards of the gifts Christ has entrusted to us." The parish thrives under a pastor's "visionary leadership," and he "works in collaboration with his associates, staff and the laity to ensure that the parish's mission can fully flourish as a result of proper administration."

The parish fosters both "a culture of stewardship and a spirituality of gratitude," inspiring parishioners to share generously the gifts Christ entrusts to them in support of the church's mission "through the parish, the archdiocese and in the world."

2. Dialogue, Encounter and Today's Parish

Today's parishes "need adult catechesis to form adult Christians, and encounter and dialogue are essential to the fostering of adult faith," Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen remarked during a series of four conferences Nov. 20-21 on "Laudato Si'," Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical on the environment.

He spoke to seminarians at Theological College in Washington, D.C. The text of his remarks appears in the Feb. 11 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.

Father Christiansen's final presentation shared his insights on the place of encounter and dialogue in pastoral ministry. "An attitude of encounter is essential to dialogue, and dialogue is integral to evangelization," he said.

"For Pope Francis, encounter means meeting the whole person, especially as a subject with his or her own desires, convictions and choices," Father Christiansen explained. He felt that one line in "The Joy of the Gospel," Pope Francis' 2013 apostolic exhortation, "catches the meaning of encounter best." To encounter others, it states, is to "accept and esteem [them] as companions on the way, without interior resistance."

It might be said, he added, that encounter involves "the meeting of souls." That is why it "requires a set of particular virtues," including the following ones that "The Joy of the Gospel" mentions: "approachability, readiness for dialogue, warmth and welcome that is nonjudgmental."

Father Christiansen cautioned that it can be risky to judge people or dismiss them lightly, since "you can't always tell where a person really stands or what is transpiring in her conscience. . . . You may not be able to tell what people think on the surface of your encounter."

For example, sometimes people "are testing you, especially your openness and good will. At other times they may need time to sort out what they believe themselves or what they may want to do in response to a moral challenge."

A pastor "doesn't have to be personally engaged in every dialogue" that occurs in a parish. "What he should do," Father Christiansen said, "is to create a climate of dialogue in the parish and empower parishioners, particularly those with good group skills and moral concerns, to guide discussion in the parish community."

In Father Christiansen's view, "the church has a special role to play in convening dialogues on social issues among diverse groups." Pastors, he said, "don't necessarily have to take the lead themselves," though "if they have the skill and the opportunity to lead such exercise, by all means they should do so."

He said that pastors "must, however, at the very least, be willing to empower lay people in undertaking the work and be ready to provide encouragement to the process."

3. Parish Dialogue: A Discussion Leader's Role

Parishioners today feel that "the parish is an appropriate place for moral dialogue," Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen observed in his Nov. 21 address to seminarians at Washington's Theological College. He examined the place of dialogue and encounter in parish pastoral ministry and asked what conducting a moral dialogue would mean.

For one thing, he said, this "would involve serious study of Catholic social teaching. Second, it would involve inviting talks, lectures and forums to provide scholarly and scientific background to the topics the community will discuss. Third, it would involve free and open discussion in a prayerful atmosphere in a spirit of charity."

In this "the role of the priest or the discussion leader . . . is to foster a context of open, prayerful discussion in the group or groups," Father Christiansen commented. Here, he added, "a primary duty is to encourage attentive listening on the part of the participants."

He said the leader "should keep the discussion moving and focused, and ask someone to sum up the main points." Moreover, "the pastor or lay leader should remind the group of church teaching, pertinent data and expert conclusions, but only when discussion becomes unmoored and never in a way that lays a heavy hand on the discussion."

For, "the place for teaching with authority is elsewhere: in the homily, sacramental preparation, adult religious education, lectures and so on."

Father Christiansen called attention to the kinds of political dividing lines that may take root in parish life. "Within the church there is room for a variety of practical, and that also means political, options," he said, adding that "the principles of Catholic social teaching can be implemented in a variety of ways."

But "for that reason, every effort must be taken to preserve the bonds of charity between those who make different options," he stated. "The challenge of pastoring in the 21st century," he said, is "to build communities of moral discourse and discernment, while at the time preserving the bonds of unity, protecting the church from the divisiveness of the culture wars even as we advance the church's program of social pastoral action."

4. To Evangelize, Be Open to Self-Examination

Each parish in the diocese, as part of its evangelization efforts, is being asked by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, Mass., to study and examine the needs of its people and the local community in order to determine how to provide for them.

In a pastoral letter on evangelization released Ash Wednesday, Bishop Rozanski, who became Springfield's bishop in August 2014, wrote that the church's "communities must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life."

These efforts, he said, are not just the responsibility of some, but rather are the responsibility of "all of us: clergy, women and men religious, lay faithful. . . . We are all in this together; evangelization is, for each and every one of us, our call and responsibility as the baptized."

Mercy is one point of emphasis in the pastoral letter. "It is absolutely essential for the church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people," the bishop emphasized.

He added that to live by mercy, the church's members must "acknowledge both our need for God's mercy as well as our call to be instruments of that mercy to others - to evangelize."

Bishop Rozanski expressed concern that some who distance themselves from the church do so "because they feel unwelcomed." The reasons for this can vary, he wrote, "but key among them are race and cultural differences, a sense of gender inequality as well as sexual orientation."

Still, others, however, "have been treated unkindly, impatiently or rudely by clergy, religious, ministers and staff of parishes - all of which is unacceptable," he stated. For this he asked forgiveness.

Many people are "hurting in our Catholic community from the pain caused by our past failings as a diocese, as well as the grievous actions of some who ministered in our church," the bishop said. The reality is, he added, that this pain can still echo "many years later."

Bishop Rozanski apologized for the pain that many have experienced. First, he wrote, "I apologize to the victims of clergy sexual abuse, their families and friends, and all those scandalized by the church's failure to protect our young people and for any lack of diligence in responding."

He apologized, too, for the hurt some felt over the closing of a parish or school - the closing of "places where there is so much personal and community history, as well as spiritual traditions." It is never easy, he said, to make the decision "to close a parish or school."

Bishop Rozanski said that "even necessary decisions, carried out with the best of intentions, have caused some very real pain and have been the cause for some to distance themselves from our faith community."

Evangelization, said the bishop, "is not just another program; this is not just our focus for the moment." Rather, "evangelization is the mission of the church," and it must be the diocese's mission "going forward." However, "in order to do that and do that well, we must be open to self-examination and change; business as usual will no longer work or be acceptable."

The people to evangelize include "those who are with us each week for Mass, that they, in turn, may be empowered to become evangelizers themselves," he explained.

Moreover, he said, "we need to evangelize those who were once" with us, but no longer are, saying to them that "we need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective."

There is, as well, a "need to evangelize those who have yet to hear the Good News or who are unfamiliar with the Catholic Church. We must reach out to them and share our joy," said the bishop.

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

The Journey of Lent: "There can be some obstacles that close the doors of the heart. There is the temptation to bolt the doors, that is, to live with our own proper sins, minimizing them, always justifying ourselves, thinking we are no worse than others; so, then, the locks of the soul are closed, and we remain closed within, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is the shame in opening the secret door of the heart. Shame, in reality, is a good symptom, because it indicates we want to break away from evil; above all we must never transform it into fear or dread. And there is a third trap, that of moving away from the door. This happens when we dwell on our miseries, when we brood over them continually to the point where we plunge ourselves into the darkest cellars of the soul. Then we become even more familiar with the sadness we don't want, we grow discouraged and are weaker in the face of temptations. This happens because we remain alone with ourselves, closing in on ourselves and fleeing from the light, while it is only the grace of the Lord that frees us. Let us allow ourselves, then, to 'be reconciled,' let us listen to Jesus who says to the tired and oppressed 'Come to me!'" (From Vatican Radio's translation of Pope Francis' homily on Ash Wednesday 2016.)

Views on Marriage: "The institution of marriage has been adversely affected in the eight-year period between 2006 and 2014. The rising incidence of births outside marriage, cohabitation, divorce/separation and debate about same-sex marriage has undoubtedly affected perceptions about marriage as a choice and commitment. However, marriage remains a desirable outcome for most people, and most expect it to be for life." (From a new study released Feb. 10 that was conducted for ACCORD, the marriage care service of the Irish Catholic bishops.)

6. Christian-Muslim Building Blocks for Peace

"Both of our religious traditions, Islam and Christianity, have long histories, with immense contributions to the intellectual and spiritual riches of humankind. It may be time to see how they, in their own ways, help make our earthly cities prefigurations of the kingdom of God," Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said in a Feb. 6 speech in Qom, Iran. He described Qom as a "holy city" and "spiritual place for Shiite Muslims that goes far back in history."

Cardinal Turkson's speech focused on five building blocks of peace: the recognition of human dignity; justice; the fraternity of the human family; service to the common good; and the universal destination of the goods of the earth.

He addressed a conference on the role of the revealed religions in the achievement of world peace and justice. "The three great monotheistic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all . . . believe in a God who freely manifests himself, communicating to us his love, his will, his meaning, even himself," the cardinal said.

Noting that "when God created the world it was good," Cardinal Turkson explained that his five building blocks of peace all are set in the context of "this original goodness of God's creation."

He pointed out how the New Testament reveals "that we fashion and maintain relationships of communion, friendship and harmony with people -- not because they always deserve it but because we love them and want to show them the same favor (grace) God has shown us by forgiving our sins and drawing us back to himself."

The New Testament, he said, reveals "the mystery of the love of God for sinful humanity" and "formulates grace and love (actions out of love) as the new ethic of the kingdom and the new principle of human conduct that ensures peace and justice in the world."

Thus, in asking what role revealed religion plays in the achievement of world peace and justice, "we would say that Christian revelation teaches us to shape the earthly city . . . by rendering it to some degree an anticipation and a prefiguration of the kingdom of God," Cardinal Turkson explained. And "this word 'love' is Christianity's ultimate tool for justice and peace in the world."

7. Five Building Blocks of Peace

In his Feb. 6 speech in Qom, Iran, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, presented five building blocks for peace. A synopsis of each building block follows:

Human dignity: The first building block of peace involves the affirmation of human dignity. Each human being "has a 'dignitas' -- each one is a unique gift to the others," Cardinal Turkson stressed. "Knowing that they are created and loved by God, people come to understand their own transcendent dignity; they learn not to be satisfied with only themselves, but to encounter their neighbor in a network of relationships."

If others are "not recognized as equal in dignity and worthy of respect," he observed, something else will move in "to fill the vacuum, and this something is the ego, preoccupation with self, with one's own interests and plans, in isolation from others. Such are the attitudes which stymie peace."

"Justice," a relationship term, was the second building block of peace discussed by Cardinal Turkson. The word "justice," he explained, "denotes respect for the demands of the relationships in which we stand."

He said: "The whole of life is about relationships or the lack of them. When we live and respect the demands of the relationships in which we stand, we are just, and we act with justice." So "peace is directly related to the quality of personal and community relationships."

The human family's unity was Cardinal Turkson's third building block of peace. The Bible "posits a common origin of the human family in Adam and Eve," and with the story of "the birth of Cain and Abel as brothers," the Bible "introduces diversity," he said.

"As brothers from the same womb, Cain and Abel are equal in dignity as persons; but they are different in character and occupation," according to the cardinal. He referred to "fraternity -- treating each other as the brothers and sisters that we are" - as "our true vocation." He underscored brotherhood as "the only form of existence of the human family in its diversity."

The common good was the cardinal's fourth building block of peace. The common good, Cardinal Turkson said "refers to the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily."

The common good, however, "is not simply what people happen to want, but what would be authentically good for people, the social conditions that enable human flourishing," the cardinal said.

He insisted that the greatest good "can be found only in God, but the common good helps groups and individuals to reach this ultimate good." So, "if social conditions are such that people are inhibited or deterred from being able to love God and neighbor, then the common good has not been realized."

The universal destination of the goods of the earth represents the cardinal's fifth and final building block of peace. This means that the goods of the earth are "destined for the use of all." While this does not negate "the right to private ownership," it does indicate that a common effort is required "to obtain for every person and for all peoples the conditions" that are necessary for their development.

8. Peace and Interreligious Care for the Earth

Cardinal Peter Turkson made a case in his Feb. 6 speech in Qom, Iran, for applying the teachings of the revealed religions on justice and peace to "care for our global, common home." Speaking in the Islamic holy city, he said that "there is no doubt that the addition of a strong Muslim voice to the chorus of those demanding a coherent moral response to the world's ecological problems would be a huge strategic asset."

Providing care for the earth is "a necessary consequence of our common brotherhood. For our fraternity is now more than ever a global question because we inhabit a common home, which is the whole world," the cardinal told his audience.

He noted that not only did Pope Francis publish his encyclical on the environment last June but that several Islamic institutions and individuals came together in August 2015 "to issue an important new document about the urgent challenges posed by climate change." The cardinal referred to "The Islamic Declaration on Climate Change" as "something Catholics everywhere can welcome and support."

Islam, Cardinal Turkson noted, has a vast geographical spread, reaching into "major oil-producing countries," but also including "some of those countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, notably low-lying Bangladesh and Indonesia."

He said, "Everyone contributes to a more just and less violent society to the extent that we cultivate right and just relations at every level of our lives," including at the level of "the earth and our environment."