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June 13, 2016

Putting human solidarity into practice -
Strange paradox: weapons, but not food, for the poor and hungry -
Naming the throw-away culture's victims -
Women's leadership and the diaconate issue

In this edition:
1. The "thrown-away" people.
2. What "solidarity" means.
3. Guns for the hungry?
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Orlando's terrorist killings.
b) Message for gay community.
c) After Orlando: The healing.
5. Women and church leadership.
6. Parameters of diaconal service.
7. Demands of Christian service.

1. Naming Society's "Thrown-Away" People

Who and what is thrown away in the throwaway culture that Pope Francis frequently mentions? Australia's Catholic bishops, in a May statement for their nation's upcoming elections, got specific about this. They prepared a long list of those who are thrown away and whose voices "will not be heard" during the election campaign.

Pope Francis has spoken of a "throwaway culture" in which "people use and discard themselves, others and the environment."

Australia's bishops said that the people "whose voices are unheard, whose faces are unseen" may be considered "politically irrelevant." But, the bishops added, "society is ultimately judged . . . on how well it treats the thrown-away people."

"Refugees and asylum seekers" are among those who are thrown away. Often they are viewed "as a problem to be solved rather than as human beings in need of our help," the bishops observed.

Two more groups of thrown-away people include "indigenous peoples whose cry for recognition has barely been heard" and "survivors of sexual abuse who have emerged from the shadows and whose voice is now being heard, crying out for redress and healing."

The others on the bishops' list include:
  • "Those who suffer family violence, who are often unseen and unheard, behind closed doors with nowhere to go and no one to turn to."

  • "Those in the womb, who are among the most defenseless, at risk of being deprived of the most basic of all human rights, the right to live."

  • "The elderly, who are seen at times as an economic burden now that they are unable to 'produce' or consume in the way the economy demands."

  • "Those suffering mental illness, who seem not to fit in with accepted patterns of social behavior and are often presumed to contribute nothing to society, thus ending up in the too-hard basket."

  • "Those suffering addiction, who can see no way out of the destructive grasp of alcohol or other drugs, gambling or pornography."

  • "Those entrapped in new forms of slavery, who are the victims of sexual or workplace enslavement."

  • "The desperately poor beyond our shores who look to wealthy Australia for the help they need -- often simply to survive -- but find our nation less and less generous."
In failing to ask who is thrown away by culture, "much that goes on in this or any other election campaign will be political theater that does not address the real issues," the bishops stated.

They pointed out that in addition to people, the environment can basically be thrown away. Moreover, "at the heart of a healthy, social environment there is marriage and the family," which are crucial to society's well-being but which can be undermined and unsupported by political decisions.

Thus marriage and the family, the bishops stressed, "can become part of the throwaway culture" or come to be viewed, at best, as "an optional extra."

"To listen to God and to the voiceless is, in the end, the same thing," the bishops stated. "In hearing their voice we can hear the voice of God. That is where the real God is; that is how the real God communicates."

2. What Solidarity Means in Action

Solidarity is more than a sentiment of good will toward others who suffer. Solidarity "means the willingness to regard injustices committed against another as no less serious than an injustice against oneself," Notre Dame Sister Mary Sujita Kallupurakkathu told women's religious-order superiors from around the world in a May 10 address in Rome. She became the first superior general from India of the Sisters of Notre Dame, serving two terms.

"Genuine solidarity means engagement with real people, especially the poor and marginalized," she told the assembly of the International Union of Superiors General. She said that St. John Paul II's encyclical "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" makes clear that solidarity "is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people."

Sister Sujita recalled how in the late 1970s "a number of us, women and men religious, felt the call to live solidarity with the poor in a radical way." At that time "some of us decided to share the lot of one of the most deprived groups in north India by living among them in their tiny mud huts and sharing in their struggles."

Tragically, "one day the poor lady, Punia, whose hut I was sharing, lost her 3-year-old daughter in the morning and 5-year-old son later on the same day due to a cholera outbreak." Sister Sujita said she felt "broken and upset that God would allow such a thing to happen to these poor, helpless people," and she "was angry at the system that permitted such utter poverty and misery."

She wept over what had happened. "All I could do was to weep in solidarity with all the weeping women in that village," she said. Her speech recalled this 2013 remark of Pope Francis: "We are a society that has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion, suffering with others; the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep."

Sister Sujita said to the religious order superiors that she wishes "we could ask the poor to give us an honest evaluation of our consecrated life as they see and experience it." She commented that "humility, compassion and deep respect are essential ingredients of true communion and dialogue that transform relationships."

And yes, she said, "the poor are our best teachers in the art of dialogue and solidarity." In exposing themselves "to the vulnerabilities of life and mission on the peripheries," religious-order members will discover their "real identity and purpose in Christ," she stressed.

The world today, she said, "is in crisis." Sister Sujita underscored some "critical signs" of this crisis, including "the fractures and divisions evident in extreme poverty, ecological degradation, violent conflicts and war, and the consequent megamigration and human trafficking which we human beings continue to tolerate and even accept as the 'new norm.'"

She called it "a shocking reality that every day one in five of the world's population, that is, about 800 million people, go hungry, and every 20 seconds a child dies from a water-related illness."

Solidarity requires common action "to address the fundamental causes of injustice and the sources of violence in our world," said Sister Sujita. (The text of her speech appeared in the June 9 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

3. Weapons, But Not Food, for the Hungry

Due to a strange paradox in our world, weapons flow freely into areas of poverty and hunger, but food does not, Pope Francis remarked June 13 when he visited the Rome headquarters of the U.N. World Food Program.

Aid and development programs find themselves obstructed by "incomprehensible political decisions, skewed ideological visions and impenetrable customs barriers," he said. But "weaponry is not" similarly obstructed.

Arms "circulate with brazen and virtually absolute freedom in many parts of the world," with the result that "wars are fed, not persons." And "in some cases, hunger itself is used as a weapon of war."

Death counts multiply in violent regions "because the number of people dying of hunger and thirst is added to that of battlefield casualties and the civilian victims of conflicts and attacks."

The pope's speech lamented a certain normalizing of situations that involve great poverty. On the one hand, he said, "we live in an interconnected world marked by instant communications." Yet, the "apparent closeness created by the information highway seems daily to be breaking down. An information overload is gradually leading to the 'naturalization' of extreme poverty."

He commented that "little by little we are growing immune to other people's tragedies, seeing them as something 'natural.'"

What happens is that "human lives turn into one more news story," and "while the headlines may change, the pain, the hunger and the thirst remain; they do not go away."

Pope Francis said that "we cannot 'naturalize' the fact that so many people are starving." But "once poverty no longer has a face," there is the likelihood of yielding "to the temptation of discussing 'hunger,' 'food' and 'violence' as concepts, without reference to the real people" who are harmed.

What is needed is "to work at 'denaturalizing' and 'debureaucratizing' the poverty and hunger of our brothers and sisters," Pope Francis urged. To accomplish this, he said it is essential to focus "on real people who are suffering and starving, while drawing upon an abundance of enthusiasm and potential that we need to help exploit."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Terrorist Killings in Orlando: "Once again we are attempting to understand an incredible act of savagery that destroyed the lives of 50 human beings and maimed more than 50 others. How could one warped individual inflict so much death and suffering? Our heart goes out to the families of those who died so violently and to those whose lives have been forever changed. Their suffering is ours. As we try to wrap our minds around this tragedy, now officially designated the worst mass shooting in the history of our country, we also mourn the ever increasing physical and verbal violence that has permeated our culture. We must ask where and when will it end. As followers of Jesus, we cannot accept it as inevitable and irreversible. Please join me in praying for the victims of the Orlando massacre and their families, and for the end of violence and the restoration of peace in our nation." (Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, on the June 12 terrorist killings in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.)

Letter to Gay and Lesbian Catholics After Orlando Attack: "For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you. Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us so that hatred and intolerance are not allowed to flourish, so that those who suffer mental illness know the support of a compassionate society, so that we find the courage to face forthrightly the falsehood that weapons of combat belong anywhere in the civilian population. We come together in this time of sorrow, this time of darkness. Yet we walk in the light of solidarity and peace. We walk with the unshakable resolve to change our nation and our world for the better." (From a June 12 letter by Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich after the terrorist attack early that day at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub frequented by members of the gay community. This archbishop's message was for participants in a parish Mass celebrated as part of the Chicago Archdiocese's gay and lesbian outreach.)

Dimensions of Healing After Orlando Tragedy: "A sword has pierced the heart of our city. Since learning of the tragedy this morning I have urged all to pray for the victims, the families and first responders. I pray that the Lord's mercy will be upon us during this time of sadness, shock and confusion. . . . The healing power of Jesus goes beyond our physical wounds, but touches every level of our humanity: physical, emotional, social, spiritual. Jesus calls us to remain fervent in our protection of life and human dignity, and to pray unceasingly for peace in our world." (From a June 12 statement by Bishop John Noonan of Orlando, Fla., after the terrorist attack at an Orlando nightclub early that day.)

5. Women's Leadership and the Diaconate Issue

News reports after a May 12 meeting of the International Union of Superiors General with Pope Francis focused mainly on the willingness he expressed "to constitute an official commission to study" whether women might join the ranks of the church's permanent deacons. He did not say that he would ordain women deacons.

But largely overlooked in these reports was his response to other questions the women's religious superiors raised, including another part of the specific question posed about women and the diaconate.

The question about the diaconate asked: "What prevents the church from including women among permanent deacons, as was the case in the primitive church? Why not constitute an official commission to study the matter?"

However, that part of the question on the diaconate immediately was followed by another part: "Can you give us an example of where you see the possibility of better integration of women and consecrated women in the life of the church?"

What Pope Francis said about integrating women more fully into the life of the church, recognizing their proper roles of leadership and including them in the church's decision-making processes, was arguably as newsworthy as his brief comments about the diaconate itself.

On the matter of women and the diaconate, the pope recalled a conversation with a Syrian theologian who spoke about the roles of early-church deaconesses assisting women during their baptisms by immersion and aiding women in other ways. Still, the pope suggested, "it is not clear how it was in the past" for deaconesses.

Pope Francis said, "I think it will be good for the church to clarify this point." He thought it would be "useful to have a commission that clarifies this area properly, especially with regard to the early times of the church."

He asked: "What were these deaconesses? Were they ordained or not?"

But in responding to the question's second part on the fuller integration of women into the church and their gifts for leadership, he observed that "women see things with an originality different from that of men, and this is enriching in consultation and decision making, and in practice."

Several questions were posed during the session with the pope, who accented the importance of women's leadership roles at various points.

He said to the women religious superiors, for example, that "the church is you, is all of us. The hierarchy - let us say - of the church must speak about you," but first "must speak with you."

He acknowledged that if women are not exactly excluded, their presence "is very weak there in decision-making processes." In this, he said, "we must move forward." Moreover, he noted, "for many aspects of [the church's] decision-making processes ordination is not necessary."

It seemed the pope wanted to affirm women as leaders in the church and wanted to distinguish this from the matter of women's ordination.

Women's roles in the processes leading to decisions were among points discussed by the pope. "Women, whether consecrated or lay," must "become part of the reflection process and part of the discussion" that precedes decisions, he said.

For, "the way of viewing a problem, of seeing anything, is different for a woman compared to a man," he commented. Women's and men's roles "must be complementary, and in consultations it is important that there are women."

The pope seemed to suggest that on the one hand there are issues related to women and ordination, but on the other hand there is not much of an issue related to women and leadership. With leadership, he stated, "there is no problem. We must go forward in that area prudently, but seeking solutions."

6. The Permanent Deacon's Ministry of Service

Permanent deacons need to "disentangle" their lives "from everything which hinders the radical newness of the Gospel from breaking through into the realities of our time," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in a June 4 homily for the ordination of eight deacons.

If they disentangle themselves in this way, he said, they "will allow Jesus to appear and appeal" to the lives of those they encounter.

Archbishop Martin's homily accented the role of service that is central for deacons. He called the diaconate "a specific calling to a ministry of service."

It is, he said, "a permanent ministry with its own characteristics" and "not a stop-gap solution invented to address a fall in the number of priests." He thought that the diaconate's restoration ought to provoke "a deeper reflection on the plurality of ministries and charisms which are present in the church."

He commented, "The diaconate is not a substitute for priests; the ministry of the deacon, indeed, can also be a ministry to priests," recalling them "to more effectively witness to service" in their own lives.

The risk when any ministry in the church "loses the characteristic of service" is that it will "degenerate into the opposite of ministry" and instead move toward "self-centeredness, toward using ministry really for our own prestige," he said.

Discussing the capacity of service in its various forms to contribute to society's improvement, the archbishop issued this warning: "The contribution of the church to the improvement of society will not be attained simply by negative political commentary."

Nor will it be "attained by morbid and depressive analysis of the woes of the church." In addition, "it will never be attained by religious media which allow themselves to be reduced to mere blogs of clerical gossip" or "by creating a neoclerical church focused just on priests."

He said that "a church which does not at all levels radiate the joy of the Gospel is a church doomed to stagnation, closed within an unreal comfort zone, focused inward rather than reaching out and embracing the marginalized."

The service of the ancient-church deacons mentioned in Acts 6 was to ensure that bread was distributed equitably to widows in the community, the archbishop noted. He said that "bread to widows" ought "to be translated by us into what today are the needs of the marginalized."

7. Those Who Serve Know Time Is Not Their Own

Those who genuinely serve others "are asked to be available" to them and to "be generous" with their lives, Pope Francis told a Year of Mercy event for permanent deacons and their families May 29 in Rome.

While the pope directed his comments to deacons, it was clear he regarded diaconal service to others as a basic of every Christian's life. It has been noted many times that the permanent deacon's role of service expands outward in the church, highlighting this basic dimension of all Christian life.

"If evangelizing is the mission entrusted at baptism to each Christian, serving is the way that mission is carried out," said Pope Francis.

In his mind true servants of others "cannot hoard" their free time. They must be open to the surprises that can enter their lives through others on any given day - surprises that stand previous plans for the day on their heads.

Those who serve must make themselves available to those who need them, the pope indicated. A person who serves, he said, "has to give up the idea of being the master of his day."

Those who serve others as Christ did know that their time is not their own. Rather, it is "a gift from God which is then offered back to him," the pope insisted. "A servant," he said, "is not a slave to his own agenda."

He added, "A servant knows how to open the doors of his time and inner space for those around him, including those who knock on those doors at odd hours, even if that entails setting aside something he likes to do or giving up some well-deserved rest."

Two terms "go together," the pope explained: "apostle" and "servant." These terms "can never be separated." Thus, "those who proclaim Jesus are called to serve, and those who serve proclaim Christ."