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August 5, 2016

Reaction to French priest's murder -
World Youth Day: Life in a diverse world -
Urging civility in U.S. presidential campaign

In this edition:
1. Call for campaign civility.
2. Life in a diverse world.
3. Breaking down fences.
4. Murder of a French priest.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Pope speaks of terrorists.
b) Parish "green purchasing."
c) What weddings tell us.
6. Brazil: On human slavery.
7. Factors in school excellence.

1. Call for Civility in Presidential Campaign

"We cannot let the voices of hatred and fear carry the day," members of women's religious orders across the U.S. say in a letter to the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates urging civility in the nation's presidential campaign.

As of Aug. 5, more than 5,670 had signed the letter written by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The letter was to be delivered Aug. 8 to the Democratic, Republican, Green and Libertarian party candidates for president, to their running mates and the chairs of their parties.

"Unfortunately, we live in a time when our politics is too often marked by self-interest and demeaning rhetoric. We seem to be caught in a political system paralyzed by ideological extremism and hyperpartisanship," the letter states.

It says, "Those on all sides of the growing political divide too often appeal to our basest instincts and stoke the fires of fear that tear at the fabric of our nation."

The letter asks that "all who seek to lead refrain from language that disrespects, dehumanizes or demonizes another" and that "all who seek to influence public opinion will be mindful of the common good and respectful of the dignity of each and every person."

Citing the nation's pluralism and diversity, the letter says that "our differences have the potential to challenge all of us to abandon easy certainty and seek a fuller truth." The differences are not the problem, the letter continues. "It is how those disagreements are handled that spells the difference between building the common good and destroying the bonds that bind us."

The women religious urge the presidential candidates to join them "in promising to seek the common good, to desire only good for all others and to offer our own truth with equal measures of conviction and humility."

2. Youth Day: Life in a Diverse World

"Today, we adults need you to teach us, as you are doing today, how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity," Pope Francis told youths from around the world July 30 during the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland.

Speaking during the vigil that is a regular feature of World Youth Day and one of its concluding events, Pope Francis encouraged young people to "have the courage to show us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!"

Pope Francis pointed out to the youths that they came to Krakow "from different parts of the world, from different continents, countries, languages, cultures and peoples." In fact, he said, "some of us are sons and daughters of nations that may be at odds and engaged in various conflicts or even open war."

Yet, he said, "we do not want to tear down, we do not want to give insult. We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror. We are here today because the Lord has called us together," and "our response to a world at war has a name: Its name is fraternity, its name is brotherhood, its name is communion, its name is family."

During the vigil service young people from Poland, Syria and Paraguay shared experiences of rediscovering hope in the midst of very difficult circumstances of disbelief, war and addiction.

Rand Mittri, a 26-year-old woman from Aleppo, Syria, told of the pain and sorrow that comes of seeing her city "destroyed, ruined and broken." She described families living in intense fear. "It is a hard and painful feeling to know that you are surrounded by death and killing, and there is no way to escape, no one to help," she said.

She discovered, though, that "God exists despite all of our pain."

A young man from Paraguay named Miguel recounted his 16-year struggle with drug addiction. He began experimenting with drugs at the age of 11 and ultimately served a prison term.

Miguel said that a priest took him to a halfway house in Brazil where he learned to live as family with his companions. Today he has responsibility for a similar house in Uruguay.

These young people, said the pope, lived "through times of great fear, when it seemed like everything was falling apart." They shared "the same experience the disciples had; they felt the kind of fear that only leads to one thing. Where does fear lead us? The feeling of being closed in on oneself, trapped."

The pope then entered into a discussion of the challenge youths face not to live in fear and to contribute their best to the world.

3. Youth Day: Breaking Down Fences

"God expects something from you, God wants something from you. God hopes in you. God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. God comes to break open everything that keeps you closed in," Pope Francis said to young people who participated in the 2016 World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland.

God "is encouraging you to dream" and "wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different," the pope told them. He said, however, that "unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different."

He forcefully challenged the youths not to be overwhelmed by fears and to live beyond the comforts of what he termed sofa happiness.

"Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons . . . is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life, and especially at a younger age," the pope insisted. He said that people paralyzed by fears "miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others."

An even worse type of paralysis comes from "confusing happiness with a sofa" - thinking, in other words, "that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa."

He commented that "for many people, in fact, it is much easier and better to have drowsy and dull kids who confuse happiness with a sofa. For many people, that is more convenient than having young people who are alert and searching, trying to respond to God's dream and to all the restlessness present in the human heart."

But "we didn't come into this world to 'vegetate,' to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark."

Pope Francis said that "when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: We lose our freedom. We are not free to leave a mark."

He called it "a great form of paralysis whenever we start thinking that happiness is the same as comfort and convenience, that being happy means going through life asleep or on tranquillizers, that the only way to be happy is to live in a haze."

For Jesus "is the Lord of risk," the pope continued. Jesus "is the Lord of the eternal 'more.''' But "Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease." Instead, Pope Francis told the World Youth Day participants, "following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths."

4. Murder of a French Priest

The sad, violent murder July 26 in Rouen, France, of Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old retired priest by two 19-year-old men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, once again left Christians wondering how to respond.

"Catholic faithful around the world experienced the shock and sadness of this morning's barbaric attack on Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in France as if the loss was in our very own parish," Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement.

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, speaking to reporters in Krakow, Poland, where he was participating in the World Youth Day, cautioned against demonizing Islam after such an attack. "We are talking here about fanatic terrorists who are persecuting Christians, and we have to be very clear we are not painting everyone with the same brush," he said.

A Muslim imam in Leeds, England, insisted in a statement that "an attack on any place of worship is an attack on a way of life of faith communities and therefore an attack on all of us."

And Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt's al-Azhar mosque and university, said the attackers lacked "any sense of humanity and all the values and principles of Islamic tolerance, which invite us to peace and to avoid the bloodshed of innocents, without any distinction of religion, color, gender or ethnicity."

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Toronto, Ontario, commented on the murder. "ISIS is not Islam. ISIS and any form of terrorism in the name of God is an aberration of religion," he said.

Father Rosica added that "we must distinguish between true religion and the twisted religion used to justify hatred and violence," and he stressed the need "now more than ever" for Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, reported in his blog that the morning after the murder of Father Hamel a card and bouquet were left on the doorstep of Holy Family Church in Irving. "The handwritten note on the card read: 'Our condolences for the loss of Rev. Jacques Hamel of France. From the Muslim community.'"

The gesture "spoke profoundly to the sorrow and grief felt by both communities in Irving and Rouen, and the world," Bishop Farrell wrote. He said that "Holy Family and the Islamic Center of Irving have, through the years, forged a very good relationship as neighbors and faith communities."

"I am grateful for the sympathy and kindness shown by the Islamic community to our Catholic community and pray we continue to work together to keep our friendship strong," said Bishop Farrell.

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

How the Pope Speaks of Terrorists: "If I spoke of 'Islamic violence,' I would have to speak of 'Catholic violence' as well. Not all Muslims are violent; not all Catholics are violent. It's like fruit salad -- there is a bit of everything. There are violent people in these religions. One thing is true: I believe that in almost every religion there is a little fundamentalist group." (From the pope's in-flight press conference while returning from Poland to Rome July 31 after the World Youth Day. A journalist had asked, "Why, when you speak of these violent acts" like the brutal murder of an elderly priest in France, do "you speak of terrorists, but never of Islam? You never use the word 'Islam.'" Pope Francis responded, "I do not think it is right to identify Islam with violence." He said, "This is not right, and it is not true.")

"Green Purchasing" by Parishes: "Green purchasing is [a] way that parishes can save money and reduce emissions outside the parish. The very first rule of green purchasing is to buy only what is needed. Consolidation of supplies also reduces unnecessary purchasing by eliminating unnecessary storage of paper, etc., in multiple locations. When something is needed, the 'green' choice is . . . often the lowest total cost option as well. Properly implemented, green purchasing saves materials and energy and reduces waste of both packaging and used goods. Green purchasing also contributes to the market demand for low-carbon products. . . . Common green purchase options include: environmentally friendly cleaning supplies; refills for existing containers (rather than buying new containers every time); goods with recycled content, particularly paper, but also some furniture, flooring materials, etc.; reusable, recyclable or compostable items instead of disposable items; all natural materials for art supplies; locally produced food and goods, which avoids energy use for transportation." (From the "Eco-Parish Guide" to bringing Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si', to life in parishes. The guide, created by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, is available online free of charge at www.bit.ly/Eco-ParishGuide.

What Weddings Tell Us: "What will be remembered after the wedding? . . . I suspect you will remember that you said something, you made a promise and a bunch of people who love you were there to celebrate that with you. . . . You might ask why people came, from so far? And those of us who came might ask why we did so. Even if we cannot put words on it, deep inside we realize it is important what happens here. In some inarticulate way our gut tells us we need to witness what you do because it affects us all. Families and friends are part of the promise you make to each other. We get that. But we also come to be renewed in our deepest hope in life: that love can still say 'forever.'" (From notes for a wedding homily given June 30 by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas.)

6. Spotlight on Brazil: Ending Human Slavery

Catholic Relief Services has praised Brazil, host of the 2016 summer Olympic Games, for "its dogged fight against modern-day slavery."

An article by writer John Lindner featured prominently on the CRS website says that "few countries do or risk as much as Brazil has in its quest to eradicate slavery and forced labor from its borders." Efforts in the nation, the article observed, "have won praise and protest."

In fact, it said, "the country has suffered economic and political fallout over the issue. Yet it persists in demanding an end to modern-day slavery."

The CRS Coffeelands Program cast light on this issue "when it examined a Brazilian document called the 'Dirty List,'" the article reported. It said this list "names companies and farms where forced labor had been repeatedly observed. The offenders' names were added to the list only if they failed to take corrective measures."

It said that because CRS "works with small-scale coffee farmers throughout Latin America, and Brazil is the world's largest supplier of coffee, we were alarmed to see coffee farms among the names on the Dirty List." An investigation "revealed a story of Brazil's efforts to eradicate any form of slavery," the article added.

Through its Coffeelands Program, CRS aims "to raise income on family coffee farms and improve conditions for millions of farm workers," the article explains. Moreover, it says that "CRS goes well beyond the coffee sector in helping family farms and laborers" and that "much of that work aims to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking."

"Now, while the world's spotlight is on Brazil, it's fitting to applaud the country in its quest to eradicate modern slavery from its borders," the article stated. It urged "Brazil and the world to renew and strengthen commitments to end slavery and human trafficking of all types."

7. Factors in a Catholic School's Success

"Catholic schools will not survive if they are not excellent," Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., said in a June 8 address at the start of a two-day retreat for pastors, principals, teachers, parents and diocesan personnel aimed at gathering input for creating a strategic plan for diocesan schools.

"Excellence is attractive; parents will sacrifice for excellence," he said.

He remarked that "if we are excellent and are able to assist every child in achieving personal excellence in a culture of friendship and faith, we will attract students even if that pool of students is diminishing in some parishes."

Changing demographics related to the number of children in a parish are among challenges parish schools face today, he said. These changing demographics can include, among other factors, fewer marriages, fewer children in a family and "a drop in the last decades in the number of infant baptisms, which is one gauge on future student populations in a parish."

While schools "must always be striving to be excellent," Bishop Johnston acknowledged that they "can fall prey to the same foibles and temptations that individuals do." Sometimes, for example, there is "a reluctance to admit that what we are doing might not be working or working as well as it could."

Catholic schools should strive to help "each student identify his or her gifts and then set out to develop the habits to use those gifts to their potential," the bishop said. He called that "the definition of excellence."

In considering excellence, he turned attention at one point to school websites. "Most parents when doing research on a school will look at the website. If the website looks poorly done, that tells them all they need to know," he observed.

The need for "a vision and/or a mission statement that everyone knows and can share with someone who asks" was mentioned by Bishop Johnston. This statement "must be the touchstone that animates and unites the faculty, the students and the families of the school," he said.

But unfortunately, "organizations often develop strategic plans that are so cumbersome, detailed and hard to remember that they end up getting ignored." He urged that schools "be able to identify what they are about and truly pursue that in a passionate way." This, he added, "must be measurable and time-bound."

He also called attention to "the role that our Catholic schools have in evangelizing and touching the entire family" and to immigrant families, who may find the schools too costly. He said:

"Catholic schools in America arose in large part to assist the newly arrived immigrant communities. There is a similar need today with the newly arrived immigrant communities, who are faith-filled but often lack the material resources for a Catholic education. These families are also where a large portion of our young church is found."

He noted also that Catholic schools often "are the places where the parents and grandparents, the entire family, has contact with the church."

Bishop Johnson said that "a successful Catholic school will be an asset for a parish and not seen as a liability, as something gobbling up all the resources." However, he added, "this is only going to happen if it is making disciples not simply of the students but of the entire family."

It is important, he proposed, to think of Catholic schools in terms "of evangelizing the family." (The text of Bishop Johnston's address appears in the July 28 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)