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November 13, 2016

Pastoral care in prisons -
The changing challenges of aging people -
After the U.S. election: What now? -
Six 21st century beatitudes

In this edition:
1. Reaction to U.S. election.
2. After the election: What now?
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Homelessness unnoticed.
b) Prison pastoral care.
4. Changing challenges of aging.
5. Gifts of older people.
6. Six new beatitudes.

1. Reaction to U.S. Presidential Election

"Millions of Americans who are struggling to find economic opportunity for their families voted to be heard" when they went to the polls Nov. 8, said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Our response should be simple: We hear you. The responsibility to help strengthen families belongs to each of us," he added in a Nov. 9 statement.

The archbishop congratulated U.S. president-elect DonaldTrump and all elected in the nation's voting. "Now is the moment to move toward the responsibility of governing for the common good of all citizens," he wrote.

Cardinal-designate Blase Cupich of Chicago pledged his "prayers for those elected" and said he prayed too "for those who held opposing positions, that they continue to participate in our democracy as we strive to work together in respectful harmony for the common good."

The Chicago archbishop said Nov. 9, "We are all keepers of the American ideals of justice for all, equality and brotherhood and peace among nations." It is essential that we never "tire of living our tradition of service to the needy, to those at society's margins," he added.

Our common goals now, Archbishop Cupich insisted, "must be to demonstrate our commitment to those ideals, to recover our solidarity as a nation and to stand as a beacon of hope and compassion in a world" that sorely needs both.

Archbishop Kurtz urged U.S. citizens not to "see each other in the divisive light of Democrat or Republican or any other political party." Rather, "let us see the face of Christ in our neighbors, especially the suffering or those with whom we may disagree."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops "looks forward to working with" the president-elect "to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end," said the Louisville archbishop. He added:

"We will advocate for policies that offer opportunity to all people, of all faiths, in all walks of life.

"We are firm in our resolve that our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees can be humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security.

"We will call attention to the violent persecution threatening our fellow Christians and people of other faiths around the world, especially in the Middle East.

"And we will look for the new administration's commitment to domestic religious liberty, ensuring people of faith remain free to proclaim and shape our lives around the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage that they can form."

2. After the Election: What Now?

There was little talk during the time leading up to the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election "about values, except for one, civility," Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles wrote Nov. 9 in a column for the archdiocesan newspaper. "Sadly," he said, "it seems that too often we define civility as just being more polite."

However, "true civility is rooted in our common status as citizens who are responsible for our life together in society," according to the archbishop. "In practice," he wrote, "true civility means demonstrating real respect for other people -- even if we are deeply opposed to their 'positions' on issues or even their worldview."

Archbishop Gomez said that for "civility" to mean anything, it "must reflect our common search for what is true and what is good - for individuals and for society. And in the aftermath of this election, the search for truth and goodness becomes even more precious and more crucial."

The archbishop ventured "that this is the first election where we can see very clearly that we are living in a 'post-Christian' America."

It long has been known that "the elites who govern and shape the direction of our society are deeply secularized and hostile to religious institutions and traditional values and beliefs," he said. But with this election "we see that their secular vision now shapes the priorities and concerns of the electorate."

U.S. society today is "confused and conflicted about basic realities -- the meaning of life and what makes for true happiness and human flourishing," Archbishop Gomez observed. The church, he commented, "may be the last institution in our society that believes in the truth."

Where, then, "do we go from here?" It will be necessary, he indicated, to oppose "the false paths to human happiness that we see in our society."

Thus, said the archbishop, "we need to continue the struggle for dignity and resist everything that threatens to diminish the nobility of the human person as a child of God." Moreover, "we need to do it all with love, as people of compassion and mercy," and "we need to promote solidarity and reconciliation."

The archbishop told his readers: "We are not Republicans or Democrats, or liberals or conservatives. Before everything else we are followers of Christ." So "if we want America to be greater, then we need men and women like you and me who are committed to serving God and living the truths we believe."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

Homelessness Under the Radar: "There have been sustained increases in people who are homeless or threatened by homelessness. . . . We are also witnessing a rise in hidden homelessness - people perhaps with a job, but who are sleeping on sofas or in spare rooms or in B 'n Bs because they do not have a home of their own. . . .The issue was highlighted this year in Depaul UK's report 'Danger Zones and Stepping Stones,' describing the plight of young people who stay with a different friend each night or go to all-night parties to avoid sleeping on the streets that night. These are under the radar, the hidden homeless. . . . Family relationship breakdown is a leading contributor to homelessness among single men, and a leading cause of family breakdown is financial difficulty. . . . We are all aware of the link between imprisonment and homelessness. . . . Prison reform is not about being soft on prisoners or on crime, it is about reducing reoffending, genuinely helping victims, getting peoples' lives back on track so that they are a benefit and not a burden to our communities. It is about a criminal justice system that delivers real justice for all." (From Nov. 2 remarks by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, to the annual reception of the Caritas Social Action Network, which is the social action arm of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.)

Pastoral Care in Prisons: "Good pastoral care is a fundamental aspect of any civilized prison regime. Prisoners face profound disruption to every aspect of their lives and have a right to be properly supported. Listening and advice services where people can share their problems in confidence and safety can have an extremely positive impact but are not always readily accessible. Difficult times of life such as family breakdown and bereavement can be particularly hard. For example, prisoners are not always able to attend family funerals and at the same time are physically cut off from personal support networks. In these circumstances it is particularly important that people are able to receive appropriate pastoral care. One barrier to providing this is a shortage of volunteers, exacerbated by delays in vetting processes. While it is essential that everyone volunteering in a prison is properly screened, this should be done in a timely manner so that enough people are available to provide prisoners with the support they need. We encourage the government to improve pastoral care in prisons by extending the availability of good quality support, including for prisoners facing especially difficult times in their lives, [and] expediting the process of vetting volunteers so that more people are available to provide these services." (From "The Right Road," a document on prison reform launched in November by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.)

4. The Changing Challenges of Aging

A threefold challenge is faced when it comes to giving older people in the church and society "their rightful place at the table," Australia's Catholic bishops say in their 2016-2017 social justice statement titled, "Social Justice in an Aging Society."

The first part of the challenge is to "do all we can to ensure" that older people "continue to participate in the heart of community life." Second, the bishops explain, "we must protect the frail and vulnerable, and respect and celebrate their inherent dignity."

Third, "we must all stand in solidarity and ensure that every one of God's precious people has a place at the table of life."

At one time, the bishops note, "retirement was considered a period of rest and declining health," but today it is common to "speak of 'active aging' in an 'extended life course'-- a transition through the 50s to the 80s, with changing activities and concerns as time goes on."

The benefits and risks of encouraging a continued place for aging citizens in the work force are accented in the social justice statement. There are good reasons for many today to work beyond what formerly was considered retirement age, the bishops suggest.

They caution, however, that society must bear in mind that while many older people enjoy sufficiently good health to continue working in the public square, many others do not.

"An office worker may be able to remain at work after 60, but it may be unjust to ask this of people whose work life has been one of hard physical labor over decades," the bishops comment.

Moreover, "given the growing calls in our society for a longer working life," the bishops consider it "right that we also challenge anything that prevents or restricts the kind of contributions that are so valuable in later life: spiritual fulfillment, rest and leisure, time with family and friends, volunteering with parish and community groups, and being present to share a lifetime's wisdom with younger generations."

They caution, as well, that "if the main reason for encouraging people to stay in employment longer is to reduce payment of pensions and benefits, and 'preserve the economy,' there is a risk that we value people only for their contribution to the economy and regard the elderly in purely utilitarian terms."

5. The Gifts of Older People

All Catholic communities are asked by the bishops "to consider how they can reach out to older people in facilities and in their homes," for example:

"By providing increased opportunities for participation in the sacramental life of the church.

"By running spiritually and intellectually stimulating courses or initiating life-story projects as part of the contribution to the community's history," and

"By providing a space where young and old can meet and share their skills, experiences and stories."

The bishops' statement examines society's posture toward aging people, but it also examines their gifts and society's call to them.

The bishops ask senior citizens what they will "bring to the table" and "how they will "embrace the change" in later life. What, the bishops ask, do older people want to give to their families and communities?

The bishops observe that "aging brings gifts: a centeredness that allows one to rise above the frenetic pace of modern life; a sense of history that reaches far beyond the transience of popular culture or the media's news cycle; the wisdom gained from past mistakes or failures; and a sense of community, which a culture of individualism cannot provide."

And how will older people use their time as members "of the community of faith?" Their "spiritual fulfillment is an important part of the legacy and faith" they will pass on, the bishops state. They explain:

"You have the opportunity to pass on a bequest of healing for past quarrels, an end to disputes and to relate in love across boundaries of family and society."

"You have the wisdom of years that can offer a great deal for the common good."

The bishops advise older people, "It is important to remain engaged in national debates about the future of our society."

The bishops' statement calls on political leaders to ensure that "the benefits of a longer working life extend to all, in a way that promotes positive aging and values the noneconomic contribution of older people."

The statement urges political leaders to "defend the dignity of older people who are frail and vulnerable, ensuring no policy or public debate ever casts these citizens as a burden or as rivals to younger generations."

And political leaders are asked to "bring all people to the table to consider a national strategy for positive aging."

Society "must foster a culture of compassionate care that values and protects people in their final period of life," the statement says. It notes that "palliative care for people who are dying in pain or distress is a tried and tested means of offering such compassionate care."

The statement calls attention to the social isolation of many aged people. "It is estimated that 20 percent of older Australians are affected by social isolation," the bishops say. This "constitutes a major risk factor for health."

Here they cite a study showing "that the lack of supportive social relationships has health effects equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes or consuming more than six alcoholic drinks a day." The bishops want readers of their statement to realize that "social isolation is more harmful than not exercising and twice as harmful as obesity."

6. Six New Beatitudes

"Pope Francis proposed six new beatitudes for the modern era" during his Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 visit to Sweden, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica pointed out in a reflection posted on the foundation's website. He heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation based in Toronto, Ontario.

The Gospel Beatitudes call Christians "to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus," Pope Francis said in a homily in Sweden. Thus, he added, "we ought to be able to recognize and respond to new situations with fresh spiritual energy."

He then presented these six new beatitudes:

"Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart."

"Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized, and show them their closeness."

"Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him."

"Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home."

"Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others."

"Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians."

Those who do these things "are messengers of God's mercy and tenderness," said the pope.

He spoke on the Beatitudes in a homily in Sweden Nov. 1, All Saints Day. The Beatitudes found in the Gospel are "in some sense the Christian's identity card," identifying people "as followers of Jesus," the pope suggested.

He focused on one Gospel beatitude, "Blessed are the meek." Meekness "enables us to set aside everything that divides and estranges us," he said. Meekness, he explained, is "a way of living and acting that draws us close to Jesus and to one another."