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February 11, 2017

The plight of refugee children -
Papal Lenten message -
Looking ahead to Lent: reflections on prayer -
Muslims killed in Quebec City

In this edition:
1. Murders in a mosque.
2. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Vetting of refugees.
b) Refugee children.
c) Appeals court decision.
3. Holocaust remembrance.
4. Pope's Lenten message.
5. Hints on praying.
6. Website on "dying well."

1. Murders in a Quebec City Mosque

Six Muslims were killed Jan. 29 at the time of evening prayer by a 27-year-old Canadian man at a mosque in Canada's Quebec City. Numerous others were wounded.

The attack was "an assault on the right and freedom of the members of all religions to gather and pray in the name of their deepest beliefs," Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton, Ontario, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Jan. 30.

"Such murderous violence is to be condemned in the strongest possible terms," the bishop declared. It desecrated "a house of prayer and worship," and it represented a "violation of the sanctity of human life."

He added that "as persons of faith we pray earnestly for the souls of the victims," as well as "that consolation and peace be bestowed upon those who suffer their loss."

During an interfaith gathering for a Mass of solidarity Jan. 31 in a Catholic church near the Quebec mosque, Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec City declared, "Men and women of dialogue - this is what we are called to be."

Speaking to the assembly, which included Muslim leaders and other members of the Muslim community, the cardinal said:

"Like Jesus, let us be mindful of the needs of those we live with. Let us learn to know them and to advance with them. We have a lot to gain from listening, meeting and living together. We are made to enrich each other, and we'll do it by learning how to love each other."

The cardinal told Boufeldja Benabdallah, founder of the Islamic center which includes the mosque, that he wanted to give him a gift that Pope Francis gave to him a day earlier in Rome: a hug. Cardinal Lacroix, who already was in Rome, met with the pope Jan. 30 before returning to Quebec.

In a condolence message sent Jan. 30 to Cardinal Lacroix, Pope Francis expressed "his deepest sympathy to the injured and their families," and he strongly condemned the kind of "violence that engenders such suffering."

Archbishop Christian Lepine of Montreal, Quebec, said Jan. 30 that "nothing can justify acts of murder against innocent people." Instead, he continued, "we are called to reaffirm continuously, whatever our beliefs, that as human beings we are all brothers and sisters, and we are all equal in dignity."

2. Current Quotes to Ponder

U.S. Vetting of Refugees: "We've had a vetting process for refugees for years. They already undergo a thorough, painstaking process before they are allowed into the United States. Candidates applying for asylum are screened by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the State Department and the National Counterterrorism Center. They undergo iris scans, and their fingerprints are collected. Several interviews are conducted and repeated if necessary. The process can take as long as two years and involves 20 different steps. There are additional measures taken for Syrian refugees, making them the most vetted refugees in the world." (From an article on the Catholic Relief Services website (www.crs.org) titled, "5 Things You May Not Know About Refugees," by Megan Gilbert, a CRS communications officer.)

Refugee Children: "Providing safe passage for unaccompanied children already in Europe into caring and loving homes . . . is a clear and tangible way in which we as a country can demonstrate our values of protecting the vulnerable and welcoming the stranger. We must resist and turn back the worrying trends we are seeing around the world toward seeing the movement of desperate people as more of a threat to identity and security than an opportunity to do our duty. We cannot withdraw from our long and proud history of helping the most vulnerable." (From a Feb. 9 statement by Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury reacting to a British government announcement that it expects to severely limit the number of child refugees accepted into the country and will not meet public expectations in this area.)

Immigration Committee Responds to Jan. 9 Court of Appeals Decision on President Trump's Immigration Order: "We welcome the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution. At this time we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated, and that they continue to be welcomed to our country. We will continue to welcome the newcomer, as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and tradition." (Feb. 10 comments of Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled unanimously to uphold a lower court's temporary restraining order blocking implementation of several key provisions of President Trump's executive order on immigration.)

3. Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2017

The Vatican works actively through education "to counter both anti-Semitism in general and Holocaust denial in particular," Msgr. Janusz Urbanczyk, the Vatican's permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told an OSCE permanent council meeting in remarks for the Jan. 27 Holocaust Remembrance Day. The OSCE addresses a wide range of security-related concerns.

"The past must serve as a lesson for the present and for the future, so as not to repeat history's terrible mistakes" and to ensure "that younger generations will not have to face this evil again," Msgr. Urbanczyk said.

"Remembrance of the Holocaust, the Shoah -- the planned annihilation of the Jewish people, and the planned extermination of Roma and Sinti and other groups of people -- brings to mind all the victims of those most heinous crimes against humanity, whose terrible suffering unmasks the complete disregard for the inherent dignity of every person," he commented.

The world, he continued, must not forget "the suffering and ultimate sacrifice, the fear and tears of the countless victims of blind hatred who suffered deportation, imprisonment and death" in what were "perverted and inhuman places."

Msgr. Urbanczyk said that "in the face of the outright barbarism of the Holocaust, in the face of the attempted destruction of an entire people, in the face of a cold, relentless violence and darkness," everyone, including the international community, nations and individuals "must strive to live out the principles of peace, justice, solidarity and reconciliation."

Indeed, he stated, they must do this for a simple reason, a reason stated by Pope Francis "after having prayed in utter silence in the concentration camp in July last year" - namely, the reality that "'cruelty did not end at Auschwitz and Birkenau.'"

4. Pope Draws Lent Into Focus With a Parable

Christians are asked in Lent "to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord," Pope Francis writes in his 2017 message for Lent. The central focus of the message is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). Lazarus is the poor and physically afflicted beggar always seen outside the door of the rich man's home.

Lazarus "teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value," says Pope Francis. So "even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change."

This parable "first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be a neighbor or an anonymous pauper," the pope explains.

Listening to the parable means listening to the word of God, which is precisely what Pope Francis says the rich man was not doing and which brings "to the fore" his "real problem."

The rich man's "ills" were rooted in his "failure to heed God's word," according to the Lenten message. "The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God." But "when we close our heart to the gift of God's word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters," the pope insists.

Lent is an opportune time, he comments, "for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor."

Not surprisingly, with the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus at its heart, the pope's Lenten message devotes considerable attention to the role of money in life. It is notable, the pope suggests, that the rich man's opulence and extravagance do not hide the fact that while the parable attaches the dignity that is borne by a proper name to the beggar, it provides only a description of the rich man, but no name.

"The rich man's greed makes him vain," the pope comments, and "his personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do." The pope writes:

"For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door."

Money, Pope Francis cautions, "can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol. Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity toward others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace."

5. Thoughts on Praying as Lent Approaches

"Prayer should never be laborious. It should be freely given in the same way we freely make time for our friends," according to writer Emilie Callan, a communications officer at the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation headquartered in Toronto, Ontario. However, it is important to establish a time and a place to pray, she suggests.

Callan's article titled "5 Ways to Improve Your Prayer Life," dated Jan. 26, 2017, appears in the Salt and Light blog (www.saltandlighttv.org). She shares what helps her "when it comes to personal prayer."

Praying "is simple, and yet it is often the first thing we remove from our busy schedules," she observes. So she suggests petitioning God for "the desire to pray even before we begin to pray."

Callan confesses that "there are so many times I missed out on my prayer time because I failed to set aside a specific time in the day for it." She suggests asking oneself "if there is a time in the day when you would be the most alert for prayer. Is it in the evening? At lunch time?"

She recommends that "if you cannot pray at the same hour every day," you might decide at the beginning of each day "when you will do it."

Choosing a place to pray also is important. "Churches and chapels are not the only places where prayer can happen," says Callan. She has "prayed on the bus, on a plane or even in the middle of a campus cafeteria."

Since not everyone has the luxury of a nearby chapel in which to pray, people "do with what we have, where we are," she writes. Perhaps that means praying while "sitting on the couch or sitting at your desk in your bedroom or while sipping on a cup of coffee."

She asks, "What does the time and place you choose for prayer say about your relationship with God?" When a friend once asked her that question, she says, it changed her "whole outlook on prayer."

There are times, Callan notes, when she feels useless when setting out to pray. "I have to remember that prayer should be simple and that I don't have to be 'useful' in order to have a conversation with God," she says.

It is important, she continues, "not to fill up our time with a prayer 'to-do' list." She explains, "Prayer is a conversation in which there is a time to speak, to listen and to remain in silence."

And, "there will be times when nothing happens at all, when prayer seems empty and Scripture doesn't speak to us, as though God had just disappeared." Yet, she concludes, "our willingness to remain there and be available, no matter what we may 'feel' or not, is enough."

6. New Pastoral Website on Dying Well

A newly launched website titled "The Art of Dying Well" (www.artofdyingwell.org) should be of interest not only to a range of pastoral ministers and counselors, but to dying persons, their families and loved ones, as well. The online resource is extensive and worth exploring, and it is easy to read.

It "was devised and commissioned by the Catholic Church of England and Wales," the website points out. It is "based in the Catholic tradition but open to all," and it "features real-life stories about the highs and lows of dealing with the final journey."

The website not only offers valuable information and insights about dying, but hopes to foster discussion within families and among friends faced with an impending death.

"There is a widespread reluctance to discuss dying," it observes. However, while it is "rarely easy" to do this, it is "not impossible." The website advises that "discussion helps ensure that you and your loved ones receive the right care and support. And ending the silence about death may help to diminish its terrors and lead to improvements in the quality of your life."

Becoming "open about death" can calm fears, help people to value their lives more and prompt them to think more about the care they would like to receive when they are dying, according to the website.

Specific issues like palliative care or fears and questions related to the very process of dying are among the questions it addresses.

The website intends to offer "a helping hand to those grappling with issues around death and dying," it says. It points out that "professionals in palliative care, ethics, chaplaincy and history have informed the site content."