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March 28, 2008

Relating the Sacraments to Life - Cathedral Ministry of Charity to Those Lacking Health Insurance - Actions to Counteract Climate Change - What the Church Knows About Public Policy

In this issue:
-- When immigration raids separate parents from their children.
-- What the church knows about public policy.
-- The environment we'll bequeath to the next generation.
-- What to do about climate change.
-- Cathedral ministry to people lacking health insurance.
-- Current quotes to ponder: Christ-centered ecumenism; the necessity of love for culture change.
-- Relating the sacraments to life.
-- Baptism as a force for peace and reconciliation in the world.

When Immigration Raids Separate Parents From Their Children

Concern about the impact of immigration enforcement raids, especially raids that result in the separation of children from a parent, was voiced March 10 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration during a meeting with Assistant Secretary Julie Myers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Myers heads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The committee also voiced its concern over enforcement activities near parishes. "We do not want migrants to be afraid to attend Mass or to seek the basic assistance that they need," said Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, the committee's chairman. He pointed out that migrants often seek spiritual assistance from parishes and that parishes are places that provide basic needs assistance for them.

The committee told Myers that the use of raids should be minimized, if not abandoned altogether. "We wanted to communicate our desire to work with the government to minimize the use of raids and to reduce the negative impact of the raids on immigrant families," said Bishop Wester. "Our primary concern is to reduce the trauma that children experience when a parent is taken away suddenly," he added.

Bishop Wester discussed some of the same concerns in a speech on immigration this January in Salt Lake City. "Now, with comprehensive immigration reform having failed in Congress, we see enforcement raids that separate children from their parents and strike fear in immigrant communities," he said.

"The enforcement of U.S. immigration law need not be conducted in a manner that undermines basic human dignity," Bishop Wester said in his speech. But "enforcement raids, for example, fail to meet this test, as they separate parents from children and alienate immigrant communities."

The bishop illustrated his point by discussing a Dec. 12, 2006, raid in Utah. He said: "Several hundred immigrants without appropriate documentation were deported to their home countries. Children came home to empty houses. It is hard to image the fear and anxiety of both parents and children as they scrambled to find out what was happening. The sacred bond between parent and child must be honored and not used as a cudgel that in effect does nothing to improve the situation one way or the other."

In the speech, Bishop Wester said that "as many as 52 percent of immigrant families are of 'mixed' status in which at least one family member is undocumented; in many cases the parents have no legal status, while the children are U.S. citizens."

What the Church Knows About Public Policy

"We go to Capitol Hill, not bringing campaign contributions or political endorsements, but to share our principles, our everyday experience and our passion for the poor and for peace," Atlanta's Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a homily in Washington Feb. 26 during the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and numerous Catholic organizations. He spoke as participants in the gathering prepared to visit Capitol Hill where they would discuss church social teaching with members of Congress or their staffs.

"We may not know the ins and outs of Washington, who's up and who's down, the details of every amendment," Archbishop Gregory said. However, he said, "we do know this:

-- "The lives of unborn children need protection.
-- "Poor children need justice.
-- "Families need affordable health care.
-- "Immigrants need to be treated as sisters and brothers, not enemies.
-- "The hungry of the world need food.
-- "Those living and dying with HIV/AIDS need compassionate care.
-- "The people of the Holy Land need a just peace.
-- And the unending war in Iraq requires a responsible transition."

Commenting further on the reasons for visiting Capitol Hill, Archbishop Gregory said: "We go not to impose some sectarian doctrine but to add our voices and our convictions to the debates and decisions on what kind of nation we are becoming, what kind of world we are shaping."

The archbishop said, "As Catholics we are obliged to promote the common good." He said, "We are not another lobby, but a community that serves the poor and vulnerable every day. We believe human rights come from God and do not depend on where you came from, how you got here or when you arrived." (Archbishop Gregory's homily appears in the March 27, 2008, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

All Our Children: The Environment We'll Bequeath to Them

We act unjustly "with regard to future generations" by bequeathing to them a greatly damaged environment, the Canadian Catholic Conference's Commission for Social Affairs says in a newly released pastoral letter titled "Our Relationship With the Environment: The Need for Conversion."

While contemporary "scientific and technological developments have brought us indisputable benefits, they have also had devastating effects on nature," the pastoral letter states. It points to "air, water and soil pollution, increased greenhouse gases, destruction of the ozone layer, deterioration of large ecosystems, disappearance of a number of species and reduced biodiversity."

The pastoral letter acknowledges positive steps taken to address environmental concerns by governments, industries and others. Yet, it says, while "all these steps are important," scientists say that "we are heading toward a concrete wall, and the steps we are currently taking will only serve to diminish the force of the impact." Governments find "great difficulty in moving from words to action" to keep the international commitments they have made on the environment, the pastoral letter says.

According to Pope John Paul II, the crisis of the environment "is not only ecological, but moral and spiritual," the pastoral letter states. "A moral crisis," it adds, "must be met with conversion, which is a change in perspective, attitudes and behavior."

It won't work simply to rely on technology and science to solve the problems of the environment, according to the Canadian document. Rather, what is needed is "a personal and collective conversion." Moreover, it says, "since overconsumption and waste have become a way of life, conversion implies that we free ourselves collectively from our obsession to possess and consume."

When it comes to action for the environment, ties must be established "in advance with future generations," the pastoral letter insists. It calls upon elected representatives to bear in mind "the heritage we are leaving our children when making important decisions." The pastoral letter comments, "After spending beyond our means, it would be unreasonable of us to expect [our descendants] to pay the price."

What to Do About Climate Change

Climate change represents both a planetary and a humanitarian emergency. It also is a moral issue, Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., said in his March monthly message to the diocese. Why is it a humanitarian issue? Because "if the sea levels rise as the climate models predict, the first people to be flooded out of their homes will be impoverished residents of coastal megacities in the Third World," Bishop Hubbard said. He added:

"If warmer temperatures allow tropical diseases to spread, poor nations with underdeveloped health-care systems will find it hardest to cope." Furthermore, "if, over time, the number of exceptionally large and intense tropical storms increases, we all know from seeing those left behind by Hurricane Katrina who will suffer most."

For such reasons, climate change isn't "merely a scientific, economic, national security and foreign-policy issue, but also one that raises profound moral and ethical questions," Bishop Hubbard commented.

What can any of us do about climate change? "We can urge our elected officials to support state, national and international initiatives that are under way for reducing greenhouse gases, setting up carbon markets, promoting technological investment and transition, arresting deforestation and providing poorer countries with the resources needed to cope with environmental pollution," the bishop said. In addition, the business community can be encouraged "to heed the clarion call to care for Earth by employing cleaner fuels and carbon-free technologies."

Parish and church institutions also ought to make themselves "accountable by doing energy audits, installing sun-blocking screens and solar panels, etc.," said Bishop Hubbard.

Finally, the bishop said, "each of us can examine our own lifestyles." Citizens of "a nation of consumers taking anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent of the world's natural resources to fuel our own lifestyles" should ask themselves some questions, he said. These are questions about our transportation ("What kind of cars do we drive?"), about comfort levels ("What do the thermostats read? What type of light bulbs do we use in our homes?") and about conservation ("What amount of trash do we produce and recycle? If, for example, we develop the practice of throwing our soft-drink, beverage or soup cans, shampoo bottles, milk jugs or newspapers into the recycling bin rather than the garbage, we can be real players in addressing environmental insensitivity").

Cathedral Ministry of Charity for People Lacking Health Insurance

Plans to open a medical clinic in October to provide care for children and adults who lack health insurance have been announced by the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. The clinic will be established at the new Christ the Light Cathedral Center. Sponsored by the Western U.S. region of the Order of Malta, the clinic will be staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses. Only those who have no health insurance will receive care at the clinic, according to a March 14 Catholic News Service report.

Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland said he views the clinic as a tangible sign of the new cathedral's "ministry of charity." William McInerney, a Knight of Malta, said there are some 8,400 children and more than 50,000 adults in Oakland who lack health insurance.

Current Quotes to Ponder

Ecumenism: Uniting Divided Christians in Love. "'Loving,' it has been said, 'does not mean looking at each other but looking together in the same direction.' Even among Christians loving means looking in the same direction, which is Christ. Consider what happens to the spokes of a wheel when they move from the center outward: As they distance themselves from the center they also become more distant from each other. On the contrary, when they move from the periphery toward the center, the closer they come to the center they also come nearer to each other, until they form a single point. To the extent that we move together toward Christ, we draw nearer to each other. That which will reunite divided Christianity will only be a new wave of love for Christ that spreads among Christians." (From the Good Friday 2008 address at the Vatican by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household)

Love, the Key to Changing Culture. "The notion that God is love is fundamental to our understanding of our creator. We are all fallible human beings, and we all need love, and the very fact we exist at all is the result of God's love. It is often hard for us to love others, but love we must if we have any hope to change the culture." (Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, speaking March 25 at the National Press Club in Washington about a new national survey commissioned by the Knights on views of religion and the church among Americans)

Relating the Sacraments to Life

"The Eucharist and the sacraments are not distractions from our lives of self-giving; they are sources of that life," Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said in his homily for the archdiocese's Chrism Mass March 18.

"More than 40 years ago," Archbishop Niederauer said, "a Catholic bishop in England pointed out the necessary connections between the sacraments that Catholics celebrate and the call to commitment and service to which Catholics must respond." What the bishop said, as Archbishop Niederauer recalled it, was that:

-- "If we baptize children, we must care about their welfare, their health and their safety from abuse.

-- "If we confirm young Christians, we must care about their education and their growth in faith and virtue.

-- "If we celebrate Eucharist, we must care that everyone has enough to eat, a community of faith to belong to and a resolve to lead a life of sacrifice and service.

-- "If we join couples in marriage, we must care about jobs, housing and a spirituality of chastity and fidelity.

-- "If we ordain to sacred orders, we must ensure that leadership is service.

-- "If we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, we must pursue justice and peace, and we must fearlessly teach that sin is sin.

-- "If we anoint the sick, we must seek dependable health care for all."

Archbishop Niederauer called attention to the way in which every vocation - to priesthood or to marriage, for example - "challenges the generosity of the one called and the generosity of the community of faith that should support that vocation." He said, "We can resist and impede any vocation; for example, we can make happy, holy family life more difficult by the way we talk and behave."

In the sacraments, Catholics "celebrate that God chooses us in Jesus Christ," and "in our daily lives -- by the way we live -- again and again we choose the One who has chosen us," said Archbishop Niederauer. Thus, "we receive Christ in the Eucharist, but then we need to share the love of this Christ we have become; otherwise, Eucharist is frustrated, incomplete."

The Reality of Baptism: A Force for Peace and Reconciliation in the World

"Faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world," Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily March 22 for the 2008 Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica. The reason is that in faith, the "distances between people are overcome; in the Lord we have become close," the pope explained.

The reality of baptism "can sound rather abstract and unrealistic" at first, the pope said. However, "the more you live the life of the baptized, the more you can experience the truth" of this reality: that in baptism, people "become one -- one with [Christ] and thus one among [themselves]."

Baptized people really "are never truly cut off from one another. Continents, cultures, social structures or even historical distances may separate us. But when we meet, we know one another on the basis of the same Lord, the same faith, the same hope, the same love, which form us," Pope Benedict said. Baptized people thus "experience" the reality "that the foundation of [their] lives is the same. We experience that in our inmost depths we are anchored in the same identity, on the basis of which all our outward differences, however great they may be, become secondary."

"Believers," said the pope, "are in communion because of our deepest identity -- Christ within us." And for that reason "faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world."