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August 20, 2008

Listening-in on the pope's summer question-and-answer session with clergy -- Welcoming the stranger with much more than a "hello" -- Young-adult ministry considerations -- Labor Day 2008 - and more!

In this edition:
-- Collaborating in ministry today: The pope responds to a busy priest.
-- The pope's realistic appraisal of suffering.
-- Heightening respect for the environment: The pope's analysis.
-- Caring for the environment: religious superiors' resolution.
-- Current quotes to ponder: 1) Are you someone who can proclaim good news? 2) Labor Day 2008. 3) Counteracting numbness in the face of unsettling realities.
-- When more than a "hello" is needed: Welcoming the stranger.
-- How new immigrants become active participants in parish life.
-- Ministry with young adults: considerations.

Collaboration in Ministry: The Pope Responds to a Busy Priest

"New forms of collaboration should be created" in today's church, Pope Benedict XVI said Aug. 6 in a gathering with some 400 diocesan and religious-order priests and deacons in the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone during his vacation in northern Italy. As was done during his previous vacations as pope, he engaged in a question-and-answer session, and the Vatican later issued and translated a transcript of the session's questions and answers.

One priest, a pastor of two large parishes, expressed concern about "the increasing burden of pastoral care" - a concern he said was shared by others, including the laity. The priest inquired about roles in ministry for lay men and women, and he asked how priests "confronted by the new challenges, can help one another in a brotherly community."

Responding to the priest's question, Pope Benedict spoke about the "irreplaceableness of the priest" and about "the multiplicity of charisms and the fact that all together they are church - they build the church." Thus, he said, "we must strive to reawaken charisms."

Pope Benedict said he knows well "how difficult it is today when a priest finds himself directing not only one easily managed parish, but several parishes and pastoral units." For, the pope said, such a priest must remain available to people, and it is difficult "to live such a life." He said, "I believe that in this situation it is important to have the courage to limit oneself and to be clear about deciding on priorities."

The pope suggested that what is a priority for a priest will come into view for him if he finds an hour each day "to be in silence for the Lord and with the Lord." The priest should "return within the reach of the Holy Spirit's breath" - and should "order priorities on this basis." The pope immediately added:

"I must learn to see what is truly essential, where my presence as a priest is indispensable and where I cannot delegate anyone else. And at the same time I must humbly accept when there are many things I should do -- and where my presence is requested -- that I cannot manage because I know my limits."

The pope is confident that "people understand this humility." He said that people want a priest who "endeavors to live with the Lord and then is available to men and women," but who also "can distinguish between things that others do better than him, thereby making room for those gifts."

Responding to the priest's question about how priests might lend each other support, the pope said: "Priests, even if they live far apart, are a true community of brothers who should support and help one another. In order not to drift into isolation, into loneliness with its sorrows, it is important for us to meet one another regularly."

Dioceses, the pope said, should decide "how best to organize meetings for priests so that we can experience being together ever anew, learn from one another, mutually correct and help one another, cheer one another and comfort one another."

The Pope's Realistic Appraisal of Suffering

A 42-year-old priest diagnosed with multiple sclerosis asked during the Aug. 6 question-and-answer session with Pope Benedict XVI in Bressanone, Italy, what the pope could say "to me and to all of us to truly help elderly or sick priests to live their priesthood well and fruitfully." The priest told the pope he had been impressed by Pope John Paul II, especially during "the last part of his pontificate when he bore his human weakness with courage and humility before the whole world."

Pope Benedict responded that he too considered the last years of Pope John Paul's pontificate "no less important" than its earlier years. "With such humility, such patience with which he accepted what was practically the destruction of his body and the growing inability to speak, he who had been a master of words thus showed us visibly - it seems to me - the profound truth that the Lord redeemed us with his cross, with the passion, as an extreme act of his love. He showed us that suffering is not only a 'no,' something negative, the lack of something, but a positive reality."

In a world "that thrives on activism, on youth, on being young, strong and beautiful, on succeeding in doing great things," it is essential to "learn the truth of love which becomes a 'passion" and thereby redeems man and unites him with God, who is love," Pope Benedict said. He added, "I would like to thank all who accept suffering, who suffer with the Lord." However, at that point the pope reminded those present that suffering is truly painful, a "passion," saying:

"In the end it is always difficult to suffer. In a true 'passion' it becomes ever more difficult to be truly united with the Lord and to maintain this disposition of union with the suffering Lord. Let us therefore pray for all who are suffering and do our utmost to help them, to show our gratitude for their suffering and to be present to them as much as we can, to the very end."

Pope Benedict said: "This is a fundamental message of Christianity that stems from the theology of the cross. We must love those who suffer, not only with words but with all our actions and our commitment. I think that only in this way are we truly Christian."

Heightening Respect for the Environment: The Pope Responds

"Safeguarding the environment" does not seem to have assumed its rightful place as a concern of faith among Christians, a priest said during the question-and-answer session with Pope Benedict XVI held Aug. 6 in Bressanone, Italy. The priest asked, "What can we do to increase the sense of responsibility for creation in the life of our Christian communities."

Pope Benedict responded that while "discovering technologies" such as "alternative sources of energy" that serve to prevent damage to the environment is important, these technologies will not be sufficient "unless we ourselves find a new way of living, a discipline of making sacrifices, a discipline of recognizing others to whom creation belongs as much as it belongs to us , a discipline of responsibility with regard to the future of others and our own future."

There was a time not all that long ago when Christians were accused "of being the ones truly responsible for the destruction of creation," Pope Benedict recalled. The accusers held that the words "subdue the earth" in the book of Genesis had engendered arrogance among Christians "with regard to creation, an arrogance whose consequences we are reaping today."

Commenting on this charge against Christians, the pope said:

"I think we must learn again to understand this accusation in all its falsity: As long as the earth was seen as God's creation, the task of 'subduing' it was never intended as an order to enslave it, but rather as the task of being guardians of creation and developing its gifts - of actively collaborating in God's work ourselves, in the evolution that he ordered in the world so that the gifts of creation might be appreciated rather than trampled upon and destroyed."

Pope Benedict said that:

-- "The brutal consumption of creation begins where God is not, where matter is henceforth only material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate demand, where the whole is merely our property and we consume it for ourselves alone."

-- "The wasting of creation begins when we no longer recognize any need superior to our own , but see only ourselves. It begins when there is no longer any concept of life beyond death, where in this life we must grab hold of everything and possess life as intensely as possible, where we must possess all that is possible to possess."

In Romans 8, the pope said, one reads that all of creation has been "groaning in travail because of the bondage to which it has been subjected." However, the pope explained, creation "will feel liberated when creatures, men and women who are children of God, treat it according to God's perspective."

Pope Benedict said he believes "that true and effective initiatives to prevent the waste and destruction of creation can be implemented and developed, understood and lived only where creation is considered as beginning with God, where life is considered as beginning with God and has greater dimensions."

Caring for the Environment

"That the earth's climate is warming is no longer a matter of serious scientific controversy," and this global temperature increase is likely to have devastating and widespread impacts, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said during their Aug. 1-4 joint assembly in Denver. The conferences, representing more than 86,000 vowed religious-order members in the U.S., approved a joint resolution on the environment.

"Care for God's creation has become an urgent call for the present generation," the leadership conferences said, explaining their resolution's rationale. It is a call heard, for example, "in the billions of poor who have no access to even the basic necessities to sustain life, such as clean air and water"; it is witnessed in "the allure of lifestyles focused on increasing consumption that fail to truly nourish human life and community."

The CMSM and LCWR resolved to foster awareness of the need to care for God's creation in their institutions and among their members and colleagues. They resolved "to seek concrete ways to curb environmental degradation, mitigate its impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people, and restore right relationships among all God's creation."

Current Quotes to Ponder

Can you proclaim good news? "Before you can proclaim the good news to anyone, you must become good news for them. Being good news and proclaiming the good news are two sides of the same coin: You can have both or neither, but not just one." (From the June 29 homily for the ordination of five permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of San Francisco by Archbishop George Niederauer of that archdiocese)

Labor Day 2008: "We are a nation committed to both economic freedom and economic justice. But that cannot mean freedom for me and justice for me alone. The classic linking of the human person with the common good teaches us that we have to use our freedom and creativity not just for ourselves and those we care for. It must extend to all those who are affected by our actions and by society's goals. That means everybody in today's globalized world." (Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a statement for Labor Day 2008)

Counteracting Numbness: "[Walter] Brueggemann claims that the primary calling of a prophet is not to be an angry social critic. Instead, a prophet is someone who is willing to take an honest look at upsetting and unsettling realities that are ignored by society at large and the powers that be. Today it is so easy to become numb to the growing poverty across the globe , to the increasing numbers of Iraqi refugees, to the migration of peoples who are searching to meet their basic, human needs, to the women and children who are trafficked and terrorized each and every day , to the global realities of climate change and ecological devastation , to the violence on our local streets. Who will pierce the numbness? Are we up to the challenge of delivering new life on behalf of those who feel hopeless? We cannot pierce the numbness alone. The complexity of the global challenges we face requires combining our efforts with partners and collaborators." (From the Aug. 4 presidential address in Denver of Sister Mary Whited, superior general of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, to members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious)

When More Than a "Hello" Is Needed: Welcoming the Stranger

Welcoming migrants means much more than saying 'hello.' It means reaching out across the boundaries of language and culture and connecting with people," Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Lynch of Southwark, England, said in the pastoral statement he issued in his capacity as chairman of the office of the British Catholic bishops' conference that deals with migration.

Clearly, discovering ways as a church to welcome immigrants isn't a challenge restricted to North America.

Bishop Lynch said in his April 2008 statement that welcoming migrants means:

-- "Going to the places where people meet, when they meet, and if necessary helping them get a place to meet."

-- "Walking with and listening to people -- to their stories and their struggles, to their hopes and aspirations, to their worries and anxieties."

-- "Trying to understand their sense of loss and loneliness, their sense of isolation and marginalization, their culture, their community and their sense of achievement."

This ministry of welcome is twofold in nature, Bishop Lynch indicated. He called it "both an expression of communion and a call to migrants to become full members of the local church." Communion, the bishop said, needs to be "understood as a process -- a journey that involves enabling migrants and migrant communities to connect with, belong to and make every effort to participate in" the local church's pastoral programs and initiatives.

The church is very important to migrant families and communities, the bishop said. For them, the church "is a familiar place in a strange world, as well as a place where people can find meaning, strength and hope during a period of great transition or even struggle." Thus, "enabling migrants to meet, to share, to pray in their own language and their own way is very important," he said. This may call for the naming of a "link person" who speaks the immigrants' language and can help them to understand the new society to which they have migrated and to "integrate with the parish in a practical way."

Members of the clergy and other pastoral agents need to be "instructed and equipped to minister in a multicultural environment," Bishop Lynch wrote. He urged that as part of their formation, seminarians and pastoral workers be "offered courses on the social and pastoral issues connected with the presence of migrants."

New Immigrants: Participants in Parish Life

Ways of empowering new immigrants to become active participants in a parish's life include "encouraging them to contribute to parish liturgies" and to "take on roles of service" -- for example as lectors, ministers of Communion, members of parish councils or altar servers, Bishop Lynch said in his pastoral statement on migration.

The British bishop also urged that parishes make places available where migrants can meet to share concerns or to conduct their own events. At the same time, he recommended that programs be developed to "bring the migrant and host communities together."

The church also can fulfill a valuable role by standing with migrants "in their efforts to integrate into society at large," the bishop said. He explained that in practical terms this means helping migrants to overcome economic and social inequalities, and helping them to "acquire competences (language, new skills and democratic practices) so that they too can enjoy the benefits of citizenship and contribute to society."

Bishop Lynch summarized three basic principles of church teaching related to migration. He said these principles hold that:

-- "People have a right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families."

-- "A country has the right to regulate its borders and control migration."

-- "A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy, and recognize and respect the human dignity and rights of migrants."

With these three principles in mind, it becomes clear "that a migrant's legal status is quite separate from his or her human dignity," Bishop Lynch said. All immigrants, "without exception, are endowed with inalienable rights, which can neither be violated nor ignored," he stated.

Ministry With Young Adults: Online Considerations

"The church must cultivate young-adult leaders ready to minister to their peers - as small-group prayer leaders, retreat leaders, service-project coordinators, liturgical ministers and so on," says Timothy Muldoon, a theologian who serves in the Office for University Mission and Ministry at Jesuit-run Boston College.

"Sowing Seeds for Ministry," an article by Muldoon in the July 21 edition of America magazine, discusses five ways to reach young-adult Catholics. The writer comments, "In this age of new models of parish leadership and cooperation between clergy and laity, perhaps the most exciting area of growth will be among young adults who take up leadership and mentoring roles in local communities."

Communication is one of the five means of reaching young-adult Catholics that Muldoon examines. Here he accents the value of a parish's "online presence." For a lot of young adults, "if something is not online, it doesn't exist," he asserts. According to Muldoon, "a parish's Web site -- its appearance and content -- indicates quickly to young people whether this parish is likely to be a place where they will be nourished."

However, in Muldoon's assessment, many diocesan and parish Web sites, while providing good information, are wordy and technologically unsophisticated. He thinks the church "can have a better presence online as a way of attracting young adults."

One way parishes might improve their online presence to young adults is by tapping into the expertise of young adults employed in the field of communications, Muldoon proposes. This approach yields two benefits, he says. It gives young adults with communications-media expertise a way to serve the local community, and it "enhances parish outreach."