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September 15, 2008

How lay ministers view themselves - The emergency that migration has become - What the virtue of hope is, and what it is not - The sacrament of confirmation - and much more.

-- Priests who blog: Communicating online.
-- How lay ministers view themselves.
-- Current quotes to ponder: Blessed Mother Teresa's business card; what the sacrament of confirmation is; blessing the many kinds of work.
-- A new cultural diversity Web site worth consulting.
-- The emergency that migration has become: Pope Benedict XVI speaks out.
-- Immigration work-site raids: U.S. bishops speak out.
-- What the virtue of hope is: Neither optimism nor pessimism.

Priests and Other Pastoral Ministers Who Blog: Communicating Online

A growing number of priests are becoming bloggers, communicating online with the people they serve. Matt Palmer, a journalist on the staff of The Catholic Review newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese, said in a recent article that these priestly bloggers are "chronicling their days" and "even posting their homilies" in their online offerings.

One priest Palmer interviewed, Father T. Austin Murphy, said he gets "a lot of feedback from people" as a result of his blog. Father Murphy said, "That's what the Internet does - connects people." Father Murphy is a campus minister in the Baltimore Archdiocese.

What is a blog? Sometimes it seems that a blog is whatever the person writing it says it is and wants it to be, provided it is an online form of communication. I usually refer to the writing I do here for www.jknirp.com as an online newsletter, but I've noted that some people define "blog" as an online newsletter. So, am I a blogger?

Blogs often are described as online journals, diaries or chronicles. The writers of many blogs communicate in a rather personal way by sharing their own thoughts, plans, opinions or hopes. Often these writers invite a response from their readers. (By the way, you can reach me at cndgibson@comcast.net.)

But all of that is pretty broad when it comes to explaining what a blog is. It suggests to me that those who work in fields of pastoral ministry have plenty of room for creativity if they decide to add blogging to the ways they communicate with those they serve.

How many of the people in your parish community spend time online? That probably is a good thing for a pastoral minister nowadays to know. Would people in your parish welcome a blog by you?

I don't think bloggers can afford to waste people's time. But if you have useful, or educational, or thought-provoking information of interest to the people you serve, is a blog something to consider?

Palmer's article pointed out that a blog can add flexibility to a parish's efforts to communicate with people. One priest he interviewed, Father James D. Profitt, a pastor in Overlea, Md., said that with a blog he can post entries on "a moment's notice," whereas a parish's Web site is "more unchanging stuff." Father Proffit's blog can be found at www.smaparish.blogspot.com.

Father Murphy adds one entry to his blog almost daily it seems. As a campus minister, of course, those he hopes to reach through his blog - www.jesusdisney.blogspot.com -- include many students. Not surprisingly, his site includes links to other Web sites he wants to recommend to college-age readers.

One day recently Father Murphy posted a prayer in the form of a poem, another day he discussed a new movie and the values it prompted him to reflect upon. Sometimes this priest's blog discusses a current development or event in the church; his blog also has entries related to his homilies and the liturgical readings.

Another priest interviewed by Palmer, Father Andrew Costello, an associate pastor at a parish in Annapolis, Md., initially created his blog in response to requests for copies of his homilies. Today, Palmer said, Father Costello "posts weekly homilies, poems and other thoughts" in a blog titled "Reflections by the Bay" at www.reflectbay.blogspot.com.

How Lay Ministers View Their Roles

The way lay ministers describe their roles in the church today "is something we have never seen before," Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., said in his August column for the West River Catholic, the diocese's newspaper. Furthermore, the way lay ministers describe their roles - and the context in which they view their roles - is not what many might expect, the bishop observed.

Lay ministers and lay leaders in the church view themselves as disciples of Jesus carrying out the church's mission and doing the church's work, Bishop Cupich said.

Lay ministers in a recent study conducted by Emerging Models of Ministry turned rather naturally "to theological language to describe what is happening in the church today," Bishop Cupich noted. This is something that "should not be taken for granted," he advised; "after all, there are alternatives."

First, Bishop Cupich said, it wouldn't have been surprising if some had interpreted "the greater involvement of lay men and women in church leadership as but an adjustment by an organization lacking a sufficient number of ordained ministers." He said, "Lay ministry in such a view is the church's fallback position, its way of filling in the gaps created by a shortage."

Second, he said, it might have been claimed "that this new reality is about lay people finally asserting their rights" - that lay ministry is "a sociological development in which the democratic tendencies in the broader culture have finally been accepted by, or have seeped into, the church."

But that is not what one hears, Bishop Cupich said, adding: "Instead, those involved in lay ministry repeatedly demonstrate a positive predisposition to start with the language of our faith tradition." He described this as "significant" and said it ought to be encouraged because "it can only benefit the church's efforts to ensure that the development of lay ecclesial ministry will continue in ways that are faithful to the church's doctrinal and theological tradition, while responding to contemporary pastoral needs and situations."

Lay ministers and leaders view themselves as carrying out the church's mission, Bishop Cupich commented. He said: "Lay men and women are seeing their ministry as a living, ecclesial witness. They know and experience that 'when I do it, the church is doing it."

Current Quotes to Ponder

Is Your Business Card Anything Like This? "Years ago when I first met Mother Teresa of Calcutta after a celebration in Rome, she placed firmly into my hands one of her famous business cards unlike any calling card I had ever seen. On the front of the card were printed these words: 'The fruit of silence is PRAYER. The fruit of prayer is FAITH. The fruit of faith is LOVE. The fruit of love is SERVICE. The fruit of service is PEACE. God bless you. Mother Teresa.' I still carry that card with me. There was no address, phone number or FAX on the card." (Father Thomas Rosica, writing Sept. 4 in the blog of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation based in Toronto, Ontario)

What the Sacrament of Confirmation Brings About: "It is vital for you to understand [the sacrament of confirmation] more and more in order to evaluate the quality and depth of your faith and to reinforce it. The Holy Spirit enables you to approach the mystery of God; he makes you understand who God is. He invites you to see in your neighbors the brothers and sisters whom God has given you, in order to live with them in human and spiritual fellowship -- in other words, to live within the church. By revealing who the crucified and risen Lord is for us, he impels you to bear witness to Christ. You are at an age marked by great generosity. You need to speak about Christ to all around you, to your families and friends, wherever you study, work and relax. Do not be afraid! Bring the good news to the young people of your age and to others as well. They know what it means to experience difficulty in relationships, worry and uncertainty in the face of work and study. They have experienced suffering, but they have also known unique moments of joy. Be witnesses of God." (Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to young people Sept. 12 in Paris)

The Kind of Work a Person Does: "It was perfect in symbolizing that no matter what you do -- a mother raising children, (someone) building things, taking care of the sick, driving a bus, working in a grocery store -- your work is essential to society and also a service to God." (Mackenzie Baris, a lead organizer for DC Jobs With Justice and a member of the Washington Archdiocese's Committee on the Dignity of Labor, commenting on the Sept. 6 Mass in Washington for the Blessing of Human Labor, celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; workers representing a variety of fields stood before the altar for the final blessing; they included a mother with children, a member of the military, a cleaning woman, a man in overalls, a woman religious, and workers from the health-care industry, construction trades, civil service and professional work.)

Consulting a New Cultural Diversity Web Site

A new Web site -- www.usccb.org/scdc/dir_message.shtml -- has been established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church. The Web site is loaded with factual information about the church and its African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific-Island and Native-American people, as well as about migrants and refugees.

Cultural diversity is experienced on an everyday basis in the Catholic Church - both in the U.S. and worldwide, says the secretariat's executive director, Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck. In a message on the Web site, he writes, "Effective pastoral ministry depends on the ability to respond to the needs of people in a way that respects their identity and deepest values, which are expressed in terms of language and culture."

Why is the church concerned about all these cultures? Father Deck says the church's concern "is based on its mission to evangelize, which means communicating Christ's message to each and every nation." It is a process, he adds, that requires both giving and receiving. He writes:

"The church gives from the treasure entrusted to it: the biblical word of God, Catholic tradition and the magisterium. The church in turn receives the richness of humanity found in each and every culture whereby the Christian message becomes incarnate in the lives not only of individuals but of entire peoples."

Father Deck observes that "the dialogue between faith and culture is ongoing." He says: "Today in the United States it is urgent that this dialogue proceed with respect and openness in view of the fact that the United States and the Catholic Church are experiencing a period of intense growth due to immigration. The majority of immigrants coming to this land are Roman Catholic. They bring with them distinctive and valuable forms of culture and Catholic identity that must be respected and built upon as a new U.S. identity is forged."

In addition, "the process of globalization is creating a vast worldwide encounter of cultures that challenges the church in new ways," Father Deck says.

A shift currently is occurring in the Catholic Church in the U.S. from being a community "of predominantly European origin to one of Latin-American, Asian, Pacific-Island and African origin," says Father Deck; this shift "demands a new level of dialogue between and among these emerging new groups as well as with the European-American faithful" of the nation. The challenges encompassed by "the constructive interaction of so many diverse cultures and groups are daunting indeed," said the priest.

Just for starters, the secretariat's Web site shares information on ministries to and with various cultural groups, along with demographic facts on the groups, links to other organizations serving specific cultural groups and resources that may prove valuable. If cultural diversity is a characteristic of the community you serve, it may prove worthwhile to spend a few minutes exploring the secretariat's site.

The Emergency That Migration Has Become

The routes migrants travel, attempting to escape injustice or oppression in their native countries, often lead to tragedy. One of these tragedies led Pope Benedict XVI to comment on the challenges of immigration in remarks after the Sunday Angelus Aug. 31 at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence. News agencies reported that in late August some 70 Africans were thought to have drowned between Malta and Sicily when their boat capsized.

"In recent weeks the news has recorded an increase in episodes of illegal immigration from Africa," Pope Benedict noted. He said: "Crossing the Mediterranean to the continent of Europe, seen as a landing place of hope in order to escape adverse and frequently unbearable situations, often becomes a tragedy; the tragedy that occurred a few days ago seems to have been worse than the previous ones because of the large number of victims."

People have migrated "since the dawn of human history," the pope remarked. Thus, migration always has "characterized relations between peoples and nations." However, the pope said, in these times migration has become an "emergency." He said the emergency that it has become "challenges us, and while it calls for our solidarity, at the same time it demands effective political responses."

The pope said he applauds and encourages the regional, national and international organizations "concerned with the matter of illegal migration." He said the migrants' "countries of origin must also show a sense of responsibility, not only because it is their citizens who are concerned but also to remove the causes of illegal migration, as well as to eliminate at the root all the forms of crime connected with it."

Nations that become "immigration destinations" should "develop increasingly adequate initiatives and structures to meet the needs of illegal migrants," Pope Benedict said. He added that migrants should "be made aware of the value of their own life, which is a unique good, always precious, and [they] must be protected from the grave risks to which they are exposed in the search to improve their condition." Also, he said, migrants should "be made aware of the duty of legality which is obligatory for everyone."

The pope said he felt it was a duty for him "to call everyone's attention to the problem [of migration] and to ask for the generous collaboration of individuals and institutions in order to face it and find ways to solve it."

Bishops Speak Out on Immigrant Work-Site Raids

Immigration enforcement raids on work sites demonstrate the government's ability to enforce the law, but do little "to solve the broader challenge of illegal immigration," Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, Utah, said Sept. 10 in a statement on behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops. He addressed the increase in work-site enforcement raids across the U.S. over the past year in which the Department of Homeland Services, targeting employers who hire unauthorized workers, has used force to enter work sites and arrest immigrant workers.

"The sweeping nature of these raids -- which often involve hundreds of law-enforcement personnel with weapons -- strike fear in immigrant communities and make it difficult for those arrested to secure basic due-process protections, including legal counsel," said the bishop.

He urged public officials "to turn away from enforcement-only methods and direct their energy toward the adoption of comprehensive immigration-reform legislation." He is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration.

Family unity and the safety of children were among Bishop Wester's key concerns. He said raids have led to the separation of U.S.-citizen children from their parents for days, if not longer. The bishop said:

"Raids strike immigrant communities unexpectedly, leaving the affected immigrant families to cope in their aftermath. Husbands are separated from their wives, and children are separated from their parents. Many families never recover; others never reunite."

On the one hand, Bishop Wester said it seemed that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had "attempted to abide by several humanitarian considerations" in some of these raids. But he said the bishops "believe that DHS has not gone far enough to ensure that human-rights protections are consistently applied in all enforcement actions."

The U.S. bishops "do not question the right and duty of our government to enforce the law," Bishop Wester said. However, they "do question whether work-site enforcement raids are the most effective and humane method for performing this duty, particularly as they are presently being implemented."

Bishop Wester called upon the DHS to take action "to mitigate the human costs of these raids." He said enforcement actions should be conducted in a manner that "preserves basic human dignity: Immigrants who are working to survive and support their families should not be treated like criminals."

Furthermore, said the bishop, "mechanisms should be instituted to allow family members to remain together and to locate each other during and following an enforcement action. Nonprofit and community groups should be engaged in this effort."

The bishop asked the DHS to "refrain from enforcement activity in certain areas that provide humanitarian relief: churches, hospitals, community health centers, schools, food banks and other community-based organizations that provide charitable services."

What the Virtue of Hope Is and Is Not

The virtue of hope stands in contrast both with optimism and pessimism, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., said Aug. 26 in his homily for the Mass opening the university's academic year. Hope "demands that we see the world as it is, that we assess, seek to understand, analyze, argue, seek solutions, overcome frustrations and failures. And most important, it encourages the courage and commitment of common action," he said.

Father Jenkins' comments on hope came in the context of remarks on environmental degradation, the world's depletion of its natural resources and the toll taken on the poor by society's failures to care for the planet. The right response to such concerns, he said, is neither optimism (the conviction that whatever challenges appear, the situation is not so grave) nor pessimism (a mind-set that regards problems as unsolvable). Optimism and pessimism "excuse us from analysis, thought and action," Father Jenkins said.

Hope, on the other hand, is accompanied by courage and conviction, said Father Jenkins. He said:

"I pray that we will be people who see the world and its problems with a steady, honest, unflinching gaze; that because of our faith in God's goodness we will apply all our knowledge and skill to a thoughtful, fair, balanced analysis of those issues; that we never flag in seeking solutions and in encouraging others to do so; and, perhaps most important, that we will have the courage and conviction to act when action is called for, and that we inspire others to act as well."