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December 2, 2008

New epoch in U.S. church history: Diversity and the Hispanic presence - What leaders within the church do - Why the financial crisis is an ethical crisis - The environment and God's ongoing creation.

In this edition:
-- Entering the season of peace with the medicine of dialogue.
-- The way of dialogue.
-- Notes on leaders and leadership.
-- New epoch in U.S. church history: Diversity and the Hispanic presence.
-- Current quotes to ponder: 1) When it is difficult to do what we must do. 2) Women in church and society. 3) The Eucharist and action to transform the world.
-- Perspectives on the environment and God's continuing creation.
-- What is "forgiveness"?
-- Ethics (or the lack thereof) and the financial crisis.

Entering This Season of Peace With the Medicine of Dialogue

If peace is "a gift of God," there nonetheless is much that "men, women, peoples" can do on behalf of peace - and they have "a great responsibility" to do this, said Andrea Riccardi, founder of Sant'Egidio, the Rome-based lay movement. The movement's valuable negotiations for peace and reconciliation in various parts of our troubled world have been widely recognized.

Speaking Nov. 18 in Cyprus to the closing ceremony of the annual interreligious gathering for peace sponsored by Sant'Egidio, Riccardi suggested that dialogue on all levels of society helps pave the road to peace. He said:

"The medicine of dialogue can heal conflicts. Dialogue does not require war and violence, but listening and talking. Dialogue reveals that the use of force and war is not inevitable. Dialogue does not leave defenseless, rather it protects. It does not cause weakness, rather it grants new strength. It transforms strangers and enemies into members of one's own family. It delivers from the demon of violence."

While "nothing is lost with dialogue," Riccardi told the interreligious gathering that "anything can be achieved through dialogue." He said, moreover, that "religions are called to the daunting task of making a spirit of peace grow among human beings. It is the spirit of Assisi, initiated by John Paul II and blowing since 1986."

Riccardi insisted that one is not acting naively in choosing to pursue dialogue. "We need this spirit of humanity, this spirit of dialogue," he said. "It is not something too simple, too naοve, too miserable, against the complex machinery of the economy and the mechanisms of politics" - machinery and mechanisms that he said "in many parts of the world are worn out."

What is missing in today's world is "the essential simplicity of being authentic, of being human, brothers and sisters, peaceful men and women," Riccardi said.

Hundreds of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh and other religious leaders met Nov. 16-18 in Nicosia, Cyprus, for the Sant'Egidio-sponsored gathering. They issued a closing statement in the form of an "appeal" stating that "this is not the time to surrender to pessimism, it is a time to heed the sorrow of people and to work for the foundation of a new world order of peace." The appeal said:

"The quest for justice, the use of dialogue and respect for the weak are the tools we need to build this new world order. We need a surplus of spirit and a greater sense of humanity! A world without a soul will soon become inhuman."

The appeal emphasized the bonds among the world's peoples. "No human being, no people, no community is an island. Everyone needs somebody else; everyone needs the friendship, forgiveness and help of someone else," the appeal stated. What is shared by all people, it added, is "a common global destiny: Either we live together in peace or we perish."

War, said the appeal, "is never inevitable, and it piles up ruins even in the hearts of winners." There is "no hatred, no conflict, no wall" that is able to "resist the power of prayer, forgiveness and patient love leading to dialogue," it said.

Dialogue "is the real alternative to violence." With dialogue, "anything can become possible," said the appeal.

… The Way of Dialogue

"We are 'condemned' to dialogue," Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran said in a speech on interreligious dialogue delivered in Naples, Italy. He is president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

In interreligious dialogue, people do not renounce their own faith. Instead, they allow themselves to be questioned by the convictions of others; they are willing to consider arguments different from their own and those of their community, Cardinal Tauran explained.

The aim of such dialogue "is to know one another, to consider the religion of the other with kindness and to allow myself to be enriched by positive aspects discovered" in the other's religion, he said.

Dialogue between members of different religions is accompanied by certain risks - for example the risk of syncretism, inappropriately mixing elements from different religious traditions, Cardinal Tauran said. He commented that interreligious dialogue is not a quest for a watered-down, universal religion of some sort. The reality is, however, that the benefits promised by interreligious dialogue to a world searching for peace make it a necessary risk, he said. And interreligious dialogue can strengthen one's own faith, he said.

Interreligious dialogue is, as in the case of any dialogue, an opportunity to clarify the points on which people agree and disagree, Cardinal Tauran said. Such a dialogue "supposes a common language, honesty in presenting one's point of view and a commitment to doing everything possible to understand the arguments of the other," he explained.

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published an abridged text of the cardinal's talk in its Nov. 28 edition.

Notes on Leaders and Leadership

Leaders in the church ought to attempt to perceive other people the way God perceives them, Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe proposed in a recent address. It is his conviction that leaders will be unable to address moral issues with those they serve until those people have been "assured without ambiguity of God's delight in their being."

Father Radcliffe's speech on leadership appears in the fall 2008 edition of the online CMSM Forum, published by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (www.cmsm.org) and on the Web site of the Canadian Religious Conference (www.crc-canada.org). The speech was given June 7 in Quebec City to religious order superiors participating in the Canadian Religious Conference. Father Radcliffe was for nine years master general of the Dominican order.

It is a real challenge to see "who people are in Christ," Father Radcliffe believes. That's because there is such "tremendous pressure to see other people as rivals and threats, useful allies or supporters." Furthermore, said Father Radcliffe, "there is the temptation to fit people into easy categories and see them as nasty progressives or stuffy conservatives."

Indeed, leadership means service, he continued. But "we serve our congregations best by serving the happening of grace. And this requires of us tremendous flexibility, the refusal to be stuck in predetermined roles."

He cautioned the religious superiors in his audience against the temptation to view those they serve "as pieces to be moved around the chessboard of the province or as problems to be solved."

Father Radcliffe told the superiors that "leadership means refusing to be cramped by any single definition of our role. We are there to do whatever is necessary for the happening of grace."

His main role as master general of the Dominicans "was to care for the unity of the order, because you cannot be preachers of the Gospel and splinter," Father Radcliffe said. Thus, his role meant negotiating "the tensions between left and right, young and old, First World and Third World."

Father Radcliffe asked how it is possible to be "boldly truthful" without dividing people. He said, "One of the ways in which we hold together truth and unity is by living by the fundamental drama of grace rather than throwing oil on the little fires that get everyone so excited."

What is Christian leadership? It "is not fundamentally about having ambitious plans for the parish, taking bold and lonely decisions like a business leader. It is not fundamentally about working out wonderful strategies like a general," Father Radcliffe said. While "all of these may be good," Christian leadership fundamentally is "about stepping out in front, going ahead, as the Prodigal Son steps out to go and seek his father, and his father steps out to go and greet his son," he said.

Leaders need to be people who "let the future happen, even if that means stepping into the unknown," said Father Radcliffe.

New Epoch in U.S. Church History: Diversity and the Hispanic Presence

"It is no longer possible to avoid the weighty implications for both church and U.S. society of the Hispanic presence," Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck, director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the U.S. bishops' conference, said in an address this fall to a symposium on Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the U.S.

The Catholic Church in the U.S. "is in for an age of growing diversity in terms of several factors: ethnicity, cultures, social classes, and generations and migration -- to name just a few," Father Deck said. Thus, "what we need to plan for is ongoing change."

Father Deck spoke Oct. 5 at Georgetown University in Washington to a symposium sponsored by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

"We are in the early phases of a new epoch of American Catholic Church history," said Father Deck; these times require that we read the signs of the times. He said: "Reading the signs of the times was not a one-shot response for the church limited to the decade of the 1960s. … It is a never-ending task."

Pastoral care in this new context will need to "be characterized by an ability to diversify and differentiate," Father Deck suggested. He said this means "there must be more specific or specialized pastoral ministries as distinct from generic ones."

A "one-shoe-fits-all mentality never was pastoral, but today such a mind-set is disastrous, particularly in the context of today's diversity," said Father Deck.

Two sociologists of religion -- Robert Putnam and David Campbell -- recently shared with him "some initial findings about Latinos and the Catholic Church from their massive study of religion in the United States still in progress," Father Deck reported to the Georgetown symposium. He quoted the following remark by the sociologists:

"Just as financial observers often speak of 'leading indicators' to gauge the state of the economy, we would recommend that the U.S. conference of bishops consider Latinos to be the leading indicator of American Catholicism's future."

Today Hispanic ministry no longer is perceived "as a regional matter confined to California and the Southwest, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Chicago," said Father Deck. Instead, "for the Catholic Church it is an issue in virtually every part of the country."

Father Deck said that "despite the relentless growth of the Hispanic presence over the past 50 years, there has not been anywhere near the appropriate development of what I would call a Hispanic ministry infrastructure. This is particularly true in my view at the regional and national levels." What he meant, he explained, "is that institutions of, for and by Hispanics focused on education, formation and leadership development in ministry, as well as on visioning for the future, have been inadequate." Father Deck made clear that, in saying this, he did not mean "to diminish the significant efforts that have been made."

Yet, "precisely at a time when the Hispanic presence is reaching ever higher levels of critical mass, the structures necessary to sustain and develop the church's response to these challenges and opportunities are relatively weak and even getting weaker -- this at least from reports reaching us at the bishops' conference from many different parts of the country," Father Deck told the symposium. This, he said, "ought to be a major concern for all those interested in the vigorous evangelization of U.S. Hispanics." (The full text of Father Deck's speech appears in the edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service, for Dec. 4, 2008.)

Current Quotes to Ponder

When It Is Difficult to Do What We Must Do: "It is through prayer that God anoints us for times of trouble. … Often God will use adversity in our lives to bring about good, to use a difficult situation to fulfill his purpose. If there is a problem, then perhaps you have been chosen by God to be the solution. Perhaps you are meant to be the blessing in a hostile environment and to make a difference by not becoming part of it. There is a reason you are in that job, that family, that situation. When you are anointed, empowered by the Holy Spirit for your mission, then you can work with difficult people no one else can work with. You can raise children no one else can raise. You can teach students no one else can teach. You can work with customers no one else can work with. You can handle situations no one else can handle. You can change an environment that destroys other people. You can work with finances no one else can work with. You can bear suffering, sorrow or pain no one else can bear. Through prayer your faith activates, and you are at your best when the situation is at its worst." (Mary McDonald, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn., writing Nov. 20 in the West Tennessee Catholic, newspaper of the diocese)

Women in Society and the Church: "Man and woman, equal in dignity, are called to enrich themselves mutually in communion and collaboration, not only in matrimony and in the family, but also in society and all of its dimensions. Christian women are asked to be knowledgeable of and courageous in facing their demanding work, for which, however, they do not lack the support of a distinct tendency toward holiness, of a special acuteness in the discernment of our time's cultural currents and of the particular passion for human care that characterizes them. Enough cannot be said for how much the church recognizes, appreciates and values women's participation in her mission of service to the spreading of the Gospel." (Pope Benedict XVI, speaking Nov. 15 to the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity)

The Eucharist and Justice: "There is no more intimate meeting with the Lord than at holy Communion. But such a meeting pushes us to another level. The Catholic faith is not just a 'me and Jesus' experience. The Eucharist forms us into a community, the church, which is something much bigger than ourselves. … Finally, the Eucharist pushes the individual believer and the whole community to make a difference. It commits us to the transformation of the world." "The Lord identified with the poor and disadvantaged so fully that he would even tell his disciples 'Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.'" (Bishop Paul Zipfel of Bismarck, N.D., speaking Nov. 7 at the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, Mo.)

Perspectives on the Environment and God's Continuing Creation

"The stunning world opened up by Big Bang cosmology and evolutionary biology points to creation taking placed not just in the beginning, but even now, as the world takes shape into the future," Sister of St. Joseph Elizabeth Johnson, a theology professor at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York, said when she addressed the recent joint assembly in Denver of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

She said, "The Maker of heaven and earth is still in business."

"God's continuous creation operates not just by sustaining the world, but also by continuing to bring about what is new," Sister Johnson said in one section of her Aug. 2 address. She added, "Far from being created merely as an instrument to serve human needs, the natural world enjoys its own intrinsic value before God."

She noted that "theology in recent centuries has been very human-centered." But she encouraged her listeners to ask themselves, "What was God doing for billions of years before we came along?" She suggested that with that question and its implications in mind, "we begin to realize that the world, far from being just a backdrop for our lives or a stage for our drama, is a beloved creation valued by God for its own sake."

Harmful human practices today "are wreaking terrible damage on our planet's life-sustaining systems of air, water and soil, and the other creatures that form with us one community of life," Sister Johnson commented. She said that "the picture darkens as we attend to the deep-seated connection between ecological devastation and social injustice."

The poor "suffer disproportionately from environmental damage," Sister Johnson observed. She said that the "ravaging of people and ravaging of the land on which they depend go hand in hand."

The theologian asked why it is that until rather recently, "we who confess that God created this world [have] not risen up en masse in defense of the natural world?" One reason, she proposed, is that "through ancient theology's engagement with Greek philosophy, we have inherited a powerful dualism that splits all reality into spirit and matter, and then devalues matter and the body while prizing the spirit as closer to God." She said:

"The task now is to develop a life-affirming theology … that will do better justice to this world that God makes and so loves."

Sister Johnson pointed out that Pope John Paul II in 1990 "offered a strong principle to guide our behavior: 'Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation.'" She concluded: "We owe love and justice not only to humankind but to otherkind that shares our planet. Now the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself extends to include all members of the life community."

The vision to which faith calls believers "in this critical age of Earth's distress" is that of "a flourishing humanity within a living Earth community in an evolving universe, all together filled with the glory of God," said Sister Johnson. (The text of Sister Johnson's speech appears online in the fall 2008 CMSM Forum, published by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.)

… What Is "Forgiveness"?

Before I move on from Sister Elizabeth Johnson's rather far-reaching theological presentation, I want to note a thought-provoking comment she made at one point when she described what "forgiveness" means. What happens when we forgive others? She said:

"Forgiving does not mean condoning harmful actions or ceasing to criticize and resist them. But it does mean tapping into a wellspring of compassion that encompasses the hurt and sucks the venom out, so we can go forward making a positive contribution, without hatred. This is the work of the Spirit, reconciling at the deepest level."

The grace of forgiveness "can open up the future," Sister Johnson said.

Ethics (or the Lack Thereof) and the Financial Crisis

The global financial crisis is also an ethical crisis, says Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio to the United Nations. He spoke with Vatican Radio Nov. 28, calling attention to the problem that emerged because "great impunity was given to those who didn't respect" the "regulations and ethical codes [that] existed well before the crisis."

The archbishop pointed to the necessity of recovering some basic points related to finances "such as the primacy of labor over capital, of human relationships over purely financial transactions and of ethics over the sole criterion of efficiency."

He also called attention to the duty society's leaders have to respect citizens. The role of such leaders encompasses a duty to accord protection to "ordinary people who are not able to understand the complicated financial engineering and who need to be defended against the tricks and abuses of sly people," the archbishop said.

The ethical dimensions of the financial crisis also were highlighted by Archbishop Migliore in a presentation at U.N. headquarters in New York Oct. 30. On that occasion he said: "The real crisis does not appear to be merely financial, economic and technical. Rather, it extends to the broader realm of ethical codes and moral conduct."

Archbishop Migliore told a U.N. panel that "unbridled profiteering and the unscrupulous pursuit of gain at any cost have made people forget basic rules of business ethics."

However, he said that reactions to the financial crisis "should not be limited to deploring" it or to "offering formal expressions of sympathy to the poorer countries and social strata which have been affected." There is a need "to come up with the ways and means to avoid similar crises in the future," said the archbishop.

Archbishop Migliore's U.N. presentation on the financial crisis included observations related to the roles and responsibilities of governments, those working in the financial sector and people in general. For example, he said of the financial sector:

"Lending is a necessary social activity. Nonetheless, financial institutions and agents are responsible for ensuring that lending fulfills its proper function in society, connecting savings to production. If lending is seen merely in terms of trading off financial resources without regard for their reasonable use, it fails to be a service to society. When attempts are made to conceal the real risk that loans will not be repaid, savers are cheated and lenders become actual accomplices in theft."

Archbishop Migliore said it must not be overlooked "that at the edges of the financial system there are retired persons, small family businesses, cottage industries and countless employees for whom savings are an essential means of support." He said:

"Financial activity needs to be sufficiently transparent so that individual savers, especially the poor and those least protected, understand what will become of their savings. This calls not only for effective measures of oversight by governments, but also for a high standard of ethical conduct on the part of financial leaders themselves."

As for the "general public and its choice of values and lifestyles," Archbishop Migliore insisted that "a lifestyle, and even more an economic model, solely based on increased and uncontrolled consumption and not on savings and the creation of productive capital is economically unsustainable." He said, "The irresponsible consumer renounces his own dignity as a rational creature and also offends the dignity of others."

Not surprisingly, the archbishop pointed in particular to the fallout of the financial crisis for the poorest peoples of the world. He urged governments and the international community to invest in the poorest populations as financial recovery efforts unfold.