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June 6, 2009

Church makes its way into Internet age - Elements of youth ministry - Interreligious action combats violence in urban streets - Pope addresses laity's co-responsibility for church's mission - and more.

In this edition:

1. Do you think St. Paul would have Twittered?
2. A church making its way into the Internet age.
3. Catholic education and the poor: Forming future leaders to serve all.
4. Current quotes to ponder: 1) After the GM bankruptcy. 2) The killing of an abortion provider.
5. Interreligious action to combat violence in urban streets.
6. Pope Benedict promotes laity's co-responsibility.
7. Elements of youth ministry.
8. Health care chaplains at risk in economic hard times.

1. Do You Think St. Paul Would Have Twittered?

If he'd had the necessary technology 2,000 years ago, do you think St. Paul would have Twittered? Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta suspects the answer to that question is yes.

"I believe that not only would St. Paul Twitter, he would urge all of those who are church ministers of the Gospel to do the same," Archbishop Gregory wrote in his May 21 column for the Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Atlanta Archdiocese.

What's more, Paul probably would have welcomed the opportunity to "have a blog and a Facebook page to proclaim the message of salvation -- and he would expect all those who carry out the modern-day mission of evangelization to do so as well," Archbishop Gregory said.

The archbishop acknowledged that Internet resources "can at times be tedious and superficial in their content." Nonetheless, he thinks "the capacity of this ever-expanding instrument of communication would make St. Paul envious at what is available to the church today in proclaiming and announcing our faith far and wide."

What does it mean to "Twitter"? Twitter.com is a service for sending (usually via cell phone or mobile device) brief text messages called "Tweets" of 140 or fewer characters that, most basically, answer the question, What are you doing?

In the judgment of some critics, Twittering leads to mindless text-messaging about unimportant matters. But advocates of Twittering focus on its capacity to keep people in touch with each other, allowing them quickly to update each other on matters that could be of real -- and immediate -- interest or concern.

The church always has used up-to-date technology to achieve its mission in the world, the archbishop observed. The church never has "shied away from using contemporary means to engage the world," he added.

The Atlanta Archdiocese has been reviewing its communications capabilities and is planning to introduce some new ways of reaching out to people. "We are attempting to update our use of technology so that information is more quickly and efficiently sent to our parishes, personnel and all those who seek data about this local church," Archbishop Gregory explained.

The archdiocese, he said, is "confident that there is much that we can learn regarding enhancing our contacts with people and going about the mission of the church in more effective ways."

2. A Church Making Its Way Into the Internet Age

"In our service to the church, we need to be constantly asking ourselves whether the limits and defects of our own communications skills in any given moment are making it more difficult for others to understand the church's message," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said in a speech May 18 at the seminary of the Westminster Diocese in London. Father Lombardi is the Vatican's official spokesman; he directs the Vatican press office.

Addressing media professionals, Father Lombardi examined the opportunities -- and risks - for the church that accompany the Internet age, but he particularly focused on the reality of the Internet in people's lives. Father Lombardi called attention to a Microsoft document in April titled "Europe Logs On: European Internet Trends of Today and Tomorrow." Based on that document, the Vatican spokesman said:

"If things continue to grow at the projected rate, then by June of 2010 Internet use will surpass traditional television use among European consumers, reaching an average of more than 14 hours per week, to television's 11.5. In 2008, Internet surpassed all other media except television as the principal source of information regarding national and international current events. The march continues and seems unstoppable."

While so many in today's world have "logged on," Father Lombardi also noted that many have not. "I am well aware that in many very large parts of the world communication happens in ways that are very different from those found in more developed countries," he said, adding that "from the church's point of view, leaving those with fewer possibilities on the margins is simply not an option."

Thus, said Father Lombardi, traditional technologies and forms of communication cannot be left "by the wayside" in the church's efforts to communicate with people. "At the same time," he continued, "we cannot but be attentive to the direction in which communications are moving nor can we allow ourselves to fall out of touch with the latest advancements in the world of communications."

The Internet "presents very grave risks" for families, schools and society as a whole, Father Lombardi acknowledged. Nonetheless, he said, "there is also great potential for good."

3. Catholic Education and the Poor: Forming Future Leaders to Serve Us All

"The education of the poor is not meant to simply bring them out of a disadvantaged culture but to make children from poor families contributors to the overall common good of society and of the church," Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., said in a May 5 address to inner-city Catholic school educators in Toledo, Ohio.

There is no doubt that leaders will emerge "from minority and poor families," said Bishop Ramirez. The task of Catholic educators, he said, is to ensure that these future leaders have "a moral conscience, formed and guided by principles such as those which are part of the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching."

Bishop Ramirez spoke to the Urban All-American celebration sponsored by the Toledo Diocese's Central City Ministry, which operates Catholic elementary inner-city schools that serve many students considered at-risk.

Through education, the poor are provided the foundation they need to become leaders in every field, "religious and secular," Bishop Ramirez pointed out. He said these future leaders will serve not only "those of their own background, but the totality of our society and the church."

One advantage of a Catholic school is that it affirms a student's "dignity and human worth" again and again, said Bishop Ramirez. After all, he explained, "Catholic education teaches that all people have received from God gifts and talents that ought to be developed through self-discipline. Catholic education provides that discipline in an atmosphere of community where responsibility and contribution to the common good are promoted."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

After the GM Bankruptcy: "We've been struggling with this for a year, even though the bankruptcy just happened. We've been dealing with foreclosures, trying to balance budgets, trying to balance the church budget and people trying to balance their own budgets. Everyone is affected. I talked to a dentist who said with no dental insurance people are postponing their dental visits. The local small businesses are down. I talked to a doctor who said instead of people coming in they are calling for advice on the phone when they would ordinarily come in but they can't afford the office call. A lot of my people are Chrysler people. I think the Chrysler pain we've gone through, and now we are waiting for the GM pain. I have more people coming in for counseling than normal. Economic and financial issues are a strain on family life." (Father Christopher Maus, pastor of St. Daniel Parish in suburban Clarkston, Mich., commenting in the Michigan Catholic newspaper on the General Motors bankruptcy announced June 1.)

The Killing of an Abortion Doctor: "Our bishops' conference and all its members have repeatedly and publicly denounced all forms of violence in our society, including abortion as well as the misguided resort to violence by anyone opposed to abortion. Such killing is the opposite of everything we stand for and everything we want our culture to stand for: respect for the life of each and every human being from its beginning to its natural end. We pray for Dr. Tiller and his family." (Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, speaking after the shooting death in a Wichita, Kan., church of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, by an anti-abortion activist)

5. Interreligious Action in Baltimore to Combat City Violence

Religious leaders in Baltimore have decided to work together across denominational and religious lines to help curb the violence on their city's streets. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders met May 27 with Baltimore city officials at the Catholic St. Mary's Seminary and University, pledging to forge a partnership to promote peace in the city this summer, especially among youths.

"We have all presided at too many funerals and consoled too many families whose sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers are cut down prematurely by inexcusable violence," Baltimore's Archbishop Edwin O'Brien said after the interfaith meeting. He added, "It is our hope that our discussion today will promote a foundation for a long-term partnership that will lead to further dialogue among people at all levels of our faith communities and ultimately the systematic reclaiming of our streets, starting this summer."

A number of religious leaders, including Auxiliary Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore, met recently with Baltimore's police commissioner to discuss their role in reducing violence in the city, according to a report by writer Matt Palmer in the Catholic Review newspaper of Baltimore. Afterward Bishop Madden met with youth and adult representatives of Baltimore city parishes to discuss ways to attain peace in the city.

The religious leaders have called on city officials to keep parks, recreation centers, libraries and pools open during summer months. And the leaders said they would encourage churches, mosques and synagogues to designate job-site areas for the city's YouthWorks program.

One Baltimore Catholic priest, Msgr. Damien Nalepa of St. Gregory the Great Parish, said youth employment programs and open recreation centers and pools provide stability during the summer, according to Palmer's report. He noted that St. Gregory was among the Catholic parishes in Baltimore that last summer led prayer vigils in their often-troubled neighborhoods.

"We want to start those up again," Msgr. Nalepa said. "There's an interest for people to do something. They're fed up and saying enough is enough with this violence."

St. Gregory's also is known for sponsoring a no-questions-asked gun turn-in program in recent years; those turning in a gun received a cash payment. "We should believe as Christians we have a responsibility to rid violence from our community and our world," Msgr. Nalepa has said.

6. Pope Benedict Promotes Co-responsibility of the Laity

"To what extent is the pastoral co-responsibility of all, and particularly of the laity, recognized and encouraged?" That question was raised by Pope Benedict XVI May 26 in his speech opening the annual convention of the Diocese of Rome.

"A change in mind-set, particularly concerning lay people," is needed today, Pope Benedict said. The laity "must no longer be viewed as 'collaborators' of the clergy but truly recognized as 'co-responsible' for the church's being and action."

All the church's people share responsibility for the church's mission because they are members of the body of Christ and of the people of God, the pope told the diocesan convention.

But the pope cautioned against interpreting the term "people of God" merely as a sociological or political reality. If that happens, "the newness and specificity of that people" will be forgotten, he said; this people is born solely of "communion with Christ." Moreover, the pope said, it should not be thought that the laity's pastoral co-responsibility compromises the roles of parish priests or those with differing responsibilities within the body of Christ.

It is vital that pastoral structures be improved "in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the people of God in their entirety is gradually promoted," said Pope Benedict. "Our communities must not lack the knowledge that they are 'church,' because Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, convokes them and makes them his people," the pope commented.

However, "there is still a long way to go," for "too many of the baptized do not feel part of the ecclesial community and live on its margins, only coming to parishes in certain circumstances to receive religious services," the pope said. "The lay people who are ready to work in the various apostolic fields are still few and far between," he said.

Thus, Pope Benedict urged parish priests "to nurture the spiritual and apostolic growth of those who are already committed to working hard in the parishes" because "they form the core of the community" and will be able to "act as a leaven" for others.

7. Elements of Youth Ministry

A framework document for youth ministry was issued by the church in Ireland at the end of May. It is titled "Called Together. Making the Difference." The four goals of youth ministry, according to a synopsis issued by the bishops' conference, are:

-- "To help young people grow, both in a personal sense and a spiritual sense.

-- "To give young people the opportunity to experience and be disciples of Jesus Christ in their lives.

-- "To inspire and facilitate young people to take an active role in the Catholic community.

-- "To encourage the Catholic community to continually put aside any prejudices about young people and to recognize and empower their talents and energy."

The framework document encourages a healthy balance of eight elements of youth ministry. According to the bishops' synopsis, these elements are:

-- "Encouraging young people to stand up for others in need.

-- "Encouraging them to protect the life and rights of others and to be people of service in the world we live in.

-- "Welcoming young people and making them feel valued and cared for; inviting and helping them to experience God in their lives.

-- "Teaching young people about the Scriptures, Catholic traditions and a life of faith in order to deepen their relationship with Jesus.

-- "Inspiring them to recognize and use their own gifts so that they can in turn help others around them.

-- "Promoting healthy development but giving special attention to those young people who feel lost.

-- "Celebrating and strengthening their relationship with Jesus."

The framework document accents the safety and protection of youth. It says that those who serve in youth ministry need to be "aware of the professional boundaries that should be adhered to when working with young people." It says: "Those involved in youth ministry should work in partnership with others. Child safeguarding should be in place, as well as sound recruitment policies."

A report issued May 20 by an independent commission in Ireland said that physical and sexual abuse was endemic in Irish institutions run by religious charged with the care of boys between 1940 and the late 1970s and that during that time a climate of fear and excessive punishment permeated most institutions for children.

Father Michael Kelleher, facilitator of the process that led to the church's new framework document for youth ministry, said May 30 that in the face of the painful report on abuse, "for a member of the Irish church to lay low, to go into hiding until things got quieter, might be the easier option!" However, he said:

"Instead of going into hiding, we're here. Many of us are here because we believe that this framework document for youth ministry in Ireland may be helpful as the Irish church moves forward. There is a real opportunity at this time for us as an Irish church to clarify what it is we really stand for and how we really want to live our lives as followers of Jesus."

8. Health Care Chaplains at Risk in Economic Downturn

"It is disheartening to see that as the economic downturn has taken its toll on health care, pastoral care has been one of the first areas targeted for cuts" in many Catholic health care facilities, says Brian Yanofchick, senior director for mission and leadership development at the Catholic Health Association of the U.S.A., headquartered in St. Louis. The May-June edition of CHA's Health Progress magazine, appearing online at www.chausa.org, includes a special section on chaplains and pastoral care practitioners.

Yanofchick says the situation of pastoral care providers in the current environment "is analogous to that in public schools where, when budget cuts become necessary, music and the arts are often the first to go."

The CHA official believes that "the use of volunteers as low-cost substitutes for certified chaplains rather than as adjuncts to a certified staff is an undisciplined practice that should disappear from Catholic health care settings." He also writes, "Unfortunately, in the name of providing a sacramental life in Catholic health care facilities, some dioceses assign clergy with poor performance histories to serve as hospital chaplains, a practice with numerous painful results for clergy and hospital management alike."

How should the pastoral care provided in a Catholic health care facility be evaluated? How can those responsible for budgets see the value of health-care chaplains? Yanofchick calls attention to two forces that can work against each other in this process.

He says that many pastoral care practitioners believe that "presence and relationship are the alpha and omega of their work" (i.e., their presence to patients and the relationship they establish with them). These pastoral care practitioners "hold that pastoral care cannot be measured" and that attempting to do so "would be almost an affront to God." However, he continues, "some operational leaders view undefined outcomes from pastoral care as permission to minimize costs." He then offers a warning to each group:

"To the first group we say beware. Those who shun accountability should not be surprised if they are first in line for budget cuts in hard times. To the second group we offer a reminder. While some health care leaders may get away with putting pastoral care on the front line of budget cuts, a holistic view of health care -- one that is deeply rooted in our Catholic tradition and defined in the 'Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services' -- demands a higher standard."

Yanofchick advises pastoral workers in health care facilities to find ways to "affirm the professional nature of their work." Doing this, he says, means "supporting existing professional standards, finding ways to measure the value of their work and embracing accountability for the resources they claim from their institutions."

On the other hand, he writes, those "who make decisions regarding resources for pastoral care need to understand the professional requirements of certified chaplaincy and ensure excellence in service by implementing them."