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June 19, 2009

The Year for Priests - The threat of unchecked hatred
- Church communications: Understanding the people one hopes to reach -
Laughter is still good medicine.

In this edition:

1. Is laughter still good medicine?
2. Church communications: Understanding those one hopes to reach.
3. Current quotes to ponder: a) The threat of unchecked hatred. b) Twitter away.
4. Pivotal moment in hemisphere's history of migration.
5. The new archbishop of post-Katrina New Orleans.
6. The Year for Priests.
7. Encyclical on work and the economy coming soon.

1. Is Laughter Still Good Medicine?

"We live in the most stressful culture that ever existed. We need to create positive environments for ourselves," Sister of St. Joseph Anne Bryan Smollin told participants in a daylong program June 6 preceding the official opening the following day of the 2009 Catholic Health Assembly, held in New Orleans.

It is a myth to believe that "laughter is wasting time," said Sister Smollin. And in dealing with others who are under stress, she urged that people smile and make eye contact. These skills "don't cost a thing," and they yield positive results, she said.

Stress "narrows our focus," the speaker said. So stress can lead people to perceive events in too negative a way.

On the other hand, "laughter slows down our bodies," Sister Smollin believes. She commented: "We are so used to multitasking, to worrying about tomorrow. But the energy -- the grace -- is in the now."

In addition to laughter, creating a positive environment can mean forming personal connections with others we enjoy being with and who help us relax. More than ever before, Sister Smollin suggested, people "need to make a choice to be happy."

People's attitudes shape "the way they perceive things," she said. And, she observed, if people are open to listening to others, they may hear something that changes the way they respond to a situation. She advised, "Look for the unexpected things in [your] day, the surprises" that may change your perceptions.

Above all, put laughter into the day, Sister Smollin urged.

Sister Smollin is executive director at the Counseling for Laity Center in Albany, N.Y. She lectures on humor, stress, communication, motivation and community life. The Web site of the Catholic Health Association, in an article by Pamela Schaeffer, editor of Health Progress, reported on her presentation. The program Sister Smollin addressed was sponsored by the Avila Institute of Gerontology in Germantown, N.Y.

2. Church Communications: Understanding the People One Hopes to Reach

The mission of church communicators is to talk with people in today's culture who are busy -- even frantic -- and exhausted, Jesuit Father Richard Leonard told the May 4-6 National Catholic Media Congress, held in Sydney, Australia. Father Leonard is director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Is it possible to evangelize a culture that is not known? Father Leonard suggested that at times it appears the church is "on retreat from the very culture" it hopes to reach. He said, "More recent signs of hope are encouraging, but hardly the sort of robust interchange some of us might like to see."

Father Leonard explained that "leaving our comfort zones and knowing the world we are going to, a world vastly different from ours in so many respects, does not mean we have to canonize the culture, just take it seriously."

Understanding how people live, the stresses in their lives, the media they employ - all this matters, said Father Leonard. He commented, "We cannot effectively evangelize a culture we don't know or, worse still, one which we actually despise."

Married couples in Australia, he said, on average owe hundreds of thousands of dollars on their home mortgage and carry several thousands of dollars in monthly credit-card debt. "They will have someone in their family who is chronically depressed."

People today are Internet users, TV viewers and own an IPod, he said. "Whether we like it or not," most people "are comfortable in a media-saturated culture."

The challenge in reaching young people today is to reach them online, he said. He noted that in 2007, for the first time, the average Australian between the ages of 12 and 25 spent more time online than viewing TV.

Materials designed to reach today's busy people should reflect the approach of Jesus, who realized that important lessons can be learned from stories that communicate simply, Father Leonard said. He explained:

"Jesus, in the way he used the media of his day, the parable, understood that the most important lessons could be learned through stories - while people are laughing, crying, being confronted and consoled. He also knew the art of communicating his message simply. In some respects the church has become too serious for its own good."

Father Leonard told the church communicators, "We are not simply selling a product." He also cautioned against viewing public relations as the church's main goal in relating to the media.

"We are not like other organizations where the promotion of our name, an individual or a product requires an expensive and systematic media campaign. We are not selling a product, we are offering our campatriots a relationship - a loving, liberating and saving relationship."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

The Threat of Unchecked Hatred: "The shooting that took place yesterday, June 10, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. was a deplorable act of violence and a violation of a hallowed space in our nation's capital. By preserving the memory of the 6 million Jews who died in the Shoah, the museum speaks to the consciences of all who pass through its doors and hear the powerful stories of the innocent men, women and children who lost their lives at the hands of a criminal regime. Each year millions of visitors to the museum learn of the dangers of unchecked hatred and of the need to prevent genocide wherever it threatens. This tragic incident only serves to reinforce the need for continued education throughout society against bias of every kind, but most especially racial and religious prejudice." (From a statement by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, after a shooting at the Holocaust Museum that killed a security officer)

Twitter Away: "Social networking sites [like Facebook and Twitter] are notorious for their superficiality. Especially Twitter with its 140-character limit to all messages. What of value can be discussed in 140 characters, roughly 25 words? Why would any deep thinker bother? Allow me to share a personal experience. In late July 1989, a friend said to me, 'You are always saying that you don't like where you're living. Yet, you're still there.' I took it seriously. In six weeks I had moved to Edmonton, in another six weeks I had met my wife-to-be, and 15 months after that I was the editor of the Western Catholic Reporter. Eighty-six characters had changed my life. Pope Benedict encouraged young believers to bring the witness of their faith to the digital world. The church cannot be distrustful of forms of communication that are neutral in themselves, but hold potential for great benefit to humanity. Much communication through social networking is froth on the great ocean of time and history. But we should be slow to denigrate it. Many of those 140-character messages on Twitter will have lasting effects on people's lives. The Christian duty is to use these new means of social networking to build humanity by fostering the fullness of life." (From an editorial by Glen Argan, editor of the Western Catholic Reporter in Edmonton, Alberta, writing in the June 8, 2009, edition of that newspaper)

4. Pivotal Moment in Hemisphere's History of Migration

"There is no time to waste" in finding solutions to the problems of illegal immigration, a group of U.S., Canadian, Mexican and Central American bishops said after a June 4 meeting, one in an ongoing series of meetings on migration. Ten bishops of the region and two Vatican representatives participated in the meeting at a migrants' center in western Guatemala.

The meeting participants said in a statement that "the human rights violations of migrants have grown considerably." Each day, migrants "are faced with a dangerous journey and suffer at the hands of smugglers, human traffickers and drug cartels. They continue to suffer abuse and even death as they seek to find work to support their families," the statement said.

It urged attention to the "organized crime syndicates which operate along our borders and within our countries, particularly drug-running operations." The bishops said these cartels threaten migrants, and "their violence has inhabited towns and communities. Human trafficking networks prey upon vulnerable women, men and children."

There is too little public awareness of human trafficking and of "the migration phenomenon" in general, the bishops said. They called "for a regional summit" of the leaders of their nations to discuss migration and to "plan cooperative action."

A particular concern of the bishops was "the impact of migration on the family unit" - that families too often "are separated in our hemisphere." The bishops called attention to the fact that "children all too often bear the brunt of this family separation by being left alone or by being forced to work to support a family who has lost a father or mother."

The present moment is a "pivotal" one in the hemisphere's "history of migration," the bishops said. First, the administration of President Obama "has announced its intention to reform U.S. immigration law and to work with Mexican and Central American nations to address economic inequities that lead to migration."

In addition, said the bishops, "the global economic crisis has impacted all nations." It needs to "be considered in seeking solutions to problems of illegal immigration. An examination of global economic agreements and their impact on migration flows also must be included."

When people "cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive," the bishops said. They acknowledged that "sovereign governments have the right to enforce borders," but added that "we are a church without borders."

The church considers it a responsibility "to advocate in our countries for the basic protection of the human rights and dignity of migrants, and the creation of humane policies based on moral and ethical principles," said the bishops.

5. New Archbishop in Post-Katrina New Orleans

"I would be more than willing to reach out in a spirit of reconciliation to those who have been hurt, for whatever reasons, in the church," Archbishop Gregory Aymond, newly named head of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said during a June 12 press conference in New Orleans. The New Orleans native was named archbishop not quite four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, along with the church there. Since 2000, the new archbishop has been bishop of Austin, Texas.

In New Orleans, Archbishop Aymond succeeds Archbishop Alfred Hughes, who is retiring for reasons of age.

During the press conference, Archbishop Aymond promised to meet with people who have been hurt by the closings of churches and schools. The archdiocese promulgated the final phase of its post-Katrina pastoral plan in April 2008, reducing the number of parishes from 142 to 108, citing a shortage of active priests, declining population and uninsured damage to churches, schools and other institutions.

The archdiocese's reorganization "was given a great deal of thought and prayer, and obviously I am not here to second-guess my predecessor and the work that his staff did," said Archbishop Aymond. But he said he wants "to be a shepherd who would be willing to meet with people and talk to them, and walk with them in a time of hurt to make sure that the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of New Orleans is reaching out in all areas to care for the people."

Archbishop Aymond's name has arisen in this space a number of times over the course of the nearly two years this newsletter has appeared on www.jknirp.com. Our Nov. 15, 2007, edition included some thinking of his on pastoral planning.

"A pastoral plan for a diocese is very different from a corporate strategic plan," he had said in his monthly interview with Austin's diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Spirit. He said, "The only question asked in a pastoral plan for a diocese is, How can we proclaim the Gospel of Christ more effectively and how can we strengthen the ministry of Christ among us, especially in our parishes, schools and Catholic institutions?"

The Sept. 26, 2007, edition of this newsletter included four steps in evangelization, as they were outlined by then-Bishop Aymond in another interview with the Austin diocesan newspaper. He said, "In many ways, evangelization is allowing God to use us to awaken his call of discipleship and to nurture the seed of faith in the hearts and spirits of others."

Then he asked, "How can we do that, especially with those whom we perceive as not eager to be in a relationship with God?"

First, he said, "we can pray for them in our own personal prayer and pray for them by name."

Second, "we can share with them something nonthreatening about our faith life and our experience of God, and what God has done for us and the way he has called us to himself."

A third step, the bishop said, is to "invite them to church. They may very well say no, but at least we have extended the invitation. We can also invite them to Catholic Bible study or to an adult education class."

Fourth, he said, "by working with people and gaining their trust, we form a sense of communion." He continued:

"It is in those moments, maybe not by any words but by example, that we show others that we are living our faith and that faith and a relationship with God are indeed important to us. That means very often standing courageously for moral values, for family, for honesty in business and in the workplace, for respect for others and for respect for human life. All of these things speak about our faith and our relationship with God."

6. The Year for Priests

In a June 16 letter proclaiming a Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to the tireless, hidden service of priests and the "courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation." He pointed also to "countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister."

But "sad to say," the pope wrote, there also are "situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection."

In these cases, "what is most helpful to the church" not only is "a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God's gift embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides."

The Year for Priests runs from June 19 this year to June 18, 2010. It celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of St. John Vianney (the Cure d'Ars), who is patron saint of the world's parish priests. Pope Benedict said the year is "meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today's world."

Understanding "the pastoral plan" of St. John Vianney means learning of "the complete identification of the man with his ministry," Pope Benedict wrote. He said: "This is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry's objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister."

St. John Vianney "knew how to 'live' actively within the entire territory of his parish," the pope said. The saint "regularly visited the sick and families, organized popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for his charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of 'Providence (an institute he founded), provided for the education of children, founded confraternities and enlisted laypersons to work at his side."

The pope added that the example of St. John Vianney prompted him "to point out that there are sectors of cooperation which need to be opened ever more fully to the lay faithful. Priests and laity together make up the one priestly people, and in virtue of their ministry priests live in the midst of the lay faithful."

St. John Vianney "taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life," Pope Benedict said. The saint also "was convinced that the fervor of a priest's life depended entirely upon the Mass."

Moreover, St. John Vianney's example should prompt priests today not to become resigned to "the apparent indifference of the faithful" to the sacrament of penance, Pope Benedict wrote. He observed: "In France, at the time of the Cure d'Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament."

The pope called attention to the poverty practiced by St. John Vianney. "His poverty was not the poverty of a religious or a monk," but "while managing much money (since well-to-do pilgrims naturally took an interest in his charitable works), he realized that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his 'Providence,' his families of modest means. Consequently, he 'was rich in giving to others and very poor for himself.' As he would explain: 'My secret is simple: Give everything away; hold nothing back.'"

7. Encyclical on the Economy and Work Coming Soon, Pope Says

"My encyclical dedicated to the vast area of the economy and work will soon be published," Pope Benedict XVI said June 13, addressing members of a papal foundation. He said the long-expected encyclical "will highlight what, for us as Christians, are the objectives that need to be pursued and values to be tirelessly promoted and defended in order to create a truly free and united form of human coexistence."

The pope spoke to the Centesimus Annus Foundation as it concluded a Rome conference on "Values and Rules for a New Model of Development." In strong words on the economy, he said:

"Our meeting has particular significance and importance in the light of the situation that all humankind is currently experiencing. In fact, the financial and economic crisis which has hit industrialized, emerging and developing states clearly indicates the need to reconsider certain economic-financial paradigms that have dominated over the last few years."

The pope suggested it is important "to identify what values and rules the economic world should follow in order to implement a new development model, one more attentive to the needs of solidarity and more respectful of human dignity."